Blue Jays vs. Rangers: Game 5 Preview

The hot topic leading up to today’s deciding game is the bizarre decision of Toronto’s manager John Gibbons to burn David Price in Game 4. Gibbons called on Price with two outs in the 5th inning on Tuesday in a game the Jays were leading 7-1. When Gibbons pulled starter R.A. Dickey, the Blue Jays had a 96.7% win expectancy. I’m all-for being extra aggressive in the playoffs, but turning your ace into a mop-up reliever in a game you’re already nearly guaranteed to win is a pretty clear case of over-managing and is puzzling on a number of levels.

First, the decision implicitly stated that the Jays were more comfortable with 24-year-old Marcus Stroman on the mound for a deciding Game 5 than Price, who will likely finish as one of the top two in the American League Cy Young vote. This in itself is pretty confusing. For as promising and as likeable as Stroman is, today’s start will be just his sixth total start this season. A torn ACL in the spring wiped out almost six months from his 2015 campaign. He made it back in time to string together four September starts in which he posted a 1.67 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 27 innings. Most of that is driven by small sample-size noise — a .237 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and 91% left on-base percentage. Stroman is certainly a quality young arm and should have a very bright future ahead of him. But going out of your way to unnecessarily put the weight of a must-win playoff game on his shoulders after only a handful of 2015 starts seems a bit shortsighted.

Let’s ignore all that for a second, though. Let’s say Toronto is hell-bent on starting Stroman and we have no good reason to doubt them. Doesn’t it still pay to have Price available to pitch? If Stroman falters early, you’d have one of the best pitchers in baseball ready to bail him out. Or better yet, you have that pitcher, who happens to be a lefty, ready to come into a high-leverage situation late in the game to get big outs against Shin-Soo Choo or Prince Fielder. Any way you slice it, it doesn’t make sense to use Price up in a game you’re winning by six runs. If Price is somehow available to pitch again today then perhaps everything I wrote will be moot. Assuming he isn’t, Gibbons shorted his team one of its best weapons in the most important game of the year for no apparent reason.

CF Delino DeShields, R
RF Shin-Soo Choo, L
DH Prince Fielder, L
3B Adrian Beltre, R
1B Mitch Moreland, L
LF Josh Hamilton, L
SS Elvis Andrus, R
2B Rougned Odor, L
C Chris Gimenez, R

Stroman will face nearly the same lineup he faced in Game 2, with the unwelcome addition of Adrian Beltre, who missed most of the first three games of the series with a back strain. Stroman went 7 innings in his first start, giving up 4 runs (3 earned) on 5 hits and 2 walks. With Price seemingly unavailable (or at least very limited), it remains to be seen how long the Jays plan to stick with their young righty, and also who they’ll turn to if he gets into trouble early. 

On the flip side, Texas will indeed use their lefty-ace today, as Cole Hamels takes the hill. Hamels was Stroman’s opponent in Game 2 last Thursday, allowing 4 runs (2 earned) on 6 hits and no walks over 7 innings. Against the ferocious Toronto lineup, that qualifies as a very good start. Hamels will need his A-stuff to navigate a Toronto lineup that boasts seven right-handed hitters.

LF Ben Revere, L
3B Josh Donaldson, R
RF Jose Bautista, R
DH Edwin Encarnacion, R
1B Chris Colabello, R
SS Troy Tulowitzki, R
C Russell Martin, R
CF Kevin Pillar, R
2B Ryan Goins, L

Toronto’s offense punished pitchers of either hand in 2015, but they feasted on lefties especially with a 124 wRC+ against southpaws. For the uninitiated, this means the Jays were 24% better than league-average at creating runs off of left-handed pitching 2015, the best in baseball. That, coupled with this being an elimination game, will likely mean Hamels won’t get close to the 7th inning in this one. Expect the Rangers to be thrilled if they can net 5 quality innings from Hamels and then happily move on to their quality right-handed bullpen arms in Keone Kela, Sam Dyson and Shawn Tolleson. 

As much water as I’ve dumped on the Price decision, it’s still hard not to like the Jays here. With all the usual caveats of the unpredictability of one-game playoffs aside, Toronto’s lineup is explosive enough to fade even Hamels.

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