On the eve of Thanksgiving in Canada, the Blue Jays started the Holiday celebration early with a come-from-behind 7-6 victory to sweep the Rangers in the American League Divisional Series.
Earlier in the week, the Jays had to battle the Orioles in a one-game Wild Card to advance into the postseason tournament, and now they have the luxury of sitting back and awaiting the outcome of the Indians and Red Sox series to see where they’ll open the American League Championship Series on Friday.
After falling behind 1-0 in the first inning, the Blue Jays came out swinging in this one. Edwin Encarnacion blasted a two-run homer to left field, his third home run of the postseason. Russell Martin followed two batters later with a solo shot, giving the Jays an early 3-1 advantage.
Elvis Andrus halved the deficit with a solo homer off of Aaron Sanchez in the top half of the third inning. The Jays answered the call in the bottom half of the frame with an RBI double from Josh Donaldson and a run-scoring single from Encarnacion. They chased Rangers’ starter Colby Lewis in the process.
The Rangers, the club that finished with the best record in the American League in the regular season, wouldn’t go quietly into the night however.
Rougned Odor tagged Aaron Sanchez for a two-run homer in the fourth, trimming the deficit to 5-4. Mitch Moreland delivered the next big blow, a two-run double in the sixth off of reliever Joe Biagini that gave the Rangers a 6-5 lead and concluded the damage for Blue Jays’ hurler Aaron Sanchez.
With the Rangers bullpen heavily taxed by Lewis’ early exit, Matt Bush was forced to work deeper into the game than he would’ve otherwise. The right-hander was so dominant over scoreless frames in the eighth and ninth inning that manager Jeff Bannister left him out there for the 10th, despite the fact that he had never worked more than two innings in any professional game.
The inning started with a leadoff double from Josh Donaldson. Edwin Encarnacion was then intentionally walked to set up the double play. Bush rallied back to whiff Jose Bautista on a 3-2 offering that the slugger chased out of the strike zone. That brought Russell Martin to the dish.
After falling behind in the count 1-2, Martin battled back to work the count full. He then fouled off two 99 mph fastballs before hitting a ground ball to Rangers’ shortstop Elvis Andrus. Andrus fielded the ball cleanly and made a good feed to Rougned Odor at second base, but Odor pulled Mitch Moreland off the bag at first with his errant throw. Donaldson, hustling the entire way from second base, never slowed up around third and dove across the plate ahead of the throw from Moreland to deliver the Jays the winning run and the series sweep in exhilarating fashion.
Blue Jays’ closer Roberto Osuna earned the in the ballgame for a pair of impressive innings of scoreless relief. Osuna retired all six hitters that he faced in order in the ninth and tenth innings, including a pair of strikeouts.
For the Blue Jays, it’s a return to the ALCS where they’ll attempt to avenge their loss to the Royals from a season ago. As for the Rangers, they’re heading into the offseason where they’ll look to rebuild a starting rotation that registered a putrid 13.94 ERA over 10 1/3 innings in the postseason.
An Unlikely Hero
On the National League side of the docket, the Nationals were able to defeat Rich Hill and even up their NLDS series against the Dodgers at one game apiece on the back of a very unlikely hero.
Jose Lobaton had just one hit against left-handed pitching all season and Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker received criticism for even including him in the starting lineup after Pedro Severino was extremely effective in Game 1.
So naturally, it was Lobaton who delivered the crushing blow on Sunday, a three-run shot off of Dodgers’ starter Rich Hill in the fourth inning that gave the Nationals the lead and propelled them to a 5-2 victory.
Hill had been exceptional to that point, racking up seven strikeouts over three scoreless innings to start the ballgame. The Dodgers had built him a two-run lead on a solo homer by Corey Seager in the first inning and a run-scoring single by Josh Reddick in the third.
Things started to come unhinged in the fourth though, as Daniel Murphy drew a leadoff walk and Danny Espinosa was hit by a pitch with two outs in the inning. Lobaton then sat back and unloaded on a patented curveball from the veteran southpaw, putting the go-ahead homer in the left field stands to give the Nationals a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Baker has already come out and said that Lobaton would likely be back behind the dish to catch for Gio Gonzalez in Los Angeles on Monday. He has certainly earned that start for his heroic contributions on Sunday.
Daniel Murphy would deliver a pair of run-scoring singles in the fifth and seventh innings to extend the Nationals’ advantage to 5-2. That was the extent of the scoring in the ballgame.
Tanner Roark struggled in his 4 1/3 innings of work on the other side of the diamond, allowing a pair of runs on seven hits. The Nationals bullpen, however, was outstanding. Five Nats’ relievers combined to hurl 4 2/3 scoreless innings to close the game out, including a scoreless frame from closer Mark Melancon in the ninth.
Kenta Maeda and Gio Gonzalez will square off in a pivotal Game 3 matchup on Monday afternoon in Los Angeles. The loser of that contest will be staring at a 2-1 series deficit and will be playing for their postseason life
Washed Out in Boston
The Red Sox and Indians were primed to do battle in Boston on Sunday afternoon, with the Red Sox needing a victory to stave off elimination.
Mother Nature had other plans though, with rains washing out the contest before it even began. They’ll meet on Monday instead, with Sunday’s scheduled starters Josh Tomlin and Clay Buchholz each still expected to start for their respective clubs.
The Red Sox need to take both games at Fenway in order to force a decisive Game 5 back in Cleveland on Wednesday.
American League Quick Hits: Devon Travis (knee) was available off the bench in an emergency situation on Sunday. With five days until the ALCS is set to begin, there’s a good chance he’ll be recovered in time to return to the starting lineup and should remain on the club’s roster for the ALCS… Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News-Tribune reports that the Mariners are expected to revisit trade talks with the Reds this Winter about shortstop Zack Cozart…Trevor Bauer is expected to start Game 4 of the ALDS against the Red Sox.
National League Quick Hits: Clayton Kershaw (back) threw a successful bullpen session on Sunday. He remains an option to start Game 4 against the Nationals on short rest. Dodgers’ skipper Dave Roberts said he’d only entertain that option if the Dodgers trailed 2-1 in the series and were playing for their postseason lives… The Braves have reportedly narrowed their managerial search down to three candidates: Interim manager Brian Snitker, former Padres’ skipper Bud Black and former Rangers manager Ron Washington. Given how well the Braves performed down the stretch, it would be surprising to see anyone other than Snitker wind up with the job… Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that the Pirates aren’t likely to sign Gerrit Cole to a contract extension that would buy out any/all of his free agent years… Kyle Hendricks indicated that his forearm felt fine on Sunday, a day after a line drive off of his arm resulted an early exit from Saturday’s start against the Giants in Game 2 of the NLDS.