The Toronto Blue Jays came close to solving Cole Hamels in game two of the ALDS. In fact, that was the theme of those first two game. The Blue Jays stood on the doorstep of every opportunity, but continually failed to take the final step.
With Hamels set to face Marcus Stroman on Wednesday at the Rogers Centre in a fifth and deciding game, the Toronto lineup will need to find a more productive approach. In Hamels’ first start, the tall lefty completed seven strong innings, allowing six hits and two earned runs (four total). He struck out six Jays along the way, and walked zero. That final number needs to change.
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While I don’t buy in to the narrative that Toronto was trying to win the game on every swing, there was certainly something out-of-the-ordinary with their approach. The boom-or-bust at-bats came into play that game, but moreso after after the bullpen took over from Hamels. Coming home on the back of two wins should right the ship in Toronto, and their past two performances have given them the blueprint for cracking Hamels open.
Normalcy. This isn’t the sexiest strategy, but in games three and four in Texas, the Blue Jays returned to playing their version of normal baseball. The brand that catapulted them throughout August and September. Patience at the plate was the main trigger of this shift as the Jays worked five walks on Monday, not to mention some quality long at-bats.
Games involving Derek Holland can be blowouts, but games involving Cole Hamels rarely are. These free base runners will be pivotal to the Blue Jays, and they’ll need to recognize the proper spots to take one likely run over two less-likely runs. Marcus Stroman and the Blue Jays bullpen should allow for this.
Stroman looked fantastic in his first start against Hamels, lasting seven innings himself while allowing three earned runs (four total). Some ugly fundamental defense cost Stroman some numbers in that outing, but he may not be asked to go very deep on Wednesday. Aaron Sanchez has looked fantastic, so has Roberto Osuna, and with the potential of David Price giving the club another lefty reliever alongside Aaron Loup, the back end is looking formidable.
This patient approach will be necessary from the first pitch, because an early lead, even 1-0, can have great benefits for the Jays. This isn’t a game where Toronto wants to play comeback, but if they can adjust properly to Hamels, they won’t need to.