AL Wild Card Series Playoff Preview: Blue Jays vs. Mariners
Playoff baseball returns to Toronto for the first time since 2016, as the AL Wild Card will take place with the Blue Jays vs. the Mariners.
This weekend marks the first time playoff baseball will be played North of the Border since 2016 when the Blue Jays made it to the ALCS before being dispatched by the then-Cleveland Indians. That postseason saw Edwin Encarnacion enter franchise folklore with his walk-off home run in the AL Wild Card vs. Baltimore before the Jays trampled over the Texas Rangers in the ALDS.
For the Mariners, this foray into postseason baseball breaks a 21-year drought that was haunting the west coast club, with Seattle looking to add a World Series championship to their trophy case for the first time in franchise history. In a trip down memory lane, the last time Seattle was in the postseason, they won 116 games. They featured a roster consisting of Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer, John Olerud, David Bell, Ichiro, and Edgar Martinez.
Head to Head – Blue Jays vs. Mariners
Heading into tomorrow’s 4:07 pm EST contest, the Mariners will be sending Luis Castillo to the mound opposite Alek Manoah for the Jays.
Manoah has been fantastic all season long for the Jays and will likely earn some Cy Young votes after posting a 16-7 record with a 2.24 ERA through 196.2 innings of work. Castillo, who was acquired at the 2022 trade deadline for a package of prospects heading to Cincinnati, has also been stellar since joining the Mariners, authoring a 3.17 ERA through 11 starts with a 10.6 K/9.
The starting pitchers following game #1 are still up in the air, but the Mariners have a trio of starters they could send in Robbie Ray, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby, with the Jays able to counter with Kevin Gausman, Ross Stripling, and José Berríos if need be.
Bullpen-wise, the numbers are close in a few different categories, but the Mariners relief corps bests the Jays in quite a few areas such as ERA (3.33 vs. 3.36), earned runs (201 vs. 257), opponents batting average (.207 vs. .234), and WHIP (1.05 vs. 1.22). The Jays have the upper hand in a few categories of their own though, besting the Mariners in terms of strikeouts (608 vs. 583) and saves (46 vs. 40).
In terms of the batting order, the Jays have the upper hand in a majority of categories, such as OPS (.760 vs. .705), batting average (.264 vs. .230), OBP (.329 vs. .315), and home runs (200 vs. 197). The Jays have a few players also riding a hot streak right now as well, with Bo Bichette breaking the franchise record for hits in a single month this past September (48) while Whit Merrifield has played well as of late (.392/.407/.706 with four home runs and 11 RBI in his last 15 games).
The Mariners on the other hand are without a few players, with OF Jesse Winker and OF Sam Haggerty out for the series, but gained rookie Julio Rodriguez back just before the regular season, with the righty batter posting incredible numbers this season (.854 OPS with 28 home runs through 511 at-bats). The Mariners will also rely on third baseman Eugenio Suarez for some thunder off the bat, with the righty-batter leading the squad with 31 knocks on the year and posting a .791 OPS.
The Mariners overall have some power in the lineup though, as they boast four players who hit 20+ home runs on the year.
The Jays currently have two question marks in terms of healthy players, with OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and INF Santiago Espinal appearing close to game-ready as the Wild Card series draws near. They will rely on their potent lineup to get the job done, led by George Springer, Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Alejandro Kirk, and Teoscar Hernandez.
The AL Wild Card Matchup
The Blue Jays will be hosting the Mariners after obtaining the first AL Wild Card spot with their 92-70 record, with Seattle coming in second and fending off the Tampa Bay Rays to finish 90-72.
Overall, the Mariners bested the Jays when comparing the season series (5-2) but the two clubs have not faced off since mid-July when Toronto went on a slumping west coast road trip that saw manager Charlie Montoyo get the axe.
Both teams got better at the trade deadline, with Seattle acquiring one of the top starters available in Castillo and the Blue Jays bolstering the bullpen by adding Zach Pop and Anthony Bass along with a utility player in Whit Merrifield. Factor in the late signing of Jackie Bradley Jr., and these two teams look quite different than when they last faced off. The AL Wild Card will look a lot different compared to earlier this season.
Overall, if the Blue Jays bats can get to the Mariners starters early, the tide could turn in favor of Canada’s only MLB team to advance out of the Wild Card while playing on home soil. Don’t count out Seattle however, as pitching usually carries teams quite a ways in the postseason, and the Mariners boast a pretty potent staff this year.