The Baltimore Orioles will be traveling to Toronto to face the division rival Blue Jays in a winner-take-all Wild Card game Tuesday night. One of the unique strategic aspects about the MLB playoff system is pitching. Managers have to weigh their decisions about the starter based on the likelihood of a Wild Card win while also trying to position the team well for the best-of-five game divisional series that follows for the victor. A lot of the water cooler talk in Charm City tomorrow will be about Chris Tillman getting the start for the Orioles and how he will do, but let's discuss their opponents for a moment. With ace Aaron Sanchez forced into starting the season finale Sunday in what was a must-win game for Toronto, he won't be available. And so the Blue Jays will send righty Marcus Stroman to the hill. Stroman, who is in his third major league season (all with Toronto), has been a solid member of their rotation all year. While his final line for the season (9-10 with a 4.37 ERA) may not look all that exciting, the 25-year old improved as the year went on. In September, he posted a 3.41 ERA, and his August (3.13) was even better.
The Orioles, however, have had his number. Facing the 2016 Birds, Stroman was 1-2 with a massive 7.04 ERA. That said, when Stroman last pitched against Baltimore in last week's final series in Toronto, he at least kept his team competitive (the O's would win 4-0 behind a stellar Ubaldo Jimenez start). Stroman went 7+ innings, giving up four earned runs on nine hits while striking out three. The O's used the following lineup to face the Blue Jay righty a week ago:
Adam Jones - CF
Hyun Soo Kim - LF
Manny Machado - 3B
Mark Trumbo - DH
Matt Wieters - C
Chris Davis - 1B
Jonathan Schoop - 2B
Michael Bourn - RF
JJ Hardy - SS
Kim, Trumbo, and Hardy each had two hits off the young righty in a solid offensive performance that resulted in the rare "Orioles win without a home run." So does Buck Showalter go with the same lineup Tuesday, this time with the season on the line?
A few points to consider:
- Jones has hit Stroman well historically. He has a .400 lifetime average with six singles in 15 at-bats. That gives plenty of reason to keep him in the leadoff spot, though the case could also be made for moving him down into the heart of the order where he can do more damage.
- Davis is 4-for-13 lifetime against Stroman and has never gone deep against him.
- Manny is only 3-for-12 against Stroman, though two of those hits are a double and a home run.
- Kim should definitely be in the mix with a 3-for-7 lifetime mark against Stroman.
- While he wasn't in the lineup last week, Pedro Alvarez is 3-for-8 with a homer against Stroman. The debate for Buck here will be Pedro's bat versus Michael Bourn's outfield defense. Bourn is 2-for-7 against Stroman, with both hits being singles.
You could make some tweaks to this lineup, but I'd expect pretty much the same group of guys in the same order on Tuesday's lineup card. If Buck does decide to go with power over defense (a choice that he rarely makes), he could easily slot in Alvarez anywhere from fifth to seventh and bump everyone down one (removing Bourn). But Alvarez will most likely start on the bench, potentially coming on mid-game to provide some pop if the offense stalls.
If the Orioles can get to Stroman early, it should play to their advantage. Toronto has one of the worst bullpens in baseball, and a late lead was far from a sure thing for them in September. The Jays could try to mitigate this in a way that you'd rarely see in the regular season: bringing in starter Francisco Liriano as a reliever. The veteran lefty pitches well against Baltimore, and the Orioles are generally awful against south paws. Burning a starter like that could backfire if the Jays make it to the ALDS, but that probably won't stop them from pulling out all the stops against Baltimore Tuesday.
It's always fun to play armchair manager, but in the end all that matters is the win. What do you think about Baltimore's chances of beating the Jays and moving on to the ALDS? And what would your lineup look like? Let us know in the comments below!