Texas Rangers @ Toronto Blue Jays
Sunday, October 9, 2016
Welcome to the driver’s seat, Blue Jays fans! The only thing better than a 2-0 lead is winning the third game, and the matchup favours the Jays. In spite of some injury concerns, Toronto sends a better starting pitcher to the mound, with a better lineup supporting him, and they do it at home. There was talk that nobody wanted to face the Blue Jays if they made it out of the Wild Card game, and it certainly looks like they have caught Texas flat footed as they bashed their way through the first two games of the series.
September 9 – 7:30 PM ET
Aaron Sanchez is a strange beast. “Beast” is used here as a compliment, and to be honest, “strange” is kind of a compliment as well. Sanchez led the American League in ERA this year. His first full year as a starter. Recently David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke did that same thing. It’s not something that happens by accident. Often those pitchers do so with a vicious combination of hard throwing, command, and deceptive secondary stuff. Aaron Sanchez does it with fastballs. He threw a fastball for 74.3% of his pitches during the regular season. How odd is that? Well, there is one pitcher who throws more fastballs, Bartolo Colon. Bartolo tosses them in there at 87.9 mph, and paints the edges of the zone all the time. Sanchez fires bullets at 94.7, and wants pitchers to try to hit his, as they usuall do not get hit hard, or in the air. Coincidentally, 88 mph is the speed at which Sanchez delivers his changeup. Aaron Sanchez trusts his fastball, more than any other young pitcher in baseball. Noah Syndergaard, who tops out over 100 mph more than any other starter in baseball, throws a fastball a scant 59% of the time. Sanchez will mix in the change, as mentioned, and a very good curveball. That’s to keep hitters on the defensive, but if he’s cruising, expect Russell Martin to keep on putting one finger down.
The biggest weakness for Sanchez, and it certainly isn’t the end of the world, is that lefties hit for more power against him than right handers do. Rougned Odor is both left handed, and the regular season home run leader (33) for the Rangers. Expect Sanchez to avoid challenging him with runners on. Also expect to see Mitch Moreland, Shin Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran, and possibly 21 year old rookie Nomar Mazara lined up to take their cuts against him.
You may remember Colby Lewis from last year’s ALDS, when he relieved Derek Holland in the third inning and failed to “put out the fire”, allowing two inherited runners to score, plus one of his own. Lewis is a big step down in overall talent from Hamels and Darvish, but he isn’t an 11 year MLB veteran by accident. He’s an extremve flyball pitcher (35%GB rate), and doesn’t strike many guys out (5.65/9). Still, his first half ERA was a tidy 3.21. The Jays had trouble with him, seeing him go seven strong innings each time they faced him. This was, of course before he strained his lat. Lewis didn’t pitch in the majors between June 22 and Sept 10, and when he returned he was not able to replicate the early season results. At all. A walk every other inning, and a Hr/9 of 2.95 (!) with lead to a 6.38 ERA pretty quickly. Was Lewis just ‘shaking off the rust’, or is he not really recovered?
Keep an Eye On
Tulo the Hero
Troy Tulowitzki is quickly cementing a reputation as a post-season hero in Toronto. His 16 RBIs as a Jay are already tied for third in team history with Jose Bautista (no slouch himself). Perhaps batting sixth in the lineup has allowed teams to overlook him, but it would be unwise for the Rangers to do so, given his effectiveness in this series: he’s 5 for 9 with a triple, a home run, and five RBIs in the first two games. He’s struggled against Colby Lewis in limited at-bats, going 2 for 11, so his bucking that trend will continue Toronto’s offensive renaissance in the playoffs.
Passing the Luck
It was probably therapeutic for Jays fans to see the Rangers strand a ton of base runners in the second game of the series, as Texas scored only 3 runs, leaving a whopping 13 on base in the 5-3 loss. Happ and the bullpen were both lucky and good to get out of those jams, and Texas will be in tough against Sanchez, who’s probably a little tougher on hitters than Happ is. If the Jays can keep giving Texas their “strand the base runners” sickness, it’ll make the task of winning that much easier.
The injury to Devon Travis has left the Jays shorthanded in their infield, as Darwin Barney will likely draw the start in his stead at second base. As the Jays have two reserve outfielders in Melvin Upton and Ezequiel Carrera, they’ll be running a short bench for this game, and any other potential remaining games in this series as they wait for Travis to recover, rather than replace him on the roster and potentially lose a soon-to-be-healthy-starter until the World Series. This limits John Gibbons’ pinch-hitting options in the late innings, as Barney will have to face a tough reliever with the lack of a reseve infielder.
|Carlos Gomez – LF||Ezequiel Carrera – LF|
|Ian Desmond – CF||Josh Donaldson – 3B|
|Carlos Beltran – DH||Edwin Encarnacion – 1B|
|Adrian Beltre – 3B||Jose Bautista – RF|
|Roughned Odor – 2B||Russell Martin – C|
|Jonathan Lucroy – C||Troy Tulowitzki – SS|
|Shin-Soo Choo – RF||Michael Saunders – DH|
|Mitch Moreland – 1B||Kevin Pillar – CF|
|Elvis Andrus – SS||Darwin Barney – 2B|
via Roster Resource
While Blue Jays fans have every reason to be delighted with how the series has gone so far, they also have every reason to want to wrap this series up quickly. They had Travis and Francisco Liriano hurt in game two, Roberto Osuna coming off a scary moment in the wildcard game, on top of a lot of veterans already battling nagging injuries. Sanchez vs. Lewis might be an enticing matchup for the Jays, but they would do well to not look past this game, and ensure they take care of business quickly. The Jays were down 2-0 travelling to Texas last year when all hope seemed lost, and we all know how that turned out.
Lead Photo: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports