Toronto Blue Jays (-115, 8.5 o/u) at Kansas City Royals (+105)
The last time these two teams met (in early August in Toronto), things got a little heated, to say the least. And as Yordano Ventura tweeted a diatribe against Jose Bautista on his way out of town, the collective sports world thought: please don’t let that be the last meeting of the year.
Thankfully, our pleas were answered. Now the Toronto Blue Jays will visit the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium for Game 1 of the ALCS tonight (8:07 PM Eastern).
Let’s reflect on how improbable it was that we even reached this rematch, though. Back in August, the Jays entered that four-game series against K.C. as a .500 ball club. They had just brought in their trade deadline bounty, but were still seven games back in the A.L. East. It quickly became a narrative that the series win over the Royals was a galvanizing moment, a time when teammates, new and old, stood up for one another.
That momentum carried them all the way to an ALDS series, in which they fell behind two games before clawing back and winning on the strength of the “bat flip heard round the world!”
The Royals were in trouble in their own playoff opener, too, after being AL favorites for most of the year. They fell behind to Houston two games to one and then found themselves down four runs in the eighth inning of Game 4. But they rallied back to give every baseball fan outside of Texas (and maybe Baltimore) a dream ALCS.
The speed of the Royals, the power of the Jays: all of it will be on full display in Game 1. The Royals are one of the few teams that will pitch the Jays inside and Edinson Volquez (13-9, 3.55 ERA) is the leader of that movement. It will be interesting to see if his beef with Josh Donaldson comes out in this game. As prideful a sport as baseball is, giving up free bases in the playoffs is a foolish move.
Going for the Jays is righty Marco Estrada (13-8, 3.13 ERA), arguably the savior of their season after he went 6.1 innings and gave up just one run in Game 3 against Texas. A fly-ball pitcher, he should be well-served by the capacious Kauffman Stadium, and keeping the ball in the air will limit the speed element of the Royals’ offense. However, Estrada taking the mound also means that his personal catcher, Dioner Navarro, will start the game, leaving Russell Martin’s canon of an arm on the bench; Martin threw out a league-high 44-percent of would-be base stealers (32 total, also a league-high).
Volquez lost a duel with Dallas Keuchel in Houston in Game 3 of the division series, going 5.2 innings and giving up three runs. But, on the season, his home numbers have been excellent, holding opponents to a .236 average and serving up just six homers over 16 starts.
Both these orders have plenty of pop in their bats to change a game with one swing: each team has eight dingers in five postseason games. (The Royals’ Kendrys Morales leads the field with three.) This is shaping up to be a long, hard-fought series with plenty of momentum shifts. But, for Game 1, roll with the more experienced Royals to get out in front at home.
Pick: Royals (+105).
(Photo Credit: Keith Allison (Originally posted to Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].)
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