The Toronto Blue Jays saved their season with a 5-1 win over Cleveland in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday at Rogers Centre. So now it’s a 3-1 series deficit for Toronto, and older Jays fans will remember their team being on the wrong side of that type of rally back in 1985 when the Jays blew a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and lost to Kansas City. The pitching matchup for Wednesday appears to be a huge edge for Toronto and it is favoured on Sports Interaction MLB odds to force a Game 6 back in Cleveland on Friday.
Cleveland Indians vs. Toronto Blue Jays, Game 5
Moneylines: Blue Jays -170, Indians +150 Total: 8 Date: Wednesday, Oct. 19, 4 p.m. ET Location: Rogers Centre, Toronto
I’m not sure who the least-heralded ALCS starting pitcher would be this decade, but Wednesday’s Indians starter, rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt, has to be on the very short list. Merritt wasn’t originally going to be on the Indians’ roster for the ALCS, but the team included him before the deadline last Friday when fellow pitcher Trevor Bauer cut his right pinky finger while repairing a drone the night before. Bauer leaving after just two-thirds of an inning in Monday’s Game 3 set in motion Merritt starting this game as Manager Terry Francona could have gone with Merritt on Tuesday but instead opted for ace Corey Kluber. That backfired.
Merritt was 11-8 with a 3.70 ERA in 24 starts at Triple-A Columbus this year. The 24-year-old was called up to the majors three different times but made only four appearances and was 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA in 11.0 innings. In Merritt’s lone big-league start, he held the Royals to a run in five innings on Sept. 30 in a 7-2 win. He struck out four and didn’t walk anyone. Merritt spent the ALDS in Arizona, where he and other Indians pitchers threw simulated games and bullpen sessions.
In the small MLB sample size, left-handers are 2-for-7 off Merritt with two RBIs. Right-handers are 4-for-29 with five strikeouts. During the regular season, Toronto’s Josh Donaldson hit .279 with seven homers in 129 at-bats against lefties. Edwin Encarnacion went deep nine times in 120 at-bats off them. Ezequiel Carrera led the Jays with a .329 average off southpaws.
Toronto Blue Jays
Just getting to a Game 5 was notable for the Jays. Of the 35 previous teams in postseason history to take a 3-0 lead in a best-of-7 series, 29 of them had swept. If you are wondering, no team to take a 3-0 series lead has ever won the series in a Game 7.
Will Wednesday be the final home game for Toronto free-agents-to-be such as Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders? It will be in 2016 unless the Jays are hosting Game 1 of the World Series.
Toronto goes with right-hander Marco Estrada. He was 9-9 with a 3.48 ERA during the regular season and is 1-1 with a 1.65 ERA and 0.67 WHIP in two playoff starts. He pitched well enough to win Game 1 of the ALCS in Cleveland in allowing two runs and six hits while striking out six over eight innings, but the Blue Jays lost 2-0. Those runs came on a sixth-inning two-run homer from Indians All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor. Before the at-bat, teammate Carlos Santana told Lindor to look for a high pitch, and that’s what he hit out on a 0-2 pitch.
Indians vs. Blue Jays ALCS Game 5 Prediction
By experience, this is the most lopsided pitching matchup of the entire playoffs by far. It’s almost unprecedented that the Indians are using a rookie with just 11 big-league innings under his belt. Merritt likely won’t be in there very long. The Jays force Game 6. Go under the total again.