TORONTO -- The Mariners are one win away from the ALDS, and they’ll send a former Blue Jays ace to the mound to try to seal the set.
After taking Game 1 of the American League Wild Card Series, 4-0, Seattle will roll with lefty Robbie Ray on Saturday. Toronto will count on Kevin Gausman to right the ship after a disappointing performance on both ends of the ball in the club’s first home postseason contest since 2016.
If the Mariners can maintain the momentum set by Luis Castillo and their offense, they will be in a good position to expedite a date with the Astros in the ALDS. Ray, who won a Cy Young Award with Toronto last year, will play a big role in those plans.
This is the first time Ray has pitched in Toronto since leaving in free agency.
“I treat every game the same,” he said ahead of Game 1. “I go out there, and my goal is to put up zeros and give my team a chance to win. Get as deep as I can into games -- regardless of the situation, that's my number one goal.”
The key for the Blue Jays will be to re-ignite the offense, which struggled for just one extra-base hit and went 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position on Friday.
“You expect them to come out with the same energy, the same mentality, the same focus,” said Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider after Friday’s loss. “Flush it and move on. They're going to be ready to go.”
When is the game and how can I watch it?
Game 2: LIVE on ESPN (Sportsnet in Canada)
Game 3 (if necessary): Sunday, 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT, ABC (Sportsnet in Canada)
All series are available in the US on MLB.TV with authentication to a participating Pay TV provider. Games are not available live internationally (archives are available approximately 90 minutes after the game ends).
What are the starting lineups?
Mariners: With another righty going for Toronto, Seattle manager Scott Servais rolled out a somewhat similar lineup for Game 2, with Adam Frazier moving up to No. 6 and Carlos Santanta and Jarred Kelenic sliding down a spot. A day after crushing a two-run homer off starter Alek Manoah in the first inning, Cal Raleigh will hit cleanup for just the third time this season.
Part of the calculus was that Frazier has seen Gausman more than all but two pitchers over his seven-year career, and has had outstanding success against him, with a .406/.424/.500 (.924 OPS) slash line in 33 plate appearances.
“He's done OK against Gausman and laying off the split finger changeup that he throws very effectively,” Servais said. “Understanding there will be changes in the lineup probably every game going forward. Just looking at matchups and what the other team's bullpen maybe will fire at you later in the game and things like that.
“But, the value of the bottom of the lineup is huge at this time of year.”
Blue Jays: With Robbie Ray on the mound for the Mariners, the Blue Jays loaded up on right-handed bats by moving Santiago Espinal into the lineup and sliding Whit Merrifield to the outfield, taking the place of Raimel Tapia.
Otherwise, Toronto's batting order is similar to what you saw in Game 1. Since Danny Jansen caught Gausman in each of his last two regular-season starts, he got the nod behind the plate, with Alejandro Kirk starting at DH.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Mariners: Ray makes a much-anticipated return to Toronto to face the team that he won the AL Cy Young Award with last season, and in a venue where he has a career 2.49 ERA and 89 strikeouts over 65 innings across 10 starts. Making matters even more interesting is that he’ll be squaring off against Gausman, the pitcher the Blue Jays signed to replace him. Though he hasn’t replicated his top-shelf performance from last year, Ray has been mostly what the Mariners hoped for in his debut season in Seattle, with a 3.71 ERA and 212 strikeouts over 32 starts.
“I'm excited for him,” Servais said. “He's been a great addition to our organization. It has been awesome. I love his intensity.”
Blue Jays: Gausman left his final start of the season with a cut on his right middle finger, but that’s no longer an issue and the right-hander is expected to pitch without any restrictions in Game 2. The veteran right-hander finished his season with a 3.35 ERA but was so often the victim of poor luck with batted balls. With a strikeout rate of 10.6 K/9 and walk rate of 1.6 BB/9, Gausman’s peripheral numbers have been excellent.
It’s all about the splitter for Gausman, which the Mariners should see a steady dose of in Game 2. The big pieces of the Blue Jays’ bullpen should be fresh, too, so Toronto is lined up very well from a pitching standpoint, even facing Ray.
“Home-field advantage is huge,” Gausman said. “We’re going to rely on these Canadians to bring some energy. … I like our lineup, I like our staff and our bullpen has been unbelievable all year.”
How will the bullpens line up after the starters?
Mariners: Seattle only deployed one reliever in Game 1, which sets Servais up brilliantly for the potential series clincher on Saturday. The reliever he used, however, was his highest-leverage reliever, Andrés Muñoz, who threw 22 high-stress pitches. If things get dicey early, expect to see George Kirby installed in what would be his first relief outing. The rookie righty was stellar this season, especially in the second half, but the Mariners opted to use him out of the bullpen this round and start Logan Gilbert in Game 3 after Kirby’s stuff diminished some in his final regular-season outing.
Blue Jays: In Game 1, Toronto used five relievers in Tim Mayza, Yimi García, Zach Pop, Trevor Richards and Adam Cimber. All should be available for back-to-back days, but the good news is that Jordan Romano is fresh. Romano has been used in a multi-innings role eight times this season, and the Blue Jays won’t shy away from riding with their best arm.
Any injuries of note?
Mariners: Rodríguez was hit by a pair of inside fastballs by Manoah, one on his right wrist and the other his left hand. But because of the padding he wears, the star rookie was able to remain in the game and his status isn’t a concern for Game 2.
Blue Jays: Springer took a 97.9 mph fastball off his left wrist in Game 1, dropping to the ground in a scary moment. He stayed in the game, though, and postgame X-rays came back negative. He’s expected back in the lineup for Game 2, but this is still worth monitoring ahead of first pitch.
Who is hot and who is not?
Mariners: It’d be difficult to find a hotter hitter than Raleigh, who one week after sending Seattle to the postseason with a walk-off homer, crushed a decisive two-run blast in Game 1. Raleigh has five deep flies since sustaining a left thumb injury that has hampered him some when catching high-velocity and high-spin pitchers but hasn’t led to him regularly being out of the lineup.
Blue Jays: Friday’s offensive performance doesn’t leave any real candidates for being “hot” offensively in this series, as most of the Blue Jays’ base hits were on weak contact, but they still have plenty of candidates who have played their best baseball down the stretch.
Bichette is fresh off setting a Blue Jays record for the most hits in a single month. Merrifield has rediscovered himself over the past two weeks since stepping back into an everyday role. Jansen was playing the best baseball of his career in September and Springer’s success in October with the Astros is well-documented. Toronto needs at least one to keep rolling.
Guerrero Jr. is still who the Blue Jays are waiting on, though. He had his moments in September but spent most of the month hitting too many ground balls, an issue that’s followed him all season. As the No. 3 hitter, he’ll have his opportunity to change the game, and he needs to.
Anything else I should know?
Mariners: MLB has only a limited history of three-game playoff series, but the expanded postseason in 2020 did bring eight best-of-three Wild Card series. Six of the eight teams that won Game 1 in those series advanced. All six were two-game sweeps. However, the two teams that evened things up in Game 2 (A’s vs. White Sox, Padres vs. Cardinals) went on to win Game 3. Either way, the Mariners are in a good position but don’t want to take their foot off the gas.
Blue Jays: Alek Manoah may have tipped the Blue Jays’ pitching plans when he said that Toronto has “Gausman going tomorrow and [Ross] Stripling after that…”, but regardless of Game 3's starter, every arm should be available for Game 2.
Avoiding a bad inning early is the key, though. An early deficit is never welcome, but the Mariners’ bullpen holds an edge over the Blue Jays. Toronto’s relief group is deep, allowing Schneider to play the matchup game if things are close, but Seattle’s has true shutdown potential as we saw in Game 1.