When the Toronto Blue Jays take the field Tuesday evening for the most important game of the season, Marcus Stroman will be the man delivering the first pitch. Chris Tillman of the Baltimore Orioles will face off against him.
That's what we learned Monday afternoon.
Stroman, as you'll remember, started the 2016 season as the opening day starter in an up-and-down year that saw him finish with a 4.37 ERA and 9-10 win loss record. While the ERA may seem high at first glance, he has been much better of late with a 3.41 ERA in the month of September.
Although the left-handed Liriano may have lined up better against the Orioles who don't hit lefties well (or at all, really), that's not a reality anymore. That said, there is no definite game plan as for how manager John Gibbons will employ his roster on Tuesday evening.
The rational side of the baseball world would say that Stroman should be kept on a short leash, seeing the Orioles batting order only twice or maybe three times during his start before allowing Francisco Liriano to come in and surprise the Orioles hitters with a couple effective turns of the order. Of course, Roberto Osuna would be around to close out the victory and send the Jays to the ALDS if all goes well. That's the dream anyways.
On Tuesday there will be no surprises for the Orioles who have seen Stroman seven times in his career. In four starts versus the Orioles this season, Stroman has a 1-2 record with a 7.04 ERA. It should be noted that two of those starts against Baltimore spanned 10 days of the worst period of his entire season. In his last outing versus Baltimore a week ago, Stroman provided the Jays a chance to win but, arguably, was BABIP'd to death allowing four runs on nine hits over seven innings. Although the numbers aren't sexy by any means, a 23 inning sample size means next to nothing and can be erased with one simple good outing.
And that's the point. None of the aforementioned numbers matter in the least bit when they take the field tomorrow. The good days, mean nothing. The awful, shameful, hang your head in sadness month of September, means nothing. All that matters is the next nine innings in front of the Blue Jays as they hope they can play for the chance to once again send the Texas Rangers home early packing.
The reason for starting Stroman isn't about the numbers. It's the sentiment, the shear raw emotion that he brings to the game. If it were basketball, he'd be the guy who wills his way to a victory in the closing seconds with the ball in his hands. This will be a defining moment for Marcus Stroman as the ace of the Toronto Blue Jays, no doubt about it.
Whether it defines him or he defines it, remains to be seen.