Posted on October 17, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
Down 2-0 in the ALCS, the Toronto Blue Jays no doubt have their backs against the wall heading into Game 3 of the series Monday night in Toronto. However, Toronto outfielder Jose Bautista believes that the Blue Jays have been facing a lot more than the Cleveland Indians during the series. In an article published late Sunday by USA Today, Bautista implies that home plate umpires in the series have not been fair to both teams, claiming that Cleveland pitchers have received more called strikes.
“All you gotta do is look at video and count how many times Indians pitchers have thrown pitches over the heart of the plate. It hasn’t been many,” Bautista said. “They’ve been able to do that because of the circumstances – that I’m not trying to talk about, because I can’t. That’s for you guys to do. But you guys don’t really want to talk about that, either.”
Of course, Bautista did not go into detail about what he meant by “circumstances,” as he would likely face a hefty fine for outright criticism of the umpires. But it’s not hard to see where he was going with his comments, as he implies that the strike zone has been a little bigger when the Blue Jays have been batting, hindering their offensive output.
To be fair to Bautista, most of us have been trying to understand how a lineup as dynamic as Toronto’s has managed just one run on 10 hits over the course of two games. This just appears to be Bautista’s explanation for the Blue Jays going ice cold offensively during the first two games of the ALCS.
However, a better explanation may be that Cleveland starters Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin have attacked the Blue Jays with breaking pitches, knowing that Toronto’s lineup mashes fastballs but had the worst slugging percentage against curveballs in baseball this season.
“We always have a gameplan going in but the first thing we always stress from the first day of spring training is pitch to your strengths from game to game,” explained Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway about the approach of his pitchers against the Blue Jays. “I think it just so happens that was their strength that night. Tomlin, that was the best curveball he’s ever had so he kind of stuck with it.”
Adhering to Bautista’s request, several media outlets took a deeper look into the strike zone during the first two games of the ALCS. Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus concludes that there has been no obvious difference in strike zone for the two teams. However, Mark Simon of ESPN explains that Cleveland pitchers have benefited from 7.4 more called strikes than the average pitcher, while Toronto’s pitchers are 1.8 called strikes below average. Simon also notes that Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez is far better at pitch framing than Toronto’s Russell Martin, which could be a factor.
Of course, regardless of how Bautista or anybody else feels about the strike zone, the fact of the matter is that the Blue Jays are down 2-0 and have seen their powerful offense stifled by a pair of starting pitchers performing at the top of their game and a top-notch bullpen. Whether the umpires are doing them any favors or not, Bautista and the Blue Jays need to get going offensively, or else their season could soon be over.