What Rangers matchup means for Blue Jays in ALDS

Ben Revere celebrates after scoring on a throwing error to first by Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The next four weeks will see nine strong baseball teams get eliminated from the MLB post-season, and if the American League Division Series goes well for the Toronto Blue Jays, the Texas Rangers will soon be among them.

The Blue Jays, who open the ALDS against the Rangers in Toronto Thursday, will undoubtedly be favoured to win. They boast a deeper lineup, more frontline pitching and enjoy home field advantage. But strange things happen routinely in baseball — especially in a short series. There are no guarantees in October.

Here’s a look at what facing the Rangers means for the Blue Jays…

Regular season record: 88-74
Regular season record vs. Blue Jays: 2-4
Manager: Jeff Banister
GM: Jon Daniels

How will Rangers set up rotation?
Texas ace Cole Hamels pitched Sunday, which means he’d have to pitch on short rest to start Thursday's opener. Instead, the Rangers could turn to Blue Jays nemesis Yovani Gallardo in the opener and start Hamels Friday, setting the left-hander up for a possible Game 5 start on normal rest.

Gallardo dominated the Blue Jays this season, keeping Toronto scoreless in two starts spanning 13.2 innings. Meanwhile, the Rangers won the last 10 games Hamels started. No matter how Texas sets it up, Blue Jays hitters are in for a challenge early on.

Beyond Gallardo and Hamels, however, the Rangers don't have dominant options. The Blue Jays have mashed lefties like Derek Holland (4.91 ERA) and Martin Perez (4.46 ERA) all season long and don't let Colby Lewis' win total deceive you. Despite his 17-9 record, he has a 4.66 ERA and more than one hit allowed per inning.

Why relying on homers is OK
Conventional wisdom suggests there’s increased emphasis on small ball in October, and the Blue Jays led MLB with 230 home runs, but that's not actually a problem. In fact Toronto's power may prove to be an advantage.

Offence drops off across the board in October, when better defences and pitching staffs play and the weather cools down. But Baseball Prospectus has shown that teams come closest to matching their regular season offence when they rely heavily on home runs. After all, even a great defensive team like Kansas City can’t catch a ball that’s leaving the yard.

Providing hope
Both the Blue Jays and Rangers were out of the playoffs last year and under .500 on July 28, yet here they are in the ALDS. Dramatic turnarounds like this allow most teams this side of the Phillies to entertain the notion of competing in the 2016 post-season without enduring an extended Cubs or Astros-style rebuild. In fact the Royals are the only one of last year's AL playoff teams to make it back.

The case for Loup
Aaron Loup has had a rough season, but there’s a strong case for including him on the ALDS roster. The Rangers are loaded with left-handed hitters like Shin-Soo Choo, Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland, Josh Hamilton, Rougned Odor and Joey Gallo. Brett Cecil should be used extensively against Texas, but there’s only so much he can do. Considering that the likes of Aaron Sanchez, Liam Hendriks and Mark Lowe have struggled against lefties, the Blue Jays should turn to Loup.

He struck out 19 lefties this year while walking just one on the way to an impressive 66 per cent ground ball rate. Right-handed batters hit all six homers against Loup in 2015, but he's reasonably effective against lefties (4.86 FIP vs. RHB, 1.91 FIP vs. LHB). If he has one weakness against lefties it’s his propensity for hitting batters. Loup plunked five lefties this year, so he’ll want to be careful against Choo and Fielder, two players who love taking pitches for the team.

Roster machinations
The Blue Jays are expected to use a four-man rotation, a seven-man bullpen and a five-man bench in the ALDS. While most of the spots are spoken for, there’s some uncertainty in the back of the bullpen and with the final bench spot. Here’s a guess at how the Blue Jays could set things up:

Starting Pitchers (4)
David Price, LHP
R.A. Dickey, RHP
Marcus Stroman, RHP
Marco Estrada, RHP
Relief Pitchers (7)
Roberto Osuna, RHP
Aaron Sanchez, RHP
Brett Cecil, LHP
Mark Lowe, RHP
Liam Hendriks, RHP
LaTroy Hawkins, RHP
Aaron Loup, LHP
Position Players (9)
Russell Martin, C
Justin Smoak, 1B
Ryan Goins, 2B
Troy Tulowitzki, SS
Josh Donaldson, 3B
Ben Revere, LF
Kevin Pillar, CF
Jose Bautista, RF
Edwin Encarnacion, DH
Bench Players (5)
Dioner Navarro, C
Chris Colabello, 1B
Cliff Pennington, IF
Ezequiel Carrera, OF
Dalton Pompey, OF