What a difference a year makes. This time last year, the Royals had just come off their epic – no EPIC – win over Oakland in the Wild Card series and were headed to Anaheim to take on the Angels, who had the best record in the American League. Would there be an emotional hangover from the Wild Card win? Could the Royals pitching staff silence the Angels bats? Could the Royals get on base enough to make their speed a factor? There were so many questions going into that series, all of which were answered emphatically.
This year it’s the Royals who enter the ALDS with home field advantage earned over a 162 game season. They face a young, upstart team that has tons of speed and plays fantastic defense.
But this series seems a lot more even than that Royals-Angels series looked on paper before it began. The biggest question I see as the series begins is which version of the Royals rotation will show up? The version that struggled through late August and the first half of September? If it is that one, they’re in serious trouble. Or will it be the rotation that seemed to find its footing in mid-September and closed the regular season strong? If so, combined with a better bullpen than Houston, I feel good about the Royals chances.
Last year I was nervous going into the Angels series. Nervous because I was worried the Royals wouldn’t be able to compete. Nervous because I didn’t want their first post-season series in 29 years to end in three or four games. Turned out those worries were needless, and that series was a hell of a lot of fun. And despite that nervousness, there was an underlying joy in the Royals finally making the playoffs.
This year I’m nervous because of the Royals’ September swoon. I’m nervous because Houston has a lefty ace in Dallas Keuchel that, even though he’s a completely different kind of pitcher, brings back nightmares of Madison Bumgarner last October. I’m nervous about Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez. I’m nervous that the series could come down to Kris Medlen or Chris Young needing to make a huge start to save the series. I’m nervous because all the pressure is on the Royals this year after their regular season.
The more I think about it, this feels a lot like March, where I’m more nervous about KU losing than excited about them winning. Perhaps not quite to that point; I’ve been making sure to enjoy what the Royals accomplished this year and despite my concerns, I’m approaching the ALDS with feelings of excitement and optimism. But being the favorite does change the size of the butterflies a little.
I hope the boys are ready.
Now for some predictions.
Royals over Astros in four. I DO NOT want to have to face Keuchel in game five. All games are close and the Royals bullpen is the difference.
Blue Jays over Rangers. Two hottest teams in the league go at each other hard for five games. Lots of runs, maybe a few tense moments after bat flips are rewarded with high-and-tight heat.
Cardinals over Cubs. Too bad for Chicago that Jake Arrieta can’t start all five games. I take experience over youth here. I went to lunch today with a friend who is a Cardinals fan. He’s convinced they’re going to lose.
Dodgers over Mets. Neither team is a paragon of health. Kershaw and Greinke are the difference.
Blue Jays over Royals. 1985 is avenged! David Price steals a game at the K, and that tips the series Toronto’s way.
Cardinals over Dodgers. The Cards continue their strange, October mastery of Kershaw.
Blue Jays over Cardinals in six. Toronto made some masterful moves around the trading deadline. They shocked the world in getting Troy Tulowitzki. They waited long enough to get David Price. They shored up their bullpen and outfield. Then they got starter Marcus Stroman back in September. All the while, they were absolutely sizzling hot for nearly three months. Those moves all pay off as Price is nearly unhittable and the hitters continue to mash.