We are getting closer. The World Series is almost here and months of waiting are almost finished. Let’s take a gander at both teams and see who is most likely to come out of the ALCS and face the National League representative in the 2015 World Series.
It is all about momentum in baseball. Okay, not really despite what everyone will tell you. Think about it, each game is a unique beast and a pitcher on his “A game” will shut down any offense and if the pitcher is “off” you can forget your chances. Crowd noise does not matter either, just ask any player. The real home field is about knowing the dimensions and the bounces that is the real key. It is just the real reality and not one many want to discuss.
To say the Toronto Blue Jays were an offensive juggernaut this season is an understatement. The Blue Jays led the American League in home runs (232), doubles (308), RBI (852), On-Base Percentage (.340), Slugging (.457), OPS (.797), and scored 130 runs more than the second place team (891). The irony is that this team is not just about power since they are fourth in the league in stolen bases (88).
The Blue Jays have arguably the toughest 3-4-5 in any lineup in baseball. They trot out Jose Bautista, a perennial 40 home run threat, move to Edwin Encarnacion, another 40 home run threat and finish with the presumable 2015 AL MVP in Josh Donaldson. They will rotate the players and sometime move one to the two hole but the damage is there. Add in players like Russell Martin with post-season experience and Troy Tulowitzki and opposing teams are in trouble.
The Blue Jays struggled a bit to start the year as they waited for Marcus Stroman to return from an injury. R.A. Dickey has never been the player they thought but he has been more than serviceable as a fourth or fifth starter. Mark Buehrle brought in a veteran presence with post-season and World Series experience but surprised when he found the fountain of youth and made his way to 15 wins this year.
The major additions were David Price, via trade, and the return of Stroman down the stretch. David Price, a perennial Cy Young contender has gone 9-1 with a sub-2.50 ERA since the trade. Meanwhile Stroman has been lights out since his return giving the Jays a true number one and two in their rotation. The starters will need to go long because the bullpen, while not horrible, is not elite and lost Brett Cecil for the year. Those two are more than capable of giving them 7 innings in each start to mask the bullpen.
The Royals had the best record in the American League thanks in no small part to just finding ways to get the job done. This quiet and unassuming team just does what they have to do to win. Only one team hit fewer home runs (139) than the Royals this year. However, they are second in stolen bases (104), fourth in triples (42), third in doubles (300) and batting average (.269) as well as second in hits (1497). They are also the only team in the AL that struck out less than 1,000 times as a team in 2015.
The Royals rely on timely hits and a bunch of players in the everyday lineup that just understand what they are and how to get it done. They have six everyday players that all hit over .270 this season including the overly talented Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, and the resurgent Kendrys Morales. Cain is the MVP of the Royals scoring over 100 runs and adding 28 stolen bases to his .307 average. Make no mistake about it, they are legitimate from top to bottom and will cause fits for opposing pitchers.
The Royals had the third best ERA in the AL in 2015 at 3.73. Their starting rotation is honestly nothing spectacular or should I say just underperforming. Their ace, Edinson Volquez, had a good but not great season finishing with 13 wins and a 3.55 ERA. Johnny Cueto was brought in to shore up the rotation but it appears the ballpark and the move to the Al have not treated him well. He only has four wins in 13 starts with a 4.76 ERA.
Beyond those two the Royals will most likely lean on a combination of Yordano Ventura (13-8, 4.08 ERA), Kris Medlen (6-2, 4.01 ERA), and the fountain of youth finding Chris Young (11-6, 3.06 ERA). However, for the Royals it is not as much about the starters as it is about arguably the best bullpen in the AL from top to bottom. Wade Davis has been superb since becoming the closer (17 saves, 0.94 ERA) and setting him up are a combination of Ryan Madson (2.13 ERA), Franklin Morales (3.18 ERA), and Kelvin Herrera (2.71 ERA) along with a strong situational crew.
Both teams are more than deserving of their respective spots in the American League Championship Series. Both fought through the 162 game grind, dealt with injuries and proved themselves worthy. . The Blue Jays battled back from a 0-2 hole to win three in a row against the Rangers. The Royals went through a five game battle with the Astros to find their way here. The Blue Jays have not won it all since 1993 and the Royals have been waiting since 1985. One of these two teams will get the chance to squash the streak.
The series is filled with opposites in my mind. The Blue Jays are the thunder and the Royals are the quiet rain. The crew from north of the border can hit home runs at unbelievable clips while the Royals are more about timely hitting and fundamentals that brig in runs but don’t ask the Astros after the end of game five. Both can steal a base but you can bet the Royals will use more of a hit and run approach that the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays have legitimate starters in Price, Stroman and crew while the Royals are about getting the game to the bullpen, although Cueto looked like the guy they thought they were trading for in game five against the Astros. If he repeats that in his ALCS start that could be a huge swing point. Backed against the wall I like both of these teams, heck the Royals are trying to go back to the World Series for the second year in a row. This is a pick em series and since the Blue Jays have the ability to turn the game with one swing from three dangerous hitters that will swing the decision. But make no mistake about it, this is going to be a close series from two very deserving teams. I sure love this time of year.