The Blue Jays are back in the American League Championship Series for a second consecutive year after eliminating the Rangers. Jose Bautista and company were all business in the three-game Division Series sweep, leaving behind a rivalry of bat flips and punches to outscore the Rangers by 10 runs.
Now they'll get to face another club they outscored in the regular season, the Indians, with a chance to return to the World Series for the first time since 1993, a year the Jays won it all.
Although the Tribe was the higher seed, a three-game sweep of the Red Sox in the ALDS was considered an upset by many. Cleveland pitchers shut down one of the most potent lineups in baseball and sent David Ortiz packing without a playoff victory in his final MLB season. Boston finished the series with a streak of 26 consecutive innings without holding the lead as Indians manager Terry Francona took an unconventional approach with his bullpen and relied heavily on Andrew Miller, who will likely see plenty of action in the best-of-seven ALCS.
Could the Blue Jays have an inside advantage on the Indians? President and CEO Mark Shapiro spent 24 years with the Tribe, working his way up through the front office before leaving last year. Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins also came from Cleveland, while player development adviser Eric Wedge is a former Indians manager.
Despite losing stars Michael Brantley (shoulder), Carlos Carrasco (hand) and Danny Salazar (forearm), the Indians have received unexpected contributions from their young talent, winning 94 games, never losing more than two consecutive games all season.
Here's what you need to know about the ALCS.
Players to watchToronto's offensive leaders have carried over their regular season success into the postseason. Reigning MVP Josh Donaldson is 9 for 18 with five doubles and three RBIs in four playoff games. Edwin Encarnacion, who delivered a walk-off homer in the wild-card game, is 6 for 16 (.375) with three homers and seven RBIs. Encarnacion's 193 regular-season home runs since the start of the 2012 season trail only Chris Davis (197) among big-league hitters.
In his last start, Aaron Sanchez, the AL ERA leader during the regular season, was torched for six runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Rangers in Game 3 of the ALDS. Coming off a career-high 192 innings pitched, the Jays are only going to limit him to one ALCS start, at home in Game 4. Sanchez was 6-1 with a 3.74 ERA in 13 starts at the Rogers Centre this season.
Andrew Miller has not allowed a run in 12 1/3 innings over eight career postseason appearances. The southpaw has 17 strikeouts, holding opponents to a .077 batting average. Miller has faced Toronto more than any Cleveland pitcher. Corey Kluber delivered seven shutout innings in Game 2 of the ALDS but owns a career 5.34 ERA against the Jays.
Indians slugger Mike Napoli has hit 20 career homers with 51 RBIs against Toronto in 88 games played. Coco Crisp led the AL with a .392 average with runners in scoring position but his throwing arm is anything but crisp, likely limiting him to pinch-hitting roles in the ALCS. Jose Ramirez was also lethal in the clutch for Cleveland, hitting .346 with runners on (4th-highest in AL) and .355 with RISP (T5th-highest).
Key statsIncluding the postseason, Blue Jays starters have held their opponent to three earned runs or fewer in 27 of their last 33 games and were the only AL rotation with an ERA under 4.00. Jays starters also pitched the most innings during the regular season and throw the most productive fastballs, a pitch only the Yankees and Athletics fared worse against than the Tribe.
Seems odd, but the Blue Jays have fared better when the Rogers Centre roof is open, as it was for the wild-card game. The club was 12-18 with a lower batting average and home runs per game during the regular season with the roof closed.
Four of the seven regular-season meetings between the clubs were decided by one run, including a 19-inning marathon on Canada Day which extended the Indians franchise-record winning streak to 14 games. Cleveland also beat Toronto by a run on Aug. 19, when rookie Tyler Naquin hit a walk-off inside-the-park homer.
The Indians ranked second among playoff teams in runs scored against left-handed pitching during the regular season and led the majors in doubles against southpaws. The club lit up David Price in the ALDS and could cause big problems for Happ, the Jays' Game 2 starter, and relievers Brett Cecil and possibly Francisco Liriano, who is recovering from being hit in the head with a line drive and isn't eligible to return until Saturday.
TV scheduleGame 1: Blue Jays at Indians, Friday, 8 p.m. ET — Marco Estrada (9-9, 3.48 ERA) vs. Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14 ERA)
Game 2: Blue Jays at Indians, Saturday, 4 p.m. ET — J.A. Happ (20-4, 3.18 ERA) vs. Trevor Bauer (12-8, 4.26 ERA)
Game 3: Indians at Blue Jays, Monday, 8 p.m. ET — Josh Tomlin (13-9, 4.40 ERA) vs. Marcus Stroman (9-10, 4.37 ERA)
Game 4: Indians at Blue Jays, Tuesday, 4 p.m. ET — Mike Clevinger (3-3, 5.26 ERA) vs. Aaron Sanchez (15-2, 3.00 ERA)
Game 5 ( if necessary ): Indians at Blue Jays, Wednesday, 4 p.m. ET
Game 6 ( if necessary ): Blue Jays at Indians, Friday Oct. 21, 8 p.m ET
Game 7 ( if necessary ): Blue Jays at Indians, Saturday Oct. 22, time TBA