We are out of the one-and-done land of the Wild Card and into the land of best-of-five. It’s the Division Series, my friends, and today we get underway in the American League.
- The Blue Jays are beasts on offense. Everyone knows this. They scored 891 runs on the year, which is a whopping 127 more than their next closest rival on offense. They led the league in homers, doubles, walks, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. They were second in batting average. Heck, they were even in the top half of the league in stolen bases. The story of this series begins and ends with how Rangers pitchers are going to contain this insanely potent attack.
- The Rangers are not starting off too bad in that department in giving Yovani Gallardo the ball in Game 1. He he started twice against Toronto this year, throwing 13 scoreless innings and allowing only six hits. The first outing was eight and a third innings back in June before the Jays really turned it on. The second game was in late August getaway day game in which Russell Martin was not in the lineup. Maybe that means something, maybe it doesn’t, but Gallardo certainly has a tough task ahead of him. Cole Hamels and Derek Holland will follow.
- The Rangers are no Blue Jays with the bat, but they were third in all of baseball in runs scored with 751. Shin-Soo Choo (.343/.455/.560), Adrian Beltre (.318/.376/.509) and Mike Napoli (.295/.396/.513) were all amazing in the second half, joining Prince Fielder, who was solid all year. The second-half Rangers are a fundamentally different deal on offense than their overall offensive numbers might suggest.
- Toronto’s 1-2 punch out of the gate is hard to top, at least in the American League. David Price will either win the Cy Young Award or come in second and Marcus Stroman, who was not activated until early September, has been throwing bullets since he came back. Today Price will get nod. His last start against Texas came on August 26 when he allowed two runs over six innings. Overall the Jays took four of six from the Rangers on the season.
All-in-all, most folks are thinking that the Rangers are sacrificial lambs for the Jays. Maybe on paper that’s true. But baseball rarely works like that. I think this one will be worth watching and that the Rangers will give the Jays some ballgames, even if the Jays are the stronger team.
- The Royals are the defending AL Champs and have the best record in the American League this year, giving them home field advantage for as long as they’re playing. And in Game 1 they’re starting a guy who was sent down to the minors in the middle of the season due to ineffectiveness. That didn’t take — Yordano Ventura was immediately called back up when someone else got hurt — and he’s been a much better pitcher since the brief demotion, but it does sort of encapsulate how bizarre a year this was in some respects for the Royals pitching staff. They acquired Johnny Cueto for this kind of job — a rent-an-ace — but he’s been one of the more questionable guys on the staff. If he returns to his usual form the Royals’ 1-2 punch is gonna be OK.
- The Astros go with Collin McHugh in Game 1. He won 19 games and threw 203 innings, but he’s been more of an innings eater than an ace. Like Ventura, however, he’s been better in the second half, going 10-2 with a 3.11 ERA in 14 starts.
- Despite losing Greg Holland to Tommy John surgery, the Royals’ pen is still among the best in baseball thanks to a next-man-up situation which results in Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Ryan Madson providing a reasonable facsimile of last year’s crazy threesome for the Royals. Maybe even more than reasonable, as Davis has continued to be lights out since becoming the closer. Houston’s bullpen struggled in the final weeks of the regular season, but they looked just fine shutting out the Yankees on no hits over the final three innings on Tuesday night. Maybe that was the Yankees being DOA. Maybe it was a bit of rest for the Astros. Either way, the group was decent for most of the year and should be considered a strength again.
- This matchup doesn’t have the same potential for offensive fireworks that the Jays-Rangers series does, but there is an intriguing mix of power and speed. The Astros finished the regular season ranked sixth in the majors in runs scored with 4.50 per game, while the Royals were seventh with an average of 4.47, which is an improvement over last year’s scratch-em-out bunch. Both teams run a lot and run well. This could be quite the kinetic series.
Unlike the Jays-Rangers, this series seemed pretty evenly matched. Which, because baseball is random and weird, probably means it is over in four games with one team bashing the hell out of the other while the Jays and Rangers go seven games with pitchers duels all around.
Man, that would be fun, wouldn’t it?