Thanks to some questionable bullpen deployment by Orioles manager Buck Showalter and one mighty swing by Edwin Encarnacion, the Toronto Blue Jays punched their ticket to the Lone Star State for an ALDS rematch with the Texas Rangers starting on Thursday afternoon.
Toronto Blue Jays (89-73) at Texas Rangers (95-67)
Best of five American League Division Series
Game 1: Thursday October 6 at 1:30 pm PT (4:30 pm ET) at Texas
Game 2: Friday October 7 at 10 am PT (1 pm ET) at Texas
Game 3: Sunday October 9 at 4:30 pm PT (7:30 pm ET) at Toronto
Game 4: Monday October 10 at TBD at Toronto*
Game 5: Wednesday October 12 at TBD at Texas*
* – if necessary
Game 1: Marco Estrada (9-9, 3.48 ERA) vs Cole Hamels (15-5, 3.32 ERA)
You have to give John Gibbons some credit. By choosing to start Marcus Stroman in the wild card game, it has allowed the Blue Jays to roll out Estrada, Happ, and Sanchez on regular rest in the ALDS.
Estrada comes into the 2016 postseason having only allowed two earned runs over his previous three starts. His ERA over those three starts was 0.95 with 19 strikeouts in 19 innings and has seemed to have shaken off some of the back pain that has plagued him throughout the season. In the 2015 ALDS against the Rangers, Estrada pitched the Blue Jays to a 5-1 victory in game three allowing just one run over 6 1/3 innings.
The Rangers have had the luxury of resting since Sunday and will counter with their ace, left-hander Cole Hamels in front of the home crowd. Since his worst start of the season on September 5th against the Mariners, when he was blasted for seven earned runs in just 1 2/3 innings, Hamels has rebounded to win his final four starts of the regular season, going six innings or more in each start with a 3.81ERA and 25 strikeouts in 26 innings.
Thursday will mark Hamels’ first start against the Blue Jays in 2016, but he did face Toronto twice in the 2015 ALDS, winning game two in Toronto and, of course, taking the loss in game five while serving up Edwin Encarnacion’s game tying homerun in the 6th inning.
Game 2: JA Happ (20-4, 3.18 ERA) vs Yu Darvish (7-5, 3.41 ERA)
James Anthony Happ takes to the mound for the Blue Jays in Game 2 while most of you are at work on Friday.
Happ evolved into the Blue Jays’ ace over the course of the 2016 season and has been their most consistent starter having given up four or more runs only six times in 32 starts. Happ went 5-1 over six September/October starts with an ERA of 2.97 with 21 strikeouts across 33 1/3 innings. JA Happ faced the Rangers once in 2016, a 12-2 Blue Jays win on May 5th when he pitched seven innings of one run baseball.
Thirty-year-old Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish will oppose Happ in Game 2 from Globe Life Park in Arlington. He is making his 18th start of 2016 after his 2015 season was erased by Tommy John surgery.
While his fastball velocity has returned to their normal levels prior to surgery, Darvish has been inconsistent throughout the year with a recent example being two September starts against the AAA Oakland Athletics. On September 17th he allowed seven runs in five innings in an 11-2 loss, and then came back on September 24th to pitch seven innings of two-hit shutout baseball in a 5-0 victory.
Darvish did not face the Blue Jays in 2016 and his only postseason experience was when he took the loss in the 2012 wild card game against Joe Saunders and the Baltimore Orioles.
Run Differential: Blue Jays +93, Rangers +9
One-run games: Blue Jays 21-25, Rangers 36-11
Stolen bases: Blue Jays 54 (13th in AL), Rangers 99 (4th in AL)
Bases on balls: Blue Jays 632 (1st in AL), Rangers 436 (14th in AL)
|1||Devon Travis, 2B||1||Carlos Gomez, LF|
|2||Josh Donaldson, 3B||2||Ian Desmond, CF|
|3||Edwin Encarnacion, 1B||3||Carlos Beltran, DH|
|4||Jose Bautista, RF||4||Adrian Beltre, 3B|
|5||Russell Martin, C||5||Rougned Odor, 2B|
|6||Troy Tulowitzki, SS||6||Jonathan Lucroy, C|
|7||Michael Saunders, DH||7||Mitch Moreland, 1B|
|8||Kevin Pillar, CF||8||Nomar Mazara, RF|
|9||Ezequiel Carrera, LF||9||Elvis Andrus, SS|
* – Subject to change
As much as I would like to predict that there will be some retaliation for what happened to Jose Bautista in May, if growing up watching hockey has taught me anything, it’s that when you expect something to happen, it probably won’t (Probert-Domi notwithstanding).
Instead, the Blue Jays should focus their energy on getting to Hamels and Darvish early in this series since the Rangers starting pitching isn’t very deep beyond them and their bullpen is only slightly better than Toronto’s.
If the Jays can come home to the Dome with a road split and a good batting approach against the likes of Colby Lewis and Martin Perez, Toronto could realistically wrap this series up in four.
That being said, the Rangers do present a series of challenges for the Blue Jays, who may begin the series without the services of closer Roberto Osuna. They are a team that has a good mix of young and veteran talent, they have great hitting depth and they make contact with the ball well. One thing that will be tested is the Blue Jays starters’ ability to hold runners on since the Rangers finished 4th in the American League with 99 stolen bases.
The playoffs are a time when the smallest flaws are exposed on a team, and if Russell Martin and his battery mates aren’t careful, they will be run right out of Texas.
Who am I kidding? Jose is going to take Sam Dyson yard again and punch Rougned Odor in the face while he rounds 2nd base and they will be off to the ALCS.