TORONTO – Whenever his Toronto Blue Jays face the Baltimore Orioles, manager John Gibbons has a pretty good idea what kind of game it’s going to be.
“They’re normally slugfests,” Gibbons said Monday as the Blue Jays prepared to host Baltimore in the American League wild-card game.
The Orioles led the major leagues with 253 home runs this season, hitting 28 in their 19 games against Toronto. The Blue Jays were fourth in baseball with 221 homers and had 29 against Baltimore.
“We’re really very similar teams if you break it down,” Gibbons said. “We know everything about them, they know everything about us. When you’re playing a team from your division, there’s really no secrets.”
Still, with a berth in the best-of-five Division Series against Texas on the line, long balls might be a little harder to come by in Tuesday night’s winner-take-all affair between these A.L. East foes.
The challenge of controlling two powerful lineups will fall on the starting pitchers. Marcus Stroman (9-10, 4.37 ERA) gets the nod for Toronto, with fellow right-hander Chris Tillman (16-6, 3.77) going for the Orioles.
“I think Stro is the perfect guy,” Gibbons said. “Big game, we’ve seen him do it before. He did that a couple of times for us last year. You know he’s going to come out throwing strikes. We’re glad he’s available.”
Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said choosing Tillman was a “good, tough” decision.
“We had probably three options, and Chris is one of those good options,” Showalter said.
The Orioles went 4-0 in Tillman’s four starts against the Blue Jays this season. Last year, he was 0-4 in six starts against Toronto, posting an ugly 11.32 ERA.
“I don’t think I’ve gone out of my way to do anything different with these guys,” Tillman said. “It’s just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. Last year didn’t go so well, this year has been a little better.”
Tillman took a no-decision against the Blue Jays in his final start of the regular season, allowing two runs, one earned, and six hits in 5 2/3 innings last Wednesday. In 13 career starts at Rogers Centre, he is 2-6 with a 7.01 ERA.
If the Orioles have a late lead, they’ll like their chances of locking it down; closer Zach Britton was perfect in 47 save opportunities this season.
Given the stakes, Showalter said he’d consider using Britton for an extended outing.
“You don’t worry about tomorrow or the next day,” the manager explained. “Everything is about that nine innings. There are some times during the course of the game that it may happen earlier than usual that you may attack it differently.”
Stroman lost to Baltimore in his final regular-season outing, yielding four runs and nine hits in seven innings last Thursday. He is 1-2 with a 7.04 ERA in four starts against Baltimore this season.
“It’s an unbelievable lineup,” Stroman said. “One through nine, there are no easy outs. There are no pitches you can take off. You make a mistake, and they make you pay.”
Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo led the majors with 47 home runs, part of the reason Gibbons considers Baltimore “probably the top quick-strike offense in baseball.”
“There are so many power threats in their lineup,” Gibbons said.
Power was in short supply for the Blue Jays during the final weeks of the season. Toronto averaged 3.69 runs in September and October, their worst month of the year.
A pair of one-run wins at Boston in the final two games of the season gave the Blue Jays home-field advantage against Baltimore and got them ready for the postseason, Gibbons said.
“There’s got to be something said for experiencing those kind of games,” he explained. “You play enough of them, you get used to them.”
Toronto did not put right-hander R.A. Dickey on its roster. Including Stroman, the Blue Jays will have 10 pitchers available. The Orioles had not yet finalized their roster.
The winner will head to Texas to play the A.L. West champion Rangers beginning on Thursday.
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