The Cleveland Indians finally lost a 2016 ALCS game to the Toronto Blue Jays. Cleveland still holds a 3-0 lead, but there is cause for panic.
Yes, only one team in history has come back from an 0-3 deficit in postseason play. Terry Francona knows all about it.
But why does it feel that the Indians are so close, yet so far away from playing for the World Series championship?
Ryan Merritt. That’s your 2016 ALCS Game 5 starter as the Indians try to close out the Blue Jays in Toronto. Merritt has a promising career ahead of him. But nobody would’ve guessed the 24-year-old would be pitching in the ALCS.
Certainly, Merritt never thought he’d be in this position. It wasn’t that long ago that his Triple-A season ended. But then injuries ravaged the Indians rotation. He got promoted and was starting in the final series of the regular season.
Now, the man who’s logged 11 career big-league innings will start the Tribe’s biggest game of the season.
Merritt was 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA with the Indians in his four games and 11-8 with a 3.70 ERA in 24 starts for Class AAA Columbus. He won his only start for the Tribe Sept. 30. He held the Royals to one run over five innings.
But yes, you can panic Cleveland. It’s warranted. The Indians have a 3-1 lead, but who cares. Out of all the team’s in Cleveland, this is the one who’s broken my heart the most.
With a rookie pitcher set to start Game 5, the Blue Jays could easily return to Cleveland down 3-2. Then, the series would be turned over to Josh Tomlin.
Sure, The Little Cowboy’s crushed in his two postseason starts, but there’s no guarantee he’ll keep it up. Tomlin could start Game 5 and either shut out the Blue Jays, or give up six runs in the first three innings. With a pitcher who depends so much on accuracy and painting the blacks, it could go either way.
And, God forbid, if this goes seven games, Corey Kluber would be called on for the third time this series. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no one I’d rather have pitching a must-win game for the Tribe…but I just watched The Klubot pitch a potential game winner and lose. Nothing can be taken for granted.
Especially when Indians’ bats have quietly squeaked through the ALCS. The Tribe boasted the second most prolific offense during the regular season, but you wouldn’t know it watching the ALCS.
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Kluber, Tomlin, and the bullpen bailed the offense out in the first three games, but Game 4 shed a light on Terry Francona’s lineup. The Tribe’s offense is slashing just .164/.224/.302. They’re hitting .154 with runners in scoring position and .200 (2 for 10) with runners in scoring position and two outs.
Jose Ramirez, arguably the Indians MVP this season, is batting .100 in the LCS. Jason Kipnis is batting .091. Carlos Santna is hitting at a .200 clip. Mike Napoli had a big Game 3, but even he’s hitting just .222.
These are names every Tribe fans know. If they can warm up, even a little bit, the Indians should be in good shape.
But, as the headline to this column suggests, there’s no guarantee that will happen.
The Blue Jays, not the Indians, boasted the best starting rotation in the American League this season. That’s what the Indians are up against.
The Indians only need one more win to earn their first pennant since 1997. The Tribe’s knocking on the door, I can’t help but feel that they need to bust through 30 master locks to finally reach the promised land.