Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

Rangers take Game 1 of ALDS against Blue Jays

20 Comments

With their ace on the mound in front of an electric home crowd, the Blue Jays seemingly came into Game 1 of the ALDS with the advantage over the Rangers. However, as these things often go during the playoffs, it didn’t work out that way.

Robinson Chirinos and Rougned Odor each homered off David Price as the Rangers beat the Blue Jays 5-3 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday.

Price gave up five runs over seven innings in the loss. The Rangers grabbed an early 2-0 lead in the third inning before Chirinos connected for a two-run homer in the fifth. Odor added a solo blast in the seventh inning for some insurance. Playoff success continues to elude Price. He’s now owns a 4.54 ERA in the postseason and is 0-6 as a starter.

Yovani Gallardo got the win after holding the powerful Toronto lineup to two runs over five innings. Jose Bautista took Keone Kela deep in the sixth inning to draw the Blue Jays closer, but Jake Diekman followed with two perfect frames before Sam Dyson tossed a scoreless ninth inning for the save.

A big story in this game was injuries to key players. The Rangers lost Adrian Beltre in the third inning due to lower back stiffness. Meanwhile, Josh Donaldson exited for precautionary reasons in the fifth inning after he took a knee to the head on a takeout slide. The Blue Jays announced that Donaldson passed concussion protocol, but will be reevaluated Friday. Jose Bautista also exited the game after eight innings due to cramping in his right hamstring, but he’s expected to be OK.

Game 2 will take place Friday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. ET. Cole Hamels will pitch for the Rangers while Marcus Stroman will attempt to keep the Blue Jays from going down 0-2 in the series.

Nationals succeeded by spending money

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
1 Comment

Throughout the playoffs, the Nationals have been cast as plucky underdogs fighting and scrapping their way into the World Series. It’s somewhat true: the Nats overcame a dreadful start to the regular season after losing their star outfielder in Bryce Harper, and were heavy underdogs in the NLDS against the Dodgers, who won 13 more games. But the Nationals are not David in a David vs. Goliath story. They’re closer to Goliath because they have flexed their payroll muscle to fill the roster with talented players.

The Nationals didn’t come close to matching the 13-year, $330 million contract the Phillies wound up agreeing to with Harper, instead offering a 10-year, $300 million deal of which about $100 million was deferred. Losing Harper has somewhat defined their 2019. But they did sign starter Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million contract, and they’re paying Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg $38.33 million and $37.4 million, respectively. As we saw in the NLCS, it was the starting rotation that carried them into the World Series.

Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, will not win the award again this year most likely, but he once again ranked among the game’s best pitchers. During the regular season, he posted a 2.92 ERA with 243 strikeouts across 172 1/3 innings. Strasburg led the league in wins with 18 and innings with 209 while authoring a 3.32 ERA with 251 strikeouts. Corbin continued to impress with a 3.25 ERA and 328 strikeouts in 202 innings. As a unit, the Nationals’ 3.53 ERA from starting pitchers ranked second-best in baseball behind the Dodgers. Sounds about right for a rotation collectively earning about $100 million.

We — the royal we — have been quick to point out when an uncommon strategy works, like the Cubs’ and Astros’ rebuilding strategies before they came in vogue or the Rays’ use of the “opener.” It’s only fair to point out that a time-tested strategy, spending money on good baseball players, also works. The Nationals’ current payroll of about $204.5 million is third-highest in baseball, according to USA TODAY.

In September, the Nationals’ NL East rival Phillies were reported by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal to have curtailed efforts to compete for a Wild Card because of a lack of certainty. The front office didn’t want to invest significant resources into grabbing a lowly Wild Card only to have to match up with the behemoth Dodgers in the NLDS. But that’s exactly what the Nationals did. The Nationals also swept the slumping Phillies in a five-game series September 23-26.

The Phillies aren’t alone. We’ve seen in the last few offseasons that teams have become loath to invest in free agents, particularly ones 30 and older. Even Scherzer took notice. Asked about the Nationals’ collective age, Scherzer said via The Athletic’s Rustin Dodd, “It just seems everybody wants younger and younger players. And everybody wants to forget about all the old guys. We see it in free agency, we’re not dumb. And the fact (is) we’re the oldest team and we won the National League.”

Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, and Josh Donaldson will highlight the upcoming free agent class. They could be joined by Strasburg, Aroldis Chapman, and J.D. Martinez if they exercise the opt-out clauses in their contracts. In the cases of Cole and Rendon, at least two-thirds of the league should be actively pursuing them but if the past few years are any indication, the actual interest will be muted and they won’t end up signing until after the new year. Front offices have continued to blindly recite the phrase “aging curve” while pointing at the Rays in an effort to scale back payroll. The Nationals, meanwhile, are putting the “money” back in Moneyball and they might win a championship because of it.