Either the Cleveland Indians or the Toronto Blue Jays will represent the American League in the 2016 World Series after each team swept through the division series. Both sides figure to face much more resistance in the penultimate round of the MLB playoffs.

The club that ultimately earns that opportunity to play for a championship will be the one that responds best to the adversity that lies ahead in the American League Championship Series after moving through the previous round with only a few minor hints of drama.

So let’s check out all of the available information for the AL pennant battle. That’s followed by a preview of the series and a prediction for which team will punch its World Series ticket.


2016 ALCS Schedule


Series Preview

The Blue Jays limped across the finish line into the playoffs. They started September with a 76-57 record and a two-game lead over the Boston Red Sox in the AL East. A 13-16 record down the stretch dropped them into wild-card position, holding on over the final weekend to avoid a complete collapse.

Yet if Toronto ends up winning the World Series, being forced to play the extra playoff game will be looked back on as a turning point.

The Jays needed a spark. Beating the Orioles in 11 innings provided it. The powerful offense, which had gone dormant for extended stretches in September, came alive to score 22 runs during the three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers in the division series.

Ultimately, the biggest difference for Toronto this year is more reliability in the rotation. When the offense went cold, the starting pitchers stepped up to ensure the Jays could still qualify for the postseason. In all, the team finished the regular season fourth in starter ERA, per ESPN.

Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star passed along comments from manager John Gibbons about being able to count on anybody in the rotation—Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez—in a crucial game:

In a lot of ways, that’s been the key to our whole season. All (four) guys doing their jobs. Before this even started, going back to before we played Baltimore 9in the wild card), that’s one of the things we looked at. Hey, we feel good about that. Regardless of what situation we’re in, we feel good about anybody we throw out there, no doubt.

Talent was never the question between the improved rotation and an offense featuring Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki. The Jays just needed to break out of their rut, and it will be tough to slow them down now that they’ve done that.

Meanwhile, it’s a surprise the Indians have reached this stage. They have been forced to play without three of their most vital assets, with injuries sidelining outfielder Michael Brantley as well as starting pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.

Jordan Bastian of MLB.com noted even Indians owner Paul Dolan is impressed with how the players have risen to the occasion when called upon to fill those voids:

“It’s just something they’ve done all year long,” Dolan said. “They just stepped up when they needed to and just [did] what nobody else thought they were capable of doing. The depth of the team, the character of this team, I mean they just swept the Boston Red Sox. That kind of speaks for itself.”

Although it’s a great story that will become even better if they manage to win the title without those impact players, it’s unlikely they can stand toe-to-toe with the Jays for the entire series and come out on top. They will need to get creative.

Cleveland manager Terry Francona needs to take some chances. Whether it’s hit-and-run calls and trying to steal more bases to put more pressure on the Blue Jays defense or utilizing a quick hook for his starters not named Corey Kluber, he must get creative.

One thing’s for sure: The Indians will hope some of the Cavaliers’ luck rubs off on them in another battle between the cities, as SportsCenter showcased:

Also of interest, Sportsnet Stats pointed out an extended drought is going to end this year regardless of which of the remaining teams comes out on top:

Ultimately, the Indians deserve a lot of credit for getting this far, and those fans whose favorite team is no longer alive and are looking for an underdog story will probably jump on the Cleveland bandwagon. It’s a testament to the front office to have enough depth to keep winning despite the injury issues.

The Blue Jays are in a better spot right now, however. They have found their groove again, and their roster is stronger from top to bottom than the current version of the Indians. That should allow them to power their way into the World Series after a hard-fought series.

Prediction: Blue Jays in six games


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