Evenly matched AL East foes face off in Wild Card game

Manny Machado - Photo Credit - Keith Allison

Manny Machado – Photo Credit – Keith Allison

 

 

The AL East is WELL represented in the 2016 postseason. The division was a three-team race from the get-go between the Baltimore Orioles, the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays. All three teams led the division at some point but the Red Sox pulled away late in the season and never looked back.

The Orioles and the Blue Jays were forced to shift their focus on a Wild Card spot and now, here we are. They both were able to make it, with identical 89-73 records and the Jays getting the home field advantage due to them winning 10 of their 19 meetings this season.

Both teams can score. Both teams can hit the long ball. Both teams also give up the long ball. Both teams are filled with All-Stars on offense and….well neither team likes the other very much.

It almost seems unfair that one of their season’s will end after a one-game play off considering they are so evenly matched, but that is also the beauty of it.

It is hard to just straight up predict what is going to happen in this game so I decided to go position-by-position and see who the edge goes to. Keep in mind that I’m going by their current rosters. At press time, the official postseason roster isn’t available yet so there may be players that I put on here that will not make the roster and vice versa.

Starting pitcher

Considering this is a one-game play off and not a complete series, we do not have to go through the hassle of the entire rotation, just the starters in the game — Chris Tillman & Marcus Stroman.

Tillman tied a career high this season with 16 wins, and although he has not won a decision since September 11th and he has posted a mediocre 4.84 ERA since then, he is still their ace by default.

Manager Buck Showalter could have went with Ubaldo Jimenez here, who has posted a 2.47 ERA over his past seven starts, but he wisely decided to go with the guy that got him there.

If the Jays did not have to use J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez just to get to the postseason, they would have had the clear advantage here, but instead it will be Stroman that gets the ball. Stroman was looked at as their next “ace” two years ago but it just has not happened yet. Although he posted a very average 4.37 ERA this season, he led the team in innings pitched (204) and he had 18 quality starts.

The only reason the O’s get the advantage here is because Tillman is on the mound. In fact, if this were ANY other pitching matchup, it would most likely go to the Jays.

Edge : Orioles

Catcher

Besides Adam Jones, there is no player on the O’s roster that is synonymous with the team more than Matt Wieters, and for good reason. He has been their starting catcher since 2009 and he put up solid numbers this season (17 HR 66 RBI) in what was a bounce back year for him after being limited to only 101 games between 14′ and 15′ due to Tommy John surgery that needed for his right elbow.

Russell Martin had an absolutely dreadful start to his second season with the Jays, and it is pretty amazing that he finished with the numbers that he did (.231 20 HR 74 RBI) considering he posted a .150 average in April and did not hit his first homer until May 25th.

Edge : Jays

First base

Chris Davis set a career high in strikeouts (219) while Edwin Encarnacion was the first player in the majors to reach 100 RBI.

Enough said.

Davis did hit 38 homers but his low average of .221 is still a problem for the team.

Encarnacion (42 HR 127 RBI) was an MVP candidate earlier in the season but that has died down recently with the emergence of a guy named Mookie Betts.

Edge: Jays

Second base

Jonathan Schoop is one of only three players (George Springer & Alcides Escobar) that can that they played in all 162 games in 2016 and he had a career year, driving in 82 runs and hitting 25 long balls. The only knock on Schoop would be the low walk total (only 21 all season).

Devon Travis was enjoying a nice rookie season in 15′ until a left shoulder injury cost him the rest of the season and also a little bit of 16′. He seems to be the perfect size (5’9″) for a second baseman and he has finally given the Jays a good leadoff hitter with a solid .300 average.

Edge : Orioles

Third base

Let’s call this one a “wash”. There is no way I can make a choice between two superstars in their prime that are both as good offensively as they are with the glove.

Manny Machado (37 HR 96 RBI) and Josh Donaldson (37 HR 99 RBI) both narrowly missed the 100-RBI mark and both had career highs in OPS — .876 for Machado and .953 for Donaldson. If there are two guys that the opposing team will not let them beat them, these are the two guys.

Edge: Even

Josh Donaldson - Photo Credit - Keith Allison

Josh Donaldson – Photo Credit – Keith Allison

 

Shortstop

J.J. Hardy has been the O’s starting shortstop since 2011 and he hit 77 home runs from 11′-13′.

Somehow, Hardy’s power has disappeared as he has only hit 26 of them from 14′ until now.

He missed an entire month and a half this season due to a left foot fracture, which forced Machado to flex his muscles at his normal shortstop position, and he has been consistently at that .250-.260 average all season.

Now, we know that we never have to worry about Troy Tulowitzki losing his power stroke, as he hit 24 long balls this season for the Jays after a disappointing second half of the season in 2015 after coming over from the Colorado Rockies. His only concern during his entire Rockies stint was health. He only missed a handful of games in late-May/early-June due to a right quad strain but for the most part, injuries have not been a concern. He is still not what Jays fans were hoping for (79 RBI), but it is better production than last season.

Edge : Jays

Corner outfield

Hyun Soo Kim may have saved the O’s season with a pinch-hit two-run home run off of Jays closer Roberto Osuna last Wednesday but he is strictly a platoon corner outfielder that will not hit against lefties.

Nolan Reimold gives the O’s a little versatility in the outfield defensively, but offensively he is not keeping pitchers awake at night.

Michael Bourn also gives the O’s some versatility in the outfield, as well as some much needed speed, which is basically the same thing that Ezequiel Carrera does for the Jays.

The Jays acquired Melvin Upton Jr. at the trade deadline hoping that they were getting the guy that seemed to resurrect his career (20 HR) with the San Diego Padres, but instead they have acquired the player that hit .197 during his two-year stint with the Atlanta Braves.

His .196 average with the Jays will back that up as factual.

The main players here are Mark Trumbo, Michael Saunders and Jose Bautista.

Even though the Jays seem to have an advantage as far as quantity (two players to one), Trumbo led the league in homers (47) while Bautista has made two separate trips to the disabled list and he was doing a ton of batting in the leadoff spot, which hurt his run production, although he still managed to drive in 69 runs with 22 home runs.

Although Saunders made his first All-Star appearance this season — thanks to the great people of Canada — he has really struggled to get his groove back since the All-Star break, batting only .178 and slugging just .357 as opposed to .298 and .551 before the break.

Edge : Orioles

Center field

If this was a question of just defensive skills, this could easily be a tie or even go the Jays, because Kevin Pillar is one of the best defensive outfielders in the entire game.

That is not how it works though, and even though Pillar took a step back from his production last season, he still had a solid season (7 HR 53 RBI) but that is not even close to Adam Jones’ production this season (29 HR 83 RBI).

Jones did not make any trips to the DL but he missed quite some time in April, due to a rib injury and a stomach virus, and that really contributed to his slow start statistically.

Look up six months later and the numbers are right where they should, and like Bautista, he spent a ton of time at the leadoff spot, with Showalter trying to get his star player going.

It obviously worked.

Edge: Orioles

Designated Hitter

Pedro Alvarez was without a home until March when the Orioles signed him to a one-year $5.7 million deal. Considering what they paid for and what they received (22 homers) that is a pretty good deal.

Alvarez has not seen alot of starts lately and it has been Trumbo more in the DH position and we know what type of production they are getting.

Encarnacion is not the team’s full-time DH, as he splits time at DH and first base but again, we know what his production is.

Bautista has seen the most time at DH since returning from injury, and I am assuming that was to keep him fresh for the postseason.

Edge : Jays

Bullpen

This could easily turn into a bullpen game, because I do not anticipate either of these starting pitchers going past six innings so this facet of the game could prove to be the difference.

It is pretty hard to go against such a dominant closer like Zach Britton (47/47 in saves), especially considering the Jays have a 21-year old closer that blew 3 saves last week. That said player is Roberto Osuna.

The O’s also have one of the best setup men in Brad Brach (10 wins 2.05 ERA) and other good arms in Darren O’Day, Brian Duensing, Donnie Hart & Mychal Givens.

Compare that to Osuna — who as I mentioned before has blown three saves recently — and his 36 saves and I would have to give the O’s the distinct advantage.

With that being said, the Jays can go to veterans like Brett Cecil or Jason Grilli or their very solid rookie Joe Biagini. They lost Joaquin Benoit recently indefinitely due to that benches clearing “brawl” last week against the New York Yankees and that could be a huge loss.

Keep in mind that starters like R.A. Dickey, Jimenez &Francisco Liriano could also be available out of the bullpen for their respective teams.

Edge: Orioles

So there you have it. The O’s have a slight 5-4 advantage when you go position-by-position (with one tie) so obviously the O’s will win this game and move on to the ALDS.

Feel free to disagree with me in the comments.

– Khristian Peel

 

 

 

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