The Royals host the Blue Jays in game one of the ALCS tonight. Just like we expected, right?

Well, maybe for most of the past two months. But last weekend, when the Royals trailed Houston 2–1 and Toronto trailed Texas 2–0 in their respective division series, an all-Texas AL final looked much more likely.

But the two best teams in the AL righted their ships, made big comebacks, and now we’ve got the series that has had a slow fuse burning on it since the teams last met in early August. You know, when tonight’s Kansas City starter Edinson Volquez kept throwing fastballs in the vicinity of Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson’s head, when the benches cleared twice, and when Volquez said Donaldson was “crying like a little baby” after the game. Good times!

Before we dive into that, a few words about how the teams got here. After Monday’s comeback in Houston, the Royals cruised through game five. The final was 7–2, that’s an easy win, right? Not exactly. An infield error and a good swing on a minor mistake by Johnny Cueto put the Astros up 2–0 in the second. That lead held for two innings as the Royals bats continued to slumber. The Royals finally cut it to one in the 4th on a classic Royals play – Lorenzo Cain scoring from first on a shallow single by Eric Hosmer. They took the lead in the 5th when Alex Rios, of all people, hit a two-run double and scored two batters later.

From there on, it was the Johnny Baseball show. Cueto was all the Royals wanted him to be and more, retiring the last 19 batters he faced. There were some dazzling defensive plays behind him, but for the most part the Astros could not solve him. It was fabulous to watch.

Then the cherry on top, Kendrys Morales crushing a Dallas Keuchel pitch in the 8th to send Kaufman into a frenzy.

The Royals have to feel a little fortunate to get through the series. They were six outs away from going home for the winter in game four. But then they did what they do, and they’re moving on. That Houston team is a lot of fun to watch. They are going to be really good for quite awhile. I’m glad the Royals delayed their glory days by at least one season. I’ll be rooting for the Astros if they are playing anyone but the Royals next October.

As good as that game was, it was completely overshadowed by what happened in Toronto a couple hours earlier. The Rangers take a late lead on a bizarre play that I had never seen before: a run came home when the catcher hit a Ranger player’s bat with his return throw after a pitch. Between the review and the Toronto fans pelting the field, there was a 20 minute delay. Then in the bottom of the inning, nine outs from advancing, the Rangers made three-straight errors, got a force out that kept the bases loaded, gave up a 90-foot bloop that tied the game, and then gave up an 976 foot home run that won it. On the home run, Jose Bautista did the mother of all bat flips. Oh, and since this is the Blue Jays we’re talking about, benches cleared a few times along the way.

A quick aside about the bat flip: In general I’m pro bat flip.[1] I find most criticism of them tired. But I admit to some occasional hypocritical thinking on them. I do not like the Blue Jays or Bautista. In the moment, I hated his bat flip. But later on, I realized to be consistent I had to give it a pass. I will say this, though: for a guy who chirps about how other people play the game a lot, Bautista needs to look in the mirror. You can’t be pissed about how other people celebrate and enjoy their success when you’re glaring at the pitcher and screaming while you throw your bat ten feet.

So the history between these two teams, and the emotions both are riding should make this series extra interesting. Throw in Donaldson and Bautista’s hypersensitivity about any pitcher attempting to control the inside of the plate, and I’d set the over/under on bench clearing “discussions” at 0.7/game for the series.

I think the whole key to the series are the Royals starting pitchers. If they can control the Toronto bats, avoid big innings, and stay in the game, the Royals can absolutely win this series. That doesn’t mean they have to be near-perfect like Cueto was Wednesday. But they do have to find a way to keep hard-hit balls in play rather than sailing over the walls. They have to pitch inside with control, so they don’t get tossed because they hit their second batter of the night. And they can’t get lost in the emotions of the series.

Last week I picked Toronto to win. If I was a betting man I’d still go with that. But I’m not, and I’m still filled with the good feelings from Monday and Wednesday. The Royals are the most experienced team left in the playoffs. They won’t panic if they get down 4–1 early. They’re the better defensive team. They have enough arms in the pen to provide relief if a starter has racked up a high pitch count in the middle innings trying to avoid the big blast. My heart says Royals in seven, with Cueto going 2–0, including the clinching win.

  1. I LOVED Kendrys Morales’ reaction to his shot in KC. The skipping, the yelling AT HIS OWN dugout. That was a classic Wake The Kids moment in my basement.  ↩