It’s going to be a very interesting day on the diamond. The ALCS and the NLCS both continue on Tuesday, starting with the Cleveland Indians in their quest to eliminate the Toronto Blue Jays and ending with the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers from Chavez Ravine for the first time. There are a lot of things to consider here today, so let’s dive right in.
After no strong opinion on yesterday’s game, and, as it turned out, that was probably a good thing, we’ll see there are some stronger thoughts for today’s action.
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Cleveland at Toronto (OFF)
At time of writing, there is no line for Game 4 of the American League Championship Series between the Cleveland Indians and the Toronto Blue Jays. Because of yesterday’s Johnny Wholestaff approach for the Indians, the decision has been made to bump Corey Kluber up to pitch on three days rest for the first time in his career. Toronto will go with Aaron Sanchez, who, for my money, is the best pitcher on this staff. I’m not exactly sure what sort of line will be put on this game, but my initial thought is that Toronto opens a small favorite in the -120 range.
There’s a lot of uncertainty about a pitcher making his first career start on short rest. Rich Hill did it in Game 5 for the Dodgers and he was pulled after 2.2 innings of work. If there’s any silver lining for the Indians, it’s that Kluber’s mechanics are well-regarded as some of the cleanest in baseball. In theory, because he has sound mechanics, he should be okay in terms of withstanding the strain of pitching again so quickly. There’s not as much stress when everything works in fluidity, so the hope is that he’ll be just fine. He’s been excellent in two playoff starts thus far, with zero runs allowed.
Kluber has had some issues with control, which could be attributed to rust and/or additional time between starts. Kluber didn’t make his final regular season start with a quad injury, so he went from September 26 to October 7 without making a start. He had a week between playoff starts. Either way, Kluber has worked 13.1 innings with no runs allowed on nine hits and a 13/5 K/BB ratio. Kluber has been fortunate to strand those runners, but he really hasn’t allowed much hard contact. There’s always the worry that his LOB% starts to regress a little bit, but his arsenal, particularly his curveball, is a great weapon against this Toronto team.
As far as I’m concerned, one of Toronto’s biggest mistakes in this series was holding Aaron Sanchez back until Game 4. Wanting to keep Marco Estrada on regular rest is one thing. Holding Sanchez back nine days between starts is another. Sanchez is the best weapon that this team has from a starting standpoint and he’d only be able to make one start in this series by working Game 4. For a while, we saw the ground ball prowess of Marcus Stroman, but we also saw the home run issue that Stroman had during the regular season. Sanchez doesn’t have the same ground ball rate, but he also doesn’t have the same home run issue.
Sanchez posted a 3.00 ERA with a 3.55 FIP and a 3.75 xFIP in his 192 innings this season. It was his first time as a full-time starter, so that’s why the Jays have been protective of his arm late in the season. You don’t see guys with a 54.4 percent GB% posting a .267 BABIP all that often, but that’s what Sanchez did. He had 161 strikeouts. He has premier velocity and one of the best two-seamers in the game. He doesn’t get a ton of swings and misses, but he gets ahead in the count and then forces hitters to dig out pitches.
For the first time in this series, the Blue Jays are going to be the value side, unless this number opens something ridiculous. Kluber on short rest with a bullpen that has to be closely monitored with Ryan Merritt slated to go tomorrow is a significant worry for Terry Francona and his staff. As I’ve mentioned, Sanchez is the best Toronto starter in my mind. As a result, number pending, the Blue Jays are the side to take here.
Chicago (NL) (-120) at Los Angeles; Total: 6.5
Somehow, people seemed to forget about Jake Arrieta this season. While singing the praises of the Cubs and Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner became an afterthought. It’s true that Arrieta was not as dominant as he was during that Cy Young season, but he also did some pretty unsustainable things. Stranding 80 percent of his runners probably wasn’t going to happen again and the strain of throwing 229 innings plus playoffs was clearly evident. Arrieta made two fewer starts and threw 31.2 fewer innings this season.
Still, he was really good. He posted a 3.10 ERA with a 3.52 FIP and a 3.68 xFIP. His walk rate spike was certainly concerning, as he went from 5.5 percent to 9.6 percent and it actually got worse in the second half. One interesting element about this game will be the platoon advantages for both teams. Arrieta actually walked 13.6 percent of the left-handed batters he faced and the Dodgers were very good against righties this season. Some of that was right-on-right crime from Justin Turner, but most of it was a result of the left-handed hitters for the Dodgers. Arrieta had a higher strikeout rate against lefties, but that walk rate is still a big consideration. Nobody did well on balls in play against Arrieta, so it’s going to be all about sequencing and when the rare hits do come relative to the walks.
Similarly, the Cubs were the best offensive team in baseball against lefties and they get one here in Rich Hill. The Cubs were second to Arizona in wOBA, but first in park-adjusted wRC+. Hill’s emergence as a starter has been the stuff of legend. In 20 starts this season, he posted a 2.12 ERA with a 2.39 FIP and a 3.36 xFIP. He struck out 129 in 110.1 innings and only walked 33. That will be the key in this game. The walks.
Hill had some control and command issues in his two starts against the Nationals that were a little bit unexpected. He allowed 15 baserunners in his seven innings of work. He did have 13 strikeouts, but he hit two guys, walked four, and gave up nine hits. He wasn’t particularly sharp and that was against a Nationals lineup that didn’t have the same offensive prowess in the platoon split that the Cubs have.
After Joe Blanton’s epic blow-up in Game 1, the Dodgers have some significant problems in middle relief. In terms of trustworthy bridges to Kenley Jansen, there really aren’t many, if any. That could be a really big issue with Hill against this Cubs lineup. Strikeouts run up pitch counts. Hill has had that blister issue throughout the season that will need to be addressed via surgery after the year in all likelihood. I wouldn’t want to be holding a Dodgers ticket if Hill can’t work deep enough into the game to limit Los Angeles’s bullpen exposure.
As a result, I’d have to start with a position on the Cubs and see what happens. I’d trust Arrieta a little bit more, despite the walks, and I trust the Cubs bullpen a hell of a lot more than the Dodgers bullpen. Also, it wouldn’t surprise me if this game squeaks over that 6.5 total. I like the Cubs more than the over, but this game could see a few runs.