Breaking down the Blue Jays-Royals battle in the ALCS

The Kansas City Royals will take aim at their second consecutive American League pennant when they play the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series.

The last time the Royals were in the World Series was in 1985, the year they beat the Blue Jays in the ALCS. That series was the first of baseball's expanded series format, going from the five- to the seven-game format.

Under the old rules, used from 1969 through 1984, the Blue Jays would have won the title. They won three of the first four games, but the Royals won the final three 2-0, 5-3 and 6-2, including the final two games in Toronto's Exhibition Stadium.

Bud Black, a candidate to manage the Nationals, pitched for the Royals. Dave Stieb was the Blue Jays' best pitcher. George Bell hit .321 for the Blue Jays, while future Hall of Famer George Brett hit .348 with three home runs.

Ironically, the Royals came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat St. Louis in the World Series that season.

Toronto is trying to get back to the World Series for the first time since winning consecutive championships in 1992 and 1993.

Now let's set up the ALCS:

Q: Do these teams like each other?

A: Probably not. In August, when the Royals played in Toronto, it was a four-game beanball match that escalated in the final game with benches clearing, tempers flaring and Blue Jays manager John Gibbons being one of three to get ejected. Blue Jays pitchers in each of the first three games hit the Royals, so Royals starter Edinson Volquez hit Josh Donaldson in the final game. The Royals' Ryan Madson hit Troy Tulowitzki. Royals manager Ned Yost said his pitchers were just working on pitching inside. Volquez called Donaldson a crybaby. Typical baseball fight, but it is highly unlikely to flare up in the ALCS.

Q: What is the one statistic that defines the Royals?

A: Usually starting pitching dominates in October, but the Royals have a different script. Their rotation pitched 912 2/3 innings during the regular season, fewest in the AL, with Volquez having the highest total, 192 1/3. The Royals' strategy is simple: Get at least five innings - six would be nice - from the rotation and then turn it over to the bullpen.

Q: Closer Greg Holland is out with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, so how did the Royals compensate in their bullpen?

A: It's not easy to replace a closer, but the Royals moved everybody up one notch and things have worked out. Wade Davis went from eighth-inning guy to the closer and Kelvin Herrera went from the seventh inning to the eighth. Ryan Madson, a former Phillie and Angel who was out of the game for four seasons because of injury, is the new seventh-inning guy. And then there's Luke Hochevar, a former starter turned reliever, and Danny Duffy, who moved from the rotation to the bullpen for the first round. There is nothing but heat in the Royals bullpen. A good example of how dominating the Royals bullpen can be came in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the AL Division Series against Houston. The Royals rallied from a 6-2 deficit to win, but, after the rally, Davis retired the Astros on seven pitches in the last of the eighth.

Q: How is the Royals lineup different from last year, when all they could do was steal bases and manufacture runs?

A: The Royals led the AL in steals (153) last season, and this year, they finished second with fewer steals (104). The difference is that they have more potential for power, hitting 44 more home runs than last season's team, thanks to the additions of Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales. They are still near the bottom in power, but it's an improvement over last season, when they were the lone AL team to not hit 100 homers for the season. The Royals have also gone from last in run production in 2014 to sixth (729) this season. The Royals are built to take advantage of Kauffman Stadium's dimensions that favor gap-to-gap power. The Royals were 51-30 in K.C.

Q: Johnny Cueto pitched eight strong innings in Game 5 of the Division Series. Has he turned the corner?

A: It looks like he is going to be the pitcher the Royals expected. He arrived in a July trade from Cincinnati and had four good starts, then five bad starts, where he gave up 30 runs in 26 1/3 innings. But his starts in September were encouraging for the Royals. His fastball is hitting 96 mph - the highest speed of the season - and he's locating it better on both sides of the plate. His cutter went from flat to sharp and breaking pitches actually break instead of just spin. He's in line to pitch Game 3 of the ALCS Monday in Toronto.

Q: Speaking of ace pitchers, is David Price getting a reputation for not pitching well in the postseason?

A: Not yet. He didn't pitch well in Game 1 of the ALDS against Texas, and then, in a much-debated move, he pitched in relief during Game 4, a game that the Blue Jays had to win. Price has not pitched well in the ALDS during his career, but he's only pitched six innings combined in the ALCS and World Series. He appears to be in line to pitch Game 2 after Marco Estrada pitches the first game against the Royals.

Q: What's the defining statistic for the Blue Jays?

A: Obviously, it is the run production. They led the AL with 232 home runs, but they also led the league with a .340 on-base percentage, so they are not an all-or-nothing team. The Blue Jays' run differential - the number of runs scored minus runs allowed - is a ridiculous 221, which is 99 runs better than the second-place Cardinals in the major leagues. The Astros were second to Toronto in the AL with 111. Kansas City's was 83.

Q: The Blue Jays loaded up at the deadline and most of the attention goes to Price and Tulowitzki. But what has Ben Revere done to help them?

A: Revere upgraded the defense in left field and he has legitimate base-stealing speed at the top of the order, getting on in front of the big bats. An example of how Revere can be a headache to opponents came when he led off Game 4 of the ALDS in Texas. He reached first on a drag bunt. Rangers pitcher Derek Holland threw to first twice to keep him close and then slide-stepped toward the plate when Josh Donaldson hit a home run on the fifth pitch of the game.

Q: Can the Blue Jays bullpen match the Royals bullpen?

A: No, but that doesn't mean the Blue Jays bullpen is ineffective. The Blue Jays have depth with LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe, relievers that were also acquired at the deadline. But losing lefty Brett Cecil to injury hurts. Roberto Osuna is a 20-year-old closer and you don't often see that kind of inexperience at the back end. The Royals' bullpen ERA was 2.70 while the Blue Jays were at 3.50. The Royals' bullpen held opponents to a .214 average. The Blue Jays were at .231.

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