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In Jays' wild-card game, it's Marcus Stroman who will get crucial start

Marcus Stroman #6 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the first inning during against the Baltimore Orioles on September 29, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Marcus Stroman has been more hit than miss during the just-completed 2016 Major League Baseball season.

He went 9-10 on the season with an earned-run average of 4.37, the worst among the Toronto Blue Jays' regular starters with the exception of R.A. Dickey, who isn't on the playoff roster.

His 209 hits allowed leads the staff, and .264 opponents batting average is nothing to write home about.

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But when the Blue Jays line up against the Baltimore Orioles Tuesday night in the American League's winner-take-all wild-card game at what will be a rollicking Rogers Centre, it is Stroman who will get the crucial start.

Related: Breaking down Tuesday's American League wild-card game

Kelly: The Blue Jays are the 'who knows?' team this postseason

While he has struggled on the mound, it has not undermined the unwavering confidence – some would call it bravado – that he draws upon time and time again when the going gets rough.

"It's my personality," the superenergized 25-year-old said following a Blue Jays workout at Rogers Centre on Monday. "It's the individual I am. I pitch with a lot of emotion, lot of energy.

"My teammates and everyone around me in the organization loves it as well, and they want me to go out there and be myself. So, I mean it's the wild-card game – I'm sure we'll be pretty excited out there and ready to go."

Stroman admits the task at hand is huge, especially after the type of season he had.

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"Yeah, definitely had an up-and-down year and battled a lot of adversity," he said. "I think I've done a pretty decent job at making adjustments throughout the year that were key for me, and able to pay off down the stretch.

"I'm at a point now where I feel great, mechanics feel great, body feels great. I'm actually feeling at my strongest now. So I'm excited."

For Toronto manager John Gibbons, it came down to a coin toss between Stroman and left-hander Francisco Liriano, with Stroman winning out to start the club's most crucial game to date of the season.

"It wasn't easy," Gibbons said of his decision. "I think Stro's the perfect guy. Big game, seen him do it before. He did that a couple times for us last year. He's going to come out, throwing strikes. We're glad he's available."

Instead, Gibbons said Liriano will be available out of the bullpen, along with fellow starter Marco Estrada, should Stroman falter early Tuesday night.

That contest, Gibbons said, "is a one-game deal, really about going out there and competing. Whatever the stats say about these guys, you want your best competitors out there, see what happens."

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The choice of Stroman mystified some who have closely followed the ups and downs this season of the Blue Jays, who only clinched a wild-card berth on Sunday in their final game of the year against the Boston Red Sox.

Toronto's pitching rotation doesn't exactly stack up the way the Blue Jays would have liked heading into the key game.

Twenty-game-winner J.A. Happ and AL earned-run leader Aaron Sanchez were both used over the weekend in Boston during that important three-game stand, so they are unavailable.

As a result, Gibbons had Stroman and Liriano to mull over for Tuesday's start, and he chose Stroman largely because of his history of coming up big in huge moments.

But that was mostly last year.

In 2015, after missing most of the regular-season campaign with a knee injury, Stroman made a stirring return in September where he went 4-0 in four starts down the stretch to help Toronto nail down first place in the AL East.

In the postseason he was also solid, going 1-0 in three starts.

This year, Stroman has been rather rag-tag, and lost his past five consecutive starts.

Liriano, conversely, has been solid since he arrived in Toronto on Aug. 1 in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In eight starts with Toronto, Liriano has gone 2-2 with a 2.92 ERA.

Perhaps more important, Liriano has shown success against the Orioles, who feature a lot of power from the left side with Chris Davis (38 home runs), Pedro Alvarez (22) and switch-hitter Matt Wieters (17).

On the season, Liriano features a .239 opponents batting average when throwing to lefties compared with .268 for Stroman. Liriano surrendered five home runs to left-handed batters this season, compared with 11 for Stroman.

In his one start against Baltimore, Liriano struck out 10 and pitched into the seventh inning. He turned a 2-0 lead over to the bullpen, which imploded in what was ultimately a 3-2 Baltimore victory.

Stroman, meanwhile, has been sketchy against Baltimore, with a 1-2 record in four starts, with a miserable 7.04 ERA.

Gibbons admitted that Liriano's recent outing against the Orioles made it all that tougher to choose who was going to start on Tuesday.

"We considered all that," Gibbons said. "But some guys rise to the occasion and I've seen Stro do that many, many times. And I think he's the perfect guy."

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