The Cleveland Indians took the first game of the ALCS at home over the Toronto Blue Jays thanks to timely hitting and a gutty pitching performance.
The underdogs just keep rolling. That’s the narrative after the Cleveland Indians defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 2-0 in Game One of the ALCS at Progressive Field on Friday night. The Tribe has now won its first four postseason games in 2016, and seven straight overall, despite a plethora of injuries that have caused the baseball media world to count them out.
Before Cleveland looks to take a commanding 2-0 lead on Saturday, let’s take a look at how they got things done in the series-opening win.
A Big Knock
Toronto starter Marco Estrada kept the Indians off-balance all night, using solid fastball command to set up his excellent changeup. The right-hander scattered six hits on the night, three of which came courtesy of Lonnie Chisenhall, and went the distance in the loss.
After a one-out walk to Jason Kipnis in the bottom of the sixth, all-star shortstop Francisco Lindor stepped to the plate and delivered the biggest hit of his young career. On an 0-2 changeup, Lindor took Estrada out of the ballpark to the seats on top of the bullpens in center field to score the only two runs of the game.
The 22-year old was 2-for-4 on the night, and etched himself ever more firmly into the hearts of Tribe fans everywhere.
Klubot Set to Gutty
Cleveland ace Corey Kluber had a bizarre outing, but managed to work around a good deal of traffic on the bases to toss 6.1 scoreless innings to earn the win. In two postseason starts in 2016, the Klubot has not allowed a run in 13.1 innings of work, striking out 13.
The Blue Jays notched six hits against the right-hander, and all six came in two-strike counts. During the regular season, Kluber was nearly unhittable once he’d gotten to two strikes, but several pitches in those situations on Friday night caught too much of the plate.
In 32 starts this year, Kluber had the best opposition OPS in two-strike counts, limiting hitters to a .357 mark, and allowed just 51 hits in such situations.
Indians manager Terry Francona pulled him after just 100 pitches in Game One, which sets up the interesting proposition of Kluber being back on the mound on short rest for Game Four. That day has tentatively been scheduled as a Mike Clevinger and the bullpen game, but in the playoffs, you ride the guy that’s gotten you this far, and that’s Kluber.
Kluber’s performance and Lindor’s home run couldn’t have been scripted any better for Francona and the Tribe bullpen. Once the lead was in hand, there was little question who Toronto’s hitters were going to be facing with the game on the line.
Andrew Miller recorded five outs, all via the strikeout, and Cody Allen worked an easy 1-2-3 ninth for the save. Miller did need 31 pitches, so his status for Saturday’s game may be up in the air, though there’s little doubt he’ll want the ball. Allen cruised through the final frame on just 11 pitches.
In a seven-game series, bullpen usage is a delicate balance. Francona has proven himself to be among the best in the game at managing his relievers, and the Indians’ ‘pen has responded by being among the most dominant in baseball over the past two and a half months. The blueprint for success is simple, and the Tribe has now followed it to within three games of the World Series.