With the Wild Card Games now complete, the 2016 American League Division Series is set to begin Thursday, with the league’s final four teams vying for the AL pennant.

Each contest will have its own spotlight, as the Game 1 slate features an afternoon showdown followed by a nightcap. Regardless, Thursday should yield some spectacular baseball, as both sets of teams appear evenly matched.

Take a look at Thursday’s start times below, as well as the television and live-streaming schedules. The full 2016 MLB playoff schedule is available at MLB.com.

The most newsworthy AL series is between the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays. These two teams do not like each other after a hostile series last postseason, and the bad blood carried over into this past regular season with a brawl in May.

Both teams are downplaying the rocky relationship ahead of the series, but it remains to be seen if cool heads will prevail when the intensity ramps up at game time. Texas’ Rougned Odor, a key figure in the feud, said Wednesday that his team is just focused on the game, per Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi: “That’s over already; we’re just trying to win this series and win how we play.”

Toronto’s Jose Bautista echoed this sentiment, per Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith:

In Game 1, Cole Hamels will get the start for the Rangers against Marco Estrada in a matchup that appears slightly uneven on the surface. Hamels turned in a stout season with a 15-5 record and a 3.32 ERA. On the other hand, Estrada struggled in the win department in 2016 with a 9-9 mark, but he did sport a solid 3.48 ERA.

Pitching in the National League for the majority of his career with the Philadelphia Phillies, Hamels does not have a ton of history against Toronto’s lineup, as he has yet to face Josh Donaldson in the majors. Furthermore, key Blue Jays such as Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki have fared well against Hamels in their careers, per ESPN.com:

On the other side, Estrada has a relatively favorable history against some of Texas’ top hitters:

Hamels has more playoff experience with 15 career starts for a 7-5 record and 3.03 ERA, but Estrada has been good under the bright lights, too. He is 2-1 with a 3.20 ERA in seven appearances. Regardless, Game 1 will be crucial, as each team will want to earn an early lead in a five-game series, and the numbers indicate that it could go in either squad’s favor.

In the other ALDS showdown, it figures to be an offensive battle between two teams with potent lineups.

The Boston Red Sox led the majors by a sizable margin in scoring with 878 runs and team batting average at .282. The Red Sox boast a slew of dangerous bats, including three studs in the middle of the lineup, as noted by MLB.com:  

Meanwhile the Cleveland Indians finished fifth with 777 runs and sixth with a .262 average. The Indians feature a deep order that may not overwhelm with power, but they possess four guys (Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, Jose Ramirez and Carlos Santana) who finished the regular season with an on-base percentage over .340.

Cleveland does have a slight pitching advantage, though, as the Indians sport a 3.84 team ERA compared to Boston’s 4.00 mark. The Indians also have a stellar bullpen led by Cody Allen, Andrew Miller and Danny Otero.

Rick Porcello will take the hill for Boston after posting a 22-win regular season, but he has not been as good in the postseason during his career. Porcello has a 4.41 ERA in only 16.1 innings pitched but is taking on Cleveland hurler Trevor Bauer, who has never started a playoff game. 

With that in mind, Thursday’s uncertain pitching factors could lead to a high-scoring affair in Game 1.


Statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.

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