The Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays will face off in the American League Championship Series. Considering how well both teams played in the American League Division Series, it’s sure to be a high-powered matchup.
Game 1 of the ALCS is tonight in Cleveland. Marco Estrada will start for Blue Jays, while Corey Kluber will take the hill for the Indians. Cleveland won four of the seven regular season games between the two teams.
Neither team has had an easy road to the ALCS. After going 89-73 in the regular season, the Blue Jays were in a situation where they needed a victory in the American League Wild Card Game just to get to the ALDS. They defeated the Baltimore Orioles 5-2 in the game last Tuesday after Edwin Encarnación hit a walk-off three-run home run. They then went on to sweep the Texas Rangers in the ALDS. Over the course of the series, the Blue Jays outscored the Rangers 22-10. This was an impressive showing by Toronto, especially considering the fact that Texas finished the regular season with the best record in the AL.
The Indians didn’t exactly have an easy opponent in the first round of the playoffs either. They finished the season 94-67, which was a good enough record to give them home field advantage in their ALDS matchup against the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox came into the postseason as hot as any team in baseball. However, they were no match for the Indians. Cleveland did not allow more than four runs in any of the three games of the series. Thanks to a solid bullpen and a consistent offense, the Indians were able to sweep the Red Sox.
This series is most likely going to come down to how effective the Indians’ pitching staff can be against the Blue Jays’ dynamic offense. The starting rotation for Cleveland, headlined by Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, is going to need to keep Toronto’s hitters in check. In addition to having a solid starting pitching staff, the Indians also have a very good bullpen. With Andrew Miller as the setup man and Cody Allen as the closer, the back end of this bullpen is electric. Given a lead, they can close out the game successfully. Offensively, they’ll have to rely on veteran players like Mike Napoli, Coco Crisp and Carlos Santana. Additionally, younger guys like Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez will need to continue to produce for the team. This offense probably isn’t going to score a whole lot of runs in the series, but they can certainly score enough to win games. Getting a lead and then leaving the game in the hands of the bullpen was the formula that the Indians used against the Red Sox. It worked very well. If they are able to do this again, Cleveland will have a good chance to win the series.
For the Blue Jays, the key to winning the series will be scoring a lot of runs. That’s how they have won all season. It’s how they were able to beat the Rangers. Unlike the Indians, their pitching staff is not their strength. Toronto is going to need major contributions from guys like Edwin Encarnación, Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki. Because they do not have the best bullpen, their offense is going to need to score enough runs to give them comfortable leads. How well the pitching staff performs will be very important as well. The Blue Jays cannot expect to win high scoring games against the Indians because of how good of a bullpen Cleveland has. Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman will all need to go deep into games if the Blue Jays are going to win the series. Their bullpen is not good enough to rely upon in tight games. To advance to the World Series, Toronto will need to score a good amount of runs while getting strong performances from their starting pitchers.
The 2016 ALCS should be an interesting series. The Blue Jays and Indians are both small market teams who have not been to the World Series since the 1990s. We’ll see if this series lives up to the hype.