CLEVELAND -- As the second-place team in the American League East Division, the Toronto Blue Jays needed to play a one-game playoff against the Baltimore Orioles just to advance to the A.L. Division Series against the top-seeded Texas Rangers.
But they more than made their presence known by hitting and pitching their way to a win over the Orioles, and then, a three-game sweep of Texas for a berth into the American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians.
In going through their preparations for the ALCS, the Indians know well that the Blue Jays have earned the right to play this deep into the postseason for the second straight year.
“They’ve got a good team,” rookie outfielder Tyler Naquin said. “They’re here for a reason, just like us. They’ve got a good ball club. They’ve got a thick lineup, and they’ve got some guys that can throw it.”
Veteran outfielder Coco Crisp added, “They have a great ball club over there. They’re here for a reason. They’ve got their three big boppers, and other guys that were considered big boppers like Tulowitzki. He can poke them out anytime. It’s a hitting ball club.
“We’re going to rely on our pitching staff to come out and continue to pitch as well as they have over the last series and the entire season, and then, hopefully, we can back them up with a few runs.”
On the way to the sweep of the Rangers, one of the most potent offenses and strong pitching staffs in all of baseball, the Blue Jays plated 22 runs, smacked 29 hits and belted 14 extra-base hits, including eight home runs and five doubles.
That playoff success was built upon a foundation laid in the regular season.
Despite having a .248 team batting average, the Blue Jays registered 1,358 hits, including 276 doubles and 221 home runs, drove in 728 runs and scored 759 during the regular season. Although slightly more potent offensively at Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays were more prolific home-run hitters away from home.
“They score a lot of runs, and they’ve got some great starters, so it’s going to be a great series,” infielder/designated hitter Mike Napoli said. “We’re looking forward to it, and we’ve got all the confidence in the world that we’re good enough to go to the next step, but you’ve got to take one game at a time.”
Because the Blue Jays have a powerful offense and an underrated pitching staff, the Indians see the potential for an extremely competitive and enjoyable ALCS.
“It’ll be great, man, two good teams going at it,” outfielder Brandon Guyer said. “Just watching them play in the playoffs, they’re hot right now. We’re playing good ball right now too, so I think it’ll be a good series.
“I think they’ve got a little bit of everything. You know about their lineup, but I feel like not many people talk about their pitching. They’ve got a lot of good starters, a good bullpen. I saw them a lot with the Rays, so I know what they can do. They’re a great team, and we look forward to the challenge, for sure.”