division series, American League Championship Series, National League Championship Series, National League Division Series

American League Championship Series: daily updates & analysis: Indians win the Pennant!

2016 American League Championship Series

American League Championship Series
2016 American League Champion Series logo. MLB.com

Similar to my brief coverage of the ALDS and NLDS, I am going to do updates after each game of both the American League Championship Series and the National League Championship Series. So check back often for quick game recaps with a bit of analysis! There may only be four teams but each game doesn’t need a full-on review or full analysis, however, if you did miss a game I hope these posts about the American League Championship Series will help catch you up enough to be ready for the next game! 🙂

Toronto Blue Jays @ Cleveland Indians (@ sign denotes team with home field advantage)

Game 1: Blue Jays 0, Indians 2 – Toronto starter Marco Estrada pitched a complete game in the postseason. It was the first one of his career. It should have been a big day, but Estrada made a single mistake. It was a mistake that Indians’ ace Corey Kluber who went 6.1 innings, allowed six hits, two walks and struck out six Blue Jays’ batters nor his relievers Andrew Miller nor Cody Allen made. With one out in the bottom of the sixth inning, Estrada walked second baseman Jason Kipnis. The walk was probably not the best thing to do but it wasn’t his mistake. He threw a 77 MPH changeup right over the plate to Francisco Lindor, who is not only just in his first full big league season but has been one of the Indians’ most dangerous hitters in the postseason thus far. The Blue Jays had almost no chance once left-hander Andrew Miller, who has one of the nastiest cutters since Mariano Rivera, came into the game. Miller pitched 1.2 innings, striking out five of the batters he faced. Allen closed the game out earning the save. The Blue Jays powerful lineup of sluggers were no match for the Indians’ pitchers on Friday night.

Game 2: Blue Jays 1, Indians 2 – At first it appeared that the Blue Jays would have the upper hand in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. They had veteran left-hander J.A. Happ on the mound facing one of Cleveland’s “fill-in” pitchers, Josh Tomlin. Tomlin has had his ups and downs over his career, including being relegated to the bullpen by the end of August after posting a 4.89 ERA. However, the losses of starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar – two of the young pitchers who made Cleveland’s rotation World Series worthy, Tomlin found himself back in the rotation. So far, what he has done in the postseason has been phenomenal. He’s gone up against two of the league’s best offenses this postseason in Boston and now against Toronto, and has held the two lineups to three total runs in two starts. As Tomlin said,

“I think maybe you change your approach a little bit.”

And that is exactly what he’s done. The Blue Jays had beaten up on Tomlin back in August hitting his cutter all over and out of the yard. The adjustment seems to be that he’s basically scrapped the cutter and started throwing more curveballs than he has in this entire career. It’s definitely working for him. Cleveland scored on a home run by Carlos Santana in the second inning and struck again in the fifth on an RBI double by Josh Donaldson. Toronto scored their lone run on Francisco Lindor single in the bottom of the third that plated Rajai Davis. After the third inning the game remained scoreless. Miller came into the game again and struck out another five Blue Jays in two innings of work. Toronto’s pitching was obviously very good too but Cleveland’s was once again just a little bit better. 

Game 3: Blue Jays 2, Indians 4 – It was a party at Mike Napoli‘s in Toronto last night, much to the dismay of the Blue Jays who are now down 3-0 in the ALCS, one game from elimination. While the Indians, who have suffered injury after injury to their starting rotation including last night’s loss of Trevor Bauer in the first inning, are one game away from the promised land. Bauer faced two batters, retiring both, but his stitched up pinkie finger would not allow him to go on. Stupidly, Bauer had sliced up his finger while fixing a drone, um …. yeah, ok. That’s almost worse than Tim Hudson‘s bar fight in 2003, but that’s another story. Dan Otero took over for Bauer and gave the Blue Jays the lead when Michael Saunders took him deep to left. Saunders was the first left-hander to homer off of Otero in 2016. Otero posted a 1.53 ERA during the regular season. 

The #partyatNapoli’s began in the top of the fourth when he hit a solo-shot off of Jay’s starter Marcus Stroman. The Blue Jays evened the score in the bottom of the fifth when after a triple by Ezequiel Carrera, Ryan Goins grounded out to Indians’ reliever Zach McAllister, plating Carrera. 

Jason Kipnis led off the sixth with a homer off of reliever off of Stroman who then retired Francisco Lindor and walked Napoli before being removed from the game. Stroman went 5.1 innings allowing four earned runs on three hits while walking three and striking out five. The sixth inning continued with Joe Biagini on the mound. He allowed a single to Jose Ramirez that allowed Napoli to score making the score 4-2 in favor of Cleveland. The game remained that way until the bottom of the ninth, leaving the Indians on the verge of sweeping the Blue Jays in Tuesday’s game four.

Corey Kluber will return on short rest to pitch for the Indians and their very taxed but spectacular bullpen. He’ll go up against the Blue Jays’ youngster Aaron Sanchez at 1pm PT at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Game 4: Toronto 5, Cleveland 1 – The Blue Jays actually got some offense in Game 4. Reigning AL MVP Donaldson homered in the third. The Blue Jays scored another on an RBI single from Ezequiel Carrera in the fourth that plated Troy Tulowitzki. They added two more in the seventh on a two-RBI single from Encarnacion and their fifth run came in the eighth on a Kevin Pillar sacrifice fly that scored Carrera. 

Cleveland’s only run came in the top of the fifth on an RBI-double that sent Coco Crisp home from second. 

As far as pitching went for Cleveland, ace Corey Kluber started the game. He kept the team in the game through the fifth, allowing just four hits and two runs while walking one and striking out seven. Otero pitched a quick and scoreless sixth and Shaw allowed two runs on two hits while pitching just a third of the seventh inning. Mike Clevinger allowed one inherited runner to score and gave up a run while pitching the last two-thirds of the seventh inning and the eighth innings.

Cleveland’s offense just failed them in Game 4. Not to impune the work of Toronto’s young starter Aaron Sanchez. Sanchez went a full six innings allowing just two hits and Cleveland’s one lonely run. Brett Cecil, Jason Grilli and Osuna closed out the final three innings, each pitching a full inning a piece. Cleveland has to hope it’s offense can score more than two or three runs if they want a chance at winning the World Series.

Game 5: Toronto 0, Cleveland 3 – Today Ryan Merritt made his name known to the nation by pitching 4.1 scoreless innings without allowing a walk and striking out three. It was the first time that a pitcher who’d only made one start during the regular season made a start in the Championship Series  or maybe even the entire postseason. I’m not sure I’d have to go look it up (sorry, that’s the stuff I do for work – not that I don’t research for my blog, I really do but not always! LOL!)! After Merritt surprised everyone including his manager and coaches by pitching as well as he did. It was unexpected. He is yet another “fill-in” starter for the Indians or I guess “spot starter” would be a more appropriate way to say it! They’ve struggled so much with the loss of starters Salazar, Carrasco and now Bauer and from the outfield Michael Brantley. It’s truly surprising that they’ve come this far.

When it came to scoring Carlos Santana and recent acquisition from Oakland Coco Crisp each took Jays’ starter Marco Estrada deep and Mike Napoli, never one to spoil a party, got the party started with an RBI double in the top of the first inning. The Blue Jays just offense just never really appeared in this series. For a team with so many good sluggers like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson playing a team with a lack of starters, one would think they’d be able to take advantage and that was not exactly the case. Cleveland’s starters just needed to hold there own for four or five innings, and with their awesome bullpen there to close the rest of the game out, there was really never anything for Cleveland to worry about. 

Cleveland’s bullpen start former-Yankee Andrew Miller who was acquired at the trade deadline this year, was named MVP of the 2016 America League Championship. Cleveland should be able to ride their offense and bullpen on into the World Series. All their starters who are not named Corey Kluber is to make it through four or five innings. It’s very possible that the Indians could beat either the Cubs or Dodgers on baseball biggest stage.  For now we’ll have to wait until the National League Championship Series to end to know who they’ll be playing. What you can tell is that the Tribe is going to be a force to be reckoned with – an unexpected on at that. Did you or someone you know choose Cleveland to be in the World Series back in February. I didn’t. I called Cubs vs Astros in the World Series. Pretty funny now huh? That’s baseball for you. Anything can and usually will happen.

The Indians defeating Toronto – shutting them out in two of their five games – is not where people expected them to be. Yet maybe they are right where they are supposed to be? It certainly feels as though they are.

The Cleveland Indians have won the American League Pennant! They are World Series bound!

Congrats to the 2016 Cleveland Indians!

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