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Wildcard Game #1 Preview: Shoemaker vs Snell

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Blue Jays (32-28) vs Rays (40-20)

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Playoffs! The Blue Jays return to the playoffs today for the first time since 2016, albeit in an expanded format, but that matters not anymore. The Jays are here, and ready to take on the first place Rays in the best of 3 first round. Today’s game gets underway at 5:07 EDT.

Blue Jays’ Starter

A lot of hands have been wrung over the decision to start Matt Shoemaker today, opting not to go with Ace Hyun-Jin Ryu to open the playoffs. To me, whether Ryu starts today or tomorrow, it doesn’t matter. There seems to be some bullpen and lefty management issues at play that kinda make sense, so I can see Ryu going tomorrow being a strategic play. I don’t fully understand not going with Taijuan Walker, the pitcher who had a better season, is more stretched out, and the second best starter on the team. This is leaving your better pitcher for a situation (Game 3) which may not happen, not too dissimilar from the 2016 Wild Card Game.

But regardless, Matt Shoemaker is starting today, and we’re all in on the decision now. Shoemaker made just 6 starts all season, totalling 28.2 innings. He pitched to an 0-1 record with a 4.71 ERA and a terrible 5.75 FIP. Like many of his rotation mates, he allowed a lot of home runs, but was otherwise his typical self in the strikeout and walk departments, while also doing fairly well in the overall average exit velocity, despite the home runs.

The main reasoning I’ve heard for going with Shoemaker today over Walker is Shoemaker’s ability to handle left handed batters. The Rays will have a lot of lefties in the lineup, so that’s probably an important factor. For his career, Shoemaker has held lefties to a lower wOBA than righties, .307 vs .309. Those numbers were even more exaggerated in the small sample of this season, as lefties had a .303 wOBA vs a .325 for righties.

Rays’ Starter

The Rays will be going the conventional route, which seems to be a weird thing to say about the Rays. They’ll start their Ace and 2018 AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell. Snell battled injuries a little bit to start the season, but got healthy and fully stretched out as the season progressed. Over 11 starts, he went 4-2 with a 3.24 ERA, but his FIP was over a run higher at 4.35, thanks to a career high home run rate of 1.80 per 9 innings. He was otherwise right in line with his other career numbers, including strikeouts, walks and exit velocity.

Snell faced the Jays twice this season, back when he was still getting ramped up for the season, and fared quite well. Over 7.2 combined innings, he allowed 2 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks, striking out a very impressive 14 batters. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit a home run off Snell in the second game they played against him, while Randal Grichuk and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had doubles.

Blue Jays’ Lineup

With the lefty Snell on the mound, I believe the Jays’ will go with Alejandro Kirk as the DH. I haven’t heard any updates on the official roster yet, which is due by 10 am today, so it will be out soon, but I would anticipate Reese McGuire being on it as the emergency 3rd catcher. Kirk will probably start a game behind the plate, but when he’s at DH, Danny Jansen will need a backup.

The other positions of intrigue will be second base and third base. Cavan Biggio will be playing one of them and leading off. The other, likely second base, will probably be Jonathan Villar, to get right handed bat against Snell.

As a group this season, the Jays’ batters combined to hit .255/.325/.441, good enough for a 108 wRC+. If you limit it to who will likely be starting today, that improves to a .267/.335/.472 119 wRC+, which is a very strong lineup.

Rays’ Lineup

The Rays are expected to have a very left handed heavy lineup whenever a righty is on the mound. That means Kevin Kiermaier in CF, Brett Phillips in RF, and Joey Wendle at 3B as part of their platoons. The other lefties will be Yoshi Tsutsugo at DH, Brandon Lowe at 2B and Nate Lowe at 1B. Provided Mike Zunino is catching, that would make him, Willy Adames at SS and Randy Arozarena in LF as the three righties.

Standard Blue Jay killers Austin Meadows, Yandy Diaz and Ji-Man Choi are all currently on the Injured List. Meadows is done for the year with an oblique injury, while Diaz and Choi appear to be on the bubble, and may make be active for this series. If that’s the case with Choi, expect him to be in the lineup today.

The Rays as a group hit .238/.328/.425, the same 109 wRC+ as the Blue Jays. The expected starting group hit .240/.330/.455, good enough for a 117 wRC+, so also a deep and strong lineup.

Missing Arms

Both the Blue Jays and Rays are missing some big names in their bullpens. For the Blue Jays, Ken Giles is done, while Jordan Romano and Julian Merryweather appear to be gametime decisions, and we should find out fairly quickly on whether they’ll make this round of playoffs.

The Rays are likewise missing some big names from the bullpen, as Jalen Beeks underwent Tommy John Surgery like Giles, while Chaz Roe is out for the year with elbow problems of his own. Jose Alvarado has had a similar last week or so as Jordan Romano, throwing bullpens and facing live batters, and appears to also be a gametime decision on whether he’ll make the roster for this round. Cody Reed, Andrew Kittredge and Colin Poche are also out long term from the Rays’ pen.

Find the Link

Find the link between Mike Zunino and Drew Smyly.