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It's the Stro Show as Blue Jays, Orioles battle in AL Wild Card Game

After 162 games, there is one more to play before either the Toronto Blue Jays or Baltimore Orioles get to take part in a full playoff series.

The teams will meet in the American League Wild Card Game tonight in Rogers Centre (8 p.m. on TBS), with Toronto's Marcus Stroman getting the start against Baltimore's Chris Tillman.

The winner advances to Texas to meet the Rangers in the division series, with Game One Thursday at 4:38 and Game Two Friday at 1:08. So if the Blue Jays win, the rematch to the Bat Flip series of last October and the brawl of May would reach Toronto for Game Three Sunday night at 7:30 and Game Four Monday at a time still to be announced.

Stroman has had an up-and-down season, going just 9-10 with a 4.37 ERA in 32 starts while cracking 200 innings pitched for the first time in his career. But the Blue Jays had to use 20-game winner JA Happ and fellow ace Aaron Sanchez just to get to this point, so the familiarity of Stroman was the choice of manager John Gibbons even though newly acquired lefty Francisco Liriano pitched well against the Orioles last week with 10 strikeouts.

Stroman, meanwhile, doesn't have a win since Aug. 14 and went 1-2, 7.04 against the Orioles this season. But in the postseason last year, Stroman battled through 19 1/3 innings over three starts for the Jays with a 1-0 record and 4.19 ERA.

“It wasn’t easy,” manager John Gibbons said Monday of his decision. “I think Stro’s the perfect guy. Big game. I’ve seen him do it before. He did that a couple of times for us last year. He’s going to come out throwing strikes, so we’re glad he’s available."

There are plenty of juicy subplots to this game:

---If the Blue Jays lose, it could be the end of an era with the likelihood of both Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista heading to free agency. In the Toronto Star, Bruce Arthur ponders the end but notes tonight could be just a beginning to a wild October too.

---Sportsnet's Jeff Blair takes a good look at how Stroman and Orioles manager Buck Showalter aren't big fans of each other.

---If the Orioles have the lead late, look out. Closer Zach Britton went 47 for 47 in save opportunities with an 0.54 ERA this season -- and Showalter is liable to use him for two innings. 

Since the wild card game started in 2012, home teams are just 2-6 and one of those wins was Kansas City's miracle comeback against Oakland in 2014. It's an odd statistic that goes against the Blue Jays that you would think could be almost the opposite.

The National League game is Wednesday night in Citi Field with a mega pitching matchup of aces in San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner and New York's Noah Syndergaard. The winner heads to Wrigley Field to meet the Chicago Cubs in the division series.

 

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