BY: Richard W. Humphrey
ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers found out last night that their opponent in the American League Division Series will be Toronto. The Blue Jays’ Juan Encarnacion ended the Wild Card play-in game with a three run walk-off home run in the 11th inning to beat Baltimore 5-2. It was a game of big flies as six of the seven runs were driven in by three home runs. Toronto took the early lead with a Jose Bautista solo home run in the second inning. Mark Trumbo hit one in the fourth inning with a runner on base to put Baltimore ahead, 2-1. The Jays pushed across a run in the fifth to tie the game. Encarnacion’s extra inning blast decided it.
Toronto and Baltimore had tied with 89-53 records. The game was played in Toronto by virtue of the Jays holding a 10-9 edge in regular season head-to-head play between the two.
The win sets up a rematch of last year’s Division Series show down in which Texas won the first two games on the road, lost the next two at home, and saw Toronto prevail in game five. The final game was noted for a defensive melt down by Texas in which the Rangers committed errors on three consecutive plays, and a game winning home run by Bautista and his infamous and arrogant bat flip.
The bat flip wasn’t forgotten by Texas this season; and in the final regular season game between the two, Bautista was hit by a pitch and followed with an aggressive slide into second base on the ensuing ground ball. The Rangers’ Rougned Odor took exception to the slide, and bedlam followed. Odor clocked Bautista with a hard right. Both benches emptied. Play was stopped for 15 minutes, and 14 suspensions and/or fines of players and coaches resulted – seven from each team. Odor received the most significant suspension – seven games.
TBS is televising this series in the U. S. and Sportsnet Canada is televising in Canada. They surely are thirsting over the prospect of a rematch from last season’s division series. Bautista’s bat flip last year and this season’s bench clearing brawl makes for an intriguing story line to the series.
The game times were announced late Monday afternoon, and it would be an understatement to say that the Rangers and their fans were disappointed. Thursday’s game starts at 3:38 PM (Central), and Friday’s start time is 12:08 PM (Central).
It’s for sure an injustice that so many Ranger fans committed to support the team by buying season tickets and attending so many regular season games, and then they are not be able to attend these two playoff games because they can’t take off from work. It was reported Monday night after the game times were announced that more than 20,000 tickets were listed for sale on StubHub for the first two games.
Toronto won the season series against the Rangers four games to three. The Jays won three of four in Toronto, while the Rangers won two of three in Texas. Those games were played in May, such that the Ranger offense the Blue Jays will face is considerably different. Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Gomez have been added late in the season.
The Blue Jays started Marcus Stroman against Baltimore. He pitched six innings and likely will not be available until game three next Sunday in Toronto. Neither team has named their starting pitcher for game one of the series. For Toronto, Aaron Sanchez (15-2) and J. A. Happ (20-5) are the leading candidates to start games in Arlington this week. For Texas, Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels will be the starters in the first two games, but Ranger manager Jeff Banister has not announced which will pitch which game.
The Rangers’ roster is due at the league office Thursday morning. GM Jon Daniels said it would likely not be made public until the time it was turned in. The main questions apparently revolve around Shin-Soo Choo and whether to carry seven or eight relievers.
As for position players, the usual starting nine plus Robinson Chirinos as the back-up catcher and Jurickson Profar are the 11 positon player givens. If the verdict is eight relievers, that leaves two open spots. If Choo is deemed healthy enough to play, he gets one of those roster spots, leaving just one for Ryan Rua, Delino Deshields, Jr. and Jared Hoying. If the decision is made to carry seven relievers, then two of those three likely make the roster.
Colby Lewis and Martin Perez will be the other two starting pitchers on the roster, though Banister has not decided which will start game three.
As for the relievers, Sam Dyson, Matt Bush, Keone Kela, all righties; and lefties Jake Diekman and Alex Claudio are surely on the roster. Over the past week, Jeremy Jeffress and Tony Barnette rejoined the team and pitched well. They may have locked up two more bullpen spots. Those seven may be the bullpen. If the decision is made to carry eight relievers, the final spot could come down to Derek Holland, Nick Martinez and Tanner Scheppers. A. J. Griffin could also be a consideration as a long man in the bullpen.
The conjecture as to which team the Rangers wanted to play is over. The reality is that the opponent is Toronto. Game on!
* Highland Park graduate Bo Schultz is on the Blue Jays. He is a relief pitcher that appeared in 16 games this season, including five in September. He was not on the roster though for the Wild Card play-in game against Baltimore.