Two Toronto wins in the three-game series will guarantee a return to Rogers Centre for the best-of-three first round against the Seattle Mariners or Tampa Bay Rays from Friday through Sunday. Anything less opens the door for the Mariners to host the Blue Jays in what would be a battle of 1977 expansion clubs.
While the Orioles are out of playoff contention, they stayed in the race far longer than expected and don’t figure to be a total pushover here.
Here’s a look at the Blue Jays-Orioles series.
Monday, 7:05 p.m. ET / 4:05 p.m. PT: Toronto RHP Jose Berrios (11-7, 5.37 ERA) vs. Baltimore RHP Dean Kremer (8-6, 3.17 ERA)
Tuesday, 7:05 p.m. ET / 4:05 p.m. PT: Toronto RHP Mitch White (1-6, 5.21 ERA) vs. Baltimore RHP Mike Baumann (1-3, 4.34 ERA)
Wednesday, 4:05 p.m. ET / 1:05 p.m. PT: Pitchers TBA
(All games on Sportsnet)
Latest on the Blue Jays
The Blue Jays (90-69) swept the visiting Boston Red Sox over the weekend to maintain control of the wild-card race.
By improving to 16-3 against the Red Sox, the Blue Jays ensured they will finish no worse than second in the wild-card race, meaning they will not be going to Cleveland to face the American League Central-winning Guardians in the first round.
Teoscar Hernandez hit two home runs in Sunday’s 6-3 win, while the bullpen picked Kevin Gausman up as the right-hander left after three innings with a cut on his right middle finger.
Gausman said he expects to be ready for the playoffs.
Latest on the Orioles
The Orioles (82-77) were eliminated from playoff contention on Friday after the Rays and Mariners both won games.
A day earlier, the Orioles’ loss to the Red Sox officially put the Blue Jays in the playoffs on an off-day for Toronto.
While the Orioles faded down the stretch (they were 13-15 in September), they were a major surprise this year and figure to be a threat in the years ahead in the AL East.
The turning point for both these teams came in a four-game series that started with a doubleheader on Labour Day in Baltimore.
The Blue Jays swept the twin bill and won three of four in the series to turn a 2.5-game lead into a 4.5-game advantage. The Orioles could never recover.
Still, the Orioles aren’t going away quietly. They won two of three this weekend in New York against the AL East-winning Yankees and avoided giving up an AL record 62nd home run to Aaron Judge.
The magic number for the Blue Jays to clinch home field is two – any combination of Toronto wins and Mariners losses.
It could happen as soon as Monday night with a Blue Jays win and a Mariners loss to the lowly Detroit Tigers in the first game of a four-game series in Seattle – there’s a doubleheader on Tuesday.
If the Blue Jays take one of three in Baltimore, Seattle must go 4-0 to grab home field for the first round. If the Orioles sweep the Blue Jays, the Mariners need to go 3-1.
The Mariners are 1.5 games ahead of the Rays for the second wild-card spot with the third-place finisher going to Cleveland. Tampa Bay, however, owns the tiebreaker on Seattle.
The Rays wrap up their season with three games in Boston.
The Blue Jays haven’t played a playoff game in Toronto since 2016.
The Blue Jays have said their preference is to have ace right-hander Alek Manoah on the mound for the playoff opener.
So, the clear preference is to avoid using him in Wednesday’s finale – Yusei Kikuchi is a likely option for bulk innings or a start after he went three innings in relief of Manoah for a save last Friday.
The Blue Jays used their three most effective starters this seaason – Manoah, Ross Stripling and Gausman – against Boston, so it’s a bit of a guessing game when it comes to what kind of performances they’ll get on the mound in Baltimore.
Berrios has had well documented struggles on the road (6.75 ERA), White had a 7.88 ERA in September and Kikuchi lost his spot in the starting rotation in August.
Each team has won eight games, but the Blue Jays were 5-2 against the Orioles in September.
The Blue Jays begin their ninth playoff appearance in franchise history in Toronto or Seattle on Friday.