The Blue Jays and John Gibbons have elected to start Marcus Stroman in the winner take all Wild Card game on Tuesday night.
162 games later, here we are on the verge of the Wild Card game against the Baltimore Orioles. Having just played each other less than a week ago both clubs know exactly what they’re getting into, as much as anyone can in a one game series.
The Orioles had a pretty easy decision when it came to who would start their playoff game. Chris Tillman has been far and away their best starter this season, and he’s rested and available for the game so it’s a no-brainer for Orioles manager Buck Showalter.
The Blue Jays, on the other hand, may have used their three best starters in their final series of the season against the Red Sox, and they certainly needed to do so. The Blue Jays were vulnerable to losing their playoff position altogether, but instead were able to take two of three in Boston, and were rewarded with the home field advantage in the Wild Card game.
Aaron Sanchez pitched on Sunday so he’s not an option, and neither is J.A. Happ, who threw Saturday’s game. Marco Estrada was a possibility, but given the state of his health it’s hardly ideal to start him on short rest. Gibbons and the Blue Jays really only had two options, deadline acquisition Francisco Liriano, or opening day starter Marcus Stroman.
Despite the data, the team is going with Stroman in the pivotal, sudden-death game, and there are plenty of arguments to be made for either choice. Liriano has thrown very well lately and is left-handed, which has been a greater challenge for the Orioles lineup this season. Our own Jim Scott detailed a case for Liriano, and you could certainly argue for him to be the guy.
However, the announcement has been made that it will be Stroman. Stroman who has authored a line of 1-2 and 7.04 ERA against the Orioles in 4 starts. He also fared worse against the Orioles more recently as well, but all of that doesn’t matter to Gibbons, Stroman, or the club at this point.
Stroman is their guy for this game.
This is a gut call for Gibbons, and may well determine the manager’s fate this offseason. Stroman hasn’t had the season that he or the team had hoped for, but he has been much better in the second half of the season. Even with an ugly 0-5 record in his final 8 starts, the 25 year old still carried a 3.58 ERA.
But this is about more than numbers, and I’m among those that commend Gibbons for going with his gut. Stroman was in this position last season and he rose to the occasion. He’s the type of pitcher that loves and usually thrives when faced with pressure, and there’s not many bigger starts than the one he’ll make Tuesday night.
He’s the type of player that can electrify his teammates and the crowd with his energy, which will be plentiful in Toronto for this crucial game. They may be intangible factors that don’t show up in the numbers, but they are significant and were no doubt considered by the Jays’ brass with this decision.
All hands will be on deck if Stroman struggles early, but look for the confident young man to thrive in this opportunity. He wants the ball as badly as anyone, and he’ll get a chance to make Gibbons look good if he thrives.
Here’s hoping he does exactly that….. and the freakin’ bats wake up.