Everything is new. We’re approaching the second week of October and instead of wondering what rash move Dayton Moore will make minutes after the final out of the World Series, the Royals and Ned Yost are setting their pitching rotation for the American League Championship Series.
The American League Championship Series!
We know James Shields is throwing in the first game. That makes sense. Shields is the Royals de facto “ace.” He was the best starter on a strong staff this season. He threw in the Wild Card and in the clincher over the Angels in the ALDS. Yost thought about this for half a second before writing his name down with a Sharpie.
How about the rest of the rotation?
Here’s how I’d like it to look:
Game Two – Yordano Ventura
The Orioles are going to bring right-handed thunder in this series. They led the majors in home runs this summer and the heart of their order will consist of Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz, Steve Pearce followed by JJ Hardy. Jonathan Schoop hits at the bottom of the order, but he hit 16 home runs this season. Baltimore’s top left-handed power bat, Chris Davis, won’t make the roster as he serves out the rest of his 50-game suspension.
Oriole Park plays neutral to the home run this year. Which seems strange to me, because when I think about Baltimore, I think of the park as a little bandbox. Either way, I’m leery of the long ball and want to do everything I can to steal a game (or two) in Baltimore and Ventura gives the Royals the best chance. His 47.6 percent ground ball rate was the best of the Royals rotation and his 31.1 percent fly ball rate was the lowest. Game One starter Shields has the second-best ground ball rate at 45.2 percent and second-lowest fly ball rate at 34.1 percent. Throwing those two guys at the start of the series gives the Royals a great shot out of the gate.
Game Three – Jeremy Guthrie
We haven’t seen Guthrie this postseason, but it’s time to give him the ball in Game Three. Guthrie is certainly home run prone, but the hope here is a cool fall night at the K and a stellar defense neutralizes any advantage the Orioles may have in facing a fly ball, back of the rotation starter. Guthrie faced the Orioles twice in the regular season, throwing a total of 15 innings, allowing 14 hits, two walks and a home run. I’m not looking at a small sample size and giving him the ball based on that. It’s just info you’ll hear. The O’s will get base runners against Guthrie, but the hope is, he can minimize the damage as he did in his best starts of the season.
The added benefit of throwing Guthrie in Game Three is the bullpen will have a day of rest, so all the arms should be fresh, should they be pressed into service early. Also, I throw Guthrie in Game Three because I like him in a do or die Game Seven should the series go the distance. Mind you, I’m not advocating Guthrie as the ideal Game Seven starter. I’m saying with Shields and Ventura unavailable, he would be the best option in Baltimore.
Game Four – Jason Vargas
As much as I enjoyed the renaissance of Danny Duffy this year, I’m just not comfortable giving him the ball in a starting role against the Orioles. Duffy is an extreme fly ball pitcher (46 percent) and those right-handed bats… No. Also, I’m not sold he’s at a point where he can go deep into a start. He’s made just three appearances since the end of August – not counting his one-pitch start in New York – and has thrown a total of nine innings. Instead, I’ll turn to Vargas who bounced back from a rough September to deliver a shut-down performance against the Angels. Sure, he gave up a couple of bombs, but fortunately they came with the bases empty.
Game Five – Shields
Game Six – Ventura
Game Seven – All Hands On Deck
With a potential Game Seven in Baltimore, there’s no way I’m throwing a left-handed fly ball pitcher. So I’ll start with Guthrie, knowing that this is the game where everyone is available. Duffy and Vargas are options, but if they’re coming in the game, the Royals are already bleeding out and it’s probably too late.
This isn’t gospel. I would listen to arguments for anyone beyond Shields and Ventura in the first two games. I’m simply laying out my reasoning for what I think is the best rotation for the Royals in this series. With Brandon Finnegan, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland in the back of the bullpen, it’s possible the Royals will need only five innings from a Guthrie or Vargas. The Royals have a solid rotation, but it looks a helluva lot better with a lockdown bullpen behind them.
This rotation gets four starts from the Royals top two starters as soon as possible. I’m not about holding a starter for a Game Seven that may never happen. Get the best on the mound early and see how things roll.