The Toronto Blue Jays had a little more time to relish their status as the American League’s top wild-card team.
Now, it’s a matter of getting set for the playoffs while also finishing the regular season with a Wednesday doubleheader against the host Baltimore Orioles.
The twin bill is a result of a rainout on Tuesday. The Blue Jays won a rain-shortened series opener 5-1 on Monday, then secured home-field advantage for the wild-card round when the Seattle Mariners lost to the Detroit Tigers later that night.
The Blue Jays (91-69) have won four consecutive games, but these next two won’t matter in terms of playoff positioning.
“It’s nice to be playing well near the end,” Toronto second baseman Whit Merrifield said.
Of course, the Blue Jays already accomplished their objective on this trip to Baltimore. They’re going home to begin the playoffs, and they will face the Seattle Mariners (89-72) in a best-of-three wild-card series beginning Friday.
“You’re just familiar with the routine,” Toronto interim manager John Schneider said. “When everything is magnified and there’s extra stuff going on, you’re doing it in your stadium with your fans and your clubhouse and people that you’re familiar with. That kind of extra stuff, I think, goes a little bit unnoticed.”
Toronto has matched last year’s win total, but the franchise has had more than 91 wins just once since 1993: The 2015 team won 93. That mark is reachable with a sweep on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Orioles (82-78) are finishing their best season since 2016. They have won just two of their past seven games, so a better finishing touch would be welcomed to close the season.
Regardless of Wednesday’s results, there will be an upbeat tone around the Orioles and how they performed this season.
“I just think we’re in a better place,” manager Brandon Hyde said.
The Wednesday pitching matchups are somewhat curious, especially for the Blue Jays.
They are expected to open Game 1 with right-hander Mitch White (1-6, 5.21 ERA). He was the losing pitcher in a Sept. 6 game at Baltimore, surrendering five runs in 2 1/3 innings.
In either game, the Blue Jays could turn to Casey Lawrence, who has been on the taxi squad, or Yusei Kikuchi for bulk innings. It’s also a matter of trying to keep pitchers sharp because Toronto pitchers threw just seven innings on Monday and the team will be idle on Thursday.
The Orioles have right-hander Mike Baumann (1-3, 4.34 ERA) set for the first game. This will be his 17th appearance (fourth start) in the major leagues across parts of two seasons. He is 0-1 with an 8.10 ERA in three career appearances (two starts) against Toronto.
Baumann faced the Blue Jays twice last month, taking a loss when he gave up three runs in five innings on Sept. 5, then tossed two shutout innings in relief on Sept. 16.
“Mike has got an opportunity to make a few starts for us and pitch in some bulk innings,” Hyde said. “I thought he threw the ball good in Boston last time out. He’s a big prospect for us that we’re still kind of figuring out who he is, and he’s made some nice adjustments this year.”
For the second game, right-hander Spenser Watkins (5-6, 4.76 ERA) gets the call for the Orioles. He has bounced back and forth between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk for the past month, so this gives him a chance to end on a better note after allowing four runs in three innings of relief Saturday against the New York Yankees.
Watkins hasn’t faced the Blue Jays this year, but last year he went 1-0 with a 9.39 ERA against them in three games (one start).
Toronto leads the season series 9-8.
–Field Level Media