ST. PETERSBURG -- The Blue Jays finished the regular season with the second-best record in the American League, and they will host the Rangers when the AL Division Series opens Thursday at Rogers Centre.
Toronto went into play on Sunday still clinging to the hope of securing home-field advantage throughout the postseason. The Blue Jays needed to win and they needed the Royals to lose, but instead Toronto lost to Tampa Bay, 12-3, while Kansas City defeated Minnesota, 6-1.
The Blue Jays still have home-field advantage for the ALDS, and the AL has home field in the World Series after winning the All-Star Game earlier this year. As the second-place seed, Toronto is matched up against Texas, which clinched the AL West with a 9-2 win over the Angels.
"We have an extra day to prepare, it's not that much of a difference, but it's still somewhat of a good feeling knowing that we played pretty well against Texas this year, and most of us do pretty well in that ballpark," Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista said of Globe Life Park in Arlington. "It's one of those places we always put up a lot of runs. It's a hitter's park just like ours, and that's probably going to help us."
Toronto won each of its series against Texas this year, and won the season series, 4-2. The last time the two teams played was Aug. 25-27 in Texas, when the Blue Jays won the first two games before dropping the finale, 4-1. The first game of that series saw the Blue Jays rally with two runs in the top of the ninth off Rangers closer Shawn Tolleson for a 6-5 win.
Left-hander David Price will start Game 1 for the Blue Jays, but the Rangers have yet to officially announce their starter. The most likely pitcher would be right-hander Yovani Gallardo, who hasn't allowed a run in 13 2/3 innings against Toronto this year, but Rangers manager Jeff Banister has not made his intentions public.
Rangers No. 1 starter Cole Hamels likely won't be available until Game 2 because he started on Sunday afternoon to help clinch the division title. Price was the obvious choice for Toronto, and in his lone start against Texas this year, he allowed two runs on five hits and one walk while striking out eight. The AL Cy Young Award candidate has a 3-4 record with a 5.15 ERA in 11 career starts vs. the Rangers.
"Just keep playing the same baseball we've been playing," said Price, when asked about facing the Rangers. "That's what we need to do, keep playing the same baseball."
Beyond Price, the Blue Jays will go with a starting rotation that includes Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada and R.A. Dickey. Manager John Gibbons has not disclosed what order he will use the pitchers in, but Stroman appears to be the clear favorite to start Friday's Game 2 at Rogers Centre. The only real counter to that point is Dickey, who has a 3.11 ERA at home this year compared to a 4.83 ERA on the road, and his knuckleball could benefit from pitching under the dome.
In addition to Gallardo and Hamels, the Rangers also are expected to have Derek Holland and Colby Lewis in their rotation. Lewis is 3-6 with a 6.97 ERA in 11 career games against the Blue Jays, while Holland is 3-2 with a 5.15 ERA in eight games. The fact that Hamels and Holland are lefties could be beneficial for the Blue Jays, who led the Majors with an .818 OPS against southpaws.
"I don't know if it necessarily matters, but now that we know, it makes it a little bit better just for the team to game plan about any situations," Donaldson said of knowing who Toronto's opponent is compared to waiting until Tuesday's AL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser. "At the same time, they're a tough team, and we're going to have to bring our 'A' game to win the series."
The series will be a homecoming of sorts for Gibbons, who lives in nearby San Antonio. More importantly, though, this is the first time the Blue Jays are entering the postseason since 1993. It comes after the club finished 93-69 and rode a hot second half of the season to the AL East crown.
It's a matchup between two of the hottest teams in baseball since the start of August. Toronto went 40-18 (.690) over the final two months, while the Rangers went 38-22 (.633).
"I love the fact that you go to Texas, that's never a bad thing," Gibbons said. "It's been a tremendous year for these guys, it really has. We're glad it's over. The tough part's out of the way of getting in. Now we'll go out there and have some fun and see what happens. I tip my hat to all those guys in the room and everybody in the organization. They did a heck of a job."