Phew! It was a white-knuckle kind of last week but at least the Blue Jays are in, and back-to-back wins in Fenway on this past October weekend help fade the memories of the dismal 11-16 September a little. Obviously we’d have loved to have seen a better September and a Jays division title (which would have, by the way, made this pundit 6 for 6 in picking the division winners back in spring training) but we’ll take what we get.
Looking forward to tomorrow night’s wild card game, things look favorable for Toronto. Fans will be loud and of course, both teams are better on home turf. Toronto was 46-35 at Rogers Centre; Baltimore 39-42 on the road. The only cloud on the horizon that worries me is the rumor that Toronto will go with Marcus Stroman for the winner-take-all game. This would clearly be a mistake. Francisco Liriano is the man for the job (given that JA Happ and Marco Estrada would be on short rest if called upon, therefore not ideal for the start.)
Yes, Stroman may end up being the ace of the staff down the road. yes, he’s feisty and has great promise. But he’s not shown himself capable of handling big-time pressure this year and in fact, has been rather redoubtable. To be fair, it’s not much of a stretch to say it was only Marcus’ second real year in the bigs, and at that point in their careers, Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter didn’t look like much either. But here and now, Stroman has been a completely unreliable starter in 2016. With 204 innings logged, (46 more than he’d pitched in his whole big league career prior), it’s reasonable to think he might be a bit burned out, but then Aaron Sanchez has risen to the occasion with even less MLB experience. And Stroman hasn’t had a stretch of consistent good games at all this year. 9-10, 4.37 aren’t numbers that inspire confidence for a team that has to win a game; even less so his career numbers against Baltimore (2-3, 5.27, .298 opponents average.) Let’s not forget that Baltimore saw him last week, downing the Jays 4-0 in that game with Marcus giving up 9 hits and all 4 runs over 7 innings. The only positive would be to say that after not having a win at all in his last 7 outings, he should be due. But this seems a rather poor reason to risk the team’s season on him.
Liriano on the other hand, while posting so-so numbers on the year (8-13, 4.69) has been good with the Jays and of late, great. In his last four starts, he’s logged 24 2/3 innings with 26 K’s and only 4 earned runs, for a 1.46 ERA. His final start of the season, you may recall, he kept Baltimore off the board through 6 1/3 while striking out 10 (only to have the bullpen blow it but that’s another story.) And having pitched 163 or so innings this year, there’s no risk of him wearing out; the veteran has gone 160+ four previous years. Add in the fact that his career numbers against the Orioles are a bit better than Stroman’s (4.34 ERA vs 5.27, .273 opponent’s avg. vs .298) and the Orioles comparative difficulty hitting southpaws (well, compared to hitting righties like Stroman at least — the O’s hit .254 with a .709 OPS against left-handers, .266 with .758 against right-handers. As well they clipped homers at a one per 24 AB rate compared to one in 31 facing lefties.) and it should be a no-brainer.
Liriano goes on Tuesday and , thinking positive, the Jays will be set up to have Happ and Estrada pitch in Arlington later in the week. Sanchez could be the game 3 starter; Stroman should go to the bullpen to supplement a weakness there as could RA Dickey, who would add depth there should the team get locked into a lengthy extra-innings marathon.
Speaking of Dickey and that scenario, Josh Thole seems to make more sense as the back-up catcher than Dioner Navarro this post-season . Navarro in theory offers more pop with his bat, but hasn’t shown it this year (a meagre .182 avg with no extra base hits with Toronto in 16 games, not much different than Thole’s .169/1/7 line in 50) and Thole would at least be able to come in and catch that knuckleball should Dickey be brought in to toss more than one or two outs.
We’ll look at the rest of the post-season later in the week, with Toronto hopefully looking to see what’s new in Texas since the last time they saw those Rangers. If they are on the other hand,on the outside looking in because Marcus Stroman quickly dug them a hole they couldn’t climb out of on Tuesday night, we’ll likely be looking at the massive changes needed in team management on all levels, which will be a popular topic among fans I’m sure.