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  • It’s not often that the Blue Jays are shut out, but the Indians were able to do just that with their winning Kluber-Miller-Allen combo in the ALCS opener.
By Jeremy Fuchs
October 14, 2016

The Indians opened the ALCS with a 2–0 victory over the Blue Jays Friday night in Cleveland to take a 1–0 lead in the series. Francisco Lindor hit a two-run home run in the sixth inning and Corey Kluber went 6 1/3 scoreless innings in the winning effort. Toronto starter Marco Estrada went eight innings and gave up two runs, while Edwin Encarnacion went 2 for 4 with a double.

Game 2 is Saturday afternoon in Cleveland.

A winning formula

This is the way the Indians will win the series. It’s a starting pitcher lasting into the seventh. It’s Andrew Miller for three to five outs. Then it’s Cody Allen for the save. Miller went 1 2/3 innings and recorded all five of his outs via strikeout. Allen then came in and threw a 1-2-3 ninth. Of course, it’s easy to do that when Corey Kluber is on the mound at the game’s outset. Kluber is Cleveland’s best starter, with a rotation-best 3.14 ERA. Next after him in the series are Josh Tomlin (4.40) and Trevor Bauer (4.26), who are both less predictable than Kluber. In June, Tomlin went six or more innings in all six of his starts. In July, he went six just once. Bauer, in June, went 6 1/3 or more innings in all five of his starts. In August, he went more than 4 2/3 innings just once.

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More than any other team in the playoffs, the Indians have the most clear-cut formula to win. They have the best bullpen left. No other team has Andrew Miller, the ultimate moveable chess piece, who can pitch more than one inning and is equally effective against lefties and righties. Allen (32 saves, 2.51 ERA) is a reliable closer.

The blueprint is clear, and is set up for a clear run through the rest of the postseason. Getting to the seventh on the days when Kluber doesn’t pitch will be the challenge.

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Lindor delivers

There were 16 players who hit more home runs as a shortstop than Francisco Lindor. But none have hit bigger home runs in the playoffs. Deadlocked at zero, with both pitchers dealing in the sixth, Lindor came up to bat with Jason Kipnis on first. And, just like he did against Boston, he delivered with a homer. Lindor, 22, got lost in the shortstop shuffle of Carlos Correa and Trevor Story. But he had an equally good season. Lindor hit .301/.358/.435 with 15 home runs and 78 RBI.

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The 5'11", 190-pound shortstop doesn’t fit the typical power hitting profile, and he’s not a slugger. He’s an emerging MVP candidate on a great team. As a scout told SI before the season started, “Lindor is a fabulous player. He isn’t that far behind Correa. This guy wants to be one of the greatest players who ever played. He might have the ability to do it.”

Ice cold

If John Gibbons knew he was going to get eight innings from Marco Estrada with only two runs allowed, he would be pretty happy. Estrada has been on a bit of a roll, giving up one run or less in his last five starts, including the two postseason ones. What he probably didn’t expect was a shutout on the other side. The Jays were shut out just eight times in the regular season—three of them occurred in September. Jose Bautista went 0 for 3, all strikeouts. There was only one extra-base hit. They struck out 12 times. Toronto hasn’t been anemic often on offense this year—it picked a bad time to start.

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