The ALDS starts Thursday. Here’s how the two series break down:
The Blue Jays are the best team in baseball. They may only have the fifth-best record overall, but baseball’s a funny sport—the best team doesn’t always win. Besides, they didn’t have Troy Tulowitzki and David Price until the end of July’s trade deadline. They’re 40–17 since acquiring those two five-time All-Stars.
Texas’s success has flown under the radar a bit. The Rangers were in roughly the same position as Toronto at the trade deadline, with a 50–52 record. They went all-in though acquiring Cole Hamels from Philadelphia and went 38–22 afterwards. Here’s how the teams match up:
The Jays boast two of the hotter pitchers in the AL right now with Game 1 starter Price (9–1, 2.30 since arriving) and Marco Estrada (5–2, 2.60 ERA over same time period). R.A. Dickey (6–1, 3.26 ERA also over same time period) has been pretty good himself and second-year starter Marcus Stroman (4–0, 1.67 ERA on the season) has made the most of his four 2015 starts.
Texas counters with Yovani Gollardo (13–11, 3.42 ERA) in Game 1 and Hamels (7–1, 3.66 ERA since arriving) in Game 2. After that, the Rangers have several options, though it appears Derek Holland (4–3, 4.91 ERA) will be the Game 3 starter. Advantage: Toronto
The Rangers bullpen had an ERA of 4.12 this season—sixth-worst in the majors—but boasts closer Shawn Tolleson (35 saves, 2.99 ERA). This unit was gassed by the end of the regular season, but with all the days off in the playoffs there’s not the same issue—unless Toronto’s offense routinely knocks out the starter before the fifth.
Toronto’s young pen finished 12th in the league in ERA at 3.50 and is anchored by 20-year-old closer Roberto Osuna (20 saves, 2.58 ERA). Aaron Sanchez (3.22 ERA, 10 holds) and Brett Cecil (2.48 ERA, 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings) are two of their top options out of the pen—prior to the ninth inning. The lefty Cecil, in particular, hasn’t allowed an earned run since before the All-Star break. Slight advantage: Toronto.
Toronto’s offense has been something to admire this year. They led the majors in home runs (232) and runs scored (891). No other team scored more than 800 runs and the difference between them and the second-place Yankees—who scored 764 runs—is the biggest gap between 1-2 since 1953. Josh Donaldson (41 home runs, 123 RBIs), Jose Bautista (40 home runs, 114 RBIs), and Edwin Encarnacion (39 home runs, 111 RBIs) have terrorized pitchers all year.
Texas is actually third in runs scored at 751. Prince Fielder (23 home runs, .305 average), Mitch Moreland (23 home runs, 85 RBIs) and even the one-time free agent bust Shin-Soo Choo (22 home runs, 82 RBIs, .276 average) are have all had good seasons—but not like the Blue Jays have had. Advantage: Toronto.
Fangraphs.com puts the Rangers as the fifth-best defensive team in baseball in Defensive Runs Above Average (a measure that combines fielding runs plus positional adjustment) at 20.8, while the Blue Jays were 14th at 9.0. Toronto, though upgraded their defense two-thirds of the way through the season when they swapped shortstop Jose Reyes for Tulowitzki. Slight advantage: Texas.
The Blue Jays haven’t played a postseason game since 1993. The team—and their fans—are long overdue and the result could be similar to Kansas City’s sudden sweep through the ALDS and ALCS last year after snapping a 29-year drought themselves. Texas doesn’t have any pressure on them as the underdogs. Slight advantage: Toronto.
There’s a buzz around the Jays this year. Once they acquired Tulowitzki and put him at the top of the lineup—with Donaldson hitting behind him—it was too much for the opposition. They Jays are loaded in nearly every area. Prediction: Toronto in four.
Kansas City survived an awful September to gain homefield advantage throughout the postseason. They’ll need every advantage they can get to overcome a young and exciting Houston team that shut out the Yankees at Yankee Stadium Tuesday.
The Royals acquired supposed ace Johnny Cueto (4–7, 4.76 ERA) at the trade deadline for Houston and he’s struggled to say the least, but will start Game 2. Game 1 starter, Yordano Ventura (13–8, 4.08) has all the talent in the world—he just needs to keep his emotions in check. Meanwhile Game 3 will have the consistent Edinson Volquez (13–9, 3.55 ERA) on the hill. In case you can’t tell, starting pitching wasn’t the strong suit of the team this year and their 4.34 ERA is the worst of the 10 playoff participants.
Dallas Keuchel (20–8, 2.48 ERA) is very good—as everyone saw in the wild card round. The probable Cy Young winner will take the hill for Game 3 in Houston, which may seem like bad news since that probably rules him out for a Game 5, but Keuchel was virtually unhittable at Minute Maid Park this year, posting a 15–0 record with a 1.46 ERA. Games 1 and 2 starters Colin McHugh (19–7, 3.89 ERA) and Scott Kazmir (7–11, 3.10 ERA) are formidable, though Kazmir’s 5.20 career postseason ERA doesn’t bode well. Slight advantage: Houston.
Kansas City’s bullpen was a huge strength last year—especially during the postseason. Their 7-8-9 inning trio of Herrera-Davis-Holland was virtually unhittable. This year they posted the second-best ERA in the league (2.72) but Holland—who wasn’t the same this season with a “cranky” elbow—finally had an MRI done and he’s now out for the postseason after having Tommy John surgery. Davis who’s been great since being converted to a reliever (0.94 ERA, 17 saves this season) becomes the closer and it’s likely Ryan Madson (2.13 ERA) steps into the seventh-inning role.
Houston wasn’t far behind the Royals with a 3.27 ERA—sixth-best in the majors—though they struggled in September. Yet closer Luke Gregerson (3.10 ERA, 31 saves), and relievers Tony Sipp (1.99 ERA) and Will Harris (1.90 ERA) are a formidable group that shut down the Yankees in the final three innings Tuesday. Slight advantage: Kansas City.
Texas and Kansas City were actually sixth and seventh in runs scored with 729 and 724 runs, respectively, though they score there runs in different ways.
The Astros hit 230 home runs—second only to Toronto—while striking out 1,392 times—also second-most in the majors. The team boasts five players with at least 22 home runs. Rookie Carlos Correa—who hit 22 home runs in just 99 games—may be the team’s best hitter. That’s saying something given that former batting champion Jose Altuve—who led the league with 200 hits and 38 stolen bases—bats leadoff for them.
Meanwhile, the Royals hit just 139 home runs—the sixth-fewest in baseball—yet were the only team in the majors with less than 1,000 strikeouts (973). They manufacture runs with the third-best batting average (.269), the fifth-most steals (105), and constantly keeping the ball in play. Somehow it works for them. Advantage: Push
The Royals boast three players with multiple Gold Glove awards (LF Alex Gordon, C Salvador Perez, 1B Eric Hosmer) and two more who should eventually win at least one (SS Alcides Escobar and CF Lorenzo Cain) while Mike Moustakas is pretty good at third base. This year, Fangraphs.com ranked their defense as number 1 in baseball in Defensive Runs Above Average (plus-56.9) while Houston’s Gold Glove-less defense checked in at number 19 (negative-7.6). Advantage: Kansas City
Houston should come into this series with a lot of confidence after shutting out the Yankees in the wild card game. Keuchel will likely only pitch once in this series, but the Astros are a young and fun team with little to lose. The Royals swept their way into the Fall Classic last October and probably didn’t realize what an advantage they had in that no one took them seriously. Big Advantage: Houston
The Royals got Johnny Cueto for the postseason, but Cueto—who’ll be a free agent in line for a big payday—allegedly didn’t want to pitch Game 1 on short rest. Meanwhile, Houston’s ace Keuchel shut down the Yankees on three days rest. It’s only one position but it may show the difference between these two evenly-matched teams and their mindsets. Prediction: Houston in five.