We’re counting down the hours until Toronto Blue Jays playoff baseball. At 3:37 ET this afternoon, former World Series manager Cito Gaston will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, the A.L. East banner will be raised to the rafters and the Blue Jays will begin their ALDS clash with the Texas Rangers.
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It’s David Price versus Yovani Gallardo in the series opener, with Marcus Stroman scheduled to face off against Cole Hamels on Friday afternoon. These quality pitching matchups could limit the offensive output of the Toronto games, but outside of the Yankees and Jays, no other team outscored the Rangers in 2015.
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Their 751 runs scored made them the only team outside of the A.L. East to crack the top four, while their 172 home runs rank them 11th league-wide. The Texas lineup cumulatively ranks between 6th and 10th in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, so when you factor in how hot the Rangers have been of late, this series could be tight.
David Price (18-5, 2.45 ERA)
This afternoon’s ball game is why the Blue Jays traded for David Price. Yes, he helped propel them into the playoffs to begin with, but the presence of a true ace gives Toronto a chance they otherwise might not have had. After starting the season hot with the Detroit Tigers, he’s pitched even stronger since coming over in the deadline blockbuster.
In 11 starts with the Jays, Price has gone 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA, striking out 10.5 batters per nine innings compared to 8.5 with his previous team. The biggest variable with Price is the extended rest that he’ll be coming off, but the Jays did get him some simulated game action to keep his body on schedule.
Yovani Gallardo (13-11, 3.42 ERA)
Gallardo has enjoyed an excellent season in the Rangers rotation, but it’s been a tale of two halves. After starting the season out on a tear, posting a 2.72 ERA and .608 opponent OPS through April, May and June, things took a turn for the worse beginning in July.
With his BABIP shooting up drastically over his final 17 starts, Gallardo’s ERA also rose to 4.18. Opponents hit .308 off the right-hander, good for an .852 slugging percentage, and he’s completed 6.0 full innings in a start just once since the first of August. Gallardo will top out in the low-90s, adding a high-80s slider and high-70s curveball. Patience and selection may be Toronto’s best strategy, as he’s struck out just 5.91 batters-per-nine in 2015.
Blue Jay to watch: Edwin Encarnacion
Encarnacion has enjoyed some nice success in a small career sample size against Gallardo, going 5-for-16 with three home runs, six RBI and three walks. The pitcher on the mound may not even matter, though, given how strong he finished another great campaign in 2015. Over Toronto’s final six games, Edwin knocked out four deep flies, walked five times and posted a 1.452 OPS. It still counts for number 40 if it comes in the playoffs, right?