Wednesday, October 14, 2015

2015 ALCS Preview

By Rick Morris

NOTE: Playoff picks thus far are 2-3, 2-1 in the LDS round.

Toronto vs. Kansas City: Strangely enough, exactly 30 years after the one and only time that the Blue Jays and Royals met in the playoffs, they converge once again in the American League Championship Series.  That run marked the very beginning of Toronto’s ascent, as they rebounded from the disappointment of losing the first ever best-of-7 ALCS after taking a 3-1 lead by remaining in contention for several years, earning ALCS appearances again in 1989 and 1991 before breaking through to win it all in 1992-93.  And they hadn’t been back to the playoffs until this year.  Kansas City, on the other hand, suffered through their years of knocking on the door from 1976-84, with five division titles and one pennant in that stretch before replicating the 3-1 comeback against the Cardinals in the ’85 World Series.  So these teams, who have in consecutive seasons broken the longest playoff droughts in the game, really were ships passing in the night three decades ago.

What’s weird about Toronto’s first-round win over Texas is how thoroughly it mirrored the entire 2013-15 era for the Blue Jays – the one in which they were expected to actually be a really good team.  The tank jobs in Games 1 and 2 at home were sort of the microcosms of 2013 and 2014, with the heroics in the last 60% of the series demonstrating the greatness that is present in the 2015 team.  The 7th inning of Game 5 will be remembered until the end of time, but what’s most notable is that the Jays actually survived the debacle with Russell Martin’s “error” that allowed the go-ahead run.  Situations like that usually represent the end of the road and that’s what drove the ferocity of the fan riot.  Well, that and beer.  You can’t forget the beer.

FDH Lounge Dignitary Steve Kallas has posited that, when Toronto bats their “Core Four” in the first four lineup spots, it may be the best such crew to run 1-4 ever.  That is entirely possible, although stacking the lineup in that exact manner is somewhat rare, as Steve admits.  Largely because of the explosiveness of the lineup, which some might compare to the 1995 Cleveland Indians in terms of relatively recent vintage, the Blue Jays are so much better on paper than the Rangers that the first two games of the ALDS seemed to reinforce a “science is dead” thought that truly anything can happen in a very short series these days.  But over the course of the next few games, the Jays reasserted themselves with authority, proving that, especially against the good-but-not-great pitching staffs in the American League playoffs this year, Toronto has what it takes to wear them out.  When there’s an inability to get career-year stud Chris Colabello at-bats every day, you’ve even got the kind of depth that can even help greatly with late-inning pinch-hitting.  On the mound, David Price’s late-inning heroics in Game 4 redeemed him somewhat for a rough start to the series that, like Clayton Kershaw, played into a career-long October narrative.  As Toronto improved on the mound in 2015 with the acquisition of Price, the late-season return from injury of Marcus Stroman and the emergence of young Roberto Osuna as a legit closer, the Jays became the kind of full-spectrum threat that belies the fact that they only finished with the league’s second-best record.  Given this squad throughout a full season, they probably win about 105 games.

The Royals’ offense, while it can’t match Toronto’s, is well-balanced and above-average.  With shifting and positioning being such a large part of the game today, Kansas City of course boasts that great defense, but they also are better at consistently making contact than most other teams – so they have the capacity to extend innings, which is crucial in the playoffs.  If you figure that Johnny Cueto and David Price are a wash, Toronto takes the edge for the rest of the starting pitchers, while the Royals similarly rate the advantage in the bullpen thanks to the lights-out 8th/9th-inning combo.  Kansas City having home field will be big, largely because it keeps that extra game out of the raucous Rogers Center.  The Royals proved their resiliency time and time again in the 2014 sprint to Game 7 of the World Series and survived the near-death  experience of Game 4 in Houston – but Toronto’s emergence from the now-legendary 7th inning of Game 5 was just as epic.  Had Texas maintained the early momentum of their series and shockingly polished off Team Canada, then the narrative would look like what’s been piled at the doorstop of the Los Angeles Dodgers these past few years: an assemblage of high-wattage talent, but not enough of a coherent team to rise to the occasion in October.  One epic game inside a thunderdome eradicated that description once and for all.  The Blue Jays may not be able to go toe-to-toe with the Royals in terms of autumn grit, but with the advantages in lineup explosiveness and rotation depth, they won’t quite have to in order to avenge the flameout of 1985.  Pick: Toronto in 6.

NLDS: Los Angeles Dodgers over New York Mets in 5.

NLCS: Los Angeles Dodgers over Chicago Cubs in 6.

World Series: Toronto over Los Angeles Dodgers in 6.

No comments: