Another postseason day off and another postseason day with little in the way of news. The series returns to Kauffman with Yordano Ventura on the mound Friday.
After winning the first two at The K, the Royals were able to take one of three north of the border. After the first two wins, it would have been nice to close the series out without the return trip to Kansas City, but it feels like getting a win in Toronto was a good result. The Royals now have two chances to put the series away on home turf.
Ventura met the media ahead of his Game Six start but didn’t offer much in the way of interest. As McCullough points out, the young Royals flamethrower has yet to author a notable postseason performance this October. Playoff statistics are fraught with small sample size caveats, but it’s impossible to escape the fact Ventura has allowed 16 hits in just over 12 innings of work while walking six. It’s too many baserunners. On the other hand, he’s whiffed 16. We’ve seen an electric Ventura who has been prone to leaving hittable pitches in the zone.
You don’t need me to write that Ventura has been in this position before. We all remember Game Six of the 2014 World Series. It’s not exactly the same situation – the Royals returned from San Francisco needing to win both games, this time they need just one win and have two opportunities to secure it – nevertheless, there is something comforting to hear “Game Six starter, Yordano Ventura.”
If it feels like the pressure is on Ventura (at least from a fan’s perspective) it’s because we all know who’s lurking in a potential Game Seven. After watching the train wreck on the mound in Toronto, who could openly get excited about a Johnny Cueto start in another elimination game? As masterful as he was in the ALDS against Houston in the fifth game, there was absolutely nothing to like about his start at Rogers Center. Therein lies the problem: Which Johnny Cueto will show up? Your guess is as good as mine. We can psychoanalyze all day long, but the only way we will know the definitive answer is when he actually puts the ball in his right hand and let’s it fly. Which is exactly why fans are so nervous about having Cueto on the mound in Game Seven.
If you look at the offensive numbers through five, it looks like the Royals are cruising. They have outscored the Jays 34-23 and own a .296/.335/.450 line. Toronto has countered hitting .239/.330/.374. Again, the small sample size caveat applies here, but I bring it up to point out that ahead of Game Five, the Royals offense was in fine form. The top third of the order – Alcides Escobar, Ben Zobrist, and Lorenzo Cain – have been brilliant. Alex Gordon shouldn’t be hitting eighth (everyone knows this) but there is something comforting about having his bat anchoring the lower half of the order and setting the table for the top. It’s not the smartest way to draw up the lineup, but like most everything Ned Yost does in October, it just seems to work.
Speaking of Yost, a post at Fangraphs confirms what many suspected about his handling of his starters this October – He’s been a lot more patient, often with poor results. While it’s certainly understandable that Yost trusts in his guys, in the short season of the playoff series, and with the best bullpen in baseball just a phone call away, Yost has been at times too slow to go to the hook for his starters. The way he handled Chris Young in Game Four was perfection. Once the order turned over a third time, he was removed at the first baserunner. That just happened to be the leadoff hitter in the fifth inning. Still, it was a perfectly deployed strategy to not allow Young to face Josh Donaldson and possibly Jose Bautista a third time. In Game Five, the opposite was true. In the sixth inning of a 1-0 game, the order turned over a third time. Yes, Volquez had pitched brilliantly through the first five, but with a fully rested (at least for the trustworthy arms) bullpen at his disposal, Yost waited too long. The Jays tallied a run on three walks and a hit batter. Inexcusable given the situation.
The only thing I can come up with on why this happens is the manager is falling into some sort of starting pitching bias. Chris Young is a guy who generally can give you five innings at the most. So when he starts showing signs of a struggle in the fourth, Yost goes to the bullpen. However, starters like Volquez and Cueto routinely go deeper into games. They can give you seven strong innings, so they should be able to escape the sixth, right? We saw such a high wire act in Game One when Volquez needed 37 pitches to survive the sixth. If you’re being honest, the Royals were fortunate that didn’t blow up and turn the game in the Jays favor.
You have to think today with Ventura on the mound, and with the lessons of Volquez in Game Five and Cueto in Game Three, Yost will have a quicker hook. Again, his prime relievers are rested and ready to go. He can mix and match to get multiple innings from some and still have a stocked pen in the eventuality the series goes the full seven.
This is a difficult series to get an accurate read. It would have been nice if this series was like the NLCS for the Mets, where they simply destroyed the Cubs. But that was never in the plan here. The Royals and the Jays were the top two teams in the AL and they figured to stand toe to toe and slug it out from there. Both teams are landing haymakers. One team will be standing at the end. Game on.