Blue Jays Have To Keep Table Clear in Game 6


The Blue Jays have been gracious hosts to both the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals this postseason. If they want to keep their winning ways going for another game, though, they have to continue giving the Royals the fast food treatment.

Throughout the post season, there have been noticeable correlations in Toronto’s ability to keep their opponents’ table-setting lead off and speed options in check during games and their likelihood of winning those games. They are not doing damage with the bats per se, but their ability to get on base has played havoc with the minds of Jays pitchers and fielders, and directly led to runs that the Blue Jays can not afford to concede at this stage in the playoffs.

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The first two games of the Rangers series were prototypical of what having fleet-footed foes on board did for Texas on the Jays’ turf. While the Blue Jays acquitted themselves well against the biggest bats in the Rangers’ order, the work of leadoff hitter Delino DeShields Jr. and burgeoning second base star Rougned Odor in both the batters box and the base paths led to victories in both contests.

DeShields and Odor combined to reach base almost 50% of the time (7 for 18 with one walk and two HBPs, both David Price on Odor), resulting in the two scoring eight of Texas’ 11 runs in the two victories. Both scored in the 3rd inning in Game 1 by reaching first, advancing to second on well placed ground balls, and racing around to score on singles that would not have scored the Mike Napolis or Mitch Morelands of the team. Five times they scored from second base, including the winning run in Game 2’s 14th inning on Hanser Alberto‘s RBI single.

The rest of the series though, it was a different story. In Game 3, Marco Estrada retired DeShields on two fly balls and Odor on two strikeouts, taking their legs out of the equation. By the time the two were able to get on base, the game was well in hand. Game 4 had different pitchers but similar results. R.A. Dickey was able to induce fast grounders that the pair were not able to run out. Price and Roberto Osuna were able to coax fly balls and Toronto limited the two to a combined .111 average in the game, Odor’s late double and subsequent run off Price preventing an o-fer evening.

Game 5, when the pair ran, Texas had success. DeShields scored the game’s first run by slapping a leadoff double, advancing to third on Shin-Soo Choo‘s grounder, and then beating the throw to the plate from Chris Colabello on another ground ball. Later, Odor would score the go-ahead run with his heads-up base running, advancing on consecutive grounders then dashing home when Russell Martin managed to plunk Choo’s bat on a play that brought a different kind of rain to the RogerSkyDome. If Jose Bautista doesn’t flip the game on its head in the bottom half of that inning, Odor is the MVP of the ALCS as the Rangers avoid total collapse.

Toronto should have learned their lesson when dealing with leadoff men in the post-season at this point. Instead, the Royals deployed the upgraded version of DeShields: shortstop Alcides Escobar. Combined with rescued Athletic Ben Zobrist, the top two slots in the order have presented a greater challenge for the Blue Jays pitchers. Escobar has taken the aggressive tendencies to a new level against the Blue Jays, going after the first pitch in every game so far, and smacking it with alarming success. He’s 4 for 5 with two singles, a double and a triple to lead off festivities for the Royals and give them early edges in Games 3 and 4. Through the first four games, Escobar was hitting at a mind-boggling .600 clip.

Between crossing the plate and knocking Royals in, he’s been directly responsible for 11 Kansas City runs. As for Zobrist, he took a game and a half to get going, but he’s forever burned into Blue Jays lore as the man who’s dropped pop fly broke David Price’s brain in Game 2, keying the five run rally in the 7th. He followed that up with a three double performance in the Game 3 loss, and the pace-setting opening frame home run off Dickey in Game 4 that opened the floodgates on that particularly dreadful day.

So why weren’t they able to set that tone in Game 5? Marco Estrada was throwing darts, that’s why. Retiring Escobar on the first pitch for the first time inspired confidence in the fastball/change-up specialist, and mixing in his cutter with increased frequency kept the hitters off-balance all night. Escobar was able to get aboard on a single in the fourth, but Zobrist had fits against Estrada and immediately erased his teammate with the tailor-made double play ball. Estrada was stellar at forcing the Royals hitters to slow down and try to predict what was coming. It led to over thinking, and over thinking led to overdoing, resulting in multiple ground balls and weak flies.

David Price may have been a victim of over thinking in his playoff appearances so far this season, but he can learn from Estrada and even Roberto Osuna’s performances on Wednesday. If the Royals hitters want to attack from the get go, then lead with the sinker and the cutter to induce some easy ground ball outs in the opening innings. Preventing Escobar and Zobrist from setting the tone that the Royals desperately need to get momentum back in their corner is crucial if the Blue Jays wish to keep hope alive and earn one more shot at dancing under fountains of victory champagne.

Next: Stars Aligning For Price in Game 6

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