Well folks, that’s it… The 2016 MLB regular season is officially in the books, and for the second straight year the Texas Rangers will face off against the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Division Series (ALDS). For those of you that somehow aren’t aware of the hostile, often violent relationship between the two clubs, you have a lot of catching up to do.
The Blue Jays advanced by defeating the Baltimore Orioles in the AL Wildcard game on Tuesday night, and if the rowdy crowd in attendance at the Rogers Centre was any indication of the type of theatrics to expect in the ALDS – get your popcorn ready. But before you bust out the Orville Redenbacher, let’s examine the pitching matchups and the keys to a Rangers’ victory in Game 1.
BLUE JAYS @ RANGERS
Thursday, 10/6, 3:38 PM – Globe Life Park, Arlington, TX – Television: TBS
TEX: LH COLE HAMELS (15-5, 3.32 ERA)
Cole Hamels gets the nod for the Rangers on Thursday afternoon, facing off against the Jays for the first time in 2016. Hamels has been shaky over his last 6 appearances, going 1-1 with a 6.75 ERA – Not exactly the kind of momentum you’d like your ace to have heading into the post-season. However, Hamels touts a .267 opponent batting average when facing the Blue Jays current lineup and was strong against the Jays last year in the ALDS, with a 2.70 ERA. In the 2015 ALDS, Hamels led the Rangers to a game 1 victory, allowing only 2 earned runs. He would’ve also won game 5, but a string of errors by Elvis Andrus botched the game for the Rangers and ended the 2015 campaign.
TOR: RH MARCO ESTRADA (9-9, 3.48 ERA)
For the Jays, the right-handed Marco Estrada will take the mound. Estrada had two no-decisions against the Rangers back in May, allowing 5 earned runs over 12 total innings pitched, but the Jays did pull out the win in each of his appearances. Similar to Hamels, Estrada didn’t exactly close out the 2016 regular season strong, going 1-3 with a 3.98 ERA over his last 6 appearences. However, in the 2015 ALDS, Estrada did pitch well against the Rangers, winning Game 3 by allowing only 1 earned run and 5 hits over 6.1 innings of work.
RANGERS KEYS TO SUCCESS
- Hamels must overcome the control issues that have plagued his last few starts. The Blue Jays led the American League in Walks Taken with 3.92 per game, so they are disciplined enough to make Hamels work if they see him struggle with location early on. The Jays’ lineup doesn’t have a history of piling up the base-hits versus Hamels. If he can hit the corners and avoid allowing free base runners, the Rangers should be able to keep the Jays’ in check offensively.
- The bats need to get going early and often. Estrada is a momentum pitcher and will get hot or cold, depending on how the Rangers get going. Estrada did very well against the Rangers back in May, but the Rangers’ lineup looks significantly different today with several new bats thrown into the mix. If the new bats (Beltran, Lucroy, Gomez) can help spark the offense early and rattle Estrada, the Jays may be forced to look to a flawed bullpen with a 4.60 ERA over the last month of baseball.
The Rangers need to focus on the ultimate goal, and not get caught up with in-game dramatics . With the media hype surrounding this ALDS matchup, game one will surely bring heightened emotions for both teams. There may be some bat flips or other old-world-baseball faux pas, but Odor has already granted vindication for the entire organization with one right hook that Jose Bautista will certainly never forget. The Rangers need to focus on the game, or even doing some bat flips themselves… Let the fans focus on the drama.
And on that note, I’ll leave you with this gem… GO RANGERS!