Game 3 of the American League Championship Series is already marred in subplots.
For the Cleveland Indians and their fans, eyes will be on the right pinkie of Trevor Bauer. The 25-year-old right-hander was in the news after needing stitches to close a cut on his fifth digit that forced him out of his scheduled Game 2 start. While he has stated the injury is fine, no one will know for certain how well the finger will hold up until he is on the mound and firing strikes at the Blue Jays lineup, which gets to the other big story line of Monday night’s contest.
Toronto slugger Jose Bautista implied that there are “circumstances”, ones that he is not at liberty to discuss and that the media would not want to talk about either, that are forcing the Blue Jays hitters to deal with a suspect strike zone. While the salt in his tears have led to an impressively saline quote, the truth of the matter is that the collective backs of the Blue Jays franchise are up against a wall, down two games to none in a best-of-seven series. The Jays will host their third home game of the postseason and have won both contests in walk-off fashion to advance to the next series. Such cannot occur this week with three potential games at Rogers Centre over the next three days, but the Blue Jays can do everything possible to try to extend their postseason lives.
The Blue Jays were good at home, going 46-35 in the regular season. The Indians were just 41-39 on the road. If Toronto can focus on making better contact and can manage to forget that the Indians own the top strikeout staff in both Championship Series, the top American League staff from the ALDS, and, oh yeah, the top strikeout staff in the league for the entire 2016 season, maybe they can put up more than the one run that they have mustered while hitting .159 in the ALCS thus far. If Cleveland continues to avoid grooving mistakes over the middle of the plate while showing excellent control of the edges and benefitting from the pitch framing abilities of Roberto Perez, Bautista may have some more crying to do in advance of Game 4.
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 (8:00 PM ET at TOR) – RHP Trevor Bauer (12-8, 4.26 ERA) vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (9-10, 4.37)
Tuesday, 10/18/16 (4:00 PM ET at TOR) – RHP Mike Clevinger (3-3, 5.26) vs. RHP Aaron Sanchez (15-2, 3.00)
Wednesday, 10/19/16* (4:00 PM ET at TOR) – TBD
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 Espanol
Radio (all games) – Indians Radio Network; ESPN Radio; SN590 (Toronto)
BAUER VS. THE DRONE
Little has been easy for the Indians this season and if anyone expected smooth sailing through the postseason, they were foolish. Such was the case for Cleveland on Friday when the club announced that Bauer had sustained a laceration to the top of his right pinkie on his throwing hand in an unfortunate mishap with one of his drones that have become a visible hobby of his off the field.
The injury, which required stitches, forced the Indians to bump him back a game in the rotation, moving Josh Tomlin into a starting role in Game 2 in Cleveland. The push backwards allowed Bauer Saturday and Sunday to heal his wound a little bit more before taking the mound again.
He will look to follow up a strong start in his playoff debut in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against Boston when he allowed three runs over four and two-thirds innings in a no-decision against the Red Sox. He struck out six and did not issue a walk, but he did allow a pair of balls to become souvenirs to the Progressive Field crowd.
He finished up his fifth Major League season and fourth in an Indians uniform with a career-high 12 wins on the mound in 35 games (28 starts). He worked 190 innings and had a 1.31 WHIP while striking out 168 batters.
BAUER VS. THOSE BLUE BIRDS
Bauer has faced the Blue Jays four times, making a pair of appearances against them in each of the last two seasons. He was hit hard in 2015, taking a loss and a no-decision in two starts while allowing eleven runs on 13 hits with four walks and three strikeouts in five and two-thirds innings. This season, he earned a win in a five-inning relief effort and a no-decision in his lone start. He allowed two runs on seven hits with five walks and 16 strikeouts over 13 innings of work.
Michael Saunders has had quite a bit of success against Bauer and would be a no-brainer for manager John Gibbons’ lineup on Monday. He is 5-for-9 in 12 plate appearances (.556 average, .667 OBP) with a double, three walks, and an RBI against Bauer.
Russell Martin is next on the club with three hits in six plate appearances against Bauer with a homer and two RBI. Josh Donaldson is the leader among active Blue Jays players with three RBI in seven trips to the plate against Bauer. Ezequiel Carrera and Troy Tulowitzki each have two hits and one RBI off of him, while Bautista has one of Toronto’s combined three extra base hits against Bauer with a double in three at bats.
STROMAN STRONG AGAINST TRIBE
The 25-year-old right-hander Stroman will make his third appearance of the season against the Indians on Monday night.
He started the season strong, going 3-0 in five April starts with a 4.37 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP and was 5-1 at the end of May, but as the first half wrapped up, he was 7-4 with a 4.89 ERA in 18 starts.
He was steady to end July and posted a season-best 3.13 ERA in August, but he ran into problems in the final month of the season. Despite posting his second-best monthly ERA (3.41), he took an 0-5 mark on the mound in six starts with a 1.27 WHIP. His strikeout rate was near that of the rest of the season, but he walked a season-high 14 batters in his 37 innings of work after walking just nine batters combined over his previous ten starts.
Stroman allowed just one home run when going through a batting order the first time, with the opposition hitting .275 in those situations. He was at his best in 2016 the second time through, holding the other team to a .225 average while seeing an increase in his strikeout rate. The third time through is when teams struck the most, hitting .284 with a .525 slugging percentage as he gave up 14 home runs the third time through the lineup, double his total allowed in any other plate appearances.
STROMAN VS. CLEVELAND
Stroman’s numbers were strong against Cleveland in 2016 after a rocky relief outing in his only other appearance against them in 2014. After allowing five runs (four earned) in an inning and one-third in that first outing three seasons ago, he posted a 1.29 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in two starts in 2016, giving up two runs on 12 hits with two walks and 15 strikeouts in 14 innings of work.
Lonnie Chisenhall, riding a nice hitting streak to begin his playoff career, is a player to keep an eye on against Stroman. In seven trips to the box against the right-hander, he has three hits, but has struck out three other times. Carlos Santana and Rajai Davis also have three hits off of him, with Santana adding a walk in nine total plate appearances, while Davis has totaled his in eight trips. Santana has the only extra base hit by a current member of the Indians’ roster against Stroman. As a team, the Indians’ playoff roster owns a .221 average against the Game 3 starter in their combined careers.
Mike Napoli, who has struggled so far this postseason, has not had any luck against Stroman in his career – he is 0-for-9 with three strikeouts and a pair of double play balls. Jose Ramirez has had the same issues, going 0-for-7 with two strikeouts and a double play of his own.
ON THE INJURY FRONT
Toronto second baseman Devon Travis is done for the postseason after reinjuring his right knee while covering first base in the fifth inning of Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday night.
The Blue Jays asked for and were granted a roster exception and removed their injured infielder while adding first baseman Justin Smoak to the 25-man playoff roster. The team already had a pair of infielders on the roster able to step in for Travis at second base in Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins.
Toronto will host Game 4 on Tuesday afternoon in a 4:00 PM ET start from Rogers Centre.
Right-hander Aaron Sanchez will take the mound for the Blue Jays, either looking to stave off elimination or looking to even the series up at two games apiece. The 24-year-old right-hander had an impressive 15-2 record and a 3.00 ERA in 30 starts in his third season in the Majors and his first as an All-Star. The former first rounder in 2010 was 6-1 at home with a 3.74 ERA in 13 starts this season and owns a 10-5 record with a 3.10 ERA in 47 career appearances there overall. He is 1-0 with a 5.06 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in three games (two starts) against the Indians in his career, but allowed five runs (four earned) on four hits and a walk in four innings of a no-decision this season.
Cleveland is expected to start rookie right-hander Mike Clevinger, but that could be very much subject to change as there has been some speculation that the Indians may look to Corey Kluber to start on short rest in the fourth game of the series. If Clevinger gets tapped to go, it will be his first appearance in game action since working two-thirds of an inning in relief against the Kansas City Royals on October 1. He was 3-3 for the Indians in his debut season, making seven appearances in relief and ten starts while posting a 5.26 ERA and 1.49 WHIP. He faced the Blue Jays once this season in relief, earning a win after throwing an inning and a third of scoreless baseball, walking one and giving up a hit while striking out three.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images