The Blue Jays Announce Their ALCS Rotation, Will Save Aaron Sanchez Until Game Four

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Yesterday the Clevelands announced their ALCS rotation, and so apparently today it was the Blue Jays’ turn. Via the speedy Twitter-fingers of Ben Nicholson-Smith, who was the first of what I’m sure will be umpteen people in my timeline rushing to announce it, we now know that it will be J.A. Happ facing Trevor Bauer in Game Two, Marcus Stroman going up against Josh Tomlin in Game Three, and Aaron Sanchez taking on either Mike Clevinger or Charlie Wholestaff in Game Four.

The Sanchez thing may come as a surprise to some, but he was never likely to be asked to be a Game 1-4-7 kind of ace for these Jays, and despite the shackles mostly being off, he is still very much being monitored in terms of innings pitched.

Richard Griffin discussed the topic in a piece this week for the Toronto Star, suggesting that this was more a front office decision than a John Gibbons one. And given the way that Sanchez has pitched, how dominant his stuff is (when he can command it — unlike his turn in Game Three against Texas), and the fact that Gibbons’ job isn’t really to be making the decision on his own to push the club’s prized young arm, you get why this is where we’re at.

“If you go by president Mark Shapiro’s MLB Radio interview from late in the summer, there is no way they will allow the 24-year-old to reach 220 innings,” wrote Griff. “Currently at 197 2/3 innings, he would then have a maximum of three starts’ worth of bullets in his holster. That means Game 4 and possibly two starts in the World Series.”

Maybe there’s a little more wiggle room than that, though, as Shapiro told Bob McCown in August that he “will not run 230 innings and pitch through October,” but still… this is probably it. Three more starts from Sanchez. Or maybe a little bullpen cameo late in the ALCS and just one in the World Series, if the Blue Jays get that far.

With the way the other pitchers have been going, I can live with that!

So… we know that the Jays will hold pretty significant pitching advantages in Games Three and Four — provided they don’t turn to Kluber on short rest in Game Four — but these first two games in Cleveland are going to be tough.

Kluber was terrific against Boston, though he’s still dealing with a quadriceps strain that made it difficult to push off the mound and saw him lose a tick, in terms of velocity — something that, according to the Akron Beacon Journal, he made up for with movement and command. But even when he was at his best, the Jays were able to get to him this season, tagging the former Cy Young winner for seven runs over ten innings, and putting up a tasty .317/.420/.561 line against him. He fared even worse in his one start against a very similar Blue Jays lineup in 2015, too, allowing five runs (four earned) on eight hits and two walks over five innings.

Bauer, on the other hand, has looked spectacular against the Jays this season, hence the poll in our sidebar currently about which of the two pitchers scares you the most. He absolutely carved them in a relief appearance on Canada Day, pitching five innings of two-hit shutout baseball to keep his team in it long enough for the Jays to have to start letting infielders pitch — which, ultimately, led to their demise. And on August 19th he sparkled again, striking out 13 batters over eight innings, allowing just two runs on five hits. That, however, was a game in which the Jays were without Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, and Troy Tulowitzki. So… what do we make of it?

What do we make of any of it, really? Bauer is surely not Kluber. And though he was on a nice little run late in the season, around the time he faced the Jays, that appears to have ended. Yet he’s still capable of making an offence — occasionally this offence — look completely useless. Meanwhile, Kluber has had his struggles against the Jays, and may not be at his best.

If you’re Cleveland you’ve got to hope these two can get the job done, that the magic doesn’t finally run out, and that you can keep yourself in position to win heading into games Three and Four. And if you’re a Jays fan… well… on paper, at least, it feels pretty good.

Hey, and speaking of feeling good, Devon Travis says he expects to be back in the lineup at second base for the Jays when the series kicks off again on Friday night. LET’S DO THIS!!!

Update: A small update regarding Francisco Liriano, who was replaced in the ALDS after he exited the series following a hit to the head from a Carlos Gomez liner. Unlike players replaced for other injuries, who are ruled ineligible for the following series as well as the one they’re injured in, because of the league’s concussion rules, Liriano can pitch in the ALCS. However, according to a tweet from TSN’s Scott MacArthur, the rule has a bit of a twist. John Gibbons explained to reporters today that, even though the concussion protocol rules him out until Game Two, in order for Liriano to be eligible to pitch in this series the Jays will need to put him on their ALCS roster from the outset and play a man short in Friday’s opener.

Not a huge deal, I guess, but kinda weird — like what if he wasn’t eligible until Game Four? Whatever the case, it means that, according to another tweet of Scott’s, Marcus Stroman will be available out of the bullpen in Game One if necessary — which sure could make things interesting! Though… almost certainly won’t.

Arden Zwelling adds that that Liriano threw a side session today and was fine, meaning he will very likely be on the roster. Meanwhile, Arden tweets that the Jays are still thinking about how they’re going to setup their roster — including potentially carrying Ryan Goins and finding a way to fit in Dalton Pompey as well.

The club is due to finalize their roster for the series tomorrow morning. INTRIGUE-ISH!