Though the Indians are currently 70-50 and lead the second-place Tigers in the AL Central by seven games, their winning margin isn’t safe. They're 17-14 since the second half began, and that’s a pace that won’t keep them ahead of a surging Detroit squad. Cleveland’s failure to snag Jonathan Lucroy at the trade deadline must have stung, and the loss of star outfielder Michael Brantley definitely rubbed salt into that wound. Nevertheless, rookie Tyler Naquin has filled in valiantly for Brantley and is looking at a ROY season in which he’s hitting .316 with 14 homers and 39 RBI’s. The addition of Andrew Miller, formerly a New York Yankee, bolstered the bullpen and provided the Indians with an elite setup man for closer Cody Anderson. Cleveland split their only series with Toronto in June this season, winning the first two games by three and one, before getting pounded to the sound of 9-6 and 17-1 in the final two contests. They'll be relieved to play the Jays in Cleveland this time around.
While the Blue Jays currently possess the lead in the AL East, that carousel of a division is bound to swing another club’s way soon enough. The Red Sox are a mere half game back, and the Orioles, who have held first place the longest this year, are one and a half behind. Having to send Jose Bautista back to the disabled list must have hurt for Toronto, which is why the addition of Melvin Upton Jr. was so timely at the trade deadline. The Jays have brought back pretty much all of their power bats like Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Saunders, and Troy Tulowitzki, but it’s their pitching that’s made the difference this season. Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, R.A. Dickey, J.A. Happ, and Aaron Sanchez have a combined 53-28 record in 2016, giving them a 0.528 winning percentage. In a division stacked with powerful offensive teams and devoid of quality rotations, the Jays are the anomaly. This balanced attack could lead them on a deep playoff run, and dominating the Indians like they did in the second half of that series in June would be the next step in securing the division.
The Indians will send out their ace, Corey Kluber, to man the mound on Sunday afternoon. The former Cy Young winner has had yet another stellar season, accumulating a 3.15 ERA, 13-8 record, and 163 strikeouts. He’s won his last four starts in a row, and is 7-4 at home this season. He’s been even better post-All-Star break, pitching to the tune of a 1.76 ERA and a 4-0 record. Despite these numbers, he owns a 13.50 ERA against Toronto this season and gave up five runs in just three and a third innings in his last start against the Jays.
Toronto’s Marcus Stroman will get the start for the Jays on Sunday. Though the 25 year-old hasn’t had quite as good a season as a couple of his teammates, he’s pitched very well nonetheless. Armed with a 9-5 record and 126 strikeouts, he’s proven himself as one of the best up-and-coming young studs in the MLB. In his lone start against the Indians this season, Stroman did not receive a decision. However, his team suffered a 2-1 loss in a game in which he allowed one run on five hits in six and two-thirds innings.
- Sports.net’s top tip: Kluber’s much better at home and will be seeking revenge against a Toronto team that embarrassed him not long ago. Indians win this one 5-2.