If you’ve been watching this year’s playoffs at all, it should be clear to you that the Blue Jays have been playing with a certain level of intensity. When you accomplish something like two walk-off, extra inning playoff wins in four games, you’ve definitely got momentum in your favor. The trio of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion (who is especially on fire) are a force to be reckoned with these days, and they could not be stopped by Texas. When you add that to the superb performances of Troy Tulowitzki (.462 batting average) and Ezequiel Carrera (.333 batting average), There are 5 scorching hot batters in Toronto’s lineup.
There are two reasons for this article: being the two disadvantages the Blue Jays have when facing Cleveland. The first is pitching – Blue Jays pitchers pale in comparison to the Indians. The second problem Toronto will face is the curse of the days off. When Game 1 of the ALCS starts, the Blue Jays will have gone 6 days without playing. That’s a lot of time for hitters to fall out of rhythm. In contrast, Indians pitchers will be going on 5 days rest. Rest is typically considered a good thing for pitchers. If you consider the fact that the Red Sox (who led baseball in runs scored) were shutout out by the Indians in game 1 of the ALDS (by Trevor Bauer no less), it should be clear that Cleveland’s pitching staff can silence even the most potent offense.
To be fair, the Indians’ offense has been no slouch in the playoffs either, averaging 5 runs per game in their sweep of the Red Sox. Jason Kipnis, Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall have carried the Indians lineup thus far. Coco Crisp hit a clutch home run in Game 3 of the ALDS, and it’s hard to imagine Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli keeping quiet all postseason. The pitching on both teams has performed well so far this October, so it’s hard to find a clear advantage in that aspect. For those of you that like to see the numbers, Toronto pitchers have given up 3 ER/game in the four games they’ve played, while Cleveland’s staff held the Sox to a 3.33 ERA. Considering SSS (Small Sample Size), they’re essentially neck and neck.
As far as the matchups go, we’re once again victim to the Small Sample Size. We all know what Corey Kluber can do, but the Blue Jays (especially Bautista, Donaldson, and Michael Saunders) have actually fared quite well against him. The Indians haven’t had the same success with Marco Estrada unfortunately, as Carlos Santana is the only player on the team to have positive results versus the righty (with a minimum of 4 PA), going 3-for-5 with a home run.
It seems to me that this game will be decided by how Cleveland’s pitchers handle the Jays’ intense level of play. The Indians’ superior base running could play a major factor in this entire series, and Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin is having the worst caught-stealing rate of his career – 15% – which is barely half the league average (29%). I know I’m pulling the Intangibles card, but my gut tells me Toronto’s well-timed hot streak could be enough to break through the Indians’ wall of pitching. They’re just playing with that it factor right now. For example, Josh Donaldson is no elite base runner (nor is he fast), but he still managed to score from 2nd base on double-play ball to the shortstop. Encarnacion is blasting 450-foot bombs, and the pitching has stepped up when it’s mattered most. It could really go either way, but I’d say the Blue Jays have a slight advantage going into Game 1 of this year’s ALCS.