We are back! The Blue Jays are in the playoffs, and it just wouldn’t be right if I didn’t dust off the 500s before the big game tomorrow!
Baseball is a strange game. I have spent the better part of the past 4 months writing posts for the 500s, and electing not to share them with anyone. This isn’t because I don’t like you guys… it was the exact opposite… I didn’t want to share my depressed opinion of the team with you. For a team that had a lot of great games, players and record it felt like we were always fighting against something. From the moment Bautista slid into second base in Tampa Bay in April and pulled the WWF “under the rope villain manager trip move” and it didn’t work for the first time in history, it felt like one thing or another was always stacking up against this team.
If there is a song to capture my feelings about the summer of 2016 Toronto Blue Jays, it would be this:
I sat in the outfield for the entire Baltimore series last week, and leaving the stadium after the worst game I have seen in the past two years on Thursday night there wasn’t a whole lot of optimism. I thought about what Edwin would look like in a Red Sox jersey. I thought about how many errors Bautista will have in the field in Arizona the next 7 seasons. It was pretty dark.
And then Friday arrived, and my mood changed a little bit:
That’s right. A double dip of Bonnie Raitt! Let's give the AL something to talk about is right!! I wasn’t completely dead inside, I mean if we could take the series from Boston in Fenway, who knows right?
And then we blew another game late and squandered another quality start… I should have known better.
Back to darkness and a night spent thinking about having to watch Melvin (don't call me BJ) Upton take 500 at bats next season. Hello my old friend:
Saturday I wasn’t in a great mood, but I had come 160 games, so it wasn’t like I was going to walk out on the team. My mood was improved, but I was hoping game 162 would be meaningful:
Bam! Double Bonnie Double Tracy. Give me a reason to tune in to game 162!
I actually couldn’t sit still and watch the entire game, instead I elected to go for a run and listen to it on the radio. My biggest take away from this was that running for 60 minutes while listening to a radio broadcast of baseball is the fastest way to make 60 minutes of exercise feel like 800 minutes. Lesson learned.
I made it home in time to watch some clutch hitting and enough pitching from our back end to lock it up, even with Osuna deciding it was a great time to start a foot stomping dance to bock home the tying run. A quality team win, the likes of which dotted the 2015 campaign. Also to my amazement the Yankees stormed back against Baltimore, and Detroit lost to Atlanta.
Which brought us to yesterday’s fireworks, a one game showdown against Mr. July himself, David Price for all of the marbles (marbles measured by the non exact scientific measurement of everything for us, and a little bit for them). Sanchez was electric, Osuna did his part, and Biagini bailed out Cecil… Tulo came through in the clutch and all is right in the world.
Just like that I have gone from a couple months of moping about the state of the team, to having an endless amount of optimism that this flawed team could run the table!! OCTOBER!!!! AAAHHHHH.
Let’s preview the wildcard game and everything that happened today to set it up, complete with a prediction.
I think we are going to see the usual suspects around the horn for the Jays tomorrow, no surprises. In terms of the outfield, I think we will see Carrera in left, Pillar holding down center and Bautista in right field over Saunders, who gets the nod at DH. Upton hasn’t done anything consistently to warrant a start and Bautista is slightly better than Saunders in the field. We need Saunders left hand bat in the lineup if only as a token gesture to suggest we want a more balanced lineup. Justin Smoak is hardly worthy of being a defensive replacement late in games at this point with the way Edwin has played, so I would have him stapled to the pine.
Ezequiel Carrera has earned his opportunity in the field, and provides a left-handed bat. He covers the field, and although he doesn’t hit for power his ability to bunt for a hit, or to advance a runner is attractive batting ninth or leading off. It also increases the likelihood that talk radio has a Gibby bunt call to talk about for at least 60 minutes on Wednesday regardless of the outcome of the game.
Who cares about the Orioles line up? This is a Jays blog. Quickly, the O’s are full of home run hitters, have a couple good lefties, and some good on base guys. We saw last week what Kim can do at the plate, and Hardy has haunted us most of the season as their nine hitter. This is a lineup that scores by homerun, and does it often.
Advantage: Blue Jays.
Although the Jays bats have been a little quiet in September and October, I still like their line up more. With Travis playing, the Jays 1-7 lineup is fantastic, and big game tested. The batters should be more patient tomorrow than they showed early in the Texas playoff series last year.
Shapiro came out this afternoon and said he made the decision that Marcus Stroman would be the starter for the Blue Jays tomorrow, and that the decision was made with input from all parties involved. I assume that means he told Marcus, Liriano, and Gibby his decision, and that those are the parties involved. Typically a manager would be given the opportunity to set his lineup, but I guess they must have been worried about how much champagne Gibbons drank last night. As an aside, GIbby must have been very pleased to be able to drink beer at his press conference without having to disguise it in a Gatorade cup last night.
Personally, I think this is the wrong decision but not a deplorable one, or an indefensible one. I would have started Liriano given how well he has pitched the last month, and more specifically his 10-strikeout performance against Baltimore on Wednesday night. On the other hand, how are the Blue Jays supposed to skip Stroman’s spot in the rotation when they have desires for him to continue to be a staple of the rotation and a cornerstone of the franchise? It is hard to tell a young player who started game 5 of the ALDS last season that you are going to skip him in a single game elimination, and then he won’t pitch until a potential game 4 of the ALDS if the team were to get that far.
So, from a long-term perspective I understand why they made this move. Liriano will be the first arm from the pen, and if Stroman gets in trouble quickly I don’t think the leash is long. This approach likely has the highest upside all things considered. In a best case scenario Stroman has a great outing, and you pull him for Liriano to face a couple of lefties in the 7th or 8th inning and bridge the game to Osuna.
If I were Gibby or more aptly Shapiro, I would have started Liriano to see if he had his stuff working early, and gone directly to Stroman when trouble arrived. I prefer this approach because Liriano pitched better than Stroman down the stretch, and because I have more confidence in Stroman’s ability to come out of the pen at any moment and be ready to roll than I do with Liriano.
At the end of the day, we will likely need between 7 and 8 innings from these two in some combination tomorrow, so both will have an opportunity to leave their mark.
The Orioles are starting Chris Tillman tomorrow, who after being repeatedly bludgeoned by the Jays in 2015 is 4-0 against them this season, including a good showing last week. Personally, I was happy to see Tillman get the nod over Ubaldo Jimenez, who dominated the Jays more than any other pitcher I have seen in his start last week. Jimenez has been on fire for the back half of the season, but like Liriano represents the higher variance potential performer.
The Jays can hit Tillman, but they need to take advantage of their spots. In previous games there has been too much home run chasing and hitting into double plays. Tillman can be turned back into the 2015 pumpkin he was, but it will take a little bit of patience early on.
Both managers have played it safe with their selections for starters tomorrow, and have plenty of arms at their disposal for a single elimination game. All of that is good, because both of these lineups have the potential to blow it open.
The Jays pen has been worked to death lately:
Grilli has been a fantastic pick up for the team, but certainly seems to be running out of gas. He also gave up an 8th inning homerun to Baltimore in the blown game last Wednesday night.
Cecil has actually got the curve ball working better lately even though he had a bit of a rough go in Boston. He came in and got a big Chris Davis strikeout in the series last week, and I expect we will see him lined up against a lefty again tomorrow night. I have confidence in Cecil, even though most fans don't.
Joe Biagini has been put in more and more high leverage positions as the season has rolled along. He had strong showings in Boston, and if Stroman and Liriano get in trouble early we could see him asked to lock down an inning or more.
Roberto Osuna had a much needed rest day today after pitching a ton in Boston, and being asked to take Saturday’s game 2 innings.
Francisco Liriano can be called a bullpen guy for this game, and he could be asked to pitch anywhere from one at bat to multiple innings.
Outside of those options, if we see any other arms it probably means that the game is out of reach. This group has battled hard this season, but come up short more times than desired. In a one game spot Osuna is the only person I have total confidence in, although this group is better set up with two potential lefties to match up compared with last years playoff bullpen once Cecil went down.
The Orioles bullpen is clearly the best part of their team. The combination of Darren O’Day (if healthy and called upon) and the unhittable Zach Britton do a fantastic job shortening games for the team and covering up for the starting pitching. Drake and Givens have also given the Jays trouble this season. If the Jays don’t have the lead by the time they come to bat in the 8th inning, things will be looking bad. It can’t be stressed enough how important it is to get up on Baltimore. Britton gave up 4 runs all season as the closer. In the American League!!
This is the most decisive advantage of any of the areas of these two teams.
I think this will be a tighter game than the score might indicate, given the strength of that Orioles backend. I think the Jays are able to get to Tillman and jump out front and we will find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of hoping our bullpen can hold on as their relievers cool off our bats a bit. With all that being said, I like the prospect of having Liriano backing up Stroman, and the fact this game is in the Rogers Centre.
Blue Jays win the game 5-3 and we all sweat out the 8th and 9th innings.