CLEVELAND -- The Indians have already gone through a playoff series with the Blue Jays this season -- at least that is what it felt like for the clubs. Between the walk-offs, individual feats and intense innings, the teams are well versed in what is about to take place in the American League Championship Series.
When Game 1 arrives on Friday night -- scheduled for 8 ET on TBS in the U.S. and Sportsnet (English) and RDS (French) in Canada -- the Indians and Blue Jays will be more than prepared. This is an extremely evenly matched pairing, and that was never more evident than in the 19-inning marathon that played out on Canada Day in July.
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"It was pretty crazy," Cleveland first baseman Mike Napoli said.
On July 1 in Toronto, both the Blue Jays and the Tribe were pushed to the limits. Josh Tomlin (slated to start Game 2 of the ALCS for the Indians) and Marcus Stroman locked horns and carried a deadlocked game to the seventh inning. The bullpens battled on from there, posting zero after zero until Darwin Barney -- a position player pitching in the 19th inning -- gave up a home run to Cleveland's Carlos Santana.
The last out of the draining six-hour, 13-minute contest came off the bat of Toronto infielder Devon Travis, who grounded out against Indians right-hander Trevor Bauer. Cleveland asked Bauer -- the next day's starter -- to come out of the bullpen and he answered with five shutout innings. After the 114th out was recorded, Bauer stayed on the mound and looked skyward.
"I didn't really know what to do," Bauer said that night. "I was like, 'It ended? We won?'"
That was only a taste of the drama endured by Toronto and Cleveland this year.
During the June 30 opener of that four-game series north of the border, Carlos Carrasco struck out 14 batters in a dominating performance for the Indians. In the aftermath of the 19-inning affair, Cleveland's pitching staff was devastated. A planned bullpen day backfired in the form of a 9-6 loss on July 2 (a game in which Rajai Davis hit for the cycle for the Tribe), and ace Corey Kluber was knocked out early by Toronto in a 17-1 defeat on July 3.
The theatrics continued when the teams renewed their rivalry in August. With the Blue Jays two outs from a win on Aug. 19, Jose Ramirez and Tyler Naquin belted back-to-back home runs in the ninth inning for an incredible walk-off win. Naquin's shot was an inside-the-park home run that set off a wild on-field celebration that immediately had a home in Cleveland lore.
The Blue Jays won by one run on Aug. 20 and then the Indians did the same on Aug. 21. In fact, four of the seven games between the teams were decided by one run. Cleveland won the season series, 4-3, but the Blue Jays outscored the Indians, 38-24.
"I thought that was a fun series," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It's different now. I agree, I thought it was a fun series -- they had a lot of people here -- but when you start to set your pitching up, then games are different. I'm sure they're thinking the same thing."
It would be hard to pick a favorite in the ALCS strictly based off the regular-season statistics, too.
"It's going to be a crazy series," Travis said. "They can do it all, really. They can hit, play good defense, they have great starting pitching and a great back end of the bullpen. It's going to be a fun series, and this is why we play the games."
The Indians and Blue Jays went about it in a different manner, but in the end, they had similar offensive production. Toronto hit more home runs (221 to 185), but Cleveland stole more bases (134 to 54). The Indians scored more runs (777 to 759), but the Blue Jays had more walks (632 to 531). The teams posted the same wRC+ (102) and were nearly identical in on-base percentage (.330 for Toronto vs. .329 for Cleveland) and slugging percentage (.430 for the Indians vs. .426 for the Jays).
Both teams rated as above average defensively and they each excelled on the mound. The Blue Jays boasted the better regular-season rotation (15.3 WAR compared to 13.8, per Fangraphs), but the Indians featured the better bullpen (4.9 to 3.8). Across the board, the pitching stats were very similar, with each team edging out the other slightly in a variety of categories.
"We're so evenly matched, it's unbelievable," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "They probably do it a little bit of a different way than we do it, but this is going to be probably the best series that you're going to see all postseason, as far as the way we match up against each other. It's going to be fun."