With their 4-3 victory on Monday evening, the Cleveland Indians punched their ticket to the American League Championship Series for the first time in nine years.
Cleveland swept the Boston Red Sox in the teams’ best-of-five series and now have a date with the Toronto Blue Jays, who are in the ALCS for the second straight year. The Indians, on the other hand, have not been four wins from the World Series since 2007, and they couldn’t have gotten to the position they are in now in a more unexpected fashion.
Entering the 2016 regular season, it was easy to marvel at Cleveland’s starting rotation, one that was captained by former Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and anchored by Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Nonetheless, a hamstring strain and broken hand limited Carrasco to fewer than 150 innings, and, due to inflammation of his pitching elbow, Salazar failed to clear 140 frames.
To the surprise of many, it was the pair of Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin that stepped up to help support the pitching staff through the 2016 campaign. Bauer and Tomlin each logged a career-high number of innings, as the right-handed hurlers logged 190 and 174 frames, respectively. The pair was also credited with 25 of the Indians’ 94 wins, and that’s rather notable, considering that Tomlin, who went 13-9 this season, was not guaranteed a rotation spot.
In addition to the grand performances of Bauer and Tomlin, the Indians’ offense as a whole was far better than it was expected to be, particularly in the power department, and that has a lot to do with the addition of Mike Napoli. In 2015, the Indians, who scored 669 runs, hit 141 home runs, and only five players — Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, Francisco Lindor, Brandon Moss, and Carlos Santana — had a double-digit total of long balls. This season, Cleveland beefed their number of runs scored up to 777, the second-highest total in the American League, and crushed 185 homers.
Napoli and Santana led the effort on the offensive front, as the two sluggers each whacked 34 home runs and combined to drive in 188 runs. Perhaps Santana’s 34 long balls are the most unique, being that they came out of the leadoff spot in the batting order, a position where power is typically at a minimum. Nonetheless, the pair’s 34 home runs were career bests, as Napoli hadn’t hit more than 30 and Santana no more than 27 entering the 2016 campaign.
On Friday, the Indians will host the Blue Jays at Progressive Field in the first game of the ALCS. With the Blue Jays securing their trip to the series on Sunday, all starting pitchers will have an ample amount of rest to make the start if called upon. Kluber and Bauer are the leading options to garner the start for the Indians, while one of Marco Estrada or Marcus Stroman will likely toe the rubber for the Blue Jays.