The debate over who will start the 2016 AL Wild Card game for the Toronto Blue Jays highlights the valuable starting depth they have
If you were to ask anyone who they’d like the Toronto Blue Jays to send to the mound in a one game playoff, the answer would likely be Aaron Sanchez. The problem is that for this year’s Wild Card game, that is not an option. He threw a gem against the Red Sox on Sunday to clinch the club’s spot in the postseason.
With him off the table, Blue Jays Land took to speculating just who would get the nod in a one game playoff. The way the rotation has worked out, it will either come down to Marcus Stroman or Francisco Liriano. Each have their merits, which will be debated for quite a while. Liriano has been on a roll lately and pitched well against the Wild Card opponent, Orioles, in his last outing. Stroman loves big games and has not pitched poorly himself lately. Either would be an acceptable choice. Debating one over the other is not the purpose, here, though.
There is a bigger theme stemming from this decision. The Toronto Blue Jays have a starting rotation that allows for their 4th and 5th starters (again, opinions on who fits which number will vary) to be an effective choice for an all important, one and done, playoff game. The fact that they can throw either of these two starters at the Orioles, and be reasonably confident says so much about the starting pitching of this club.
The Blue Jays rotation has combined to hold opponents to a .236/.301/.387 line on their way to a 66-41 record. They’ve combined for 995.1 innings and given up 403 earned runs. That’s .4 runs per inning. They have eaten a ton of innings, and never tossed a complete game (as Buck Martinez is fond of pointing out), that is remarkably consistent. They’ve had very little in the way of injuries and missed starts to compete with. We saw just 2 starts from Drew Hutchison earlier in the season. Marco Estrada has started 29 games, R.A. Dickey– 29, Stroman, 32, J.A. Happ– 32, Sanchez- 30 and Liriano has started 8 games. That is quite the run of health for any major league team.
The fortunes of the Toronto Blue Jays will rest on their starting pitching. They have all season long. The 2015 offense shows itself once in a while, but mostly, we pray for the bats to offer up some kind of support for the starters, who are carrying the club. The postseason will likely be more of the same. Good thing they say pitching and defense win championships.
Down the final stretch of the season, the pitching staff has revived themselves from a little blip at the beginning of the season. Over the last 14 days, they own a tidy 2.39 ERA. They’ve found their groove again. We won’t know just how far the Blue Jays will go in October, but if the rotation can continue doing its thing, it very well could be a deep run.
With Liriano or Stroman in the Wild Card game, that means that the club’s top pitchers will be available, and rested, should the team advance. If it looks dubious in the Wild Card game, there is nothing stopping John Gibbons from pulling the string on the starter and inserting the other right after. Maybe you start the lefty, Liriano and have Stroman ready just in case, or, vise versa. Having this kind of choice is a luxury not many Wild Card teams can enjoy. For example, the Mets and Giants have to go with their best in Noah Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarner, respectively. That burns their best starter and makes them unavailable to kick off the divisional series.
For the Blue Jays, whoever starts this Wild Card game allows the club to utilize their top starters in the divisional series, just how you would if there were no Wild Card game at all. Of course, in order to benefit from this, they will have to win the one game playoff on Tuesday. The good news is that the pitching depth that this club has established allows them to start their 4th or 5th best starter. That might be an odd statement. But, for the Toronto Blue Jays, it is the reality of their situation. They’re starting pitching is just that deep.
*Featured Image Credit: Arturo Pardavila III UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.