By: Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
TORONTO - The sun has set on another memorable slate of regular season action in the major leagues, and with baseballs momentary departure comes the dawn of what promises to be one of the most dramatic postseason runs in recent memory.
In the senior circuit, the NL Central stole the show featuring the league's top three clubs with regards to overall win/loss totals, two of which will battle it out during the upcoming Wild Card game on Tuesday night. As it stands, the 100-62 St. Louis Cardinals will be the team to beat with the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers set to begin postseason play with aspirations of making it to the big show come late October.
For the juniors, it was the West that provided most of the late-season fireworks, and, although It took the full 162 games to decide, the Texas Rangers, strengthened by the acquisition of Cole Hamels at the deadline, came out on top following a 9-2 rout of Mike Trout and the hard charging Angels on Sunday night. Returning to the postseason for the second consecutive season, Kansas City will aim to defend its AL Championship while the New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Toronto Blue Jays and Rangers all look to dethrone the Royals of their league crown.
This Thursday, the Jays will square off against the Rangers in Game 1 of the ALDS as postseason action returns to Rogers Centre for the first time in 22 years. The mound matchup will likely feature Toronto's hard throwing southpaw, David Price against Texas' 14-game winner, Yorvani Gallardo as both teams set their aim on taking an early advantage in the short series.
For Texas, a club that has been to the postseason seven times in its 43-year history, this October represents yet another opportunity to bring a World Series championship to the Lone Star State. Having reached the Fall Classic in back-to-back years in 2010/2011, the Rangers fell short of their goal in both Series attempts, once coming within a strike of securing their first title... Twice.
As far as postseason appearances go, the Blue Jays, like Texas, are also coming off a string of back-to-back World Series showings. However, in Toronto's case, those showings resulted in a pair of championships as a core of Roberto Alomar, Duane Ward, Juan Guzman and Joe Carter helped the Jays get it done in both '92 and '93.
In a season full of peaks and valleys of varying degrees, 2015 represented a campaign full of parallels for the two rivals as both clubs complimented their obvious offensive strengths by adding impressive talent trade deadline on July 21st.
For the Jays, it was Price, Troy Tulowitzki, Ben Revere, Mark Lowe and Cliff Pennington who all bolstered major league baseball's most potent offence attack upon their arrival in Toronto. In Texas, the addition of a former Series hero in Hamels, along with the flame throwing relief artist, Jack Diekmann and former Blue Jays reliever, Sam Dyson, solidified the Rangers less-than-impressive pitching corps down the stretch, turning them into surprise contenders come mid September.
These moves helped ignite a meteoric rise for both organizations in the seasons second half, as the Texans went 44-22 while Toronto carved out the Majors most dominant performance with a 47-23 showing.
Now, it comes down to a best of five series between the two powerhouses, the winner moving on to the ALCS next week.
Toronto and Texas met for a pair of series in 2015, once at Globe Life Park in late June and another at Rogers Centre in August. The Canadian squad came out victorious in both series, outscoring their DS rivals 31-21 across the six games played on the season. Drawing a total of 28 free passes across the two meetings, the Blue Jays offence knocked 11 home runs off Rangers pitching in 2015.
On the other side of the ball, Toronto's pitching staff limited the Texans to a cumulative earned run average of 3.40 while striking out 54 and walking only 15 across the six game span.
SOUTHPAWS FROM DOWN SOUTH
In addition to a pair of right-handed hurlers in Colby Lewis and Gallardo, the Rangers starting rotation is bolstered by a trio of left-handed hurlers in Derek Holland, Martin Perez and staff ace, Hamels
This season, the Blue Jays bats clipped lefty pitching to a league best .277 team batting average, knocking 50 of their 230 home runs and posting an on base percentage of .354. Should the Rangers opt to hide one of their lefties from Toronto, it would likely spell the appearance of Lewis, who, in his lone start against the Blue Jays in 2015, served up five runs (four earned) across five innings of work on August 21st.
Hamels and Perez both missed the Jays in 2015 while Holland, in only his second start since returning from an early season shoulder injury, allowed seven hits over his six frames of work against Toronto on August 26th. Three of those hits left the yard.
Since their inaugural season in '77, the Blue Jays have posted a winning record of 204-200 across 404 meetings with Texas, none of which being in the postseason. Of the many memorable games, few standout including Nolan Ryan's seventh no-hitter (May 1st, 1991), Adam Lind's constant dismantling of Globe Life Park from 2006-'14, and one night in Arlington that will forever leave a foul taste in the mouths of Jays fans who still cringe when reminiscing about the past.
On July 8th, 2005, then Blue Jays Ace Roy Halladay was struck by a line drive off the bat of Texas', Kevin Mensch during the rangers come from behind win in Texas. To his credit, Doc, with a broken leg, snared the ball and fired to first before doubling over in pain.
At the time of his season-ending injury, Halladay was 12-4 with an earned run average of 2.41 and prior to the unfortunate 1-3 put out, he had been expected to be named the American League starter for the MLB All Star Game later that month in Detroit.
Now retired, Halladay has been one of the many luminaries rumoured to be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Rogers Centre as the Rangers and Blue Jays square off during DS play this Thursday.
BY THE NUMBERS
Toronto finished the 2015 regular season having slashed .269/.340/.457 with 557 extra-base hits, 232 home runs and 891 runs scored. Their pitching staff recorded an ERA of 3.80 while holding the opposition to a .248 OBA and a combined OPS of .702.
Texas recorded a team saltine of .257/.325/.413 with 483 extra-base hits, 172 home runs and 751 runs scored on the season. Ranger hurlers posted an overall ERA of 4.24 while allowing opponents to hit at a .262 clip and an overall OPS of .797
Most Valuable Player Award candidate Josh Donaldson has hit safely in 26 of his last 30 games vs. the Rangers and is batting .316 (37/117) with nine doubles, six home runs and 17 RBI over that stretch. In 53 games vs. the Rangers on his career, Jose Bautista has posted an OPS of .884 with 21 extra base hits, 9 of which have left the yard.