Indians vs Blue Jays

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The Toronto Blue Jays and the Cleveland Indians will match up to kick off their MLB series on Thursday.The Jays will be going with RHP Aaron Sanchez in the start Thursday. In his first start of the year on March 30 versus Detroit, Sanchez logged a win with 5.0 innings, three hits, zero earned and six strikeouts.

Toronto managed a nice 5-3 victory against the Orioles on Wednesday (it was 5-0 heading into the ninth inning). The hero for the Jays in that one was Randal Grichuck with a pair of solo home runs, three runs and three hits.

Over on the Indians’ side, they’re sending out Trevor Bauer on Thursday. In Bauer’s first start this year on March 30, he turned in a great outing with 7.0 innings, one earned and nine strikeouts in a no-decision versus Minnesota.

The Indians dropped their Wednesday game versus the White Sox 8-3. Hanley Ramirez put up a two-run homer in that one, while Carlos Santana logged two hits, one run and one RBI.

The Jays are 3-7 in their last 10 in game one of a series and 1-4 in their last five Thursday games. Toronto is 5-1 in Sanchez’s last six starts and 0-4 in his last four Thursday starts.

Meanwhile, the Indians are 46-20 in the last 66 Thursday games and 7-0 in Bauer’s last seven Thursday starts. Cleveland is 7-2 in Bauer’s last nine starts and 9-3 in his last 12 home starts.

Sanchez looked great in his first action of the year, and that performance will at least temporarily rid us of the memory of his 13 earned over 9.1 innings in a three-start period last summer.

As for Bauer, he was used sparingly down the stretch last year, and for the most part did pretty well until his final appearance (four hits; two earned; 1.1 innings versus Houston on October 8).

Gurriel went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI Wednesday against the Orioles.

Gurriel delivered the game-winning hit by doubling in two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. Entering the game, he was 0-for-15 at the plate, so it was positive to see him record his first two hits of the season. With that behind him, he’ll look to keep building on this performance as the Blue Jays open a four-game set against the Indians.

The Indians signed the popular Francona to a two-year contract extension through the 2022 season on Wednesday, giving him more security and a chance to become the longest-tenured manager in Cleveland’s rich history.

Francona’s deal was set to expire after 2020, but as he begins his seventh season, the Indians decided to lengthen its successful partnership with the man known as “Tito” for at least two more years.

Since being hired in 2013, Francona has led the Indians to three consecutive American League Central titles and the World Series in 2016, when Cleveland lost Game 7 in 10 innings to the Chicago Cubs. The Indians, favored to win the division again in 2019, have made the postseason four times, had a winning record six times and have the AL’s best record under Francona.

“We had exceedingly high expectations when we hired Tito, and the unbelievable thing is, as high as those expectations were, he’s gone on to exceed those every day,” said Chris Antonetti, the team’s president of baseball operations. “And it’s not just with what happens on the field, it’s what happens behind the scenes.

“In those moments when we’re struggling or we’re facing challenges or those moments of adversity, that’s when Tito is at his best.”

Francona joined the Indians after a wildly successful run in Boston, where he helped the Red Sox end their 86-year World Series title drought in 2004. He led them to another championship in 2007 before his stretch ended in 2011.

Cleveland was a new beginning, and a familiar place, as his father played six seasons for the Indians.

“I will say this: I have no ambition to ever work somewhere else,” said Francona, who will turn 60 later this month. “There’s going to come a time when I can’t do this job the way I want to, because of age. That may happen some point, but I don’t have any ambition to ever go somewhere else and that’s because of the people here.”

If he stays around three more seasons, and there’s little reason to think he won’t, Francona will surpass Lou Boudreau for the longest managerial run with the Indians. Boudreau, who was also an All-Star shortstop, managed the Indians from 1942 to 1950. He led them to their last Series title in 1948.

The Indians are an AL-best 547-427 (.562) since 2013 under Francona. His 1,576 career wins with Philadelphia, Boston and Cleveland are second most among current major league managers, behind San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy.

Francona said a key to his success in Cleveland has been the strong relationships he built with Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff. Francona can be himself, and that in turn has made him a stronger communicator and manager.