The Toronto Blue Jays will face one of the best teams in baseball in the ALCS.
The Kansas City Royals, the defending AL champions, finished the 2015 regular season with the best record in the AL and are coming off a 3-2 series win over the Houston Astros.
The Royals and Blue Jays butted heads (as Shi Davidi profiled here) during the regular season and the two clubs haven’t faced off in the post-season since Kansas City rallied back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Toronto in the 1985 ALCS.
In case you didn’t spend too much time watching the Royals this season, here’s the lowdown on the Blue Jays’ ALCS opponent.
THE POSITION PLAYERS
Salvador Perez, Catcher: The 25-year-old is one of the most complete catchers in all of baseball. He can contribute with the bat (21 home runs and 70 RBI in the regular season) and is a two-time gold glove winner.
Eric Hosmer, First Base: The 25-year-old had a career year during the regular season, racking up 18 home runs, 93 RBI with an .822 OPS. Hosmer was one of the Royals’ most productive hitters during last year’s playoff run, but hit just .190 with a .524 OPS against the Astros.
Ben Zobrist, Second Base: The Blue Jays should be very familiar with Zobrist, who played over 1,000 games with the Tampa Bay Rays from 2006-14. The 34-year-old is one of the most versatile players in the game, but primarily played second base during the opening round of the playoffs.
Alcides Escobar, Shortstop: The 2015 all-star is a defensive whiz at shortstop, but comes with some questions offensively. He provides speed (17 stolen bases) but Escobar does not get on base consistently enough (posted a .293 on-base percentage in 2015).
Mike Moustakas, Third Base: Like Hosmer, Moustakas carried over a breakout playoff performance into the 2015 season, registering 22 home runs, 82 RBI with an .817 OPS. It’s a very small sample size, but the third baseman had a rough opening series of the playoffs, hitting .111 with a measly .405 OPS against the Astros.
Alex Gordon, Left Field: Alex Gordon is a massive upgrade over Josh Hamilton, who started in left field for Texas, in terms of outfield defence. Gordon is one of the best defenders in the game and can add some fire power with the bat as well. The 31-year-old had 13 home runs with an .809 OPS in 104 games this season.
Lorenzo Cain, Centre Field: The 29-year-old is one of the best all-around players in the entire league, capable of providing steady defence or highlight-reel plays in centre field or adding value on offence. He hit 16 home runs with an .838 OPS and 28 stolen bases during an all-star campaign in 2015.
Alex Rios, Right Field: Another familiar face to Blue Jays fans, Rios was drafted by Toronto and played for the club from 2004-09. He is in the midst of his first-ever playoff appearance after an underwhelming regular season in which he hit four home runs with a .640 OPS in 105 games.
Kendrys Morales, Designated Hitter: Morales helped seal the series win over the Astros with a three-run shot off of potential Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel in Game 5. The veteran slugger mashed 22 long bombs in 2015 with a stellar .847 OPS during one of the best offensive seasons of his career.
Jarrod Dyson: A 31-year-old speedster that is Kansas City’s fourth outfielder.
Terrance Gore: Appeared in just nine regular-season games, but is a dynamo on the base paths.
Drew Butera: Backup catcher that walked in his only post-season plate appearance vs. Houston.
Paulo Orlando: Filled in as a defensive replacement for Alex Rios in three games against the Astros.
Christian Colon: Backup infielder that didn’t appear in the ALDS for K.C.
Edinson Volquez: The 32-year-old will start Game 1 for the Royals. After going 13-9 with a 3.55 ERA and 155 strikeouts in the regular season, Volquez struggled in his playoff start against Houston, allowing three earned runs in 5.2 innings with four walks and eight strikeouts.
Yordano Ventura: The 24-year-old right-hander had an up-and-down regular season, going 13-8 with a 4.08 ERA, 156 strikeouts and 58 walks in 163.1 innings. Ventura produced mixed results in two ALDS starts against Houston, allowing six earned runs in seven innings with two home runs allowed.
Johnny Cueto: Cueto, the club’s big ticket trade deadline acquisition, didn’t live up to expectations during the regular season, finishing with a 4.76 ERA in 81.1 innings after coming over from Cincinnati. The 29-year-old righty made two post-season starts for K.C., allowing six earned runs in 14 innings with 13 strikeouts and two home runs allowed. He was great in the Royals’ Game 5 victory.
Kris Medlen: Medlen did not make an appearance for the Royals in the ALDS, but could be the club’s fourth starter against the Blue Jays. Medlen had a 4.01 ERA in 58.1 innings this season.
The Royals have one of the deeper bullpens in baseball but aren’t at full strength with closer Greg Holland out for the season. Wade Davis has taken over the closer’s role while Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson, and Luke Hochevar filling important late-inning duties. They had seven relievers on the ALDS roster including Davis, Herrera, Hochevar, Madson, Franklin Morales, Danny Duffy, and Chris Young.
The Royals had trouble keeping the ball in the park against Houston, allowing at least one home run in each of the five ALDS games (nine in total) and Toronto is the best slugging lineup in baseball.
It’ll be fascinating to see how these two squads match up.