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A Complete Guide to the ALDS (featuring "Gamblin" Matt Mortensen)
[Note to readers; unfortunately Matt has been delayed a tad with his section, thus the column will run for now without it. As soon as he's got it done, it will be added. Never fear sports fans, you will get your dose of "Gamblin" Matt Mortensen!]
And we’re in business! With both the AL and NL Wild Card games in the bag (CUBS WON!), the MLB playoffs are about to enter full bloom. On a scale from one to LUGER WON THE TITLE, I’d say my excitement level is about the same as Rockhound’s during the Armageddon scene where they try to disarm the nuclear warhead, only because the Cubs are still in limbo. Once we get that out of the way, it’ll be something like my reaction to whenever the Comfortably Numb solo begins. Wow I’m rambling; what say we stop that and “Gamblin” Matt Mortensen and I get to previewing the ALDS for you? Sound good? Sounds good. LET’S ROCK!
(2) Toronto Blue Jays vs. (3) Texas Rangers
Major Storyline: Can the Rangers stop the Blue Jays? Can anyone stop them? I’m not going to lie to you here; if I was a betting man like my partner is, I’d be all over the team with the best uniform in baseball. They rake like there’s no tomorrow, they have one of the best pitchers in baseball in David Price; this is the type of powerhouse Toronto hasn’t seen since Joe Carter. Somewhere, the Maple Leafs are getting even more depressed than they were five minutes ago.
The point is these Blue Jays are good; damn good even. Frankly, they probably should be the number one seed in the American League, and only aren’t because of a bad final regular season game against the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s not to say that the Rangers are pushovers or that the Blue Jays don’t have holes, but from the outside looking in, this is a huge uphill battle for Texas. I’m telling you, don’t sleep on the Blue Jays, and don’t let that beautiful ballpark with the hotel in centerfield fool you; this is a group that should be a force to be reckoned with.
Secondary Storyline: Can the Rangers find enough starting pitching to slow the Blue Jays down? This is critical here, because outside of Cole Hamels, the Rangers rotation is pretty much an inconsistent crapshoot, with their second best pitcher Colby Lewis having both great stats (17 wins) and alarming ones (a nearly 5.00 ERA) all at the same time. This is a problem for any series; it’s a especially a problem when Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and others are staring right back at you. If the Rangers want a shot to win, they better hope Cole Hamels can go twice and one other pitcher (Lewis, Yovani Gallardo, Derek Holland, whoever) rises up. Otherwise, this will be the longest short series in the history of the western hemisphere.
Blue Jay with the Most to Prove: Every single pitcher after David Price. And here lies the Blue Jays one potential problem; their starting rotation. I know people are high on it overall, but if you take a closer look, it isn’t exactly the Mets rotation. Yes Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey are big names with solid stats, but this isn’t the same Buehrle from the White Sox days and Dickey is just as likely to crater as he is to soar (those are the breaks of the knuckleball). And while Marcus Stroman looks to be a future phenom and looked great at the end of the season, he’s still just recently coming off a torn ACL and has never been in a position like he will be in. Sure, all of those factors could easily flip to help make the Blue Jays even more dangerous, but if there’s anything the Rangers can exploit, it’s the rotation. At the very least, I can see the Rangers keeping themselves in games.
Ranger with the Most to Prove: Josh Hamilton. He may not be the same guy he was a few years ago and he’s always one off the field incident away from watching everything he’s built up crumble around him. But even with all that, there’s very little doubt to me that Josh Hamilton, arguably one of the most talented ball players I’ve ever seen, is still perhaps the best player on the Rangers when everything is working. It’ll need to be working here. The Rangers certainly have a solid amount of offensive weapons in their own right, but non with the postseason track record of Hamilton. He needs to be their leader on and off the field here for them to have a shot. Now, let’s all take a moment to realize that Josh Hamilton is actually going to matter in a playoff series again. If you had told me that last year, I’d have assumed he was standing next to Joe Buck in the Fox booth while Tim McCarver quietly seethed somewhere in a dark, empty St. Louis room.
Winner: Blue Jays in 3. Toronto simply has too much hitting and just enough pitching that they’ll be able to keep the Rangers at bay and cruise to the ALCS. Break out the sweep mouse!
(1) Kansas City Royals vs. (4) Houston Astros
Major Storyline: Are the Royals up for yet another memorable October run? I don’t think I’m the only one here who will gladly admit that the Royals Cinderella sprint to the World Series last year was a great time. I also don’t think I’m the only one who thought the follow up would be less than stellar, what with James Shields and a few others bolting in the offseason. Instead, the Royals seemingly got better, suddenly discovered how to hit the long ball, and now they’re back as one of the two American League favorites. How will they respond to suddenly being top dog instead of the underdog? Can lightning strike twice? Can Ned Yost miraculously make yet another World Series? Those are the questions. By the way, how about Ned Yost? Last year, I wouldn’t have trusted him to tie his shoelaces correctly, now he’s perhaps one of the most dependable managers in baseball. Not since Matthew McConaughey stopped making rom coms and became a serious actor has someone had such a transformation.
Secondary Storyline: Can the Astros survive long enough to make it back to Dallas Keuchel? Considering that Keuchel just made the Yankees look like Jonathan Price at the end of Brazil, I think we can pretty much say he’s the real deal. The problem for the Astros is that he’s now not pitching again for the team until Game 3 of this series, a game where the Astros could realistically be down 2-0. That’s not good. To put it bluntly, the Astros have, and I mean have, to win a game in Kansas City if they want to even dream about the ALCS. If they can get back to Keuchel with a split, hope springs eternal. If not, they’re done like dinner.
Royal with the Most to Prove: Johnny Cueto. The Royals big trade deadline pickup was supposed to solidify a rotation that was solid, but unspectacular. Unfortunately, all Cueto has really done for the Royals is keep them at that solid, but unspectacular level. Since joining the Royals, Cueto has gone just 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA, which is, as Immortan Joe would put it, MEDIOCRE! Combine that with the rest of rotation’s struggles, and Cueto needs to be big time in this series. The Royals brought him in because he’s supposed to an ace. It’s time for him to rise to that level.
Astro with the Most to Prove: Jose Altuve. There’s a lot of weapons in the Astros clubhouse, but even at his small size and his young age (still only 25), Altuve is the leader and the man that makes this Astros engine go. He can hit for contact, he can hit for power, he plays solid defense, he’s got speed, and he’s proved to be a battler through thick and thin. He’s also clutch, as shown by his sweet single last night against the Yankees to put that game even more out of reach. If the Astros want to win this series, they’re going to need Altuve to get on early and get on often. How well he does will determine how well the rest of the Astros offense does.
Winner: Royals in 4, though I don’t feel great about it. I like the Astros, I like the swagger they showed against the Yankees last night, and if they can get at least a game in Kansas City, the odds turn ever in their favor. Alas, Kansas City is a better team, they’ve been here before, and you know Kaufman is going to be rocking those first two games. I think they find a way to get both in KC, lose to Keuchel in Game 3 and then pull it out in a close Game 4. It won’t be a long one, but it will be entertaining.
That’ll do it kids! Special thanks to Matt Mortensen again for his help. We’ll be back tomorrow with a preview for the NLDS series’, and I’ll be back later today with an article on Pentagon Jr! Till then, a message to all Yankees fans who booed their team last night, despite the Yanks overachieving and getting farther than they (and evidently their fans) really deserved.