Cleveland played host to some great games against Toronto this season, a trend surely to
continue in the ALCS. (Photo courtesy of Joe Siddall)
Even before the very first game of 2016 between Cleveland and Toronto back on June 30, it was clear that both teams were two of the best in the American League and had a very good chance of meeting again come the post-season. With Cleveland being the up and comer and Toronto the established winner, Cleveland approached its games against the Blue Jays as a serious test to see how they measured up against one of the better ball clubs in baseball. Much like the Blue Jays had tested themselves in 2015 whenever they faced the reigning AL Champion Kansas City Royals, Cleveland did the very same thing against Toronto this season. And much like in 2015, how the games between the Royals and Blue Jays were some of the most competitive Toronto would be involved in, the same thing can be said for the games between Cleveland and Toronto in 2016.
Heading into the first series of the season between these two teams, Cleveland was easily the hottest team in the American League, riding a 12-game win streak and were leading the AL Central by six games. Not only would most of the seven games played between Cleveland and Toronto this season be incredibly tight, with four of the seven games being settled by one run, but several of these games would become some of the more memorable contests that either team would play all year long.
The first of these unforgettable games took place on Canada Day, and with Cleveland extending their win streak to 13 games the day before in a 4-1 win against the Blue Jays, Toronto was primed (as they always are on Canada Day) to come out strong and finally put an end to this streak and celebrate the nations birthday in style. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, this was also the game where home plate umpire Vic Carapazza made at least half a dozen highly questionable calls that lead to the ejections of Edwin Encarnacion (in the 1st inning!), John Gibbons, and Russell Martin. The Canada Day game would end up dragging on for a painstaking 19 innings and take 6 hours 13 minutes to complete…and frankly I blame Carapazza 100% for affecting the outcome of a game that could have easily been won by Toronto in 9 innings had they played the entire game with their hottest hitter at the time, Encarnacion. As painful as the Canada Day Fiasco was to watch, it proved a lot of things about the Blue Jays…that even in a game where Encarnacion and Martin had been ejected, and where Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins had each pitched an inning of relief, Toronto still looked like the better team. And the Blue Jays would most emphatically go on to prove that in the final two games of the series, winning by a combined score of 26-7 and finally putting an end to Cleveland’s 14-game win streak.
What the Canada Day game says about Cleveland is that they’re resilient, but that they’re also very prideful and can sometimes let that pride get the best of them. On Canada Day, Cleveland was prepared to do anything to win that ball game and extend their impressive streak. In what was a 1-1 game from the 6th inning to the 18th inning, Cleveland would burn through their bullpen far to quickly and be forced to use their next days starter, Trevor Bauer. Flip a coin, either team could have won that marathon of a game, which Cleveland eventually did 2-1 in the 19th inning, but by burning up their bullpen and next days starting pitcher, they put themselves in a difficult position for the remaining two games of the series. With no fresh starter to use the next day, Cleveland was forced to pitch an entire game with their relievers and Toronto made them pay. The best part came in the fourth and final game of the series, with Toronto probably still pretty peeved by what happened two days earlier, the Blue Jays would go on to punish Cleveland 17-1, giving them their most lopsided loss of the season.
A common occurrence throughout the regular season was opposing teams pitching up and in against Josh Donaldson in an effort to take the MVP out of his comfort zone and get him off his game. Surprisingly, this is something that Texas didn’t do in the ALDS, and Donaldson and the majority of the Blue Jays line-up made them pay for playing them straight-up. Perhaps because it was the playoffs and Texas just wanted to play a clean-respectable brand of baseball…or perhaps they stayed cleared of throwing up and in to avoid a another benches clearing brawl, where it’s pretty much guaranteed every single Toronto player would have been honed in on you know who. Cleveland is a respectable club (more so than most at least), but it didn’t stop them earlier in the season from throwing at Donaldson. Unlike the Rangers who were trying to avoid any kind of controversial play in the post-season that might have provoked the Blue Jays, Cleveland being the scrappy bunch they are will stop at almost nothing to win this ALCS, and that most certainly includes throwing at Donaldson.