Get ready. Tensions will be high as the Toronto Blue Jays, who beat the Baltimore Orioles 5–2 in 11 innings in the AL wild-card game Tuesday night, face off against the Texas Rangers in the ALDS, in a rematch of last year’s frenetic five-game tilt, which the Jays won 3-games-to-2. Toronto is hoping to ride its surprising pitching past the high-octane Rangers offense. Here's the schedule:
Game 1: Thursday, Oct. 6 in Texas, 4:30 p.m. ET, TBS
Game 2: Friday, Oct. 7 in Texas, 1:00 p.m. ET, TBS
Game 3: Sunday, Oct. 9 in Toronto, 7:30 p.m. ET, TBS
Game 4 (if necessary): Monday, Oct. 10 in Toronto, Time TBD, TBS
Game 5 (if necessary): Wednesday, Oct. 12 in Texas, Time TBD, TBS
The Blue Jays won the regular season series 4–3, but Texas won the most recent game, on May 15 in Arlington, one that will be remembered forever for the punch Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor landed on the jaw of Toronto slugger Jose Bautista in retaliation for Bautista's epic bat-flip after his series-clinching homer in the 2015 ALDS. Fisticuffs aside, here are Three Strikes about what to watch for in the rematch.
1. Heavy Hitters
The Rangers slugged their way to 95 wins this year, the most in the American League, and they’ll look to beat the Blue Jays the same way. Texas's best hitter is 37-year-old future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre, who hit .300/.358/.521 with 32 home runs and 104 RBIs. He’s the anchor on a well-balanced offense that led the AL in runs scored. Odor landed plenty of blows to opposing pitchers, batting .302 with 164 hits. Centerfielder Ian Desmond, one of the best bargains from last year's free agent class, has revitalized his career at a new position, batting .285/.335/.446 with 22 home runs. And with deadline pickups Carlos Beltran (.280/.335/.451 in 52 games since coming over from the Yankees) and catcher Jonathan Lucroy (.276/.345/.539 in 47 games after a trade from Milwaukee) and scrap heap find Carlos Gomez (.284/.362/.543 in 33 games), the lineup is deep and spread out.
The Rangers balance that out with good—but not great—pitching. Yu Darvish has bounced back nicely from Tommy John surgery, going 7–5 with a 3.41 ERA, and Cole Hamels went 15–5 with a 3.32 ERA and a 1.306 WHIP. The real strength, though, lies in the bullpen. Matt Bush, the No. 1 overall draft pick as a shortstop in 2004, has been the best reclamation project of the season, posting a 2.48 ERA in 61 innings, and closer Sam Dyson had 38 saves and a 2.43 ERA.
If manager Jeff Bannister can get good outings from starters Colby Lewis (3.71 ERA in 116 innings) and Martin Perez (4.39), Texas will hope its late-game strength and consistent hitting can get them to the ALCS for the first time since 2011.
MLB Benches Clearing in 2016
Yankees at Blue Jays — Sept. 26, 2016
The Yankees and Blue Jays brawled after a series of hit-by-pitches. The scuffle came directly after New York’s Luis Severino plunked Justin Smoak.
Giants at Dodgers — Sept. 19, 2016
San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner told Los Angeles’ Yasiel Puig “Don’t look at me!” after retiring Puig for the final out of the seventh. A confused Puig reacted and the benches emptied. The Dodgers rallied for a 2-1 win after Bumgarner’s departure, and the next day mocked their rival with brand-new T-shirts bearing Bumgarner’s fighting words.
Marlins at Braves — Sept. 14, 2016
Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez hit the dirt after a pitch from Atlanta’s Jose Ramirez that was in retaliation for Fernandez hitting the Braves’ Nick Markakis earlier in the evening.
Rays at Blue Jays — Sept. 12, 2016
It started as some innocent talking between Tampa Bay’s Steven Souza, who had just made the game’s last out on a deep fly ball, and Toronto catcher Russell Martin, who told Souza that he thought the ball was going out of the ballpark. Souza thought Martin was chastising him for admiring the blast but even as those two worked out the misunderstanding, Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki came in to yell at Souza.
Yankees at Red Sox — Aug. 9, 2016
Chase Headley had words for Boston pitcher Rick Porcello after being thrown out at third base., but Porcello and Boston got the final word in a 5-3 win.
Mets at Yankees — Aug. 3, 2016
Mark Teixeira didn’t like being hit by the Mets’ Steven Matz after having hit a home run off Matz earlier in the game. Tempers cooled and the Yankees went on to win the Subway Series matchup.
Braves at Cubs — July 7, 2016
Atlanta’s Jeff Francoeur got into a discussion with Chicago catcher Willson Contreras after being pitched inside. It came in an extra-innings loss that was part of the Cubs’ only real slide of the season, a 6-15 stretch before the All-Star break.
Royals at Orioles — June 7, 2016
Yordano Ventura, no stranger to bench-clearing incidents, was in the middle of another. After throwing inside twice to Baltimore’s Manny Machado earlier in the game and hearing about it from Machado after he flew out, Ventura drilled the Orioles’ star third baseman with a 99 mph fastball. Machado rushed the mound and threw a punch. Both players were ejected and suspended.
Giants at Padres — May 17, 2016
In his first dustup of the year, Madison Bumgarner stared at San Diego first baseman Will Myers after striking him out in the third inning. The players had to be separated but later in the game, after Bumgarner reached on a walk, the two seemed to be joking about it.
Blue Jays at Rangers — May 15, 2016
One of the most memorable brawls in baseball history really started the previous October, when Toronto’s Jose Bautista punctuated his series-winning three-run homer in Game 5 of the ALDS with an epic bat flip. The Rangers got their revenge in Texas, first when pitcher Matt Bush hit Bautista with a pitch and then when second baseman Rougned Odor hit Bautista with a right cross after the Blue Jays star slid in hard at second base to break up a double play.
Twins at White Sox — May 6, 2016
Jose Abreu didn’t like it when Minnesota’s Trevor May hit him in the ribs with a 97 mph fastball in the bottom of the eighth, just after the Twins’ Byung Ho Park had been hit by Chicago’s Nate Jones in the top half. Order was restored and the White Sox won 10-4.
Giants-Diamondbacks — April 21, 2016
When San Francisco lefty Josh Osich hit Arizona’s David Peralta for a second straight day, the teams gathered at midfield for a discussion. The Diamondbacks won the game to complete a four-game series sweep.
2. Pitching In
The Blue Jays have six players who hit 20 or more home runs, and they beat the Orioles by scoring four of their five runs on homers—the last three on Edwin Encarnacion's walk-off blast—but Toronto is a threat to win its first pennant since 1993 mostly because of its pitching. The Jays finished first in the league in ERA (3.78) and batting average against (.242). Leading the charge is 24-year-old Aaron Sanchez, who emerged this year as an ace. He finished with a 3.00 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. He finished the regular season strong, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning of his start last Sunday against Boston. J.A. Happ won 20 games and veterans Francisco Liriano (2.92 ERA) and Marco Estrada (3.48 ERA) give the rotation enviable depth.
The bullpen is led by 21-year-old closer Roberto Osuna (who left the wild-card game in the 10th inning due to a shoulder problem that he said would not keep him from playing in the ALDS) and solid contributors Jason Grilli and Joe Biagini. Toronto's relievers delivered five hitless innings in the wild-card game, which should give manager John Gibbons additional conference in the unit going forward. Unlike last year’s Bash Brothers, this iteration of the Blue Jays has the arms to keep up with the team's bats, which makes Toronto very dangerous in a short series.
3. Fight clubs
Maybe there won’t be any Jose Bautista bat flips. Maybe there won't be any brawls, or brushbacks, just a drama-free series. But let’s be honest—that’s probably not going to happen. The specter of last season’s five act play looms large over the series and it’s likely that the intensity factor will rise with each game. Whichever team loses its cool could be the one that loses the series. In a brawl, Texas might have the edge. But on the field, the Blue Jays have better starting pitching and that should be enough for them to move on.
Prediction: Blue Jays in five.