Here's how the teams stack up against one another, and a glimpse at a few places where the Orioles may have an edge on Toronto:
Good luck separating these two lineups. Go around the diamond position by position, and any edge one team gets is almost immediately cancelled by the next spot. There’s nothing between the infields, from MVP-caliber third basemen in Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson to slugging first basemen Chris Davis and Edwin Encarnacion. Even at second base, Jonathan Schoop and Devon Travis represent two of the best young infielders in the league. Give an advantage, offensively, at shortstop to Toronto’s Troy Tulowitzki over J.J. Hardy, but that’s overcome for the Orioles by the outfielders. Hyun Soo Kim, Adam Jones, and whichever of Michael Bourn or Mark Trumbo plays right field are bigger threats at the plate than a Blue Jays outfield led by Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders. Either way, you’re splitting hairs. Both teams crush the ball, the Orioles slightly more so.
Part of the reason the Blue Jays lineup is a shade thinner is because they have some players who contribute far more on defense, highlighted by center fielder Kevin Pillar. Pillar is rated as one of the best center fielders in baseball, and even if you question the methodology for determining that, no other outfielder playing Tuesday can say the same. Just as with the offense, there’s nothing separating the two infields defensively. It comes down to Pillar and catcher Russell Martin, who is a far better pitch framer than his counterpart, Matt Wieters. If the Orioles are frustrated by called strikes Tuesday, he’s why.
Edge: Blue Jays
Ubaldo Jimenez and Francisco Liriano threw gems last week when these two teams met, but each was passed over to start in favor of Chris Tillman for the Orioles and Marcus Stroman for the Blue Jays. Toronto has been a house of horrors for Tillman over the course of his career, but not this season. He’s faced the Blue Jays four times with a 3.63 ERA and 1.31 WHIP, and has pitched well twice at Rogers Centre, including last week. Stroman, meanwhile, has been smoked by the Orioles to the tune of 7.04 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP this year.
Led by Cy Young contender and perfect closer Zach Britton, who converted 47 of 47 save chances this year, the Orioles bullpen finished the year as the best in the American League with a 3.40 ERA. Toronto’s bullpen ERA at the end of the year was 4.11, and the two teams ended in divergent fashion. In September, the Orioles had a collective 1.70 bullpen ERA, to Toronto’s 4.80 ERA. Before closer Roberto Osuna sealed a playoff spot for them Sunday, the Blue Jays bullpen hadn’t converted a save chance in its last five tries.
It’s Buck Showalter of the Orioles vs. John Gibbons of the Blue Jays. Both have been blessed with talented rosters at their disposal, but in a one-game playoff, Showalter’s attention to player-pitcher matchups and his management of the bullpen is unmatched.