Well folks, this is it. After a wild and intense six-month, 162-game season, the Orioles have nine innings and twenty-seven outs to fight for their playoffs lives tonight in Toronto. The winner will book a flight to Arlington, while the other one will go (or stay) home.
But before we dive into tonight’s one-off showdown, let’s take a look at the tale of both clubs before both teams take the field for the 20th and final time against each other this season.
The Orioles (89-73) kicked off the campaign on a blistering 7-0 run and refused to come back down to earth for most of the first half of the season and boasted a division-leading 47-31 mark through June. When the All-Star Break hit a few weeks later, the Orioles owned a head-turning 51-36 record and a two-game lead over Boston for first place.
The team that was pegged to finish in or close to the cellar was 75 games away from the division title.
Alas, the next few weeks sang a different tune, as the Orioles went 25-30 after the break through the end of August, and as a result, their grip on first slowly evaporated. Before you knew it, the Orioles were in a dogfight with what seemed to be half of the American League for a spot in the postseason.
But in the face of a vigorous month-long battle to reach the playoffs, the Orioles fought back and responded by going 17-12 down the stretch. Sure, they may have left it to the final game of the season to lock up a playoff berth, but this scrappy Orioles squad is revved up and ready to go for October baseball.
The Blue Jays (89-73) began the season on a rough patch and finished with an 11-14 record in April, but since their rocky start, they’ve been on the up-and-up all season long.
After going 32-24 from May through June, the Jays erupted during the dog days of summer en route to posting a stellar 33-19 clip in July and August. While Toronto may have fell off the pace of the first-place Red Sox down the stretch, they ultimately earned their status as the first wild card in the AL. As a result, the Jays get the honor of hosting the Orioles in front of a vicious and amplified crowd at Rogers Centre.
Surely, it’s going to be one for the history books.
While some may be worried about Tillman getting the nod in the one-game showdown versus the Jays, I’m here to calm your nerves a bit. While Tillman’s career line of a 5-10 record with a 5.44 ERA over 24 starts against Toronto is less than ideal and his 7.01 ERA over 13 career starts at Rogers Centre is a cause for concern, both have been non-issues over the course of the 2016 season.
Over four starts versus Toronto this season, Tillman has gone 1-0 with a 3.63 ERA. To make it even better, he owns a sparkling 2.38 ERA over two starts at Rogers Centre on the year. It’s a ‘’what have you done for me lately’’ business anyway, right? Have faith, folks.
Also, Tillman has been the Orioles road warrior all season long. Not only has the Orioles star hurler gone 8-3 with a sparkling 2.97 ERA away from Camden Yards this year, he’s also allowed two earned runs or fewer in 10 of his 14 starts and in seven of his last eight.
There’s little surprise that John Gibbons went with Marcus Stroman in this one, as the 25-year-old has been lights out for a while now.
After enduring a roller coaster first half, Stroman has posted a rock-solid 3.33 ERA over his 11 starts since the beginning of August. In a cruel twist of fate, he’s 1-6 during that span.
Still, the former Blue Devil has allowed just three runs or fewer in nine of his last eleven starts and is locked in and ready to roll.
But of course, this one will probably be decided by a duel between two of the league’s most dangerous offenses. That’s right – we have the likes of Mark Trumbo, Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Chris Davis going toe-to-toe and slugging it out versus the Blue Jays four-headed monster consisting of Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista.
A showdown between division rivals to make it out of the wild card round alive. It doesn’t get any better, or more intense, than this.
Nine innings, 27 outs. No do-overs. Win or die.
It’s time to apply the war paint.
Here’s to filling this space with at least one more (but hopefully several more) series previews this year.