A stellar start by Marco Estrada helped the Blue Jays stave off elimination in Game 5 of the ALCS against the Royals on Wednesday.
The Blue Jays’ postseason has been anything but a cakewalk. Forced to climb out of a two-games-to-none hole in the Division Series against the Rangers, they found themselves facing elimination yet again via Tuesday night’s blowout loss, this time down three games to one. With an eye toward becoming the eighth team to come back from such a deficit in the LCS to reach the World Series, they took the first step toward that goal on Wednesday afternoon via a 7–1 win at the Rogers Centre. That sends the series back to Kansas City, where on Friday night, they’ll again attempt to prevent the Royals from claiming a second straight pennant.
Here are three thoughts from Wednesday's game:
Just as he did in Game 3 of the Division Series against the Rangers, Marco Estrada gave the Blue Jays a stellar start in an elimination game. Through six innings, he faced the minimum 18 batters, allowing only a fourth-inning single by Alcides Escobar that was quickly erased by Ben Zobrist grounding into a double play. In all, he gave the Jays 7 2/3 innings of three-hit ball, with Sal Perez's eighth-inning solo homer the only blemish on his line.
For the afternoon, Estrada threw 108 pitches and generated 15 swings and misses—10 of them with the changeup, three more than in that aforementioned Division Series start—and struck out four. As I noted previously, Estrada threw his changeup 28.1% of the time in 2015, a higher rate than all but two qualified starters, and generated swings and misses on 21.2% of those pitches, by far his highest rate. That latter rate was up to 31.3% (10 out of 32) on Wednesday.
What’s more, Estrada was particularly efficient, needing no more than 14 pitches in any frame until the seventh, when he threw 17. That was of particular importance given the battered state of the Blue Jays staff after back-to-back slugfests in Games 3 and 4. With Liam Hendriks (59 pitches), Ryan Tepera (38 pitches) and Mark Lowe (29 pitches) all having emptied the tank during Tuesday night’s blowout, Aaron Loup unavailable due to a family emergency, Latroy Hawkins revealed as a piñata, and Brett Cecil off the roster due to a calf strain (no word on the status of Cliff Pennington), manager John Gibbons' top relief option aside from late-gamers Aaron Sanchez and Robert Osuna was David Price, who after starting Game 2 was in line to start Game 6. Had he come into the game, manager John Gibbons likely would have been forced to start Marcus Stroman on three days' rest instead.
As he did in Game 4 of the Division Series, Gibbons had Price warming up despite a big lead; this time, it came in the seventh, when the Jays led 5–0. Gibbons resisted the temptation to bring in his ace to face lefty Eric Hosmer after Estrada issued a two-out walk in the seventh, and went to Sanchez in the eighth after the Perez homer and an Alex Gordon single. That should leave Price in line for Game 6, with Stroman to start Game 7 if the Blue Jays push the series further.