One game will feature two division rivals meeting up once more. The other will feature last year’s National League pennant winner and a team that has won three championships in the past six seasons.
The Baltimore Orioles will face the Toronto Blue Jays on the northern side of the border at the Rogers Center in the American League Wild Card game (Tuesday, 7 p.m., TBS). The New York Mets will face the San Francisco Giants in the Big Apple at Citi Field for the National League Wild Card game (Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN). Here are some key match-ups, and what to expect for outcomes of both games.
The Blue Jays will host the Orioles, only because they won the head-to-head matchup during the regular season (10-9). The Orioles have earned a birth with a starting rotation full of question marks. Their bullpen has been a tremendous pick-me-up as the season rolled on, as they led all American League teams with a 3.41 earned run average. It will be hard to imagine the O’s will be able to suppress an offense like Toronto, but perhaps they can do more damage control than expected. What brought the Orioles here is simply stout pitching down the stretch. Ubaldo Jimenez found some rhythm, producing quality starts in six of his last seven starts. The young starters in Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy have been consistently good, and Baltimore’s ace Chris Tillman has been the kind of pitcher the Orioles were hoping he would be.
As it was stated earlier, Toronto’s offense is something to fear. However, that has not been the case lately. In the months of September and October, the Blue Jays were averaging a Major League-low 3.7 runs per game. Their starting rotation has been the key to their playoff birth these past 30-something days, with an ERA of 3.27, second-best in the Majors. The bullpen also had their problems recently, holding a 4.60 ERA in that span of time. With the home-field advantage being something the Blue Jays might call a blessing, Toronto’s fans will have a great impact for the one-game playoff.
Both the Blue Jays and Orioles finished in the top-five in homeruns, and this game could turn into an offensive battle. The funny thing about baseball is there really is not a constant to expect. If the game were to come down to pitching, especially the bullpen, the game could sway in the advantage of the Orioles. Baltimore’s closer Zach Britton has converted all 47 of his save opportunities, and a miniscule 0.54 ERA. The last time he allowed a homerun was in April, so if the Orioles have the lead late in the game they could be a lock to advance to the next round.
Prediction: Baltimore 6, Blue Jays 4
A vast difference from the American League Wild Card game, the National League Wild Card game will feature a pitching matchup that could be the highlight of the playoffs. For the Mets, right-hander Noah Sydergaard will take the bump. On the other side, southpaw Madison Bumgarner will face him. Both were ranked in the top-five in ERA in the Majors, so it surely could be looking like quite the pitching duel. According to MLB.com statistics, no other starter in the Majors can consistently throw the ball as hard as Syndergaard can. His averaged perceived velocity on all of his pitches are 95.4 miles per hour.
Both teams have seen a different journey to this game, with the Mets holding the best record in the Majors the last six weeks (27-13), and the Giants losing their past 38 of 60 games after the All-Star break. The Giants were almost out of the race, as the surging St. Louis Cardinals were able to challenge them for the final playoff spot in the last couple of weeks. San Francisco was able to win eight of their last 12 games, reminding the league it is yet again an even year after all (Giants won World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014). The Mets are looking strong yet again this season, even with injuries to starters Matt Harvey and Jacob DeGrom. Saying it does come down to a pitching duel, the bullpen that would be able to shut things down would be in favor of the Mets. The Giants have had trouble keeping leads late in the game since the All-Star Break, as it could ultimately be their Achilles heel if they cannot right the ship in that department. This is an intriguing matchup in the sense both of these teams could be potential threats to represent the National League in the World Series.
Prediction: Giants 3, Mets 2