by Vinny Varvaro
Webster defines revenge as: (1) to avenge (as oneself) usually by retaliating in kind or degree, or (2) to inflict injury in return for.
These are powerful words, almost as powerful as the bats for the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers will bring to the plate as they renew a rivalry that began with a bat flip and was invigorated with a shove and a right hook. Even the most casual of baseball fans are aware of the potential fireworks that are hanging out there like a Jeurys Familia slider (sorry just had to throw that in there).
Both managers, all players, team spokespeople and MLB will say the right things and eschew what some fans would like to see.
So let’s shift our focus to balls and strikes and hits and double plays, shall we. Goose Gossage please refrain from making any public statements for now, ok?
TEXAS THE BEST TEAM NO ONE TALKS ABOUT
The Rangers have been in cruise control for much of the season, pretty much securing the AL West right after the All Star break. Their lineup is as strong offensively as the Blue Jays for sure, lead by the veteran Adrian Beltre and his good friend Elvis Andrus along with the free agent signee that no one talks about much, Ian Desmond. He took “only” $8 million for a one-year flier and has produced (.285/22/86) in a big way. Lest we forget that guy, Rougned Odor, the team leader in HRs (33 to Beltre’s 32). Rookie Nomar Mazara (.266/20/64) should garner some AL ROY votes for his play in right field.
Second-year manager, Jeff Banister led the Rangers to a seven-game improvement from last season and should be considered the front runner for AL Manager of the Year. He had the luxury of managing a pitching staff that is led by veteran Cole Hamels (15-5) and the now healthy Yu Darvish (7-5 in 17 starts). Colby Lewis (6-5 in 19 starts) will be the number three starter on the road in Toronto. Keeping the Rangers’ starters pitch count down will be a challenge, as Hamels averages 18 pitches/inning while Darvish’s 11.9 K/9 innings comes at the price of a lot of pitches, considering he missed a year due to arm problems.
Banister will be charged with keeping the Rangers focused on the game between the lines and not the emotion of revenge between the ears of his team. There’s no reason to think he won’t be able to accomplish this, especially with the leadership of Beltre. He also had to deal with the loss of DH Prince Fielder to retirement due to persistent back problems. So how did GM Jon Daniels fix that? He acquired Carlos Beltran from the Yankees summer fire sale for two minor leaguers. All Beltran, 39, did was hit .280 with 7 HR and 29 RBI in 52 games.
BLUE JAYS RIDING WAVE OF THE WALK OFF
Toronto still has to be riding high after Tuesday night’s thrilling win in the AL Wildcard game against Baltimore. It will be the emotional Blue Jay manager, John Gibbons’ task to channel that fire in the right direction when they step on the field in Arlington this afternoon.
Gibbons has already caused a minor stir by naming Marco Estrada to pitch in Game 1 instead of Cy Young contender J.A. Happ, but with Aaron Sanchez and AL Wildcard starter, Marcus Stroman waiting to pitch in Toronto, Gibbons really couldn’t make a bad choice. His main concern is with closer, Roberto Osuna, who left the AL Wildcard game in the middle of the 10th inning. Gibbons says he will be cautious with Osuna. This could be a huge issue considering most of these games will be close late.
The Blue Jays hope to continue it offensive surge that was re-discovered on Tuesday night. Odor’s sparring partner, Jose Bautista seems ready to continue his power (he hit a HR in Tuesday’s win) and what can be said about Edwin Encarnacion that hasn’t already been said and seen. Don’t overlook the defense of Kevin Pillar in centerfield, he can cover a lot of ground gap to gap.
The starting pitching for both the Rangers and Blue Jays should keep the offense down under what both teams are used to producing (Texas and Toronto were in the top 5 in AL scoring, both over 4.5 runs/game).
Beltre, who is a borderline Hall of Famer will lead by example. His 2016 season is arguably his best, even though he’s had better statistical seasons. At 37 and producing a .300/32/104, his game has uplifted the younger Rangers. Look for him, Beltran and Desmond to lead the Rangers to a series win, that will feature fewer runs than both teams are used to scoring. Hamels should get the nod in the deciding game.
Texas in 5