The reality of tonight’s game is why we can’t use the term “must-win game” in mid-summer. The Toronto Blue Jays find themselves painted into a corner entering game three of the ALDS against the Texas Rangers, where they’ll send Marco Estrada to the mound to face the lefty Martin Perez.
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The Blue Jays have simply been outplayed in games one and two, regardless of the potential gripes with umpiring and managerial decisions. Their fundamental game has not be sound, while their offensive explosions have yet to be seen. This was a quiet worry entering October, as the Blue Jays weren’t likely to face many low-quality pitchers in the postseason.
Rougned Odor has tilted the series in Texas’ favour more than once, and along with neutralizing his impact, the Jays will need one of their own to step above the crowd and into a starring role. Given the handedness and statistics of the 24-year old Perez, Chris Colabello may get his second straight nod as designated hitter. Dioner Navarro is also expected to catch Estrada, the impacts of which we explored here yesterday.
Win, or go home.
We’ve watched Estrada become one of the great stories of 2015, with his teammates voting him the Blue Jays Pitchers of the Year. The right-hander posted a 3.13 ERA over 181.0 innings in the regular season, and while his home run ball is still a potential flaw, he’s done well to limit it in key situations.
Some had feared a late-season regression from Estrada, especially given the higher-than-expected workload. He grew stronger in some senses, however, going 2-0 over his last seven starts with a 2.96 ERA and .181 opponent’s batting average. While this shouldn’t be a focus, he’s also got an opportunity to beef up his free agent value in this one.
Perez posted a 3-6 record across 14 starts in 2015, good for a 4.46 ERA and 1.424 WHIP. These are encouraging numbers on a surface level, and his splits could benefit a righty-heavy Blue Jays lineup. Right-handed batters have hit .304 off of Perez in 2015, compared to an average of just .210 from lefties. He’s also snuffed out any power against left-handers, so the Jays may find themselves aligning well.
His recent string of starts represent a mix of highs and lows, though, and he’s obviously a talented arm. Perez has allowed five earned runs in two of his last seven starts, but has also allowed one run over seven innings twice. There are weaknesses here, but Toronto needs to actively exploit them. Perez won’t hand it over.
Player to Watch: Josh Donaldson
Isn’t he always? Donaldson could be the player to put Toronto on his back once again, and he’s enjoyed some success against Perez in the past. In 13 at-bats, Donaldson has five hits, three walks and a home run. If the Jays are going to crack this game open offensively, their MVP candidate will be right in the middle of it.