The 2016 MLB playoffs will put the Texas Rangers-Toronto Blue Jays rivalry front and center.
In Tuesday’s AL Wild Card Game between the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto, we saw Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion crush a walk-off, three-run home run to left off of Ubaldo Jimenez in the 11th inning before 49,934 screaming fans at Rogers Centre.
The Blue Jays move on to another American League Division Series with the top-seeded Texas Rangers (95-67), with the best-of-five opening Thursday at Globe Life Park in Arlington at 4:38 p.m. ET.
Edwin Encarnacion’s extra-inning homer sets up another chapter of the MLB’s most bitter rivalry, which culminated in Rougned Odor’s squarely-landed right cross on the face of Jays slugger Jose Bautista on May 15 following Bautista’s hard slide into second base.
The punch that Odor landed could be thought of as a small measure of revenge for how Texas’ 2015 season came to an end.
With two outs in the seventh inning of Game 5 of last year’s ALDS, Bautista broke a 3-3 tie with a three-run home run off of reliever Sam Dyson, standing at home plate to admire to go-head drive as it left the yard before flipping his bat off a good distance. Benches cleared shortly after, but the score never changed from that point on.
Toronto went on to play the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series. The Rangers would spend the next several months stewing over Bautista’s decisive homer, guaranteeing that the vitriol between Texas and Toronto would be a major storyline in 2016.
With these two teams meeting for a second straight October, it’s difficult to say that the baseball in this ALDS rematch won’t be overshadowed by situations that strongly resemble the WWE’s Royal Rumble.
Toronto won its season series vs. Texas 4-3.
Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter and his players get to serve as baseball’s latest cautionary tale about why it is important to enter a postseason as a division champion. They will be joined tonight by the loser of the San Francisco Giants’ NL Wild Card Game versus the New York Mets at Citi Field.
Speaking of which, after Tuesday’s thriller in Toronto, what do the Amazin’s—led by starter Noah Syndergaard (14-9, 2.60 ERA)—and left-hander Madison Bumgarner (15-9, 2.74) and the Giants have in store for us?
On paper, this matchup has the makings of a close contest going into the latter innings. If both aces are on their game, runs will be at a premium.
The Giants aren’t necessarily a powerful team, ranking 13th in the NL in homers with 130 this season. They do, however, have seven players who finished the year with 10 or more homers, led by first baseman Brandon Belt.
San Francisco stole 79 bases during the regular season. That’s a middle-of-the-pact total amongst NL teams, but if outfielders Angel Pagan and Denard Span reach base throughout Wednesday’s Wild Card Game, they could exploit Syndergaard’s biggest weakness: a slow delivery to the plate that makes it difficult for him to hold runners on base.
Teams stole a staggering 48 bases with Syndergaard on the mound this season. Span and Pagan stole 12 and 15 bases this year, respectively, so keeping those two Giants off of the base paths will be key for the fireballer.
The Mets, 4-3 vs. San Francisco in ’16, have never handed Madison Bumgarner a loss.
But, on Aug. 18 in San Francisco, a New York lineup sans Yoenis Cespedes (strained right quadriceps) and Asdrubal Cabrera (strained left patellar tendon) managed to score four runs off of Bumgarner.
The Giants starter gave up three walks and six hits in that start, including Justin Ruggiano’s fourth-inning grand slam.
The Mets succeeded in not just putting up a crooked number against Bumgarner, they had driven his pitch count high enough through five innings (89) to avoid having to face him again that day.
The MLB playoffs can be hard on the nerves and produce magical moments, as we were reminded by the Toronto Blue Jays’ triumph over the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night. Wednesday’s NL Wild Card Game has plenty of promise in Mets start Noah Syndergaard having to match zeros with Giants ace Madison Bumgarner.
So far, so good.
[Featured Image by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images]