Toronto Blue Jays News

Marco the Great: Blue Jays have their playoff ace, regardless of name recognition

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October 6, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Marco Estrada (25) reacts after he is relieved in the ninth inning against the Texas Rangers during game one of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball game at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
October 6, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Marco Estrada (25) reacts after he is relieved in the ninth inning against the Texas Rangers during game one of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball game at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /
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The one differentiating factor between Marco Estrada and Cole Hamels entering Thursday night — other than their pitching styles — was their “name brand” recognition.

Since landing in Toronto and Texas respectively prior to the 2015 season, the two starters have posted similar numbers. Hamels owns a landslide lead in wins and losses, but his ERA of 3.42 and WHIP of 1.273 sit just behind Estrada’s marks of 3.30 and 1.081.

Hamels comes with a track record of great performances from his decade spent with the Philadelphia Phillies, compared to Estrada, a soft-tosser who arrived in Toronto as a sixth or seventh starter moonlighting as a long man out of the bullpen.

Marco Estrada doesn’t look the part of a playoff ace when given a five-minute eye test, but therein lies the beauty of his game.

Entering the ALCS, the Blue Jays were perceived to be underdogs in terms of starting pitching in games one and two. Hamels followed by Yu Darvish presented a formidable duo, and if Toronto were able to escape with a split from the first two games and hand the ball to Aaron Sanchez at home, that would have been deemed a moderate success. Again, that’s underselling Estrada (and J.A. Happ, for that matter).

Estrada is no Kershaw or Bumgarner, but in the playoffs — which is all that matters for the sake of this conversation and this season — he’s doing a fine impersonation.

In 27.2 playoff innings with the Blue Jays, Estrada now holds a 1.95 ERA with 21 strikeouts and, most impressive of all, just one walk. Leading off the ALCS with him also allows the Blue Jays to circle back to Estrada in this series should he be needed and maximize his playoff starts if they are able to advance.

Next: Blowout in Texas: Jays thump Rangers - Full game story

On Thursday, Estrada’s changeup looked as strong as it has all year. There’s an argument to be made that his signature pitch can be even more effective in situations that are high-pressure, as it further disrupts the balance of a hitter who is already filled with adrenaline and pushing in a big moment.

Playoff aces maxing out around 90 miles-per-hour isn’t always commonplace or assumed,  but Estrada is showing that it’s very real. With Happ, Sanchez, and Stroman following him, it’s also likely that the Blue Jays have a “number two” that matches, or exceeds, what Texas has to offer.

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