Monday night's ALCS Game 3 is as close to being a must-win for the Toronto Blue Jays as it can be without actually being a must-win.
A loss and the Blue Jays' season isn't officially over. They would be down 0-3 to Cleveland and if they can't win four games before their next loss, that next loss will be their last. Season done, and quickly headed into an offseason of uncertainty with longtime stars Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion headlining their list of free agents.
Only once in the history of this sport has a team – the 2004 Boston Red Sox – rallied from an 0-3 deficit in a best-of-seven series.
Even before Monday's first pitch at Rogers Centre, the odds are already stacked against them. Since the League Championship Series became a best-of-seven in 1985, teams that have won Game 2 of the ALCS have advanced to the World Series 80 per cent of the time. And teams that are down 0-2 in the ALCS and NLCS have rallied to win the series just three times out of 27.
Good luck, Toronto. Hey, at least the likelihood of a comeback is slightly better than their batting average against Cleveland reliever Andrew Miller – 1-for-12 with 10 strikeouts – through the first two games.
The Blue Jays' offence is back to being silent after catching fire in the first week of the postseason and Bautista is talking about "circumstances" (see, umpires) being a determining factor in that sudden change. Their status as a team that must hit home runs to score has been more or less confirmed, and that's not something that will change any time soon.
"It's a slugging team, that's how they're built. Not a bunch of young guys. Some guys that have been around. And they've been sluggers for the most part their whole career," manager John Gibbons said at his press conference Sunday.
"And you live and die with it, if you want to know the truth. That's got us to this point, a few mistakes, drive a couple of balls, things could be totally different. But I don't think it's you start redoing everything you are because that's -- somebody mentioned the other day, if you're a three-point basketball shooting team in the NBA, you still have to fire them up, you have to, or you've got no chance to win. I'm not dodging the question, but that's the reality, whether people like that or not, that's who we are."
On the lookout for positives, a return home is certainly one of them. The stadium will be sold out and the crowd will be loud. Marcus Stroman, having last pitched in the wild-card game 13 days ago, will have another opportunity to live up to his burgeoning reputation as a big-game pitcher. Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer didn't pitch particularly well down the stretch and ranks up there among the most inconsistent pitchers in baseball. So, at least there are some positives.
A win in Game 3 and a feeling of optimism will creep back in, with Cleveland planning to operate something close to a bullpen game on Tuesday. A loss, and it will feel like the season is all but over.
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