ALCS 2016: 5 reasons Blue Jays will win

Here are five reasons the Toronto Blue Jays will win the ALCS and advance to their first World Series since 1993.

The knockdown, drag-out battle between the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers that was expected in the ALDS never materialized. Instead, the Jays dominated the Rangers in all facets of the game, trailing for a grand total of one inning in three games. The Blue Jays battered the Rangers, leaving them shellshocked after the first two games of the series. The clinching game took a little more work, but the Blue Jays emerged victorious while the Rangers crumbled once again.

Moving onto the ALCS, the Blue Jays find themselves face to face with the Cleveland Indians, who also swept their first-round series. The Indians won the season series by one game, but the Blue Jays won the scoreboard 38-24. Cleveland was able to pull out a few close victories, while Toronto won by wide margins.

The ALCS should be much closer than both division series. Here are the five biggest reasons the Blue Jays will be the American League team moving onto the Fall Classic.

October 6, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Ezequiel Carrera (3) hits a single in the eighth inning against the Texas Rangers during game one of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball game at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

5. Ezequiel Carrera stays hot

Both teams in the ALCS have players who were relatively unknown entering the season playing big roles in October. For Toronto, that player is Ezequiel Carrera, an outfielder who had a grand total of 267 big-league games spread across five seasons. Injuries to Jose Bautista allowed Carrera to receive the most playing time of his career, and he did not disappoint.

With most of the lineup struggling in September, Carrera provided a major spark for the Jays. In 20 games in September, he batted .359 with two home runs. The speedy left fielder can lead off when called upon, but also serves the Blue Jays well from the bottom of the order. Regardless of batting order slot, Carrera has found a way to reach base ahead of the big boppers.

Against the Rangers, Carrera continued his hot hitting, going 4-for-12 with a home run and a stolen base. He also picked up two hits in the Wild Card Game. In this star-studded lineup, Carrera has managed to stand out as a key performer due to his ability make contact and use his speed. His approach at the plate plays well in the playoffs, as he is more than happy to pull a ground ball through the hole. Any power is an added bonus.

Playoff series like this one are often decided by which team’s seven-through-nine hitters show up to play. Ezequiel Carrera can impact a game in several different ways. While he would have easily been overlooked at the start of the year, he is very much a key to victory for the Blue Jays in the ALCS.

Oct 7, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber walks to the dugout after being relieved in the eight inning against the Boston Red Sox during game two of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

4. Kluber struggles against the Blue Jays

Cleveland is down to their last ace, Corey Kluber. With Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco on the shelf with season-ending arm injuries, Kluber came up huge for the Indians every time he took the ball in the second half. With an 18-9 record and an ERA very close to 3.00, the right-hander is once again in the conversation for the AL Cy Young.

While Kluber has been great against nearly everyone in the league, he has had his struggles against the Blue Jays. In five career starts against Toronto, Kluber is 1-3 with a 5.34 ERA. He took the loss at the Rogers Centre on July 3, allowing five runs in only 3.1 innings. Kluber allowed four walks and a home run in that short start.

Kluber will take the ball in Game 1, looking to get his team off to a good start. The Blue Jays will look to jump him early as they did in July. Collectively, the current Toronto roster has a .281/.333/.490 line against Kluber, with Josh Donaldson and Michael Saunders leading the charge. Another factor working against Kluber will be the cool October air.

He typically starts the season slow in April and May, and is pitching deep into the year for the first time. Kluber relies heavily on a power curveball and cutter. If the cold weather affects his ability to grip the baseball to throw his best pitches, his command may suffer.

With two of their best pitchers hurting, the Indians have to be able to count on Kluber to shut down the Blue Jays at least twice in this series to have a shot at winning. If history is any indicator, that will be very difficult for the talented pitcher to do.

Oct 9, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson (20) celebrates after scoring the winning run past Texas Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy (25) in the 10th inning to give the Jays a three game sweep in 2016 ALDS playoff at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

3. Getting healthy at the right time

While the Indians are down two key starters, health no longer appears to be a major concern for the Blue Jays. There were questions surrounding Josh Donaldson and Marco Estrada entering the playoffs. Donaldson dealt with a sore hip that hampered him most of the season’s final month. Estrada has been dealing with a herniated disc in his back. Both showed in the ALDS that these injuries may no longer be a major concern.

Estrada’s command abandoned him at times in the second half as his back made it difficult to finish pitches. In Game 1 against the Rangers, he came a few pitches short of tossing a complete-game shutout. Texas never threatened or looked comfortable against Estrada’s marvelous changeup. He will take the ball in Game 1 once again.

Donaldson proved his hip was fully healthy as he dashed home from second base on a play where the ball never left the infield in the deciding game of the ALDS. In the first four games of the playoffs, Donaldson is batting .500 with a 1.304 OPS. He has been impossible to retire.

Every team has players who are dealing with minor nagging injuries by the time the postseason rolls around. How well those players play through the pain decides series. Estrada and Donaldson came out firing in the ALDS, and if they have another good series, the Blue Jays should win.

Oct 9, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion (10) reacts after hitting a two-run home run against the Texas Rangers during game three of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

2. Scoring early and often could decide games

The Blue Jays did most of their damage against the Rangers in the early innings. Overall, the scored 17 of their 22 runs in the first five innings. That trend of coming out swinging against the starting pitcher will have to continue in the ALCS.

With Andrew Miller waiting in the bullpen, the Blue Jays will have to capitalize on the weakened Cleveland rotation. Against the Red Sox, Terry Francona was content to go to his ace reliever after getting five innings from Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin. He will likely do the same thing in this series.

The Blue Jays have the ability to hang a crooked number early in the game, especially when the top of their order is locked in. With Devon Travis, Carerra, and Donaldson setting the table for Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Troy Tulowitzki, look for the Jays to make life difficult for the Indians starters. Every single hitter in the Toronto lineup can change the game with a single swing of the bat, and the Indians may no longer have the arms to hold them down for an entire series.

If the Indians are unable to get the ball to their bullpen with a lead, this series points to a Blue Jays victory.

Oct 7, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (2) celebrates with right fielder Jose Bautista (19) after hitting a two-run home run against the Texas Rangers during the second inning of game two of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball series at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

1. The Blue Jays have opened the floodgates

After sleepwalking and pressing through most of September, the Blue Jays have won six games in a row dating back to the end of the regular season. Their dominance of the Rangers was completely unexpected, but felt inevitable at the same time. Toronto has played with an energy that was missing for long stretches of the second half since Encarnacion’s home run in the Wild Card game cleared the fence.

The Blue Jays have brought back the same swagger that emerged after last year’s trade deadline. Donaldson and Tulowitzki keyed the breakout in the ALDS, but Encarnacion and Bautista also provided power. When this quartet is seeing the ball as well as they are now, they far outstrip the four best players the Indians have to offer.

The Indians also come into this series with hot bats and a confident pitching staff. The Red Sox were the popular pick to come out of the AL, but the Indians handled them with shocking ease. Still, that series had a fluky feel to it with unheralded players hitting big home runs for the Indians. The Blue Jays won their series because their best players played like the All-Stars they are.

Counting on Lonnie Chisenhall or Roberto Perez to come up with another big home run apiece feels like a stretch. The Indians also had to contend with a Red Sox lineup that had shut things down over the final week of the season, only to try and ramp it back up again at the drop of a hat.

With their best players as locked in as humanly possible, look for the Jays to continue playing with an undeniable swagger and to get past the Indians and into their first World Series in over two decades.

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