ALCS Preview: Toronto Blue Jays vs Cleveland Indians
Both ALDS series were over as soon as they began, as the Indians and Blue Jays swept their opponents in the first three games of the five game series to move on to the ALCS.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays came into this series as underdogs to the Texas Rangers, who had the best record in the American League. By the end of the series, however, it was evident that the Jays showed up to play and the Rangers complacency and “playoff curse” struck again.
The Blue Jays blew out the Rangers in the first game of the series on the back of an exciting pitching performance from underrated Marco Estrada. Estrada went 8 1/3 innings, giving up only four hits and one earned run. Despite settling into more of a back of the rotation role with the Milwaukee Brewers, Estrada has pitched very well ever since signing with the Jays before the 2015 regular season. Often overlooked due to the potency of the Jays lineup, Estrada will be a big factor for the Jays as ALCS Game 1 looms closer.
Game 2 saw the Blue Jays do what they do best, aka hit home runs like crazy. The Jays hit a total of four home runs, three of them solo shots, to beat the Rangers 5-3. The Rangers pulled a couple runs back in the 8th, but it was nice for Jasy fans to see their closer, Roberto Osuna, come in and shut the door after Francisco Liriano was knocked out of the game with a concussion. Osuna had been brought into a sticky spot with runners on 1st and 3rd and no outs, but managed to only give up one unearned run and preserve the Jays lead for the last two innings.
Game 3 was the most exciting of the bunch, as the Jays won in walkoff fashion. The inning got started with a Josh Donaldson double, a recurring theme through much of the series. Edwin Encarnacion walked and Jose Bautista struck out, which brought up Russell Martin. Martin grounded into what looked like a routine 6-4-3 double play, but a throwing error by the second basemen, Rougned Odor, led to Donaldson crossing the plate and wild celebration for Jays fans everywhere.
The X-factor for the Blue Jays against the Indians will be the starting pitching. Aaron Sanchez, arguably the best Jays pitcher throughout the season, got roughed up in Game 3 against the Rangers. The Jays will need him to bounce back along with Marco Estrada repeating a performance similar to what he did Game 1 against the Rangers. The Jays have a plethora of all-stars in their lineup and the bullpen looks stronger than ever. It will be up to the Jays starters to not dig them a hole to deep to get out of.
Teams like the Red Sox showed this postseason that despite being a strong team on paper, if the core of the lineup is not hitting, then the results will not be in their favor. The Jays core is hitting real well so far this postseason, and coupled with a strong bullpen performance and great starts from 2 of their 3 starters, the Jays look like they can make some noise this ALCS despite being the wild card team.
The Indians came in as small market underdogs against a Boston Red Sox team that was expected to compete in the playoffs before the regular season even began. Many pundits even thought the Indians would not even finish top two in their division, as the Kansas City Royals were coming off a world series and the Detroit Tigers upgraded their already potent lineup with the signing of Justin Upton. Yet, it was the Indians who secured home field advantage on the final game of the season and was crowned AL Central champs when all was said and done.
The Indians and Red Sox ALDS series provided a little more excitement than the Jays and Rangers series. Game 1 concluded with a 5-4 victory for the Tribe as Indians Manager Terry Francona went to his bullpen early and successfully, getting 4 1/3 innings out of 3 relievers and only giving up one run in the process. Andrew Miller, the trade deadline acquisition that saw the Indians give up two top 100 prospects, looked extremely impressive, going two innings and giving up only one hit.
Game 2 saw a Cy Young performance out of Corey Kluber, who went 7 innings maintaining a WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) below 1 and accrued 7 k’s. David Price, who has the third highest salary in all of baseball, just got shellacked by Indians hitters. The Indians won with small ball scoring and a 3-run homer from Lonnie Chisenhall, who has been annually on the cusp of the Indians lineup, but never truly cemented a secure starting spot on the team over the last couple of seasons. The best part, for the Indians, was that the Red Sox had to go to the bullpen constantly through the first two games. The Indians, on the other hand, got to rest both Andrew Miller and Cody Allen Game 2, making them fully rested for Game 3.
Game 3 utilized a similar recipe that Game 1 did to secure the Indians the series. Josh Tomlin got the start and gave up only 2 runs in the early going for the Tribe. By the time the 5th inning rolled around, Francona had already called in Andrew Miller from the bullpen, who combined with Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw to only give up one run over the final 4 1/3 innings of the game. Coco Crisp, acquired at the Waiver Trade Deadline (which I outlined previously here), went on to not only provide a crucial sacrifice bunt in fourth inning, but hit the go ahead two-run homerun in the 6th inning.
The Indians, though often referred to as the underdog by national press and TBS announcers, proved that the team is a force to be reckoned with. The team may not arguably have any premier hitters in the lineup, but the team wins thanks to a different player stepping up everyday. Combine that formula with a Cy Young pitcher in Corey Kluber, along with one of the best 1-2 punches in the bullpen with Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, and the Indians look like they may have all the pieces necessary to continue to prove the doubters wrong and win one for Believeland.
In the end, I think the Jays pull off the upset in six games. Progressive Field is one of the most hitter friendly ballparks in the MLB, which will play in favor to the Jays lineup. Kluber gives the Indians one true stud in their rotation, but question marks surround the consistency of Bauer and Tomlin, and an over reliance on the bullpen by Francona could hurt the team long term in the series. Even with the latest news that Danny Salazar, another young stud for the Indians, could return for the ALCS, he has not pitched well the second half of the season. Rushing him back could cost the Indians a game the team can’t afford to give up in the series. I think most games will be high scoring affairs, but look to the hot hitting Blue Jays to outgun the Indians squad and secure the series in Game 6.