The Toronto Blue Jays will host the Texas Rangers and Game 1 of the American League Division Series this Thursday at the Rogers Centre.
Las Vegas has the Blue Jays as favorites to win the World Series at 3/1, while the Rangers sit in third from the bottom at 12/1, in front of only the New York Yankees and Houston Astros. Despite the odds, anything can happen in the postseason, and this matchup may be closer than some expect.
Both Teams Sizzlin’
Just like a Texas BBQ, the Blue Jays and Rangers come into the postseason as two of the hottest teams in Major League Baseball. On July 28, Texas was eight games back of a spot in the postseason and five games under .500. Since then, the Rangers hold a record of 41-23 while winning eight out of ten games against their American West Division rival Astros. They ended up sweeping Houston in two of three series’ of the year to take over the top spot in the division.
This may sound familiar to Toronto fans. On that exact same date, the Blue Jays were 50-51 and also eight games back. Toronto would go on to post an eerily similar record of 41-22 and jump over the Yankees for first place. While adding new pieces, Cole Hamels for Texas, David Price and Troy Tulowitzki, among others, for the Blue Jays, both clubs and general managers did what they had to in order to get to the ALDS. They know what it’s like to be near the basement in 2015, and crawling out of it to win the division speaks to the character that resides in the two dugouts.
Since being acquired by Texas, Hamels has been one of the best pitchers in baseball. In 12 starts for the Lone Star state, Hamels boasted a 7-1 record with a 3.66 ERA. To clinch the division, he threw a complete game and eight straight shutout innings against the Los Angeles Angels. He has been exactly what the Texas Rangers hoped they were getting, and may be the key to compete with the best offense in baseball. Yovani Gallardo, who will go for Texas on Thursday, has had the Blue Jays’ number this season. In 13.2 innings pitched against Toronto, the 29-year-old right-hander has yet to allow an earned run. Gallardo changes speeds effectively, and his pitching style has kept the aggressive Toronto lineup off balance. He recorded just six hits against, while striking out six and walking five in two starts. Gallardo was two outs shy of a complete game on June 27, and logged 5.1 scoreless frames on August 27. The right-hander finished the season with a record of 13-11 and a 3.42 ERA. Colby Lewis (1 start, 0-1, 7.20 ERA against Toronto) and Derek Holland (1 start, 0-0, 6.00 ERA) will most likely be the third and fourth starters. Martin Perez has a chance to mix in as well if Jeff Banister insists on going with an all left-handed staff this series.
While Texas may have one of the hottest pitchers in baseball, the Blue Jays have a scorching second half pitching staff. Lead by Cy Young candidate David Price, who went 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA since being acquired by the Blue Jays, Toronto may just have the most depth in the league. Price won his only start against the Rangers this year and will get the nod in Game 1. After him, it will be Toronto’s golden boy in Marcus Stroman. The 24-year-old flamethrower has been absolutely lights out since returning from a torn ACL he suffered during preseason workouts. Possessing a 4-0 record while allowing only five runs to cross the plate in 27 innings, Stroman has been putting up ace-like numbers. In reality, number six WAS going to be the ace and the Opening Day starter before his injury, and adding him alongside Price may be just the one-two punch the Blue Jays need to dominate this postseason. Stroman finished the year with a 1.66 ERA in four starts. One-hundred game winner and veteran R.A. Dickey will most likely be getting the ball in Game 3 (11-11, 3.91 ERA), and has yet to face Texas this season. Marco Estrada will also take to the bump this series posting a surprising 13-8 record with a 3.13 ERA. Estrada pitched six innings of one run baseball in his one start against the Rangers.
David Price – Yovani Gallardo
Marcus Stroman – Cole Hamels
R.A. Dickey – Derek Holland
Marco Estrada – Colby Lewis/Martin Perez
Two of the highest scoring offenses in baseball will be going toe-to-toe in the ALDS. What else can you ask for? Texas ranked third in the league in runs produced with 751, while outscoring every team in the second half except for…you guessed it…the Blue Jays. Shin-Soo Choo was named player of the month for September with 11 multi-hit games while bolstering his average 27 points to .276. He finished the season with 22 home runs, 32 doubles, and an OBP of .375. Adrian Beltre also had a monster end to the season and was named player of the week this passed week. He had 37 hits in 28 games in September while finishing the season with a .287 AVG, 18 bombs, and 83 RBI. He also has a good track record against Price, hitting .306 with two home runs and four doubles in 36 at-bats. Prince Fielder can be noticed as one of the most well-rounded (I’m not just talking about his belly) hitters in MLB this season. Slashing a line of .305/.378/.463, with 23 home runs, makes him an easy choice for the category.
For the Blue Jays and their city, it has been a historic season. Leading the league in almost all major categories (runs, doubles, home runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS) makes them one of the best offenses this game has ever seen. Choo/Mitch Moreland/Fielder combined for 68 bombs, while MVP candidate Josh Donaldson/Jose Bautista/Edwin Encarnacion hit 120 all together. With the additions of Troy Tulowitzki and a bona-fide lead off hitter in Ben Revere there are little to no weak spots in this lineup. Toronto was second in the league in average with .269, while Texas placed tenth hitting .250. The Rangers also had a higher strikeout count in 2015. If Jeff Banister is considering going with three lefties, it may not be the best idea. The Blue Jays have ate them up this year, hitting 100 points higher than the league average OPS this season.
Both teams need their supporting cast to step up. Chris Colabello, Ryan Goins, and Kevin Pillar need to carry their strong play into the postseason. On the other side, it is Elvis Andrus, Rougned Odor, and Delino DeShields who have to add production for Texas.
The Rangers bullpen has to keep the ball down in the zone, they allowed the highest home run rate out of every team in the postseason, which isn’t the best stat when you’re matching up against the Blue Jays. Toronto needs to know whether or not they can rely on closer Roberto Osuna, who has struggled heavily in the final month of the season.
Blue Jays lineup will become too tough to handle for Hamels and Gallardo in hostile territory. Toronto will jump to an early 2-0 lead in the series with Price and Stroman on the bump and never look back. Toronto in four games.