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Blue Jays playoff X-factor #2: Troy Tulowitzki

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The Toronto Blue Jays have a playoff game tomorrow. Words we’ve been waiting over two decades to say. With the Blue Jays 25-man roster completed without any real surprises, we’ve been counting down the 5 biggest X-factors that could tilt this series either way. First baseman Justin Smoak came in at number five yesterday followed by the pinch-run threat of Dalton Pompey at four, then the unpredictable R.A. Dickey kicked off the top-three.

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Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is next on the docket, as his recent injury struggles create a level of uncertainty that we don’t see with fellow stars Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. His playoff experience and long track record of success as a pro should give fans some comfort, but do we know how close to 100% Tulowitzki is?

“I’m not pain-free,” Tulowitzki told Jamie Ross of MLB.com. “Some soreness in there, as can be expected. But that doesn’t mean I can’t play.”

Since returning to the lineup late in the season, he’s certainly done all that he needed to do. After putting some good swings on the ball during a simulated game against David Price, Tulo went 3-for-8 with two doubles in two starts. I’m still a few classes short of my medical degree, but the shoulder injury was not limiting Tulowitzki in the same way that, say, it did Jose Bautista earlier in the season.

One variable to watch will be his placement in the lineup, as Tulo struggled in a leadoff role after coming over from the Rockies before shifting down into the bottom half of the lineup. Left fielder Ben Revere has played above and beyond the grumpy expectations that met him in Toronto, and truly has given the Jays a threat from the top spot. With John Gibbons being one of the least likely managers to make a sudden change of any sort, I’d expect the lineup to keep its current shape.

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“We’re talking about it, really you want him back up to the fifth slot,” Gibbons told Ross earlier in the week. “He might be ready to do it, I don’t know for sure yet.”

His defense will also be a critical factor, something that becomes magnified in postseason play where higher-quality pitching shrinks the margin for error. Playing between Donaldson and Ryan Goins with Justin Smoak likely to see the majority of the time at first base, Toronto profiles very well in that area.

The wide range of potential outcomes with Tulowitzki and his uncertain health makes him a true X-factor. If he’s able to really click this October, though, Toronto’s lineup may be too much for even the best pitching staff. Blue Jays fans have yet to see the elite offensive shortstop that Colarado has enjoyed for years, but there’s no time like the present.

Next: News: Blue Jays to start Estrada ahead of Dickey

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