If anyone thinks the Blue Jays have a huge advantage over Cleveland in the American League Championship Series on account of this being Toronto’s second year in a row in the ALCS, think again. In Terry Francona, Cleveland and it’s young, team first kind of players are led by one of the most experienced and knowledgeable managers in baseball. For the Blue Jays to win this series, it isn’t about simply out hitting, out pitching, and playing superior defence, it’ll also have a lot to do with not letting Francona out smart them.
The only thing that really separated Cleveland from Toronto in their 2-0 Game 1 win was obviously Francisco Lindor’s 2-run shot in the 6th inning. That being said, up until the point where Lindor hit his home run, with the score at 0-0, there were several plays in particular where Cleveland, with a runner on 1st, was easily able to lay down a bunt and advance the runner into scoring position. In a tie game with both starting pitchers doing as well as they were, a play as seemingly insignificant as bunting a runner over to 2nd may be the difference between winning and losing. Toronto needs to be better prepared and aware of moments when Cleveland’s in a position to make something happen out of what appears to be a relatively harmless situation.
In almost every aspect, these two teams are so evenly matched that the little coaching decisions like bunting away from the shift, or simply bunting to advance the runner into scoring position might be all it takes to win a game in a best of seven series where each win is so critical. Francona is aggressive, but he knows exactly when to be aggressive. Being the aggressive, yet practical thinker that he is, Toronto should have a pretty good sense of what he’ll probably be doing in certain situations, and not be caught off guard by anything that he does.
If there was one game in this series where Cleveland expected to win, it was yesterday. With their best starting pitcher on the mound, Corey Kluber, and a rested bullpen that included Andrew Miller and his nasty assortment of pitches, Cleveland knew they had to take advantage of this and win the first game of the series. Just like Cleveland made the most of a game where they had Kluber and Miller pitch a combined 8 innings, Toronto coming into Game 2 now needs to take full advantage of Cleveland expending their best arms in Game 1 and tie this series up before it moves to Toronto for Game 3 and where Cleveland will once again have a rested Miller at their disposal.
Because of their manager, a relatively inexperienced team like Cleveland can become so much more confident and comfortable than they would be otherwise. This doesn’t mean that Cleveland is immune to the pressures of playoff baseball, it just means that the Blue Jays need to work a little bit harder putting the pressure on Cleveland’s young stars, so much so that even with their great manager deflecting so much of the pressure away from them, it won’t be enough to make up for Cleveland’s inexperience and youth. Applying this kind of pressure should be a lot easier to do back in Toronto playing on their own turf in front of a maniacal home crowd, but if Toronto can manage to win Game 2, it would make the pressure on this young Cleveland squad almost impossible for them to perform at their best while in Toronto.