The American League Championship Series, which starts Friday night at Progressive Field figures to be pretty evenly matched.
The Blue Jays led the AL in ERA with the Indians ranking 2nd. In runs scored, Cleveland was 2nd while Toronto was 5th.
And while Canada’s team did not hit for a high average, they led the league in walks, so they ranked 3rd in on base percentage, just ahead of the Tribe.
With Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar missing, the Jays seem to have the edge in the starting rotation, but the Indians look to have the superior bullpen coming into the series.
Based on run differential, both teams should have won 91 games this season. That’s how even these two teams appear to be.
The Indians won the season series, four games to three, but keep in mind the first series in Toronto was skewed by the 19 inning victory which extended the Tribe’s winning streak to a club record 14 games.
Carrasco won the series opener with a 14 strikeout performance, and we all remember Trevor Bauer’s five scoreless innings on short rest in the aforementioned extra inning affair.
Terry Francona used Zack McAllister, who was struggling big time, to start the third game against Blue Jays’ game one starter Marco Estrada, and Cleveland led before the bullpen faltered late.
Corey Kluber had a rare horrible outing in the last game and Toronto dominated.
Keep in mind, the Indians did not see Jose Bautista all season. He was hurt both times the two teams met.
The Blue Jays big bats (Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Bautista, and Troy Tulowitzki) all function much better at Rogers Centre, with the exception of Bautista.
Russell Martin and former Indian, Ezequiel Carrera are two hitters who benefit greatly from playing at home, where the ball seems to take off. Martin’s OPS is almost 100 points higher at home, while Carrera’s is over 200 points higher.
The series in Cleveland was highlighted by late inning home runs for the Tribe. They tied and won the Friday night game on dingers by Jose Ramirez and the inside the park walk off job by Tyler Naquin, while the finale was decided by a two run shot by Ramirez in the bottom of the eighth.
So, based on the regular season, the two teams are pretty evenly matched. Is there anything the Tribe can take advantage of in the LCS?
The Blue Jays’ hitters strike out a lot. They rank 4th in the AL in this category. Besides the Carrasco game mentioned earlier, Bauer also had a start where he fanned more than 10 Toronto hitters.
So, the Indians’ pitchers need to get ahead in the count and expand the strike zone. Toronto hitter will chase pitches out of the zone when behind in the count.
The Tribe hurlers must get the Justin Smoaks, Kevin Pillars, Melvin Uptons of the team out, so if the big boppers do something the damage will be minimized.
Also, the Jays don’t do a good job controlling the running game, and the Indians lead the AL in stolen bases. It would not be a surprise to see Rajai Davis, Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, and Jason Kipnis trying to steal every time they get on base.
The Tribe has been aggressive on the basepaths all year, and now is not the time to change that.
Can the Indians win their sixth pennant in club history? Of course. But, as usual, it will not be easy. It is funny that this is the first time Cleveland has had the home field advantage in the five ALCS they have been involved with.
It would help the cause if Francona continued his hot streak in the manager’s chair.