Cleveland finished off a three-game sweep with a 4-3 win Monday at Fenway Park. The Red Sox had their chances, but they left two men on in both the eighth and ninth innings. Indians closer Cody Allen was able to shut the door in both innings.
I didn't like Cleveland's chances coming into the playoffs because its starting rotation was beat up. Two of its top three pitchers -- Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco -- are on the disabled list. The Indians' ace, Corey Kluber, had a groin strain that kept him out the final week of the regular season and caused him to not be able to make a Game 1 start in the ALDS.
Kluber proved he was healthy, however, with a brilliant performance to win Game 2. In Games 1 and 3, the Tribe got just enough out of back-of-the-rotation starters Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, and manager Terry Francona used his underrated relief corps brilliantly to secure those two wins.
Francona brought relief ace Andrew Miller in during the fifth inning of Game 1 and the sixth inning of Game 3. He's got three good high-leverage relievers in Miller, Bryan Shaw and Allen, and he showed he's not afraid to use them for the last four or five innings of a game to protect a precarious lead.
When your starting pitching is beat up, but your bullpen is strong, that's precisely what you have to do to chart a course for victory. Give the Indians credit for pulling this off. They knocked out the team that many perceived as the favorite in the American League.
David Ortiz's brilliant career with the Red Sox is now over, but spare me the stuff about how he "deserved a better ending." Ortiz has three World Series rings, and he had many fine moments with Boston. No one is promised the chance to go out on top, and most athletes do not. He'll get over this loss, I'm sure.
In the other ALDS, how about Toronto knocking the stuffing out of the 95-win Rangers? The Blue Jays scored 22 runs in the three-game sweep, and if you buy into the theory that the "hot team" wins in the playoffs, well, the Blue Jays look like the hot team.
Two things to look for in the ALCS: First, will Kluber be healthy enough to make three starts? He should be in line for Game 1. With all the other injury problems, does he start Game 4 and Game 7, if necessary, as well? In my opinion, he should.
Secondly, can the Blue Jays overcome the fact that the Indians have a far superior bullpen? Toronto closer Roberto Osuna is good, and he toughed it out through some shoulder discomfort in the ALDS, but I don't know that I trust Jason Grilli, Brett Cecil, Joe Biagini and the other assorted mediocre options the Jays have in the bullpen.
If games are close in the late innings, it should be advantage Tribe.
Of course, the first round of the American League playoffs taught us that things that should be aren't necessarily so. The more you watch, the more you realize that you really know don't much of anything.