Rangers won't let bad blood alter their focus vs. Jays
By Ryan Posner
ARLINGTON -- It's been nearly five months since Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor landed the punch on Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista that stood as one of the most iconic images of the regular season.
"I don't like it, I don't like the questions," Odor told the Dallas Morning News when asked how he felt about Bautista's name being brought up to him. "It puts me in a bad spot, but it's part of the game, and I understand it."
But expect more questions to come Odor's way after the Blue Jays defeated the Orioles, 5-2, on Tuesday to advance to the American League Division Series against the Rangers, beginning on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. CT on TBS in the United States and Sportsnet (English) and TVA (French) in Canada.
"I know a lot of people wanted to see this, so here we go," Blue Jays reliever Jason Grilli said.
The Rangers have surely not forgotten about the bad blood between the two teams, which stemmed from Bautista's bat flip that signaled the end of Texas' postseason run in Game 5 of last year's ALDS.
"We just have to keep our emotions in check and just go down there and win some ballgames and play good baseball," Bautista said of the upcoming series. "That's what we're capable of doing, and that's what we tried to do last year; that's what we did this year, except some things transpired that made us get away from that. Hopefully, that doesn't happen again."
And the Rangers are not willing to let extracurriculars get in the way of this year's ALDS
"This is the playoffs; we're not going to be thinking about what's happened before," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "Our mind-set is on winning ballgames, and I think theirs should be, too. I don't think anyone wants to jeopardize the playoffs because of what happened before."
Beltre's opinion was echoed throughout the Rangers' clubhouse.
"We know this is the first step, and we're going to have two more after that," first baseman Mitch Moreland said. "We got to go out there and continue to play our game, no matter who's out there on the other side."
If the Rangers want to get to the World Series, they'll need to have more success against the Blue Jays than they did in the regular season. Toronto won the season series, 4-3, and Texas hit just .219 while its pitchers combined for a 4.74 ERA -- including a 5.19 ERA at Rogers Centre -- in those seven meetings.
The lackluster numbers against Toronto this year may not be very indicative of where the Rangers currently stand, though. Beltre, Andrus and Odor each hit under .200 in the season series. Beltre and Andrus ended the year with averages of at least .300, and Odor led the team with 33 homers.
"For sure, playing those guys again and beating them would be sweet," said shortstop Elvis Andrus, who committed two crucial errors in Game 5 of last year's ALDS. "But in the end, we're looking at the big picture. It's not about beating one guy in one series. It's about getting to the World Series and winning it all."
"[The Blue Jays] have a great offense," said Beltran, who hit .250 in nine games against the Blue Jays this season while with the Yankees. "They are pitching well, also. They added [Francisco] Liriano, and he is a good left-hander."
The Blue Jays weren't subjected this year to Cole Hamels or Yu Darvish, who will likely pitch Games 1 and 2 of the series in that order. Hamels had a 2.07 ERA in two starts in last year's ALDS. Darvish is 3-2 with a 2.45 ERA in seven career outings against Toronto.
Shawn Tolleson, who blew two saves in the season series, is no longer the Rangers' closer. Sam Dyson ran away with that job shortly after these team's last met, collecting 38 saves on the season. Rookie Matt Bush has also become a prominent late-inning reliever since picking up his first career win against the Blue Jays on May 15.
The pitching staff's biggest task will be shutting down Edwin Encarnacion, who sent Toronto to this year's ALDS with a walk-off three-run homer in the 11th inning of Tuesday night's AL Wild Card Game. He hit three homers and collected 10 RBIs against Texas this season.
Though the Rangers have a chance to exact revenge on the Blue Jays, they're just looking it as step one of a three-step process.
"I don't get caught up in [the revenge]," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "I don't get to choose who we play. They have fought hard to get to where they are. They'll be a hot club, and they'll be ready to play."
Ryan Posner is a reporter for MLB.com based in Texas. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.