Somewhat of a rivalry was created last fall when the Texas and Toronto met in the American League Division Series in October. The series featured several major storylines that spanned two nations and two fan bases starved for a World Series championship.
Both the Rangers and Blue Jays used trade deadline deals late last summer to propel themselves into the postseason. The Rangers made the move to acquire Cole Hamels and bullpen help from the Phillies, while the Blue Jays brought in slugger Troy Tulowitzki from the Rockies and lefty ace David Price from the Tigers, making them the favorite to win the American League pennant.
The 2015 ALDS was the most exciting series in baseball’s postseason last October, culminating in Jose Bautista’s infamous bat flip (…er, throw) after hitting a go-ahead three-run shot in the bottom of the seventh to win the series for the Jays. The benches would clear and fans’ tempers would flare, but at the end of the day the Blue Jays were moving on and perhaps a new AL rivalry was born.
The Jays and Rangers have already faced each other this season, a series in which Toronto took two of three from Texas at home. This weekend’s series, and perhaps baseball’s newest rivalry, kicks off tonight at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas.
Toronto Blue Jays (18-18) vs. Texas Rangers (20-15)
Friday, May 13
R.A. Dickey vs. Martin Perez
Saturday, May 14
Marco Estrada vs. Colby Lewis
Sunday, May 15
Aaron Sanchez vs. Cesar Ramos
3 Things To Watch
1. No Stroman? No Problem
Unfortunately, the Blue Jays’ energetic, young fireballer Marcus Stroman isn’t slated to pitch this weekend against the Rangers — however, he will graduate from Duke on Sunday, which is pretty cool in itself. Even without Stroman, Jays fans can relax no matter who toes the rubber this weekend in Arlington. That is outside of R.A. Dickey — you just never know with that knuckleball.
Dickey aside, Marco Estrada and Aaron Sanchez will be on the mound on Saturday and Sunday, and both have been pleasant surprises so far this season. Coming out of spring training, the big question mark for the Jays was supposed to be their starting pitching. But the starters, led by Stroman, have been great. Estrada has a 2.39 ERA and has surrendered only 10 earned runs in 31 1/3 innings, earning his $26 million extension. Sanchez has been just as good, posting a 2.58 ERA, 3.43 FIP in 45 1/3 innings pitched. If Dickey (5.18 ERA, 4.45 FIP) can somehow wrangle in his knuckleball, the Jays should be able to combat that dangerous Rangers lineup.
2. Time for Jays’ Offense to Fly
So far this spring, the Toronto offense that led the league in pretty much every major offensive category a season ago has yet to come alive — aside from reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson. Currently, the Jays are 16th in MLB in runs scored, 20th in hits, 21st in slugging and 26th in team batting average. The Jays don’t have to worry about facing Cole Hamels this weekend, and although Perez could prove formidable, Colby Lewis and Cesar Ramos are both susceptible to giving up big innings. Lewis does have a 3.20 ERA in 45 innings this season, but he is tied for second in the AL with nine home runs surrendered while Ramos is making only his second start of 2016, the other coming back on April 25
3. Rangers’ Infield Shines
Rare is the case that a team’s three best hitters are all infielders. With Josh Hamilton and Shin-Shoo Choo on the DL, and Ian Desmond, technically an infielder playing in the outfield, the Rangers are that rare case. Adrain Beltre (3B), Elvis Andrus (SS), and Rougned Odor (2B) are driving Texas’ offense this season.
Beltre has been arguably the most consistent player of his era, a career .285 hitter with 2,804 hits and 419 hom eruns. Beltre, 37, has continued his steady play this season with five home runs and a .282 average, all while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at third. Beltre’s friend, and sometimes dugout irritant, Andrus has been steady at the bottom half of the Texas lineup, hitting .282/.331/.466. But it is the emergence of Odor that has kept the Rangers in the thick of the AL West hunt. Odor, only 22, leads his team with 10 doubles and seven home runs, all while hitting .298/.327/.532 with an OPS of .858.
If Hamilton and Choo can provide some pop once they return, and Prince Fielder (.198/.260/.298) can find his stroke, the Rangers could turn out to be what the Blue Jays were in ’15 — an offense to be reckoned with.
The Jays are still trying to find their stride. While their starting pitching has been really good, the offense and the two most reliable veteran bullpen arms (Brett Cecil and Drew Storen) have been lackluster. The Jays’ offense will have to try and keep up with the Rangers’ bats, an offense that scored 23 runs while winning three games against the red-hot White Sox earlier this week.
Prediction: Rangers win series, 2 games to 1
— 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.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)