The Toronto Blue Jays have had a roller coaster of a season and find themselves hanging onto the second Wild Card spot in the AL, just one game behind the Rays and one game in front of the Mariners. With Toronto being eight games behind the Yankees with just three games remaining against them, the division seems all but out of reach.
With a Wild Card spot seeming likely, the Jays will play a three-game series either against one of the other Wild Card teams or against the winner of the AL Central as that division winner will have the worst record of the three division winners and won’t get a bye.
This three-game series will take place in one venue and will determine whether the Jays will advance to the ALDS.
The Blue Jays will need to line up their three best starters to pitch in the Wild Card round and to me, it’s very clear who those three should be.
Game 1 starter: Kevin Gausman
Kevin Gausman is the ace of this staff. He currently sports a 3.15 ERA and had a league-leading 2.06 FIP heading into last night’s start against Boston. He’s been consistently solid all season long and should get the Game 1 nod as he has postseason experience including a start last season for the Giants in the NLDS, where he went 5.1 innings and allowed four earned runs compared to seven strikeouts with three walks.
Game 2 starter: Alek Manoah
What a year it’s been for Alek Manoah. In his second season at the big league level, he made the All-Star team and should get Cy Young votes along with Gausman. Manoah has been a workhorse for this Jays team and despite going through a little bit of a down stretch recently, he’s kept the club in games and has given them length as well.
The Blue Jays are in very good hands with their Game 1 and Game 2 starters, and with the potent offense, they’re more than capable of finishing off any team in just two games. But, knowing how inconsistent this Blue Jays team can be, it’s likely the third game would be needed anyway.
Game 3 starter: Ross Stripling
Gausman and Manoah in whatever order you want to put them are locked to make the first two starts. They have been by far the best starters in this rotation all season long and give the Jays the best chance to win.
The right-hander has 13 quality starts in his 25 outings, yet has a 5.28 ERA. Berríos either gives the Jays an ace-quality start or gives them no possible chance of winning. It doesn’t matter the opponent, it doesn’t even really matter whether it’s at home or on the road. The Jays simply have no idea what they’re going to get out of Berríos so he’s too risky for a Game 3 start.
However, the Jays do seem to know what they’re going to get out of Ross Stripling. In 17 starts this season he has a 2.68 ERA. He’s given up three runs or fewer in all but one of his starts. He might not have the ceiling Berríos has where he can strike out 10+ batters while going seven scoreless, but the Jays know Stripling will keep them in the game through five or six. With games of this magnitude, that’s all they can really ask for.
These Jays starters can go up against anybody and should be good enough to win any given Wild Card series.