Posted on October 18, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
The Cleveland Indians are just one game away from going to the World Series. Despite starting pitcher Trevor Bauer having to leave Game 3 after just four batters, the Indians won Game 3 in Toronto Monday night, putting the Blue Jays on the precipice of elimination. Every game from here on out is an elimination game for the Blue Jays, putting all the pressure on them. However, considering the situation with Bauer and Cleveland’s already diminished starting pitching depth, the Indians will want to close out the ALCS as soon as possible.
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Bullpen To The Rescue
The back end of Cleveland’s bullpen has been nothing short of amazing throughout the postseason, but after Bauer’s early exit in Game 3, the Indians showed that they also have plenty of depth there too. Six different relief pitchers combined for 8.1 innings, holding the Blue Jays to just two runs, as Toronto’s lineup continues to struggle. As has become customary in the playoffs, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller combined for the final nine outs, slamming the door shut on any hope of a late-game comeback for the Blue Jays.
Of course, one has to wonder if those 8.1 innings from the bullpen on Monday night have an impact on the freshness of Cleveland’s bullpen in Game 4, and possibly Game 5? The Indians are going with Trevor Bauer on short rest in Game 4, so he may not be able to go as deep into the game as usual. However, the Indians did not have to use Mike Clevinger in Game 3, making him available to pitch multiple innings in Game 4 to help form a bridge to Miller and Allen. Of course, whether Miller and Allen can continue to be effective considering how much they’ve been used in this series could also be an area of concern for the Indians.
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As mentioned, Kluber will start Game 4 on short rest. In Game 1 against the Blue Jays, Kluber threw 6.1 shutout innings, striking out six, and setting up Miller and Allen to do the rest. Of course, while Kluber is excited to get the call and has been nothing short of exceptional in the playoffs, he has never pitched on short rest in his career, which does add an unknown element to the equation.
With their backs against the wall, the Blue Jays will send Aaron Sanchez to the mound. Sanchez will be making his second career postseason start after he gave up six runs over 5.2 innings against the Texas Rangers in the ALDS. In the game, Sanchez hurt himself by allowing four walks. It’s possible that the nearly 200 innings Sanchez has thrown this season has made him tired in October, and so there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to bounce back from his rough outing against the Rangers. It could help that he’s had more than a week to rest since that start. However, when Sanchez faced the Indians in August, he was knocked out after four innings, allowing five runs (four earned). One would expect him to be on a short lease in an elimination game.
Aside from a potentially tired Cleveland bullpen, the biggest X-factor in Game 4 could be Toronto manager John Gibbons. With the Blue Jays stifled offensively all series, Gibbons may be forced to make some changes to his lineup. Russell Martin is just 2 for 27 with 12 strikeouts in the playoffs, so starting Dioner Navarro in his place has to be on the table. Kevin Pillar, despite his strong defense, could also be an option to sit in the hopes of generating more offense. It’s difficult to make changes at this point in the season, but the Blue Jays are desperate for offense and need to do something to turn the tide.
Despite losing three in a row, the Blue Jays remain betting favorites in Game 4. The uncertainty of Kluber pitching on short rest and the state of Cleveland’s bullpen after their heavy lifting in Game 3 are enough to give the Blue Jays a fighting chance in Game 4. However, everything has gone Cleveland’s way in this series, and at this point it’s hard to believe that will suddenly change. Cleveland wins 5-3.