Feels Like 1985: Blue Jays and Royals Set to Square Off

Thirty years ago, the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals met in the American League Championship Series. Toronto ended the regular season with a 99-62 record and took a three-games-to-one stranglehold against Kansas City (91-71). The Royals came back to tie the series before lighting up Dave Stieb in game seven en route to a 6-2 victory.

The Blue Jays will take their shot at redemption against a team they chased for home field advantage, but it will be far from easy.

“We Are Heat”

That is what Toronto chanted after clinching the American League East, and then again after winning the division series. This may as well be Toronto trying to explain their heated rivalry with the Royals this season. Last time these two juggernauts squared off it was Edinson Volquez and MVP candidate Josh Donaldson who stole the show. The 32-year-old right-hander hit Donaldson early in the game before throwing up and in at his head his next at-bat. Troy Tulowitzki was beaned by Ryan Madson before Aaron Sanchez drilled Alcides Escobar in the leg, which led to Sanchez’s ejection. The benches cleared, the bullpen cleared, and tempers boiled over. If this was a prequel to how this series will be played out, all baseball eyes should be glued to a television tonight. Volquez gets the ball in game one. Marco Estrada will be his counterpart.

The Blue Jays got the best of Kansas City when it came to the regular season, winning four out of seven games and narrowly outscoring them 39 to 33 throughout.

Hired Aces

David Price and Johnny Cueto both need to pitch to their pedigree if either team has a shot in going to the World Series. Since being acquired from Cincinnati, Cueto has been mediocre, aside from his appearance in Game 5 against Houston, where he retired 19 batters in a row at one point. During the 2015 campaign, the seven-year veteran was 4-7 for Kansas City, with a 4.76 ERA. In the postseason, his record reads 1-0 with an ERA of 3.86. For Price, it has been the polar opposite. The 30-year-old had been absolute money for the Blue Jays since the trade deadline, winning nine out of eleven starts, and was virtually unhittable. The postseason has been a different story for him, going 2-6 lifetime, with both wins coming as a relief pitcher. Cueto took the no-decision in his only appearance against the Blue Jays, going six innings, allowing three earned runs, with seven strikeouts. Price had two starts against Kansas City while playing for the Tigers, going 1-0 with a one-run complete game.

Creating Magic

Both teams have conjured up some late game heroics this postseason. After going down 6-2 in their elimination game against Houston, Kansas City battled back for five runs on five straight singles in the eighth inning. They would go on to take game four 9-6 before clinching the series in a decisive game five. The Toronto Blue Jays are no strangers to this. Losing both games at home to begin their postseason, the highest-scoring offense in the league was able to take two in hostile territory before winning game five in spectacular fashion. No matter what the score is between these two, whether in the series or each game, they have a reputation of battling back to uphold.

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Getting It Done Offensively

Both clubs have been successful with the bat in their hands — you don’t get this far without doing so — but they have done it in different ways. The Blue Jays use their power, while the Royals use their small ball opportunities. Toronto owned the league in almost every offensive category (HR, OBP, OPS, SLG, XBH, R, RBI), whereas Kansas City planted somewhere in the top seven in each of those headings, except home runs (24th). The Royals will single you to death, and take their chances on the base paths. Ned Yost‘s club was second in the league in hits, behind only Detroit, and second in the American League in stolen bases, behind Houston. Two different yet effective offenses will be going toe-to-toe, putting the “home runs tend to dry out in the postseason” mentality to the test.

Prediction

I am not one to believe in that philosophy. Toronto may have one of the best offenses in the history of baseball, and are a multi-dimensional team with a deep rotation. Kansas City will steal games on pure willpower and their tenacity to, well, steal. They are aggressive on the base paths — look no further than Rougned Odor in the last series to see just how effective good base running can be. But, if David Price can return to regular season form while Marcus Stroman continues to dominate the postseason, I believe the Blue Jays win this series in six. But wow, what a series this will be. 

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