Blue Jays: What a potential AL wild card game could look like

Hyun-Jin Ryu #99 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch during the first inning against the New York Yankees. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)
Hyun-Jin Ryu #99 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch during the first inning against the New York Yankees. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images) /

Let’s talk about the potential scenarios if the Toronto Blue Jays would reach the AL Wild Card round.

Say what you want about a 162-game season coming down to nine innings for four of the league’s best teams, but the wild card game’s entertainment factor is off the charts. Toronto Blue Jays fans have witnessed this first hand.

Every single pitch changes the game’s complexion. Every single at-bat is an opportunity to alter the fate of franchises. For the tacticians involved, it’s a riddle filled with moving parts that flex and bend before their eyes. Given that it’s looking more and more realistic that this one-and-done brain teaser will be the best-case scenario for Toronto this season, let’s consider what a potential Wild Card game might look like for the Blue Jays and how best they should attack this befuddling October contest.

The ballpark scenario for the Toronto Blue Jays

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At this point, it looks like the AL Wild Card game will take place in either Oakland, Boston, The Bronx, Seattle or Toronto. Each ballpark inflicts its own lineup changes on rosters, and for a one-and-done playoff game, lineups must be tailored to the nth degree to suit the confines of play.

If the game is in Boston, The Blue Jays would be smart to load up on right-handed hitters. With the Green Monster offering an easy way to get on the board in left field, righties have long had an advantage at Fenway.

This shouldn’t be a problem for the Jays, as the majority of their sluggers are right-handed. This could also serve as a platoon advantage, seeing as the Red Sox could very likely send left-hander Chris Sale out to start the game.

If the game is played in Oakland, its abundance of foul territory means the Blue Jays would be well-served to start a fly-ball pitcher. This should also not be a problem, as Hyun Jin Ryu, Robbie Ray and Jose Berrios are all in the top 30 league-wide in fly ball outs.

Yankee Stadium poses a different issue. Its small dimensions make it tough to start Ray, as he’s conceded 24 home runs this year and has historically struggled with keeping the ball in the ballpark. The short porch in right also means it could be an advantage to get Reese McGuire and Corey Dickerson an at-bat or two if they don’t start the game outright.

As for Seattle, can we not go back there please? Thanks.

What the ideal Toronto Blue Jays lineup would look like

There is a time to play with your lineup, and then there’s a time to get serious. The Wild Card game is the latter. Here is a potential lineup that strikes a balance between offensive pop and solid defence.

  1. George Springer – CF
  2. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – 1B
  3. Marcus Semien – 2B
  4. Bo Bichette – SS
  5. Teoscar Hernandez – DH
  6. Randal Grichuk – RF
  7. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. – LF
  8. Santiago Espinal – 3B
  9. Alejandro Kirk – C

While there aren’t too many controversial picks here, a return of Cavan Biggio does move a few things around. He would likely slot into Espinal’s spot in the order and take over duties in the hot corner if he can get up to full speed by playoff time. Espinal could then be used as a pinch runner off the bench. Reese McGuire would serve as the backup catcher and offer a chance to counteract a pitching change by the opposition. Having Breyvic Valera on the bench as well could be of use for any defensive replacements.

Who would the Toronto Blue Jays call to take the mound?

The history of wild card games is dotted with both stellar pitching performances from starters and unique tactics with bullpen deployments that work to keep opponents guessing.

The last time we had two true Wild Card games was 2019, and, true to form, they delivered on the drama. While the Rays, Athletics and Brewers went the traditional route of using a starter and then a host of bullpen arms, the Nationals opted for a different strategy.

After five innings from ace Max Scherzer, they deployed another starter out of the bullpen in Stephen Strasburg. He threw three innings of two-hit, shutout ball before making way for closer (and former Blue Jay) Daniel Hudson. Washington won the game and went on to win the World Series.

In using two starters, the Nationals ensured that their two best pitchers would pitch in the team’s most important game of the season. The Blue Jays should co-opt this strategy. With the Wild Card game, there is no tomorrow. You have to go for broke.

A combination of Hyun Jin Ryu, Jose Berrios and Robbie Ray over the course of nine innings would be deadly. For a hitter to have to adjust during the course of the game first to Ryu’s craftiness then to Ray’s power then to Berrios’ sheer quality would be almost impossible. Heck, throw Alek Manoah into the mix out of the ‘pen if you need a bridge to the next guy. In a one-game playoff, you can’t afford to leave your best players on the bench.

Yes, it might throw off the schedule for the ALDS, but making it to the ALDS in the first place should be the team’s priority. With how fluid the starting rotation (and every other Blue Jay) has been over the course of the last two years, a move to the bullpen for a one-game playoff will rank pretty low on the scale of disruptors by 2020-2021 standards.

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Can the Blue Jays find a way to make the playoffs? What do they need to do to get there? Let us know in the comments below.