On Wednesday night the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Texas Rangers in Game 5 of the ALDS, becoming just the third team in MLB history to come back from two games down in the first round of the playoffs. The tumultuous conclusion to the series, capped by Jose Bautista’s spine-tingling three run home run, is one that will be remembered by baseball fans around the country for years to come. Yet, even without that historic seventh inning there was still plenty to take away from the series:
The Blue Jays’ bullpen featured both the oldest (LaTroy Hawkins) and youngest (Roberto Osuna) pitchers in the league. As he has done all season, Manager John Gibbons never hesitated to put his faith in youth over experience. The trio of Marcus Stroman, 24, Aaron Sanchez, 22, and Osuna, 20, didn’t disappoint, combining to record 48 per cent of all outs for the Blue Jays during the ALDS.
Stroman, who suffered a not-so-season-ending injury during spring training, ended up starting Games 2 and 5 for the Jays. The 24-year-old gave up just five earned runs while striking out nine over 13 dominant innings,
After Brett Cecil suffered a ‘season ending’ calf tear in Game 2, the weight of the Blue Jays bullpen duties fell squarely on the shoulders of Sanchez and Osuna. The two stepped up big, bringing a level of confidence well beyond their years to the mound. The Sanchez-Osuna combo threw 11 near-perfect, shutout innings of baseball with 11 strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.273.
In the crucial Game 5, the three 20-somethings were the only Jays pitchers to enter the game. Stroman pitched six strong innings, holding the Rangers to two runs and striking out four. Sanchez would earn the win after shepherding his team through the rowdiest seventh inning ever played on the Rogers Centre’s shoddy turf. Roberto Osuna would record the save in epic fashion, striking out four of the five batters he faced.
Moving into the ALCS with a struggling David Price and an injured Cecil, how the Jays young pitchers fair against the Kansas City Royals may very well be the defining factor in the series.
They say that playoff games often end up becoming a chess match between opposing managers, and while Gibbons isn’t necessarily known as a tactician. his managerial decisions—and indecisions—had a tremendous impact on the course of the series.
In the second must-win game of the series, Gibby announced that Jays ace David Price would be the first out of the bullpen should starter R.A. Dickey run into any trouble. After just four and two-thirds innings, with Dickey staked to a six run lead, Gibbons called on Price to lock things down. The ace would struggle over three innings, giving up six hits and three earned runs, and would have to be relieved by Aaron Sanchez in the eighth inning. Toronto would end up winning the game 8-4, but the damage was done. Price would throw 50 pitches, all but guaranteeing that he wouldn’t be available out of the bullpen in a winner-take-all Game 5.
Even though the Jays ended up winning the series, Gibbons needs to allocate his pitching resources more responsibly to give his team a chance to matchup against the Royals’ fearsome bullpen in the ALCS. With Price likely gone to the highest bidder the moment the season ends, Gibbons’ only worry should be figuring out how to squeeze every last drop of value out of his ace.
Home sweet home
The first four games in this bizarre series were won by the road team, with Texas silencing the crowd at the Rogers Centre in Games 1 and 2 and Toronto answering back by taking Games 3 and 4 in Arlington. In many ways, the home team seemed to be at a disadvantage during all but the final game of this series. The majority of the Jays’ players were experiencing the post-season for the first time, and they were under tremendous pressure to perform before their fans. Trailing early in Game 1 and giving up a lead late in Game 2 seemed to take the home crowd out of the game in a dramatic fashion. The silent, disappointed tone set in the Rogers Centre added yet another element that the Jays had to overcome. During the games in Arlington, a Texan silence did exactly the opposite for Toronto, it signified defiance and resilience. Every big hit that shut the crowd up just added fuel for the Jays and motivated them to return home.
In Game 5, however, the home field advantage likely made all the difference for Toronto. While the Rangers have a reputation for choking in the post-season, committing three consecutive errors in the seventh inning of a sudden-death game is not something you can chalk up to reputation, or to divine retribution from the ‘baseball gods.’ It’s something maybe Johnny Cueto could explain, but even he hasn’t had the experience of trying to field a groundball on a notoriously tricky turf with the concentrated roar of 50,000 Canadians bouncing off a closed dome and straight into your eardrums. Though it wasn’t scored as an error, there’s no way Roughned Odor would have misplayed Josh Donaldson’s game-tying pop-up on home soil.
Since they finished two games behind the Royals during the regular season, the Jays will play up to four away games in the best-of-seven ALCS. Hopefully they can bring their home field momentum from a historic Game 5 to Kauffman Stadium with them.