Thursday, October 8
12:30 pm PT on FS1
Texas Rangers (88-74) @ Toronto Blue Jays (93-69)
In the preseason, I compiled standings projections from eight sources: Clay Davenport, Sports Illustrated, Fangraphs, PECOTA, Bleacher Report, Rant Sports, The Sporting News, and Eastside Sports. The Texas Rangers were not expected to do anything in 2015. They were projected by these sources to win 75 games, with a high projection of 79 wins by Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA. The Blue Jays looked like wild card contenders, but no one predicted they would win 90 games. They were projected for between 80 and 88 wins by every source.
The Toronto Blue Jays led all of baseball in runs scored and run differential. Their 891 runs scored were 127 more runs than the next-closest team (Yankees) and their +221 run differential was almost 100 runs higher than the next-closest team (Cardinals). They were a powerhouse this year, especially in the second half. The Rangers, on the other hand, scored just 18 more runs than they allowed. Six teams in the American League had a better run differential.
Based on their runs scored and runs allowed, the Ranges were a team that “should” have gone 83-79, so they outplayed their run differential by five games. The Blue Jays had the run differential of a 102-win team.
How They Got Here
The Texas Rangers had a good stretch of seasons from 2010 to 2012 when they went to the World Series twice (losing both) and played in a wild card game (which they also lost). They went from 91 wins in 2013 to 67 in 2014 and were hit with injuries early this year that seemed to make them unlikely to even achieve a .500 record this year. Instead, they surprisingly won 88 games and the AL West title.
This year, the Rangers were terrible in April, going 7-14 in the first month of the season. They bottomed out on May 3rd with a record of 8-16 and were already 9 ½ games out of first place. They had a very good Month of May to turn things around, winning 19 of 30 games. Through June and July they went 24-27 and were still an afterthought in their division at 8 games out heading into August. Over the final two-plus months of the season, the Rangers went 38-22 and passed the Angels and Astros to take the west.
The Toronto Blue Jays came into existence the same year as the Seattle Mariners and became the much more successful franchise in their first two decades of play. It took nine years for the Blue Jays to make the playoffs, but they then made the postseason five times in nine years, culminating with back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993. Until this year, they hadn’t been back to the playoffs since.
Like the Rangers, the Blue Jays started slowly this year. They were 11-12 in April and 12-17 in May. Sitting at 23-29 at the beginning of June, the Blue Jays were in fourth place in the AL East, but only 4 ½ games back. June was a good month (18-9) but July brought more struggles (12-13). At the end of July, the Blue Jays made trades to add David Price and Troy Tulowitzki. Price has been terrific with the Blue Jays and is in contention with Dallas Keuchel for the AL Cy Young award. Tulowitzki was a big acquisition who hasn’t had as much of an impact because of an injury. A less-noticed deal at the deadline was the acquisition of outfielder Ben Revere. Revere has very little power but his .354 OBP with the Blue Jays was a nice addition to the lineup.
Since the trade deadline on July 31, the Blue Jays have gone 40-18 and outscored opponents 341 runs to 224. They went from a solid team to a great team.
Hitting, Pitching, Fielding Rankings
Rankings are based on Fangraphs statistical data. For offense, I used the metric wRC+, which means “weighted Runs Created Plus.” This looks at how a team’s offense compares to league average and takes ballpark effects into account. I used Fangraphs pitcher WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for starting pitchers and relief pitchers. The defensive rankings are based on Fangraphs’ metric for defense.
The Rangers, on the other hand, scored plenty of runs, but their ballpark was a big part of it. Consider a comparison between the Rangers and Dodgers. The Rangers scored 751 runs and hit .257/.325/.413 as a team in a good hitter’s park in a league (AL) that scored more runs. The Dodgers scored 667 runs and hit .250/.326/.413 in a good pitcher’s park in the lower-scoring National League. Taking ballpark and league into account, the Rangers ended up below average by wRC+, while the Dodgers were well above average on offense, finishing third in baseball in wRC+.
The starting pitchers on these teams look like middle-of-the-pack squads, but those numbers are for the entire season and both teams added good pitchers at the trade deadline. The Blue Jays picked up David Price to be their ace. He went 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA with the Blue Jays and his FIP was just as good, at 2.22. The rest of the staff consists of innings-eaters in Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey, plus a high-upside youngster in Marcus Stroman. Stroman only pitched in four games this year after tearing his ACL before the season started. Price can keep them in any game. When another starter takes the hill, the team will rely on their offense.
The two Rangers’ pitchers with the most WAR were Colby Lewis and Yovani Gallardo. Neither are dominant pitchers and don’t compare with other top starters on AL playoff teams like David Price and Dallas Keuchel. The top option for the Rangers will be Cole Hamels, who they acquired at the trade deadline. The Rangers will have their best shot at winning when Hamels is on the mound.
The Rangers had some struggles in the bullpen during the season. They have three good arms in Sam Dyson, Keone Kela, and closer Shawn Tolleson. Beyond that, it’s a crapshoot. They’ll try to get as much as they can out of their starting pitchers. The Blue Jays have a few more relief options but spent a good part of the year searching for a reliable closer. They finally settled on 20-year-old Roberto Osuna, who led the team with 20 saves.
The Blue Jays will host the first two games in Toronto, where they went 53-28 this year. The first two matchups will be Yovani Gallardo versus David Price and Cole Hamels versus Marcus Stroman. Hamels is a good pitcher who throws left-handed. That is not good for the Rangers because the Blue Jays were the best team in baseball against lefties. I expect the Blue Jays to take both games in Toronto, then close out the series in Texas. Maybe the Rangers eek out one victory.
My Prediction: Blue Jays over Rangers, 3 games to 1