Toronto vs. Cleveland: ALCS Game 1 Preview

Toronto Blue Jays @ Cleveland

Friday, October 14th, 2016

Written by Jenn Smith and Sean Addis

The Toronto Blue Jays are set to begin their second straight ALCS appearance tonight when they take on Cleveland for game one of the best-of-seven series. Both teams are undefeated in October thus far, having swept their ALDS opponents.

Despite outscoring Cleveland by 14 runs in their head-to-head matchups this season, Toronto lost four of seven. Two of those losses, however, came in the most bizarre fashion: a 2-1 19-inning loss that included three ejections and two position players pitching in relief, and a 3-2 walk-off inside-the-park home run.

But, that was then and this is now. Despite playing a frustratingly bad brand of baseball in September, the Jays have returned to form. They scored 22 runs in their three games against Texas, including eight home runs. More importantly, they got hits in timely situations, finding ways to score and ultimately win ballgames. Toronto easily has the better of the two rotations given that Cleveland is without Danny Salazar or Carlos Carrasco, and the bullpen has been outstanding this postseason.

Cleveland will look to battle the Blue Jays on both fronts. The Jays’ offense will have to deal with Corey Kluber right out of the gate. Kluber will be backed up by Andrew Miller, arguably the best reliever in baseball. Miller pitched two innings in each of two ALDS games, during which he faced a total of sixteen batters and gave up two hits and two walks with seven strikeouts and no runs.

Either way, one of these two teams will no longer be undefeated in October after tonight.

Pitching Matchups:

First Pitch – 8:00 PM ET

Marco Estrada

Marco Estrada will look to continue his post season dominance in game one of the American League Championship series. In the past two post seasons, he has allowed six runs over 27 2/3 innings (1.96 ERA), while striking out 21 and walking only one. In his start in the American League Division Series, Estrada relied heavily on his four seam fastball (57.1%), setting the hitters up for his devastating change up. The Texas Rangers hitters were unable to record a hit on the change up, which included three strikeouts. Estrada will periodically use his cutter and curveball late in the game when facing the lineup for the third time.

The biggest potential concern regarding Estrada would be how he responds to having seven days off and the potential colder temperatures of Cleveland. He has not statistically performed well with extra rest and as a finesse pitcher relies on the “feel” of his changeup and curveball, while precisely locating his fastball.  Also with colder game time temperatures, it would be worth monitoring how this might have impact on his back and his ability to remain loose on the mound.

Corey Kluber

The 2014 Cy Young award winner made his postseason debut against the Red Sox Friday night and was brilliant, throwing seven innings of three-hit shutout ball while showing no signs of rust despite having not pitched since September 26th due to a leg injury.

Kluber was 18-9 in 32 starts this season with an ERA of 3.14. He also struck out over a batter per inning (9.50 K/9) with a 2.39 BB/9 rate. In two starts against the Jays this season, Kluber is 0-1 in ten innings pitched over which he surrendered seven runs on thirteen hits with a WHIP of 2.10. In his career, Josh Donaldson is batting .375/.474/.563 off the Cleveland ace with a home run, two walks and three strikeouts in 16 at-bats.

Kluber relies on his 93 mph sinker and 90 mph cutter. And although he generates slightly more ground balls than fly balls, his HR/FB rate against right-handers this season was 11.6%, which could bode well for the homer-happy Blue Jays, particularly at hitter-friendly Progressive Field.

Keep an Eye On

Switching It Up

Cleveland’s lineup features four switch-hitters and three lefties, making late-game matchups quite tricky. Although Estrada fared slightly better against lefties this season (LHB hit .190/.270/.332/.602 compared to .218/.287/.393/.680 for RHB), both Brett Cecil and Jason Grilli have had difficulty against opposite-handed batters. With Benoit off the roster and Liriano out of commission for tonight’s game, it is critical that Estrada weave another gem with his changeup and go deep in the game.

The Running Game

A significant part of Cleveland’s game is their speed on the base paths; they stole 134 bases in 2016, the fourth highest total in the majors and first in the American League – mind you, Rajai Davis alone was responsible for 43 of those swiped bags. The Blue Jays have done a poor job of controlling the running game in 2016. Toronto’s starters are last in the American League in release speed, which factored into their 19 percent caught-stealing rate (league average was around 29 percent this season). Marco Estrada had a -1 rSB in 2016, suggesting that he struggles to control the running game. Russell Martin had difficulty throwing out runners from behind the dish this season too, nabbing just 11 of 61 would-be base stealers, though he led the league last year which suggests the pitchers are indeed the issue. Although Cleveland had just one stolen base against Texas (by Mike Napoli, of all people), expect Cleveland to try to exploit the Jays’ weakness at holding runners to get an early edge in the series.

Devon Travis Returns

Devon Travis was sidelined for the final two games of the ALDS, but is expected to be back in the lineup this series for the Blue Jays. Darwin Barney, his replacement, did not record a hit in seven at bats in the series against Texas. Therefore, it is imperative that Travis’ productive bat (.300/.332/.454, 109 wRC+) return to help the Blue Jays against the Corey Kluber and the deep Cleveland bullpen.

Additions and Subtractions

Jays’ second baseman Devon Travis returns to the lineup tonight after missing the second and third game of the ALDS due to a sore knee. Relief pitcher Francisco Liriano, who suffered a mild concussion after being struck on the head by a line drive in game two against Texas, is only eligible to return Saturday, so the Jays will be playing a man short. They healthy lineup will have a different look as well, as both Dalton Pompey and Ryan Goins have been granted roster spots. They will be taking the places of Justin Smoak and Scott Feldman. With Liriano and Osuna healthy, Feldman was clearly not needed, and Goins provides some flexibility if Travis’ knee flares up again. Pompey is just here to steal bases late in games.

Cleveland will be without starting pitcher Danny Salazar, who has been out since September 9th with a mild forearm strain. Salazar was scheduled to pitch a simulated game to determine if he could used in a relief role but the team announced yesterday that he would be left off of the ALCS roster.

Probable Lineup

Away Team

Home Team

Devon Travis – 2B Carlos Santana – DH
Josh Donaldson – 3B Jason Kipnis – 2B
Edwin Encarnacion – 1B Francisco Lindor – SS
Jose Bautista – RF Mike Napoli – 1B
Russell Martin – C Jose Ramirez – 3B
Troy Tulowitzki – SS Lonnie Chisenhall – RF
Michael Saunders – DH Coco Crisp – LF
Kevin Pillar – CF Tyler Naquin – CF
Ezequiel Carrera – LF Roberto Perez – C

via Roster Resource

Final Thoughts

The Blue Jays head to Cleveland to face a former Cy Young winner in Kluber and a strong bullpen. In what is expected to be an evenly matched series, Toronto could do themselves a major favor by getting off to a quick start and winning one on the road. While it will be challenging, the Jays will be countering with a top starter and recently strong bullpen of their own. If they can knock a timely hit or two they can set themselves up nicely for the trip back home.

Lead Photo – Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

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