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ALCS Pitching Matchups Preview

Which set of arms will come out on top in this best of 7 series?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Red Sox and the Texas Rangers were both laid to rest by the Cleveland Indians and the Toronto Blue Jays, respectively. The winning duo saw some incredible pitching, while the two teams watching the rest of the postseason from home found their pitching to be lacking on multiple occasions. So, with two teams that just went 3-0 in the ALDS, something is going to have to give. Which rotation will crack first? Here is a breakdown on the supposed starters for each team.

Toronto Blue Jays

  1. Marco Estrada (Postseason Stats: 8.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 6 K)
  2. J.A. Happ (Postseason Stats: 5.0 IP, 9 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K)
  3. Aaron Sanchez (Postseason Stats: 5.2 IP, 6 ER, 4 BB, 5 K)
  4. Marcus Stroman (Postseason Stats: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 K)

The Blue Jays, much like the Indians, have a really, really good starting rotation. Any one of the four pitchers listed above could have been called on to start Game 1 of the ALCS, but that honor goes to Marco Estrada, who has easily had the best outing of any of the Jays starters thus far in the playoffs. Here's a little about each pitcher and what they did in the regular season.

  • Marco Estrada: Estrada twirled a gem on October 6 during the 10-1 bludgeoning of the Rangers. His success may come as a surprise if you take into account his regular season stats, however. In 176.0 innings, Estrada held a 3.48 ERA but a 4.15 FIP and an even worse xFIP at 4.64, which would seem to indicate that he has had some luck on his side in 2016. In that time span, Estrada allowed just 68 earned runs, walked 65 batters, and struck out 165 (good for an ERA+ of 122). He gets by primarily on his slow fastball (89 mph) and his slow changeup (78 mph), but he peppers in a cutter and curve from time to time as well. His changeup is pretty deceptive; it gets batters to swing and miss almost 23% of the time, and he throws it almost equally for a ball as he does for a strike.
  • J.A. Happ: Happ, while he didn't dominate the Rangers the same way that Estrada did, gave the Blue Jays 5 innings of solid pitching on October 7 to put his team in a position to come away with another victory (which they did). Happ was quite the workhorse for Toronto in 2016, logging 195.0 innings and earning a 3.18 ERA, 3.96 FIP, and 4.18 xFIP. Over the course of the full season, Happ allowed 69 earned runs, walked 60 batters, and struck out 163 (good for an ERA+ of 134). He uses a decent four seam (93 mph) as well as a hard sinker (91 mph), while sometimes tossing in a slider, curve, and changeup. His sinker is his out pitch as it produces a ground ball 15.6% of the time. He has difficulty throwing many of his pitches for strikes, however; his changeup, for example, is thrown for a ball 62% of the time. Happ is going to pitch to contact in hopes of inducing weak contact with the sinker or a pop-up with his fastball.
  • Aaron Sanchez: Sanchez didn't look particularly sharp in his first postseason appearance of 2016, but his offense and bullpen were able to pick him up and grab win 3 against the Rangers on October 9 and propel the team into the ALCS. Don't be fooled by his struggles this past Sunday; Sanchez is a monster on the mound. In 2016, Sanchez threw 192.0 innings and tallied a 3.00 ERA to go along with a 3.55 FIP and 3.75 xFIP. He allowed just 64 earned runs on the season while walking 63 and striking out 161 (good for an ERA+ of 142). Sanchez succeeds by using his devastating sinker (96 mph) mixed with a four seam(96 mph), changeup (89 mph), and a hammer of a curveball (79 mph). Hitters should fear Sanchez's sinker; he's going to control it well and use it to induce a lot of ground balls. When he's not getting hitters out with the sinker, his curveball is causing batters to swing and miss 15.6% of the time. Sanchez rarely makes mistakes in terms of the long ball; his HR/9 on the season is just 0.70.
  • Marcus Stroman: Stroman was instrumental in the Blue Jays' playoff aspirations by pitching 6 solid innings during the Wild Card game against the Orioles on October 4. Like the three pitchers mentioned above, Stroman also threw a hefty number of innings in 2016 for the Blue Jays; in his 204.0 innings pitched, Stroman had an ERA of 4.37, a FIP of 3.71, and an xFIP of 3.41, which would seem to indicate that he has been a tad unlucky. He allowed 99 earned runs on the year while walking just 54 batters and striking out 166 (good for an ERA+ of 97). Similar to Sanchez, Stroman also utilizes a sinker (93 mph) fairly heavily in addition to a mix of a slider (87 mph), cutter (91 mph), curve (82 mph), four seam (94 mph) and changeup (85 mph). While he uses his sinker more than any other pitch, his slider and curveball seem to baffle hitters more than his other pitches by getting swings and misses 17.43% and 16.77% of the time, respectively. His changeup, when he uses it (it's his least-utilized pitch), gets him into trouble by being hit out of the park more than his other pitches.

Cleveland Indians

  1. Corey Kluber (Postseason stats: 7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 7 K)
  2. Trevor Bauer (Postseason stats: 4.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 6 K)
  3. Josh Tomlin (Postseason stats: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K)
  4. Mike Clevinger (Postseason stats: N/A)

The Cleveland Indians, coming into 2016, were seen as having one of the best rotations in all of baseball. Now, with the injuries to Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, the rotation has gone from one of the best to one that is just pretty good. However, with Corey Kluber being the only real source of consistent excellence, the rotation is one bad outing from Bauer or one too many home runs given up by Tomlin away from imploding. However, if the ALDS was any indication, the rotation for Cleveland should be nails going forward.

  • Corey Kluber: With a taxed bullpen from the night before, Kluber needed to give the Tribe some length in the ALDS Game 2, and he did just that when he went 7 innings of shutout ball. His 2016 campaign may have been great enough to warrant another Cy Young Award; in 215.0 innings, Kluber had a 3.14 ERA along with a 3.26 FIP and a 3.50 xFIP. During that time, he gave up 75 earned runs while walking 57 and striking out a cool 227 batters (good for an ERA+ of 149).
  • Trevor Bauer: With their ace out with a minor injury, the Indians turned to young Trevor Bauer in Game 1 of the ALDS. In that game, Bauer did...just enough. He wasn't lights out by any means, and he didn't last very long, but his 4.2 innings and 3 runs proved to be enough for the bullpen and the offense to get that first win out of the way.  During the regular season, Bauer set a single season high with 190.0 innings pitched, where he earned a 4.26 ERA, 3.99 FIP, and 4.13 xFIP. In that time span, Bauer allowed 90 earned runs while walking 70 and striking out 168 (good for an ERA+ of 110).
  • Josh Tomlin: Josh Tomlin v. Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park spelled certain doom, right? Wrong. Tomlin held the best offense in the AL to just 2 earned runs over 5 strong innings, putting the Cleveland Indians into a fantastic position to sweep the Red Sox and move onto the ALCS (which they did). Tomlin had quite the season of his own; in the first half, he looked like a Cy Young candidate. In the second half, he seemed to fall apart due to fatigue. After getting some extra rest near the end of August, Tomlin came back and was incredible for another month, and his success has (thus far) carried over into October. In the regular season, Tomlin pitched a single season high 174.0 innings, earning a 4.40 ERA, 4.88 FIP, and 4.13 xFIP along the way. During the season, Tomlin allowed 85 earned runs while walking nobody ever 20 batters and striking out absolutely no one 118 (good for an ERA+ of 106).
  • Mike Clevinger: Thanks to some nifty bullpen management by Tito and a stellar outing by Corey Kluber AND a short series, Mike Clevinger has yet to throw a pitch in the postseason. That will most likely change in this series. The 25 year old rookie made his MLB debut on May 18 of this year, and his first trip through the majors has come with some growing pains. In just 53.0 innings pitched, Clevinger has an unsavory ERA of 5.26 to go with a 4.86 FIP and a 4.82 xFIP. In his young major league career thus far, Clevinger has allowed 31 earned runs while walking 29 batters and striking out 50 (good for an ERA+ of 89)

If you wanted to argue that the Blue Jays have an advantage in terms of starting pitching, I think that you could successfully make that argument. That being said, Cleveland's rotation is no pushover. Don't be surprised if Tito opts to use Clevinger as a piece of a bullpen game at some point in this series, especially if Danny Salazar makes it back. The good news is that Cleveland has already beaten a pitcher better than anyone on the Blue Jays (Rick Porcello) and a pitcher who is usually very good (David Price). That being said, the Indians will have their work cut out for them, both at the plate and on the mound, against a dominant starting rotation and a powerful Toronto lineup. Thankfully, the same could be said for Toronto.