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October 06, 2016

MLB Playoffs, ALDS Preview: Will Hamels and the Rangers get payback?

Baseball’s version of the NCAA tournament’s play-in games are over and they went just as we predicted they would. Well, other than Buck Showalter having to consider whether to plead temporary insanity in his postgame press conference.

ALDS: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Texas Rangers

Game 1: today, 4:30 p.m., TBS

Everybody is going to be looking for fireworks in this series, and not the kind of indoor fireworks that throw you off guard when coupled with a few thousand balloons.

No, the kind that result when a player smacks another player in the face. Hard.

But, eventually, the attention will turn to the game, and not how much pimping a Toronto player will do when he hits a pivotal home run or how much a Texas player will be offended by the idea of having fun on a baseball field. And, when strictly comparing the two teams from a baseball performance standpoint (Texas lost some thunder for a good ol’ rhubarb when Prince Fielder retired) you have to like the Rangers chances.

Former Phillie Cole Hamels lost an opportunity to capture his first Cy Young Award when he faltered in the season’s last month: he had a 6.75 ERA in his last six starts, allowing five home runs in 32 innings with a sub-par 33-to-16 strikeout-to-walk rate.

But, on the whole, Hamels was very good for Texas in his first full year in the American League: 200 2/3 innings, 3.32 ERA, 200 strikeouts, 77 walks. Hamels .699 opponents’ OPS was 11th best in the league. (It should be noted three pitchers ahead of him, Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, and J.A. Happ, pitch for the Blue Jays).

But Hamels has more playoff experience than anyone else who will start a game in this series and it should show.

Since his uneven performance in the 2009 playoffs, Hamels has started five playoff games. He has a 1.57 ERA (six earned runs in 34 1/3 innings) with 39 strikeouts, six walks, and two home runs allowed in those five games.

And since stumbling in his postseason debut nine years ago against the Colorado Rockies, Hamels has been nearly automatic in Game 1s: 2.63 ERA, 26 K, 6 BB in four games. And his teams have won all four of those games.

And then there was the last time Hamels was on the mound in the playoffs, Game 5 of last year’s LDS against the same Toronto team. This happened:

If this series goes five games, Hamels will once again be on the mound for the winner-takes-all Game 5.

We’re figuring on Texas’s loaded lineup giving Hamels enough run support that history won’t repeat itself. Leading that lineup will be another well-tested playoff vet, Carlos Beltran, who hit .333/.383/.541 in his last 30 games of the regular season and once did this in a playoff series:

The pick: Rangers in 5.

ALDS: Red Sox vs. Indians

Game 1: tonight, 8 p.m., TBS

Wait, weren’t the Indians already eliminated?

You can understand why Paul Hoynes (a very well-respected baseball scribe) would make such a proclamation, though. Starting pitching is important in the postseason (although not the only thing, as the 2011 Phillies can attest) and when you're already down one of your top three starters, and your top catcher, too, losing another (former Phillies prospect Carlos Carrasco) isn’t a promising sign two weeks before the postseason begins.

To Cleveland’s credit, though, they did win eight of their last 12 games of the regular season after being dealt the latest of those injuries, including a season-ending sweep over the defending World Champion Royals in Kansas City to secure home field. They may be down a few leading men, but the Indians don’t look like a team ready to be swept, either.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are 10 days removed from the end of an 11-game winning streak. They have a Cy Young contender set to start Game 1 tonight and a pretty good pitcher named David Price ready for Game 2 tomorrow. They have the look of a team that could roll to an easy three-game sweep in the LDS, even without home field advantage.

A lot of attention has been paid to retiring slugger David Ortiz, and with good reason given his Hall of Fame-worthy career, his 38 home runs (the most he’s hit in 10 years), his league-league 48 doubles and MLB-best 1.021 OPS. But the Red Sox regular lineup insides six other guys with an OBP north of .348, two other 30-home run hitters (Hanley Ramirez and Mookie Betts), and more than a few guys who hold their own on defense, too (particularly in the outfield).

As for the Indians offense, well, Michael Martinez is on their 25-man roster for the series. Yes, the same Michael Martinez who had a .495 OPS in 162 games with the Phillies from 2011-13.

Fun fact: Michael Martinez is the answer to the trivia question, “Who scored the Phillies most recent run in postseason play?”

The pick: Red Sox in 4.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21