Series preview: Blue Jays-Indians matchup prelude to post-season?

Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays slides safely into second base as Indians infielder Jose Ramirez fields the throw during a July game at Rogers Centre. The teams split the four-game series. (Fred Thornhill/CP)

After dropping the opener of a three-game set at Yankee Stadium, the Toronto Blue Jays came storming back, taking the next two games to earn the series victory and come away first in the American League East.

Next up, the road trip continues as Toronto faces Cleveland in a contest of division-leading teams. Here’s what to watch for:

Friday, Aug. 19 – 7:10 p.m. ET
Francisco Liriano vs. Trevor Bauer

Saturday, Aug. 20 – 7:10 p.m. ET
Aaron Sanchez vs. Josh Tomlin

Sunday, Aug. 21 – 1:10 p.m. ET
Marcus Stroman vs. Corey Kluber

Prelude to the post-season?
Cleveland is currently first in the AL Central with a six-game lead over the Detroit Tigers. If both Cleveland and Toronto continue to fare well, this weekend series could end up having been a showcase for an eventual post-season matchup.

The series also marks the Blue Jays’ first trip to Progressive Field under the helm of president Mark Shapiro, who spent 24 years in “The Cleve,” most recently as team president. In Toronto’s last matchup with Cleveland, a four-game series at Rogers Centre earlier this summer, the teams took two victories apiece.

Since that meeting, Cleveland has continued to roll—they’ve scored the second-most runs in the AL behind the slugging Red Sox, and while the Blue Jays’ pitching staff sports the best ERA in the league, the Indians rank second.

Cleveland also landed one heck of an addition ahead of the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline, acquiring elite left-handed reliever Andrew Miller from the New York Yankees.

Since joining the team, Miller has been employed as a set-up man ahead of closer Cody Allen. Miller has made seven appearances for his new club, compiling a minuscule 0.96 ERA.

What to make of Liriano?
Francisco Liriano has made two starts for the Blue Jays since arriving from Pittsburgh in a last-minute deadline deal. In his first trip to the mound, the south paw gave his team a quality start, allowing three runs—two of them earned—on seven hits over six innings. He ended up with a no-decision in that start and was tagged with the loss in his next outing, a five-run, 5.2-inning effort.

Liriano will have the opportunity to grab his first win as a Blue Jay on Friday. It’s still too soon to tell exactly what the Blue Jays have in him, but this test against a strong post-season contender could help bring his potential into focus.

Waiting for word on one very important thumb
In the sixth inning of the Blue Jays’ victory on Wednesday, Josh Donaldson jammed his right thumb on a pitch from New York’s CC Sabathia. The third baseman exited the game, and X-rays came back negative, but whether he’ll be ready to return to the lineup on Friday is unclear.

He’s rolling
Impending free agent Edwin Encarnacion continues to make a valiant case for himself—to show that, in no uncertain terms, he deserves a big, fat payday.

The 33-year-old leads the majors with 100 RBI and his 34 home runs rank second to Baltimore Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo’s 35. Expect to see him build on his contract-year campaign.

Better results
Marcus Stroman had a difficult start to his season, and some were starting to wonder just what exactly had gone wrong for the diminutive hurler. But Stroman seems to have figured it out: His last five outings have been quality starts.

The final game of this series will be a good test for Stroman, as he’ll face Cleveland ace Corey Kluber, who carries an AL-leading FIP of 3.02. Kluber hasn’t been tagged with a loss since July 3—when he pitched versus the Blue Jays in Toronto (Cleveland lost that game in gruesome fashion, 17–1).

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