I’m looking for Reveeeeennnnggggeeee. Oh ya! What an eight days in Blue Jays fandom. There is nothing like a six game October winning streak to help you gain perspective about what matters in this world; crushing starting pitching and ruining the season for your most bitter rivals. I know the path to true health and happiness comes through forgiveness and love, but I will start working on that in November. For now I’m going to let the satisfaction of cold revenge wash over me with all of its soothing warmth.
Mood in Song Form
Hearing the Blue Jays sing this in their locker room post ALDS victory was also fantastic.
Also, a song for the Rangers, Orioles, and we might as well throw in Big Papi and the Red Sox:
Just like that there were two teams left in the American League. The Blue Jays, and a team that calls themselves the Indians who hail from Progressive Field. We will get to that later this week…
Wild Card Recap
I sat out in left field last Tuesday for the wildcard game. Like all big games, a good luck trip to the Loose Moose on Front Street before the first pitch was necessary. You don’t mess with one-year-old playoff traditions that got you to the ALCS…
In the stadium I was immediately struck with a feeling I have been chasing since game five of last seasons ALCS. It is some combination of fear, excitement, adrenaline and overconfidence that can only be reached when you know you are about to turn over your emotional wellbeing to a group of strangers that you care about like they are your life long friends. In the absence of any control, you turn to things like readjusting your hat in-between every pitch, refusing to take off your retro jacket even if it is sweltering in the stadium, and becoming best friends with complete strangers sitting around you. If you are lucky, by the 5th inning you know all of the strangers names, and they are experiencing the same swings you are.
While it has been forgotten with the pandemonium of the Rangers series, the decision to start Stroman in that game worked out incredibly well, as did every in game decision Gibby was allowed to make (assuming Shapiro wasn’t calling in adjustments Al Davis style). Stroman made one mistake in 6 innings of work, and after that the bullpen was perfect. Gibby asked Osuna to go more than one inning, and used Liriano masterfully as the lefty out of the pen that we hoped he could be.
Buck Showalter’s asinine bullpen approach that made him the laughing stock of the MLB on Wednesday morning was causing me plenty of concern during the game. Twice he went to the pen and got a double play on the first pitch. As Brach, and O’Day worked their way through 3 innings of work to close out the 10th inning, I was assuming Zach Britton was going to come in for 3-6 lockdown outs. I was looking to Liriano to drag us to at least the 13th inning without any runs before we would reasonably have a shot at scoring again.
But then magic struck. The O’s left Britton on the bench, and after Travis and Donaldson hits Edwin was up with a runner on third and only one out. With Jimenez on the mound and the amount of chances we had already blown in the game I was pretty confident that Eddie would get the sacrifice needed to score Travis. I was even more confident when Showalter elected to pitch to Edwin instead of intentionally walking him to bring in Britton to face Bautista, who failed to advance a runner with two on and no outs in the 9th inning (more on this in the ALCS preview later this week). With Britton and his historic ground ball rate being saved for spring training it was just a matter of time. This fan captured the rally wonderfully. Cut to the 3:30 mark to get to pandemonium:
The homerun ball sailed about two sections to my left, directly over the 100 level section where the moron beer thrower was seated. The feeling of excitement and exuberance rivaled the bat flip, if only because it was a walk off and so definitive. The fact that Edwin now had a signature moment of his own in the playoffs was also fantastic. For a guy who has repeatedly said he wants to play in Toronto (and repeated it again after the game) and is so beloved by the fan base it was a special moment.
Finishing off Baltimore to set up a series with Texas seemed like just the thing we needed. Bautista was diplomatic in his interviews after the game, but anyone who has seen how fiery he gets over balls and strikes can imagine the intensity in the Jays locker room before game one in Texas.
Going into the series, I predicted the Jays would win the series 3-1. My logic was that we could get a split in Texas against their two aces Hamels and Darvish, before relying on our starting pitching depth to smash their game three and four starters at home. Having Sanchez and Stroman as your 3rd and 4th option in a five game series is an almost surreal luxury.
I also took great confidence in some of the team stats for the Rangers. Their record in one run games and run differential both suggested they were one of the luckiest teams in the regular season, and I felt like their luck was about to run out.
Instead of recapping how amazing we were in each facet of each and every game, I want to hone in on a few key things that stood out during the series:
Gibby looked like a genius
Every move he made worked out well. It’s easy to say when you team wins a series 3-0, but he worked the pen really well in game two and three. Marco Estrada’s brilliant performance in game one made for a light day of work, but he managed an irregular situation in game two nicely. Biagini was asked to go 1.2 innings and did so giving up only one hit and filling in nicely for the injured Benoit. Then Gibby made a couple of decisions that stood out:
He changed the way he handles Grilli – Grilli has seemed to be running out of steam down the stretch, and instead of asking him to go a full inning, he used him for a quick out, and moved on for a match up. This was a great way to get Grilli involved in the game, and showed that Gibby wasn’t going to simply plug in his “8th inning guy” without any thought…. Which sounds like common sense but it actually revolutionary thinking in some baseball corners.
He went to Cecil in a key matchup – Cecil was brought in for the lefty on lefty matchup against the hated Odor. He proceeded to throw 4 straight balls and get yanked from the game, so the move definitely didn’t work, but it showed that Gibby is going to use you if you are available and I have to think was a big sign of confidence for Cecil, who ended up coming in during game 3 and striking Odor out for a key out in a tie game.
He let Osuna loose – So much gets made about keeping your closer around for the right moment, not having them come out for a second inning, and monitoring them like a helicopter parent. Osuna entered game two as a complete unknown after his shoulder tightness in the wildcard game and was phenomenal. With Liriano leaving the game with a concussion from a comebacker, Gibby rolled with it and turned things over to Osuna in the 8th, and while he gave up a double, he also cut through the Rangers with ease.
The Jays bullpen isn’t good enough to simply run the same guys out in the same spots all the time, nor is that good management. Gibby has maximized results with what he has to work with, and has been rewarded for going extra innings with his best guys by earning four days of rest.
The Blue Jays lineup is dialed in
All of a sudden it felt like 2015 all over again! In the 163rd game of the season the Jays put out a lineup for the first time that year. In the ALDS they used that same lineup two more times, and one other time used BJ Upton in the starting spot to great success. Batters 1-8 in the lineup all considerably pulled their weight and contributed 8 homeruns in three games. An injured yet somehow unstoppable Josh Donaldson and the Barney/Travis platoon were the only two players to not hit a homerun in the series. The Rangers are back home today and still probably don’t know what hit them.
Texas played sloppy baseball
Make no mistake, the Blue Jays won this series, Texas didn’t lose it. But there was a certain degree of nerves and errors made by Texas that should put their arrogant manager on the hot seat. In game one Lucroy had a couple of passed balls, Ian Desmond missed catching Tulo’s pivotal triple, and there was an infield error as well. Game three saw the Blue Jays tie the game on a passed ball, and win it on a heads up running play by Donaldson that was only available because of Odor’s throwing error to first. In their defense, seeing their ace pitcher get absolutely dismantled at home in 3 innings of game one probably resulted in them pressing a little too hard, but at the end of the day the club looked ill prepared for the intensity of the post season.
Rougned Odor is no Jose Bautista
I love how Bautista has been labeled as a bad guy around Major League Baseball for playing the game hard and getting sucker punched. You know what Bautista is? He is a pro’s pro. He has a personal cook 365 days a year, he watches film all winter, and he stretches every second he isn’t throwing a bat towards the Texas dugout. While he might have outlandish salary expectations, in his short playoff career Bautista has brought the long ball and come through in more big moments than he hasn’t. I absolutely loved how he lay his bat down after his home run in Texas in game one.
While I’m on it, you know what has been forgotten? The performance he put on in Game 6 of the ALCS last year in the heartbreaking season ending loss. Remember this?
Bautista has been all world all playoffs, while Odor had a down right brutal series apart from a home run in game 3. He was fooled by the lefty pitching matchup the Jays threw at him, and he was poor defensively. Bautista picked up where he left off last season hitting homeruns in the wild card game, and in Texas. As the sign that will now live on in jays fandom forever so eloquently put it:
“I would rather take a punch in May, than be knocked out in October”
After the dramatic win on Sunday night I stuck around at field level and partook in the champagne celebration with the players. I took part in the “high five” line and even giving/receiving a sweaty champagne filled hug with Josh Donaldson. It was the perfect end to a perfect week of baseball. In the past week I’ve been fortunate enough to attend two sporting events that I will remember for a long time, and hopefully re-watch online every February as we prepare for the next season.
Later this week a full preview of the ALCS that starts Friday night in Cleveland. While I will be attending games 3 and 4 in Toronto, I am trying to line up a little road trip down to Ohio to start things off.