After shutout wins by the road teams, the Astros and the Cubs, in the two wild card games the playoff field is finally set. Today the American League Division Series starts as the Rangers play at Toronto and the Astros play in Kansas City.
Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Do the Rangers even stand any chance against the juggernaut Jays? The strength of the Rangers lies in their bullpen and veteran pieces in their lineup. Keone Kela, Jake Diekman, Sam Dyson and Shawn Tolleson are all power arms built similar to the mold that the Royals used last year to march to the AL Pennant. The Ranger lineup has looked more and more potent as the year has gone on, adding guys like Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton as well as finally getting the production out of Shin-Soo Choo that he’s capable of. This goes without mentioning their three best mashers in Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland.
The problem with the Rangers is that they don’t boast the starting pitching that scares you when tasked with facing them in a playoff series. Cole Hamels, their big acquisition at the trade deadline, has been known to be a good big game pitcher with the Phillies and will get another chance to prove that this postseason. From there it gets dicey with names like Yovani Gallardo, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Martin Perez– not exactly frightening. The other problem with the Rangers is that they just so happened to run into a buzzsaw in October, the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays have all that stuff I just mentioned, but they simply do a better job at it. The bullpen is loaded with names you’ve probably never heard of that quietly posted a 3.50 earned run average on the year. The starting arms were exponentially improved with the adding of arguably the best pitcher in the American League, David Price. In Price, the Jays have a guy they can hand a ball to in a big game and turn him loose. Not that they needed any help, the Jays are being helped by another power arm that they didn’t expect to have on their roster at this point with Marcus Stroman. But the case and point for the Jays pick is with their bats. Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista, their 40 home run bashers, lead an offense that .269 as a team and belted 232 home runs. Edwin Encarnacion added 39 home runs, and the addition of Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop has locked down the infield defensively in a way that hasn’t been experienced in Toronto since i’ve been alive. This is the Blue Jays season of destiny, and the Rangers will be lucky to come away with a win in any of these games in a short five game series.
Houston Astros vs. Kansas City Royals
This is a much more intriguing, tough to call series. The Astros are riding the momentum behind winning the wild card game in New York, while the Royals have become the class of the American League after an impressive 2014 postseason run. The Royals got good seasons out of their big pieces from last year, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon. Add that to a shocking season from veteran Kendrys Morales who notched his first 100 RBI season since 2008. The Royals lineup is dangerous, but so is the Astros’ lineup who arguably holds more depth.
The Astros rely on the long ball and get a lot of them from Evan Gattis, Chris Carter and Colby Rasmus. Those names don’t even include their best pure hitters in Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve who also play a stout middle infield and steal bases. Hitters 1-9 are all capable of causing damage in their own way, and the pitching of the Royals might be vulnerable to giving up big innings. The Royals don’t really have an ace despite trading for Johnny Cueto, but the Astros will be without theirs until game 3 most likely. Yordano Ventura, Cueto and Edinson Volquez simply aren’t as good as Collin McHugh, Scott Kazmir and eventually Dallas Keuchel have been all year long. As for the bullpens’, the Royals probably hold a slight advantage despite losing shutdown closer Greg Holland to Tommy John surgery.
This all seems to be a “flip of the coin” matchup, and in a lot of ways it is. I’m going to lean toward the Astros but i’m not 100% confident about it. The Astros will have to win at least one game in Kansas City, won’t have the benefit of their ace at the front end of the series, and really don’t have much postseason experience. To me, the Astros have proved they can play on the big stage and are just a bit more complete than the Royals are as it stands. I still question the likes of Morales and Ben Zobrist being able to contribute for the Royals, as well as Cueto despite pitching for a big contract next year. Give the slightest of edges to the Astros, but feel free to flip a coin.