Johnny Cueto hasn’t pitched an important game on the road since NL Wild Card 2013, in which the Pirates knocked him around and the fans (probably? Maybe?) got deep inside his head. He’ll try to manage the moment better this time, in Toronto. The Blue Jays have to be relieved to have escaped the bat-flip buzzkill that is Kauffman Stadium, and come home to the fly-ball-friendly Rogers Centre.

Kansas City Royals (Johnny Cueto) at Toronto Blue Jays (Marcus Stroman), 8 p.m. Eastern

PECOTA odds of winning: 58% Blue Jays, 42% Royals

Projected Starting Lineups

Royals vs. Stroman (R)

Blue Jays vs. Cueto (R)

Alcides Escobar (R) SS

Ben Revere (L) LF

Ben Zobrist (S) 2B

Josh Donaldson (R) 3B

Lorenzo Cain (R) CF

Jose Bautista (R) RF

Eric Hosmer (L) 1B

Edwin Encarnacion (R) DH

Kendrys Morales (S) DH

Chris Colabello (R) 1B

Mike Moustakas (L) 3B

Troy Tulowitzki (R) SS

Salvador Perez (R) C

Russell Martin (R) C

Alex Gordon (L) LF

Kevin Pillar (R) CF

Alex Rios (R) RF

Ryan Goins (L) 2B

Injuries/Availability: Edwin Encarnacion’s finger injury is the big thing to watch. He aggravated it in Game One and still played in Game Two, so it’s unlikely he’ll be out of the lineup. It seems very possible, though, that he’ll play at a diminished level (maybe only slightly diminished, but diminished). In a perfect world, the Jays would probably slide him either up to the second slot, or down to the sixth or seventh, figuring he’s a bit less than his usual 40-homer self, and the cleanup spot is an awfully unfortunate place to pencil in a player whose power might be compromised. Among the thousand ways in which the world is imperfect, though, two are:

1. No manager thinks that way. If a guy is healthy enough to play, he nearly always bats in his customary spot.

2. Troy Tulowitzki is having a hard time at the plate right now, perhaps as he plays through the lingering effects of his cracked scapula, or perhaps for some other reason. In any event, it’d be hard to slide him up in the lineup and feel any better about things.

On the Royals’ side, Salvador Perez’s wrist will be worth watching after he got hit with a follow-through in Game One. He, too, played in Game Two, so it’s probably a non-story. Perez is huge and tough and if Ned Yost’s refusal to ever, ever give him a day off isn’t going to take him down, then neither will a few foul tips hitting his mask at 100 mph, nor bats whacking him on the arm, nor pitches hitting him clean in the ribs when he’s at bat. (Actually, come to think of it, one of those things will almost certainly take him down. But the odds that it’ll happen in this series remain relatively low.)

Outlook: Cueto found some long-elusive success by going to his sinker a lot and his four-seamer not much at all in Game Five of the ALDS, and Edinson Volquez found success by attacking Blue Jays hitters with his sinker in Game One of this series, so look for Cueto and Perez to work the bottom of the zone a lot, especially away from all those right-handed Toronto sluggers. It’s something Cueto does well naturally, and it’s crucial to keeping the Jays from playing Plinko in the high-stacked decks of seats beyond the left-field wall.

Stroman is only six starts into his season, which (it’s a cliché, I know, but there’s truth in it) means he’s really just working past his personal spring training. There’s some evidence that he’s struggling to find feel and mimic his fastball arm action with his secondary stuff, especially his breaking balls. As a result, he’s been unusually sinker-heavy in his two playoff starts so far, and he might not have the Royals as off balance on Monday night as he would under normal circumstances.

That said, the Royals offer a starter a fairly comfortable first trip or two through the order. Stroman’s pattern in 2015 has been to get increasingly sinker-reliant as he turns the lineup over, but against the swing-happy Kansas City nine, he might try to get some quick outs early with that pitch, then confound their guesses later in the game by going in other directions. It’s just one of many possible counter-strategies to the Royals’ impressive rope-a-dope plan of attack on starters lately, but it might be more effective for Stroman, who has so many weapons in his arsenal, than for many other pitchers who have tried it.

You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
I wonder if there are two teams better built for their home ballparks than the Royals and Jays.
"That said, the Royals offer a starter a fairly comfortable first trip or two through the order." Royals tied for 5th in the majors in most runs scored in the first inning in 2015.
Who was number one? I am going to guess the Jays.....
Gibbons should have tried a little harder to beat the Royals out as the best team in the AL, rather than letting all the regulars rest back-to-back games closing the season...
...that said, he's the man making the millions, not me, so I hope it all works out for 'my' team. lol