After a long week off, the Blue Jays finally get back to baseball tonight. Next up, the Cleveland Indians. The Blue Jays took advantage of their four-day break by resting up and getting healthy. That bodes will for their bullpen. Cleveland is by no means an easy matchup. While their starting rotation is not as deep as the Jays’, they have a potent offence and some impressive bullpen arms. The Jays will be hard pressed to sweep this series.
Rich Madonik – Toronto Star
The Meeting on the Mound
Game 1 (Friday, 8:00 PM) will see Marco Estrada face Corey Kluber. Right now, these are the best starters for either team. Estrada has shown that he can perform on the big stage. That was never more clear than in his ALDS start against the Rangers, in which he allowed one run over 8.1 innings. Estrada has been nothing short of excellent in his post-season starts for Toronto. Fangraphs recently wrote about Cleveland’s struggles against the fastball. That will favour most of Toronto’s starters, but Estrada will need his slower stuff to fool batters. On the other side, the Indians will turn to a Cy Young candidate. Kluber has had another strong season. He relies heavily on a sinker/slider combination, which leads to plenty of strikeouts. With Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar unavailable, the Jays may face Kluber as many as three times in this series.
The second game (Saturday, 4:00 PM) pits JA Happ against Trevor Bauer. The pair have had wildly different seasons. That said, Happ was less than spectacular against the Rangers. He only allowed one run over 5.0 innings, but had to Houdini his way out of a number of jams. He probably deserved a worse fate. Fortunately, that hasn’t been the norm for him this season. That approach is a little more suited to Bauer. The Indians’ #2 starter has earned that honour by default. Bauer has always walked lots of batters, which suits the Jays’ approach just fine. To be fair, he did shut down the Jays twice this season. It will be interesting to see which version of Bauer shows up on Saturday.
Game 3 (Monday, 8:00 PM) presents a tighter matchup. Marcus Stroman will take on Josh Tomlin. Much like Estrada, Stroman has pitched will in his playoff career. He was excellent in his Wild Card start against the Orioles. Stroman has quietly been one of the Jays’ best pitchers since August. Keep in mind that this start will come 13 days after his Wild Card outing. Rust may be an issue. The Indians will turn to Tomlin as they arrive at the Rogers Centre. Tomlin is the Tribe’s equivalent of Colby Lewis. He cannot strike anyone out, and gives up tons of homers. Tomlin relies predominantly on a fastball that tops out at 88 MPH. If there will ever be a game for the Jays to swing for the fences, then this will be it.
The last game to have starters is announced is Game 4 (Tuesday, 4:00 PM). This is the most favourable matchup for the Jays, as it will see Aaron Sanchez face Mike Clevinger. Sanchez was not sharp at all in his last outing. The Rangers touched him up for six runs over 5.2 innings. That is not exactly what you expect from the AL ERA leader. There was some suggestion that Sanchez was overthrowing in that outing. Maybe he will have better control of his nerves in his second postseason start. The Indians will not have the same type of arm on the mound. No offence to Clevinger, but his line doesn’t look like one you want to turn to in a potential elimination game. There’s a chance that this will become more of a bullpen game for the Indians. Alternatively, if they have to win to stay alive, then expect Kluber to start on short rest.
Frank Jasnky – Icon Sportswire
Back in the Bullpens
While the Jays have the clear advantage in terms of rotation depth, they seem to be outgunned in the bullpen. As mentioned before, the time off will benefit the Jays’ bullpen. First and foremost, it has given Roberto Osuna some extra time to nurse his shoulder. That was vital after he pitched 3.2 innings in the ALDS. The break has also given Francisco Liriano time to recover from his concussion. By all accounts, he will be ready to return for Game 2. Beyond those two, the Jays will need some help from the usual suspects. Jason Grilli and Joe Biagini will continue to play big roles, especially in the middle innings. The most important reliever might be Brett Cecil. The lefty has been up and down lately. The Jays will need him to be up to combat the Indians’ switch hitters.
The Indians’ have some seriously impressive bullpen arms. None are better than Andrew Miller. He might be the “X Factor” in this series. Terry Francona has not had an issue using Miller quite early in games, sometimes for multiple innings. If any of Cleveland’s starters run into trouble, then expect to see Miller make an early appearance. The Indians have more depth behind him. Cody Allen continues to be the anchor at the back. He looked shaky in Game 3 against the Red Sox, but he remains strong insurance behind Miller. Brian Shaw has not been as impressive, but has still put up a consistently strong season. Finally, Dan Otero has been incredible over 70.2 innings this year. To make a long story short, Cleveland has the better bullpen. The Jays will need to score early to prevent it from being a factor.
Frank Gunn – Canadian Press
Players to Watch
This series presents a clash of offensive styles. The Blue Jays hit the hell out the ball. On the other hand, the Indians are similar to last year’s Royals. They go the other way, steal bags, lay down bunts, and manufacture runs. Cleveland actually scored 18 more runs than the Blue Jays this year. The contrast will make for an intriguing matchup.
It goes without saying, but the Jays need Josh Donaldson to have another big series. The Bringer of Rain looked to be back on track in the ALDS, as he picked up four doubles and three RBIs. Given the state of his hip, he might not be able to hit many more home runs this year. But the Jays will be well served if Donaldson can continue to drive the ball for extra bases.
Melvin Upton Jr. may play the role of unlikely hero in this series. The former Bossman Junior will likely start Game 1. With Estrada’s propensity for fly balls, the Jays will want to have their strongest possible outfield defence. That means Jose Bautista will slot in at DH. Upton could possible start Game 5 for the same reason. Beyond that, Upton will likely be the only base stealing threat off of the bench (as Dalton Pompey is unlikely to make the roster). He can play a pivotal late-game role. Finally, Upton has a history of success against Andrew Miller. He may be a valuable pinch hitter.
As mentioned previously, Cleveland has a few strong switch hitters. Chief among them are Carlos Santana, Jose Ramirez, and Francisco Lindor. Santana is coming off the best season of his career. All of a sudden, he can hit home runs again. While Ramirez has hit fewer home runs, his season was arguably even better. Lindor rounds out the trio. The 22-year-old had a slight dip from his rookie campaign, but he is still poised to be one of the best shortstops of the future.Follow @bjaysrepublic