The Toronto Blue Jays have locked up a playoff spot and now know they have a series against the Seattle Mariners.
The two teams met for a pair of series earlier in the season, but both are in better places than they were at that time and the Wild Card round could tell a completely different story.
Both squads have upgraded their rosters and their new acquisitions could play a significant role in the outcome of who moves forward. Here’s what to look for in a potential series starting this Friday.
Blue Jays: Too early to tell?
Toronto and Seattle were both off to disappointing starts when they first played this season. Yusei Kikuchi and Jose Berrios were the starting pitchers for the first two games. Their collective participation in this series is expected to be limited.
Expected Game 2 starter Kevin Gausman pitched five good innings but gave up a two-run home run to Cal Raleigh and was tagged with the loss in a listless 5-1 defeat.
He’ll likely face off against Robbie Ray or Logan Gilbert, with the Jays doing just enough against Gilbert first time they faced him. George Springer came up with the big hit, a three-run triple, and on a night the team got great pitching, that was all they needed in a 3-0 win.
The other thing that stands out when looking at some of the old box scores from these earlier matchups is the players that may not or won’t be playing. We know the status of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Santiago Espinal are both up in the air, but the Zack Collins experiment has ended and Ryan Borucki is now a member of the Mariners.
It’s also fair to wonder if this first series occurred early enough in the season, with offenses still struggling, that it has no real bearing on the playoff series.
Blue Jays: Sleepless in Seattle
The second series in Seattle represented a difficult time during the season. The team was struggling, losing two of three to the A’s in Oakland in the previous few days on their west coast road trip. The group was also dealing with the personal tragedy of Julia Budzinski, the daughter of first base coach Mark Budzinski, who died in a boating accident in early July. There was also the matter of the thin starting pitching corps, which forced the team to use since-departed reliever Anthony Banda as an opener in the series opener.
You may also recall Sergio Romo was on the staff then as the team was patching things together. The pitching was decent, as they lost 5-2 in 11 innings and 2-1 in the second and third games. Max Castillo started the final game; he’s gone too, and they coughed up four leads in a 6-5 fist-clencher.
That may have been the season’s low point, and, sure enough, Manager Charlie Montoyo was fired and replaced with John Schneider shortly after. They were 45-42 at the time, and are 45-27 since.
Blue Jays: Wild Card X-Factors
The Jays will welcome back Robbie Ray to the Rogers Centre with Alek Manoah likely going for the Blue Jays in Game 1, opposite Luis Castillo for the Mariners. The Jays have not faced Castillo as a member of the Mariners but when they faced Ray, he surrendered just one run over six innings in his lone start against Toronto, a George Springer home run. Manoah was also sharp that day, pitching a shutout into the eighth, but gave up a big home run to Carlos Santana to relinquish the lead, and eventually, the game. They’ll want to try to jump on Castillo and Ray early, as Springer’s homer came in the sixth inning.
Whit Merrifield has been on a crazy tear over the last two weeks. In his previous 12 games, Whit has hit .463 (19-41), with four doubles, four homers, 10 runs scored, 11 RBI, and a 1.331 OPS. He’ll look to continue his hot-hitting ways in his first playoff run.
Raleigh has established himself as a power-hitting force and his 26 bombs are the most among catchers. He hit .211 (4-19) versus the Blue Jays with two HR and 5 RBI. The staff will try to keep him in the ballpark this time.
The Mariners bullpen has also been one of the best in the American League. They had the fourth-lowest ERA (3.35) and their collective WHIP of 1.09 is the best. Andres Munoz, Penn Murfee, and Paul Sewald can lock a game down. Getting off to quick starts could be a key for the Blue Jays if they can attack and get the starter out of the game quickly.
The Blue Jays scored 21 runs in their seven games against Seattle, an average of only three runs per game. It’s likely they’ll need to produce more than that in this series. The way they’ve been playing, that shouldn’t be a problem.