TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are back in the American League Championship Series for the second time in as many years, but this time, they're here to finish what they started.Toronto took the baseball world by storm last season when a series of blockbuster trades turned an under-.500 team into
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are back in the American League Championship Series for the second time in as many years, but this time, they're here to finish what they started.
Toronto took the baseball world by storm last season when a series of blockbuster trades turned an under-.500 team into a division leader within a matter of weeks. A deep run into the postseason was not expected, so just being there seemed more important than anything else. But that's not the case anymore, as Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday night at Progressive Field (8 p.m. ET on TBS and, in Canada, Sportsnet and RDS) draws closer.
:: ALCS: Blue Jays vs. Indians coverage ::
There's a "been there, done that" feel to this Blue Jays team. The Indians are standing in their way, but anything less than a trip to the World Series would be considered a disappointment, and this group of veterans intends to get there.
Here's a closer look at three keys to success that will help determine whether Toronto can get the job done.
1. The long ball
It's pretty simple -- when the Blue Jays homer, they usually win. When they don't, runs come at a premium and wins are scarce. Toronto went 80-39 when hitting at least one home run this season, compared to 9-34 when the ball stayed in the park. This club often takes an all-or-nothing approach at the plate, and with that comes a high-risk, high-reward strategy.
The lack of home runs was a concern when the Blue Jays scored an AL-worst 100 runs in September en route to an 11-16 record. That changed in the AL Division Series against the Rangers, when they homered eight times (by seven players, which tied an ALDS record) in three games. The home runs could cause issues for potential Game 2 starter Josh Tomlin, who allowed the second most in the AL this year, with 36. Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer are much better with 0.9 home runs per nine innings, but they are potentially susceptible; Kluber is 35th in the league with 22 homers allowed, while Bauer is 44th at 20.
2. The Miller factor
Even when the Blue Jays' offense was struggling, the club always made the opposing pitcher work. Toronto gets into a lot of deep counts and forces starters to throw a lot of pitches, which is one of the main reasons an opponent did not record a single complete game all year. That usually leads to the benefit of getting into the other team's bullpen, but that might be not such a good thing here.
The Indians have star reliever Andrew Miller waiting in the wings. He has the ability to throw multiple innings, and Cleveland manager Terry Francona has not shied away from using him as early as the fifth. The Blue Jays are familiar with Miller -- who has pitched for the Red Sox, Orioles and Yankees -- and they are one of the few teams that has hit him pretty well. Edwin Encarnacion has four hits in 10 at-bats vs. Miller, including a pair of home runs. Russell Martin has walked five times in 10 plate appearances and José Bautista has two hits in seven at-bats, but Josh Donaldson is hitless in three ABs, with a couple of strikeouts.
3. Osuna matata
Toronto's rotation will have to be a strength for this team to advance, but the club also has to hope its bullpen continues to step up as well. Blue Jays relievers were a surprise strength in the ALDS, with Joe Biagini, Brett Cecil and Jason Grilli each coming through in big roles. Toronto will need all of them in order to advance, but no Blue Jays reliever will factor into this series more than closer Roberto Osuna.
Osuna had to be removed from the AL Wild Card Game after he experienced soreness in his right shoulder. He missed Game 1 of the ALDS, but he then went multiple innings during each of the next two games despite reservations by manager John Gibbons about using Osuna for more than three outs. The heavy workload has been a concern, but he should benefit from the four days off between series, and the Blue Jays likely won't be able to resist using him a lot. Osuna has faced Cleveland six times before (three earned runs in six innings), including one blown save in each of the past two years.
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.