Storylines to Look for in the Most Important Week of the Year

As the days continue to fall off the calendar, the Blue Jays get closer and closer to facing the Orioles in a one-game battle for a ticket to the ALDS. Before they are afforded this luxury, they’re fighting for their playoff lives against those very same Orioles this week at the Rogers Centre.

With all of the energy Blue Jays fans have spent hating the Yankees and Rangers, vitriol for Toronto’s other in-division rival has receded this season – this despite the fact that the team is still managed by Buck Showalter. This season’s Orioles have avoided on-field dustups with Toronto that previous incarnations of the team were unable to. It’s hard to keep the rivalry alive, especially when Yordano Ventura is throwing at all of the Orioles’ best players too. Mike Wright did his best to stir the pot when he called out Edwin Encarnacion, but with so many other rivals and the lack of media availability that comes with pitching in Triple A, the Orioles-Blue Jays rivalry has become tepid.

Monday’s battle royale with New York should prove once and for all its not worth getting into anything on a baseball field that includes hurting someone. Besides, both teams have more in common than they might think – they both keep losing to the Red Sox.

Here are some of the storylines to look for in the most important Jays/Orioles games of the season:

Orioles Starters: The Michael Bay of Pitching

If the Blue Jays’ pitching has been surprisingly good this season, it has been equally surprising the Orioles starting pitching hasn’t imploded. Watching the Orioles starters is lot like watching a Michael Bay movie – even if nothing has blown up yet, you’re almost certain that something’s going to blow up soon. But despite their ineffectiveness, it might not matter. It has been 156 games. If we want to assume Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ are as good as they’ve been, we have to assume the Orioles are too…regardless of how many runs Ubaldo Jimenez and Co. surrender.

Will John Gibbons Work Injured Players Back into Brawls Gradually?

The Blue Jays are a team more inclined to bench-clearing altercations than your average squad. With Joaquin Benoit and Devon Travis injured in their latest melee with the Yankees, John Gibbons’ tactical in-game decision-making will be highly analyzed.

Will Gibbons send Travis and Benoit out to fight against a division rival like the Orioles or work them back into brawls gradually over the next couple weeks? Ideally, Gibbons would prefer to use his 250-pound, 7th inning man in any fight (or potential save situation) that should occur, but if holding Benoit out this week ensures he is available at full health throughout the playoffs, it may be a move worth considering.

Can Either Team Make the Playoffs Despite Having to Roster a Backup Catcher?

The Jays and Orioles are two talented teams with an outside shot at 90 wins this season, but both rosters have one glaring weakness in common: they have to carry a backup catcher. To many Jays fans surprise, Josh Thole’s counterpart Caleb Joseph struggles to produce in many of the same way Thole does.

Joseph’s struggles this season have been considerably amplified by his inability to generate even 1 RBI. Despite calls from the fanbase to bunt their way out of it, nothing has got either catcher going. If Thole, Dioner Navarro, or Joseph can produce like the players they are called upon to spell over the next week, it will go a long way in giving either the Orioles or Blue Jays an edge.

Kevin Gausman is Clearly on Steroids

I mean you’ve got to ask the question, right? There’s no other reason that can explain an Orioles’ starter pitching this long without his arm falling off, let alone pitching this effectively (yesterday’s start notwithstanding). Gausman has been on fire lately and is headed for either a major breakout or 50-game suspension (wishful thinking) in the near future.

Gregg Zaun and Cal Ripken Jr. Could Finally Clear the Air on What Really Happened

The former Blue Jays’ catcher-turned-manalyst used Ripken’s treatment of him to illustrate how young Major Leaguers can learn respect for the game. These lessons allegedly involve taping Zaun to a training table and wrestling him to the ground in a heap of mud and Old Bay seasoning.

Zaun sees these stories as shining examples of how to keep young players in line. Ripken denies that he ever hazed anyone, including Zaun. This week will provide ample opportunities to clear the air on what actually happened between the two. Either way, we’ve likely come a long way if Jose Bautista is standing up for owners who make Devon Travis pay for his own suit, instead of smearing blue crabs and Old Bay seasoning all over Zaun’s.

Dan Duquette May Try to Deal For More Pitching “Reinforcements”

It wasn’t long ago we were talking about sending Max Pentecost to the Orioles so the Blue Jays could have Dan Duquette decide how much the team should increase ticket prices. The two teams couldn’t come to terms and Dan Duquette remained at the helm in Baltimore. While the President’s offices cleared of cigar smoke, Mark Shapiro was hired to replace Paul Beeston. As time has passed, Duquette has made some curious moves that have some baseball fans in the Toronto area exhaling. It was probably never a good idea to trade a player for an executive; even less so when the executive willfully trades for Wade Miley. Miley has not pitched well, so in a last minute effort to claim the top wildcard slot, Duquette may dangle O’s prospects in order to acquire Chris Young from Kansas City for one or two key starts.

How many of these will come to pass? You’ll just have to watch to find out.

Lead Photo: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

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