BALTIMORE — It will be a rematch of last year’s American League wild-card game when the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays meet in the 2017 season opener on Monday at Camden Yards.
However, both teams are going to look a bit different this time around.
The Orioles and Blue Jays tied for second in the American League East in 2016 (at 89-73), but Toronto hosted the playoff game thanks to a 10-9 advantage in the season series. The Blue Jays then scored a 5-2 victory over the Orioles in 11 innings in the wild-card matchup.
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Edwin Encarnacion won that game with a three-run homer off Ubaldo Jimenez, and Baltimore manager Buck Showalter spent lots of time defending why he didn’t bring in ace closer Zach Britton at some point.
However, Encarnacion left after signing a free agent deal with the Cleveland Indians, and the Orioles begin the season without top starter Chris Tillman. The right-hander is on the disabled list (shoulder bursitis) and won’t be back until at least late April, so Kevin Gausman moves up and will start on Opening Day against Toronto’s Marco Estrada.
Gausman went 9-12 with a 3.61 ERA in 2016 and might have been the team’s best pitcher in the final two months of last season. The Orioles need his help early due to Tillman’s issues and the fact that Wade Miley (upper respiratory infection) is on the disabled list, although the left-hander expected back in several days. That, and some off days in April, is why the Orioles broke camp with just three starting pitchers.
“I’m real comfortable where we are,” Showalter said, according to The Baltimore Sun. “If you would have told me we’re going to have one guy missing from the first five days of pitchers and position players … we’ll start in good shape. And with Chris Tillman, it’s when, not if.”
Baltimore also lost long-time starting catcher Matt Wieters as a free agent to the Washington Nationals but replaced him with Welington Castillo. The Orioles re-signed power hitter Mark Trumbo after his 47-homer season of a year ago, tops in the majors.
Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander (right forearm strain) joined Miley and Tillman on the disabled list. Baltimore also picked up veterans Craig Gentry and Seth Smith to help platoon in the corner outfield spots.
The loss of Encarnacion hurts Toronto, but the Jays signed power hitter Kendrys Morales and re-signed Jose Bautista. They also lost pitcher R.A. Dickey and outfielder Michael Saunders, who slumped in the second half last season after making the All-Star team.
But former Oriole utility man Steve Pearce (infield and outfield) joined Toronto and should help. Estrada, 9-9 with a 3.48 ERA last season, also earned an All-Star nod last season and has pitched well while helping the Jays make two straight playoff appearances.
The Blue Jays have quietly built a solid rotation that grew into one of the American League’s best last year, posting the lowest ERA (3.78).
They also signed manager John Gibbons to a contract extension this weekend, a two-year deal that will run through 2019 and gives the team an option for 2020.
“As far as success on the field, ultimate goal is to win a championship, and hopefully more than that,” Gibbons said Saturday via The Star. “We’ve come close to get to the World Series the last couple of years and that’s what you want to do.”
They also made a few late moves, placing Roberto Osuna (cervical spasms) on the disabled list, releasing Melvin Upton Jr. and designating Mike Bolsinger for assignment.