The American League Division Series (best of 5) kicks off Thursday afternoon with Toronto playing at Texas and Thursday evening with Boston opening up against Cleveland.
Let’s take a look at some post-season history of the four teams.
Toronto Blue Jays (def. BAL in AL Wild Card Game)
The Blue Jays have won two World Series going back-to-back a quarter century ago. After a long playoff drought they roared into the post season last year before running out of gas against the Royals in the ALCS.
Texas Rangers (Won AL West, #1 seed)
The Rangers, after failing in three attempts to win a postseason series in the mid 1990s, broke through in 2010 advancing all the way to the World Series. The Rangers won back-to-back AL Pennants, but lost to the Giants and Cardinals.
Boston Red Sox (Won AL East, #3 seed)
The Red Sox overcame 86 years of heartbreak, hand-wringing, and paranoia to win the World Series in 2004. Two more World Series titles (‘07, ‘13) have since been added, yet the hand-wringing and paranoia still lingers.
Cleveland Indians (Won AL Central #2 seed)
The Indians have not won a World Series in nearly 70 years. Starting in 1995, the Indians were postseason participants in 6 out of 7 years, but were never as potent after losing a heartbreaking Game 7 to the Marlins in 1997.
Jose Bautista scarred the Rangers like a vicious subtweet in Game 5 of last years’ ALDS. Jose flipped his bat, and the Rangers flipped out. That was the ending of a bizarre sequence of plays including a fluke scoring play by Rougned Odor, and an inning where the Rangers committed three errors. Flash forward to this year and Odor took exception to an overzealous slide by Bautista. Before you could say “Ned Ryerson!”, Bautista’s glasses were knocked off by an Odor right hand shot to the jaw.
Theatrics aside, this should be a good series. You have former World Series MVP Cole Hamels paired with Yu Darvish to provide a solid 1-2 punch for the Rangers. Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre is the heart and soul of a scary Rangers lineup. The Rangers were dominant within their own division, finishing 18 games over .500 against the Mariners, Astros, A’s, and Angels. The Blue Jays barely needed fuel to get off the ground after Encarnacion’s walkoff blast to dispatch the Orioles. One thing they won’t avoid in this series, is the Rangers underrated bullpen. Despite pitching in a hitter friendly home park, Jake Diekman, Matt Bush, and Sam Dyson keep the ball in the ballpark when summoned from the pen. Despite their ground ball tendencies, is a pitching staff that doesn’t get hitters to swing and miss enough to make up for a shaky defense (aside from Beltre).
Blue Jays in 4.
This series will be good, but serious injuries to key Indians contributors (Brantley, Carrasco, Salazar) have depleted their roster. Boston came roaring back over a two week stretch in September to firmly establish their identity within the AL East. In case you haven’t heard, David Ortiz is retiring at the end of this season as well.
The matchup also has its roots as far back as 1988. Managers John Farrell and Terry Francona were teammates with… the Cleveland Indians. They won a World Series together with the 2007 Red Sox and when Farrell left to become the manager of Toronto, Francona was gone within a year as well.
The Red Sox have the most balanced team in the American League. 8 of their 9 regular hitters have a higher weighted on base average than league average (Go ahead, look up wOBA). Hanley Ramirez’s defense has been remarkably acceptable, and the pitching staff isn’t nearly as horrific as your local sports talk radio caller would lead you to believe.
The Indians have some of the most fun, exciting, young, unknown talent in the major leagues. Tyler Naquin, Jose Ramirez, and Francisco Lindor should be household names very soon. Mike Napoli, Jason Kipnis, and Carlos Santana are on base machines. This lineup can do a lot of damage quickly.
Boston in 4.
Follow Jason Trask on Twitter @Coach_Trask