Once again we repeat these familiar words from the past three weeks: Tonight, the Toronto Blue Jays play their biggest game of the 2016 season.
Walking a fine line between a reinvigorated 2-1 series and a daunting 3-0 deficit, the Blue Jays will turn to young right-hander Marcus Stroman who has not pitched since the American League Wild Card game on October 4th.
Cleveland will counter with right-hander Trevor Bauer, who was originally scheduled to start in game two of the series before a bizarre drone accident left him with stitches in his pinky finger. The mishap may have even benefited Cleveland, however, as Josh Tomlin was excellent in his place.
Marcus Stroman (9-10, 4.37 ERA – 204 IP)
Stroman looked strong in that Wild Card matchup versus Baltimore, allowing just two earned runs on four hits in six innings. He’s also found some success against Cleveland in the two games he’s faced them this season.
On July 1st, Stroman got the start in a marathon game and lasted six and two-thirds, limiting Cleveland to just one run on five hits. On August 21st, Stroman turned in one of his best starts of the season against Cleveland with seven and a third innings, one run allowed, and nine strikeouts.
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The numbers certainly back Stroman up, and after a lacklustre opening half to the season, he’s been a much different pitcher over the later months. In his press conference on Sunday, Stroman credited this to some minor mechanical adjustments made throughout the season and some work done with the coaching staff.
A deep start will be crucial from Stroman as that would allow John Gibbons to be much more selective and precise with his bullpen usage. Cleveland’s wealth of switch-hitting talent can be a menace when it comes to bullpen management.
Trevor Bauer (12-8, 4.26 ERA – 190 IP)
The 25-year-old Bauer made his first career playoff appearance in game one of the American League Division Series against Boston on October 6th.
It was a bit of a mixed bag performance. Bauer did strike out six batters without issuing a walk, but allowed three runs on six hits and was forced out of the game after four and two-thirds innings. Most importantly for the Blue Jays, Bauer allowed two home runs in the first inning of that game to Andrew Benintendi and Sandy Leon.
One major difference in Bauer’s performance this season was his increased ground ball rate, improving from 39.2% in 2015 to 48.7% this year.
Exiting an off day, there’s not much to say in terms of bullpen availability. All arms should have the green light for both Cleveland and Toronto, which might not be good news for the Blue Jays.
Closer Andrew Miller has pitched seven and two-thirds innings of relief this postseason and struck out 17 batters, including 10 of the 11 he’s faced against Toronto. The Blue Jays will need to get to Bauer early, because if they don’t, Cleveland manager Terry Francona will hold a huge advantage in the later innings.