AL Wild Card Game 2016: Orioles vs. Blue Jays Breakdown and Predictions

Seth Gruen@SethGruenFeatured ColumnistOctober 4, 2016

AL Wild Card Game 2016: Orioles vs. Blue Jays Breakdown and Predictions

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    This season, the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles couldn't have played each other closer.

    In 19 games, Toronto won 10 and Baltimore nine.

    Each team protected its home-field advantage. The Orioles went 5-4 at Camden Yards, while the Blue Jays were 6-4 at Rogers Centre. MLB couldn't have hand-picked two better teams to pit against one another in the American League Wild Card Game.

    Follow along as we break down one of baseball's most hotly contested division rivalries.

Chris Tillman vs. Blue Jays Lineup

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    Matthew Hazlett/Getty Images

    Baltimore Orioles starter Chris Tillman's turn in the rotation comes up Tuesday. That's a fortunate coincidence for his team, which announced Monday on Twitter he would get the start.

    Tillman was a better choice than Ubaldo Jimenez, who was also available to start.

    Tillman, a 28-year-old right-hander, was 16-6 this season with a 3.77 ERA. In four starts against the Blue Jays, he was 1-0 with a 3.63 ERA and 1.30 WHIP.

    Jimenez had a 6.43 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in five games, including four starts, against Toronto. But the 32-year-old righty was great after the All-Star break, posting a 2.82 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and .183 batting average against. He was 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA in September, creating a decision for manager Buck Showalter.

    The Jays' most important hitters—third baseman Josh Donaldson, right fielder/designated hitter Jose Bautista and designated hitter/first baseman Edwin Encarnacion—had mixed results against Baltimore this year.

    Bautista hit .204/.328/.449 with three home runs in 13 games, though Donaldson (.254/.372/.535, four homers in 19 games) and Encarnacion (.265/.381/.529, four homers in 19 games) slashed better.

    In their careers, Bautista (.267/.370/.556 in 45 at-bats) and Encarnacion (.293/.333/.500 in 58 at-bats) have hit Tillman better than Donaldson (.257/.278/.486 in 35 at-bats).

Marcus Stroman vs. Orioles Lineup

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    The Blue Jays announced Monday on Twitter that right-hander Marcus Stroman will start Tuesday's AL Wild Card Game, but it's fair to question the decision. 

    Stroman had a 7.04 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in four starts against the Orioles this season. Among opponents against whom he made multiple starts, Stroman was only worse against the Boston Red Sox (9.92 ERA, 2.14 WHIP in three starts).

    Francisco Liriano was also available and dominated in his only start against Baltimore this season, which came just last week. In fact, it was Liriano's best start with Toronto since the team acquired him from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 1. Liriano pitched 6.1 shutout innings and struck out 10 on Wednesday.

    The argument for starting Stroman is that he is a ground-ball pitcher, which should be advantageous against a Baltimore team that hit an MLB-best 253 homers this season.

    Among Orioles regulars, Trumbo (5-for-11), Hyun Soo Kim (3-for-7), Matt Wieters (5-for-12) and Chris Davis (4-for-10) all hit at least .400 against Stroman this season.

Bullpen Breakdown

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    Zach Britton
    Zach BrittonEvan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

    Given how close these two teams played one another during the regular season, the Wild Card Game could come down to the late innings.

    That's where the Orioles have a decisive advantage.

    Anchored by closer Zach Britton, who was the best at his craft this season, the Baltimore bullpen is one of baseball's most dominant.

    Orioles relievers boasted a 3.40 ERA, third-best in the majors and the top mark in the AL. The Baltimore bullpen lost just 15 games, the fewest in the league, and won 32 contests, tied for third-most in MLB.

    It's indicative of how difficult it is to score on the group.

    Aside from Britton, the Orioles are heavy on quality right-handed relievers—Brad Brach, Darren O'Day, Mychal Givens and Vance Worley—an asset against the right-handed power of Toronto's Donaldson, Bautista and Encarnacion.

    The Blue Jays, on the other hand, have one of baseball's more questionable groups of relievers. Toronto's 4.11 bullpen ERA ranked 22nd in the majors. Those arms are rested, however, having pitched 464 innings during the regular season—the fewest among any team in baseball.

    Making matters worse: Joaquin Benoit, one of the Blue Jays' best relievers, is out with a torn left calf.

Star Breakdown

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    Manny Machado
    Manny MachadoAnthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

    Tuesday night's game will feature a pair of the AL's best power hitters in Orioles third baseman Manny Machado and Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson.

    Their numbers were nearly identical this season.

    Machado, 24 and one of baseball's brightest young stars, slashed .294/.343/.533 with 37 home runs and 96 RBI. Donaldson, the reigning AL MVP, hit .284/.404/.549 with 37 home runs and 99 RBI.

    The duo's at-bats could be among the game's most important.

    Toronto sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and Baltimore power men Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis also could make big impacts.

    Trumbo led baseball with 47 homers, while Encarnacion hit 42 and Davis smashed 38. Bautista hit only 22, but that was largely because he played just 116 games. In 2015, he hit 40.

Buck Showalter vs. John Gibbons

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    John Gibbons
    John GibbonsTom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Over 18 seasons as manager of the New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers and Orioles, Buck Showalter has as many playoff wins (nine) as Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has years of experience.

    Gibbons made his first playoff appearance last season and guided Toronto to the American League Championship Series.

    Showalter (22) has managed twice as many postseason games as Gibbons (11). But Gibbons' .455 winning percentage bests Showalter's .409.

    The two teams play in the same division, so each manager is overly familiar with his counterpart. As a result, they might be able to influence the game more than usual—both Showalter and Gibbons understand how the other might employ his personnel.

    That could make the chess match between the two intriguing.

Ballpark

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    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

    Rogers Centre Dimensions

    Left Field: 328 ft.

    Left-Center Field: 375 ft.

    Center Field: 400 ft.

    Right-Center Field: 375 ft.

    Right Field: 328 ft.

        

    Rogers Centre 2016 Park Factors (MLB Rank)

    Runs: 1.156 (T-6th)

    Home Runs: 1.010 (17th)

    Hits: 1.083 (8th)

    Doubles: 1.300 (3rd)

    Triples: 1.100 (10th)

    Walks: 1.039 (T-9th)

    Notes    

    Park Factors above 1.000 favor hitters, and those below 1.000 favor pitchers, so Rogers Centre has unquestionably played as a hitter's park this year. And both the Blue Jays and Orioles are teams that have won with offense.

    Toronto scored 4.7 runs per game this season (ninth in MLB); the Orioles put up 4.6 (12th in MLB). Both teams relied on hitting home runs. Baltimore, as mentioned earlier, hit an MLB-best 253 homers, while Toronto ranked fourth with 221.

        

    Park Factors courtesy of ESPN.

Prediction

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    Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

    Picking this game couldn't be more difficult.

    The teams have similar offensive identities, and neither will have a dominant starter on the mound.

    The Orioles appear to have an advantage in the late innings, as Baltimore has been the beneficiary of one of baseball's best bullpens all season.

    If Tillman can provide at least five solid frames, the Orioles should be well-positioned to win the game. The key for the Blue Jays will be to try to score early.

    Gibbons may call for his team to give up outs in early innings to move runners into scoring position since the Baltimore bullpen is so difficult to beat. If Toronto takes an early lead, that could derail the Orioles' plans to use certain relievers late in the game.

    Game Prediction: Orioles 4, Blue Jays 3

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