Indians Call on their Ace to Deal a Knockout Blow to the Blue Jays
Bob Toth | On 18, Oct 2016
The Cleveland Indians will look to clinch their first American League pennant since 1997 on Tuesday while the Toronto Blue Jays try to keep their season alive in a big Game 4 of the American League Championship Series from Rogers Centre.
The Indians have used just enough offense and incredible pitching efforts to win each of the first three games of the ALCS to extend their winning streak in the postseason to six straight and nine straight overall this season after winning the final three games of the regular season. They need to win just once over the remaining four possible games to lock up the best-of-seven series to secure a trip back to the World Series. The Blue Jays had won six straight games before running into the Indians, winning each of the final two games of the regular season to land a Wild Card spot before winning the play-in game against the Baltimore Orioles and sweeping the top-seeded Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series.
With the Blue Jays on the ropes, the Indians will look to their ace to deal the knockout blow.
GAME TIMES and PITCHING PROBABLES
Friday, 10/14/16 – Cleveland 2, Toronto 0
Saturday, 10/15/16 – Cleveland 2, Toronto 1
Monday, 10/17/16 – Cleveland 4, Toronto 2
Tuesday, 10/18/16 (4:00 PM ET at TOR) – RHP Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14 ERA) vs. RHP Aaron Sanchez (15-2, 3.00)
Wednesday, 10/19/16* (4:00 PM ET at TOR) – LHP Ryan Merritt (1-0, 1.64) vs. RHP Marco Estrada (9-9, 3.48)
Friday, 10/21/16* (8:00 PM ET at CLE) – TBD
Saturday, 10/22/16* (Time TBD at CLE) – TBD
TV (all games) – TBS; SNET; RDS; CNN en Español
Radio (all games) – Indians Radio Network; ESPN Radio; SN590 (Toronto)
SHORT-HANDED INDIANS GO TO THEIR ACE
Kluber gets the nod on short rest for the first time as a starter at the Major League level, a risky move potentially but one that would presumably allow the club to turn to their ace again in the worst case scenario of a Game 7 in Cleveland on Saturday. Given the number of obstacles the Indians have faced throughout the season, it certainly seems wise to err on the side of caution.
Kluber made his second career postseason start last Friday when the Indians and Blue Jays opened up the ALCS. He worked six and one-third innings, giving up six hits and two walks while striking out six on 100 pitches. For the entire postseason, he has a pair of wins and a spotless ERA, giving up nine hits and five walks in 13 1/3 innings while striking out 13.
Over the course of the season, Kluber was 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. He was named a replacement on the AL All-Star team for the first time this season and pitched himself into a prime spot in the Cy Young voting.
KLUBER VS. THE JAYS
The wonderful thing about the playoffs is that everything gets thrown out the window. Kluber had a rough year against the Jays, going 0-1 with a 6.30 ERA and 2.10 WHIP in two starts. For his career, he was not much better, going 1-3 with a 5.34 ERA and 1.67 WHIP in five starts. Yet despite the subpar numbers, he blanked Toronto over six and one-third innings in Game 1, giving up six hits and a walk while striking out six batters.
Josh Donaldson has a .375 average and .474 on-base percentage during regular season action against Kluber and notched a single in three trips to the box against him on Friday. Edwin Encarnacion was 3-for-15 coming into the matchup with three doubles and tacked on hits in each of his first two at bats, including his fourth career double against the Tribe right-hander. Michael Saunders is 5-for-11 with a pair of doubles to his credit.
SANCHEZ’S SUPERB SEASON
Sanchez was an All-Star for the first time in his career this season, putting up an incredible 15-2 year with a 3.00 ERA on the mound. One of those two losses came in the first month of the season. His numbers might have even been a little better, but Toronto opted to rest their young right-hander for a stretch to limit his innings. Even with that said, he still totaled 192 innings for the season in 30 starts.
At Rogers Centre, Sanchez went 6-1 during the regular season with a 3.74 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 13 starts. He started the season with a 9-1 mark with a 2.97 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 18 games and put up similar numbers in the second half, going 6-1 with a 3.05 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in his final 12 appearances. His walk rate did increase some and his strikeout rate dropped as the season progressed, but he ended the year with three straight quality starts with just one run allowed in each outing.
SANCHEZ VS. THE TRIBE
Sanchez ran into a tough start against the Indians earlier this season in his third appearance against Cleveland in his career. He lasted just four innings, giving up five runs (four earned) on four hits with a walk and five strikeouts in a no-decision. He had faced the Indians twice the season before, earning a win and posting a 2.70 ERA after giving up two runs on five hits with six walks and five strikeouts in six and two-thirds innings of work.
The eleven Indians players who have stepped into the box against Sanchez have hit a combined .238 with a homer and seven RBI. Francisco Lindor leads the way with two hits in three at bats, including a double. Jose Ramirez, Brandon Guyer, and Lonnie Chisenhall are all 2-for-5, with Chisenhall adding a homer and three RBI to his production off of Sanchez.
Five players on the playoff roster for the Tribe have failed to notch hits against the young right-hander, including Mike Napoli’s 0-for-7 with two strikeouts, Carlos Santana’s 0-for-4, and 0-for-2 marks for Roberto Perez, Rajai Davis, and Tyler Naquin. Santana and Jason Kipnis have each drawn a pair of walks.
EXCELLING IN THE POSTSEASON
Three Indians and three Blue Jays rank in the top ten in the American League in hitting among qualified players so far in the playoffs.
Donaldson leads the Junior Circuit with a .448 average and leads all players with 13 hits and six doubles. Carrera is sixth in the AL with a .308 average (8-for-26), while Encarnacion is ninth with a .296 mark while leading all postseason participants with three home runs and seven RBI.
Chisenhall is the top Indians hitter in the playoffs thus far and fourth overall among qualified AL hitters, batting .350 (7-for-20) with a homer and four RBI. Lindor is seventh in the league with a .304 average (7-for-23) and is tied for the team lead in homers with Kipnis with two. Ramirez is right behind him on the list, coming in at eight with a .300 average (6-for-20).
The Blue Jays will need a win Tuesday afternoon to force a Game 5 in Toronto on Wednesday. If they can, Estrada will throw with Toronto’s season still on the line. He pitched a gem of a game his first time out in the ALCS, but ran into the buzz saw that was Kluber and the Cleveland bullpen. He threw his first complete game of the season, but took the loss after allowing two runs on six hits with a walk and six strikeouts in eight innings of work.
The Indians have lined up the left-handed rookie Merritt to go if needed. Merritt appeared in just four games in his debut season for the Indians, but he made the best of the opportunity. His first game was a stunning four and one-third innings of scoreless, one-hit baseball against Texas on May 30. He returned for a scoreless inning against Minnesota on August 4, then worked twice in September, including a five-inning start on September 30 against Kansas City when he allowed just a run on three hits with four strikeouts. The 24-year-old southpaw was 11-8 with a 3.70 ERA in 24 starts at Triple-A Columbus over the course of the year.
First pitch from Toronto on Wednesday, if needed, is scheduled for 4:00 PM ET.
Photo: Getty Images