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MLB

MLB Playoffs: Wild Card winners Guardians and Mariners advance in the American league playoffs

The American League Wild Card games saw the Toronto Blue Jays implode and the Cleveland Guardians continue their strong post season run as they run the table in two games

The American League Wild Card games saw the Toronto Blue Jays implode and the Cleveland Guardians continue their strong post season run as they run the table in two games
John E. SokolowskiUSA TODAY Sports

Toronto stumbles at the last hurdle

Sports is life, with character revealed throughout the athletic world, in every twist and turn of every football, basketball, or soccer game, or every punch of a heavyweight boxing match. Plans are made, but character is revealed, and nothing is more metaphorically revealing than October baseball. The Blue Jays led Seattle 8-1 after five innings and still found a way to crash out, and nothing says more about Toronto’s last few seasons than this.

Giving up nine unanswered runs, the Mariners won Game 2 by a score of 10-8. Even more telling about not only the Blue Jays, but the whole league as the power shift was entirely self-inflicted.

Kevin Gausman was unhittable. He had good speed, perfect control, and a breaking ball that fell off the table completely. After the Rays loaded the bases, Gausman struck out Mitch Haniger and then gets a pop out from Adam Frazier five pitches later. The decision was made, based entirely on Gausman’s pitch count, to yank him. Tim Mayza threw the first pitch away and a run scored. He then gave up a three-run home run to Carlos Santana.

This started a long slide where Toronto’s bullpen was obliterated by Seattle hitting, giving up run after run until all of the nine innings had slipped through their fingers. This now makes the sixth year on the trot that the Blue Jays have gone from contender to eliminated in September or October. For such a talented team, their inability to complete in the Fall is worrying.

Seattle will now move on to the ALDS, where they will have their hands full as they face perhaps the strongest team in baseball in the Houston Astros.

Guardians turn it all around

Cleveland has managed to take a franchise in meltdown and turn it around, emerging as one of the stronger competitors heading into the playoffs. In the last four years, the team with the longest active World Series drought has seen their controversial name dropped in favor of the “Guardians” moniker and their top-to-tail fortunes reverse.

Coming into the 2022 season, and even halfway through it, nobody predicted Cleveland taking the AL Central. They were facing two big-ticket opponents in Minneapolis and Chicago, and to be frank, the wheels have had a way of wobbling off the cart in recent years for the Guardians.

Picking up 92 wins in the season and obliterating both the White Sox and Twins along the way was a shock to most, but nobody was prepared for the way that the Guardians would carry that form into October and top the Tampa Bay Rays in two games in this Wild Card series.

The Guardians are making these surprises happen with a largely rookie lineup, having made smart use of their farm system to get here. This has led to an unusually healthy squad at precisely the time of year when most teams are off licking their wounds. The key to their run to the top of the division was this healthy lineup, when, after trailing the Twins for over 100 days, the Guardians upturned the apple cart in a two-week run at the end of September.

To get beyond the Rays required a 15-inning, one-run marathon, and now the Guardians will have to up the ante as they head into the Bronx to face the New York Yankees. While Cleveland have ground out wins with low scores and solid pitching, the Yankees have booked their ticket on the back of long bombs and home run hitting.

With the Game 2 Wild Card contest setting the record at 4 hours 57 minutes for the longest 0-0 game in playoff history, the Division series is not likely to be as nail-biting. The Yankees don’t have the patience for that kind of game.