The Toronto Blue Jays staved off elimination on Tuesday, defeating the Cleveland Indians 5-1 in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. The Blue Jays survived thanks to a strong start from Aaron Sanchez and some timely hitting, including a home run by Josh Donaldson and a two-run single by Edwin Encarnacion.
1. Sanchez won the study of contrasts
One of the top storylines entering Game 4 was the difference in rest patterns for the two starters. Toronto's Aaron Sanchez hadn't pitched since Game 3 of the ALDS (Oct. 9). Cleveland's Corey Kluber, meanwhile, had pitched last on Oct. 14 -- or Game 1 of the ALCS. You had the scene for some fun arguments -- would Sanchez look rusty, would Kluber look tired, and so on. Sanchez came out ahead.
Whether you ascribe Sanchez's superior performance to his additional rest is up to you, but he outperformed Kluber in Game Score by a 70-53 margin. In whole, Sanchez threw six innings, allowing two hits and one run while striking out five batters. Kluber lasted five innings, allowing six baserunners and two runs (he did record seven strikeouts).
Sanchez's bullpen also provided him with more support than Kluber's did. Brett Cecil, Jason Grilli and Roberto Osuna combined for three perfect innings, fanning four of the nine batters they faced in sending the series to a fifth game Wednesday in Toronto. Cleveland's trio of Dan Otero, Bryan Shaw and Mike Clevinger allowed three runs on five hits and two walks over three frames.
2. Toronto's big bats came alive -- relatively
The Blue Jays entered Tuesday with a problem -- their vaunted middle-of-the-order bats hadn't shown up in the first three games of the series.
OK, Josh Donaldson had -- he entered hitting .364/.417/.455 -- but Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin had combined to bat 5 for 42 with only one extra-base hit. That changed -- slightly -- in Game 4.
Donaldson again did his thing, banging an early home run to give the Blue Jays a 1-0 lead. The other four? They provided some help, too, notching three hits of their own while driving in three runs. Granted, that was all Encarnacion and Tulowitzki's doing -- Bautista and Martin went hitless. Still, progress is progress, and the Blue Jays need all the production from those five they can if they're to win three more.
3. Cleveland's streaks dashed
The Blue Jays' victory meant that teams down 3-0 are now 7-29 all-time. It also meant that some ridiculous Indians streaks were ended. Let's touch on some of the most notable: this was their first loss of the postseason; their first loss of October; their first time trailing since the first inning of Game 1 of the ALDS; the first time they had allowed multiple runs in a single inning all postseason; and so on.
Another thing ruined? This would-be fun, fitting tidbit:
Fun fact: Corey Kluber got the win in All-Star Game, securing home-field for the AL in World Series. Indians one win away from Fall Classic.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) October 18, 2016
4. Cleveland's defense failed in a big way
Ezequiel Carrera's fourth-inning RBI looper turned out to be the difference in the game. But, while Carrera deserves his fair share of credit, the Indians' outfield defense did itself no favors. Don't just take our word for it, here's what the data says:
The base hit by Ezequiel Carrera had a hang time of 4.8 seconds and Naquin was 100ft away. That was caught 58% of the time this year— Daren Willman (@darenw) October 18, 2016
For those interested... It looks like Naquin took a terrible route and the LF (Crisp) was confused. Probably should have been caught pic.twitter.com/VHhX0aKIw0— Daren Willman (@darenw) October 18, 2016
The Indians had one of the best regular-season defenses in baseball, so count this as a rare misstep.
5. Francona made an odd decision
Speaking of rare missteps, Indians manager Terry Francona has had arguably the most impressive postseason of any skipper due to his aggressive bullpen handling. Yet on Tuesday, he made a questionable decision that backfired.
The Blue Jays had runners on the corners with no outs in the seventh following an error by pitcher Bryan Shaw. That's when Francona ordered Shaw to intentionally walk Donaldson to face Encarnacion. Encarnacion then singled and drove in two runs, but the process was sketchy regardless of the result.
Presumably, Francona was trying to trade a run for two outs. But by intentionally advancing a baserunner, the play upped the Blue Jays' chances of a big inning. You can understand why Francona would rather pitch to Encarnacion than Donaldson. Yet the difference in batter quality wasn't such that this decision made sense. In fact, you can argue that the only scenario where it would've made sense is if one run could've won the game. That wasn't the case, so we have to wonder about Francona's reasoning.
Oh well, Francona is a big part of the reason the Indians remain up 3-1 in the series, so he has earned more than enough goodwill to shrug this one off.