After ALDS sweeps against Texas and Boston, the Blue Jays and Indians are about to face a tougher test.
Just like that, the ALCS matchup has been determined. The Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox were both swept in their respective division series (to the consternation of both teams and their fanbases), and the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians are set to meet in the postseason for the first time in either team’s existence.
Here are three factors that could have a big time impact on the outcome of the series as the Jays and Indians chase the American League pennant.
1. Battle of the Bullpens
Having a reliable bullpen is imperative to postseason success. You only get so many innings in a postseason run, so there’s an awful lot of significance attached to those innings.
Both Cleveland and Toronto have exceptional bullpens.
Toronto’s ‘pen is led by closer Robert Osuna, who gave the Blue Jays a scare in the wild-card game when he appeared to have tweaked his shoulder. However, he was excellent in the ALDS, particularly in Game 3, where he retired all six batters he faced with no apparent issues.
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Cleveland’s bullpen is possibly the best in the business, though. Closer Cody Allen has the ninth inning well in control (2.51 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 33 SV), which allows manager Terry Francona quite a bit of flexibility with when he uses Andrew Miller. Miller (1.45 ERA, .686 WHIP) has had the sort of season that pales only in comparison to, say, Zach Britton’s, but unlike Britton, Miller isn’t strictly a closer.
He’s capable of closing, but as Allen has that taken care of, Francona can send in Miller whenever he needs it. That’s the sort of weapon very few teams have — and the Blue Jay aren’t one of the few.
If it comes down to bullpens, Cleveland should have the edge.
2. Big Bats
Last year, Toronto had the most potent offense in the American league by a significant margin (891 runs scored to the next closest team’s 764). That wasn’t the case this year, with the Blue Jays finishing behind Boston, Cleveland, Seattle, and Texas in that category. That’s partially due to the fact that the Blue Jays’ offense tailed off during month and a half or so of the regular season, but everything appears to be back in working order.
The Blue Jays hit two home runs (including a three-run walk-off) in the wild-card game to defeat the Orioles, and then lit up the Rangers’ pitching staff for 22 runs in a three game sweep. They hit eight home runs over the course of those three games.
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Of course, Texas’ pitching left something to be desired, but the Blue Jays are, simply put, full of guys who can change a game with one swing.
Cleveland scores runs, but they lack the power that Toronto possesses. (Toronto hit 221 home runs this year to Cleveland’s 185.)
If Cleveland has the edge in terms of relief pitching, Toronto gets the advantage when it comes to the long ball. The Jays face criticism at times for seemingly being unable to play small ball, but when you hit the ball as hard (and as far) as they do, small ball becomes a little less necessary for success.
3. Home Sweet Home
Because the Indians had the better regular season record, they get home field advantage for the ALCS.
This may prove to be a good thing for them. The Indians have the best home record in the American League, going 53-28 for a sparkling win percentage of .654. They also score a whole lot more easily at home, with a positive run differential of over 100 at home and a negative run differential (albeit only slightly) on the road.
Of course, this a seven game series, which is not the same as the 82 home games the Indians played. With such a small sample size — at most, the Indians would play four games at home — home field advantage may not be that much of an advantage after all.
After all, the Blue Jays were also quite good at home, and what’s more, actually had a better run differential on the road than they did at home. However, don’t discount the value of opening a series with two games at home (and a chance to go up two games in a series), with a friendly crowd and a familiar field.
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We’ve already seen that anything can happen in the postseason. We don’t have much of a sample size to draw on since the Jays and Indians played only seven times this year (and split the series 4-3, advantage Indians). If the Blue Jays can jump on the Indians’ starters early and continue hitting the long ball, they’ll be in good shape. Otherwise, Francona has shown that he knows how to use his bullpen to slam the door shut on Cleveland’s opponents.
All in all, Cleveland should be able to dispatch Toronto, but it won’t be an easy sweep.
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