Make no mistake, the Blue Jays weekend push to win 2 out of 3 against Boston to secure an AL Wild Card playoff game at Rogers Centre Tuesday night against Baltimore took nerves of steel. As I wrote on Friday, the middle game of the series was going to be the key one, and it was.
After the bullpen blew another lead in Friday’s series opener, Jays hitters were unable to take advantage of a favourable starting pitching mismatch. After Roberto Osuna’s balk led to the tying run in the 8th, the Jays converted a leadoff walk into a manufactured run in the 9th to secure a win in the most critical game of the year. Enter Aaron Sanchez, who no-hits the Red Sox through 6 1/3 yesterday, and a clutch RBI single by Troy Tulowitzki which turned out to be the difference in Sunday’s 2-1 season-ending victory, number 89 of the year. Gibby’s job is safe, for now.
So now the focus turns to the wild card game against the Orioles, and the big question — who starts? The options are Marco Estrada on three days rest, Francisco Liriano and Marcus Stroman. Estrada seems to have trouble pitching on anything other than 4 days rest now and has a tendency to give up the home run. Francisco Liriano has years of playoff experience, has been throwing the ball the best of late and can neutralize the O’s number one threat Chris Davis in a lefty-lefty matchup. Marcus Stroman is the best ground-ball pitcher in the AL, and is more likely to keep the Orioles’ powerful lineup in the yard. Interesting decision.
If it’s me, I tab Liriano. You’re obviously going to have the other two guys ready in case of early trouble – it’s a one-game playoff, you have to do that. I think experience is the most important factor, and Liriano has done this — pitching in a 6-2 wild card game victory in 2013 as the Pirates outlasted Cincinnati. Russell Martin homered twice and Jason Grilli got the save in that game, by the way.
Just a gut feel, but I believe the Blue Jays will take this game and advance to the ALDS against Texas. After last year’s bat-flipping drama, even the universe can’t resist allowing such a rematch of epic proportions, can it?