By: Dan Grant
I didn’t want this article to sound like a stupid clickbait link. You know the ones. If they were about baseball, they’d sound like this:
‘John Gibbons ate a hoagie in the dugout. What happened next will shock you’
‘Troy Tulowitzki changed his conditioner and the results will blow your mind…’
‘David Price found an opossum living in his garage. You won’t believe what happens next!’
Now even if Gibby flew into a homicidal rage because there was mustard on his hoagie instead of mayo, and Tulo got more bounce and life in his hair, and Slim Duncan formed an unlikely friendship with an opossum, those articles are generally bogus. They promise more than they can deliver and they do it in a way that infuriates (or at least mildly miffs) most sane human beings who frequent the Internet. They also keep getting trotted out because people who like cat pictures (i.e. everyone) keep clicking on them.
With all that said, this is a blog (spoiler alert) and I do generally want people to click on the headlines I write. But more than that, as I roll this Jays-Rangers ALDS around in my noggin, it really comes down to four main points of contention. Hence the title.
So here we go. The four major questions surrounding the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers. The answers might surprise you…
(Annoying, isn’t it?)
1. Can the Texas southpaws handle the Blue Jays’ big bats?
Toronto had the most potent offense in baseball this year, scoring 891 runs, or as it can also be written, 140 runs more than the Texas Rangers, who finished third. En route to this offensive mastery, they also posted the highest OPS versus left handed pitching in all of baseball, at a punishing .818.
The Blue Jays hammer left handers. So much so that teams would outright avoid using lefties against them. After posting a league average rate in terms of at-bats versus lefties and righties in April, the league quickly corrected and began sitting their southpaws when the Jays were on the docket. Toronto finished 26th in MLB with only 1243 at-bats against lefties, spread over 116 games.
Therein lies the problem for Texas, as many of their key contributors are left handed and the match-ups can only be avoided for so long.
Cole Hamels is their ace, and due to rest, will start Game 2. He has very little experience versus Toronto, only facing them once when he was still in Philadelphia. Former National League stalwarts Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki have faced him more frequently, with average success. Hamels has been solid since his move to Texas, posting a 3.66 ERA and 3.79 FIP bears that out as legit. However, while Hamels is a decent strikeout guy, he’s never been elite, and he could run into trouble against the patient Toronto lineup.
Texas still hasn’t announced their starting pitcher for Game 3, and it’s thought that Colby Lewis might be the front runner, as both other candidates (Martin Perez and Derek Holland) are, you guessed it, left handed.
The Rangers bullpen will also feature whichever of Perez and Holland don’t make the rotation and their normal bullpen lefty Sam Freeman. Freeman has been their best reliever other than the banged up Keone Kela and closer Shawn Tolleson, so it hurts the Rangers that they might have to use him sparingly.
With all this said, Toronto also posted the best OPS in the league against right handed pitching. So Texas might be in trouble either way.
2. These aren’t your slightly older cousin’s Rangers. But who are they?
People seem to forget, but the Rangers made runs to the World Series in both 2010 and 2011! That’s not all that long ago.
There are still remnants of those teams here–Adrian Beltre, Holland, Lewis, Mitch Moreland and the returning Josh Hamilton–but the biggest contributors to the team are new faces.
Prince Fielder had a hot start to the season, and even though he fell off mightily in the second half, he provides middle of the order production. Shin-soo Choo had an unreal second half, hitting .343 with a 1.016 OPS, while providing his usual solid outfield defense. Rookies Delino DeShields Jr and Rougned Odor blossomed as the year went on and claimed key spots in centre field and second base, respectively. And the aforementioned Hamels has given Texas the front of the rotation starter they needed after Yu Darvish went down for the season.
Despite not boasting a player with more than 23 home runs, this Texas team is, pardon the weather-based pun, hot. They were eight games out of first place on August 1st (similar to Toronto) and stormed back to claim the AL West. They’re no pushover.
3. Can the lefty-heavy Texas batting order cope with the suddenly dominant Jays pitching staff?
Back in Question 1 we discussed how much Toronto hammers left handed pitching, to the point that I’m running out of different ways to write ‘lefties’. Well Texas does too; they finished second in MLB with 70 home runs hit off lefties, impressive given that they only hit 172 total on the season.
But rather than dominance, here it’s more a question of volume. That’s because the Texas starting nine features five left handed regulars; ergo teams are constantly trotting out lefties to face them. They faced left handed pitching more than any other team in baseball, with a staggering 2022 at-bats in 131 games, or about 38.5 percent more than the Blue Jays.
Fielder, Choo, Hamilton, Moreland and Odor: These aren’t fringe guys. They’re the meat of the Texas order. The Rangers as a team posted just a .735 OPS vs. left handers this season, eighth in the American League, which suggests the strategy of using lefties against them has worked. It explains why Toronto included the sometimes volatile Aaron Loup on their ALDS roster as opposed to the somewhat safer Ryan Tepera.
Brett Cecil and Loup are the southpaws Toronto sports out of the bullpen, and they both eat left-handers for dinner. Loup has K’d 19 in 16.1 innings of work this year with a 1.65 ERA and Cecil has been outrageous, whiffing 33 in 20.1 innings and holding them to a .193 batting average. Loup, however, has also plunked six lefties, probably due to his unconventional crossfire delivery.
It doesn’t end there. David Price, R.A Dickey, Marco Estrada and particularly Marcus Stroman have all posted great seasons against left-handed batters. None of them sport an ERA over 3.52 (Dickey) or a WHIP higher than 1.15 (Price and Dickey).
In actuality, the Toronto pitching staff has been great against everybody since the All-Star break, posting an AL best 3.33 ERA, and holding opponents to a .236 average, second best in the league. They rank last in the AL in strikeouts over the same period, so they’ll need to play their now usual stellar defense to shut down Texas, but the numbers look to favour Toronto here.
4. Will Yovani Gallardo continue to dominate Toronto?
Leading up to the series, much has been made of Yovani Gallardo’s success against Toronto this year. He threw two scoreless starts against them, pitching 13.2 innings. While that’s a feather in the cap of the Rangers, Gallardo is no ace, and a deeper dive into his history versus Jays hitters shows that he may have more than a few weak spots.
The first of Gallardo’s starts was far more dominant, as he spun 8.1 scoreless innings against a scuffling Toronto team in late June. In the second start, he went just 5.1 innings. It was also a day game after a night game, and featured a Toronto line-up that was missing Russell Martin and both of the Smoak/Colabello combination, as Troy Tulowitzki took a turn at DH.
Ben Revere had a three hit day, including two off Gallardo. Since his move to the lead-off spot for Toronto, Revere has led the major leagues in hits (not a typo). His career numbers versus good old Yovani? A .353 average with a .453 OBP in 19 plate appearances. Not too bad at the top of the order.
Russell Martin has faced Gallardo 29 times, more than any other Jay. And while he’s posted a pedestrian batting average, he has put up a .400 OBP against him, powered by six walks. Edwin Encarnacion is another Jay with experience against the Rangers starter, facing him 19 times. He’s hit three big flies off him, and put up a sizzling 1.296 OPS. Josh Donaldson has also put up solid numbers, though he’s faced Gallardo just nine times.
But the secret weapon Toronto has is #2 himself, good old Tulowitzki. I wrote about Tulo as the Trojan Horse back in August, and while researching for that article I noticed that he had destroyed one pitcher more than any other. Guess who?
Despite posting an 0-for-5 that day in late August, Tulowitzki has absolutely crushed Gallardo, to the tune of a 1.095 OPS in 28 career plate appearances. That’s eleven hits and a walk, including four doubles and a home run.
So while he’s had success against Jose Bautista and managed a couple good starts so far this year, Gallardo is going to have his hands full with the best offense in baseball.
I don’t generally like to make predictions but I get the feeling that both in Toronto, and around baseball, people would be surprised if Texas won. It might even inspire some headlines:
Toronto played Texas in a Playoff Series and THIS happened. You Won’t Believe It!
Kidding aside, I’ve got a bit more respect for them than that; as I said, Texas is hot right now, and in baseball, anything can happen. The scheduling of the games means that if it came down to it, we might see David Price vs. Cole Hamels in a Game 5, unless Toronto starts Price on three days rest for Game 4.
Game 1 is hugely important. The Jays have worked all season to establish home field advantage and they need to hold serve here, especially as they’re not facing the Rangers best starter until Game 2. I’m trying my damnedest to be objective and even with Pessimistic Dan screaming in my ear, I have to ride with the boys in blue.
Blue Jays in 4.