Toronto vs. Cleveland: ALCS Game 5 Preview

Toronto Blue Jays vs. Cleveland

October 19, 2016

Written by Elie Waitzer and Dave Church

The Blue Jays averted a soul-crushing sweep with a 5-1 win over Cleveland on Tuesday, which means that the Jays get at least one more day in their season and Jays fans get another chance to go to a packed Rogers Centre to enjoy playoff baseball. With their backs against the wall, the Jays will follow the formula that got them another game last year, turning to Marco Estrada in game 5 of the ALCS in the hopes of extending the series. A depleted Cleveland staff will counter with Ryan Merritt, who will at least start the game, though it’s anyone’s guess as to how long he’ll go in this one. We’ll look at that matchup, and so much more!

Pitching Matchups:

October 19 – 6:08 PM ET

Marco Estrada (9-9, 3.48 ERA. 4.40 DRA)

Marco Estrada continued his impressive postseason run with the Blue Jays in his first start in the ALCS, going eight strong innings in a tough 2-0 loss in Game 1. There wasn’t much to complain about: a mistake to Francisco Lindor that he drove out, and failing to retire Lonnie Chisenhall at all during the game, but no one would lay the blame for that game at Marco’s feet, given that the offense didn’t score any runs. His changeup generally had Cleveland’s hitters off balance, and he was able to mix in enough curveballs to keep them off his fastball. He hasn’t used his cutter as much this postseason, which is probably for the better: it has the lowest strike percentage and highest home-run percentage of any pitch he threw regularly this year.

Ryan Merritt (1-0, 1.64 ERA, 4.08 DRA)

There’s not a lot to go on with Ryan Merritt, who made all of one start and four appearances for Cleveland at the major league level during the season. We can glean some information from his minor league numbers, as he went 11-8 with a 3.70 ERA for AAA Columbus. Brooks Baseball has all of 135 pitches tracked, and can give us a little bit more: he has a high 80s fastball, mixing in a cutter, changeup, and curveball, none of which is particularly noteworthy. He’s also not a high-end prospect, as a 16th round pick in 2011. He’s here because of injuries to Carlos Carasco, Danny Salazar, and maybe Trevor Bauer. Merritt threw five innings on September 30th in a game that didn’t mean much to anyone other than perhaps Merritt’s immediate family, so it’s hard to know how long he’ll go in this one. The Jays made a lot of no-name pitchers look good in September, and Merritt throws a lot of strikes while keeping the ball in the year, but he (and presumably the Cleveland bullpen) represents an opportunity for the Jays’ offense to get untracked if they can strike early.

Keep an Eye On

Fear of the Unknown 

Here’s what we know about Ryan Merritt. He was almost left off the ALCS roster in favour of a righty reliever named Joe Colon, who owns a 7.20 ERA over 10 major league innings of experience. He told Paul Hoynes at that “It’s awesome that they trust me,” and “I’m just going to go out there and have fun.” He flew to Cleveland from Goodyear, Arizona, and would in all likelihood be pitching in Tim Tebow’s an instructional league game tonight if Trevor Bauer didn’t own a drone.

The Blue Jays know all of these things, but they don’t know the one thing they really need to know – what his stuff actually looks like. I’m sure they’ve got some film from Triple-A, but until they stand in the batters box and track his pitches, Merritt remains a wildcard.

Francona Turns Hard Mode Back On  

Tuesday’s game felt like when you get so frustrated trying to beat a video game that you cave and toggle easy mode. The victory at the end is sweet, because it always is, but you know it’s a lie. For any Blue Jays fans who felt that emptiness as the foghorn blared, for all you who scorn the easy road, Terry Francona is graciously turning hard mode back on. With Andrew Miller and Cory Allen fully rested and Merritt not expected to go past the 5th (or possibly even earlier than that), Game 5 will be a true test of whether Game 4 was a hollow mirage or the first step in the greatest comeback in Blue Jays history.

Zone Woes

The Blue Jays hitters continued their battle with the home plate umpire in Game 4 (though to a lesser degree despite some egregious calls to Russell Martin and Michael Saunders), and Game 5 looks like it could be more of the same with Mike Everitt behind the dish:

The biggest issue for the Blue Jays has been pitchers getting strikes off the plate away, which allows pitchers to avoid the middle of the plate with greater ease. With command lefty Merritt on the mound, look for Cleveland to attempt to exploit this once again.

With the season on the line, Toronto’s notoriously ‘keen-eyed’ hitters are going to be whining up a storm if the zone becomes an issue with the Jays losing late in Game 5. Things could get ugly in the Rogers Centre.

Southpaw Struggles

For a team loaded with right-handed power, the Blue Jays as a whole actually performed no better against lefthanded pitchers in 2016. They hit .247/.329/.428 against righties, and .249/.330/.419 against lefties. Melvin Upton Jr. was acquired to help tip those scaled back in the proper direction, so he could see himself inserted into the lineup for game 5.

Probable Lineup

Away Team

Home Team

1 Carlos Santana – DH 1 Jose Bautista – RF
2 Jason Kipnis – 2B 2 Josh Donaldson – 3B
3 Francisco Lindor – SS 3 Edwin Encarnacion – 1B
4 Mike Napoli – 1B 4 Troy Tulowitzki – SS
5 Jose Ramirez – 3B 5 Russell Martin – C
6 Lonnie Chisenhall – RF 6 Melvin Upton Jr. – DH
7 Coco Crisp – LF 7 Ezequiel Carrera – LF
8 Tyler Naquin – CF 8 Kevin Pillar – CF
9 Roberto Perez – C 9 Darwin Barney – 2B

via Roster Resource

Final Thoughts

If the Jays win this one, we’ve got a real series on our hands. Lose this one, and yet another incredible season comes to an end. When every game the Jays play from now on might be the last game we see Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in blue and white, we’ve got more than one reason to hope this one goes back to Cleveland.

Lead Photo: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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