With the Los Angeles Dodgers knocking out the Washington Nationals for the chance to take on the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS, it's understandable if you forgot that there are two other teams playing in the postseason. Realistically, I'm sure every other national sports outlet has forgotten that before the first game of the NLCS, the Cleveland Indians and the Toronto Blue Jays will do battle in Cleveland for their shot at the fall classic. Game 1 of the ALCS is just a few short hours away; here's what to expect.
How to watch
First pitch for tonight's game will be at 8:00 PM EST on TBS.
The starters for Game 1 are Corey Kluber for the Cleveland Indians and Marco Estrada for the Toronto Blue Jays. Many folks question why Estrada is starting for Toronto, but the short answer is that their entire rotation is good and seemingly any one of them could've started this game and it would have made sense. Kluber, on the other hand, would have started Game 1 of the ALDS had it not been for a minor quad injury that he sustained near the end of the regular season. However, after going 7 shutout innings in Game 2 against the Boston Red Sox, Kluber is back at Progressive Field on the mound for what looks to be an exciting start to a competitive series.
Marco Estrada, in terms of ERA+, was Toronto's sixth best pitcher in the regular season, and his ERA+ was 122. If there are still questions as to how good the Toronto pitching is, you can put those questions to rest right here. Estrada hasn't pitched since Game 1 of the ALDS on October 6th where he threw 8.1 innings of 1 run ball against the Texas Rangers. He walked no one and struck out six, but he had Texas hitters baffled all game (he gave up only 4 hits). Estrada succeeds in a fashion similar to that of Josh Tomlin, and that's by making up for a lack of velocity with pinpoint precision and a good mix of effective pitches. His fastball tops out around 89 mph, but his real weapon is his changeup that gets a swing and miss almost 23% of the time. Fangraphs put up an article explaining how Toronto throws a lot of fastballs and how Cleveland doesn't hit fastballs very well. A soft tossing pitcher like Estrada could help Indians' hitters if they are patient at the plate.
On the other side of things, what's left to be said about Corey Kluber that hasn't already been said? The man is fantastic at tossing a baseball over home plate and preventing other players from hitting it with any sort of success. Toronto, similar to Boston, is a ferocious lineup. Even though Corey Kluber is fantastic at his job, this Blue Jays lineup may prove to be tough to figure out and keep in check. With bats in the lineup such as Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki, and Josh Donaldson, a pitcher can lose control of a game fairly quickly if he's not careful. There were reports after Game 2 of the ALDS that Kluber was having issues pushing off of the rubber, which attributed to his dip in velocity in that game. That being said, he still threw seven innings of shutout ball and he says he feels great for his start tonight. Let's go.
Key to the game: Manufacture runs and put pressure on Estrada
Both FanGraphs and our own Matt Lyons published articles that point out that the Cleveland Indians are really good at stealing bases and that the Toronto Blue Jays are terrible at preventing stolen bases. If Estrada is as good as he was against Texas in the ALDS, baserunners are going to be few and far between for Cleveland. This will mean that it will be vital to use the limited opportunities to run wild on catcher Russell Martin and put added pressure on Estrada to not make a mistake. You can bet that Estrada knows this, and any baserunner that gets in his head by dancing off the bases will just increase the likelihood that he leaves a meatball over the plate for Mike Napoli to blast 57,000 feet. Look for the Indians to stay aggressive when they get on base; it could prove to be the key in this series.