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The Globe and Mail

Blue Jays hope ALCS experience gives them an edge against Cleveland

Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons laughs during batting practice in preparation of game one of the American League Championship Series in Cleveland on Thursday, October 13, 2016. TheBlue Jays take on the Cleveland Indians.


The Toronto Blue Jays are riding a wave of confidence heading into Friday night's opening game of the American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians.

They were here in the ALCS last year, only against Kansas City – a tough battle in which the Royals persevered in six games, sending them on to the World Series.

It is a memory that still resonates strongly in the minds of many of the Toronto players.

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And it is a memory that they believe gives them a bit of a leg up heading into this year's affair against the Indians, who are making their first postseason appearance since the 2013 AL Wild Card game.

"Getting back here for a second year in a row you realize how close you are to getting to the World Series," Toronto centrefielder Kevin Pillar said. "And that just motivates everybody even more because when you play this game that's your dream, to play in a World Series and win a World Series. But understand you've got to win this series first.

"I know first-hand what it's like to have to pack your bag in a visiting city knowing you were two wins away from going to the World Series. Those feelings are hard to forget."

Jose Bautista said that the Indians in many ways remind him of the Royals from 2015.

"I heard a couple of the comments [saying so], especially because of the bullpen and the speed elements," Bautista said. "In some ways yes, because they play the small ball, they play in this division where the parks are a little bit bigger. And they kind of have to play to those circumstances they have to deal with.

"And being small-market, they don't go out and spend all the money on free agents and big bats and stuff like that. So that's their game and everybody knows our game."

Toronto's forte is power, as everybody knows.

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Heading into Friday's game, Toronto has clubbed 10 home runs in four post-season games – including eight during its three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers in the AL Division Series.

That is twice as many as the Indians have managed during their three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox.

"They're a solid lineup, one through nine," said Corey Kluber, the Cy Young Award winner as the AL's top pitcher in 2014 who will get the start for Cleveland. "It's not just two, three, four guys that can hurt you. Everybody in that lineup can hurt you. They have a lot of power, but they're also patient. You have to go out there and execute pitches.

"There's not really a magic formula. Just like what we asked about with Boston, it's not a magic formula, they're just a really good offense. We all have our work cut out for us."

The Blue Jays will counter with Marco Estrada, a proven playoff commodity with a 3-1 record in four career post-season starts with a 2.67 earned run average.

That includes a brilliant 8.1-inning effort in the opening game of the American League Division Series against the Rangers where Estrada allowed just one run off four hits during a 10-1 Blue Jays rout.

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Estrada said the Blue Jays who, like the Indians, are riding a six-game win streak into Friday's contest, are picking up their play when it matters most.

"We're starting to get hot at the right time," he said. "A lot of teams were hot in late August, early September and kind of cooled off once they got in the playoffs, where I feel like we're just starting to get hot.

"It's perfect timing. It's all about timing. That's usually the way things work. The best team doesn't always win, but I think the hottest team is usually the one that takes it all."

Series schedule

The second game of the ALCS will be played in Cleveland on Saturday with a 4 p.m. (ET) start time to allow prime-time coverage that night of the first game of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers.

When the ALCS shifts to Toronto for games three, four and (if necessary) five on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday respectively, both games four and five will have afternoon starts out of deference to the NL playoff.

"Maybe they just want to take advantage of the Cubs' new lights, you know," Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson opined about the AL's matinee start times.

Roster decisions

The Blue Jays named their 25-man roster for the ALCS on Friday afternoon and infielder Devon Travis, along with pitcher Francisco Liriano were both included.

Travis missed the last two games of the Texas series nursing a sore knee, and there had been concerns that the second baseman might have to sit out the ALCS. Liriano suffered a concussion after getting hit in the head with a line drive in the Texas series.

After meeting the league's concussion protocol guidelines, Liriano has been cleared to play but won't be eligible to return to play until Saturday's second game of the ALCS.

That means Toronto will start the series with just a 24-man roster.

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