Veteran lefty faced Blue Jays twice in last year's ALDS
By Ryan Posner
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers waited almost until Cole Hamels took the podium to field questions as the team's Game 1 starter of the American League Division Series before actually naming him the starter.
Despite the last-second nature of Wednesday's announcement, it was hardly a surprise that the Rangers tabbed their ace left-hander for the opener of the Rangers' second ALDS matchup against the Blue Jays in as many years. Game 1 is Thursday at 4:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. CT at Globe Life Park and can be seen on TBS, as well as Sportsnet (English) and TVA (French) in Canada.
Hamels, who will face off against Blue Jays right-hander Marco Estrada in Game 1, has been one of the Majors' most accomplished postseason pitchers since he entered the league in 2006. His seven career postseason wins are tied for third-most of active players, and he won the 2008 World Series and National League Championship Series MVP Awards with the Phillies.
"A lot of it really goes into the time that [you] put in trying to prepare," Hamels said. "But ultimately, when you get into the [postseason], you know, stage of competition, it's about controlling your emotions and executing pitches."
Hamels has struggled in four career regular-season starts against Toronto, going 0-2 with a 6.97 ERA (16 earned runs in 20 2/3 innings). In two starts during last year's ALDS against Toronto, he went 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA (no-decision in a Game 2 Rangers loss, loss in Game 5).
This will be Hamels' sixth Game 1 start, making him just the 14th pitcher in Major League history with six, and he's won his past four Game 1 starts. Hall of Famer John Smoltz is the only pitcher to win five straight Game 1s.
"He's a big-game pitcher," Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar said. " … Anytime you face a big-time pitcher, who's pitched in big-time moments, it's going to be tough."
Hamels will lead off the best 1-2 combination atop a Rangers postseason rotation in club history, with Yu Darvish slated for Game 2 on Friday. It is the first time Texas will begin a series with two pitchers who were selected to an All-Star Game and have finished in the top five on a Cy Young Award ballot.
"There are a lot of things to feel good about," said Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, referencing the rotation. "Obviously, the game is played between the lines. But we have a lot of faith in that group."
Hamels didn't pitch Game 1 of last year's ALDS, but went 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA in Games 2 and 5. Likely to follow Hamels and Darvish are right-hander Colby Lewis and left-hander Martin Perez. But the Rangers have not committed to a starter past Game 2.
The entire rotation will be tasked with stopping a potent Blue Jays lineup which finished fourth in the Majors with 221 homers.
"It's probably the year of the home runs," Hamels said. "If you're able to execute, minimize the damage, that's key. These guys are some of the best hitters in the game."
Banister denied the notion that the Rangers expect to ride Hamels and Darvish exclusively throughout their postseason run. Hamels, who's made the playoffs six times in his 11-year career, knows it's uncommon for things to play out that way.
"[This] is where heroes are made," Hamels said. "[This] is where guys get noticed. And sometimes it's the most unsuspecting character that has the most success and makes the biggest difference."
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.