After a pair of dramatic American League Division Series that went five games, the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays are set to square off in the American League Championship Series.
Both teams relied on similar facets of the game in 2015 ― a relentless offense, good defense, and decent pitching. However, the Royals are a persistent contact happy team, while the Blue Jays are powerful and seemingly unstoppable.
Kansas City’s 15.9% strikeout rate during regular season was the lowest in baseball ― the MLB average was a 20.4% in 2015. To that end, per Mike Axisa (CBS Sports) Toronto’s pitching staff posted the sixth lowest strikeout rate in baseball this season at 18.7%. Former Ray David Price was their only starter with an above-average whiff rate during the regular season at 25.3% (overall and 29.4% with the Blue Jays).
And while they have a pair of relievers who have posted healthy whiff rates ― Roberto Osuna (27.7%) and Mark Lowe (28.4%) ― the other four hurlers (aside from Price) depend upon contact. That plays well into Kansas City’s favor, as the Royals will likely put a ton of balls in play. However, at an average of 5.5 runs per game, the Blue Jays are expected to do what they do best ― mash the baseball.
The Blue Jays boast a powerful offense, and though they slumped a bit at the end of the season, they’re beginning to fire on all cylinders once more. Their combined 891 runs and 232 homers are enough to strike fear in the opposition. True, the Royals may have a good starting rotation, but it certainly isn’t great. Keeping Toronto off the board will undoubtedly be a tall order to fill.
The other facet of the Royals’ offense is speed on the base paths. Kansas City swiped 104 stolen bases this season, and managed a 75% stolen base success rate. Because of it, Toronto will need to neutralize the running game. Enter Russell Martin.
Martin gunned down 40.9% of would be base stealers since 2013, and that ability to manage the running game will come in handy against Kansas City. Then again, Salvador Perez isn’t bad himself ― he threw out 29 would be thieves this season (just two fewer than Martin).
Kansas City and Toronto finished the season with the two best records in the American League at 95-67 and 93-69, respectively. Since they edged out the Blue Jays in the W/L column, the Royals have home-field advantage. This is where my beloved Tampa Bay Rays factor into things.
Both clubs had identical 92-67 records with three games left to go in the season. Tampa Bay took two-of-three from Toronto in the final series of the season, while Kansas City swept the Twins. Therein lies the difference in ALCS home-field advantage, the last weekend of the season.
Toronto and Kansas City last met in the postseason in 1985. In that series, the Blue Jays jumped out to a three games to one series lead before the Royals won the final three games. However, more recently, Toronto won the season series 4-3.
There may also be some bad blood between the two teams after an August 2nd scrum, in Toronto. Axisa recounted the incident:
These two teams played seven games in the regular season ― the Blue Jays won the season series 4-3 ― and, in their final meeting on August 2, the benches cleared. Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki were hit by pitches, and the Blue Jays retaliated by hitting Alcides Escobar.
After the game Volquez called Donaldson a “little baby. He was crying like a baby.” Reliever Ryan Madson piled on, saying for Donaldson “to get that upset [about being pitched inside], I don’t think he fully understands the game.”
Donaldson responded by telling reporters he didn’t want Volquez ejected from the game because he is “some pretty good hitting.” Jose Bautista also called out Royals manager Ned Yost for saying Escobar getting hit was “absolutely” intentional.
Edinson Volquez (13-9, 3.58 ERA) hasn’t been dominant in the postseason thus far ― allowing three runs on five hits and four walks in 5-2/3 innings in Game 3 of the ALDS ― so he tasked with trying to reverse that course against the Blue Jays. In his favor, the righty has held Toronto to a .227 BA/.353 OBP/.361 SLG/.714 OPS over his career. Key matchups: Chris Colabello (1-4, HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB), Edwin Encarnacion (3-9, HR, 2 RBI, 3 BB), Dioner Navarro (1-1, RBI)
Marco Estrada (12-8, 3.28 ERA) earned a victory over the Rangers in Game 3 of the ALDS, allowing one run on five hits while fanning four in 6-1/3 innings. Estrada held Kansas City to four total runs in two regular-season starts (12-1/3 innings) this season. Key matchups: Lorenzo Cain (2-6), Alcides Escobar (2-7, RBI), Eric Hosmer (4-5, 2B), Alex Rios (2-5, 2B, RBI), Ben Zobrist (1-3)
Yordano Ventura (13-8, 4.08 ERA) served up multiple home runs to Houston in Game 4 of the ALDS. The righty hopes to buck that trend against the powerful Blue Jays. He’s had a decent amount of success against Toronto, slashing .217 BA/.280 OBP/.413 SLG/.693 OPS in an incredibly small 46 at-bat sample size. Key matchups: Jose Bautista (3-5, HR, RBI), Edwin Encarnacion (1-3, 2 BB), Justin Smoak (2-8, HR, 3 RBI)
David Price (9-1, 2.30 ERA) didn’t fare particularly well in Game 4 of the ALDS when John Gibbons brought him in for three innings in relief of R.A. Dickey. Price allowed three runs on six hits while striking out two. He will be on normal rest for his start on Saturday. Key matchups: Lorenzo Cain (4-11, HR, RBI), Alcides Escobar (2-7), Salvador Perez (3-9, HR, 2 RBI), Alex Rios (12-30, 4 2B, 3B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 3 BB), Ben Zobrist (2-6, 2B)
Johnny Cueto (4-7, 4.76) struggled over the final month of the regular season, yet he was incredible in Game 5 of the ALDS. Cueto held the Astros to just two runs on two hits over eight innings, retiring 19 straight to end his outing. Key matchups: Jose Bautista (2-8, 2B, BB), Josh Donaldson (1-2, 2B, 2 RBI, BB), Edwin Encarnacion (4-7, 2B, HR, RBI), Dioner Navarr0 (1-2), Kevin Pillar (2-3, RBI)
Marcus Stroman (4-0, 1.67 ERA) played a key part in Toronto’s victory over the Rangers in the ALDS. Stroman allowed a total of five runs over 13 innings in his two starts against Texas, with just two allowed over six in Game 5. Key matchups: Jarrod Dyson (1-2), Alex Gordon (1-3, 2B), Eric Hosmer (1-3), Kendrys Morales (2-3, 2B), Ben Zobrist (2-5, BB)
Kris Medlen (5-2, 4.50 ERA) put up two clunkers to go with six strong outings in his eight starts. Medlen allowed 13 runs on 20 hits in his two bad starts, but just nine runs on 26 hits in his other six. A caveat, he has yet to record more than six strikeouts in any start this season. Key matchup: Edwin Encarnacion (1-1)
RA Dickey (11-11, 3.91 ERA) held his own in Game 4 of the ALDS, yet for whatever reason he had a short hook. Dickey blanked the Royals over seven innings, allowing just two hits and two walks on August 2nd. Key matchups: Jarrod Dyson (2-6, 2B), Alcides Escobar (6-18, 3B, 2 RBI), Alex Gordon (3-11, 2B, RBI), Eric Hosmer (3-9, 2B, RBI, BB), Salvador Perez (3-12, 2B, HR, RBI, BB)
― Former Ray lookout: David Price, Dioner Navarro, Ben Zobrist, and Wade Davis grace the Jays and Royals’ rosters.
― All of the statistics above have been gathered from FanGraphs, CBS Sports, and ESPN.