4:00 PM EST, TBS – Money Line: Indians -115, Run Line: 6.5
Alas, the American League Championship Series, we hardly knew you, for after three games it appears your stay won’t last much longer. This is the reality tonight, as the Toronto Blue Jays desperately attempt to stave off elimination at the hands of the Cleveland Indians. The most unlikely of powerhouses, the Indians (94-67, 1st in AL Central) have steamrolled through the opposition in these Playoffs, sweeping the top-seeded Boston Red Sox in three games of the American League Division Series, before taking each of the first three meetings of this ALCS. Indeed, Terry Francona has his charges in the zone right now, and after last night’s improbable 4-2 victory at the Rodgers Center in Toronto there’s no reason to believe that that will change anytime soon. To say that Monday Night’s contest was odd would be an understatement, as Francona had to turn to his Bullpen prematurely as Starting Pitcher Trevor Bauer (12-8, 4.26 ERA) was yanked in the First Inning, after he was found to be bleeding from his pinky finger in a truly bizarre situation. Bauer had received ten stitches shortly before the game began, but was spotted by Blue Jays’ Manager Dave Gibbons who quickly alerted the Umpire who was standing 15-20 feet behind the Pitcher, in turn precipitating the change on the mound. What ensued was a masterful parade of Relievers, consisting of Dan Otero, Jeff Manship, Zach McAllister, Bryan Shaw (who earned the Win), Cody Allen, and Andrew Miller (who earned the Save). Between them, no Reliever threw more than 1.2 innings, as Francona juggled the arms available to him, as the Bullpen continued to get stronger the deeper he got. The trifecta of Shaw, Allen, and Miller combined to permit no earned runs on three hits, while logging seven strikeouts over 4.2 innings of labor. Offensively, Second Baseman Jeff Kipnis (.275 BA, 23 HR, 82 RBI) and First Baseman Mike Napoli (.239 BA, 34 HR, 101 RBI) both went yard, accounting for all but one of Cleveland’s runs. And now Francona will be going for the proverbial jugular, as he sends his Ace Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14 ERA) to the mound in an attempt to send the Indians to their first World Series since 1997. Pitching on three day’s rest, the 30-year old has been the Rotation’s top Starter throughout the season, leading them in a number of categories, including Wins, ERA, Innings Pitched (215.0), Strikeouts (227) and WHIP (1.056). The All-Star Righthander has been even better in the Postseason, yielding zero runs on nine hits over the course of 13.1 innings of work, racking up thirteen strikeouts opposed to five walks neutralizing the powerful lineups of the Red Sox and the Blue Jays. And once this guy is ready to ready to take his leave and hand the ball of to the aforementioned Miller (4-0, 1.55 ERA), it’s practically over; since being acquired from the Yankees at the Trade deadline, the Lefthander has been damn near unhittable, totaling an insane forty-six strikeouts in comparison to a mere two walks in twenty-nine innings of labor. Toronto simply can’t hit this dude, who has fanned a whopping thirteen Blue Jays in just five innings in this series.
Meanwhile, it’s amazing how quickly the tables have turned on the Blue Jays (89-73, T-2nd in AL East). After outlasting the Baltimore Orioles in the AL Wild Card Playoff, Gibbons’ charges surprisingly swept theough the top-seeded Texans rangers with remarkable ease. However, everything that worked for them against Texas, has betrayed them against Cleveland; through three games they’ve batted a miserable .177, a steep drop-off from the .248 they logged during the Regukar Season. Furthermore, in a total of ninety-six plate appearances, Toronto has struck out thirty-four times, with sluggers Jose Bautista (.234 BA, 22 HR, 69 RBI) and Michael Saunders (.253 BA, 24 HR, 57 RBI) accounting for a dozen themselves. With Kluner on the Bump tonight, don’t expect a drastic turnaround, for the only way the Blue Jays will be able to get back into this series is with thier pitching, which leads us to tonight’s starter. Taking the mound tonight for the Blue Jays is Aaron Sanchez (15-2, 3.00 ERA), who throughout large stretches of the season was by far and away the top arm in Gibbons’ Rotation. The 23-year old led the American League with a 3.00 ERA, though his Postseason reputation is waiting to catch up with his Regular Season Resume’. The Righthander started Toronto’s series-clinching victory over Texas in Game Three of the American League Championship Series, though it seemed as if he did everything in his power to make sure that particular series would go a fourth game. In his first Postseason Start, Sanchez struggled over the course of 5.2 innings, yielding six earned runs on just three hits, two of which were homers, striking out five and walking four, before Gibbons pulled the kid in favor of the Bullpen. That’s pretty much been the story for the third-year flame-thrower in terms of the Playoffs, for in two years he’s made just one Start despite ten appearances serving up seven runs (six earned) on ten hits, with eleven strikeouts and a half-dozen walks in thirteen innings of labor, all the while posting a 4.15 ERA. The bottom line is this kid is a tremendous talent, who is learning that pitching in October is very different than throwing in the Spring and Summer. With that said, the Blue Jays are going to need him to get educated quickly, for his lone start against the Indians this season was far from inspiring; Gibbons had to pull the youngster after four innings in which he allowed five runs (four earned) on four hits, including a home run, with five strikeouts and a walk back on August 20th. Granted, Toronto ended up rallying back to earn a 6-5 victory, but with the season on the line there is going to be a ridiculous amount of pressure on Sanchez’s shoulders, whether he’s up to the task or not.
Predicted Outcome: Indians 5, Blue Jays 1