The Cleveland Indians have a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series, so there’s nothing at all for Terry Francona and his team to be worried about, right?

To borrow a phrase from ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso, not so fast, my friend.

The Indians have a couple of issues after losing their first game of the postseason Tuesday against the Blue Jays.

They sent ace Corey Kluber to the mound with the hope of closing out the Blue Jays in four games. However, Toronto got the jump on Cleveland when third baseman Josh Donaldson launched a third-inning pitch from Kluber over the left field fence, giving the Blue Jays a 1-0 lead.

That was the first time the Blue Jays had the lead in the series, and it was the first time the Indians had trailed in the playoffs since the early innings of Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox.

The Blue Jays added a run to make it 2-0, and after the Indians cut it to 2-1, the Blue Jays regained full control when Edwin Encarnacion hit a bases-loaded single in the seventh inning to extend the advantage to 4-1.

While Kluber had a human effort and gave up a few runs in the playoffs for the first time in three starts, hard-throwing Aaron Sanchez was sharp for the Blue Jays. He gave up just one run on two hits in six innings.

It still looks like the Blue Jays have a big hill to climb, but the confidence level of John Gibbons’ team should be much higher as a result of the Game 4 win. The Blue Jays appear to have a major advantage in Game 5, as they’ll send Marco Estrada to the mound against Cleveland rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt.

Injuries to the Cleveland pitching staff have put the Indians in a precarious position for fielding starting pitchers.

Kluber is a stud, and Josh Tomlin has also pitched well in the postseason after an up-and-down regular season. But Francona has little to choose from aside from those two. Trevor Bauer has his infamous bloody pinkie finger that forced him to be pulled in the first inning of Game 3. Additionally, starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar are both injured. 

That’s why Merritt will get the ball in Game 5. If you don’t know much about him, don’t feel bad. When Gibbons was asked what he knew about Merritt, his response was that he knew he was left-handed, according to Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer.

Merritt pitched 11 innings for the Tribe this season after spending the season at Triple-A Columbus. He gave up six hits and two earned runs in his limited time on the mound, but that’s not much of a sample size.

In addition to their injured starters, the Indians are not hammering the baseball at this point. They have scored nine runs in four games, and if they can’t significantly improve their production in Game 5, they are going to have a difficult time closing out the Jays.

Nevertheless, Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez said his team is not worried. “No one is panicking,” Perez told Paul Hoynes of “They’re a good team. We’re going to show up and play like we always do.”

The Blue Jays are down 3-1 and still have a long way to go. However, they just beat Kluber and have a pulse. If they were able to take care of the Indians’ ace, it seems they should be able to handle a pitcher who does not appear to be ready for prime time.


Keys for Cleveland

Get the bats going. While the story going into Game 4 was the Blue Jays’ inability to get their offense on track, that narrative is changing. The Indians have not scored a run from the seventh inning on in the postseason, and they are struggling to put enough runs on the board.

The Indians would like to get a solid five or six innings out of Merritt, but that may be unrealistic. Francona has been successful to this point in the postseason because the bullpen has been so effective. If the Indians are going to find a way to win this game, they’ll need to get another stellar performance from their bullpen.

If the Indians can get three good innings from Merritt, the bullpen may have to take over from that point. It is essential than Andrew Miller and Co. have a dominant game here.


Keys for Toronto

Jump on top early in this game. The Blue Jays appear to have a huge edge in the starting pitcher matchup, and the sooner they get the lead, the more pressure they can put on the Indians.

Donaldson and Encarnacion are starting to hit, and they have to continue to pound the baseball. If Gibbons can get something out of Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista, they’ll have a chance to register a knockout in this game.

Estrada pitched very well in Game 1, but he got beat when he gave up a two-run homer to Lindor. If he can hold the Indians to two runs here, the Blue Jays should be able to find a way to send the series back to Cleveland.

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