By: Joe Botana
After the first few games of the two AL Division series, it looked as if we might have an improbable all-Texas matchup in the ALCS. However, sanity and order were restored, and both the upstart Astros and surprising Rangers were sent home in their respective game fives by the two favorites. As a result, tonight begins the much anticipated contest between the two teams who were the class of the AL during the 2015 season. The Royals arrive with the best regular season record. The Blue Jays come in with a dominant “for the ages” lead in run differential. It promises to be a fantastic matchup for the right to represent the Junior Circuit in the World Series.
Tonight’s game will be played in KC’s Kauffman Stadium. Marco Estrada (13-8 / 3.13 ERA) takes the ball for the Jays after holding Texas to one run over 6 2/3 innings in game three of the ALDS. He will be opposed by the Royals Edinson Volquez (13-9 / 3.55 ERA). Volquez also pitched in game three of KC’s ALDS Series, yielding three runs on five hits and striking out eight Astros batters. Estrada was 1-1 against the Royals during the regular season, while Volquez had an 0-1 record against the Jays.
There is very little basis for giving either team an edge in either the game or the series. In an MLB.com position by position analysis of the series, both teams have a roughly even number of positions where they have a clear advantage.
During the regular season, the Blue Jays had a slight advantage, with a 4-3 record. The Royals had the edge at home by a 2-1 margin, while the Jays prevailed in Toronto with a 3-1 series record. Given that the series will play four games in KC if it goes to the full seven games, this might imply a very slight advantage for KC. Most of the seven games were fairly close, though they ranged from low-scoring affairs to a couple of slugfests (11-10 and 7-6) which were both won by the Royals. Both teams made important trade deadline acquisitions to prepare themselves for the post season. The Royals acquired Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, while the Jays made arguably the two biggest splashes when they signed David Price and Troy Tulowitzki.
Both teams come into this series with the confident swagger fashioned in the crucible of adversity. After finding themselves on the verge of elimination in the series, and behind in critical games, they fought back and prevailed. The Jays are now the upstart, making the playoffs for the first time since Bill Clinton was President. The Royals clearly have “unfinished business” on their mind, having come tantalizingly close to a World Series Title last fall in their first playoff appearance since the Reagan administration. It should be a Heavyweight Title Fight of a series, and Round One begins tonight.