The team with the AL's best record was sunk by a great offensive team and a narrative they couldn't escape.
If there’s one annoying thing about being a baseball fan, in my experience, it’s dealing with the expectation of narratives. Baseball, especially over a long 162-game season, has such a granular quality that defining any team with a sentence or two glosses over so much as to be barely descriptive. You get the feeling, as a fan, that the way the media, other fans, heck even your own family understands your local team is so detached from reality as to be barely recognizable. You’re telling me the team I’ve lived and died with since April chokes in big spots, or doesn’t have the pitching they need for October, or needs more pop to really succeed in a short series? Hoo boy, we’re going to have to settle in for a long talk about how wrong you are!
Josh Tomlin vs. Clay Buchholz in Boston and Colby Lewis vs. Aaron Sanchez in Toronto.
After getting blown out in Game 2, the Red Sox head home with their season hanging by a thread. Obviously the first two games didn’t go well for Boston, but Cleveland’s short-handed staff gives the Red Sox a chance to get back in the series.
Toronto takes a 2-0 lead over Texas as the ALDS heads to Canada.
Here’s the thing: The Texas Rangers are a good team. Maybe they’re a good team that was helped a little by whatever luck or deity-type-thing you prefer in the regular season, but they’re a good team. The Toronto Blue Jays are also a good team. Their luck was maybe a little more confined to simple human err in a one-game playoff, but luck it still was, and so they found themselves in Arlington these last two games, riding on a wave of momentum that seemed like it could take on any day’s pitcher.
J.A. Happ vs. Yu Darvish in Texas and David Price vs. Corey Kluber in Cleveland.
Texas looks to bounce back from a Game 1 shellacking with their second ace, right-hander Yu Darvish, on the mound. Toronto looks to bring a commanding 2-0 lead back home and try to finish the series Sunday.
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Toronto bashed Cole Hamels into submission in Game 1 of the ALDS, raising questions about Texas' ace.
Long after Cole Hamels retires to his palatial suburban estate outside of Dallas--perhaps with another World Series ring or two and a borderline Hall of Fame resume--and looks back on all the innings he tossed (2,300 and counting entering this postseason), it’s safe to assume the third inning of Game 1 of the ALDS against the Blue Jays will not rank high on his all-time list. The numbers were grisly:
If you believe the earnest quotes of every Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays player or coach, there won’t be a basebrawl during this series because everyone very much wants to play baseball and win baseball games. We’ll see how long that decision actually stands, though.
Previewing what promises to be a slugfest of a five-game series, again.
Last year's Rangers-Blue Jays series was one of the most compelling ALDS of all time, as Toronto escaped with a Game 5 win at home thanks to Jose Bautista's three-run homer and benches-clearing, hot take-generating bat-flip. Since then the two teams have exchanged brush-back pitches, takeout slides, and actual punches, not to mention endless quotes about how much they dislike each other. And now they're ready for a rematch, this time with the Rangers holding homefield advantage.
Zach Britton's absence was the big story, but the Blue Jays' win was about much more than Buck Showalter's curious decision.
Because Twitter exists, there’s some chance that we’ll permanently misunderstand the Blue Jays’ win over the Orioles on Tuesday night. Because we can all document our feelings as Zach Britton remained unused through the ninth inning, then the 10th, then the 11th, and because we know everyone else was feeling it too, and because our worst suspicions about the whole thing seemed to be confirmed as the postgame press statements rolled in (no, Britton wasn’t hurt, yes, Buck Showalter was holding him back to protect an eventual, hypothetical lead), there’s a good chance this great baseball game will be forced to live in the too-short shadow of a single decision.
Marcus Stroman and the Blue Jays vs. Chris Tillman and the Orioles, in Toronto.
The playoffs start with a matchup of American League East rivals with identical 89-73 records. Toronto hosts the game thanks to holding the head-to-head tiebreaker, going 10-9 versus Baltimore during the regular season. It's a big advantage, as the Blue Jays were 46-35 at home and the Orioles were 39-42 on the road. Of course, last week the Orioles took two out of three games at Rogers Centre, so who knows.
If you’ve read any of my columns thus far, you probably could see this one coming. Tommy La Stella, erstwhile OBP machine second-base fantasy sleeper for the Atlanta Braves and current Iowa Cub, has been one of the most fascinating baseball stories this year—well, at least for someone like me who likes to think about labor and contracts and the ugly side of baseball.
The short version is that La Stella, despite putting together a pretty solid year as a utility/spot start guy, got sent down to the minors after the Cubs acquired Once, Future, Past, and Present Cub Chris Coghlan. Understandably frustrated, La Stella made the unexpected move to, well, not report. He did not show up in Des Moines and held out in his home of New Jersey. Held out might be the wrong word here, as La Stella does not have the leverage that an NFL player like Joey Bosa does in his current holdout or like a young top draft pick like Jacob Groome did in this year’s Rule 4 draft. La Stella didn’t make any dramatic demands or pleas of unfairness; he just decided to take some time to think about what he wanted from his future.
Unsurprisingly, the minds at Baseball Prospectus Wrigleyville have had some wonderful takes on the situation. Twitter pal and good writer Tom Hitchner produced a piece near and dear to my heart that tied film analysis to the La Stella situation in an effort to talk about anticlimax in baseball. And Ken Schultz put together a lovely piece explaining the ways in which La Stella’s holdout was not what it might seem, and that a young player might actually deserve time to get his head together.
And it’s times like this that I’m grateful to my colleagues for being such good people. Baseball Prospectus, despite its beep bop boop computers reputation, gets that people, who are sometimes flawed and complex, play the game. In the mainstream press, La Stella has not fared so well. Most notorious is the piece that Schultz critiques in his BP Wrigleyville essay, a fairly brutal polemic against La Stella by Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune.
I don’t want to give my editors conniptions by spending an entire article getting furious at another reporter, so let me give the very quick blow-by-blow of what I find problematic about Sullivan’s piece. First he opens with a fairly hamfisted Carlos Zambrano comparison that smacks of typical Anti-Latino sentiment in major-league baseball writing. Second, the piece refuses to believe La Stella’s own explanation of his behavior, casting not-so-subtle aspersions on his claim that his refusal to report to Iowa was not about being demoted. But third, and worst of all to this leftist’s mind, he sides with management. A longish quote: