Blue Jays vs. Royals: Keys for Each Team to Win ALCS Game 1

Anthony Witrado@@awitradoFeatured ColumnistOctober 16, 2015

Blue Jays vs. Royals: Keys for Each Team to Win ALCS Game 1

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    With a sighing exhale of relief, the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals have survived.

    Both teams’ American League Division Series were pushed to fifth and deciding games. At times in each series, the Blue Jays and Royals both looked left for dead before their incredible resurrections shoved them into this American League Championship Series, ripe with the league’s two best regular-season records.

    The Blue Jays were the team that surged in the second half, spurred by key trades for David Price, Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins along with a boiling-hot offense and a revived R.A. Dickey. They eventually also got the services of Marcus Stroman, who ended up with a couple of quality starts in the ALDS against the Texas Rangers.

    The Royals were the club that almost went wire-to-wire and ended with the best record in the Junior Circuit. They did it with the same core of budding stars they won the pennant with last season, helped this time around by Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto, trade-deadline acquisitions who, at times, were significant contributors to their run to and through the ALDS against the Houston Astros.

    Now, with improbable series wins behind them, the Blue Jays and Royals face off in the ALCS with Game 1 kicking it off Friday in Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Edinson Volquez Must Be Better

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    Patric Schneider/Associated Press

    In an ideal situation, Edinson Volquez would not be seeing the ALCS mound until Game 3 at the earliest. But because the Royals had to start Yordano Ventura in Game 4 and Johnny Cueto in the deciding Game 5 of the ALDS, the ball is given to Volquez here.

    For the Royals to have a chance behind him, the veteran right-hander has to be better than he was in his Game 3 start against the Houston Astros. In that game, he allowed three runs in 5.2 innings, but he also allowed five hits and walked four, making him quite fortunate the damage was not worse.

    If he puts that many runners on against this Blue Jays lineup, he will pay, and the eventual cost could be a Game 1 defeat.

    More so than inquiries about Volquez being able to handle Toronto’s lineup, his Thursday press conference was filled with questions about the last time he faced the team in August. Volquez was good in that start, going six innings and allowing two runs, but the teams also had a benches-clearing incident that led to Volquez calling Toronto MVP candidate Josh Donaldson a “little baby” and Donaldson saying Volquez being on the mound was “some pretty good hitting.”

    “It's over with,” Volquez told reporters. “We've got to move forward.”

Marco Estrada Keeping Things Rolling

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Of all the players on the Blue Jays roster who made a major contribution to their second-half outburst, Marco Estrada might be the most overlooked by the national audience. He won’t be any longer. 

    Estrada surged into the playoffs quite dominant in his final 15 starts of the regular season. He had a 2.78 ERA in that time and opponents hit .183 against him. He also carried a pair of no-hitters into the eighth inning in consecutive starts in June, before those last 15 turns.

    In his Game 3 start against the Texas Rangers in the ALDS, Estrada continued his roll by pitching 6.1 innings and allowing one run while striking out four and walking nobody in a must-win elimination game.

    Had the Blue Jays not pitched David Price in relief in Game 4 of the ALDS, which they easily could have avoided, Price would be on full rest for Game 1 of this series. But the team’s confidence in Estrada allowed it to tap Price, knowing it had a worthy arm waiting in the wings.

    Blue Jays manager John Gibbons spoke to reporters about the pitching situation in his press conference Thursday:

    What it came down to these guys all have a lot of innings under their belt. Let's try to get some normalcy back to them a little bit, where you're not pitching on short rest. Even though Dave threw 50 pitches the other day, but he was coming back, he was up the night before. That's wear and tear. So let's get him back on his normal, just like everybody else. And Estrada, we felt that would be the best way to go.

Blue Jays Riding Their Wave of Momentum

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    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

    "Momentum" is a terrible word in the baseball world. Looking at the concept logically, it has no place or standing in the game when a comeback walk-off win the night before can create momentum that can be lost on the team’s very next pitch on the very next day. 

    Then again, the postseason is something of a different beast, and when a team wins three consecutive elimination games to get to this Game 1, and they do it in the most dramatic and ridiculous of fashions, logic goes out the window.

    The Blue Jays’ dramatic seventh inning in Game 5 against Texas, capped by Jose Bautista’s iconic home run for the franchise, is the stuff baseball momentum is made of if it does exist. And if it does, the Blue Jays can ride it through this first game and a road victory.

Perez, Morales Providing More Power

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    Salvador Perez
    Salvador PerezDenny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    During the regular season, the Royals’ 139 home runs battled to be the lowest total in the American League. Turns out it was enough for second-fewest.

    During the postseason, Kendrys Morales and Salvador Perez, the team’s leading home run hitters during the season along with Mike Moustakas, have provided the pop in the playoffs. Morales has three, and Perez has two.

    The Royals as a team have the postseason’s highest OBP (.321), and in a series that could be high scoring, at least on the Toronto side considering its offense and Kansas City’s rotation (5.06 playoff ERA), they’ll need Perez and Morales to keep driving those guys in with their power.

    The Royals have other capable bats in the lineup. Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon are plenty capable of producing the long ball, but based on recent history, the team will need its two big-bodied sluggers to keep the power on against Toronto.

Winning the Bullpen Battle

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    Wade Davis
    Wade DavisPeter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

    The Royals have a dominant bullpen, and for the most part, it has been so during the postseason. The Blue Jays relievers have been better

    However, Toronto’s bullpen has already taken a hit before this series starts with Brett Cecil (2.48 regular-season ERA) out of commission with a torn calf muscle. But the Jays still have a group that put up a 2.37 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 19 playoff innings, and opponents hit .209 against it.

    Plus, 20-year-old closer Roberto Osuna did not allow a run in four postseason appearances (5.2 innings) and struck out six without a walk. He got a five-out save with four strikeouts in Game 5 against Texas on Wednesday.

    While the Royals’ run prevention has not been as good as Toronto’s in the playoffs (3.12 ERA), it has still been fine, and Kansas City's 27 strikeouts in 17.1 innings is flat-out dominant.

    Closer Wade Davis has not allowed a run in four innings, and Luke Hochevar has not allowed one in 2.2 innings. Setup man Kelvin Herrera has allowed one in three innings, but he’s also struck out six hitters in that span. Ryan Madson has struck out seven in three innings, but he gave up back-to-back home runs in his last outing against the Astros.

    The Royals have the deeper bullpen, but the Blue Jays’ relief horses have been better at preventing runners and runs in the small sample. Whichever group can keep up its production as that sample gets larger, that team’s chances of winning this series and moving on to the World Series go up dramatically.

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