Blue Jays should have starting pitching advantage in ALCS

Apr 5, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ (33) talks with pitcher Marcus Stroman (6) in the dugout before the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 5, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ (33) talks with pitcher Marcus Stroman (6) in the dugout before the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The ALCS gets underway on Friday at Progressive Field, with Cleveland sending Corey Kluber to the mound against the Blue Jays’ Marco Estrada.

It seems like a long break between rounds, but that’s what happens when you have two division sweeps in the American League. The Blue Jays sent the Texas Rangers home on Sunday with a 3-0 sweep, and the Indians gave the Red Sox the same treatment on Monday.

While the National League still has one position in their NLCS to determine, the ALCS gets underway on Friday night at 8:00 p.m. EST. The Blue Jays will look to Marco Estrada to continue his playoff excellence, and Cleveland counters with former Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber.

Estrada nearly threw a complete game shutout in the Blue Jays’ ALDS against the Rangers, but was yanked after 8.1 dominant innings, allowing one run. The 33-year-old has pitched to a 1.95 ERA in 27.2 innings and 4 starts in the 2015-16 postseasons. He was crucial to the Blue Jays’ success last season, and produced another big game in his first go-around this postseason.

Kluber made his first career playoff start last week against the Red Sox and delivered 7.0 innings of three-hit, shutout baseball. He had a bounce-back campaign in 2016, finishing 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA, after losing 16 games in 2015. Kluber is an easy choice was Game 1 for manager Terry Francona, and will look to add to his playoff resume.

Beyond Game 1 the Toronto starters are not yet formally announced, but it appears that the Blue Jays will go with J.A. Happ in Game 2, Marcus Stroman in Game 3, and AL ERA champ, Aaron Sanchez in Game 4. The Blue Jays stated that Sanchez will only make one start per round in the playoffs, perhaps having a hand in determining the order.

The Indians are going with Trevor Bauer in Game 2, Josh Tomlin in Game 3, and could look to Mike Clevinger in Game 4. Tomlin performed well against the Red Sox in the ALDS, but Clevinger has yet to throw in the playoffs and won’t be expected to go deep if given the opportunity.

Clevinger is a 25-year-old rookie who made 10 starts for Cleveland’s injury-ravaged rotation, finishing 3-5 with a 5.26 ERA in 53 innings. Bauer only managed 4.2 innings against the Red Sox in the ALDS and gave up three runs on two home runs. The former 3rd overall pick did turn a corner this season, winning 12 games and finally fulfilling some of the potential that made him a top-3 draft pick. Tomlin won 13 games this season, but lost his rotation spot at one point in 2016, only to regain it after injuries to Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco.

And it is those injuries that should play into the Blue Jays’ favour in this ALCS. Salazar had won 11 games and was an All-Star this season before losing most of the second half to injury. There was a possibility he would return in a bullpen role for the ALCS, but it was announced on Wednesday that he’ll miss the series. Carrasco was 11-8 with a 3.32 ERA before he was lost for the season.

Beyond Kluber, the Indians really don’t know what they can expect from their rotation. Bauer was shaky in the last round, and Clevinger hasn’t pitched since Oct 1st, and only threw 2/3’s of an inning. Tomlin performed well in the ALDS, but he’s not a hard thrower and relies on pinpoint control, which betrayed him at times this season.

The Blue Jays unexpectedly finished the season with the top starters’ ERA (3.78) in the A.L., and top overall ERA (3.64), and should have the advantage. That said, the list of talented starters who have faltered this postseason is long, so there are no guarantees. Few guessed that all of David Price, Rick Porcello, Yu Darvish, and Cole Hamels, would last less than 5.0 innings a piece (while all losing), but it happened. That’s playoff baseball.

Next: Predicting the Blue Jays 25-man ALCS roster

Fortunately for the Blue Jays, the team is performing well in all areas thus far in the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, Cleveland has had a well rounded performance as well, perhaps led by their stingy bullpen.

The performance of the starting rotations will go a long way to determining the winner of this series. The Blue Jays are hoping their health and good fortune in the rotation will help them to their first A.L. pennant since 1993.