Texas Rangers ALDS Opponent Preview: Toronto Blue Jays
SDI’s Steve Boynton looked at the Baltimore side of things earlier today so let’s preview the other potential Texas Rangers ALDS opponent. The now hated Toronto Blue Jays.
If the Blue Jays win the AL Wild Card Game and advance to face the Rangers in the ALDS, get ready to see the Jose Bautista bat flip and Rougned Odor‘s right hook about 50-100 times — give or take. Rangers-Jays will potentially be one of the most captivating matchups of the Division Series and one that most TV execs are hoping to host.
In fact, if you polled Rangers’ fans the results would be split 50/50 between fans who want revenge for the 2015 ALDS and fans who want to stay as far away from this team as possible.
However, I’m not here to talk about the punch, the bat flip or the hype. I am here to talk about what we can expect from the Blue Jays during the Wild Card game and, if they advance, what they look like in the ALDS.
WILD CARD PREVIEW – VS BALTIMORE ORIOLES – TUESDAY OCTOBER 4 – ROGERS CENTRE: TORONTO, ONTARIO –
I think this game is going to be a shootout. When I think about a Wild Card game, I think about the best starters going head to head, ace vs. ace. The National League Wild Card game could be a 1-0 or 2-1 affair.
Not here. In this game, that might be the score when the first frame closes.
The best starter for the Jays this season has been the sensational sophomore Aaron Sanchez, but he won’t be starting the Wild Card game since he started Sunday in Boston. The Blue Jays announced Monday that Marcus Stroman would start Tuesday’s Wild Card game over Francisco Liriano, who was acquired at the deadline from the Pirates in exchange for Drew Hutchison.
It was the expected call, but is it the right one? Last year, the Blue Jays treated Stroman as their playoff No. 1. He started Game 2 of the ALDS behind trade deadline prize David Price, which allowed Stroman to start the decisive Game 5. Two of his three playoff starts were quality starts, and his only win was rather pedestrian (6 1/3 innings against Kansas City, 4 ER, 1 BB and 1 K).
The trend of mediocre outing continued for Stroman into 2016, as he finished with very “meh” numbers on the surface (9-10 record with a 4.37 ERA). Here’s something interesting, though — Stroman’s ground ball percentage was first in all of baseball among qualified starters. He has gotten 60.1 percent of batters to put the ball on the ground this season.
The Orioles, as a team, are third in the majors in flyball rate. Baltimore hits the ball in the air 38.5 percent of the time, behind only the New York Mets and the Tampa Bay Rays. It will be interesting to see which side gives in, and should be one of the determining factors of this game.
Ultimately, I do not think that Stroman should be the Wild Card starter. He has struggled at home this year, especially as the lineup turns over.
First time through the order at home, Stroman has a 1.75 ERA and has kept hitters at a .239 average. The second time through the lineup, he has a 4.58 ERA with opponents hitting .244. The third time through, Stroman boasts a 7.50 ERA while allowing a .275 average. None of the above mentioned would be a big deal if the Blue Jays had a good bullpen, but uh… it’s not the 2015 Royals bullpen, to say the least.
The Blue Jays’ bullpen finished 2016 with a -1.4 WAR, 22nd in the MLB and last among playoff contenders. Their problems have emerged lately, as over the last 30 days they are sporting a 4.91 ERA and allowing 1.64 home runs per 9 innings among relievers.
Stroman needs to eat up at least six innings, so manager John Gibbons doesn’t have to lean on a very homer prone ‘pen. Either way, the Jays are going to need a strong offensive showing if they want to be in Arlington on Thursday.
On the offensive side, a matchup vs. Chris Tillman appears to be a poor one for the Jays because of how heavily right-handed their lineup leans.
However, Blue Jays hitters have had success against Tillman in the past. In fact, their projected lineup is collectively is hitting .300 with 17 home runs and 43 RBIs in 230 at-bats. Even with a good history against Tillman, Toronto has lost all four games in which he started. Three out of four games, Toronto only managed two runs and scored four in the fourth game.
I would think that leash would be pretty tight on Tillman so that Buck Showalter can hand over to the keys to his terrific bullpen sooner rather than later. If the Blue Jays want to win, they need to get to Tillman early.
IF THE BLUE JAYS WIN, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR THE RANGERS?
I think that if this is indeed the ALDS match Texas draws, it will truly dictate who represents the American League in the World Series.
Between last year’s ALDS and their heated exchange when these teams met in Arlington in May, emotions will be plenty high. Either team could use this series to charge into the next championship series and on to the fall classic. For now, let’s see how this matchup could look for the Rangers.
The Blue Jays would be fortunate if they could win the one game wild card with their top pitcher unavailable, meaning Texas would likely have to face Aaron Sanchez twice. Sanchez pitched against Texas twice this year, first giving up three earned runs in seven innings of work. Toronto needed a late Edwin Encarnacion home run to take that game, but Sanchez did not factor into the decision.
The second game was the infamous Odor-Bautista punch game, in which Sanchez went 6 and 2/3 innings. Sanchez exited the game with two men on and two out, handing the ball over to Jesse Chavez who gave up the game-winning three-run home run to Ian Desmond.
While Sanchez has had a remarkable season — winning the ERA title in his first full season as a starter — I don’t think the Rangers should have too much trouble with him. The other two pitchers in this rotation are the ones that give me hesitation, in J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada.
Both have had success against the Rangers this season, but at the same time, they were facing very different lineups. The Rangers team they faced in May did not have a healthy Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Gomez in the leadoff spot, Jonathan Lucroy or Carlos Beltran.
Estrada pitched particularly well in Game three of the ALDS last year during the must-win survival game for the Blue Jays. He went 6 and 1/3 inning, allowed only five hits and one run while striking out four in Arlington.
Happ and Estrada will be pitching the critical games where the Rangers pitching could be shaky, so getting to the starter will be essential.
Among the reasons for optimism, as Toronto won the season series 4-3, is that the Jays did not face either Cole Hamels or Yu Darvish in any of the seven games they played. Except for the beating Derek Holland took in the fourth game of the series in Toronto, all the pitchers held their own, which included a solid five-inning no-run showing from Martin Perez.
Hamels worries me a bit more than he should, especially after he struggled to find his form in the last month. However, Cole is big time pitcher and big time pitchers show up in big games. Last year, in a do-or-die game five, Cole showed up and pitched very well.
Toronto should not have the luxury of facing Derek Holland, this time around, whom they tagged for 11 runs in 2 and 2/3 innings in May. Instead, they should draw a healthy Darvish twice if needed, pitching in his first ALDS for the Rangers.
My three Keys for the Rangers to beat the Blue Jays:
- Get to the bullpen: Blue Jays starters have done a good job containing opposing hitters for most of the game, but the bullpen has been less than stellar. Of the 665 runs allowed by the Jays this year, 243 of those have come in the 7th, 8th or 9th (36%). The Rangers have scored 232 in the 7th, 8th, and 9th inning. The Blue Jays have blown 38 leads, and the Rangers have 49 comeback wins. This could be a recipe to keep this dream season going for the Rangers.
- Keep a cool head: There is a very real chance that the Blue Jays try to extract some revenge for the May 15th happenings. This could include plunking Rougned Odor in his first at bat if the bases are empty. If you say “no they would not do that, not in a game that matters,” I will point you to last Monday, September 26th when the Blue Jays needed every game to secure a playoff spot. In the 1st inning, Michael Pineda grazed Josh Donaldson‘s elbow-guard with a fastball inside. Next inning, JA Happ threw behind Chase Headley and then hit him. Both managers were ejected, and the fireworks kept coming. Even if tempers flare, the Rangers must keep a level head. Let the umpires sort out any malicious or dirty plays. The Rangers strength is the length of their lineup, and if someone is ejected or suspended, that strength is compromised.
- Limit the walks: The Jays worked 628 walks this season, second only to the Cubs. One of the biggest threats that Toronto poses is its knack for the big inning. They have scored five or more runs in 19 total innings this year. They finished 2016 75-19 when scoring four or more runs. The Blue Jays will hit home runs in this series, but the Rangers cannot help them out by walking batters. Rangers finished 22nd in all of baseball with 3.33 walks per 9 innings. If there is any team in the AL that takes advantage of free base runners, it is the Blue Jays.