ALDS Position Preview: PITCHERS

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Teams are allowed 25 roster spots in the post season, and can use any combination of position players, starting pitchers, and relievers. If a player sustains an injury, he can be removed from the 25-man-active roster and replaced with another player at the conclusion the current game. HOWEVER, if a player is removed from the 25-man roster, he must remain off of the roster for the remainder of the series being played AND the series that follows. For example: if Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki re-aggravates his shoulder injury, and needs to be replaced on the roster, he would have to miss the remainder of the ALDS and the ALCS, if Toronto was to win the ALDS. 

TEXAS RANGERS (88-74)

Projection: 11 pitchers, 14 position players

STARTERS (in order of appearance): Derek Holland, Cole Hamels, Yovani Gallardo, Martin Perez, Hamels.

BULLPEN: Shawn Tolleson, Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman, Keone Kela, Ross Ohlendorf, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Luke Jackson.

Hamels’ complete-game gem on Sunday knocks him out of an ace-versus-ace matchup against David Price in game one, but he will toe the rubber in games two and five (if necessary) while remaining on regular rest. The Rangers are left-handed heavy in their starting rotation, and will more than likely be even more so this post season. This year’s opening day starter, Derek Holland should toss game one, and although not ideal, you have to ride the hot arms, which puts Yovani Gallardo in three, and Martin Perez in game four.

Sorry, Colbra, nothing personal, but there just is not enough room.

Nothing against Colby Lewis, and it is hard to imagine him not being a part of the divisional series rotation, but he has faded mightily down the stretch. Excluding his near no-no, his second half wins have been in attempt to survive with plenty of offensive support. Maybe he is in the pen as your long guy, but he is no spring chicken those old joints will take a while to get loose and ready. He just does not dominate hitters the way you need to in the post season.

Colby travels, and is there to assist Mike Maddux as a mentor, but I do not expect him to be on the ALDS roster. There is just no room for nostalgia, or players who have “earned it” due to tenure. I believe Colby and Toronto’s Mark Buehrle are the two veteran staffers left off of the 25-man roster.

The bullpen is a little more difficult. Tolleson, Diekman, Dyson, and Kela – who, according to multiple reports, said prior to Sunday’s game that he was good to go, even after not being able to go out for a second inning on Saturday – are all locked into their roles. There is absolutely no reason to doubt the DDT combo, ever. If the Rangers get to the seventh or eighth inning with a lead, feel free to begin looking at the next day’s matchup. They will be rested, and ready to dominate.

That leaves three spots. Ross Ohlendorf did not look good on Saturday, but has proved to be a very capable bridge to the to the (K)DDT, especially after short Gallardo outings. His mid-90’s fastball and old school delivery from the right side may be just goofy enough to keep the right-handed bats of Toronto of balance.

Chi Chi Gonzalez is the long guy you pray you do not have to use, and not because he cannot perform, but because you hope the starters can stay in the game for six or seven innings. He is more than capable of mopping up innings, or even relieving a struggling starter early in a game before it gets out of hand. Think Scott Feldman in 2011 when you think of the role Cheech will fill.

The seventh spot is a little tricky, and there are several options. You do not need or want to take an additional lefty for multiple reasons, including the sheer fact that the Jays are right-hand dominate, and the Rangers potentially have four games being started by lefties already. Banister can also use one of the lefty starters out of the pen if the Rangers get in a tight spot. It is the post season after all, and there will be plenty of time to rest tired arms in four weeks.

So who gets the final nod? I would go with Luke Jackson. Yes, he is a rookie, and yes, he lacks big league experience, but that is part of the reason why I take him. He has two plus pitches in his mid-90’s heater and a strike-em-out curve. The likelihood of the Blue Jays having an extensive scouting report on him is slim, and he gives Banister an option in the pen in the fifth or sixth inning to come in from the right side and nicely contrast the left-handed starters.

Of course, Andrew Faulkner is also a very, very likely candidate for the last spot.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS (93-69)

Projection: 11 pitchers, 14 position players

Rotation – David Price, R.A. Dickey, Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, Price

Bullpen – Roberto Osuna, Brett Cecil, Mark Lowe, Aaron Sanchez, LaTroy Hawkins, Liam Hendricks, Ryan Tepera

David Price is the obvious choice to take the ball in game one for the Blue Jays, and there really should not be any discussion about it. Toronto did not trade away three prospects, which included top-prospect Daniel Norris, to acquire a lefty to throw in game three. He is their ace, and a damn good one. However, there is a silver lining here for Rangers fans – he did not fare so well against Texas in the 2010 and 2011 ALDS.

R.A. Dickey should be Toronto’s game two starter, and that may come as a surprise. For a knuckleballer, weather – and more importantly wind – can be crucial to success. Whether or not the wind tunnel at the Globe still exists, Toronto will want to keep the conditions as ideal and controllable as possible for Dickey and his dancing floater, which makes the mound at the Rogers Centre his likely destination. However, if the Jays were to throw him in Arlington, a knuckleball against a light breeze could be a recipe for disaster for the Rangers’ hitters.

Games three and four will depend solely on what John Gibbons wants to do, and there is no real “wrong” decision.

Marcus Stroman has made five starts since having ACL surgery during Spring Training, and has posted a 1.67 ERA, 0.963 WHIP over his 27 innings of work since coming off of the DL. The 24-year-old righty does have a weakness thus far in his young career – the road. In his two-year career, Stroman is 9-2 at home with an impressive 2.35 ERA, but just 5-4 on the road and averages over 5.5 runs per game, while opposing batters are hitting at a .303 clip. He should be pitching game three in Arlington, so advantage Rangers if he does go in game three or four.

“His cutter is filthy, and it’s almost like a slider,” said a Blue Jays minor league prospect in an interview with Shutdown Inning. “He kind of jumps at you, so the ball just jumps out of his hand. His cutter breaks at the last second, too. He’s filthy.”

The 32-year-old Mexico native and 2015 team MVP, Marco Estrada, has put together a very, very solid campaign posting a 3.13 ERA in 181 innings pitched. He relies heavily on his changeup – has tossed it the third most frequently in the majors (28.2-percent) – to stay within the zone and amass 131 punch outs while only surrendering 54 free passes.

This season has been a bit of an anomaly for Estrada though. For his career, he has been a .500 pitcher and has been especially bad on the road, posting a 4.25 ERA in 50 career road starts. Righties have historically had the slight advantage at the plate, but he has been especially tough to opposing batters as a whole this season, holding them to a .208 average and only allowing 21 homeruns. Estrada is projected as the No. 4 starter if a game four is needed, and Price does not pitch on four days rest.

RELEIVERS

Quick and simple? The Rangers will need to get to the Blue Jays bullpen early, or not at all. The Blue Jays have former closer Brett Cecil planted firmly into an eighth-inning role, and 20-year-old-rookie Roberto Osuna ready to close games out in a hurry.

However, outside of those two, the Jays are suspect to surrendering a run or three, and are especially weak against left-handed hitters. Prince Fielder, Josh Hamilton, Mitch Moreland, Shin Soo Choo, and Rougned Odor may very well benefit from early exits by Toronto starters.

Roberto Osuna is the name Rangers fans do not want to hear. Osuna is to the Jays, what Kela is to the Rangers – only Osuna is depended upon to record outs 25, 26, and 27, where Kela is the all-important seventh-inning bridge to the DDT backend of Diekman, Dyson, and Tolleson. Make no mistake about it though, the rookie is good. Despite his lumpy build, the youngster is damn good, according to the Toronto minor leaguer.

“Everyone you talk to in our organization always says that he has the craziest stuff,” the farmhand said. “Balls just disappear. Everything he throws moves, and it’s all going 96 miles an hour.

“He’s not like a max effort guy, either. It looks like he is barely throwing and then, boom, the ball is on you and it’s too late.”

So what happens if the Rangers are down a run or two and Osuna comes out for the ninth?

“Game over,” the future Blue Jay said.

The 20-game closer is not only the first relief pitcher under 21 years of age to appear in 66 games (check) in major league history, he is also the second to former-Ranger Neftali Feliz’s rookie record save percentage high of 93.0-percent with an impressive 90.9-percent. (Check for pitch/fastball speed).

The club’s opening day closer, Brett Cecil, has regained his stuff after his early season struggles. Cecil had a 26-inning scoreless streak snapped on Sept. 20, after he allowed an unearned run in the eighth-inning. He is unquestioned-set-up guy for the Jays, and will provided a solid, and intimidating prelude to the rookie in the wings for the ninth. If the Rangers find themselves trailing heading into the eighth, it will most certainly be an uphill battle.

Mark Lowe, the ex-Ranger and bullpen piece during the 2010 and 2011 World Series runs, is especially tough on righties (.200 BA), but struggles with lefties (.276 BA). The right-handed Sugar Land native, has 16 holds on the season, and has allowed three homeruns. However, all three have been game winners, so he is suspect to choke late in games. Has been more of a mid-innings guy for the Blue Jays this season, and almost always relied upon to get three outs at a time, as he has thrown 54.1 innings in 55 games.

Former starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez was (11GS, 28R), converted to right-handed reliever when Stroman returned from DL. He has stated 11 games this season, and appeared in 28 out of the pen, all while holding righties to a dismal .167 (26-156) average. Lefties will have their opportunities to feast, and are hitting .284 (48-169) against him. He does not yet strikeout a ton of batters (58 Ks), nor does he yet possess elite control (44 BB), a  he has allowed five earned runs over last six innings pitched with four walks and an opponents’ average of .346 (9-26)).

“I still think he’s learning, and he throws hard,” our unnamed Jay said. “If you ask anyone around, he is like the next All Star.”

LaTroy Hawkins is old, like bringing back Darren Oliver old. In fact, Hawkins is the oldest-active player in the Major Leagues. The once flame throwing righty, is now a hard-to-miss relief option for Toronto, but provides its pen with a veteran presence. Lefties are averaging .276 (21-76) off of the 21-year MLB lifer, and righties are hitting.299 (23-77). He has been better since joining Toronto, and has allowed just six earned runs over his last 29.1 innings pitched.

Liam Hendriks is another guy lefties have feasted on to a clip of .283 against lefties, while right-handed hitters have been held to a .210 average. Hendricks – who supports a 1.09 WHIP – is not a righty specialist by any means, and is not a guy the Jays will bring out of the pen to face a batter or two.

In outings of more than one-inning, he has allowed just six earned runs those 34.1 innings of work. He also has five holds to go with his 2.95 ERA, and currently ranks 9th in walks per nine innings among AL relievers, averaging just 1.55 per nine.

Ryan Tepera will be the last man added to the post season pen, in my opinion, and will be there solely to deal with the left handed sluggers the Rangers roll out. Through 31.2 innings, right-handed hitters are 15-64 (.234) against the 27-year-old righty, while lefties have only been able to muster six hits on their 49 at bats for a .148-clip.

 

So who has the advantage? Price and Hamels are near wash, as are Holland and Stroman. However, Perez and Gallardo are clear upgrades over Dickey – as long as he is not superhuman like he was with the Mets – and Estrada. So, advantage Rangers. Texas also has a far more well rounded bullpen, and will be able to rely on it much earlier in games if needed than Toronto. The Jays’ pen is fairly suspect prior to Cecil and Osuna, so it is fair to give the nod to the Rangers here as well.

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Travis M. Smith
Travis has been a baseball fanatic since birth, and, according to his parents and multiple other reports, at the sophisticated age of three had the near-superheroic ability to regurgitate the statistics of every member of the 1992-93 Texas Rangers . The 2015 Tarleton State graduate dabbled in baseball at the collegiate level before falling into journalism and works full-time as the managing editor of the Glen Rose Reporter.

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