TORONTO — The banged-up Toronto Blue Jays have two chances to close out the Texas Rangers at home.
All it will take is one victory to advance to baseball’s final four and get a much-needed break along with it.
Blue Jays right-hander Aaron Sanchez will get the start in Game 3 on Sunday night at Rogers Centre. With left-hander Francisco Liriano (head) and infielder Devon Travis (knee) considered day to day and several other players nursing minor injuries, a three-game sweep would be most welcome.
However, it won’t be easy to close out the American League’s top-seeded team. The Rangers won 95 games in the regular season and will be looking to send a message that they’re no pushover.
“This thing is far from over,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “We need to keep playing good baseball. I said yesterday down in Texas they had the best record in the American League for a reason.
“You don’t luck into that. So we’ve got to come out and play good baseball.”
Texas (95-67) won the West Division by nine games over Seattle but looked flat in the first two ALDS games at Globe Life Park. Toronto (89-73) struggled in September but has won all five games in October.
The Blue Jays won twice last weekend in Boston to secure home-field advantage for the wild-card game and then beat Baltimore to reach the ALDS. Toronto has outscored Texas 15-4 in this series and returns home with plenty of momentum.
“This is why you work so hard: for moments like these, opportunities like these,” Sanchez said. “And I couldn’t be more prepared to come out here and try to lock this thing up for us.”
The Rangers have never won a playoff series after dropping the first two games. The Blue Jays showed it could be done in last year’s ALDS when they lost two home games to Texas before rallying with three straight victories.
“Maybe I should call John and ask him how he felt, get his advice,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said with a laugh. “I say that because the roles are reversed. I know he believes in his club. I believe in our club.”
Toronto went on to lose last year’s AL Championship Series to the Kansas City Royals. This year’s ALCS isn’t tabbed to start until Friday night.
If Game 4 of the ALDS is necessary, it will be played Monday at Rogers Centre. The series would shift back to Texas on Wednesday if a decisive fifth game is required.
The Blue Jays will be hoping for a strong start from Sanchez (15-2), who led the American League with a 3.00 earned-run average. Toronto’s bullpen has been used heavily in recent weeks and is dealing with injuries to Liriano and Joaquin Benoit (calf).
In addition, closer Roberto Osuna has been nursing a tender shoulder, although he worked a five-out save in Friday’s 5-3 Game 2 win.
The Rangers will turn to Colby Lewis (6-5, 3.71 ERA) for the must-win game.
“There’s no panic in this club,” Banister said. “They know that they’ve still got to play baseball and that they were on the flipside of this last year. It comes down to playing good baseball.”
Liriano suffered a mild concussion when he was hit in the back of the head by a ball in the eighth inning of Game 2, Blue Jays trainer George Poulis said Saturday after the team held a loose workout.
There was no skull fracture and Liriano will be re-evaluated daily with no firm timeline set for his return.
“All the tests today were all normal,” Poulis said. “It was great. We were very excited about how he felt today and so was he.”
An MRI exam revealed Travis is dealing with a right knee bone bruise. He had a cortisone injection and will be re-examined daily.
“It just showed normal wear and tear,” Poulis said. “So it was a very good finding. We didn’t see anything big in there, so structurally he’s really good.”
Backup infielder Darwin Barney would likely play second base if Travis is unable to go.
“This team is like a machine,” Barney said. “I feel like when a guy needs a day, we have guys that can come in and keep the flow going. That’s my job, that’s why I’m here.”