A.L. Wild Card Game Preview: Blue Jays vs. Orioles

 (Courtesy of REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

(Courtesy of REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

TORONTO- Let the battle of the birds begin! The American League Wild Card game is going to be one of the most anticipated match up to kick off the 2016 postseason as the Toronto Blue Jays will host the Baltimore Orioles tonight at 8:00pm.

Both teams finished the 2016 regular season at 89-73, but the Blue Jays won their 19-game match up at 10-9 to earn home-field advantage. Both teams are very similar with their slugging and powerful offence. The two teams combine to hit 478 home runs this season. Look for both teams to attempt to outslug each other in this crucial game. The difference of this game is going to be the pitching.

Here’s a position-by-position analysis between the Jays and the O’s.

Catcher:

Russell Martin may not show some flashes behind the plate like he did last year. But his offensive contribution was the key in the 2nd half for the Blue Jays. The 33-year-old Canadian catcher is the only Blue Jays’ catcher to hit 20 more home runs for the 2nd consecutive seasons. Matt Wieters made a comeback after dealing with injuries over the last two seasons with 17 home runs and 66 RBIs. Though his defense took a major step back this year with 11 errors (the most of his career) Advantage: Blue Jays

1st Baseman:

Edwin Encarnacion had a career year with 42 homers and 127 RBIs. Though he has play more games as a DH than first base, look for Double E to get some time at first base over Justin Smoak. Chris Davis had another monster year with 38 home runs, but his high strikeout and low batting average is atrocious to watch. Edwin seems to have the advantage here but Davis could still swing for the fences. Advantage: Blue Jays

2nd Baseman:

Devon Travis became a hitting machine batting nearing .300. However, Travis struggled to make routine plays with 11 errors in limited action. Jonathan Schoop has some pop with his bat with 25 home runs but is a free swinger and will chase on anything he sees at the plate. Both have shown some good and bad moments, but Travis gets the edge with his plate discipline. Advantage: Blue Jays

3rd Baseman:

Josh Donaldson was on pace to have a better season than he did last year when he won the AL MVP. However he did suffer a minor hip recently. He 37 dinger and 99 RBIs were impressive but his .401 on base percentage was one of his best of his career. Manny Machado is an elite third baseman as well with 37 homers and 96 RBIs. Though Machado is 7 years younger than Donaldson, Donaldson is slightly better with is ability to draw walks. Advantage: Blue Jays

Shortstop:

Troy Tulowitzki overcame his poor start of his first full season with the Blue Jays with 24 home runs and 79 RBIs. He’s also been a great defender as he only committed 9 errors in 128 games this season. J.J. Hardy battled through a torn labrum all season long, but he does hit .270 and remains a good defender at shortstop. The nod goes to Tulo because he’s an all around player. Advantage: Blue Jays

Outfield:

Kevin Pillar continues to show on defense in center field, but too a major step back with his bat with a .267 batting average and 7 home runs. Michael Saunders’ terrific first half performance earned him an All Star nod. However he did struggled the 2nd half, hitting .178. Melvin Upton Jr., Ezequiel Carrera and Dalton Pompey have the speed and defense to make an impact, but not so much at the plate. Adam Jones continues to crush the ball with 29 home runs and hit well against the Jays throughout his career. Mark Trumbo led the majors with 47 home runs. Hyn Soo Kim can mash against righties hitting .304. Advantage: Orioles 

Designated Hitter:

Jose Bautista will be use as the DH for the Blue Jays. Though it was a injury-plague season for the two-time home run champ, Bautista still manage to hit 22 home runs and 69 RBI’s in 423 at-bats. Pedro Alverez can still hit for power with 22 home runs, but he struggled to hit off of lefties this season. Both teams are very even at this spot, but nod goes to Jose for his ability to draw walks. Advantage: Blue Jays

Starting Pitching:

The Blue Jays made a gutsy call by sending Marcus Stroman to start this crucial game over Francisco Liriano. Stroman had a up and down season with a 4.37 ER over 200 innings, but has shown the potential to rely on his sinker that produce a 60.1 % ground ball rate. That’s key, especially pitching at a friendly hitters’ ballpark like the Rogers Centre. Stroman have pitch in meaningful games during last year’s postseason run. The Blue Jays are hoping that he can do that again tonight. Liriano could see some action if Stroman can’t go deep in this game. Tillman bounce back this season, going 16-6 with a 3.77 ERA. He’s 1-0 mark and a 3.63 ERA in four starts against the Blue Jays, however he hasn’t been good at all against the Blue Jays. While the Blue Jays’ starters seem to have the advantage, with a 3.81 ERA vs. Baltimore compared to the Orioles’ 5.82 ERA against Toronto, the Orioles can still crush the baseball at the Rogers Centre. Advantage: Blue Jays

Bullpen:

Roberto Osuna has been outstanding as the closer for the Blue Jays with 82 k’s over 73 innings, but Cy Young Award candidate Zach Britton had a historic performance with 47 saves. Both closers have been outstanding, it’s just Britton has been better, way better. Darren O’Day been lights out throughout his career (except when he face Bautista). Brad Brach, Mychal Grivens and Oliver Drake are all solid relief core for the Orioles. While Brett Cecil, Jason Grilli and Joe Biagini have been the Blue Jays’ reliable relievers, the rest of the bullpen has some question marks, especially with Joaquin Benoit out with a torn calf injury. Advantage: Orioles

Overall both teams are similar with each other with their powerful bats. But the key of winning this elimination game is going to be their pitching. Will the Jays’s pitching shut down the O’s potent offence? Tune in folks! This is going to be a slugfest tonight at the Roger Centre.

Prediction: Blue Jays 9 Orioles 7.

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