Texas-sized opportunity for Jays

aldsSo who saw that coming?  After an early autumn slumber that nearly kept them out of the playoffs, the Texas heat seemed to help revive the Blue Jays’ bats and fortunes, with the result being an improbable 2-0 Toronto lead in their American League Division Series with the Rangers.

The Blue Jay bats abused the best Texas has to offer in Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, tagging them for a combined 12 runs in just over 8 innings.  The Jays were able to key in on both Rangers starters on each of their second trips through the order.  Hamels couldn’t locate his fastball in, and his curveball became predictable and was left up in the strike zone in a 10-1 Game 1 drubbing.  Darvish had some success with his secondary pitches, but his fastball didn’t fool anyone, leading to four Jays homers, accounting for all their offence in Game 2’s 5-3 win Friday.

All of the Jays big bats feasted in Game 1 – Donaldson (4-4), Bautista (3-run homer and 4 RBI) and Tulowitzki (key 3-run triple in the five-run third inning) – but it was Tulowitzki’s two-run blast in the 2nd, and the solo shot uprising from the secondary part of the lineup (Pillar and Carrera, which was followed by Encarnacion’s solo job) in the 5th that put Toronto in the driver’s seat in Game 2.

The Blue Jays did not escape Texas without a couple key injury concerns going into Games 3 and 4 in Toronto.  Francisco Liriano, who has been key in relief in the Wild Card Game and Game 2 in the absence of the injured Joaquin Benoit, was taken to hospital after taking a line drive off the back of his head or neck.  Second baseman Devon Travis was scratched just before Game 2 with a knee injury, and he’s not optimistic he’ll be ready for Sunday – he’s now scheduled for an MRI.   With Ryan Goins left off the ALDS roster in favour of extra bullpen arms, it’s Darwin Barney alone left to replace Travis at second.

The good news is Roberto Osuna was his old self, registering a 30-plus-pitch, five-out save in Game 2, throwing his typical 96-97 miles an hour.  Blue Jays fans everywhere had held their collective breath after Osuna left the Wild Card game abruptly with some kind of shoulder twinge.  Relatively effective outings from Joe Biagini and Jason Grilli should give John Gibbons some confidence in his go-to bullpen guys heading home.

So from the Texas perspective, you’re down 2-0 going into a hostile crowd environment and are facing the American League ERA champion Aaron Sanchez, facing elimination.  Not easy, but as we know in baseball, not impossible.  That’s why the Blue Jays need to take advantage of the huge opportunity that presents itself in Game 3 to close out this series.  They need to provide Sanchez, who no-hit the Red Sox through 6 1/3 innings in his last outing, with some run support.  If they can, and he’s on form, it may very well mean a series sweep.

It’s truly amazing that a week ago, the Blue Jays season teetered on the brink in Boston.  Now, they’re on the brink of back-to- back ALCS appearances for the first time since 1991-93.  Ah, the maddening charm of baseball…