ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—Smiling Texan John Gibbons doesn’t mind going back home for the first round of the playoffs.
His Toronto Blue Jays are feeling good about it, too.
The Jays finished the regular season at 93-69 and will face the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series beginning with Game 1 on Thursday at Rogers Centre.
“I love the fact that you go to Texas, that’s never a bad thing,” Gibbons said.
“It’s been a tremendous year for these guys, it really has,” he noted. “We’re glad it’s over.
“The tough part’s out of the way of getting in,” added Gibbons. “Now we’ll go out there and have some fun, and see what happens.”
David Price will start Game 1 for the Jays while Yovani Gallardo is expected to take the mound for the Rangers to begin the best-of-five series.
Gallardo went 2-0 against Toronto this season and didn’t allow a run.
The Jays had a chance to earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs but went 1-4 in their final five games after clinching the AL East, including a 12-3 loss yesterday to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Despite that, the Jays are healthy and confident going into the post-season.
“Tough last couple days but we’re feeling good right now,” Gibbons said.
“Really, I guess you can say us and Texas are probably the two hottest teams the last two months,” he noted.
“It’s probably going to be a pretty good match-up.”
The Jays were 50-51 when they acquired shortstop Troy Tulowitzki on July 29 and went 43-18 down the stretch. The Rangers were 48-52 that day and finished 40-22.
Toronto won four of the six games between the teams this season, including two of three in August.
“It’s still somewhat of a good feeling knowing that we actually played pretty well against Texas this year,” said right-fielder Jose Bautista.
“Most of us do pretty well in that ballpark when we play there, too≤” he noted. “It’s one of those places where we always put up a lot of runs.
“It’s a hitters’ park just like ours. That’s probably going to help us.”
The Kansas City Royals, who led the AL for months, won five-straight to end the season and earn home-field advantage.
Kansas City will face the winner of the AL wild-card game between the N.Y. Yankees and Houston Astros.
In the National League, the N.Y. Mets will face the L.A. Dodgers while the Central Division-champion St. Louis Cardinals will play the winner of the wild-card game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs.
Whoever comes out of the AL will have home-field advantage in the World Series because of the all-star game outcome.
“We got it in the first round [and] if we’re fortunate enough to get to the World Series, we got it,” Gibbons noted.
“So that’s never bad, that’s two out of three and two out of three ain’t bad,” he reasoned.
While the Jays popped champagne to celebrate their division title Wednesday in Baltimore, Texas needed a victory yesterday to clinch the AL West.
The Rangers’ celebration was on clubhouse televisions at Tropicana Field after the Jays’ game against the Rays.
Cole Hamels, whom the Rangers acquired at the deadline before the Jays got Price, started the final game of the regular season and would be on regular rest to pitch in Game 2 on Friday.
The Jays have not announced a Game 2 starter, though the decision would seem to come down to Marcus Stroman or Marco Estrada.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos said the Jays wouldn’t decide based on who’d be better to pitch at home but rather, “Who’s our best option to win that game.”
Whichever pitcher doesn’t get that start likely will go in Game 3 on Sunday at Globe Life Park in Arlington.
Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey would figure to start Game 4 on Oct. 12, if necessary, with Price lined up for Game 5 on Oct. 14 if it’s required.
Left-hander Mark Buehrle, whose attempt to reach 200 innings for the 15th-consecutive season ended after he got only two outs yesterday, said he was told he would not be on the post-season roster.
He’ll remain ready in case of injury.
“I’m going to travel and cheer my rear end off, and hopefully bring this thing back to Toronto,” Buehrle said.
Price said the Jays just need to keep playing the same baseball they have been over the past two months.
Facing a Rangers’ team that could say the same thing is a challenge.