For the first time in their collective histories, the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays will meet in the postseason, with the winner’s prize a guaranteed ticket to host the World Series.
The Indians will welcome the Blue Jays back to town for a rare second trip in one season. Progressive Field will be home to Game 1 and Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night and Saturday afternoon before the action heads north of the border to Canada, where Toronto has won twice in walk-off fashion at Rogers Centre in its two home dates since the conclusion of the regular season.
It has been a magic season for each team, as the Indians have had to overcome several significant blows to their roster, causing the losses of a former AL MVP candidate and their starting catcher for the majority of the season and two-fifths of its starting rotation for the playoffs. The Blue Jays had to scratch and claw just to make it into the playoffs, winning the AL Wild Card play-in game against the Baltimore Orioles before sweeping the Texas Rangers in three straight in the ALDS.
GAME TIMES and PITCHING PROBABLES
Friday, 10/14/16 (8:00 PM ET at CLE) – RHP Marco Estrada (9-9, 3.48 ERA in 2016) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14)
Saturday, 10/15/16 (4:00 PM ET at CLE) – LHP J.A. Happ (20-4, 3.18) vs. RHP Josh Tomlin (13-9, 4.40)
Monday, 10/17/16 (8:00 PM ET at TOR) – RHP Trevor Bauer (12-8, 4.26) vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (9-10, 4.37)
Tuesday, 10/18/16 (Time TBD at TOR) – RHP Mike Clevinger (3-3, 5.26) vs. RHP Aaron Sanchez (15-2, 3.00)
Wednesday, 10/19/16* (Time TBD at TOR) – TBD
Friday, 10/21/16* (Time TBD at CLE) – TBD
Saturday, 10/22/16* (Time TBD at CLE) – TBD
TV (all games) – TBS; SNET; RDS; CNN en Espanol
Radio (all games) – Indians Radio Network; ESPN Radio; SN590 (Toronto)
Any fears that Kluber’s right quad injury was going to slow him down in the playoffs were quickly quieted as the Tribe’s ace and leading Cy Young candidate put up seven shutout innings in his first career postseason appearance in Cleveland’s 6-0 victory in Game 2 of the ALDS against Boston.
Kluber’s regular season numbers are certainly deserving of award consideration. He was an All-Star for the first time in 2016, replacing his Game 1 counterpart Estrada on the AL roster. He finished the season with an 18-9 record, the same mark he had in 2014 when he won the Cy Young Award. He made 32 starts this season, throwing three complete games and two shutouts, while earning a 3.14 ERA and posting a 1.05 WHIP. His walk rate was up slightly and his strikeout rate down a bit over his numbers from a season ago, but he posted his best hits per nine inning rate of his career in keeping damage to a minimum. He allowed one-third of his homers during August, one of his best months of the season, when he went 5-0 in six starts with a 2.43 ERA and 1.13 WHIP.
He finished the second half with a 9-1 record in 14 starts. He got better as the game went on, limiting opposing hitters to a .193 average the third time against him (compared to .226 the first plate appearance and .224 the second) and allowed just a .180 average on pitches 76 through 100 of a start.
JAYS VS. KLUBER
Current members of the Jays have hit a combined .281 against Kluber in their careers. Kluber was 0-1 in two starts against Toronto in 2016 with a 6.30 ERA and 2.10 WHIP, allowing seven runs on 13 hits with eight walks in ten innings of work.
Devon Travis leads the way with three hits in six at bats. Josh Donaldson owns a .375 career average and .474 on-base percentage against him with six hits in 16 at bats, including a homer and five runs batted in. Jose Bautista is 3-for-9 with a double and four RBI.
Kluber has contained Edwin Encarnacion, limiting the big slugger to just three doubles in 16 plate appearances against him. The soon-to-be free agent first baseman has a pair of RBI against him. Russell Martin is just 2-for-10 against Kluber, but both hits have been home runs and contributed to four RBI.
MORE ON ESTRADA
In his second season with the Jays, Estrada had a steady, if not quiet, season for Toronto as the 33-year-old right-hander went 9-9 with a 3.48 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. Coming off of his first career double-digit season just one year ago, he saw an increase in his strikeout rate (nearly two more per nine innings), but also saw his ERA climb while sustaining a dramatic decrease in the amount of runs of support he got on the mound this season. The mighty bats of the Toronto lineup put up 5.07 runs of support for their right-hander in 2015, but that number dropped to just 3.63 this season.
Estrada missed some time this year with a pair of trips to the disabled list, starting the year on the shelf with back soreness before being activated on April 10. He returned to the DL on July 6 and was unable to participate in the All-Star Game, his first career selection. He was 5-3 at the break in 16 starts (104 1/3 innings) with a 2.93 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. His numbers plumped some in the second half, as he was 4-6 with a 4.27 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in 13 games (71 2/3 innings). The home run ball hurt him in August, while control issues (15 walks in 31 2/3 innings) snuck into the picture in September.
He made a start in the ALDS for the Blue Jays for the second consecutive season and was even better than his outing the previous year. He allowed a run on five hits with no walks and four strikeouts in six and one-third innings during the 2015 ALDS, then followed it up this year with eight and one-third innings of one-run ball, allowing four hits and no walks while striking out six in getting a big win.
INDIANS VS. ESTRADA
Estrada faced the Indians once this season, taking a no-decision. He allowed three runs on five hits in five innings of work, striking out seven. Two balls left the yard against him in that game at Rogers Centre.
He has faced no member of the Indians more than seven times in his career, but in the combined 46 plate appearances by Cleveland players on the playoff roster, they have hit four home runs and driven in seven runs total. Mike Napoli leads the team with seven trips to the plate, getting a single and three walks for a .571 on-base percentage. Carlos Santana is the team’s leader in hits off of Estrada with three in his career, including a solo home run.
Coco Crisp and Rajai Davis each have three plate appearances and two hits off of the 33-year-old, and all the hits have gone for extra bases. Crisp has a double and a solo homer, while Davis has a triple, a homer, and has driven in two runs. Yan Gomes has the other homer off of Estrada in the regular season.
Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall are both hitless in five at bats against him, with Kipnis striking out three of those trips. Francisco Lindor is 0-for-3.
The Indians released their 25-man roster for the ALCS, which featured one notable change from that used in the ALDS series with the Boston Red Sox.
Left-handed pitcher Ryan Merritt was added to the club, giving the Indians another arm for the potential bullpen-style game on the docket for Game 4 of the series in Toronto. He also gives manager Terry Francona another southpaw to use as needed. The team carried just one lefty in the ALDS against the right-handed heavy Red Sox lineup.
Merritt took the spot of reserve catcher Chris Gimenez, who was passed over for the backup role on the roster for Gomes.
The rest of the rosters looks as follows:
|P||Cody Allen||Joe Biagini|
|Cody Anderson||Brett Cecil|
|Trevor Bauer||Marco Estrada|
|Mike Clevinger||Jason Grilli|
|Corey Kluber||J.A. Happ|
|Jeff Manship||Francisco Liriano|
|Zach McAllister||Aaron Loup|
|Ryan Merritt||Roberto Osuna|
|Andrew Miller||Aaron Sanchez|
|Dan Otero||Marcus Stroman|
|Bryan Shaw||Ryan Tepera|
|– – – – –||– – – – –||– – – – –|
|C||Yan Gomes||Russell Martin|
|Roberto Perez||Dioner Navarro|
|– – – – –||– – – – –||– – – – –|
|IF||Jason Kipnis||Darwin Barney|
|Francisco Lindor||Josh Donaldson|
|Michael Martinez||Edwin Encarnacion|
|Mike Napoli||Ryan Goins|
|Jose Ramirez||Devon Travis|
|Carlos Santana||Troy Tulowitzki|
|– – – – –||– – – – –||– – – – –|
|OF||Lonnie Chisenhall||Jose Bautista|
|Coco Crisp||Ezequiel Carrera|
|Rajai Davis||Kevin Pillar|
|Brandon Guyer||Dalton Pompey|
|Tyler Naquin||Michael Saunders|
|Melvin Upton Jr.|
Both teams will get right back at it on Saturday afternoon when the right-handed Tomlin takes on the left-handed Happ.
Tomlin got bumped up a game in the rotation due to a lacerated right pinkie finger that Bauer injured on Thursday in a non-baseball related injury, dealing yet another blow to the Indians starting rotation. Tomlin started the Indians’ Game 3 win and won his first career postseason appearance, working five innings while allowing just two runs on four hits with a rare walk and four strikeouts.
He faced the Jays twice this season, going 0-1 in those starts with a 6.10 ERA and 1.84 WHIP. He allowed seven runs on 16 hits with three walks and four home runs while striking out 13 in ten and one-third innings.
Happ easily exceeded his previous career best for wins in a season as his 20-4 record this year was far superior to the 12-4 mark he put up in 2009 while finishing second in the NL Rookie of the Year race. Signed to a three-year, $36 million deal in the offseason by the Blue Jays to return to Toronto (where he spent 2012 through 2014), Happ put up a 3.18 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 32 starts.
He has faced the Indians six times in his career (five starts), owning a 3-1 record lifetime with a 2.86 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. In one start against the Tribe in 2016, he worked seven innings of one-run baseball, allowing five hits and no walks while striking out eleven. He made his first postseason appearance since the 2009 World Series last week in the ALDS, earning a win with five innings of work against Texas. He allowed one run on nine hits, walked one, and struck out five.
Game time for Game 2 of the ALCS is scheduled for 4:00 PM ET from Progressive Field.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images