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Rangers-Blue Jays: Position-by-position ALDS look

Toronto won 4 of 7 regular-season meetings in 2016
October 5, 2016

Congratulations, Blue Jays. You beat the Orioles in a stunning 5-2 extra-inning walk-off in the American League Wild Card Game on Tuesday, and your reward for that is … a trip to Texas to face the AL's No. 1 seed, in a rematch of last year's most entertaining postseason matchup.

Congratulations, Blue Jays. You beat the Orioles in a stunning 5-2 extra-inning walk-off in the American League Wild Card Game on Tuesday, and your reward for that is … a trip to Texas to face the AL's No. 1 seed, in a rematch of last year's most entertaining postseason matchup. Game 1 of the AL Division Series is today at 4:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. CT on TBS in the U.S., and Sportsnet (English) and TVA (French) in Canada.
We know what you're thinking, of course. You're thinking about José Bautista's bat flip, and you're thinking about Bautista vs. Rougned Odor, and that's all understandable. There are a lot of reasons why this series is so highly anticipated. But do remember that at the end of the day, all that matters is who wins to face either Boston or Cleveland with a trip to the World Series on the line.
:: ALDS: Blue Jays vs. Rangers coverage ::
That being the case, let's let's go position-by-position for strengths and weaknesses between the Rangers and Blue Jays.
Jonathan Lucroy (.276/.345/.539, 131 Weighted Runs Created Plus, where 100 is league average) gave the Rangers everything they hoped for and more after being acquired from Milwaukee, replacing the decent-but-not-great performances of Robinson Chirinos (.224/.314/.483, 108 wRC+) and friends. Lucroy even reportedly helpedYu Darvish simplify his pitch mixture, to great effect. Russell Martin (99 wRC+) has been solid for years, but he can't really compete with Lucroy's bat, though a very good second half (122 wRC+) was much better than a brutal first half (77 wRC+).
Advantage: Rangers
First base
Edwin Encarnacion put up a typically productive (and underrated season), with 42 homers and a 134 wRC+, which is the seventh-best of any qualified first baseman, and while one huge postseason walk-off homer shouldn't meaningfully change opinions about him, it sure doesn't hurt. Meanwhile, Mitch Moreland (.233/.298/.422, 87 wRC+) has some pop (22 homers), but put up his third below-average offensive season in the past four; he'll likely start against righties and sit in favor of Ryan Rua (.258/.331/.400, 93 wRC+) against lefties.
Big advantage: Blue Jays

Second base
There's likely to be some disagreement from Texas fans on how valuable Odor is, because while he showed excellent power for a second baseman (33 homers), his complete refusal to walk and below-average defense (-9 Defensive Runs Saved, tied for lowest among second basemen) comes out to a player who was about average on offense (.271/.296/.502, 106 wRC+) and overall (2.1 Wins Above Replacement, tied for 14th among second basemen). Devon Travis, meanwhile, made a successful return from serious shoulder surgery to hit .300/.332/.454, with better on-base skills and less power that made him roughly as valuable on offense (109 wRC+) as Odor. Still, it's rare to find 30-plus homers from a middle infielder.
Small advantage: Rangers
After three straight disappointing seasons, Elvis Andrus had a surprising career year in 2016, hitting .302/.362/.439 (112 wRC+) while stealing 20 or more bases for the eighth year in a row -- though his defense was not reviewed well by advanced metrics. Andrus out-hit Troy Tulowitzki (.254/.318/.443, 102 wRC+, his second straight league-average year), though Tulowitzki remains the superior defender.
Small advantage: Rangers
Third base
That the Cooperstown-bound Adrián Beltré (.300/.358/.521, 130 wRC+) doesn't get the nod here is a lot more about the brilliance of Josh Donaldson (.284/.404/.549, 155 wRC+) than it is about anything Beltre did or did not do. That Donaldson earns only a slim edge here is about the fact that he's not looked like himself lately, hitting only .222/.390/.389 (116 wRC+) since Sept. 1, perhaps limited by a reported right hip issue.
Small advantage: Blue Jays
Left field
The Rangers started nine left fielders, but the position turned around when they picked up Carlos Gómez after Houston let him go. Gomez turned a brutal .210/.272/.322 (60 wRC+) line with Houston into a scorching .284/.362/.543 (139 wRC+) one with Texas, hitting eight homers in just 130 plate appearances. If he keeps that up, he's a better option than Michael Saunders, who saw an All-Star first half take a big turn for the worse after the break (.178/.282/.357, 69 wRC+), or the defensively versatile Ezequiel Carrera (.248/.323/.356, 85 wRC+).
Advantage: Rangers

Center field
Ian Desmond's transition from shortstop to outfield was an unqualified success, but it did seem to get lost that his great first half (.322/.375/.524, 138 wRC+) was followed by a second half so rough (.237/.283/.347, 65 wRC+) that it's not unreasonable to wonder if Gomez might start in center field at some point this series. Meanwhile, Kevin Pillar's game-changing defense (second only to Kevin Kiermaier among center fielders in DRS) helps to overcome his unimpressive offense (.267/.303/.375, 80 wRC+), especially if Desmond's second half continues.
Small advantage: Blue Jays
Right field
Texas has some question marks here, namely whether you go with rookie Nomar Mazara, who couldn't sustain his hot start (.256/.310/.413, 89 wRC+ after May 1) or Shin-Soo Choo, who missed huge chunks of time due to injury this year and made it back for only the final three games of the season. For the Jays, Bautista had injury concerns of his own, ending up with a line (.233/.365/.452, 121 wRC+) that wasn't up to his usual standards, but was still squarely above average.
Small advantage: Blue Jays
Designated hitter
The Rangers went out and traded for Carlos Beltrán for exactly this situation, to fill a hole opened in part by Prince Fielder's career-ending injury and be available for big spots. Beltran (.280/.325/.451, 103 wRC+) was just OK for the Rangers, though he's still got the advantage. Unless the Jays opt to get Bautista off the field, they'll likely go with Saunders, Justin Smoak, or Melvin Upton Jr., none with Beltran's track record or even current performance.
Advantage: Rangers
The Blue Jays have quality defense on their bench in Ryan Goins, Darwin Barney, and Upton, but the Rangers have some bats in the form of Mazara, Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo, and Rua, plus good speed with Jared Hoying. That might prove to be an advantage for Texas manager Jeff Banister.
Advantage: Rangers
Starting pitchers
Of the eight or nine pitchers who might possibly start in this series, the Rangers probably have the two best in Cole Hamels and Darvish (who had the highest strikeout percentage, 31.7, of any AL starter with 100 innings), so that's a big advantage. On the other hand the Blue Jays might have the next five best, counting Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano, in some order. That might be more important in a longer series, though, because even though Texas' Martin Pérez (12.1 percent strikeout rate) and Colby Lewis (15.5 percent) are in the bottom 11 of 142 Major League starters with 100 innings, it's also possible that bringing back the Game 1 starter on short rest could keep one off the mound.
Small advantage: Rangers

Toronto's 21-year-old closer Roberto Osuna was fantastic (82 strikeouts in 73 innings), but he allowed multiple runs in three of his past eight outings, and far more worrisome, he was forced to leave the Wild Card Game with a sore shoulder. The Blue Jays' bullpen is already without the injured Joaquin Benoit, and can't afford Osuna to be at less than full strength. Sam Dyson stepped up to take the Rangers job after Shawn Tolleson struggled, and while Dyson doesn't miss bats (55 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings), his power sinker makes him an elite ground baller -- he had the highest ground-ball rate (65.2 percent) of the 206 pitchers with 70 innings.
Small advantage: Rangers, due to uncertainty about Osuna
Relief pitchers
Though the Rangers' overall bullpen numbers weren't impressive, there's a lot of individually impressive arms here. Matt Bush and his elite, high-spin fastball became a big weapon for Texas in his rookie season, while 32-year-old rookie Tony Barnette held righties to a .202/.261/.262 line and Jake Diekman has been tough on lefties his entire career (.217/.305/.288). For Toronto, much depends on Osuna's health, and Benoit's absence hurts, but don't ignore how great Brett Cecil has been of late, allowing four runs in his final 30 games, striking out 30.
Small advantage: Rangers

Mike Petriello is an analyst for and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs.