At the start of the Major League Baseball season months ago, there were 15 teams vying to be the American League representative in the World Series. After a long 162 game regular season, and one round of playoffs, we have dwindled that field down to just two teams: The Cleveland Indians and the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Indians entered the playoffs as the two seed in the AL. In their opening series in the ALDS, the Indians held home field advantage over the Boston Red Sox, and came out on top in just three games. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays entered as the last team into the playoffs in the AL. They fended off the Baltimore Orioles in the Wild Card Game, and then went on to face the number one seed Texas Rangers, and made it look easy. Like Cleveland, they swept the series 3-0.
That means these two teams are set to square off with a trip to the World Series on the line. The Indians will hold home field advantage being the lower seed, meaning they get to host two games, followed by three games in Toronto, and then two back in Cleveland if needed. First team to four wins gets the right to represent the American League in the World Series.
Just because they are a Wild Card team does not mean the Blue Jays should be discounted. There is plenty of reason to believe the only team from Canada will be playing for the title of baseball champs. Here are five reasons why the Jays will come out on top in the ALCS.
Troy Tulowitzki is hot
The Blue Jays have a pretty scary lineup. The heart of their lineup consists of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Some people almost forget the team also has star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Now Tulo may not be the superstar he used to be with the Colorado Rockies, but he still launched 24 homers this season while slugging .443.
At the end of the day he is still a potent bat, and would be the best hitter if placed on a number of any other teams. And during the Texas series, Tulo was one of the best bats in the lineup. In game one he went 3-5 with three RBIs, which came on a bases loaded triple off of Cole Hamels. In game two, he was 2-4 with a home run off of Yu Darvish. Finally in game three he went 1-4 with a run scored.
When Tulo is on his game, a scary Toronto lineup becomes even deeper. And unfortunately for the Indians, Tulo is swinging the bat well right now, and their pitchers are going not going to be able to pitch around the middle of the order, with Tulo sitting in the six slot to make things even harder than they already are.
They play well on the road
One of the key factors everyone likes to point out in the playoffs, is home field advantage. But luckily for the Jays, even though they do not have that home field advantage, they play well on the road. During the regular season, the team went 43-38 on the road.
Only three other teams in MLB had a better road record, and only one of those teams were another AL team. Those three teams were the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. They also went on the road and beat Texas in two games during the ALCS.
Some may point to the fact that the Indians were 53-28 at home during the regular season. And I counter that with the point that Texas had the exact same home record. And we know how that ended for them. Toronto is one of the best road teams in baseball, and that will surely play a role in this series.
Their pitching staff is under-rated
The Jays may be known for their bats, but that does not mean their pitching staff is anything to shake your head at. Names like J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez came out of nowhere this season. Marco Estrada was an All-Star this season. Marcus Stroman entered the season as the teams number one, and has some serious upside. And Francisco Liriano provides a starter mentality, even though he likely will be coming in from the pen in this series.
Happ had a career year. He was a 20 game winner and pitched to a 3.18 ERA. Over the course of 195 innings, he struck out 163 men with a WHIP of 1.17. He had time with Pirates pitching guru Ray Searage last season, and led to this surprising season.
24 year old Aaron Sanchez burst on to the scene in 2016. The youngster came away with 15 wins and a very impressive 3.00 ERA. Estrada may have only come away with nine wins, but still managed an impressive 1.12 WHIP and 3.48 ERA. Marcus Stroman is still only 25 years old, and while he had a down season, his talent is as good as any on the staff. Finally, Francisco Liriano was acquired from the Pirates during the season, and provides the strikeout punch when needed.
They can hit the long ball with anyone
As I mentioned earlier, the team is loaded on the offensive side of the game. With names like Donaldson and Encarnacion, there are not many easy outs for opposing pitchers. But most of all, these bats like to hit home runs. And lots of them.
The team hit a total of 221 home runs, ranking them fourth in the Majors. And so far in the playoffs, they have hit a total of 10 more long balls. That is double any other club this postseason. So whenever they are in need of a clutch home run, almost anyone in the lineup is capable of doing just that.
Edwin led the bunch with 42, followed by Donaldson at 37. Six guys on the roster hit over 20 home runs, plus another two who had over 10. So if they find themselves down late in a game against Cleveland, anyone could turn things around with one swing of the bat. It is simply what they do.
The way they manhandled Texas
As the postseason began, no one was expecting Texas to be taken out in three games. They entered the playoffs as the top team in the American League, and the Blue Jays made them look more like the Oakland A’s than the Texas Rangers.
Not only did they beat Texas, they beat their top two pitchers, Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, in Texas. The dangerous Jays lineup made Hamels and Darvish look like Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey. Hamels was chases after three and a third innings, giving up six earned runs, and seven total, on nine base-runners. He only struck out one. Darvish on the other hand, went five innings, giving up five runs. He struck out four and gave up six base-runners.
So if Toronto can do that to those two arms, who says they cannot do the same to the likes of Cleveland. They are a team with some serious talent, and the Indians lineup cannot match the Blue Jays. The Tribe needs their arms to step up in a way the Rangers’ pitchers did not. If they do not, expect to see the Jays in the World Series.
So there you have it. The ALCS will get underway on Friday, October 14th at 8:00 pm. The game will be in Cleveland, and will see Marco Estrada take on Corey Kluber.