The American League Championship Series rolls on Saturday afternoon from Progressive Field with the Cleveland Indians holding a 1-0 series lead over the Toronto Blue Jays following their 2-0 victory in Game 1. 

Outstanding pitching from Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen kept Toronto’s offense at bay, while Francisco Lindor’s two-run homer off Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada provided the difference for the Tribe. 

Saturday’s second game of the series took a unique turn on Friday when the Indians announced that Josh Tomlin would be moved up to start in place of Trevor Bauer, who suffered a cut on his pinky finger that required stitches. 

The Blue Jays will counter with left-hander J.A. Happ before this series heads back to Toronto starting next week. 


Key Matchup for Toronto: Homers vs. Tomlin

The Blue Jays were likely kicking themselves after Game 1 for wasting early opportunities against Kluber. They had two runners on base in each of the first three innings but couldn’t take advantage and went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. 

There is good news for the Blue Jays against Tomlin. Cleveland’s starter allowed the third-most home runs in Major League Baseball during the regular season (36 in 174 innings), per

According to Joe Sheehan, Tomlin will be doing something that hasn’t been done since 2004:

For the record, the 2004 pitcher was Bartolo Colon with the Los Angeles Angels. He pitched fairly well against the Boston Red Sox, allowing three runs on seven hits in six innings.

Cleveland will be hoping for a similar effort from Tomlin, who was terrific against the Red Sox in the division series with two runs allowed in five innings.

The Blue Jays have a potent lineup, but they are at their best when home runs are a factor. In their three-game division series sweep against Texas, the Blue Jays hit 10 home runs. 

Following Tomlin’s Game 3 win against Boston, Jonah Keri of CBS Sports wrote about the right-hander’s formula for success without overpowering stuff:

He relies on guile and pinpoint control to survive in a world of terrifying fireballers. Given how severely the numbers tilt in a hitter’s favor when he gets ahead, every pitcher has a strong incentive to get ahead in the count early. For Tomlin, the prospect of slinging an 87-mph fastball to a hulking slugger on a 2-0 count practically begs him to throw first-pitch strikes.

Tomlin’s best asset is, as Keri noted, control. He had the second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball this year (5.9) among qualified starters because he doesn’t walk hitters. 

The Blue Jays will put the ball in play often against Tomlin. Their key to success will be hitting it over the fence as they did so often against the Rangers. 


Key Matchup for Cleveland: Speed on Bases

The Indians didn’t have many chances to take advantage of their speed in Game 1, because Estrada limited them to seven baserunners in eight innings.

Lindor’s homer allowed them to ease off the throttle late in Game 1, but they won’t have that luxury on Saturday, since the Blue Jays figure to score at least a few runs against Tomlin. 

While Cleveland’s lineup is capable of playing long ball—Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli tied for the team lead with 34 homers—their best asset is using their speed and instincts to take extra bases in an effort to keep pressure on the opposing pitcher. 

The Indians were one of the best teams in baseball at stealing bases during the regular season, racking up 134 steals with an 81.21 percent success rate. 

Per August Fagerstrom of FanGraphs, Cleveland’s success on the bases extends far beyond just being able to steal them:

We host a stat here on FanGraphs called Ultimate Base Running (UBR), which filters out stolen-base attempts and focuses just on a player’s ability and efficiency in taking the extra base on hits and tagging up on fly balls. As a team, the Indians rank second in baseball in this measure, behind only the historic Padres. On an individual level, Jose Ramirez was baseball’s best baserunnerRajai Davis ranked seventh, among 268 batters with at least 300 plate appearances.

Fagerstrom also noted the Indians finished second in baseball by successfully taking the extra base on a hit 45 percent of the time and led baseball by scoring 129 runs from second on a single in 184 attempts. 

In a separate article for FanGraphs, Fagerstrom noted how poor Toronto pitchers have been this season at preventing stolen bases with opposing teams succeeding 37 times in 42 combined attempts against Estrada, Happ, Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna

Happ, who will be on the mound Saturday, only had one caught stealing in eight attempts during the regular season. 

Russell Martin can only do so much, and he was awful throwing out baserunners this season, going 11-of-72 in that category for a 15 percent success rate

Cleveland hit well against left-handed pitching during the regular season, posting a collective .748 OPS, per Davis will be in the starting lineup against a left-handed starter, as he was throughout the regular season, making him an integral piece if he can find a way on base. 

The Indians want to play a similar style to what the Royals did when they won the World Series last year. They can hit homers if necessary, but putting the ball in play and forcing the defense to throw them out is when they are at their best. 

Getting guys on base makes the Indians more lethal because of how well they run the bases as a collective whole. 

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