October 12, 2016 - 4:00 AM
TORONTO - When it comes to Toronto's starting rotation, it's an embarrassment of riches for Blue Jays manager John Gibbons.
Proven playoff performer Marco Estrada will start the opener of the American League Championship Series on Friday in Cleveland. The rest of the rotation includes 20-game winner J.A. Happ, league earned-run average leader Aaron Sanchez and wild-card game winner Marcus Stroman.
That's one of the deepest four-man crews in the major leagues and gives Toronto a distinct edge over the Indians, who are missing starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar due to injury.
The off-days that came after Toronto needed only three games to win the AL Division Series has allowed the Blue Jays to set their rotation as they wish rather than be forced into maintaining a regular routine.
Stroman has had the most rest and will be a good bet to go in Game 2 on Saturday.
Estrada, meanwhile, was dominant in a 10-1 rout of Texas in the ALDS opener last week. His change-up regularly handcuffed the Rangers throughout the 8 1/3-inning performance.
"All I know is you look back at the last couple years at how good Marco has been for us in big games for us," Gibbons said. "Playoff games and two straight years of regular-season games. And he's one guy too that probably needs more than anybody to keep on a (schedule that's as) close to normal as possible."
The Blue Jays have some options to consider before setting their ALCS roster. Once the status of Francisco Liriano is firmed up, they'll likely be in a position to make some decisions.
Liriano suffered a concussion last week but said Tuesday he feels much better and is hopeful to be ready for the ALCS. He has to complete Major League Baseball's seven-day concussion protocol and could return as early as Saturday.
Liriano was strong down the stretch and would give the Blue Jays another left-handed option out of the bullpen. He could also be used in a short or long relief spots as needed.
Second baseman Devon Travis said his sore right knee is feeling better and he expects to be ready for Game 1. The Blue Jays could elect to drop a pitcher and perhaps add a backup player in Ryan Goins or Dalton Pompey.
The Indians, meanwhile, are also enjoying a break before the start of the best-of-seven ALCS. They completed a three-game sweep of Boston in the other ALDS on Monday night.
"It's really probably the most balanced team in the American League that I can think of and they have good team speed so they can manufacture (runs)," Gibbons said.
Cleveland edged Toronto 4-3 in the regular-season series. These teams are evenly matched and well rested.
"Nobody really knows how off-days and things like that and teams playing at the end really affects what actually happens," Gibbons said. "I do think it might have helped us at the end when we got in, that wild card, playing right up to the end, that might have been of benefit to us.
"But I think everyone is on an even playing field really, (it's) two good teams."
If a fifth game is necessary, it would be played Oct. 19 at Rogers Centre. The series would then shift back to Cleveland for Game 6 on Oct. 21 and Game 7 on Oct. 22 if required.
"We'll try to get four wins and move on. That's our goal," Gibbons said. "All I know is we're playing a very, very good team. I'd expect them to be really good games I would think."
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016