TORONTO – After opening the American League Championship Series with consecutive victories, the Kansas City Royals suddenly seem have the same momentum they had last year when they reeled off eight consecutive victories heading into the World Series.
That’s what a clincher in the division series and a hot start in the ALCS can do for you.
But the Royals know the Toronto Blue Jays won’t go easy at Rogers Centre, which has proven to be an electric environment in both the regular season and the postseason.
The Royals’ winning formula has been evident: solid starting pitching, an impressive bullpen, a steady offensive attack and top-notch defense. But with potentially three games in three consecutive days in Toronto, leaning heavily on the bullpen could come at a price.
The Royals head into Game 3 knowing that no matter what happens in Canada, they still have Games 6 and 7 at home to lean on if they need to. Closing out the series in Toronto still will be a priority, though.
Johnny Cueto, who starts in Game 3 on Monday night will be a key. He not only can give the Royals a commanding lead in the series with a strong performance in Game 3, he also would be lined up for a deciding Game 7, if the series happened to extend that long.
WHO’S UP: Now that Cueto has arrived with a dominating outing in the division series clincher Wednesday against the Astros, the trick is to repeat the performance, or deliver something close to it. His velocity was slightly up in that outing and it will be interesting to see if he can touch 96 mph again on a regular four days of rest.
WHO’S HOT: The Kansas City bullpen has delivered 6 2/3 scoreless innings in this series, showing that it is still a major team strength, even with the loss of closer Greg Holland. Making it even more of a formidable force is the frequent travel/off days during the postseason that builds in automatic rest. As the series shifts to Toronto, the bullpen will be tested even further, especially since it is uncertain how many innings the Royals can get from Game 4 starter Chris Young, who has pitched just once since Oct. 2.
WHO’S NOT: Alex Rios delivered a welcome insurance run in the Royals’ big five-run seventh inning on Saturday, but it is his only hit of the series. On top of that, he has struck out three times, tied with Kendrys Morales for the team high in two games. He is the Royals’ No. 9 hitter, so it’s not like he has to carry the offense, but any production he can deliver against his former team would help him close in on his first World Series appearance.
WHAT’S AT STAKE: A victory would all but put the Royals in a second consecutive World Series. Sure, the Blue Jays did rebound to win three consecutive elimination games in the division series, but this comeback would require four in a row and Toronto doesn’t have the home-field advantage this time, meaning the last two games are scheduled to be played in Kansas City, if necessary. This isn’t the ultimate must-win game for the Blue Jays, but it’s an extremely close sibling.