The Blue Jays and Indians will begin the 2016 American League Championship Series on Friday (8 p.m. ET on TBS in the U.S.; Sportsnet and RDS in Canada) at Progressive Field. These two clubs have never met in the postseason before, and we reached out to a number of former
The Blue Jays and Indians will begin the 2016 American League Championship Series on Friday (8 p.m. ET on TBS in the U.S.; Sportsnet and RDS in Canada) at Progressive Field. These two clubs have never met in the postseason before, and we reached out to a number of former players on each team to get their take on what should be a dramatic series between two clubs that haven't been to the World Series since the 1990s.
PLAYED FOR TORONTO
Pat Hentgen, RHP, Blue Jays (1991-99, 2004)
"The Jays are clearly on a roll; they clearly belong, with seven guys who want to take you deep. Last year helped. It reminds me of Kansas City. They got there two years ago and they lost. Same with the Blue Jays getting there last year -- they were an out away from getting to play Game 7 to get to the World Series. Being there helps. It teaches you to slow the heartbeat down."
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Duane Ward, RHP, Blue Jays (1986-93, '95)
"I haven't seen any signs of the pitching let up -- Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ and Marcus Stroman have been great. Aaron Sanchez gave up a few in Game 3 against the Rangers, but I'm still going to give him the ball. Cleveland is at a bit of a disadvantage being down two starters. Defensively, both teams are a wash. The pitching is close, but the Jays have the better offense."
Ed Sprague, 3B, Blue Jays (1991-98)
"I like the Jays in six. Why? Because I'm a Jay. I like where the Jays are right now. They had to fight their way in and now they've got some good mojo working. In fairness, I have not seen the Indians a lot. Of all the playoff teams, I have seen them the least. I don't know a ton about them. I do know the Indians have got it going good with Terry Francona."
PLAYED FOR CLEVELAND
Greg Swindell, LHP, Indians (1986-91, '96)
"I think the key for the Indians is obvious -- starting pitching. With injuries to key starters late in season, it's up to the three and four starters to give quality starts. Tito is great manager. He has been there. That's a plus for this team. The bullpen has been solid. I think what this team has is a belief, a belief that that can do it, win. More than anything, though, the key is starting pitching."
Rick Sutcliffe, RHP, Indians (1982-84)
"I call Tito 'the great connector.' He has the ability to put people in position to succeed. Look at guys like Rajai Davis, Mike Napoli, Carlos Santana. It's not only the way Tito balance the lineups, but he protects himself with some bench help late. He is a lot like [Giants manager Bruce] Bochy. No matter what happens from here on out, the Indians are the biggest surprise of the season to me. Even if the Cubs win the World Series, the Indians would be the biggest surprise. The man never gets outmanaged. It's scary what goes on in that dugout."
Ellis Burks, OF, Indians (2001-03)
"It is all about the team playing the best, and the Indians are hot at the right time. They are getting good pitching -- who would have thought with Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco sidelined? But you look at Trevor Bauer, look at Josh Tomlin. In the series with the Red Sox, Tito made all the right moves, especially with Andrew Miller. He is the only left-hander, but can work multiple innings. And don't overlook the home-field advantage."
Steve Reed, RHP, Indians (1998-2001)
"If the Indians' starters can get to the sixth inning, the Indians have the bullpen that is so good to take over. I played for a lot of managers and Tito is one of those special guys who commands respect when he walks into a room. He's like Bochy, [Nationals manager Dusty] Baker and Don Baylor. They bring that intangible with them. The team reminds me of Kansas City. Last year, if the Royals' starters got the game into the sixth, the bullpen took over. It's lights out."
Duane Kuiper, 2B, Indians (1974-81)
"In fairness, I am not an expert on the Indians, working on the broadcast team of the Giants and watching mainly National League games, but the Indians are now the team I am cheering for. I know Corey Kluber has had some physical issues, but he was strong against the Red Sox in the Division Series with seven shutout innings. Kluber staying healthy is critical in light of the injuries that have sidelined Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. What is known is the Blue Jays are going to hit home runs. The Indians have to keep them to solo home runs. They can't walk people ahead of those big bats in the Toronto lineup. Terry Francona does a good job mixing and matching his way through situations, and having the right people ready at the right time.
PLAYED FOR TORONTO AND CLEVELAND
Bud Black, LHP, Indians (1988-90, '95), Blue Jays (1990)
"It's tough for me. I pitched for both teams. Tito is one my best friends, and Gibby is a good friend. When I was a player and moved to the non-playing part of my career, Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins were [in Cleveland] and reached out. Both teams swing the bats well. Toronto was struggling at the end of the regular season, but after a couple days off [before the postseason], the bats were rejuvenated. Both bullpens are strong, and they both made an impact in the Division Series sweeps. We will see what happens in a best-of-seven. Whichever bullpen pitches the best will be the difference."
Alan Ashby, C, Indians (1973-76), Blue Jays (1977-78)
"I'm one of the few guys who played for both. My heart is with the Jays. Maybe the X-factor will be the Rogers Centre crowd. There has been so much more support of the Jays this year than the Indians have received. There was no guarantee that this would unfold like this. I recall with a few days remaining how it looked like the Detroit Tigers were going to get a Wild Card berth. It's pretty amazing to see how far they've gotten. I hope Toronto wins."
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.