TORONTO -- Time and time again throughout the 2016 season, the Toronto Blue Jays slugged their way to victories, and stacked enough wins to not only qualify for the postseason, but also, advance to the American League Championship Series for the second straight year.
But in the first two games of the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field, the Blue Jays have been limited to just 10 hits in 63 at-bats with only one run scored and no home runs against starters Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin, as well as the bullpen combination of Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen.
“They pitched great,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “I wouldn't dare take anything from them, that's for sure. Kluber, one of the top guys in the game. And Tomlin? He's right up there at the top command guys in baseball. We faced him earlier in the year, same stuff, picking his spots. He used his breaking ball a lot. It was very effective.
“You look at the two games, both sides, it's been all about pitching. We played a series here earlier in the year, a couple months ago, and you expect more offense, but they were the same kind of game, 2-0, 2-1, if I remember correctly, low-scoring games, and these last two have been just like that. The pitching has been great on both sides. That's all there is to it.”
As the second-place team in the American League East Division, the Blue Jays needed to win 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 three-game sweep of Texas and a berth into the ALCS.
On the way to the sweep of the Rangers, one of the most potent offenses and strongest 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.
“We put the pressure on Corey, but what the top guys do, they get the knack working out of that,” Gibbons said of Kluber. “We couldn't put anything on the board.
“They've got their big weapons in the bullpen. Miller coming in, they get to a certain point, Shaw came in and got a big out, and then, Miller and Cody Allen. It's a nice recipe for them.”
Despite having barely 24 hours’ notice of the start because of a hand injury to fellow starter Trevor Bauer, Tomlin allowed just three hits and two walks against six strikeouts over 5.2 innings of work in a 2-1 win over the Blue Jays in Game 2 on Saturday night. And in doing so, Tomlin gave the Indians a 2-0 series lead over Toronto heading into tonight’s game.
“You've got to give Tomlin a lot of credit,” Gibbons said. “We've seen him before, and he was that good. But postseason? That's where a lot of guys step up and really make a name for themselves and he did that.”