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2016 ALDS Preview: Blue Jays vs Rangers

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

After a wild win on Tuesday, the Toronto Blue Jays have advanced to the American League Division Series.

Their prize is a matchup against the Texas Rangers.

In what has quickly become MLB’s best rivalry over the past year, Blue Jay-Rangers promises to be an exciting series.

Let’s recap what has happened between these two teams since October 14, 2015.

In the seventh inning of Game 5 of the American League Division Series, the Rangers took the lead a half inning after Edwin Encarnacion’s two-run homer tied the game.

With Rougned Odor at third base and Shin Soo Choo batting, catcher Russell Martin threw the ball back to pitcher Aaron Sanchez after a ball. Instead of the ball landing in Sanchez’s glove, it hit off of Choo’s bat and into fair territory. Odor intelligently darted home because it was a live ball.

Initially, Odor was sent back to third, but manager Jeff Banister challenged and Odor was allowed to score. Toronto fans, in a precursor to future events, began throwing objects onto the field in disgust.

The Blue Jays were outraged and played the game under protest, but that wouldn’t be necessary.

In the bottom of the seventh, Josh Donaldson delivered a bases-loaded single over Odor’s head at second base to tie the game. Jose Bautista followed with a three-run home run.

Bautista emphatically tossed his bat in triumph. Rogers Centre erupted in euphoria. The benches cleared when Rangers’ pitcher Sam Dyson though that Encarnacion, the next batter, was showing him up. Fans began throwing objects on the field again.

It took nearly 10 minutes to calm everyone down and play baseball again. The Blue Jays held on to advance to the American League Championship Series.

The bad blood did not end there.

In their final meeting of the regular season, the Rangers and Blue Jays cleared the benches again. This time, it got violent.

On May 15, Odor delivered the punch heard ‘round the world.

In the top of the eighth inning, the Rangers led 7-6 at Globe Life Ballpark. With Bautista at first, Justin Smoak hit a ball to third baseman Adrian Beltre. Hoping to get a double play, Beltre flipped the ball to second to get Bautista out first.

While Odor caught the ball and recorded the out, Bautista slid in harshly and Odor’s throw to first was wild and offline. After throwing the ball, Odor approached Bautista, shoved him, then hammered him with a strong right handed punch.

Remarkably, Bautista did not fall. Odor swung again and missed before the two benches got on the field and separated the two.

Perhaps Bautista chose an aggressive takeout slide because he was hit by a pitch to start the inning. Of course, the most logical explanation for the Rangers hitting him was their pent up anger from Game 5.

Odor had two reasons to pummel Bautista: first off, Bautista’s slide was dangerous and could cause serious injury. Secondly, Odor shared his teammate's anger at Bautista for dramatically tossing his bat aside after his Game 5 home run.

Bat flips and punches aside, these are two evenly matched teams battling in the 2016 American League Division Series. Though the Rangers finished with the best record in the American League and the Blue Jays had to play a one-game playoff just to get into this round, the Rangers only won six more games than the Blue Jays in the regular season.

Texas won the regular season series, 4-3, but that hardly says anything about which team is better.

Both have Cy Young Candidate pitchers; Cole Hamels for Texas and J.A. Happ for Toronto.

Both are stacked with home runs hitters; the Blue Jays had six batters hit 20 or more home runs while the Rangers had five (six if Jonathan Lucroy’s stats with the Brewers are included).

Both have fiery closers that have yet to collect a save in a major postseason moment; Sam Dyson for the Rangers and Roberto Osuna for the Blue Jays.

As much as stats mean, this series isn’t about them. This series has something no other postseason division series has: genuine hatred.

Anything can and will happen when the Blue Jays and Rangers play.

One team will take a lead and one will blow it.

One team will deliver in the clutch and one will flounder.

One team will advance with the taste of champagne and one will question everything that went wrong.

Blue Jays-Rangers isn’t about what area one team is better at. It’s about which team will respond when the other strikes.

This could be the best series of the postseason. It could be the worst. That’s what makes it so incredible; anything can happen.

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