First off, it needs to be said that this year's playoffs are following last year's playoffs theme of being ridiculously fun. The baseball has been exciting, and With the exception of 50-75 people embarrassing a city – a few Toronto fans throwing trash on th field – the crowds have been great.
That was only the league division series. We as fans are now going to be treated to a League Championship Series that has the potential to get more crazier and more exhilarating than ever before.
In this article, the ALCS will be the focus. "Why only the ALCS?" you ask. Well first, it's because the NLCS will get its ink in its own article, and second because this has been a matchup fans have been waiting for since August.
Flashback to July 30 - August 2 regular season four games series between the Royals vs Blue Jays.
This was probably one the most heated regular season series by two teams from different divisions all year. Players were yelling, batters were thrown at, benches were cleared, and managers took to the media. Even days after the series, players took to twitter to voice their dislike for the other team.
I can remember, broadcaster and former Catcher Greg Zaun called Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura out; probably the coolest thing I ever seen.
Side note: If you've seen Greg Zaun recently, you'd know you probably don’t want to get him mad. (Seriously Greg Zaun has gotten built).
The Blue Jays took 3 of 4 from the Royals in that emotional series -- in fact, the only loss was because the usually automatic, Mark Lowe, came on the mound tired, traded to the Jays the day before, giving up the lead.
That was one of the first times the Royals looked vulnerable this season; however that was then and the ALCS is now.
Both teams have changed since then. The Blue Jays then were a .500 team, by season end they were two wins away from the best record in the American League East. Today, they are that team that came back from a 0-2 series deficit against the Texas Rangers.
The Royals then were a team who were on a little bit of a down slope and the star pitcher that they went out and got (Cueto) was looking like a complete failed experiment. Now they are a team that showed the mental toughness of battling from a 6-2 deficit in an elimination game 4 to win the series against the Astros 3-2, with home field advantage.
Home field advantage is important for Kansas City. The Blue Jays may be 1-2 at home this postseason but the Toronto Crowd is insane. There is a justified belief that a crowd in baseball can be very influential in the outcome of the game due to the concentration needed in baseball. Also when fans aren't throwing things on the field, it adds a much appreciated intensity to the Blue Jays players (again the Blue Jays fans weren't the only sports crowd to do it in the last 10 years and it was a select few but it was embarrassing).
The Blue Jays do not get this advantage, the Royals do -- and while the Royals' faithful are not as loud as the Blue Jays crowd, it is crazy as well.
This was the Blue Jays own fault as they opted to rest their line-up when they clinched their AL east title. That might very well contribute to the result of the series.
The players ultimately decide the result of the series and what was found about how players match up was actually very interesting.
Here’s how the stack up pitchers stack up in the Fan-I Graph:
Postseason ERA is relevant but not illuminating, let me explain. For example, yes Price has not been great in his post season career and this season is no different, but David Price is David Price. He has pitched under well under pressure before so I expect him to even out.
What I want to focus on is the relationship between regular season ERA to post season ERA. Johnny Cueto was struggling to find his Cincinnati Form as a Kansas City Royal until last night. In the all-important game 5 versus the Astros, Cueto went 8.0 innings, only giving up 2 runs. This could mean he has found his swagger, however that might not help the Royals much.
While many experts and pundits have already said that Price and Cueto’s performance will be the difference between who wins and who lose, it should be stressed these guys will probably pitch 2 maybe 3 times and that may not even be in starter roles. It will be up to the other members of the teams’ respective starting pitching staff, and quite frankly, the Royals just do not have it. Ventura and Volquez have both looked bad this post season while Stroman, Estrada and Dickey have been murders’ row. In fact, Dickey with a knuckleball in Texas’ hitter friendly park shut them down.
Side note #2: Texas easily has one of the worst names for a stadium. Globe Life Park in Arlington is its full name, it sounds like a description more than a name.
The point is even if Cueto pitches lights out and Price gives up 3-4 runs in his appearances, Volquez and Ventura have not shown that they will be able to contain the Blue Jays high-octane offense, which is why I say starting pitching goes to the Blue Jays.
“But Wait?” you say. “What about the bullpen? The Royals bullpen wins the Royals games.”
I am inclined to agree. To be honest, before researching I was going to say that bar none the Royals bullpen is about two clicks better than the Blue Jays bullpen, five clicks when one remembers the fact the Blue Jays are scarce when it comes to left-handed relievers due to Cecil’s injury and Aaron Loup’s family issues.
Here’s the thing that makes this surprising, the edge really isn’t that large because of two reasons. Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna.
What they lack in age, make up for in lethal stuff and it shows in their numbers. Not only that, but the Blue Jays have a plethora of good bullpen arms they can go to. Mark Lowe, Liam Hendricks, LaTroy Hawkins etc. In fact assuming every pitcher in this series will go 6 innings, when you see how the supposed 7th, 8th and 9th innings, the Blue Jays bullpen actually looks like they can measure up.
We would pull out the Fan-I stack-up graph, but depending on the situation, managers will change who they put in, thus I incline not to take this article as gospel but look it up.
Ultimately, you will see I am right and that the Royals do not have that much of an edge, statically, as one would think.
The Blue Jays are without a reliable left handed reliever, which is a shame because Brett Cecil was amazing in the second half of the season but to quote a wise man “it is what it is”. This gives the Royals' Bullpen the advantage.
Here’s where the argument gets interesting; the offense.
Both offenses are actually quite good. In fact, while the Blue Jays offense was historic, it should be said that the Royals offensive strategy will cause problems for any team.
In theory, it is not ideal to rely on power consistently, when there is good pitching but you can rely on advancing runners with hits well placed in a defense gaps. So edge Royals right? Well no. Yes the Blue Jays rely on power but to say that it is all they rely on, could not be further from the truth.
The lineup is subject to change but here is the an estimate of how the lineups regular season batting averages look in the Fan-I Graph:
Again lineups are subject to change, especially in the case of Russell Martin as Dioner Navarro will take his place to catch for Estrada. However, the point is that the Blue Jays have no problem hitting to advance runners if the long ball is not going for them and one sees that here.
While Kansas City has the slight advantage in average, it is slight which means not only can the Blue Jays hurt you with their power, but they can hurt you with smart, methodical hitting; also add in the fact Bautista and Donaldson are notoriously patient and have no problems taking a walk. This is not as obvious fans and experts alike would think but the edge in offense goes to the Blue Jays.
“Well, what about defense?”
See that’s the funny part about this whole match-up, it might be a tie. I know it sounds absurd considering how woeful the defense was for Toronto pre-trade deadline, but post trade deadline it has not be a problem. At one point, Chris Colabello was a terrible left fielder, now he’s a solid defender at first base; while Ben Revere is solid defensively at left field. The middle of the field was a joke for Toronto but Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Goins are gold glove level defenders.
“But Moustakas at third is a great defender for Kansas!”
I hear that but so is AL MVP candidate, Josh Donaldson
“Well Alex Rios’ arm is crazy!”
I know I saw it first hand when he was a Blue Jay but Jose Bautista’s arm is a cannon too.
“What about Lorenzo Cain?”
Kevin Pillar at Centre Field is probably a top 5 defender at that position and considering Mike Trout plays that position, that’s saying something.
Before this turns into an argument with my potential questions, let me get to my point.
The Toronto Blue Jays do not have a weak spot on defense, and neither does Kansas City, that’s what puts them at a draw. There is no way to quantify hustle so in that respect this category could go to either unit; However in both line-ups you cannot point at one guy and say “this guy can’t defend to save his life”, therefore it is a tie.
This series is so interesting, because even though the Royals have the best record and a perceived shutdown bullpen, the Blue Jays should win this one; although immeasurable factors are what make sports, sports.
If I can remember who said this. I will give them credit but I remember watching television and someone said something along the lines of “Sports are not played by numbers, they are played by little men on our television sets.” And you know what they’re right.
Side note #3: Before people wonder, I think he or she meant people, it’s just a saying. (Goodness I wish I remembered who said it.)
The Statistical revolution in baseball, A.K.A. Moneyball era, is great but we have to remember that stats are not the gospel. No one can gauge how a guy seemingly always gets a hit when a team needs it, make a hell of a defensive play when needed, or what a loud crowd can do to a game.
On the negative side, stats cannot quantify a missed play or a guy not hustling to chase a grounder or why a guy seemingly strikes out at a time a team cannot afford one. Not to mention, these two teams show mental toughness and they do not like each other. This is going to be a series that every baseball fans should be glued to. As to who wins, that’s for you to decide.