ALCS Preview Indians Blue Jays

The Indians and Blue Jays gave us some great moments in the regular season. Who could ever forgot the 19-inning game or Tyler Naquin rocking out with his walk-off inside the park home run. Possibly a preview of things to come, the Indians won the season series against the Blue Jays sporting a 4-3 record against the AL’s top Wild Card team. Over those seven game though, the Tribe was outscored 38-24, but take out the 17-1 shellacking on July 3rd, and the series was much closer, with the Tribe outscoring the Blue Jays 23-21. Of course, a lot of things have changed since those fateful mid-summer match ups. Jose Bautista missed every game against the Indians this season, and he will certainly play a big part in this series. And as we all know, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar won’t have any impact this time around.

Things get started on Friday at 8 P.M. in Cleveland, where the Indians control home-field advantage in the series (and potentially in the World Series). Let’s take a look at the side-by-side match ups of both teams.

Infield

On the season the Indians infield finished 1.1 Wins above average, while the Blue Jays finished 3.8 Wins above average. What does that exactly mean? Is the 2.7 Wins represent anything significant? Wins Above Average (WAA) represent how many wins an average player will contribute to a team. As for the difference between the Indians 1.1 WAA and the Blue Jays 3.8, that’s like comparing Brett Gardner to Adam Eaton, both good players, but you’d rather have Eaton in this situation.

The difference between these two numbers can be explained away pretty easily. The catching position brought the Indians way down (they finished last with a catching WAA of -2.9), while the fact that Josh Donaldson plays the hot corner for the Jays brought their WAA way up (Donaldson finished 4th in the AL in WAA, while the Jays had the best 3B WAA). Other than those two positions the Indians took home victories at first base, second base, and shortstop.

However, Edwin Encarnacion played the majority of first base on the playoffs, which gives the Blue Jays the slight edge over the Indians in this category. As good as Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis were for the Indians, the duo of Donaldson and Encarnacion (and their 79 home runs) push the Jays over the top.

Advantage: Slight Edge Blue Jays (+1)

Outfield

The Indians outfielders finished with a WAA of -1.2, while the Blue Jays finished right behind them at -1.8. Keeping the comparisons going, would you have rather had Mike Napoli or Adam Lind (hint: you pick Nap). So far this playoffs, the Blue Jays have been rolling out an outfield of Michael Saunders, Kevin Pillar, and Ezequiel Carrera. Normally Jose Bautista would be playing rightfield, but the Jays have used him exclusively at DH so far, which hurts in this particular match up.

The Indians have countered with an outfield (dependent on the opposing pitcher) of Coco Crisp or Brandon Guyer, Tyler Naquin or Rajai Davis, and Lonnie Chisenhall. The Indians get the platoon advantage here, and have the greater depth. While the Blue Jays can counter with Melvin Upton coming off the bench, this isn’t 2008 any more.

The Jays outfield defense far surpasses the Indians, but a lot of that is attributed to the Gold Glove caliber defense Kevin Pillar brings in centerfield. But having greater depth, and being able to match up with almost any pitcher gives the Indians the edge here.

Advantage: Slight Edge Indians (+1)

Starting Pitching

The Indians starters far and away had the best WAA of any rotation during the regular season, with 8.9 WAA. The Blue Jays, more known for their offensive prowess, surprisingly finished second, behind the Indians with a WAA of 6.0. For comparison, the Indians were essentially throwing Marco Estrada (3.48 ERA) out every game, while the Jays were going with Trevor Bauer (4.26 ERA) every game. Ironically both those guys will be starting in this series.

Obviously the Indians take a massive hit in this category due to the loss of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar (combined WAA of 3.9). But Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Josh Tomlin were still able to hold the Boston Red Sox offense to just five runs over 16.2 innings (a 2.71 ERA). However, Mike Clevinger has been named the Game 4 starter, which certainly hurts the Indians.

The Blue Jays have one of the better staffs in the AL, and are expected the throw out the quartet of Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, and Aaron Sanchez in this series. Those four combine for a regular season ERA of 3.71, and held the Rangers offense to just seven runs in 19 innings (a 3.32 ERA). Even with the Indians posting better numbers, it was more Terry Francona’s willingness to go to his bullpen early that helped save the Tribe. As good as Corey Kluber, I have to give the advantage to the Blue Jays.

Advantage: Blue Jays (+2)

Relief Pitchers

The Indians have Andrew Miller, they automatically win this match up. Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t go a little in depth here. Indians relief pitchers finished second in the AL with a WAA of 3.9, while Blue Jays finished much lower, with a -1.4 WAA. Bullpens typically have a big four, so using that as a baseline, the Indians basically had Aroldis Chapman finishing games, while the Blue Jays had Noe Ramirez (exactly) finishing games.

The Indians don’t sweep the Red Sox if not for their bullpen, which seemed to flow from Andrew Miller directly to Cody Allen. Andrew Miller is good, Andrew Miller had a WAA of 2.6, the same as Blue Jays starter, J.A. Happ. Don’t get me wrong, Roberto Osuna is a nice closer, but the Indians take this match up by a mile.

Advantage: Strong Edge Indians (+3)

Designated Hitter

Let’s focus solely on Jose Bautista versus Carlos Santana, at first glance you give the Blue Jays the advantage by a country mile. Not so fast my friend. On the season Jose Bautista had an OPS+ of 117, meaning he was 17% better than the league average hitter. Carlos Santana countered with a 121 OPS+ (21% better than league average). Both players finished with a .366 on-base percentage. Jose Bautista had a WAA of -0.7, Carlos Santana had a WAA of 0.7. Sure Jose Bautista has the name recognition, but Carlos Santana has actually had better season according to the numbers.

Advantage: Slight Edge Indians (+1)

Defense

As a whole, the Blue Jays were 23 runs better than the average defense, while the Indians finished 15 runs better than average. The Blue Jays have Kevin Pillar, Troy Tulowitzki, and Josh Donaldson manning key positions in the field. The Indians are essentially built on the glove of Francisco Lindor (and oh, what a glove it is). Both teams are very good defensively, but the Blue Jays are just a tiny bit better.

Advantage: Slight Edge Blue Jays (+1)

Base Running

The Indians were among the best in the league at running the bases, they generated 18 extra runs on the base paths, while the Blue Jays cost themselves runs (albeit by a slim margin), -1 to be exact. The Indians led the AL in stolen bases, and taking extra bases. They win this one by a land slide.

Advantage: Strong Edge Indians (+3)

Manager

John Gibbons has been the Blue Jays manager (on and off) for nine seasons now, this is the second time he’s brought them to the playoffs, and by all accounts, is an above average manager. Terry Francona, meanwhile, is one of the games’ great minds, previously leading the Red Sox to two World Series titles. Over his four years with the Indians, Francona has led the Indians to the best record in the AL over that stretch, and is currently reinventing how relief pitchers are used. I think you know who takes this match up.

Advantage: Strong Edge Cleveland (+3)

Our finally tally: the Blue Jays take three categories, scoring 4 total points. The Indians took five categories, raking up a score of 11. Did my Cleveland homerism take effect here? Probably, I tried to be as non-bias as I could, but this is a Cleveland sport site after all, who wants to read about how the other team is better? I really do believe the Indians will come out on top in this series and capture their first AL Pennant since 1997.

Final Prediction: Indians in 7

— Chris Sladoje (@The_Doje)