MLB on Sling: Jays-Rangers, Sox-Indians Kick Off American League Divisional Playoffs

Oct 06, 2016 by Sling Staff

Toronto Blue Jays (Estrada 9-9, 3.48) vs. Texas Rangers (Hamels 15-5 3.32)
4:30pm ET on TBS

Grudge Match!

The last time the Blue Jays and Rangers met in the playoffs, they gave us one of the most incredible/amazing/bizarre games in Major League history, a string of events that was eventually punctuated by Jose Bautista hammering a thunderous home run and then unleashing perhaps the greatest bat flip of all time, one that would inspire everything from Jack-o’-lanterns to Christmas sweaters.

The Jays would win the game and the series, but things were far from over. When the two teams met this summer, Bautista got plunked, which eventually led to Bautista sliding late, high and hard into second baseman Rougned Odor, inciting a brawl during which Odor delivered one of the great haymakers in MLB history.

Yeah, so anyway, they’re gonna play in the ALDS again.

The Toronto Blue Jays battled down to the wire to get to the postseason, then had to play an 11-inning marathon on Tuesday, defeating the Orioles 5-2 on Edwin Encarnacion’s 3-run walk-off homer to set up this showdown with the owners of the best record in the American League.

The Jays and Rangers faced each other 7 times this year, with Toronto coming out on top 4-3, while outscoring Texas 36-21. Don’t be fooled by the Rangers’ 95 wins, as this is a team that over the course of 162 games, outscored its opponents by just 9 runs. Heck, the Jays outscored opponents by 9 runs or more in 5 different games this season. Make no mistake, despite winning just 89 games this year, the Blue Jays are the better team, thanks largely to a pitching staff that allowed a league best 4.11 runs a game.

But tonight the advantage goes to the Rangers, who have Cole Hamels on the hill, opposite the Blue Jays' Marco Estrada. Hamels this year reminded everyone he’s among the best in the game with his seventh consecutive 4.5+ WAR season. With the exception of 2009 – his one down year in the bigs – Hamels has been outstanding in the postseason, with a 1.89 ERA over 76 innings, and winning the NLCS and World Series MVP awards in 2008. Estrada, too, had a fine season despite his underwhelming won-loss record, and was excellent in last year’s playoffs, going 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in 19 ⅓ innings, but he’s just not quite in Hamels’ class.

Both lineups are anchored by All Star third basemen, the Jays with 2015 MVP Josh Donaldson, the Rangers by future Hall-of-Famer Adrian Beltre, but Donaldson’s supporting cast features Bautista and Encarnacion, two of the game’s most dangerous sluggers.

The Jays could have a problem if the game or series comes down to closers, as Robert Osuna had to leave Tuesday’s game with what he’s hoping is soreness caused by fatigue – that’s not what you want to hear from a guy whose regular job is to pitch one inning every other day when you’re playing postseason baseball. He says he’ll be fine. We’ll see.

Boston Red Sox (Porcello (22-4, 3.15) vs. Cleveland Indians (Bauer 12-8, 4.26)
8pm ET on TBS

Indians manager Terry Francona led the Red Sox to World Series titles in 2004 and 2007 before getting run out of town following the team’s disastrous collapse of 2011, enduring a “thanks for nothing” smear campaign on his way out the door. As much as he may still love and respect David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, you just know he’d love to crush the Sox. Pity it’s not gonna happen.

Rick Porcello had a breakout season, leading the Majors in wins while throwing a career-high 223 innings. Against the Indians this year he was 1-0, allowing 2 runs in 5 ⅔ innings with 5 Ks. Trevor Bauer had an awful final month of the season, posting a 6.39 ERA in 38 innings over 6 starts, but somehow the Indians went 4-2 in those starts, so… Bauer is a solid back-of-the-rotation guy, but he was terrible in two appearances against the Sox this year, giving up 6 runs on 10 hits and 3 walks in just 6 innings, and serving up gopher balls to David Ortiz and Mookie Betts. The Red Sox outscored the Indians 31-18 en route to winning 4 of their 6 meetings, but they haven’t faced each other since late May.

This Red Sox team is easily the best in the AL, with the game’s most balanced and relentless offense, and a run differential of +184, compared to the Indians' +101. David “Big Papi” Ortiz is having the best retirement-tour season of all time, right fielder Mookie Betts has emerged as one of the game’s best and brightest stars, second baseman Dustin Pedroia appears to have himself back on the path to Cooperstown, center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. developed enough pop to jack 26 homers while playing brilliant defense, and Hanley Ramirez saved his career by playing a passable first base while hitting 30 homers with 111 RBI and an .866 OPS. Yes, there are questions about the pitching staff, but as long as they have Rick Porcello and David Price at the top of the rotation, set-up man Koji Uehara returning to his 2013 form, and Craig Kimbrel closing, they’ve got enough arms to beat any team outside of Wrigley Field.

The Indians have assembled one of the AL’s best starting rotations, only to have it beset by injuries, with Carlos Carrasco, their #2 starter, out for the year, and Danny Salazar out until at least the next round of the playoffs, should the Tribe make it that far. But Corey Kluber stayed healthy enough to be in the Cy Young race with Porcello, and Josh Tomlin finished strong with a 1.75 ERA in 25 ⅔ innings over his last 4 starts. The Indians lineup features Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis, who together form one of the best double-play combinations in baseball; Carlos Santana, who is among the top 5 DHs; Jose Ramirez, a 23-year-old switch hitter who is the best third baseman you’ve never heard of; and Tyler Naquin, who can hit (126 OPS+), but is a liability in center field. The lineup has some deep holes in it, however, like catcher Yan Gomes (.527 OPS), and LF Rajai Davis (.693 OPS).

Though the Indians’ rotation runs deeper, the Sox have two studs at the top of theirs, while the Indians have just the one, and the Sox rotation is set up to have Porcello and Price each go twice if need be. Mix in a deeper lineup, and a superior closer, and Boston should advance to the ALCS, despite not having home field advantage.

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All stats courtesy ESPN and Baseball Reference.

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