The mystery is over. And, as mysteries go, it really wasn’t a particularly good one.
It’s kind of what I expected, though the conversation was robust.
Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman is starting the one-game AL Wild Card playoff Tuesday at Rogers Centre in Toronto. He’ll face right-hander Marcus Stroman, with the first pitch slated for 8:08 p.m.
Tillman is the Orioles best pitcher. He was the Opening Day starter. He is a 16-game winner.
The problem is, he’s not pitching the best right now.
That distinction goes to either Ubaldo Jimenez or Kevin Gausman, who threw Sunday and won’t be available again until Game 2 of Friday’s American League Division Series, if the Orioles make it that far.
Jimenez, however, is available and has been pitching great – just 13 earned runs in 47 2/3 innings (2.45 ERA) in his last seven outings (five quality starts).
In contrast, Tillman has completed six innings just once in his last four starts since he went on the disabled list with shoulder bursitis in late August. He’s allowed seven earned runs in 13 innings (4.85 ERA) in his last three starts.
He’s also had trouble against the Blue Jays (5-10, 5.44 ERA in 24 starts) and in Toronto (2-6, 7.01 ERA in 13 starts) in his career, though he gave up just one earned run through 5 2/3 innings in his last start there Wednesday at Rogers Centre.
If you want to take all the emotion out of it, all of the narrative and all of the personal history, then the choice should be Jimenez, who also hasn’t been great in his career against Toronto (7-5, 4.48 ERA in 18 games) or at Toronto (2-3, 6.33 in seven games). But he limited the Blue Jays to one hit in 6 2/3 scoreless innings on Thursday and his complicated delivery has been on point.
One more comparison: Tillman is 1-0 with a 6.75 ERA in two playoff starts (one good and one not-so good in 2014). Jimenez is 0-2 with a 3.54 ERA in five postseason games, all with Colorado in 2007 and 2009. So he hasn’t appeared in one in seven years.
Jimenez, believe it or not given his rocky career with the Orioles, might be considered the safer pick right now given how he has pitched recently. And no one knows if the bulldog Tillman is truly healthy – he says he is – and maybe lingering injuries are why he’s been significantly worse in the second half compared to the first (4.45 ERA to 3.41).
But Tillman is also the kind of guy that loves the big stage. He’s not easily intimidated. This is what he lives for and, frankly, attitude and confidence go such a long way in playoff games.
Perhaps, more important, I think Tillman has to be considered the more trustworthy option in this situation because we all know that, with Jimenez, one mechanical flaw creeps in and the wheels come careening off. Tillman may struggle, but he won’t unravel in the blink of an eye.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter has done a magnificent job knowing what starting buttons to push recently. And I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt on this one.
It could come back to haunt Showalter. But his gut instinct with the enigmatic rotation has helped get the Orioles this far.