Marco Estrada has been chosen by the Toronto Blue Jays to start Friday’s opening game of the American League Championship Series in Cleveland against the Indians.
We’re sure of that.
What we are not sure of is which Marco Estrada will show up.
Will it be the poised and unflappable Estrada – the one with the devastating change-up that tends to leave opposing batters swinging at air – who takes the mound?
Or might it be the tentative Estrada, the one who can get whacked around when he is unable to paint the edges of the plate with his usual precision when he heads into a game on extended rest?
Toronto manager John Gibbons is confident that Estrada the Good will turn up, and he gave the 33-year-old righthander the starting assignment for game one of the best-of-seven ALCS. Gibbons said on Tuesday that Estrada is the “logical choice.”
The Indians, who earned their berth in the ALCS on Monday night when they swept their division series against the Boston Red Sox in three games, have yet to announce who they will send to the mound.
“All I know is, you look back the last couple of years at how good Marco’s been in big games for us, playoff games and really, two straight years of regular season games,” Gibbons said. “And he’s one guy, too, who probably needs more than anybody to keep on as close to normal as possible, not too much time off.”
Therein lies the rub with Estrada, who pitched phenomenally well for Toronto this season despite competing all year with a herniated disc in his back.
That did not prevent him from going 9-9 on the year with a 3.48 earned-run average in 29 starts. Estrada was selected to play in MLB’s All-Star Game in July, a date he had to forego because his back was acting up.
The Mexico-born, California-raised Estrada has already had one solid outing for the Blue Jays this postseason, earning the win in the opener of the AL Division Series against Texas – he finished two outs shy of a complete game in a 10-1 Toronto victory.
Heading into that game, Estrada was working after five days off as the Blue Jays would go on to sweep the Rangers in three games to advance against Cleveland.
Where Estrada often finds trouble is when he goes into starts on extended rest, as will be the case Friday – he will be working on seven days rest between games.
If the Blue Jays were to follow the logical order of their four-man rotation as it has played out so far in the playoffs, Friday’s start would have fallen to Marcus Stroman.
But that would have then extended Estrada’s break between starts to eight days, a risk the Jays were obviously unwilling to take.
The Blue Jays are well aware of the numbers that show that Estrada, a precision pitcher who needs to live on the corners to offset the fact he’s not a hard thrower, thrives best when he starts every fifth day.
On that schedule this season, Estrada was 5-2 with a 2.52 ERA in 13 starts.
On five days rest, he was 2-5 in 11 starts, and on six-plus days off between starts, which he did on five occasions in 2015, Estrada’s record was a decent 2-2. But his ERA ballooned to an alarming 5.14.
Opponents on the year hit just .177 against Estrada on regular rest. But that number jumps to .283 after six or more days of rest, which just could play into the hands of a solid hitting team like Cleveland during Friday’s encounter.
The Blue Jays held a light workout at Rogers Centre on Tuesday; they did not make Estrada available to speak to reporters about his upcoming start. The club will travel to Cleveland on Wednesday.
Gibbons said he has not yet formalized how his rotation will play out after Estrada’s start on Friday.
He did say that Aaron Sanchez will get a start, likely in Game 3 or 4, and it will probably be his only outing in the series as the team continues to closely monitor the 24-year-old’s innings-pitched workload.
While the extra days off before the start of the ALCS play havoc with Toronto’s starting pitching schedule, they are a boon to players nursing various aches and pains after a long season.
Among them is Devon Travis, the Toronto second baseman who missed the last two games nursing a sore knee. Travis was in danger of being dropped from the 25-man roster that Toronto has to name for the duration of the ALCS by Friday morning.
After undergoing extensive treatment the past several days, the knee has responded favourably and both Gibbons and Travis are confident he will be ready to play in Friday’s game.
“He’s starting to move in that direction,” Gibbons said.
“I’ll be ready to go on Friday,” added Travis.
Toronto vs. Cleveland: Head-to-head in 2016
The Blue Jays and the Indians played seven times this season, with the Indians holding a 4-3 winning record.
Despite the losing record, Toronto outscored the Indians 38-24, largely on the strength of a 17-1 Blue Jays victory on July 3 at Rogers Centre. That was Toronto’s highest offensive output of the season.
Toronto lost two of the three games in Cleveland. The two teams split the four games that were played in Toronto.
The Blue Jays and the Indians were also involved in the longest game of the season in MLB, a 19-inning marathon on July 1 at Rogers Centre. Cleveland wound up winning the game 2-1 after six hours and 13 minutes of play.
The only no-hitter in Blue Jays history was thrown by Dave Stieb on Sept. 2, 1990, a 3-0 win against the Indians in Cleveland. The last time the Indians recorded a no-hitter occurred against the Blue Jays back on May 15, 1981, when Len Barker threw a perfect game in a 3-0 Cleveland win.Report Typo/Error
Follow us on Twitter: