For both the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays this postseason run almost never happened. The Blue Jays were sinking, sitting eight games behind the New York Yankees on July 28. Then general manager Alex Anthopoulos, with perhaps his job on the line, made the move that has already defined his career, trading away the Blue Jays' best prospect and two other players to the Tigers for the lanky, left-handed ace David Price and then sending former All-Star Jose Reyes and prospects to the Rockies for Troy Tulowitzki. A lot, maybe most, trade deadline deals don't work out for the best, but sometimes they do exactly what you hoped they would. Anthopoulos’ risky moves did exactly what he hoped they would, and much more, as his Blue Jays hurdled the Yankees and won their first AL East crown in two decades.
The Rangers weren’t supposed to be contenders in 2015, not after Yu Darvish was ruled out for the season after Tommy John surgery, Derek Holland missed half the season with a shoulder injury after just one start, and top prospect Jurickson Profar missed his second straight season with consecutive shoulder surgeries. The Rangers started the season 7-14 after April, hung tough and sat at 50-52 on trade deadline day when general manager Jon Daniels made the move to acquire ace Cole Hamels (and his massive contract) from the Phillies along with reliable relievers Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson. The Rangers won 36 games over the next two months, securing the second Wild Card spot in late August, and then passed the Astros in mid-September for the AL West lead, which they would not surrender.
Texas vs. Toronto
Thursday, Oct. 8
Yovani Gallardo vs. David Price
Friday, Oct. 9
Cole Hamels vs. Marcus Stroman
Sunday, Oct. 11
Marco Estrada vs. Undecided
Monday, Oct. 12
R.A. Dickey vs. Undecided
Wednesday, Oct. 14
Undecided vs. David Price
Three Things to Watch
1. Trade Deadline Lefties
Speaking of Cole Hamels and David Price, if this series goes to a decisive five games (we can hope), the two lefties could square off for the right to go to the ALCS. Sadly, we will not be privileged to see these two throw against one another in Game 1. Price will take the mound for the Jays on Thursday night against the Rangers’ Yovani Gallardo.
Since joining the Blue Jays, Price has been a revelation. He has essentially put himself in the driver’s seat for his second AL Cy Young Award, as he leads the league in ERA (2.45) and given the Jays the moxie it lacked in the first half of the season. Price has gone 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA, 2.22 FIP, and a WHIP of 1.009 since moving north of the border. However, there is a downside. Price’s playoff performances haven’t been the highlight of his career. He is just 1-5 in 40 innings pitched with a 4.50 ERA in 10 postseason appearances.
Hamels' situation is similar to that for Price. Since the trade to Texas, Hamels has been very, very good, with a 7-1 record and a 3.66 ERA. Hamels may not be the power pitcher that Price is, inducing more ground balls by percentage, but is just as effective. Where Hamels has the leg up on Price is in his postseason performance. In 13 starts, Hamels is 7-4 with a 3.09 ERA and a 1.053 WHIP, and was both the 2008 NCLS and World Series MVP. If nothing else, it should be fun watching the lefty Hamels against the stacked right-handed Blue Jays lineup.
2. Rogers Centre Advantage
The Rogers Centre will be rocking on Thursday night as the Blue Jays host their first postseason game since Joe Carter touched ‘em all to walk off the 1993 World Series. Since the Price and Tulowitzki trades the Rogers Centre has been packed with crowds in the upper decks looking like they are within arms reach of the CN Tower.
The way the Jays swing the bat, the CN Tower could be in play as a foul pole. The Blue Jays are tied with the Pirates and Astros for the best home record on the season at 53-28, second only to the Dodgers and Cardinals. At home the Jays are scoring almost twice as much as their opponents, plating 450 runs while only surrendering 292.
This Blue Jays team has captured the favor and imagination of a fan base longing for a competitive team to fill their ballpark to the max. This season, attendance has jumped 17.6 percent from 2014 as more than 2.7 million passed through the Rogers Centre gates in 2015. Expect all 49,282 seats to be filled by Blue Jay blue for Games 1 and 2, and hopefully beyond.
3. How many runs?
Everyone knows that the Blue Jays can swing the twig better than any other team in baseball. They lead the league in runs (891), doubles (308), home runs (232), total bases (2518), RBIs (852), on-base percentage (.340), slugging (.457), and OPS (.797). MVP front-runner Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion have combined for 338 RBIs and 120 home runs this season, more than any teammate trio in baseball. Simply put, the Jays are a force at the plate.
But don’t count out the Rangers' offense either. In the second half of the season Texas scored 381 runs, second to only Toronto. While the offensive numbers aren’t as gaudy, the Rangers can still be dangerous. Shin-Soo Choo, Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland all tout an OPS over .800 and will be the key for the Rangers to keep up offensively.
Simply put, the Jays just score too many runs. They scored 140 more runs this season than the Rangers, who were third in that category. Anything can happen in a five-game series, but I’m not sure the Rangers have the pitching, especially in the bullpen, to silence the Blue Jays big bats.
Prediction: Blue Jays in 4
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. An avid baseball fan, Rose also takes time to do some play-by-play work for the radio broadcasts of Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider baseball games. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.