Blue Jays Turn to Marco Estrada to Start Game 1 of ALCS
TORONTO – Toronto right-hander Marco Estrada set the early tone for the American League Division Series in his start last week in Texas.
The Blue Jays are hoping for a repeat performance in the AL Championship Series on Friday in Cleveland.
Manager John Gibbons confirmed Tuesday that Estrada will be the Game 1 starter at Progressive Field.
“I think he was the logical choice,” Gibbons said. “We could have gone with anybody and felt good. But he’s been so good in that role and then we’ll just shape it after him in these next couple days.”
Estrada, who had a 9-9 record and 3.48 earned-run average in the regular season, was dominant over 8 1/3 innings in a 10-1 Game 1 victory last Thursday. He held the top-seeded Rangers to one earned run and four hits and didn’t issue a walk.
The 33-year-old native of Sonora, Mexico was also strong in the playoffs last year. He posted a 2-1 mark and 2.33 ERA over three starts.
The Blue Jays enjoyed an off-day Monday after capping their 3-0 ALDS victory with a 7-6, 10-inning win on Sunday night. They had a light workout Tuesday afternoon and some players took batting practice.
The break before the next series gives the team a chance to recharge and allows some injured players to rest. It also allows for some potential tinkering of the starting rotation.
The rest of the series hasn’t been confirmed after Estrada, but Marcus Stroman is a good bet to start Game 2 on Saturday. He came through with a quality start in Toronto’s wild-card game victory over Baltimore on Oct. 4.
Chances are good that 20-game winner J.A. Happ would get the nod when the series moves to Toronto for Game 3 on Monday with Aaron Sanchez the likely choice for Game 4 on Tuesday.
“Our real big strength for us this year is our rotation,” Gibbons said. “Any of them could do the job and do it well. They’ve been doing that. There’s no automatics, no guarantees, but they’re all pretty good.”
The Indians also swept their way to the ALCS, wrapping things up Monday night with a Game 3 victory in Boston.
“A tough ball club to shut down and they’re hot like us too,” Gibbons said. “They ended up finishing really strong in winning the home-field advantage and then they swept Boston so they’re playing really good too right now.”
If a fifth game in the best-of-seven series is necessary, it would be played Oct. 19 at Rogers Centre. Cleveland would host Game 6 on Oct. 21 and Game 7 on Oct. 22 if required.
Blue Jays left-hander Francisco Liriano, who suffered a concussion last Friday, is improving and hopes to be ready to return Saturday once he completes Major League Baseball’s seven-day concussion protocol.
However, Gibbons said right-handed reliever Joaquin Benoit will not play in the ALCS. He’s still recovering from a torn calf muscle.
Second baseman Devon Travis said his sore right knee is feeling better and he expects to be ready for Game 1.
Toronto is unbeaten in October and will take a six-game winning streak into Cleveland. The Blue Jays survived an 11-16 September and closed out the regular season with two key victories in Boston, the wild-card win and then a series sweep.
Pitching has been key but the bats have returned with a vengeance. Slugger Edwin Encarnacion has led the way with three homers in four games and he’s been supported with contributions up and down the lineup.
“Everybody is in a good mood, everybody is feeling good and confident,” Gibbons said. “It was a battle there at the end just to get in and really I think that’s helped us to this point.
“But as far as the mindset and the confidence and all that, that’s never wavered in these guys. Even through our struggles through September. But that’s kind of the makeup of this group anyway.”