The month of October has been kind to the Toronto Blue Jays, bringing them win after win to cool the nerves of a September slide. Until last night.
Cleveland starter Corey Kluber tiptoed out of jams and rose to the biggest moments as he held the Blue Jays scoreless long enough to hand off to his elite bullpen. Now down 1-0 in the ALCS, the Blue Jays need to quickly regain their stride before returning to the Rogers Centre for game three on Monday.
Here is how they can do it:
1. Face a pitcher not named Corey Kluber
Thanks to a hand laceration suffered while repairing a drone — yes, seriously — Trevor Bauer has been pushed back to Monday and Josh Tomlin will make the game two start. The 31-year-old right-hander pitched a career high 174.0 MLB innings this season, earning a 13-9 record with a 4.40 ERA.
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In the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox, Tomlin kept it tidy over five innings with two runs allowed on just four hits while striking out four.
Tomlin is a valuable starter, but not the calibre of opponent that a team typically rolls out in game two of a League Championship Series. The Blue Jays hold a clear pitching advantage as they send 20-game winner and Cy Young fringe candidate J.A. Happ to the mound looking to right the ship.
2. Limit the strikeouts, or at least balance them
Striking out 12 times is a quick ticket to a playoff loss, especially when Andrew Miller takes a buzz-saw to the order in the seventh and eighth innings with five of his own. This Blue Jays team recorded more strikeouts than any in franchise history, and it’s something that really plagued them throughout their September struggles.
Jose Bautista and Russell Martin‘s combined five strikeouts were very difficult for the Blue Jays to work around. Perhaps manager John Gibbons considers flipping Martin with Troy Tulowitzki who hits directly behind him in the current batting order.
All of this being said, a high strikeout total can be forgiven if it comes alongside one thing: the home run ball. After carrying the Jays through the ALDS against Texas, the long ball was nowhere to be found against Kluber, Miller, and Allen.
3. Don’t be so polite
The Jays were far too kind to Corey Kluber, stranding several key base runners early in the game. Toronto left a total of eight men on base and went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, a number that needs to change quickly.
Clutch hitting is a child of easy narrative, and like anything, there is a great deal of luck involved. Five at-bats with runners in scoring position are not enough to draw any form of logical judgement from, but in such a small and unforgiving series, the Blue Jays can’t afford a repeat.