Following a busy weekend of sports, we get a chance to catch our collective breath here on Monday. There will be a bad Monday Night Football game between the New York Jets and the Arizona Cardinals and only one MLB playoff game. That is Game 3 of the American League Championship Series between the Cleveland Indians and the Toronto Blue Jays. If you’re a believer in the line, then it won’t be much of a game. If you’re not, come along on this written journey to break down Monday’s matchup.
Clayton Kershaw was Kershawian during Game 2 and the Dodgers got the game that they needed to get. The Dodgers haven’t won a game since September 29 without Kershaw’s services, either as a starter or in relief. That trend can’t continue if they want to win this series, unless Kershaw develops some sort of bionic arm between now and then.
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Cleveland at Toronto (-190); Total: 8.5
To say that there is no faith in Trevor Bauer appears to be an understatement. To put this in perspective, the Indians were a +120 underdog at home with Josh Tomlin on the mound against JA Happ. If this game was played in Cleveland, given the standard 25 cents for home field advantage, the Indians would be a bigger underdog with Bauer on the bump than with Tomlin. Now, it is plausible that Stroman is rated better for oddsmakers than Happ, but I would guess that they’re about even or maybe Happ is a slight, very slight, upgrade.
The circumstances surrounding this Trevor Bauer start are quite interesting for a variety of reasons. There’s the well-publicized drone injury that Bauer suffered to push his start back a couple of days. Bauer said in his media scrum yesterday that it won’t affect any of his pitch grips given the location of the cut and the fact that his pinky finger isn’t a main component of his grips. There’s also the antagonizing that Bauer has done of the Blue Jays fan base dating back to when the Indians went in there and continued their season-high 14-game win streak in June/July. He is not a well-liked individual and he’ll hear about it here.
Of the five postseason starts the Indians have gotten, Bauer’s has been the weakest. He didn’t get through five innings in Game 1 of the ALDS. He had good stuff, but mistakes were maximized. Bauer had some reverse platoon splits this season. Lefties posted a .299 wOBA, but righties posted a .320. Righties hit 12 of the 20 home runs and he had a 72/41 K/BB ratio against righties compared to a 96/29 K/BB ratio against lefties.
The one great equalizer in this game for Bauer could be his curveball. The Blue Jays have been terrible against curveballs all season long and in this series. Josh Tomlin threw the highest percentage of curveballs he had ever thrown last game. Bauer’s CB usage jumped from 11.6 percent to 19.5 percent this season, so you’ll see a steady diet of that pitch here in this outing. His two-seamer, arguably his most effective pitch, is not a great weapon against right-handed hitters unless he’s spotting it with excellent command. Therefore, expect over 30 percent of his pitches to be the hook. He may also throw more changeups than usual. Among 73 qualified starters, Bauer’s curveball was sixth in PITCHf/x batting runs against. Only Jose Fernandez (RIP), Corey Kluber, Yordano Ventura, Madison Bumgarner, and Justin Verlander had better curveballs.
With the off day, the Indians bullpen is very much in tact. If Terry Francona has a chance to steal Game 3, he will take it. Without an off day between Games 4 and 5, it feels like Francona would be very aggressive with his relievers tonight. There’s some risk-reward in there to be sure, but he can buy himself a gift for Game 4, when it’s a bullpen day started by Mike Clevinger. Keep that in mind for live betting purposes.
Marcus Stroman didn’t get a ton of sequencing luck this past season, but he had excellent peripherals and he’s got tremendous stuff. Stroman had a 4.37 ERA because of a 68.6 percent LOB%, but he had a 3.71 FIP and a 3.41 xFIP. Stroman is an extreme ground ball pitcher, so the Blue Jays defense will have to hold up its end of the bargain. Command was an issue at times for Stroman. He gave up 209 hits and 21 HR in his 204 innings. The 21 HR isn’t a gaudy number, but relative to the number of fly balls he allowed, it’s pretty high.
The goal for the Indians today is to get men on base and get Stroman working from the stretch and from different defensive alignments. Stroman posted a .253/.301/.394 slash against from the windup, but a .276/.331/.425 from the stretch with men on base. His K% and BB% both dropped from the stretch. That being said, Stroman had a rough first half and turned it on in the second half. He missed almost all of the 2015 season, so it took him time to get back into things. He increased his K% by 5.8 percent in the second half and decreased his BB%.
Lefties did fare better against Stroman. They had a .321 wOBA while righties had a .302 wOBA. The only righty in the lineup tonight will be Mike Napoli, so the Tribe will load up the left-handed sticks against Stroman. I don’t think that it’s a significant edge, but Stroman did have a 7.3 percent BB% against LHB compared to a 5.3 percent against RHB.
Unfortunately, I’m not going to have a strong opinion on this game. Because it’s the playoffs, the Indians are the value side, so that would be the lean. But, there’s a lot to dislike about this game. The total has bounced around between 8.5 and 9. It could be a little bit high, but if the Indians are trailing 4-2 or something like that in the late innings, Francona won’t use Miller or Allen. He’ll probably turn to a guy like Dan Otero, but he could use guys like Jeff Manship and Zach McAllister to live to fight another day. The 2-0 lead, while not a reason for complacency, does give the Indians a little bit of a cushion.
This is probably a game to avoid or look for live betting opportunities.