The Cleveland Indians did what they were supposed to in the first two games of the American League Championship Series and that was to protect home-field advantage.
The Tribe took both games at Progressive Field against the Toronto Blue Jays. There hasn’t been a whole lot of offense thus far in this series, partly due to dominant pitching. Cleveland has outscored Toronto 4-1 and 22-year old shortstop Francisco Lindor has knocked in three of those four runs.
Lindor hit the tie-breaking and eventual game-winning home run in the bottom of the sixth in Game 1 off Toronto starter Marco Estrada. The game was scoreless before Lindor connected for his second home run of the postseason. Estrada pitched a gem of a game, going eight innings and allowing six hits. He surrendered two runs from the Lindor homer, struck out six batters, while walking just two. That mistake to Lindor proved to be the difference maker for the Jays.
Starter Corey Kluber got the win, scattering six hits over 6 1/3 innings, while striking out six and issuing two free passes. Star reliever Andrew Miller, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the New York Yankees, turned in yet another wonderful outing in relief. Miller pitched 2 1/3 innings and all five outs he recorded were via strikeout. Closer Cody Allen came in to shut the door in the ninth, striking out one.
In Game 2, Lindor was back to his heroic ways. With the game tied at 1-1 in the bottom of the third inning with a runner on second, he came up to bat. Lindor knocked a single up the middle, bringing in center fielder Rajai Davis in what would turn out to be the game-winning run. Lindor finished 2-for-4 with the RBI single.
Cleveland designated hitter Carlos Santana kicked off the scoring in the bottom of the second with a solo home run. Toronto would respond in the next half inning, as Josh Donaldson belted an RBI double, driving in second baseman Darwin Barney.
Josh Tomlin got the start after scheduled starter Trevor Bauer was scratched due to a laceration on his pinky finger building a drone, which is a hobby of his. Tomlin handled the duties just fine, as he pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing three hits and the run knocked in by Donaldson. He struck out six Blue Jays in the victory.
Andrew Miller again came in and had zero issues with the potent Toronto offense. In 1 2/3 innings of work, Miller once again struck out five batters. Of the 12 batters he has faced in the ALCS, 10 have been retired on strikeouts.
J.A. Happ turned in a quality start, but picked up the loss. He pitched five innings, giving up four hits, two runs and four punch outs.
Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista, who is 0-6 with five strikeouts and two walks in the series, implied that the Indians were benefitting from “circumstances” that he couldn’t discuss. The home plate umpires, Laz Diaz and Jim Wolf both had bigger strike zones in the first two games, but both teams were getting the same calls. For Bautista to imply this, he is essentially trying to make an excuse as to why the Indians pitching staff has dominated the Blue Jays lineup.
Game 3 is Monday night in the Rogers Centre. Toronto has their backs against the wall, but now they must do what the Indians did in the first two game and protect their home turf. Bauer will get the start after missing Game 2. He pitched in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox and surrendered six hits and three runs while striking out six and not walking a batter in 4 2/3 innings. He will face off against Marcus Stroman, who pitched well in the wild card game against the Orioles. He pitched six innings allowing just four hits and two runs in the 11-inning win.
The Indians have not lost a game since September 28 and can keep that streak alive if Lindor and Miller continue to do what they have been doing. You can’t win a game without scoring runs and you also can’t win a game if you give up more runs than your offense scores. So far, Lindor has provided the scoring and Miller has shut batters down in the late innings.
Games 3-5 (*5th game if necessary) will be played in the Rogers Centre where the Blue Jays will look to build off home cooking. The Blue Jays don’t need to win all three games, but just two to extend the series. Toronto can’t win Games 4 and 5 without first winning Game 3. If the Cleveland pitching staff can continue to stifle this Toronto offense, there won’t be much the Jays can do.
The Tribe got hot at the right time and now head north of the border where the Jays will look to cool them off.