After competing over the final month to see who would have home-field advantage in this series—Kansas City won that battle—the Blue Jays and Royals now square off to see who'll head to the World Series.
Lineups (AVG/OBP/SLG/TAv, WARP)
LF-L Ben Revere (.306/.342/.377/.268, 2.6)
3B-R Josh Donaldson (.297/.371/.568/.324, 7.6)
RF-R Jose Bautista (.250/.377/.536/.316, 4.6)
DH-R Edwin Encarnacion (.277/.372/.557/.324, 4.7)
SS-R Troy Tulowitzki (.280/.337/.440/.269, 2.8)
1B-S Justin Smoak (.226/.299/.470/.267, 0.6 )
C-R Russell Martin (.240/.329/.548/.275, 3.4)
2B-L Ryan Goins (.250/.318/.354/.238, 0.5)
CF-R Kevin Pillar (.278/.314/.399/.257, 3.7)
SS-R Alcides Escobar (.257/.293/.320/.224, 1.7)
2B-S Ben Zobrist .276/.359/.450/.296, 3.0)
CF-R Lorenzo Cain (.307/.361/.477/.301, 6.8)
1B-L Eric Hosmer (.297/.363/.459/.289, 3.4)
DH-S Kendrys Morales (.290/.362/.485/.294, 2.3)
3B-L Mike Moustakas (.284/.348/.470/.291, 4.6)
C-R Salvador Perez (.260/.280/.426/.251, 1.5)
LF-L Alex Gordon (.271/.377/.432/.299, 2.9)
RF-R Alex Rios (.255/.287/.353/.231, -.1)
On the computer screen, the Blue Jays have the offensive advantage. Both teams hit for a .269 average during the regular season, but the Jays walked and slugged more often (they hit nearly 100 more home runs), and ran the bases better (albeit while swiping fewer bags). If you go by True Average, the Blue Jays had the best offense in the majors; the Royals had the the 13th best. If you go by True Average, the Blue Jays have seven above-average hitters, including the three best in the series; the Royals have six, including the fourth-through-ninth best in the series. Neither team struck out much, meaning we're going to set a lot of balls in play and pressure on the defenses.
The storyline to know for the Blue Jays is that Tulowitzki struggled during the ALDS. He went 2-for-21 and struck out three more times than he reached base. With the Jays' other big-name sluggers doing their part, the spotlight will be on Tulowitzki if this series goes south. As for the Royals, it's Escobar in the leadoff spot. Statistically it makes no sense—during the regular season he was the worst hitter of the 18 players listed above—but the Royals lost some games when they moved him down the order and … well, this being the Royals in October, expect him to reach base twice per game.
C-S Dioner Navarro (.246/.307/.374/.255)
OF-L Ezequiel Carrera (.273/.321/.372/.253)
2B-S Cliff Pennington (.210/.298/.281/.216)
1B-R Chris Colabello (.321/.367/.520/.304)
OF-S Dalton Pompey (.223/.291/.372/.233)
UT-R Christian Colon (.290/.356/.336/.249)
OF-R Paulo Orlando (.249/.269/.444/.254)
OF-L Jarrod Dyson (.250/.311/.380/.249)
PR-R Terrance Gore (Runs/Stupid/Friggin/Fast)
C-R Drew Butera (.198/.266/.267/.202)
Unlike the Rangers, who threw left-handers in four of the five games, the Royals are likely to start all righties against the Blue Jays. In other words, Colabello should find a comfortable seat on the bench. When John Gibbons needs a pinch-runner, he's certain to turn to Carrera (plus-plus speed) or Pompey (plus speed); otherwise, neither is likely to see action. Pennington is a quality gloveman at multiple positions, but he can't hit a fifth of a lick. Navarro, meanwhile, is Marco Estrada's personal catcher.
The Royals bench is mostly for show. Colon and Butera are your designated backup plans at shortstop and catcher, and Orlando is around to feel important. Dyson and Gore are the two reserves with utility: Dyson is an outstanding defender and baserunner, while Gore is arguably the top stolen-base threat in the world. As Sam Miller wrote in the ALDS preview, "If the Royals are trailing after five innings, this is about the worst bench you could imagine. If they’re leading after five innings, it’s great—like giving the whole bullpen a can of spinach."
Having used Dickey, Price, and Stroman since Monday, the Blue Jays will turn to Estrada in Game One. He's a deceptive changeup artist with a high release point and an upcoming date with free agency. From there Gibbons figures to use Price and Stroman in that order, with Dickey's potential Game Four start hinging on how the first three games play out. Gibbons didn't allow Dickey much leash during a blowout in the ALDS, so the Jays could opt for Estrada unless they're up 2-1 or 3-0. Should this series go the distance, Price probably pitches three times.
The Royals, meanwhile, are no strangers to short rest. Yost navigated the ALDS using just Ventura, Volquez, and Cueto, three fastball-changeup righties from the Dominican Republic. Presumably, the Royals will roll with Young in Game Four. Starting Young—whose stuff transcends the scouting scale and who has extreme fly-ball tendencies—against the Blue Jays in the Rogers Center seems like a very, very bad idea. (It also seemed like a bad idea in Minute Maid Park, and Mother Nature gave the Royals a surprising alternative.) But Young is arguably the most abnormal pitcher in a series that features a 40-year-old knuckler who doesn't have a UCL, a 20-year-old closer, and a 24-year-old who suffered a significant knee injury eight months ago, so he'll probably throw a no-hitter. This is going to get weird either way.
Relief Pitchers (ERA, Innings, DRA)
RHP Roberto Osuna (2.58, 69.7, 2.99)
RHP Aaron Sanchez (3.22, 92.3, 4.37)
RHP Liam Hendriks (2.92, 64.7, 3.29)
RHP Mark Lowe (1.96, 55, 2.83)
LHP Aaron Loup (4.46, 42.3, 5.25)
RHP LaTroy Hawkins (3.26, 38.7, 4.11)
RHP Ryan Tepera (3.27, 33, 3.90)
RHP Wade Davis (0.94, 67, 1.66)
RHP Kelvin Herrera (2.71, 70, 2.95)
RHP Ryan Madson (2.13, 63, 2.68)
LHP Franklin Morales (3.18, 62, 3.90)
RHP Luke Hochevar (3.73, 51, 4.79)
RHP Kris Medlen (4.01, 58, 4.51)
LHP Danny Duffy (4.08, 137, 4.85)
The Blue Jays have a few decisions to make. Namely, whether Loup will be on hand for the ALCS after missing action during the Rangers series to deal with a personal issue. If Loup is going to remain away from the team, then Brett Cecil's season-ending calf injury means the Blue Jays will need to find another left-handed reliever. That could mean Jeff Francis or Mark Buehrle gets added to the roster, or it could mean Gibbons uses Tepera—whose cutter led to reverse splits—as an ersatz left-handed specialist. Once the game gets into the late stages, we know who Gibbons will call upon: Sanchez appeared in each game of the ALDS and Osuna appeared in four of the games. They might be young, but they're good and they've proven they have the stomachs for high-leverage work.
Everyone and their third cousin knows the Royals have a highly effective bullpen—one that ranked second in the majors in relief DRA, behind the Astros. Yost's math is simple: get 18 outs from the day's starter, then let the endgame trio of Davis, Herrera, and Madson get the final nine. Should Yost get only 12 outs from his starter, he'll turn to another hard-throwing righty in the sixth: Hochevar. Alternatively, Yost could use Duffy if he wants to mix things up by going with a hard-throwing lefty—you know, variety being the spice of life and all.
The Blue Jays finished the season with the best raw and park-adjusted defensive efficiency in baseball; no surprise, given they field average or better defenders at each position, including a few elite defenders like Donaldson and Goins. The Royals' defensive reputation continues to outpace their statistics for whatever reason. Maybe they're just good at things that aren't captured? Anyway, Kansas City has an insane outfield defense when they sub in Dyson. Both teams have quality backstops behind the plate, and finished middle-of-the-pack in shift success.
An excerpt from the ALDS preview: "[Yost] also, on balance, did a fine job in last year’s postseason: He quickened his hook with his starters, and leveraged his limited bench talent to create an impenetrable late-innings barrier. He also gave his base coach, Rusty Kuntz, the go-ahead to run nutzo in the Wild Card game, a deceptively bold show of confidence and a crucial instance of turning a small edge into a victory. He’s actually what a lot of us would want in a manager: He doesn’t overact, he doesn’t insert himself every chance he can, he doesn’t give away outs or pitches or intentional passes. He also limits his lineup changes and his bullpen tweaks, perhaps to a fault but certainly to his team’s liking. He is, in fact, by far the least meddlesome manager in baseball, according to (Ben) Lindbergh’s way of calculating it. He’s got his players and he mostly lets them go right after the other team. It’s endearing, and it’s not dumb."
An amended excerpt from the ALDS preview: "Gibbons is more likely to be considered the better tactician of the two, in part because of his creative lineups. Gibbons has batted Donaldson second throughout the season, and, for a time after the trade, used Tulowitzki as his leadoff hitter. It won't hurt his standing with the analytical community that he's the less likely of the two to [call for a sacrifice bunt]. Oh, and by the way—the Jays led the majors in stolen-base success rate, and finished as the game's second-best baserunning team, behind the Rangers."
The Royals have this never-say-die thing down pat. The Blue Jays are the better team, and coming off their own improbable comeback. When in doubt, pick the more talented roster: Blue Jays in six.