Don’t blame the ump. The Toronto Blue Jays ended last season blaming the ump, and he deserved some blame, but not all of it. In Game 1 of the American League Championship series against the Cleveland Indians, yes, the strike zone was occasionally artistically interpreted by home plate umpire Laz Diaz, who if he is a painter in his spare time must love working outside the frame.
But sometimes the other guys are better, and in Game 1 that was Cleveland. They got a ball and hit it. Their pitchers were better. They needed this game, and they won 2-0 to open the series. Sometimes, that’s how it goes.
“We just need to have a little bit better at-bats, and find a way to put the ball in play,” said centre fielder Kevin Pillar. “Who knows what that does for Marco (Estrada), to get a run across early? He did a hell of a job keeping us in the game, just made one mistake, and it wasn’t even a mistake. It was a hell of a pitch, and a good hitter rose to the occasion and made a big-time play. I mean, that’s what playoff baseball comes down to. It comes down to who’s going to get the big hit? We just weren’t able to do it tonight.”
That was a neat summation, and it cut both ways. You can tell yourself the Jays weren’t going to hit bombs to the moon forever, and you wouldn’t be wrong. You can tell yourself that this was the best pitching Cleveland can muster, and you’d be right. The Jays roared through the playoffs to reach the ALCS, but all that really meant was that they had four good games after a month and a half of mostly lousy ones. The bats could go cold at any time.
And they did. Sure, there was some dissatisfaction with Diaz: Edwin Encarnacion finally snapped at the umpire after striking out against Andrew Miller in the eighth with Josh Donaldson on first.
Marco Estrada made one mistake during the Blue Jays’ first complete game of the season, an 0-2 changeup he meant to bounce stayed down and in enough for Francisco Lindor to yank over the wall in right-centre in the sixth. The homer followed a Jason Kipnis walk and made it 2-0.
“It’s just that one pitch,” lamented Estrada. “It’s killing me right now.”
Kluber then retired Kevin Pillar on his 100th pitch of the night, a first-pitch groundout in the seventh, and then turned things over to Miller, who struck out five of the six batters he faced. Josh Donaldson led off the eighth with a single off the lefty, but Edwin Encarnacion struck out looking and tore a strip off home-plate umpire Laz Diaz, before Bautista and Russell Martin went down swinging.
Cody Allen then mowed through them in the ninth to seal the win before a crowd of 37,727.
“I thought we did a good job of getting (Kluber’s) pitch count up, and obviously the strength of their team is their bullpen, we just weren’t able to get any runs across early,” said Pillar. “But I think we had good at-bats and that’s what makes him a Cy Young type of pitcher. When we had some runners in scoring position, he turned it up a little bit and made good pitches.”
J.A. Happ gets the ball in Game 2 for the Blue Jays against Josh Tomlin, who was flip-flopped with Trevor Bauer after the right-hander sliced open his right pinky in a drone accident. True story. That made Kluber’s performance all the more critical, given the potential repercussions on the Cleveland pitching staff had he not gotten deep.
Francona has a dream bullpen at his disposal and he was not going to wait one more second to use it. With eight outs to go, the gambit started with Miller. He got five outs, all strikeouts, wrapped around a Josh Donaldson leadoff single in the eighth.
“For (Miller) to go through the middle of the lineup like that, that’s why we got him,” said Francona. “And we intend to use him. But you can’t use him and then have nobody behind him.”
From there, it was on to Cody Allen to close it out and he retired the three men he faced in the ninth. Kluber left after 6.1 innings, allowing six hits after looking vulnerable through the early innings.
“Early in the game, he threw a lot of strikes but uncharacteristically, he gave up most of his hits with two strikes,” said Francona. “But when there was some traffic, he really bore down and his breaking ball was at times devastating. Both pitchers I thought were terrific.”
The victory was a crucial one for the Indians, who now are thin on starting pitchers for Game 2 on Saturday afternoon and Game 3 on Monday in Toronto before everybody expects Kluber to be back for Game 4.
“Sometimes you want to go back and ask, why? I try not to do that.”
There were no whys or wherefores for Estrada, who drew the Game 1 assignment from a co-co-co-co-co-cast of starters, all of whom have been designated the ace of the staff at some point this season.
One game-changing mistake from the right arm of Estrada but his teammates couldn’t erase the impact of that two-run homer by Francisco Lindor — a change-up at the knees.
“I kind of yanked it. It wasn’t supposed to be in. I was trying to bounce it, to be honest. The count was 0-2. If I would have got it down and away, he probably would have swung and missed. But I yanked it and he hit it out. He’s a good hitter. That’s what happens. You makes mistakes, good hitters are going to hit it out.’’
It shouldn’t have been a fatal error, not with the re-potent and re-petrifying Blue Jays, who arrived at Game 1 of the ALCS having outscored the opposition 27-12 in their four previous games, with a 10-spot of jacks punctuating that tabulation.
Cleveland was down to its last legitimate starter, Corey Kubler, with an ERA well over 5.00 against Toronto. Two of his colleagues, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, are out for the season with a broken hand bone and a forearm strain respectively, while the current No. 2, Trevor Bauer, has been pushed back in the assignment order on account of he ripped open his pinky finger whilst fiddling around with a drone. That’s d-r-o-n-e, as in the mini aviating devices that Bauer designs and builds as a presumably relaxing hobby.
And before you laugh, remember that Toronto catcher Russell Martin likewise took pinky stitches last week, an owie suffered during the wild card win celebrations.
Big-game pitcher Marco Estrada delivered for the Blue Jays again, but the offence was silent and couldn’t get him the win. Steve Phillips and Scott MacArthur have more on Estrada’s Game 1 performance.
The Jays squandered chances early, putting two men on in each of the first three innings and one in the fourth but failing to convert. Kluber bent but didn’t break.
In contrast, the Indians didn’t manage to get a man past first through four innings.
Kluber struck out Ezequiel Carrera on three pitches to open the game but then gave up a single to Josh Donaldson and a double to Encarnacion. The Jays could not get them home as Kluber pitched his way out of the early jam.
With men on first and second, Travis hit into an inning-ending double play in the second. Then, after Toronto put two on with two outs in the third, Russell Martin struck out.
The Jays stranded a man on second in the fourth inning with a fine defensive play by Kipnis helping Kluber.
Kluber finally got a 1-2-3 inning in the fifth. And the Indians came close to breaking the deadlock in their half of the inning as Lonnie Chisenhall made it to third on a bloop single, sacrifice bunt and groundout. But Estrada ended the threat by striking out Roberto Perez.
Kluber retired nine of the last 10 batters he faced before exiting after 6 1/3 innings in a 100-pitch outing that featured 71 hits. All six of the hits he gave up came with two strikes. He walked two and struck out six in extending his scoreless run to 13 1/3 innings in the post-season.
Lindor hit a Marco Estrada changeup over the right-centerfield fence with one out in the sixth inning to provide the only offence of the game.
Estrada was pitching well to that point, and pitched well afterwards as well. In his eight inning complete game, he allowed six hits, including the Lindor blast, the two runs, one walk and struck out six. He deserved better but the bats just didn’t show up. It was another brilliant playoff start for Estrada.
The Blue Jays were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position off of Cleveland starter Corey Kluber but when they had him on the ropes, they were unable to capitalize.
In the first inning, the Blue Jays got back-to-back hits from Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion but were unable to cash them in with one out. In the third inning, Russell Martin struck out with Encarnacion and Jose Bautista on first and second.
Kluber went 6.1 innings allowing six hits, two walks and struck out six before giving way to ace reliever Andrew Miller in the seventh inning. Miller struck out the first two batters he faced, pinch hitters Darwin Barney and Melvin Upton Jr. He ended up striking out five of the six hitters he faced. He only gave up a Donaldson single.
Toronto’s downfall in this game was their inability cash in on a slew of early opportunities with runners in scoring position. Cleveland starter Corey Kluber pitched out of jams very well, but the Blue Jays hitters failed to come up with hits when they needed them most despite their many opportunities.
Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion both went 2-for-4, keeping their 2016 playoff averages at .500. Michael Saunders also added two singles, but the Blue Jays couldn’t get anything going in between those three. Jose Bautista led the way with three strikeouts and Toronto totalled 12 as a team.
Second-baseman Devon Travis was forced to leave the game in the bottom of the fifth inning after moving to his left to cover first base on a ground ball. Travis came up hopping, avoiding putting weight on his injured knee. It appeared that he’d further aggravated the bone bruise on the play prior, a Coco Cruise bunt, and did look uncomfortable through the early innings.
Both sides, Toronto especially, expressed their disagreement with home plate umpire Laz Diaz throughout the game. Melvin Upton Jr. was especially vocal following a seventh inning strikeout that appeared to be anything but.
For now, it’s 1-0 Cleveland after a 2-0 victory in Game 1. One game never makes a series. It is the first chapter of a novel. An untold story yet to be framed. A beginning.
The opportunity was there early for the Jays. It was never there again.
“I think what happened on that ball that Eddie hit, it was kind of a low liner,” Gibbons said. “It didn’t have a whole lot of air underneath it. So he has got to read it, make sure he doesn’t flag it down.
“If it’s higher in the air, he’s got better judgment on it, but no. Kluber is pretty good, that’s all I know.”
Sometimes you try and find a little something you can carry from Game 1 to Game 2, but the turnover in this case is so quick — from Game 1 of Friday night to Game 2 of Saturday afternoon at Progressive Field — we can only offer this much: The Blue Jays won’t see Kluber again until this series has already taken shape.
And the only advantage of losing Game 1, if there is one, is that Kluber has pitched and the Jays have the starting pitching for at least the next three games.
Francisco Lindor hit a two-run home run in the sixth inning and Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen combined to strike out the Blue Jays 12 times in the Game 1 shutout win. CLE leads ALCS 1-0.
The Jays had opportunities to score in the first three innings, but came up empty against Cleveland’s ace, and Cy Young candidate, Corey Kluber. With one out in the first, Josh Donaldson singled and Edwin Encarnacion doubled. The AL MVP had to hold his ground until the ball cleared the right fielder, then was held at third base. Jose Bautista struck out and slump-ridden Russ Martin grounded to first base.
“It was a low liner,” manager John Gibbons explained about Donaldson being held. “It didn’t have a whole lot of air underneath it, so he’s got to read it, make sure he doesn’t flag it down. If it’s higher in the air, he’s got a better judgment.”
But, as often happens with the game’s elite starting pitchers, if you don’t get to them early they get stronger as the game goes on and you have missed the opportunity. Kluber settled in from the fourth inning on.
“It was a heck of a game, it really was,” Gibbons said. “Estrada was really good, but Lindor got the big blow. I think it was a changeup. Kluber is one of the elite pitchers in the game. If you’re a fan of pitching, it was a dream game for you.”
Kluber, the former Cy Young winner, went 6 1/3 shutout innings, allowing six hits with two walks and six strikeouts. With one out in the seventh, manager Terry Francona brought in left-hander Andrew Miller, prompting the Jays to use two pinch-hitters — both struck out. Miller was not done. He pitched the eighth before closer Cody Allen finished the job. Francona continues to use Miller, obtained from the Yankees at the deadline, in unorthodox situations. Miller relishes the role.
Meanwhile, the Jays have likely lost their second baseman, Devon Travis, for the foreseeable future. Travis was playing Game 1 after missing the final two games of the ALDS. He was forced from the game in the fifth inning, likely with an aggravation of the same injury in the back of his right knee. He was taken for an MRI.
The first complete game of Marco Estrada’s career — and of the Blue Jays season — came in the form of a loss, as the 33-year-old right-hander threw an eight inning gem against the Indians in Game 1.
Aside from one mistake to Lindor, which wasn’t a terrible pitch, Estrada was near flawless on Friday night. His changeup was excellent, with the bottom regularly dropping out, and he was able to locate his fastball on both sides of the plate.
Despite taking the loss, his final stat line was fantastic, reading: 8 innings pitched, six hits, two earned runs, one walk, six strikeouts, one home run and 101 total pitches.
Unfortunately, the Blue Jays’ offence was unable to pick Estrada up. However, you have to be ecstatic with Estrada’s performance if you’re Toronto. He’s been lights out during this postseason and the team should have the utmost confidence in him every time he touches the rubber.
Russell Martin and the Blue Jays struggled with runners in scoring position and as Dirk Hayhurst explains Corey Kluber used his incredible slider and two seam fastball to shutdown Toronto. He also talks about the batting order, Devon Travis leaving Game 1 and much more.
Kipnis robs Pillar
These are two of the best defensive teams in baseball. In fact, this season they ranked first and second, respectively, in the American League in terms of defensive efficiency, which is the rate at which teams convert balls in play into outs. Where Cleveland particularly stands out is infield defence, which was brightly on display in the fourth inning when second baseman Jason Kipnis robbed Kevin Pillar of a base hit with a diving snag of a ground ball that looked destined to find a hole. The out helped Kluber escape the inning unscathed as the Jays left yet another runner on base.
This was the game Cleveland needed to win and fortunately for them they did. From a starting pitching perspective, there’s a significant drop off coming as early as Saturday’s second game, in the form of Josh Tomlin. That’s what happens when a team’s other two stud starters, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, are hurt.
Kluber, who won 18 regular season games and who struck out 227 hitters in 215 innings pitched and who followed that up with seven innings of three-hit, shutout ball in his lone Division Series start against the Red Sox, was brilliant.
“I feel like in my career I hadn’t faced that guy yet,” said Russell Martin, who had career 10 at-bats against Kluber entering the game. “That was the Kluber that everybody raves about. It’s a really tight, sharp break on the off speed pitches. Good command on the fastball and good locations as well. I feel like maybe I got one pitch that I should have hit and that’s it and normally you get more than a few mistakes when you’re hitting up there. You got to tip your cap to that guy. He pitched well. Marco pitched well, too. It was a pitcher’s duel today and they just did enough to win.”
The disappointment will reside in the fact the Jays had early opportunities. They stranded six base runners in the first four innings, going 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position (RISP). Their RISP number at the end of the game: 0-for-5. Kluber settled in. Miller and Allen hardly gave them a sniff. The Blue Jays had two runners reach from the first inning on, both singles, and neither advanced beyond first base.
An eight-inning art piece turned into a one-at-bat calamity when Estrada allowed Cleveland to go ahead 2-0 via a Francisco Lindor home run. It finished that way.
Toronto will blame the loss on umpire Laz Diaz’s impressionistic strike zone. The bigger issue was an inability to push base runners across early. For one evening at least, the offensive doldrums have once again stilled the Jays’ forward momentum.
But while losing isn’t good for Toronto, nor was it especially bad. Because while all games matter at this stage, this one mattered a lot more to Cleveland.
Until they wind their way back to their ace, Cleveland’s now in a spot of bother, starter-wise. It’s doubtful any team has ever gotten so far with less in that regard.
On Saturday afternoon, Toronto was due to face Trevor Bauer. Instead, Bauer’s start was moved to Monday’s Game 3 after he cut his pitching hand while repairing a drone.
Bauer’s manager, Terry Francona, nicely summed up the ridiculousness of the situation: “It’s kind of self-explanatory,” Francona sighed. “Everybody in here has probably at some point or another had a drone-related problem.”
In that vein, Toronto manager John Gibbons offered some thoughts on drone etiquette: “As long as it wasn’t weaponized.”
TSN MLB analyst Dirk Hayhurst talks about how the layoff affected the Blue Jays and breaks down the ALCS Game 2 pitching matchup between J.A. Haap and Josh Tomlin, explaining that the Indians lineup is a good matchup for Haap.
Andrew Miller struck out five of six Blue Jays he faced and as Dirk Hayhurst explains Miller’s changes the way a hitter looks at the strike zone. He also talks about if Troy Tulowitzki should be batting ahead of Russell Martin.
The Blue Jays had good numbers against Andrew Miller in the past, but in Game 1 Miller won the battle. Steve Phillips and Scott MacArthur talk about Miller’s relief performance and look ahead to Game 2’s starting pitchig matchup.
Of course, one reason Jays fans can even pipe dream on a thing like assuming Votto’s enormous contract is the club’s relatively new financial clout — or, more precisely, their relatively recent willingness to act like an organization with the kind of clout they’ve had all along.
Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star looked toward the future in a piece that ran here on Friday, and spoke to club president Mark Shapiro about such budgetary things.
“There are probably some limitations that I don’t need to get into, because I don’t think I want to make excuses, that will always prevent us from being in that top four, top five. But there’s no reason we shouldn’t be in the next five.”
Damn right there’s no reason they shouldn’t! We know what the TV ratings are and we see the attendance. They should be higher than merely the back end of the top ten, frankly. But you maybe get how it’s a bit much to ask them to jump straight away to the level of the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, and where the Cubs will eventually be as their core gets expensive.
This year the Jays’ payroll ranks 13th, per Baseball Prospects/Cot’s, with the tenth-ranked Cardinals at $144-million. The sixth-ranked Cubs spent $171-million. The Jays already have $107-million committed for 2017, so if they’re only just barely going to slip into that top ten, that leaves them with enough to keep an Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista, but maybe not both.
“You know, I felt great. I progressed all week, passed all of the tests I needed to pass. Felt good going into the game today. It’s just… unfortunate,” Travis said after exiting Game 1 of the ALCS when he re-aggravated the knee injury he’s been carrying for quite some time. “It’s tough. Sometimes you want to go back and you want to ask, ‘why?’ I try not to do that. It’s unfortunate, man. I don’t know what exactly is going on with me right now to cause all this.”
The Blue Jays have called it a bone bruise in Travis’ right knee, and he says it’s an ailment he’s been playing through for nearly a month. The pain was manageable for most of that time, up until the morning of the second game of the ALDS in Texas, when Travis woke up and knew something wasn’t right.
He went straight to Globe Life Park in Arlington and met with the Blue Jays training staff to try to get through the pain. It was decided that a cortisone shot might help. So, Travis had a 10-centimetre needle driven into the outside of his right knee, the hope being that the magic of artificial hormones would subside his inflammation and numb his pain for long enough that he could get through the post-season.
Not only was Travis the only player with an average that starts with a three — he hit .300 on the dot this season — the recurrence of a right knee injury, a bone bruise, may not even allow the Blue Jays to replace him on the roster.
You knew what you were getting into with a pre-existing injury, MLB rules state, and the league may not approve the request.
“It hurts pretty bad,” Travis said after the 2-0 loss in Game 1. “I felt good going into the game, I covered first on that bunt, jarred my knee a little bit, and next play I broke for the ball, I went to go run to first and I felt a super sharp pain in my knee. It kind of felt like it was going to give out a little bit. That was it.”
Travis will now head for another MRI on his knee — he had one last weekend after not being able to go in Game 2 against the Rangers — and the Blue Jays will hold their breath.
“I’m going to get an MRI and find out (today),” Travis said. “It’s going to tell us, basically, what we need to know and figure out a plan from there.
“I felt great. I progressed all week and passed all the tests I needed to pass. It felt good going into the the game today … Yeah, unfortunate.”
It’s another setback for Travis, who has encountered a series of them in his young career.
“It’s tough,” said Travis, who got a late start to his season due to shoulder surgery. “Sometimes, you want to go back and you want to ask, ‘Why?’ I try not to do that. It’s unfortunate, man. I don’t know what exactly is going on with me right now to cause all this, but I know, at the end of the day, I’ve got a clubhouse full of guys that have my back and I’ll be out there every day I can.”
Devon Travis’ injury woes continue, he explained that he will have to get an MRI on the knee to determine what the plan will be moving forward.