Pete Hodges presents our Toronto Blue Jays vs Texas Rangers ALDS preview which features two teams that pack a punch.
2016 American League Division Series
Toronto Blue Jays (89-73) vs Texas Rangers (95-67)
Game One: Toronto won 10-1, click here for the recap.
Game Two: Toronto won 5-3, click here for the recap.
Game Five: (If necessary) Wednesday, Oct. 12: Toronto at Texas, TBD (TBS)
Toronto Blue Jays
After a thrilling victory over the Baltimore Orioles, the Blue Jays need to gather themselves and prepare for a series with the top-seeded Texas Rangers. The Jays started off slowly, with an 11-14 April, but hit their stride in May (17-12). After fighting for the AL East lead during July and August, Toronto’s September collapse, paired with a resurgent Boston Red Sox, caused them to lose their tenuous grip on the division.
The Blue Jays boast the fifth-best offense in the American league when it comes to runs scored (759) with a team slash line of .248/.330/.438. Toronto is, perhaps unsurprisingly, powered by the home run, as they hit the third most round trippers with 221, while they stole just 54 bases – good for 13th in the AL. The Jays did find themselves third in the league in wOBA (.327).
What may come as a shock to some is that Toronto starters led the AL in ERA at 3.64. However, there may be reason for concern as they out-pitched their FIP (4.07) and xFIP (4.09). Blue Jays starters struck out 20.4% of batters and walked 7.9%, good for fifth and 11th, respectively.
Since Marcus Stroman pitched in the Wild Card game, Marco Estrada will take the hill in Game One for the Blue Jays. The right-hander features a four-seam fastball (50.11%), changeup (28.51%), cutter (11.43%), and curveball (9.92%). Estrada started 29 games for Toronto with a 9-9 record, a 3.48 ERA, 4.15 FIP, and 4.64 xFIP – similar to the team’s overall results.
Twenty-game winner J.A. Happ will toe the rubber in Game Two. The left-handed starter turned in his best season with a 20-4 performance that saw him put up a 3.18 ERA, a 3.96 FIP, and a 4.18 xFIP. The veteran primarily relies on his four-seamer (45.45%) and his sinker (28.07%), while mixing in a slider (10.52%), a curveball (7.42%), a changeup (6.46%), and very rare cutter (2.04%).
The Game Three starter will be emerging star Aaron Sanchez. The 24-year-old dazzled the AL this year with a 3.00 ERA, a 3.55 FIP, and a 3.75 xFIP. Sanchez is a sinkerball pitcher (55.06%) who mixes in a four-seamer (19.44%), a curve (16.25%), and a changeup (8.91%).
Stroman is the odd pitcher of this bunch whose ERA (4.37) did not outperform his FIP (3.71) and xFIP (3.41). The Wild Card starter throws a sinker (48.38%) that doesn’t quite sink followed by a mix of sliders (15.87%), cutters (12.10%), curveballs (10.12%), four-seamers (8.39%), and changeups (5.15%).
The Blue Jays used their bullpen less than any other AL team, as they only pitched 464 innings. That’s a good thing since their ERA of 4.11 was 12th in the league They did have a 3.98 FIP and a 3.88 xFIP while converting 43 saves and blowing 22 save opportunities.
Closer Roberto Osuna is the star of the bullpen with a 2.68 ERA, converting 36 of his 42 save opportunities in 2016. The right-hander relies heavily on a four-seam (60.69%) / slider (23.22%) combo. He maintains a low walk rate (1.70 BB/9) while striking out over a batter per inning (9.97 K/9).
Toronto has no shortage of firepower on offense with superstars throughout the first half of their lineup. Last season’s MVP, Josh Donaldson, routinely hits out of the two-hole and smacked 37 home runs this season with a .284/.404/.549 line. Edwin Encarnacion and his 42 home runs follow the Bringer of Rain with a .263/.357/.529 line. Then opposing pitchers must deal with Jose Bautista, who is having a down year because of injuries but has still managed 22 home runs in only 116 games. Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki are next in line for the pitcher, and it is now not hard to see why the Jays are back in the playoffs.
Despite some early season injuries, the Texas Rangers were able to stay steady throughout the season and make some key acquisitions at the deadline that fueled their AL West title and hopefully long playoff run. Those deadline deals included outfielder Carlos Beltran, reliever Jeremy Jeffress, and most importantly catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
Texas boasts the fourth-best offense in the AL, batting .262/.322/.433. The only team representing the Lone Star state in the playoffs slugged 215 home runs and stole 99 bases in 2016, good for fifth and fourth in the league, respectively. The Rangers’ wOBA of .324 was decidedly mediocre, as it ranked them seventh.
The Rangers have the worst staff ERA (4.38) in the AL portion of the playoffs, and their 4.69 FIP and 4.64 xFIP don’t paint a pretty picture, either. Texas starters strike out 18.4% of batters they face, which is good for 12th in the AL, and they walk 8.7%, which puts them at 14th and helps to explain their high runs allowed.
Cole Hamels will take the ball in Game 1 of this series for the Rangers. The lefty, whom the Rangers acquired last season, tossed 200 ⅔ innings this season with a 3.32 ERA, a 3.98 FIP, and a 3.85 xFIP. Hamels throws a steady mix of four-seamers (24.40%), cutters (23.01%), sinkers (19.73%), changeups (18.41%), and curveballs (14.45%).
Righty Yu Darvish will start Game 2 for the Rangers, bringing his 3.41 ERA, 3.09 FIP, and 3.19 xFIP with him. Darvish features a wide mix of pitches, leaning heavily on his four-seamer (41.93%), and then tossing a sinker (17.66%), a slider (16.77%), a curve (9.53%), a cutter (9.40%), a slow curve (2.48%), and a changeup (2.40%).
The Game 3 and Game 4 starters have not been announced, though Colby Lewis will likely start the third game. Lewis put up a 3.71 ERA with a 4.81 FIP and a 5.14 xFIP. He throws a four-seam fastball (41.51%), a slider (31.38%), and a sinker (12.90%), while mixing in a curve (7.52%) and change (6.64%).
The other likely Game 3 or Game 4 starter is Martin Perez, who threw 198 ⅔ innings with a 4.38 ERA, a 4.50 FIP, and a 4.77 xFIP. The lefty sinkerballer (43.59%) throws a four-seamer (18.69%), changeup (16.70%), slider (11.59%), and a curveball (9.42%).
The Rangers bullpen tossed 521 ⅔ innings this season, which put them in the middle of the pack of the AL. Their 4.40 ERA was 14th in the AL, while their 4.38 FIP and 4.23 xFIP were 14th and 12th, respectively. However, the Rangers only blew 17 saves and led the league with 56 successful ones.
Sam Dyson won the closer’s role in May and hasn’t given it up since. The righty recorded a 2.43 ERA, a 3.62 FIP, and a 3.45 xFIP over 70 ⅓ innings pitched. He notched 38 saves, 10 holds, and blew five opportunities. Although he does not strike out a ton of batters (7.04 K/9) while walking perhaps a few too many (2.94 BB/9), Dyson keeps the ball on the ground enough (65.2%) to remain effective.
The Rangers offense is solid from top to bottom. Newcomer Jonathan Lucroy provided the thump necessary to clinch a playoff berth as he hit 11 home runs in a Rangers uniform from his acquisition in early August to the end of the season. Texas made out in its one-year deal for Ian Desmond as he hit .285/.335/.446 with 22 home runs and 21 steals. Rougned Odor emerged as a potential star at second base with 33 dingers and 14 swipes to go along with his .271/.296/.502 line. The always-entertaining Adrian Beltre continued to defy time as he topped 30 bombs for the fifth time in his career with 32 while also contributing with a.300/.358/.521 line.
What to Watch For
Fireworks! The Rangers pitching staff just isn’t all that good and the Blue Jays pitching staff out-pitched their peripherals all season. Both offenses can put up runs in bunches, so this series should feature some high scores and lots of home runs. Expect both teams to be reaching deep into their bullpen. I suspect the Blue Jays will regret going with J.A. Happ over Aaron Sanchez in Game Two, as Yu Darvish has a chance to shut down the Jays and Happ could be a disaster.