Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Joey's Soapbox: My 2016 Somewhat Biased Wild Card Game Picks

O, Canada!  Not my home nor my native land!  But it is a place where playoff baseball is about to be played.

Hey, buddy.  This is playoff prognosticator Joey Beartran and this is what I'm talking aboot, eh.  It's time for America's pastime to begin its postseason in Canada, with division rivals Baltimore and Toronto playing a do-or-die wild card game at Rogers Centre on Tuesday.  There's also another game being played on Wednesday featuring some National League teams, I think.

As recently as five years ago, the Blue Jays and Orioles were perennially at the bottom of the A.L. East division standings.  In fact, from 2008 to 2011, Toronto was next-to-last in the division every season.  The team that kept them out of the A.L. East cellar each year was Baltimore.

The Orioles suffered through 14 consecutive losing seasons from 1998 to 2011, while the Blue Jays were kept behind the postseason velvet rope for over two decades from the mid-1990s to the mid-2010s.  But much has changed for both teams in recent years, as Baltimore just completed its fifth consecutive season playing .500 ball or better, qualifying for the playoff party for the third time in those five years.  Meanwhile, Toronto is making its second straight trip to the postseason after finishing no higher than third place in the division in 20 of 21 seasons from 1994 to 2014.

Speaking of teams tasting success three times in five years and clubs making back-to-back playoff appearances, the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets will be squaring off for the right to be Cub food, if the "experts" are to be believed.

Who will spray champagne this week?  Who will go home and feel like they never made the playoffs at all?  And who will actually think I'd pick San Francisco when I wear a Mets hoodie 24-7?

You want some Wild Card game picks?  I've got your Wild Card game picks right here!

American League Wild Card Game

Baltimore Orioles vs. Toronto Blue Jays

The Orioles and Blue Jays were very evenly matched in the regular season, with Toronto winning the season series, 10-9.  Eleven of the 19 contests were decided by no more than two runs, including eight one-run affairs.  So basically, what I'm saying is that this Wild Card game is a toss-up.

Baltimore will be sending Chris Tillman to the mound.  On paper, Tillman's 16-6 regular season record and 3.77 ERA look fairly impressive, especially considering that no qualifying pitcher in the American League posted an ERA south of 3.00.  There's only one problem with Tillman.  He's not very durable, averaging barely over 5⅔ innings per start.  And not once did he make it past the sixth inning in any of his four starts versus Toronto this season.  However, Baltimore had just enough offense in each of those four games, winning every one of the Tillman's starts against the Blue Jays.

Toronto will answer with third-year pitcher Marcus Stroman, who was just mediocre in 2016, going 9-10 with a 4.37 ERA and 1.289 WHIP after combining to go 15-6 with a 3.31 ERA and 1.135 WHIP in his first two seasons.  Baltimore had its way with Stroman this season, scoring 18 runs (all earned) in 23 innings against him.

But the playoffs are a different animal, and as soon as either pitcher is in trouble, their respective managers will hop out of their dugouts, hooks in hand to remove them.  So Tillman may not even be allowed to reach his 5⅔-inning quota and Stroman won't come close to giving up a handful or two of runs, as he did during the regular season.

Baltimore may have a pitching edge, but their hitters are all-or-nothing.  The Orioles out-homered the Blue Jays, 253-221, but Toronto scored 15 more runs, walked 164 more times and struck out on 38 fewer occasions.

It looks like this game - just like during the regular season - will be a tight one.  So you'd think I'd have a tough time picking a winner, right?  Not at all.  You see, the winner of this game will play the Texas Rangers in the division series.  And I want to see a little more of this.

Sorry, Baltimore.  I love your city, but you're the undercard here.  I'm looking forward to the next round of heavyweight action between Texas and Toronto.

Prediction:  Toronto will advance to the ALDS.

National League Wild Card Game

San Francisco Giants vs. New York Mets

Madison Bumgarner is 5-0 in six career starts against the Mets.  He's also the owner of a 0.62 lifetime ERA in four starts at Citi Field.  And don't forget he's part of a Giants team that always wins championships in even-numbered years.

You also may have heard that Bumgarner's manager, Bruce Bochy, has led his respective teams to eight postseason appearances, six division titles, four pennants, three World Series titles and has more playoff victories than all but four skippers in baseball history.


Prediction:  New York will advance to the NLDS.

Rogers Centre poutine > AT&T Park garlic fries.  Therefore, Toronto will advance and San Francisco will not.

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