Blue Jays vs. Cleveland pitching preview: Can Marco Estrada repeat?

October 6, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Marco Estrada (25) throws in the second inning against the Texas Rangers during game one of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball game at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
October 6, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Marco Estrada (25) throws in the second inning against the Texas Rangers during game one of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball game at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /
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For the second series in a row the Toronto Blue Jays are sending their playoff ace Marco Estrada to the mound in game one.

The deceptive right-hander is coming off his strongest start of the season in the American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers where he allowed just one earned run over eight and a third innings. Estrada struck out six and allowed only four hits, falling just short of the Blue Jays’ first complete game of 2016.

“I think he was the logical choice,” manager John Gibbons said earlier in the week. “We could have gone with anybody and felt good. But he’s been so good in that role and then we’ll just shape it after him in these next couple days.”

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Since coming to the Blue Jays in a deal from Milwaukee as an assumed sixth starter or long reliever, Estrada has given the Blue Jays 27.2 excellent playoff innings over four starts with a 1.95 ERA and .182 opponent’s average. Most impressive of all, Estrada has walked just one batter in that span.

Cleveland will counter with their best in Corey Kluber, the 30-year-old right-hander who claimed the American League Cy Young Award in 2014.

Kluber is coming off another very strong season and his third consecutive of 215.0 or more innings. He also reversed his win-loss fortunes, moving from a 9-16 record in 2015 to a much stronger mark of 18-9 in 2016. With three complete games and two shutouts this season, Kluber is also a threat to bridge the gap to the back end of Cleveland’s bullpen all by himself.

A model of consistency, Kluber’s batted ball profiles from 2014 to 2016 are staggeringly similar. His line drive and hard-hit contact percentages have remained stable despite some very minor regressions in his fastball velocity. This is largely because of Kluber’s curveball (which is often cross-classified as a slider and vice-versa).

This pitch is one of the best in all of baseball, and much like Estrada with his changeup low in the zone, this breaking pitch allows Kluber to slow down the bats of opposing hitters enough to blow high fastballs by them.

Bullpen Notes:

CLEVELAND:  With Cody Allen and Andrew Miller at the back end of Cleveland’s bullpen, the goal is clear: get a lead or tie to the eighth inning and hand the ball over. Miller owns a combined 1.45 ERA between New York and Cleveland while Allen posted a 2.51 mark and saved 32 games. Reliever Dan Otero carried a 1.53 regular season ERA through 70 appearances, too, so the Cleveland bullpen could be their greatest advantage. Watch for manager Terry Francona to be creative with his bullpen — there won’t be any unused Zach Brittons in this series.

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TORONTO:  Francisco Liriano is expected to return for Saturday’s game two, leaving the Blue Jays one player short for game one on Friday night. With Liriano back alongside Osuna, Grilli, Biagini, and Cecil, the Blue Jays will have their core five to pick from. It will be up to John Gibbons how to best utilize these arms, and with the switch-hitting capabilities in the Cleveland lineup, it could turn into a tightrope walk very quickly.