Rangers vs Blue Jays ALDS Preview
By Peter Santo
Well baseball fans, you got what you wished for, the match-up everybody wanted, Blue Jays vs Rangers for the right to go to the ALCS.
This series is a rematch of the 2015 ALDS, a back and forth series that saw the Blue Jays advance in five games. That series had it all, angry and disrespectful Blue Jays fans, Jose Bautista bat flips, and two teams that just didn’t care for each other. You could tell it was a rivalry in the making.
The rivalry carried over into the 2016 regular season, with Rougned Odor and Jose Bautista going at it throughout the season.
The Rangers come into the ALDS well rested after cruising to the AL West title, while the Jays come in off a wild 5-2 win over the Orioles in the Wild Card Game. Edwin Encarnacion hit a walk-off home run in the 11th inning for the Jays while Orioles manager Buck Showalter was ruthlessly criticized for failing to use his best pitcher, closer Zach Britton, in a critical situation in extra innings.
The Rangers and Blue Jays concluded their season series all the way back in May, and a lot has changed since then. The Rangers’ pitching staff is improved thanks to the return to health of Tanner Scheppers and Yu Darvish. Additionally, the offense has benefited from deadline acquisitions Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran as well as a very welcome return to form by Carlos Gomez.
Meanwhile north of the border, the Jays rode a lineup full of home runs and swagger and a pitching staff of surprising quality to the postseason.
The middle of the Jays’ lineup is no joke, as their best hitters can bash home runs with the best of em. Led by 2015 AL MVP and former Auburn Tiger (WDE) Josh Donaldson, plus the presence of bat-flip connoisseur Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, the Jays lineup is solid, but top heavy.
Meanwhile the Rangers boast a solid lineup top to bottom, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Gomez, Mitch Moreland, Jonathan Lucroy and others are all more than competent at the dish, and it is that depth that I think gives the Rangers the edge with the bats.
Toronto has a solid rotation, albeit an inexperienced one. There simply isn’t a pitcher you look at and think, that guy is a gamer, an ace, a playoff performer.
JA Happ, Aaron Sanchez, and Marco Estrada all posted ERAs under 3.50 this season, however none of them jump out as an ace. The Rangers meanwhile boast two such pitchers in Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish.
Hamels was his typical ace self in 2016, going 15-5 with a 3.32 ERA while pitching over 200 innings yet again. Hamels is exactly the guy you look for in an ace, in a guy you know can get it done in October. He won a World Series in 2008 with Philadelphia, and he appears poised to win another with the Rangers.
Darvish meanwhile was solid in 17 starts since returning from Tommy John Surgery, going 7-5 with a 3.41 ERA. If he can return to pre-surgery form, the Rangers have as good a 1-2 punch as any team in baseball.
While the Jays rotation is solid, their top end simply does not compare to the Rangers.
The bullpen is arguably where postseason series are won and lost.
For the Blue Jays, Roberto Ozuna appears to be a future star in this league. After making his postseason debut at age 20 in 2015, Ozuna followed it up in 2016. At the ripe old age of 21, Ozuna had 36 saves and posted a 2.68 ERA. He is as much a sure thing in the ninth inning as any in the game.
But bullpens are more than just one guy, and that’s where Toronto has holes. Brett Cecil, Jesse Chavez, and Joe Biagini were solid but not spectacular out of the pen this season, while Jason Grilli has experienced somewhat of a resurgence at age 39. Look for Francisco Liriano, who was solid in 10 games down the stretch, to be a potential difference maker for Toronto.
Like Toronto, the Rangers also boast a shutdown closer in the ninth inning. As good as Roberto Ozuna has been for the Jays, Sam Dyson has been even better for Texas, posting 38 saves to go with a 2.43 ERA.
The difference however lies in the rest of the bullpen, while Toronto has struggled in that category, the Rangers boast a quartet similar to what we saw from the world champion Royals in 2015.
Matt Bush, Tony Barnette, Jake Diekman and Alex Claudio all had ERAs under 3.50 in the regular season while Bush, Barnette and Claudio all had ERAs under 3.00.
While the Jays have the type of bullpen that can cost you playoff games, the Rangers have one that can steal you a couple.
To measure defense, we will use the statistic Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), DRS measures the amount of runs a certain player is worth compared to the average, average is measured as zero.
If we take the Blue Jays’ lineup for the Wild Card game against the Orioles (not including DH Michael Saunders) and calculate the Jays’ average DRS, it comes out to about 5.38, definitely above average.
A closer look at that metric reveals that the average is being helped most by Kevin Pillar (19 DRS), Ezequiel Carrera (13 DRS), Troy Tulowitzki (11 DRS), and Russell Martin (7 DRS).
However that average is being hurt by Josh Donaldson (2 DRS), Edwin Encarnacion (0 DRS), and Jose Bautista (-12 DRS).
For the Rangers, if we take rotochamp’s projected Rangers lineup and take out DH Carlos Beltran, the average DRS comes out to 0.375. That number is just ever so slightly above average, and much less than the Blue Jays’ 5.38.
When we take a second look, it quickly becomes apparent that the Rangers just don’t have enough above average defenders to bring up the average. Carlos Gomez (0 DRS), Shin Soo Choo (-13 DRS), Nomar Mazara (-5 DRS), and Elvis Andrus (-3 DRS) all rank at or below average DRS. The only Ranger ranking significantly above average is future HOFer Adrian Beltre, an excellent defensive third baseman with 15 DRS. It is worth noting that Carlos Beltran and his 17 DRS were not included due to Beltran being the Designated Hitter.
Edge: Blue Jays
While the Blue Jays have a significant edge on defense, this isn’t football, defense doesn’t necessarily win championships. While defense can certainly play a significant role in the postseason, and is often extremely undervalued in today’s MLB, it is not enough to offset the other edges the Rangers possess. I think Toronto’s heavy hitters might be enough to steal a game or two, but Texas is too good top to bottom.
Prediction: Rangers in four.