American League Division Series:
Game Three: Blue Jays 5, Rangers 1; Rangers lead best-of-five 2-1
Now is the point in the series where we remind the audience that the playoffs can be a real you know what, and nothing is going to come easy for the Rangers.
Behind a shutdown 6.1 IP/5 H/1 ER/4 K/0 BB effort from starter Marco Estrada, Toronto produced 5 runs to keep its postseason hopes alive on Sunday night. Leading 2-0 in the top of the 6th, Troy Tulowitzki provided the game's crucial blow, a two-out, three-run HR off Chi-Chi Gonzalez to extend the Blue Jay lead to 5-nil.
The Rangers put together a modest rally in the bottom of the 7th, with back-to-back one-out hits from Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton -- putting men on 2nd and 3rd -- but only one run would eventually score (on a Rougned Odor ground out). After Hamilton's single (that he advanced to second on via a Jose Bautista error), Texas hitters went 0-8 with 2 punch outs.
On the night, the Rangers went 5-32 with 4 singles and a token Hanser Alberto double, and didn't draw a single walk against the deceptive Estrada.
Despite the 5-1 final, this game never really felt that close, as the Jays constantly had runners on base against starter Martin Perez -- who, to his credit, induced 3 double plays -- and by the time Chi-Chi arrived in the game, he got a double play grounder of his own, and for a second it looked like the Rangers might escape the 6th trailing only 2-0. However, in a swift twist of cosmic justice, Tulo hit a 3-run bomb and washed away all Texas's good ground ball fortune.
Speaking of Chi-Chi, why was he in the game in that moment? He entered in the 6th with runners at the corners and nobody out, in a 2-0 game, and behind him Ross Ohlendorf was warming up. So, if Ohlendorf is the better per-batter RHP in Banister's pecking order, why wasn't he in the game to begin with? Why, after a day of rest, wasn't Keone Kela or Sam Dyson or Shawn Tolleson in to put out the fire? Remember, it was only 2-0 at the time, and even though Banister used 5 pitchers over 7 shutout innings on Friday, none of them threw more than 28 pitches.
In all likelihood Jeff Banister will get most second-guessed for his choice to pitch to Tulowitzki with first base open, rather than facing Dioner Navarro, who was due to bat next. I didn't mind this decision (or non-decision) nearly as much as Chi-Chi being on the mound in the first place.
For the Rangers, this is a postseason-sized bump in the road. Yet they still lead the series two games to one. Sans Adrian Beltre, Texas's lineup is a whole lot shorter, especially with Shin-Soo Choo, Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland combining to go 2-31 with 3 BB's and 6 K's so far in the series. This is an untenable trend and it's sort of crazy that the Rangers have the series and home field advantages at the moment.
To its credit, Texas's pitching has thus far done a pretty good job against the vaunted Blue Jays lineup. Toronto's four dynamic power hitters -- Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki -- have each hit a playoff HR apiece, but three of those were solo shots and for the most part the overall damage has been minimal.
As a quartet they've slashed .212/.362/.468 with 9 BBs and 7 punch outs. Of the 10 hits they've compiled, there have been no extra base hits aside the HRs. We have to be okay with that tradeoff.
I'd like to think the three-game hiatus of the Rangers three lefties, basically 3/4 of the team's central offensive production when Adrian Beltre is in the lineup, is about to change tomorrow afternoon. But to hope on that is the same as expecting the Jays to remain as bottled up as the Rangers have kept them in the series.
Up 2-1, Texas still has series leverage, and tomorrow Derek Holland opposes R.A. Dickey in what will be the difference between reaching the ALCS and flying back to Toronto for a David Price/Cole Hamels Game 5 matchup.