- A poor start by Cole Hamels and the Blue Jays’ offense put Game 1 out of reach early on in Texas. The Rangers need better starts to take advantage of its improved bullpen.
For a pair of teams that has put together perhaps the most organic rivalry in baseball—hatred between Texas and Toronto certainly isn’t geographically driven—Game 1 of the ALDS was remarkably polite. That may have had something to do with the score. It was a ballgame for less than an hour, until the Blue Jays scored five runs in the fifth and never looked back en route to a 10–1 win on Thursday. That the Rangers’ lone run scored on a meek groundout to first in the bottom of the ninth seemed appropriate. Toronto’s win erased Texas’s home-field advantage, if you can call it that; the Rangers are now 1–10 in ALDS games at Globe Life Park. The series resumes Friday at 1 p.m.
A Cole World
Rangers ace Cole Hamels had a 3.32 ERA in the regular season, allowing more than three earned runs in an outing only seven of his 32 starts. He was an All-Star, the sixth-most valuable pitcher in the league by WAR (5.0).
But he didn’t make it out of the fourth inning on Thursday. Things started innocuously enough—the first two innings took him only 29 pitches, and he got two quick outs in the third, sandwiched around a dreaded ninth-hole-hitter walk. Then the wheels started to come off. Josh Donaldson doubled to left on a ball that glanced off four-time Gold Glove third baseman Adrian Beltre’s glove, scoring Ezequiel Carrera. Hamels allowed two singles and a walk, putting Texas down 2–0 with the bases loaded, and then gave up a three-run triple to Troy Tulowitzki on a ball shortstop-turned-centerfielder Ian Desmond appeared to lose. By the time manager Jeff Bannister called for lefty Alex Claudio with one out in the fourth, Hamels had watched Melvin Upton Jr. (2016 OPS: .578) clobber a 92 mph fastball to left, and Donaldson drive in another run after an error and a passed ball put Devon Travis on second base. He departed with the score 7–0.
“After the ball off Beltre’s glove, it seemed like [Hamels] was trying to be a little too fine,” Bannister said during the broadcast between the third and fourth innings.
Hamels has never started a game on short rest in his career; if that continues, his earliest appearance would be in a possible Game 5 on Wednesday. Obviously, if he expects to make a third start this October, his second one will need to look different from his first. It’s hard to imagine the Rangers making it very far without him at his best.
Heart of the Order
To be fair, every Blue Jays starter but second baseman Travis and centerfielder Kevin Pillar had at least a walk or a hit, but the meat of the Blue Jays’ lineup led the way in this one. Donaldson went 4-for-4 with a walk and two doubles, first baseman Edwin Encarnacion was 2-for-5, DH Jose Bautista went 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs (and zero bat flips), and Tulowitzki’s triple was only the beginning of his three-hit day. Toronto has led the majors in runs over the last two seasons, but this year its OPS against lefthanders was middle-of-the-road at .747 (14th overall). That’s good news for the Jays: With Hamels gone, the next two starters Texas is likely to throw out are righthanded. Yu Darvish is scheduled to pitch Game 2, and Colby Lewis is expected to start Game 3.
Call to the ‘pen
If there’s any consolation for the Rangers, it’s that a decent outing by any of their next arms gives them a real shot to win. Game 1’s result notwithstanding, the bats should be able to keep Texas in the game, and the teams’ bullpens trended in opposite directions as the regular season wore on. The Rangers saw the largest drop in relief ERA from the first half to the second half, from 5.10 to 3.50; the Jays got a little worse, from 4.05 to 4.18. And that’s without taking into consideration Toronto closer Roberto Osuna, who suffered a right-shoulder injury toward the end of the season. Manager John Gibbons has said he will be ready to pitch during the ALDS, but he’s been coy about when.
“If it’s the ninth inning and it’s a save situation and he’s not in there, well, you know why,” he said before Game 1.
That did not come to pass on Thursday, but it’s fair to wonder when Osuna will return to the mound, and how effective he can be when does.