An October off day yielded some news.
As the Royals worked out in Toronto and the bullpen recharged their arms for another game, manager Ned Yost announced that Chris Young would be the starter of Game Four on Tuesday.
It’s an interesting choice, given that the Blue Jays have pulverized pitching in their home yard and Young profiles as the most extreme fly ball pitcher in the league. No team in the AL has hit more home runs than the Jays 232. No pitcher who threw more than 120 innings had a higher fly ball rate than Young’s 58 percent.
Young pitched sparingly after he was moved the the bullpen following a July 28th start. He made just 10 relief appearances, throwing 12 innings. The results were OK, though. He allowed five runs and struck out 10 with a 3.65 ERA. He limited opponents to a .212 BABIP. Pushed to the rotation when it was clear Jeremy Guthrie would not be an adequate October option, Young excelled again. In two starts to close out the regular season, he threw 11 innings and allowed just 1 run while striking out seven. Included in that was the September 27 start in the Royals home finale against Cleveland he threw the day after his father passed away. On a team with many great individual stories, Young’s may be the most inspirational.
Next, Young was tasked with keeping Game One of the ALDS under control after the exit of starter Yordano Ventura following a rain delay. Against the power bats of Houston, Young did his job. His final line on the evening was 4 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 7 SO. His first six outs were recorded via the strikeout. His only mistake was a pitch to George Springer that was crushed to left.
There’s talk that Young has “earned” this start and I’m certainly not going to argue that. He has been an outstanding addition to the roster and has gotten the job done nearly every time he’s taken the ball. I think the Royals like the match-up. Here are Young’s splits against the likely Blue Jays starters he has faced more than 10 times.
Josh Donaldson – 16 PA, .063/.063/.063
Jose Bautista – 18 PA, .188/.278/.250
Russell Martin – 36 PA, .300/.417/.367
Troy Tulowitzki – 15 PA, .182/.400/.182
You can see why Yost would like this match-up. Managers and announcers love their small sample sizes and if you’re going to make that play, why not Young?
The other option to start would be Kris Medlen. In his recovery from a second Tommy John surgery, he’s been inconsistent since rejoining the rotation, but he did finish the season strongly, with a 3.00 ERA over his final 27 innings, spanning five starts. Medlen, also would figure to neutralize the Jays power bats with his ground ball rate that hovers around 50 percent.
However, Medlen hasn’t pitched since making his final regular season start on October 1. That means the last time he took the ball was 19 days ago. You can understand how the Royals would be a little gun shy to give him the start at this point.
Win on Monday and Tuesday’s pitcher could be rendered irrelevant. In the history of seven game series in baseball, only once has a team come back from 3-0 down to win the series.
The Royals turn to Johnny Cueto today, one start removed from his tour de force in Game Five. It will be interesting to see how Cueto does in a less friendly atmosphere. Let’s face it, the Jays fans have been reawakened much like Royals fans were last year in the playoffs. While the Royals never felt the heat of a 2-0 deficit in 2014, you can bet they won’t be afraid to make themselves heard. And remember, this is the first Jays home game since their own Game Five victory. A game they came very close to forfeiting thanks to the behavior of their fans.
Game Five Cueto had a laser focus. He was going to justify that trade and was locked in with every single pitch. That kind of intensity is difficult to bring to the mound on a consistent basis. It could be difficult for Cueto to find his rhythm in a hostile environment.
Still, the Royals are in a great position. How could you not like a 2-0 lead at this stage? And with Ned Yost pushing the October buttons, how can you argue against anything? Ned Yost does not care for your foolish stats. At this point, he could throw the corpse of Jonathan Sanchez out there and get 6 innings of 2 run baseball. We are back to the point we found ourselves last October when nearly every single move Yost made was the right move. The guy continues to live right. So if he says Young is his guy, we can certainly question the logic, but he’s earned the right for us to wait for the results.
However the Jays aren’t going to stop playing. Not by a long shot. They’re moving home where they have the best home field advantage in the league. They may have been kicked by the comeback kids on Sunday, but you can bet their bats will not go quietly.
It’s now up to Cueto and Young to keep them silent.