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Pregame thoughts: Teams have stuck to baseball, Blue Jays have dominated

TORONTO -- No bat flips, no punches and really no shenanigans of any kind. That's probably what we should have expected from the Blue Jays and Texas Rangers with the October stakes in play.

An American League division series beaconed with months of buildup has been a staid affair dominated by Toronto. The teams hit the field here Sunday night as the Blue Jays looked to close the best-of-five series with a three-game sweep. Toronto has never swept a postseason series in its history.

Jose Bautista got drubbed with boos at Globe Life Park in Arlington by fans still salty about the way he celebrated his Game Five home run in last year's division series. Texas second baseman Rougned Odor figured to be the target of ire of the Rogers Centre rowdies for his punch to Bautista's jaw during the teams infamous May brawl during the final game of their season series.

"I think all the drama obviously was on the periphery, not inside the two locker rooms or two dugouts," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said prior to Game Three. "So we're here to play the game of baseball. Look, there are things that happen in the course of a season and over different series. It's a long year and things do happen. I don't know that it's always the carry-over effect. These two teams have played too hard, battled too long and exerted way to much energy to worry about that kind of stuff."

"I think it's kind of what we expected. I didn't think we were going in there expecting there to be too much drama," said Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders. "At the end of the day, there's bigger things at stake. Each team came into this series with some business to take care of and that's moving on to the next round.

"Obviously, everyone knew what took place last year and what happened earlier this year in Texas but they're two professional teams. We had a bigger goal in mind, each of us, and obviously it was big to come out of there 2-0 and come back to our home crowd."

Bautista scored three runs and drove in four in the first two games, slugging a three-run homer to wrap up Toronto's 10-1 win in the opener. Meanwhile, Odor was just 1 for 7 in the first two games after collecting 33 homers and 88 RBIs during the regular season.

"He's fine. He's swinging the bat well, just missed a couple pitches," said Texas veteran third baseman Adrian Beltre. "Mentally, he's good. He's a kid that plays with fire."

Anticipating a fired-up crowd and hoping to avoid the ugly incidents from Game Five last year and from Tuesday's wild-card game against Baltimore, the Blue Jays announced they were no longer going to sell beer in cans for the remainders of the postseason. With some not-so-gently nudging by MLB -- Commissioner Rob Manfred said during trips to the NLDS that he was talking to Toronto officials -- the Jays announced Sunday they would only sell beers in plastic cups.

Beltre understood that Odor could have been a target.

"We have talked obviously but he's fine," Beltre said of Odor, a 22-year-old Venezuelan. "He's learned that if fans decide to throw stuff on the field, he's not going to be bothered by that. He's played in an environment like that before and we were here last year so he knows how it's going to be. They are going to have a good crowd here and if the fans keep it clean without throwing stuff on the field, we're going to be OK."

What hasn't been OK is the Texas offense.

The Blue Jays' bats dominated the first two games in Arlington, belting six home runs and outscoring the Rangers, 15-4. After an 11-16 September that saw them bat just .238 and finish last in the American League in runs, Toronto erupted to collect 20 runs and went deep eight times in the first three games of the postseason.

"We turned the page on September. It wasn't necessarily a good month for us but now we're in October," manager John Gibbons said before the game. "So that's sometimes the way the game works too, month to month.

"We've got a good hitting club. We definitely cooled off in September, that's for sure, especially early on. But we managed to win some big games we had to with some big hits. Not necessarily a lot of hits but some key ones and that's usually what wins. It's a veteran group out there. Most of them have been through it before so they know what it's like and can lock in at the right times."

The Blue Jays were in deep trouble in the final week of September, and losses in their final two home games against Baltimore put them in the role as visitors for the wild-card game -- and in danger of missing the playoffs entirely.

But they scratched out two wins in Boston during the final series of the regular season, beat the Orioles in the winner-take-all showdown here Tuesday on Edwin Encarnacion's walkoff home run in the 11th inning and have kept the momentum going in this series.

"This lineup is pretty unique in the accolades, the MVPs, the Silver Sluggers, the all-stars," Saunders said. "It's a pretty potent lineup. Really, we felt like it was only a matter of time we were clicking on all cylinders from Nos. 1 through 9 and we arguably, at least we believe, have one of the deepest lineups in baseball."

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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