The Toronto Blue Jays need a miracle in the ALCS. Step one of that quest begins later this afternoon with Aaron Sanchez on the mound facing Cleveland ace Trevor Bauer, starting on short rest after dominating in game one of the series.
Now down 3-0 after another loss in which the offence failed to capitalize, the Blue Jays need to hit all of the right notes to stay alive. Especially given the immense strength of Cleveland’s bullpen that carried a heavy load on Monday after Trevor Bauer’s early exit.
Aaron Sanchez (15-2, 3.00 ERA)
Sanchez’s starts have typically been met with unquestioned optimism, but coming off his last outing, the young right-hander is in need of a bounce-back performance.
On October 9th in game three of the ALDS versus the Texas Rangers, Sanchez allowed six earned runs over five and two-thirds innings. Only three base hits fell off Sanchez, but two of those were home runs and he issued an uncharacteristic four walks.
After a year-long discussion, Sanchez’s workload concerns are still very much a factor. Including that one playoff start, he’s now up to 197.2 innings pitched in a season where he was expected to be shifted into the bullpen to avoid such a number.
There has been no issue with Sanchez’s velocity in recent games, however, so his primary objective on the mound will be to pound the lower edge of the zone and avoid his sinking fastball flattening out.
Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14 ERA)
The 2014 Cy Young Award winner is coming off an excellent regular season and has looked even better in October. Across his two playoff starts — October 7th against Boston and October 14th against Toronto — Kluber has pitched 13.1 shutout innings with nine hits allowed and 13 strikeouts.
Kluber is working on short rest and threw 100 pitches in his last outing in game one, but as an established ace coming off three consecutive seasons of 215+ innings, this move is not as risky as it would be with some others.
Toronto did have Kluber on the ropes several times in game one, especially in the early innings, but continued to leave runners on base in key situations. This is something that has plagued them throughout the series, and with Cleveland’s bullpen waiting, the Blue Jays will need to strike early.
Given Sunday’s off day, expect all relievers to remain available for both sides. Cleveland’s heavy bullpen usage in game three ran the risk of eliminating one or two arms from Tuesday’s game, but the work was spread well between Dan Otero (20 pitches), Jeff Manship (20), Zach McAllister (12), Bryan Shaw (26), Cody Allen (27), and Andrew Miller (21). If anything, Cleveland’s late-inning relievers may be limited to one inning as opposed to two.
Toronto is in a similar boat having used four of their high-leverage relievers on Monday. Their full bullpen core of Joe Biagini (14 pitches), Jason Grilli (10), Brett Cecil (15), Roberto Osuna, (15), and Francisco Liriano (not used) will be available.