By Ryan Decker
Major League Baseball’s playoffs continue tonight as the American League Championship Series gets underway in Cleveland between the AL Central champion Indians and the only remaining Wild Card team in these playoffs, the Toronto Blue Jays.
Both of these teams advanced from the Divisional round of the AL bracket by sweeping their opponent – Cleveland ending David Ortiz’s final season in three games, and Toronto giving three knockout punches to the Texas Rangers.
The Blue Jays have powered their way to the ALCS, while the Indians got key pitching to subdue the potent Red Sox lineup they faced in the previous mound, creating a strength vs. strength matchup to determine which team advances to the World Series.
John Gibbons’ club has the most powerful lineup still playing, having hit 221 home runs in the regular season, and already knocked 10 balls over the fence this postseason. The Jays have also scored 12 more runs than Cleveland.
As good as Toronto’s lineup has been, the pitching staff has risen to the occasion.
Toronto’s staff held the Orioles to just two runs over 10 innings in the AL Wild Card game, and held the Rangers in check for the first two games of that series as well.
The Blue Jays ERA is second best in the postseason and no team remaining in contention has kept opposing hitters off the base paths better.
Pitching and hitting have gone hand in hand for the Jays in October.
Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson have gotten on base and created run, while Marco Estrada and the starting rotation have kept the opposition at bay from the mound. Toronto starters have been given 2.5 runs of run support this postseason – best in the majors.
Terry Francona is working his magic again.
The Cleveland Indians haven’t won the World Series since 1948, meaning that if the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians play each other in the Fall Classic, one of the two current longest World Series droughts has to end.
This postseason, Cleveland has the best team batting average, and is one of the best at on-base percentage. Its problem has been scoring runs.
Outside of their 6-0 win in Game 2 over the Red Sox, the Indians played a pair of one-run games in the ALDS. Among teams still alive, the Indians have scored the fewest runs (15).
Something Cleveland has done well is pitch.
Cleveland’s team ERA is the best among playoff teams, and nearly two runs lower than the AL average for the postseason.
Most importantly, the Indians have two of the best relievers in Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, and a former Cy Young Award winner in Corey Kluber. The three have combined to allow zero runs on nine hits while striking out 19.
In a postseason where bullpen use has been put under the microscope, and a majority have been rather inconsistent, Cleveland and Toronto’s have been above average and consistent.
With overall deeper pitching staffs, expect the number of runs scored by Toronto to dip down slightly, while Cleveland’s could stay about the same.
The difference in this series will be timely hitting.
Although Toronto has the more powerful lineup, Cleveland’s is better equipped to string together base hits and produce runs that way.
The bullpen and home field advantage gives Francona’s club a slight advantage.
Prediction: Cleveland wins 4 games to 2