With all the coverage dedicated to the Chicago Cubs, you may have missed the American League half of the postseason. The Indians are riding the Cleveland narrative -- complete with noted-Yankees fan LeBron James rousing the crowd at Progressive Field -- but it will be the Toronto Blue Jays advancing to the World Series.
Both the Blue Jays and Indians ranked among baseball’s best in runs scored, OPS and FIP, while the Indians had a slight edge in strikeouts over the course of the regular season. The playoffs have represented a small sample size for both clubs, but Cleveland held the Red Sox to just seven earned runs over 29 innings while the Blue Jays produced 27 runs in 39 frames.
So which is the greater key to success?
The home run has had a huge resurgence this October with half of all runs scored coming via the long ball. If that trend continues, the Blue Jays will be in position to capitalize over a seven-game series. The Blue Jays hit 221 home runs to the Indians’ 185 despite playing at the Rogers Centre (a middling ballpark for homers compared to Progressive Field).
John Gibbons has six hitters with at least 20 home runs, including famed postseason slugger Jose Bautista. Say what you want about Bautista’s bat flipping and bravado, but he has 16 RBI in 15 postseason games. The dangerous question for Terry Francona and his coaching staff is, however, is Bautista even the most dangerous hitter in Toronto’s dugout?
Edwin Encarnacion had 42 home runs during the regular season and hit .417/.500/.917 in the ALDS against the Texas Rangers. Josh Donaldson was the AL MVP just last season, reached base at .404 clip and has five doubles in 18 plate appearances so far this postseason. There’s also Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin to handle.
The biggest obstacles standing between the Blue Jays and the Fall Classic are Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Without Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar available, Kluber’s starts have become must-win games and Francona has had to lean heavily on his bullpen. He only pitched four innings, but Miller was easily the MVP of the ALDS. He fanned seven and allowed just two hits as he earned a win and hold against the Red Sox.
However, the high-scoring Blue Jays should have no anxiety standing in the box against Cleveland’s top hurlers. Donaldson is 6-for-16 with five RBIs against Kluber in his career and Bautista/Encarnacion have combined to go 6-for-17 with three home runs against Miller.
Timing is every in the postseason and much like the offense; the Blue Jays’ rotation is rounding into form at the perfect time. Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ combined to allow just four runs over 19 1/3 innings in the ALDS. The hot streak extends back to the last few weeks of the regular season when the Jays had the best rotation in the Majors.
If Francisco Liriano (concussion) and Joaquin Benoit (calf) are able to contribute meaningful innings, the Jays will be able to absorb a poor outing (or two). The Toronto bullpen has combined to allow just two earned runs in 14 innings so far this postseason. This is not a big hitting, no pitching situation.
The Indians do have an edge on the bases, stealing and running on contact more often, which could become problematic for the Blue Jays.
Martin was the worst among 13 qualified catchers at limiting the run game with a caught stealing percentage of .153 this season. Over the least two seasons, Martin has allowed 28 passed balls. The Indians will no doubt test Martin defensively, but overall Toronto will acquit themselves well.
They ranked eighth with 28 defensive runs saved this season, one spot ahead of the Indians (17).
Auston Matthews will have to wait a few weeks to fully take over The Six because the World Series is coming to Toronto.