A lot of debate has swirled about these parts over how important or not important or just plain irrelevant having home field advantage throughout the playoffs may or may not be. I think there are advantages, particularly if the idea of a Blue Jays-Royals ALCS comes to fruition. Needless to say, it is better to have it than not and advantage number one of being the number one seed starts tonight as we get the pleasure of watching Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees’ best starter, face off against Houston’s best starter, Dallas Keuchel.
It will be fun game to watch and interesting in that the winner will be the Royals’ foe on Thursday, but the real pleasure comes from knowing that neither Tanaka nor Keuchel will be available to pitch in Game One versus Kansas City. Or Game Two, either, unless they come back on short rest (all the better). None of that means the Royals were just handed the first two games of the series, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
That said, who do you want to face on Thursday?
The Yankees bring back the ‘good ole days’ and ton of bad memories stemming from five game post-season series with the Bronx Bombers. It would be a fun match-up. The Astros are an exciting young team with a fair portion of their makeup being based on advanced statistics. They have guys in their front office that have eaten more pop tarts than grit. Robert Ford, former Royals’ post-game host and by all accounts a pretty decent guy, is their play by play guy. The nation would pay less attention to Royals-Astros than to Royals-Yankees, but it would be an exciting match-up.
Moving away from the touchy feely, Houston took four of six from the Royals this year, starting with a three game sweep in Houston at the end of June. The Royals lost 6-1 in a game started by Joe Blanton in front of a lineup without Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar. They were shut out the following day 4-0 by Keuchel (he’s pretty good, by the way) without Hosmer and with Perez at DH and Drew Butera catching. Kansas City then lost the finale when Kelvin Herrera gave up a run in the bottom of the seventh without allowing a hit.
The Royals lost a fourth straight to Houston in late July at home as Scott Kazmir and company shut them out on four hits. Jeremy Guthrie got the start of Kansas City, by the way, while Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez were both out of the lineup. Kansas City finally got a win the next day when Danny Duffy and Scott Feldman and friends dueled to a 1-1 tie after nine innings. Alcides Escobar (batting lead-off in the highly successful voodoo lineup) singled in Paulo Orlando in the tenth for a walk-off win. The next day, Yordano Ventura was marvelous and the Royals pounded out five runs against Keuchel for a 5-1 win.
An interesting oddity from all six of these contests: the Royals never once used the lineup they will be utilizing in the playoffs. Now, the Astros can point to the fact that George Springer was injured for the series in KC and that they themselves started three pitchers that won’t start a playoff game this year. While we are talking fun facts, Houston used 124 different lineups this season. We can count on Carlos Correa at short, Jose Altuve at second, Jason Castro behind the plate, Evan Gattis as the DH and Chris Carter at first with George Springer in the outfield. Third and other two outfielders? You’ll see some guys.
The Yankees? The Royals played them six times in the span of two weeks, winning just twice. They won two of three in Kansas City, starting with a 12-1 drubbing of Michael Pineda with Chris Young on the hill. That was the game that Mike Moustakas came up a home run shy of the cycle. New York came back for a 5-1 win over Danny Duffy (4 runs in 5 innings) with C.C. Sabathia going seven strong for the Bronx Bombers. The series was won when Edinson Volquez quieted the Yankees while Chris Capuano was no mystery to the Royals. Notable pitchers used by the Royals in this series were Joe Blanton, Jason Frasor and Aaron Brooks.
Two weeks later in New York, the Yankees lit up Jeremy Guthrie for ELEVEN RUNS in an inning and three batters. ELEVEN. The following day, Mark Teixeira hit a two run homer off Jason Vargas in the first and Joe Blanton allowed three more runs in relief as the Yanks cruised to a 5-1 victory behind Adam Warren and their own excellent bullpen. In the series finale, Chris Young allowed a home run to Brian McCann (no doubt hit ‘the right way’) in the second and another to Alex Rodriguez in the third, while the Michael Pineda rebounded to quiet the Royals on the way to a 4-2 win.
When it comes down to which team you would prefer the Royals face, I lean towards the Yankees. With Teixeira out and A-Rod fading considerably down the stretch, their best hitter might be 22 year old Gregory Bird who has played in 46 major league games. Again factoring in the Teixeira injury and A-Rod fade, this is not a team that gets on-base particularly well nor are they particularly overpowering. With Tanaka throwing tonight and Pineda having pitched on Sunday, who starts Game One for them? Twenty-one year old Luis Severino? Like the Royals, you do not want to get into the New York bullpen, but I like Ventura-Cueto over whomever and Pineda to get the series started.
In Houston, you have a dangerous team with good starting pitching. The Royals would likely face some combination of Scott Kazmir, Collin McHugh or Lance McCullers in the first two games with Keuchel coming back for Game Three in Houston. The Astros are a tremendous team playing at home and the worst road team in the American League. Their bullpen is good and they have Correa, Springer and Altuve – which is nothing to sneeze at. Carlos Gomez is on this team, but has not played well and not been healthy. Is it a stretch to say the two most athletic teams in the league are the Royals and Astros? That makes for some exciting baseball.
Houston is young. The Yankees are old. Houston has little tradition. New York has a bit (not sure if you’ve heard that). A Royals-Yankees ALDS would allow plenty of opportunity for me to regale my kids with stories of ‘when I was a boy and George Brett faced Goose Gossage..’ A Royals-Astros ALDS would leave (win or lose) a lot of us thinking ‘how are we going to beat those guys next year?’
My confidence level against the Yankees is higher, simply because I like the matchup against their starting pitching. That is little analysis and all gut. I’m old, I get to use my gut…..if only to annoy the younger crowd.
- The playoff roster? My seven year old can name the first 23. Nine regulars, plus Butera, Colon and Dyson. Four starters, plus Young, Davis, Herrera, Madson, Duffy, Hochevar and Morales. Now, who gets the last two spots? My guess, Jonny Gomes gets one, if only to pinch-hit against a left-hander once or twice when it matters. The last spot? Feels like maybe Terrance Gore or Paulo Orlando. Seems weird to have a roster with six outfielders and only one back-up infielder, but who else would it be?
- The over under on how many times the national media talks about the Royals being the bad boys and headhunters this post-season is set at 81. And no, it is apparently not relevant that eight American League teams have hit more batters than Royals’ pitchers have. Included in the teams that have hit more batters are Texas, Toronto and New York.
- You just know that Alcides Escobar is going to hit .300 or better in the ALDS, right? Ned Yost is smirking at us. Weird how that smirk is funny instead of annoying when you just finished a 95-67 season, isn’t it?