HEADLINE

Indians visit Blue Jays with Central title on horizon

The Sports Xchange

September 06, 2018 at 12:02 am.

TORONTO — The Cleveland Indians and the Toronto Blue Jays met in the American League Championship Series two years ago.

It merely seems longer than that for Blue Jays fans now that their team is struggling.

The Indians won that series in five games and then lost the World Series to the Chicago Cubs in seven.

The teams have gone in opposite directions.

The Indians are on the verge of clinching the American League Central, while the Blue Jays are wallowing in fourth place in the AL East.

Both teams will be coming off wins when they open a four-game series at the Rogers Centre on Thursday night.

The Indians defeated the Kansas City Royals 3-1 on Wednesday afternoon at Progressive Field with Corey Kluber becoming the first 18-game winner this season.

Cleveland’s magic number to clinch the AL Central is eight.

The Blue Jays (63-76) defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 10-3 on Wednesday night to avoid being swept in the three-game series.

The Indians (79-60) will start right-hander Shane Bieber (8-3, 4.66 ERA) in the opener and the Blue Jays will send out right-hander Sam Gaviglio (3-7, 5.02).

Bieber will face the Blue Jays for the first time in his career. He is 4-0 with a 4.44 ERA in eight road starts this season. Gaviglio has never faced the Indians. He is 2-1 with a 2.68 ERA in 11 appearances (nine starts) at home in 2018.

Toronto fans had hoped they might see third baseman Josh Donaldson, who has missed much of the season with a calf injury and was traded to Cleveland last week.

Donaldson, however, was put back on the disabled list by the Indians and he is on a minor league rehabilitation assignment. He has not played since May 28 and is eligible to be activated Sept. 11.

Donaldson hit a grand slam for Triple-A Columbus on Monday on the final day of regular-season action in the minors. He homered again Wednesday, a two-run shot, in going 1-for-3 for Akron in a 5-2 victory over Altoona in a Double-A Eastern League playoff game.

“I feel pretty good,” Donaldson told the Akron Beacon Journal after the game. “(My) rhythm, my timing, pitch recognition feels good. My body is feeling even better. Anytime my body is feeling right, I’m going to perform to my capability.”

Donaldson can become a free agent at the end of the season and a strong finish would enhance his bargaining power after such a disappointing season.

“As I was telling the front office and (Indians manager) Tito (Terry Francona) before I went on the DL, my timing has come around a lot quicker than I even expected it to. I’m seeing the ball pretty well right now and I’ve had some success here recently.”

If Toronto fans are disappointed in not seeing the return of the 2015 American League MVP, so was his former manager.

“I was looking forward to seeing him,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said.

The Blue Jays have won two of three games from the Indians this season. They won 8-4 in Cleveland on April 13. The other two games were postponed until the teams split a doubleheader on May 3.

As good as the Indians are, the Blue Jays had more trouble against the Rays, who still hold a 9-3 advantage over Toronto this season. That is one reason Wednesday’s win was a big relief for the Blue Jays.

“One thing, we’ve always had trouble with Tampa Bay, whether it’s here or down there,” Gibbons said. “Their pitching’s always been tough on us. I don’t care if this is basically a new group. They’ve always done a number on us and it’s lasted a few years.”

The Blue Jays had 16 hits Wednesday, which saved them from setting a dubious record. In the previous seven games meetings dating to June 12, the Rays had held the Blue Jays to five or fewer hits. That tied the major league record by any team against a single opponent set by the Baltimore Orioles against the Washington Senators from Sept. 11, 1968 to April 18, 1969.

 

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