Tonight, the Toronto Blue Jays play the Baltimore Orioles in the American League wild card game. After Toronto won its second World Series title in 1993, it went 22 years without making it to the postseason, or playoffs. Then last year happened, with its magical midseason turnaround—not only did the Jays finally have playoff baseball again, they came within a couple wins of playing in the World Series. (Instead they lost to the eventual champions, the Kansas City Royals.)
This year, the Jays were supposed to be a powerhouse team. And in many ways they were. They finished tied for the 7th best record in all of baseball. Not bad. But unlike last year (when they won the American League East division), this time they juuuuuuust snuck into the postseason on the last game of the year. By beating the Boston Red Sox 2–1 this past Sunday, they earned the right to host the wild card game.
What is this wild card game anyway?
There are two leagues in Major League Baseball (MLB): the American League (AL) and the National League (NL). Then each of those leagues has three divisions (East, Central, and West). When it comes time to start the postseason, MLB takes the top team from each of those divisions. That means that six teams are already in (Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians, and Boston Red Sox in the AL, and Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals, and Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL). Easy enough, right?
But, that still leaves two final spots to be filled in the postseason. Tricky! Who gets to go? To decide this, each league has a wild card game between their two next best teams. In the NL, it will be the San Francisco Giants and the New York Mets. And in the AL, it's the Jays and the Orioles.
One chance. No mistakes allowed.
The wild card game is a one-game playoff. The winner moves on to play a five-game series against the best team in their league, while the loser goes home. So the stakes are pretty high!
For this game, everyone is talking about the starting pitching. Why? Because when a pitcher is doing well, even the best hitters will struggle to hit the ball. And if you can't hit, you can't score! The Jays are going to use fiery young starting pitcher Marcus Stroman, while the Orioles counter with their best pitcher, Chris Tillman. Though neither pitcher has been amazing against the other team this year, they are both trusted by their managers (head coach) in big games. But if either one of them struggles a bit early, you can expect that they'll be replaced early by relief (or substitute) pitchers. There is simply too much on the line!
By the way... the Jays and Orioles finished with identical records this year: 89 wins and 73 losses. They played each other 19 times—the Jays won 10, the Orioles 9. In other words, these teams are about as close to one another as you could imagine. Who will win? Only one way to find out. Play ball!