Blue Jays ace Alek Manoah will get the start for Game 1 of Toronto’s wild-card series against the Seattle Mariners this afternoon.
A sellout crowd is expected at Rogers Centre for the Blue Jays’ first home playoff game since 2016.
Toronto secured the top wild-card seed earlier this week to secure home-field advantage for all games in the best-of-three series.
The series winner will advance to the American League Division Series starting Tuesday in Houston.
The Blue Jays last reached the AL Championship Series in 2016 and last won the World Series in 1993. Seattle, a franchise that entered Major League Baseball with the expansion Blue Jays in 1977, hasn’t played a playoff game since losing the ALCS in 2001.
Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr., delivered a pre-season pronouncement that last year’s squad provided the trailer and this year’s team would deliver the movie.
Well grab your popcorn, baseball fans. We’re about to see whether this film ends quickly with a whimper or will eventually generate a standing ovation.
“The expectation for us is to continue to win,” Toronto manager John Schneider said Thursday. “This is a goal that we had set out at spring training. Myself, the staff and every player in the clubhouse has all the confidence in the world in us being the last team standing.”
The Blue Jays made strides over a 92-win regular season that gave them the fourth seed in the American League and home-field advantage in a best-of-three first-round series against Seattle.
“Let your emotions go crazy and let your adrenalin run,” Manoah said of his approach to his first career playoff start. “Tunnel it like you’ve tunnelled it all year. Just go out there and have some fun with the boys.”
The Mariners, who won 90 games, will go with Luis Castillo (8-6, 2.99) as their Game 1 starter. He was acquired in a trade-deadline deal with Cincinnati and later signed a long-term extension with Seattle.
“Luis has got the ability to shut down any lineup on any given night with his stuff,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais. “And it’s not just his stuff. A lot of guys can throw hard and have great movement.
“It’s the competitiveness behind that. He wants to be the guy. He revels in that and he enjoys that.”
Rookie star Julio Rodriguez is an offensive anchor for the Mariners, who are returning to the post-season for the first time since 2001.
The Blue Jays have more offensive weapons but Seattle likely has the pitching edge thanks to a deep bullpen. The Mariners won five of seven games against Toronto in the season series.
Toronto is back in the playoffs for the first time since being swept by Tampa Bay in a wild-card series in 2020. A sellout crowd will be in full voice for the Blue Jays’ first home playoff game since the 2016 AL Championship Series.
“It’s palpable in the clubhouse how excited we are,” said general manager Ross Atkins.
Saturday’s Game 2 will also have a 4:07 p.m. ET start. If necessary, Sunday’s Game 3 will begin at 2:07 p.m. ET.
The series winner will advance to the best-of-five AL Division Series starting Tuesday against the top-seeded Houston Astros.
Robbie Ray, who won the AL Cy Young Award last year with Toronto, is tabbed to start for Seattle in Game 2 and Logan Gilbert would get the Game 3 start.
The Blue Jays have yet to name their other starters.
Kevin Gausman left his last regular-season start after just three innings due to a cut on the middle finger of his throwing hand. He was scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Friday afternoon.
“He’s doing great,” Atkins said. “We don’t expect it to limit him. We’re really encouraged by the recovery.”
Gausman, Ross Stripling and Jose Berrios are all in the mix to start for Toronto. The final wild-card rosters for both teams will likely be unveiled a few hours before Game 1.
The Blue Jays have decisions to make on the status of outfielder Lourdes Gurriel, Jr.,(hamstring) and infielder Santiago Espinal (oblique). Both players worked out Thursday and ran the bases.
Toronto has posted an impressive 22-11 record since Sept. 1. The Mariners were 18-14 over the same period.
“I think right now we’re playing our best baseball,” Manoah said. “So it’s perfect timing.”
—Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press