The wild-card chase represented the only real drama during the stretch run of the MLB regular season with all six divisions getting wrapped up early. Now the four teams that survived the crowded battles are set for an immediate must-win game to keep their World Series hopes alive.

In the American League, the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays face off after a highly competitive season series that Toronto won 10-9. In the National League, the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets could be in for one of the postseason’s best pitchers’ duels.

So let’s check out all of the important viewing information for the playoff openers. That’s followed by a closer look at each game and a prediction for which teams will advance to the Division Series.


Wild Card Round Schedule


AL: Orioles at Blue Jays

The Blue Jays need a spark. They started September with a 76-57 record and a two-game lead in the AL East. They finished the regular season 89-73—a 13-16 mark over the final month and two days—and didn’t clinch a playoff berth until the last weekend.

So, while the team would have liked to win the division, playing in the Wild Card Game could end up being a blessing in disguise. A chance to play in front of a raucous crowd with a high-energy starter like Marcus Stroman, who feeds off that energy, could help the Jays break out of their funk.

The 25-year-old right-hander endured an up-and-down campaign that resulted in a mundane 4.37 ERA across 32 starts. Yet, Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star noted the starter feels the postseason is exactly the type of environment where he can thrive.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Stroman said. “It’s my personality. It’s the type of individual I am. I pitch with a lot of emotion, a lot of energy. My teammates and everyone in the organization love it as well. They tell me to go out there and be myself.”

Another positive sign for Toronto is the recent play of Jose Bautista. The slugger battled injuries during the middle of the season, which limited him to six home runs from June through August, but he hit five homers and posted a .413 on-base percentage in September.

Meanwhile, the Orioles are a club that rely heavily on the long ball. They led baseball with 253 homers during the regular season, 28 more than the next-closest team, but they ranked just 12th in runs scored.

So if they aren’t hitting it out of the park, they struggle to score, and that’s a dangerous game to play in a one-game playoff situation. Being unable to manufacture single runs on a consistent basis will be a problem, even if Baltimore does survive Tuesday’s game.

Chris Tillman will start for the O’s. He bounced back from a dreadful August (6.60 ERA) with a solid September (3.79 ERA), which was right in line with his full-season performance (3.77 ERA).

ESPN Stats & Info noted he’s struggled in road games against the Blue Jays, though:

Ultimately, this game is about Stroman keeping the ball in the yard and the Jays finding the spark to ignite the proverbial flame. They have enough talent on the roster to make a serious run toward a championship, but there have been a lot of indifferent moments over the past month.

The Orioles must try to take advantage of Toronto’s recent struggles by jumping ahead early. A couple quick home runs could send the home team into a tailspin. But that homer-or-bust mentality at the plate may come back to haunt them in the end.

Prediction: 6-3 Toronto


NL: Giants at Mets

Madison Bumgarner against Noah Syndergaard in a must-win game is the best argument for the current playoff structure. Getting a chance to see two of the best pitchers in the league with that amount of pressure on their shoulders is a rare treat for baseball fans.

James Wagner of the New York Times further highlighted the marquee pitching matchup:

So it’s safe to assume runs will come at a premium Wednesday night. The managers will be doing everything they can to grind out a quick run or two, knowing that might be enough.

Both teams have separate reasons for optimism heading into the postseason, too.

The Giants have made a habit of winning the World Series in even-numbered years. They won the title in 2010, 2012 and 2014, while missing the playoffs in 2011, 2013 and 2015. It’s a trend they would love to continue by matching their run two years ago, when they won the Wild Card Game in Pittsburgh to start the run.

On the flip side, the Mets are the reigning champions in the NL after making the playoffs last year for the first time since 2006. Though they haven’t generated quite as much hype this year, their 87 wins were just three less than their 2015 total.

Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News pointed out last year’s success is one reason star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes opted against celebrating after the team clinched a playoff berth.

“Yes, Wednesday will be a big day when we keep going forward,” Cespedes said.

All told, given the strength of both clubs on the mound, the game will likely get decided by whichever offense is able to come up with the one or two clutch hits.

The recent play of both sides suggests New York should have the edge if that’s the case. The Mets ranked fifth in baseball in runs scored in September. The Giants were a distant 22rd.

Prediction: 3-1 New York


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