CLEVELAND -- The Blue Jays have set their rotation for the American League Championship Series, and it looks very similar to the one that was used during the AL Division Series against top-seeded Texas.
Toronto officially unveiled its starting four for the ALCS, which begins on Friday (8 p.m. ET on TBS in the U.S., Sportsnet and RDS in Canada) at Progressive Field. Veteran Marco Estrada was the previously announced starter for Game 1, and he will be followed by lefty J.A. Happ in Game 2 (Saturday at 4 p.m.) and the young duo of Marcus Stroman in Game 3 (Monday at 8 p.m.) and Aaron Sanchez in Game 4 (Tuesday at 4 p.m.).
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The only change from the ALDS against the Rangers was swapping the order of Sanchez and Stroman. Sanchez started the series-clinching Game 3, while Stroman did not get a chance to pitch because of the three-game sweep.
"That's kind of our trademark," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said in reference to a rotation that paced the AL in the regular season with a 3.64 ERA. "It was kind of an up-and-down year for us offensively. And really, our pitching has held steady all year. Whether they're getting enough credit, I'm not sure. But they know they're good. They've really been a huge part of getting us here, really."
There are a number of factors that led the Blue Jays to settle on the order of this starting four, but none had a bigger impact than the workload of Sanchez. Toronto has been monitoring his innings all year, and club president Mark Shapiro previously went on the record as saying he didn't want Sanchez to exceed 220 innings.
Sanchez is currently at 197 2/3 frames, and an appearance in Game 4 would mean he is limited to one start in the ALCS. The heaviest burden would fall on a pair of durable and capable arms in Estrada and Happ, while Stroman would also have an outside shot of starting twice if this series went seven games.
The only thing that might change Toronto's plans is if Stroman is needed out of the bullpen in Game 1. Gibbons said Stroman would be available in emergency-type situations to fill the void of lefty Francisco Liriano, who is not eligible to return until Game 2 because of a concussion.
"We're still keeping an eye on Sanchez a little bit," Gibbons admitted. "That's basically it. We feel good about any of them. ... If something happened where you needed [Stroman] to survive or in a valuable situation, he would be available. If that was the case and he threw a few innings, it would be Liriano Game 3 or Sanchez Game 3, if you wanted."
Toronto's rotation has been a strength all year, and it will have to be once again in this series if the Blue Jays intend on advancing to the World Series. In addition to ERA, Blue Jays starters also ranked first in innings (995 1/3), WHIP (1.22) and opponents' batting average (.236). They allowed the second-fewest home runs (119).
Cleveland's numbers during the regular season are similar, but the Indians must get through the series without the services of starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. By all accounts, Toronto's rotation is healthy, and that's one area where the club will need to maintain the upper hand.
"I think one of the reasons why we were so successful was because we're all different," Estrada said. "Not one other guy pitches the way I do, not one other guy pitches the way the next person does. We're all completely different, so you see a different look every single time out there.
"It shouldn't really matter who's out there. We all feel pretty confident with any single one of us being out there."