When the Toronto Blue Jays were last seen at the Rogers Centre eight days ago, they were mashing the ball, with 27 runs and 10 homers in a franchise-high four consecutive playoff victories. Their offence has hit a dramatic lull since then, but they're saying all the right things for a team in this predicament.
The Jays scored one run through the first two games of their best-of-seven American League Championship Series with the Cleveland Indians. Now back at home in Toronto preparing for Monday's Game 3, they say they don't feel like a team trailing 0-2. They say they don't agonize over games in which both teams pitched extremely well, and the Indians won so narrowly – 2-0 on Friday and 2-1 on Saturday.
In Cleveland, Toronto had just one run on 10 hits and the core of its batting order – hitters two through five – went 5-for-29. Cleveland reliever Andrew Miller struck out 10 of the 12 Toronto batters he faced in two games, often troubling them with his slider.
"In this room I don't think anyone feels too down or too worried. There's no panic or anxiety because we've played good ball games," said Toronto slugger Jose Bautista, who is 0-6 in the ALCS but was talkative and casual with reporters in the Jays clubhouse on Sunday. "Nobody can predict the future, but I haven't seen 18-plus innings where pitchers get away with a lot like they've been getting away with. We need to continue putting runners in scoring position and then get them in any way we can."
Bautista hinted at – but declined to elaborate – whether he thought the umpire was calling the strike zone accurately in the first two games.
"All you have to do is look at video. How many times have they thrown pitches over the heart of the plate? Not many. But they've been able to do that because of the circumstances that I'm not trying to talk about … because I can't … that's for you guys to do," Bautista said.
Neither team seems surprised the series has been low scoring. Toronto's pitching staff led the league with a 3.78 earned-run average in the regular season while Cleveland's was second at 3.84.
Now as the Jays return home to play before more than 50,000 bellowing hometown fans, the fiery Marcus Stroman takes the hill. He brushed off concerns he could be rusty after sitting nearly two weeks since his last start – the wild-card victory for Toronto over the Baltimore Orioles.
"I'll be locked in regardless of how many days it is in between starts. I feel like I have a very good routine, and I'm able to prepare my body to throw on how many days' rest," Stroman said. "I feel just as good as if it was my normal five days, so I'll be ready to go."
Cleveland will trot out Trevor Bauer in response – a pitcher making his Game 3 start after one of the most peculiar injuries of the season and an equally peculiar day-before news conference. Bauer came to the podium on Sunday with a small drone and his right pinkie finger bandaged – ready to explain how one led to the other and why he hadn't pitched in Game 2 as scheduled.
Bauer – a huge Star Wars fan and self-professed "nerd"– designs and builds his own drones so he can fly, race and battle with them. The player, who had studied mechanical engineering at UCLA, was fiddling with one of his drones on Friday when one of the propellers spun at full speed and clipped the front of the pinkie finger on his pitching hand. He cabbed to a Cleveland hospital for stitches – enough that the Indians had to push his scheduled Game 2 start to Game 3.
"I definitely felt bad. Just one of those things, freak accident you can't really control," Bauer said. "Literally I was worried that I wouldn't be able to pitch at some point in the series. I got pretty lucky."
The Jays will be without second baseman Devon Travis, who has been dropped from the team's ALCS roster because of an injured knee. Justin Smoak has replaced him. Travis had an MRI on the injured knee on the weekend, which revealed a bone bruise and a flap of cartilage caught in the joint. That ends his season. The team said he will likely need a knee scope and should be back for spring training.