Playoff Reset: The AL Wild Card Game

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We kick off the postseason on Tuesday evening with the AL Wild Card game. Both teams will vie in this best-of-one game for the right to face the Rangers in the ALDS.

The Game: Baltimore Orioles @ Toronto Blue Jays, AL Wild Card game
The Time: 8:08 PM EDT
The Place: Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Chris Tillman (Orioles) vs. Marcus Stroman (Blue Jays)

The Lineups:

The Upshot:

  • From 1995 to 2012 — with the exception of 2008 — the big-budgeted Yankees were the AL East hegemony.  Towards the latter half of that era, the big-budgeted Red Sox came into the picture and created a two-headed beast. But for the last four years, there has been much more parity in the division. The Jays, Orioles, and even the Rays have won the AL East crown at least once in the last four years. Yes, the Red Sox won the division again this year, but the Blue Jays and Orioles have shown they are no flashes in the pan. It would not be surprising if the winner of the AL Wild Card game advanced far into the playoffs. It’s good to see some new AL East blood challenging the balance of power even without the massive payrolls of the Red Sox and Yankees.
  • Both the Orioles and Blue Jays have formidable power. The O’s finished first in the American League, blasting 253 home runs during the regular season. The Jays came in third at 221. Both teams had six players cross the 20-homer threshold. The O’s lay claim to AL home run champ Mark Trumbo, who finished the season with 47 of his own. While both starting pitchers tonight are no slouches, neither is a venerated ace, so we could see plenty of dingers.
  • With the exception of closer Zach Britton, who is in the conversation for the AL Cy Young Award, the Orioles have had pitching issues all season long. Kevin Gausman led the rotation with a 3.61 ERA which is decent but high for a team leader. As a team, Orioles pitchers averaged 4.41 runs per game, only slightly better than the 4.47 league average. Comparatively, the Jays shined at 4.11, the best mark in the league.
  • Since the introduction of the current Wild Card format in 2012, the winning team in the Wild Card game has advanced past the Division Series in four of eight series. The Royals and Giants were both Wild Card teams in 2014 and the Giants went on to win the World Series. The Royals would win it the next year but after having won the division.
  • The Rogers Centre roof will be open for the first time in a postseason game. According to Weather.com, the temperature is supposed to drop to a low of 60º with 87 percent humidity and a 10 percent chance of precipitation. The wind is expected to blow east (towards right field) between 10 and 20 MPH.

Though the Blue Jays and Orioles have certainly helped shake things up in the AL East, if this continues, we’re dangerously close to AL East fatigue. Even the Yankees were in Wild Card contention until the final few days of the regular season — and that was after selling at the trade deadline. Rivalries might develop past the point of team specificity, more generally towards divisions. Instead of saying, “just not the Yankees or Red Sox,” we might soon say, “just not the AL East.”

As for tonight’s game, I’ll pick the Blue Jays edging the Orioles in a bit of a slugfest. I like the Jays’ bullpen better than the Orioles’ because I don’t think the O’s will have a lead to hand Britton nor will the game be tied in extra innings. Let’s say 8-6 Jays. Feel free to post your predictions in the comments.