I alluded to this after yesterday's loss, but let's revisit: If three months ago we knew the Rangers would be faced with a winner-take-all Game Five to advance to the ALCS, we would have jumped all over that. And before the season? No question.
It's only when Texas got into the position of being up 2-0 in the series, that now the thought of playing a Game Five in Toronto seems like such a hopeless drag.
There is something to be said for handling a postseason series with ease, but that goes against what the playoffs, by definition, are. Nothing comes easy. In the 53-year existence of the Texas Rangers franchise they have swept a grand total of 0 playoff series', and dating back to 1996 -- the club's first postseason appearance -- they have won 4 total best-of's (two in 2010, two in '11) out of 9. That is all.
I hate to sound like the fan of an historically uncompetitive team, but the fan base's general appreciation for the moment the Rangers are in, and the opportunity they have in tomorrow's ALDS ultimatum, seems to be lacking. Which is something I didn't think was possible after the roller coaster ride these last two seasons have been.
If we skip past the noise of Batter vs. Pitcher stats, or historical win/loss records of team's facing elimination, on paper this series has gone almost exactly according to plan. The Blue Jays have hit more HR's than the Rangers (6 to 2), compiled more strikeouts (30 to 27), and given up fewer walks (7 to TEX's 13). If you took out Game Two, where Rangers relievers struck out 9 hitters in 7 IP, the numbers are even more lopsided.
In every way Toronto has owned this ALDS, and still they enter tomorrow in the same predicament as the Rangers: win, or go.
When I picked Texas in 5 before the series started, I was under the impression it was going to be a matchup of aces David Price and Cole Hamels. Then strangely, Jays manager John Gibbons decided to use Price in relief in Game Four while R.A. Dickey was cruising with a big lead, and has said he will not be available to pitch in Game Five. Marcus Stroman will get the assignment instead.
This seems to work more to the Rangers benefit than anything else, as even though David Price wasn't effective in this series (10 IP/8 ER/11 H/7 K's/2 BB's) and hasn't been very good in his postseason career to this point (50 IP/5.04 ERA), it's still David Price. He is still one of the 10 best pitchers on the planet. By burning him in Game Four, the Jays are locked into Stroman, who will be making his 6th start since returning in September from ACL surgery.
The Rangers have a veteran lineup, and they'll be seeing the youthful Stroman for the second time in 5 days. There are endless possibilities for what could happen in this Game Five, but what I'm most fascinated by is seeing what happens if the Rangers hang 3 or 4 runs on Stroman in the first couple innings. Who, then, will John Gibbons turn to?
In a similar vein, how quick will Jeff Banister's hook be on Cole Hamels if the Rangers go down by, say, 2 or 3 runs early on? Or what if the Rangers are up 2-3 runs by, let's say, the 4th? It's crazy to say since Hamels is Texas's best pitcher, and only shot at leveraging the club into the ALCS, but is it defensible to bring in Sam Dyson in a jam in the bottom of the 4th tomorrow afternoon? It absolutely is.
I don't remember where I was 5 years ago when the Rangers were in the same exact position, traveling back to Tampa Bay for a Game Five. I'm sure I was nervous, as I am now. And I'm sure I was excited about all the possibilities, as I am now.
It's that uncertainty, and mystery, that ultimately always draws me closer to my favorite sport. You really don't get this drama anywhere else. I have no clue what tomorrow has in store and I don't want to know. Because tonight I count my blessings as a Rangers fan. This might be the last time in 2015 I'll be able to write about this team, my guys, our guys, and I'm appreciating how great it is that I get to feel this sports fan pain at least one more time.
So, tomorrow it is.
Let's take care of it.