ALCS Previews: Toronto

I really wish I could do a preview of the ALCS that was substantially different than my preview of the ALDS– and had a different result. The problem is that I can’t.

1. The Blue Jays’ offense is like the Red Sox, only even more extreme. Boston outhomered Cleveland by 23; Toronto hit 13 more than Boston. The Red Sox walked 27 times more than the Indians… the Blue Jays had 74 more walks than the Red Sox.

Here’s another way to compare Boston and Cleveland scored 22 runs in the series:

  • Of the 52 innings played, 37 were scoreless.
  • In 11 of the 15 innings where a run scored, the team scored only one run.
  • In the four “big innings”, the offense scored 11 runs– 50% of the total for the series.

Boston had seven innings where they scored; Cleveland had eight. The Indians swept then because they had all four big innings. Only four of their 15 runs were scored without an extra-base hit.

The three games of the Toronto-Texas produced 32 runs in 56 innings. Let me do the same breakdown:

  • Of the 56 innings played, 40 were scoreless. That’s a higher percentage than the Boston-Cleveland series
  • In 6 of the 16 innings where a run scored, the team scored only one run.
  • In the 10 “big innings”, the offense scored 26 runs– 81% of the series total.

Toronto had seven big innings to Texas’s three. They scored 20 of their 22 runs in big innings.

Mark Shapiro hates power-based offense, because he correctly believes that power hitters (a) are slump prone and (b) strike out too much. He’s right on both counts (Toronto struck out 116 times more than Cleveland).

But what he has never understood is that a long-sequence offense– a string of singles and walks, with some runners moving due to outs and maybe one extra-base hit mixed in– doesn’t work in the playoffs. Unless your playoff opponent has absolutely no ability to prevent runs, you’re going to have to get them when the opposing pitcher struggles for a minute.

More important, the number of runs you can produce with a big inning far outweighs the number of “one at a time” innings.

But he has a power-based offense because GM Alex Anthopoulos bequeathed it to him. Even Mike Saunders was acquired at the end of 2014, in exchange for J.A. Happ (whom the Blue Jays then signed).

2. The Blue Jays allowed fewer runs than Cleveland. They really did– 666 to 676.

You can argue that the difference is immaterial– even that the Indians had better pitching. Cleveland gave Cody Anderson 60.2 innings to throw slop; he allowed 45 runs. Terry Francona convinced himself that Austin Adams would replicate his 3.78 ERA from 2015. Instead he allowed 22 runs in 19 appearances.

The Jays were lucky– they didn’t have anyone who was genuinely bad for a long time. That’s a byproduct of having Shapiro run your team too. He will never let anyone have a string of bad games– he’ll pack them off to the minors and find some veteran.

That’s bad if you’re someone like Drew Hutchinson. Last year he was 24, and went 13-5 in 28 starts for the Jays in 2015– but with a 5.57 ERA and 179 hits and 44 walks in 150.1 innings.

This year he got two starts, went to the minors and when Shapiro needed help, he eschewed the kid with the 3.26 ERA in Buffalo, trading him for 32-year-old Francisco Liriano.. It makes sense– Liriano was 6-11 with a 5.46 ERA in a league without the DH. But the veteran helped out, going 2-2 with a 2,92 ERA in 8 starts.

But even if you think the Indians pitching was better, they don’t have 40% of their rotation anymore.

Toronto also has a comparable defense– a little batter in the stat I value most.

Preview: If you’re looking for me to predict a win, forget that. And I’ll tell you up front– if they make the World Series, I’ll pick them to lose that too.

Is there a way they can win? Sure– more or less the way they beat Boston. Here’s how the series shapes up:

Game
Date & place
Toronto
Cleveland
1
Fri, Oct 14, home Estrada (9-9) Kluber (18-9)
2
Sat, Oct 15, home Happ (20-4) Tomlin (13-9)
3
Mon, Oct 17, away Stroman (9-10) Bauer (12-8)
4
Tue, Oct 18, away Sanchez (15-2) Clevinger (3-3)

Games 5, 6 and 7 would let the starters in games 1-3 go again on normal rest.

Game one: Kluber needs to throw close to a shutout. Marco Estrada is 32. His best pitch is a change-up. He led the league in homers allowed two years ago (29) and he’s allowed 23 this year. The Indians were able to hit David Price, who has a better change than Estrada. They need to do it again.

Estrada faced them once this year. Toronto won 9-6, but Estrada got hit: 5 inning, 5 hits (2 homers), 3 runs. But he didn’t walk anyone and he struck out 7. Also, Zach McAllister (who started) allowed three runs in the first, Shawn Morimango gave up two in the fifth and Dan Otero and Tommy Hunter allowed four in the final 2.1 innings.

They can’t do that

Game two: J.A. Happ is a great pitcher in the same sense that Rick Porcello is. I’m not going say 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA sucks rocks… but it’s by far the best season of his career; the runner-up was 2009 (12-4, 2.93). He’s 33; in his previous stint with the Blue Jays (2012-14), he went 19-20 with an ERA of 4.39 in 50 starts.

Happ plays what my grandfather called “Dickity-Doo”– he nibbles here and there and throws an enormous number of pitches. In wins 18-20, for example, he threw 95, 92 and 99 pitches– and he pitched 6, 6 and 5 innings

He faced them once– a game where Toronto scored three against Kluber in the first, two in the fourth (knocking him out) and then 12 against pitchers no longer on the club. He allowed only one run, but didn’t have to work hard.

Whether Josh Tomlin can have another good game is unknown.

Game three: In 2015, Trevor Bauer was 0-1 with a 17.47 ERA in two starts/ 13 hits and four walks in 5.2 innings. Ewww.

This season he had one start and the “long relief” appearance in the 19-inning game. In 13 innings, he allowed 7 hits and 5 walks. He went 1-0 with a 1.47 ERA.

He’d better be in his 2016 from, because his opponent, Marcus Stroman, pitched 14 innings against the Indians this year, and allowed 2 runs. he allowed 12 hits and 2 walks, but fanned 15.

This is the game most likely to get decided in extra innings. The Blue Jays have been very confident in their relief corps, but Terry Francona has treated his like an unexploded bomb. Asking your top relievers to go well past normal limits was foolish. Both Andrew Miller and Corey Allen had to walk on tightropes to get through their appearances– and only two players got their feet wet.

Dan Otero had a sucessful inning, but Bryan Shaw got whacked around in two of his three appearances. And it means everyone else is making his post-season debut (none of them pitched in 2013 or on other teams).

Game four: The Indians might be up 3-0, but they also could be down 0-3. Kluber got belted earlier this year, Bauer is a 50-50 bit and I might be the only old white guy who doesn’t love Tomlin. They’ll probably be 1-2.

That puts a big load on Mike Clevinger.

I discussed the kid thoroughly a month ago, so I’ll just send you there. I like his potential, but “trying to even the series on the road” is not a great spot for a rookie to make his post-season debut. Pressure usually eliminates all of the middle-range performance– you typically get really good or really bad. (Bauer allowed 6 hits and 3 runs in 4.2 innings; a 5.79 ERA)

Here are the year-by-year breakdowns for the opposing pitcher, 23-year-old Andrew Sanchez:

  • 2015: 2 games (one start), 6.2 innings, 5 hits, 6 walks, 5 strikeouts and a 1-0 record with a 2.70 ERA
  • 2016: 1 game started, 4.0 innings, 4 hits, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts, and an 0-1 record with a 9.00 ERA

If his start earlier this year wasn’t a fluke– a lot of the lineup wasn’t year a year ago– they might give Clevinger enough runs to win. Whether he can take advantage of this (or will even be in the game when they do) is unknown.

Prediction: I’m guessing Toronto 4-2, because that’s where the indicators take me. Nobody on the Indians has a really strong record against the Blue Jays, and only Kipnis and Ramirez had a hot series against Boston. Meanwhile Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki all had big serieses against Texas. Six of their relievers got their feet wet; five didn’t allow a run.

One thing does work in Cleveland’s favor– Happ is the only lefty the Jays have. I’d vastly prefer to watch Lonnie Chisenhall and Tyler Naquin work, as opposed to Rajai Davis and Brandon Guyer (who is 2-16 against Happ).

Also, the Jays failed last season, so the monkey is on their backs. And speaking of monkeys, John Gibbons, like his namesake, is capable of performing simple tasks and signalling that he wants grapes.

I thought Terry Francona had a horrible series– he was very lucky that many of his moves didn’t blow up. In game #1, he brought Miller in after Bauer allowed a leadoff homer– but got the next two outs. Miller allowed a walk and then a double.

He got out of it by striking out David Ortiz (who was 1-8 against him lifetime, with four strikeouts), but if Ortiz hits even a single, that’s two runs.

But he has the winning record and the reputation, so he represents an advantage.

The Indians could win this– they’re not substantially less likely to win than they were against Boston. But I won’t predict something when the data is this far against it.

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