CLEVELAND – A chilly day with the wind blowing in from Lake Erie made up the ideal conditions for the Blue Jays’ workout at Progressive Field on Thursday afternoon. They’ll be prepared to deal with the fall weather when they return to the field Friday night for Game 1 of the ALCS, but they’ll also have to contend with a hostile Cleveland crowd.
Cleveland won 53 games at home in the regular season, tied for the most in the American League, and added two more wins at Progressive Field in their ALDS sweep of the Red Sox. While Toronto was the second-best road team in the AL with 43 wins, and won two games in Texas in their division series, teams with home field advantage in a 2-3-2 postseason series have won 55% of them.
The Blue Jays don't have to go far to find out how important being at home can be. The Raptors happen to be playing the Cavaliers in a NBA preseason game across the street from the ballpark at Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday night. Toronto and Cleveland, of course, matched up in the Eastern Conference Finals in May and the Cavs dominated at home with blowout wins in Games 1, 2 and 5.
Different sports with different circumstance, sure, but the result is not one the Jays want to replicate.
Marco Estrada is Toronto’s Game 1 starter, and starting on the road at this time of year is nothing new to him. Three of Estrada’s four career postseason starts have come away from home, so he’s ready for the challenge, but he’s also hoping that he’ll see some Blue Jays fans in the stands when he takes the mound.
"It seems like every time I have pitched in the playoffs it's been on the road. And I think we kind of thrive on that, having our back against the wall, having the hostility, I guess. Not having our fans behind us where we get a hit or something they boo us. I think we kind of enjoy that sort of stuff,” said Estrada.
"We've been playing pretty well on the road, I think. And tomorrow is not going to be any different, I'm sure. But the last time we were here, we had a lot of Toronto fans making their way down, obviously being so close. We had a lot of fans here, so hopefully they do come out. But if not, it's okay. We know what we have to do tomorrow.”
The rotation sets up to have the veterans pitch on the road and the young arms at Rogers Centre, with J.A. Happ confirmed to start Game 2 and Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez slated to go in Games 3 and 4.
The rest of the team, though, is still being finalized. Manager John Gibbons wouldn’t reveal his roster for the series Thursday, as he said they were still “tossing some things around."
Infielder Ryan Goins could be activated as insurance for Devon Travis, who missed Games 2 and 3 of the ALDS with a knee injury but is expected to start Game 1 against Cleveland. Outfielder Dalton Pompey is also a consideration, and would give Jays an added dimension with his speed. That would mean Toronto would remove a reliever from their ALDS roster, right-hander Scott Feldman being the most likely choice.
The Blue Jays got their taste of the wind and cold Thursday. Friday they'll get their first crack at silencing the crowd. Saturday they'll be leaving Cleveland and hoping that despite those two factors they'll have disrupted the home field advantage.
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