Blue Jays host Rangers, Royals take on Astros on win-or-go-home Wednesday
By Chad Thornburg
By the end of the day Wednesday, the four remaining American League clubs will be down to two as the Rangers and Blue Jays, as well as the Astros and Royals, clash in AL Division Series finales.
And two of those clubs will put their postseason fates into the hands of players who weren't even on their rosters at the start of the year. With the season on the line, both Texas and Kansas City will send Trade Deadline acquisitions -- Cole Hamels for the Rangers and Johnny Cueto for the Royals -- to the mound for their respective Game 5s.
Both pitchers bring multiple years of playoff experience to their new clubs. Wednesday will be Hamels' 15th career playoff start. The veteran left-hander is 7-4 with a 3.05 ERA in the 14 previous outings, including three World Series appearances. And while Cueto's playoff resume isn't quite as extensive, he's still pitched in four of the last six postseasons -- three with Cincinnati and Game 2 of the ALDS last week.
The four AL clubs will compete to join Chicago in the next round of the playoffs. The Cubs advanced to the National League Championship Series on Tuesday, beating division rival St. Louis, 6-4. The win was the first playoff series-clinching victory in Wrigley Field's history.
Tuesday also saw another series pushed to five games as the Dodgers climbed even with the Mets, winning, 3-1, at Citi Field. Clayton Kershaw earned his first postseason win since Game 1 of the 2013 NL Division Series, limiting the Mets to one run over seven innings.
Here's a look at what Wednesday has in store:
Rangers at Blue Jays, Game 5, 4:07 p.m. ET (FOX Sports 1/Sportsnet)
Hamels (13-8, 65 ERA) vs. Marcus Stroman (4-0, 1.67)
The Blue Jays seemingly hold the advantage in this one, playing from the comfort of home at Rogers Centre. But that's not how it played out earlier this series, when the Rangers took Games 1 and 2 in Toronto. The Jays were able to return the favor, however, beating the Rangers twice in Arlington to force the winner-take-all finale to keep their season alive.
This Game 5 pitching matchup features two starters with drastically different experience levels. Toronto's Stroman will take the ball for his second career postseason start after his playoff debut in Game 2. The second-year hurler is making just his sixth appearance this year after returning last month from an ACL tear.
"I'm just so excited for this opportunity and just to be in this position from where I came from at the beginning of the year," Stroman said. "It's just truly special."
Ten-year veteran Hamels goes for the Rangers. The former World Series MVP was acquired by the Rangers for the very purpose of starting games in October.
"Him just being brought here for these situations just gives us all the confidence in the world," catcher Chris Gimenez said. "Who else would you rather have out there than your ace?"
Astros at Royals, Game 5, 8:07 p.m. ET (FOX Sports 1) Collin McHugh (19-7, 3.89 ERA) vs. Cueto (11-13, 3.44)
Last season, it was the Royals who were the biggest surprise of October, cruising from the Wild Card Game through to the World Series. The Astros hope to be that team this season, but they have to get through last year's surprise contender to do it.
The Astros and Royals will wrap their ALDS matchup Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium. Kansas City, the defending AL champion, will try to return to the ALCS for a second straight year while Houston strives to move beyond the Division Series round for the first time since 2005, its last postseason appearance.
"Everybody [in the stands] will be wearing blue, but we don't care," Astros second baseman Jose Altuve said. "We have good players. It doesn't matter what you have done all season long. It's about tomorrow."
Cincinnati's Cueto and Houston's McHugh will toe the rubber in this one. McHugh got the better of Cueto in Game 1, allowing just two runs in six innings for his first career playoff victory, while Cueto was tagged for four runs in a no-decision.
"Obviously this is the deciding game, you either win and stay, or you go home," Cueto said. "And I'm ready for the opportunity, and I'm going to go get 'em."
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.