Both the Blue Jays and Texas Rangers took a similar path to the postseason. In their effort to make a strong push towards being crowned division champs, these teams had to make several moves at the deadline to put them in contention. This started with starting pitching and particularly by adding top tier-aces to their rotations; particularly David Price and Cole Hamels respectively. Both aces came with a strong pedigree of leadership and more importantly the ability to win big games down the stretch. The price for David Price was a high for a rental but any Jays fan will tell you it was worth it. On the other hand, the general consensus about the Rangers acquisition of Cole Hamels, was that it was about the 2016 season more than anything when Yu Darvish would return from injury. Cole Hamels just so happened to be the spark the Rangers needed as they turned around their season going from a .500 team to winning a very competitive AL West on the last day of the season.
David Price is the pitcher you want starting the most anticipated game in 22 years. He brings the tenacity that doesn’t come around often in every pitcher and is a beautiful sight to watch game in and game out. Price is a true veteran who will tell you that he treats every start the same, but you can bet with the crowd screaming on the top of their lungs and this being a postseason game he will have to control his emotions. The Blue Jays will throw out Marcus Stroman, RA Dickey and Marco Estrada in Games 2, 3 and 4 respectively. While the Rangers haven’t announced their game 3 and 4 starters we know Cole Hamels will be starting game 2 behind Yovanni Gallardo and ahead of 2 left handed started pitches likely to follow in Texas. From a Blue Jays perspective, Marcus Stroman is coming off a tremendous return to the rotation, and has looked like the ace he was last season. What might be a cause for concern is RA Dickey, who has been a better pitcher at home then on the road. RA Dickey has turned around his season since the All Star break winning 10 straight games at one point so hopefully he rides this momentum into game 3. The key for him will be to start strong in the first few innings and run with the offence. Marco Estrada has been what many would call the “X-Factor” in the Blue Jays rotation. He has exceeded expectations and has given the Jays a chance to win every start out.
Gallardo will start Game 1 for the Rangers and while his not their quote-unquote ace; he has gone 2-0 against the Blue Jays this season. He looked dominant during both starts and is the only Texas Rangers pitcher to beat the Jays this season. Gallardo’s career 1.33 ERA against Toronto is his best against any team and his 0.984 WHIP is his best versus any American League opponent. While anything can really happen in the playoffs, he has Toronto’s number this year and like any pitcher, can do well if he slows down the Jays bats who will look to get going early.
While his success is certainly promising, the Rangers would have ideally preferred to have Cole Hamels starting Game 1 who had to be used down the stretch as the Rangers did win the AL West on Game 162 after all. Going from the Phillies to the Rangers didn’t affect him whatsoever as he continues to dominate with strong command of his wide arsenal of pitches. Similar to David Price, he has been almost perfect since coming to Texas going 7-1, with the Rangers going 10-0 in his starts. Something to look out for is if whether or not he gets the nod in a deciding Game 5 in necessary.
Colby Lewis and Derek Holland have had their share of injuries that have kept them away from the game for prolonged periods of time. Though Holland hasn’t pitched very much this season it is quite fitting, that Derek Holland was actually the starter for Game 4 of the World Series back in 2011 and he could play a vital role in the latter half of the series. Colby Lewis on the other hand, has been a great surprise and has found great success at home this season. While these are both potential lefties, the Blue Jays have hit lefties well with a .278 BA and a .354 OBP ranking 2nd and 1st respectively according to Sportsnet.
Winner: Blue Jays
Going into this season, there were a lot of question marks for both teams with regards to the bullpen. The Blue Jays were moving on from Casey Jansenn and the Rangers were looking for someone to fill the shoes of Joe Nathan. At first it seemed to be Miguel Castro who would be the closer for the Jays moving forward but after early hiccups and a major trade a few months later, Roberto Osuna was the go to guy moving forward. At the age of 20, Roberto Osuna was lights out in the regular season and continues to face more pressure than he has every faced, as every game becomes bigger and bigger. Shawn Tolleson has been great for the Rangers on the other hand converting 29 saves with an ERA under 3. Tolleson has been stretched out down the run, making an appearance for 5 games in a row this season.
The bullpen had been a big issue for the Rangers for many years but they looked to have solved it with a league best bullpen ERA since September. Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson who were both acquired in the Cole Hamels trade, have helped solidify the Rangers bullpen from top to bottom. These two righties can play a pivitol role for the Rangers as the Blue Jays do have a history of killing left handed pitching. The Blue Jays bullpen has looked very good too. Aaron Sanchez has been the set up man for Osuna and has been able to hold leads late in the game. Brett Cecil is the true hero who has been phenomenal in the second half of the season. He will play a big role in the bullpen especially against Prince Fielder. Lowe, Hawkins, Hendriks and Loup will join him as well and will all have their moments to play a big part. Look for Lowe to be a part of big leverage situations late in games. Loup will have a chance to win back a lot of Jays fans hearts when he comes in should it be with a lead or not.
Winner: Blue Jays
Not to take anything away from arguably the best infield in baseball, but Justin Smoak can scoop the baseball with the best of them. His defence is often overlooked because of his power. While Smoak can tend be a swing or miss hitter he has the potential to be an X-Factor for the Blue Jays in the middle of the order. While a homerun or two would be nice he will often need to get big hits and drive in some runs any way possible.
Mitch Moreland is likely the go to guy after game 1 with Mike Napoli better of facing David Price. Moreland has had a nice year for himself and some might even say he is the team’s MVP this season. He is a big time power hitter right behind Prince Fielder with strong numbers all around. His 23 homeruns ties a career high but he has had his career best RBI and average totals this season.
Winner: Texas Rangers
Ryan Goins has played a major role in the development of this Jay’s postseason roster. When they say defense wins championships, he is the primetime example. Goins who has been criticized of his offence has shown better plate discipline and has shortened his swing, which has allowed him to get timely hits at the bottom of the order including 4 homeruns (all of which led to Blue Jays wins).
Rougned Odor has been another bright star for the Texas Rangers this season. He is a hard working and scrappy second basemen that sometimes gets compared to Dustin Pedroia and rightfully so. He forms a solid duo up the middle with Elvis Andrus and has his share of big hits, putting up some of the best numbers as a second baseman in the American League since the All Star Break. Don’t forget he is only 21.
There is a reason why the Blue Jays have a tremendous record with Troy Tulowitzki in the lineup including an 11-0 start when he was in the lineup. He brings the intangibles to the Jays lineup and has an answer to any ball hit his way know matter how he plants his feet and throws. Tulowitzki is a true competitor who just wants to win and Jay’s fans are hoping he can stay healthy and get into a groove at the plate. It speaks volumes when a hitter like Tulo is batting 5th in your lineup.
Elvis Andrus is suprising a lot of people this season. He comes with high expectations year in and year out and he is producing this season for the Rangers. Though he will likely bat in the bottom half of the lineup his speed will be a big part of the Rangers success. He isn’t the greatest hitting shortstop by any means but he has shows signs of improvement in the second half like Odor.
Winner: Blue Jays
Usually when you have a potential MVP in this conversation, this should be a no doubter. While Josh Donaldson has put up numbers for the ages, Adrian Beltre deserves a lot of respect and recognition too. Donaldson has been the heart of the Jays lineup coming up with timely hitting and homeruns. His ability to spread the field for contact and power is something special and his work at third base doesn’t go un-noticed either. It is tough to pitch to Donaldson because he capitalizes on any mistake that comes his way.
Future hall of famer Adrian Beltre knows what playing in the playoffs is all about. Having been around this Rangers team for a long time now, 17 year veteran Adrian Beltre has been a part of both the good and bad times for this organization. Fresh off winning the AL Player of the Week, Beltre has fueled the Rangers lineup and seems to get better as the games become more and more important. He led the American League with the most runs scored in September and finishes strong with a .287 average. He is a gold glover at the hot corner so don’t expect any mistakes from him on the field either.
Winner: Blue Jays
When the Blue Jays signed Russell Martin they knew he was going to be a leader in the clubhouse and he would also be the leader of a fairly young rotation. He has done just that this season with the Blue Jays and is starting to heat up as well at the plate. It has been a grind behind the plate for a whole season and Martin is certainly not at 100% but he will play a big role catching base runners stealing as he has done so effectively all season long.
Robinson Chirinos has proved to the Rangers that he is the guy to start as catcher in the postseason. There have been a lot of question marks surrounding him but he has surely made his case towards the end of the season for the Rangers. Staying healthy has been key for Chirinos but now that he is healthy he should get majority of the playing time behind the plate. Look for Giminez to catch Hamels in game 2.
Winner: Blue Jays
Edwin Encarnacion had a terrific second half at the plate, and as many would recall hit a hatrick of homeruns at the end of August. Edwin is coming in still hot at the plate and Blue Jay fans sure hope he stays that way. Edwin can damage opposing pitchers when he is on his game so look for him to get started early and help the Jays give their rotation a lead. In fact Ecarnacion has now hit 151 homers since the 2012 season, the second most behind Chris Davis. Let the parrot fly!
Price Fielder has been a huge part of the Ranger success. While his power numbers aren’t as high as they have been before, he has totalled an average of over .300 and has been terrific at the plate striking out less and walking more. Fielder has been just what the doctor order for the Rangers after being injured for most of last year. The last time he was in the postseason he was struggling to the point where he found himself watching the Tigers from the bench. At the end of the day, he is a fanatic for the big homerun and is going to need to hit a few if the Rangers hope to stay close with the Jays offensively.
Winner: Blue Jays
Ben Revere has been an excellent addition to the Blue Jays especially as of late hitting at the top of the lineup. While he may not take as many pitches and walk as much, Revere has consistently got on base at the top of the order and has been a great set up for the big guys after him. He can also be a threat on the base paths so the Rangers will have their hands full trying to manage him while facing the Jays top hitters.
Kevin Pillar has been on a surge as of late at the plate. Though he may be hitting 9th in the series don’t let that confuse you. In case you didn’t know Pillar is also superman and catches any ball that comes his way. No joke. Pillar can play a big part of the lineup and Jay’s fans hope he doesn’t disappear. He tends to be a streaky hitter that goes and hot streaks and cold streaks. The great thing about baseball is that every day is a new game.
Jose Bautista has been waiting for this moment since the day he put on a Blue Jays uniform. His continues to put his power on displaying finishing with another great offensive season. He has shown very good plate discipline, taking many more pitches and walking at an alarming rate. After all Jose is a team player and is just as effective when he is a table setter and passes the torch to Edwin and the rest of the sluggers. Don’t be surprised if Jose goes deep and enjoys ever moment of it.
Shin-Soo Choo literally became a nobody after signing a huge contract with the Rangers. Until this day he hasn’t been the player he was with the Reds, but he has turned around his season as of late. After all when the team is going good, hitting becomes contagious. Expect to see him at the top of the lineup.
Josh Hamilton has been a story of his own. After being traded back to the Rangers during this season, Hamilton has fought his way back into the lineup. He seems to be coming into the playoffs healthy and though he may not be the same player he was when the Rangers last made the playoffs, he has the potential to quietly hurt the Blue Jays from an offensive standpoint.
Delino DeSheilds Jr. has been fantastic for the Rangers taking over for Leonys Martin in center field. He is a much more improved hitter at the top of the order for the Rangers and can run the bases really well too. Like Odor, Deshields Jr will be experiencing the postseason for the first time in his career as a rookie and it will be a good test to see if he lets the pressure get to him. He is surrounded by good veterans and a team who believes he will produce like its just another game.
Winner: Blue Jays
Considering the beginning of the Blue Jays season, having David Price and Marcus Stroman leading your rotation in the playoffs is something very special indeed. The Blue Jays have waiting long enough for this wait and if their offence does what it usually does they should be able to win the series. While the Blue Jays have been hot, some would argue the Rangers have been the hottest team in the second half of the season. Whether the Rangers really thought they would be here or not doesn’t matter because you can expect them to give the Blue Jays a run for their money. David Price hasn’t pitched for 11 days but with a strong start to the series, the Jays will likely be heading to the ALCS after 4 games.
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