To get a perspective from the visiting clubhouse for this ALDS series, we checked in with our friends at Nolan Writin‘, the FanSided site that covers the Texas Rangers. Check them out for great coverage of the Rangers. We wanted to pick their brain about how they think this series will go. While the Blue Jays are making their first playoff appearance in 22 years, the Rangers have had some more recent experience. And, aside form the Blue Jays, the Rangers are coming into this post season with one of the best second halfs in baseball.
We sat down with Ric Dickens, am editor at Nolan Writin’. Here’s his take on this huge series:
JJ: Can you touch on the late season push the Rangers pulled off to take the division and how they managed to do it? How will that carry over to the playoffs?
NW: The Rangers have been hot in the back end of the season, and there are many factors that go into that. I think the first thing has been the moves that GM Jon Daniels made at the deadline. Going out and getting Cole Hamels has been absolutely huge, as it gives them an ace to trot out there every fifth day. They also got Southpaw Jake Diekman in the deal, a bullpen arm that often gets overlooked.
Daniels also went out and got some minor pieces, pieces that have paid big dividends in the second half. Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli have combined to be quite the platoon in left field, stretching out the lineup and adding some pop. These two guys were here when the Rangers went to the World Series, and they have every intention of helping them get back to the World Series this year.
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But I think the biggest key for the Rangers has been getting healthy. Derek Holland and Martin Perez have come back and provided a boost to the ball club, brining some much-needed stability to the rotation. Even though their numbers might not seem to0 impressive this year, their presence and leadership in the clubhouse has been invaluable.
JJ: It looks like, in game 1, the Blue Jays will have to deal with a guy who has owned them this season- Yovanni Gallardo. What can we expect to see from him? How will he keep these Blue Jays bats at bay?
NW: Yovanni Gallardo will pitch in game one, and I think it is a great move by Jeff Banister. Banister knows that he has had some recent success against the Blue Jays, and I think that has to do with his ability to keep hitters off balance.
Gallardo is a pitcher who doesn’t rely on one pitch, and will actually throw his slider more than anything else. So far this season, he has thrown the fastball 27% of the time, the two seam fastball 23.8% of the time, and the slider a staggering 31.8% of the time. He will also feature a cutter and changeup every once in a while, but he is mainly a three-pitch pitcher. I think his success against the best offense in baseball has everything to do with not giving in, as he is willing to throw his slider in any given situation, as he is more comfortable with that pitch than anything else.
Gallardo has had trouble going deep into ballgames this year, which has been something that bugs a lot of Rangers fans. Banister would be absolutely thrilled to get six innings out of him, turn it over to the bullpen, and have the workhorse of Cole Hamels follow up the next day. Expect Gallardo to come out and not give in, and pitch five or six solid innings for the Rangers.
JJ: How do you expect the Rangers’ defense to do with the turf at Rogers Centre? Is the defense up to the task?
NW: The turf at the Rogers Centre will definitely be an adjustment, but I’m not too concerned about it. When you look at this lineup, you will instantly notice that it is full of athletes.
Obviously Adrian Beltre is about as reliable as you can get at the hot corner, and the middle of the infield is solid with Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor. Andrus has been susceptible to errors this season, but that certainly isn’t because of a lack of athleticism. Mitch Moreland can field his position well at first base, and the infield will be more than up to the task.
The outfield doesn’t worry me too much either, as the Rangers have many options out there. Delino DeShields will be the starter in center field, but they turn to defensive guru Drew Stubbs when they have a lead late. Shin Soo Choo will hold his own in right field, as he is a pretty good athlete with a good arm. The one question is Josh Hamilton, as the injury prone Hamilton could have his struggles on the turf that physically taxes the body.
JJ: Which one pitcher is the guy we should look out for? Which guy will give the Blue Jays the most difficulty?
NW: I don’t want to be that guy who picks the ace, but I am going to have to do it. Cole Hamels is the pitcher that the Blue Jays will have the most difficulty with, and there are a couple reasons for that. Cole Hamels has been phenomenal in his career once the calendar turns to October, so I don’t expect that to change this year. In his career, Hamels has a 3-2 record with a 1.82 ERA in the NLDS. So even though he has switched divisions, I don’t expect anything else to change.
Hamels has also pitched exceptionally as well of late, and has been known to pitch well in big games. No game was bigger this season than game 162, when the Rangers needed to win in order to lock up the AL West. Hamels went the distance, allowing just two runs on an Albert Pujols home run. The Rangers also just flat out win when Hamels is on the bump, as the Rangers have won TEN straight outings of Hamels.
Lastly and most importantly, we all know about this Blue Jays offense, it’s lethal. They own the best offense in baseball, and have scored the most runs by far throughout the course of the season. But the Blue Jays don’t have such luck against lefties, ranking 10th in the MLB in runs scored against southpaws. Lefties are able to, relatively speaking, keep the ball in the ballpark against the Jays, as they rank 7th in the MLB in that category.
JJ: Which hitter?
NW: The Rangers have a potent offense of their own, one that has flown under the radar. I could give you many names here, Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre or Mitch Moreland. This is a deep lineup that can score runs in many different ways. But the hitter that I would keep my eye on is Shin Soo Choo.
Choo has been red hot for the Rangers since the All-Star break, and put up video game numbers in the month of September. Since the All-Star break, Choo is hitting .353 with a .455 OBP, while slugging 11 HRs. As impressive as those numbers have been, those are nothing compared to his numbers in September. Choo posted a September average of .404 with a .515 OBP, which is absolutely incredible. Hitters often talk about being in the zone, but that baseball has to be looking like a beach ball to Choo.
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This Rangers offense is talented, and Blue Jays fans will come to find that out in a hurry. Expect for a slugfest this series, because the Rangers will certainly live up to their name of the “Power Rangers”.
JJ: Tell me why the Rangers will win this series.
NW: The bullpen of the Texas Rangers will be the reason that the Rangers win this series. Yes, I just talked about how incredible this offense has been, and I’m going to tell you that it will be the bullpen that wins this series for the Rangers.
The Rangers bullpen was pathetic at the beginning of the year, but has been the team’s strength down the stretch. People often forget that the Rangers got hard throwing southpaw Jake Diekman in the Hamels deal, but the Blue Jays sure won’t. Diekman will be used plenty this series to keep the high flying Blue Jays grounded, and I expect him to do just that.
Sam Dyson is another name to remember, as he has become a power arm out of that bullpen. Dyson sports an impressive 1.15 ERA since coming over to the Rangers at the deadline, and he will look to straight overpower the Blue Jays.
Then you have the emergence of Shawn Tolleson, who will have to step up in the closer role. If he can do just that and close out games like he did all throughout the regular season, then the Rangers have a great shot of winning this series.
JJ: Tell me why they won’t win this series.
NW: The Rangers won’t win this series because the theory “good pitching beats good hitting” doesn’t apply to the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays offense is nothing short of incredible, and it has been proven impossible to shut their lineup down. You can only hope to contain it, but you certainly won’t be able to shut it down. The Jays can score in just about every fashion possible, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them pour it on the sometimes-susceptible Rangers pitching staff.