KANSAS CITY -- Welcome, Mets and Cubs fans, to the league championship series to which no one outside Kansas City and Canada has been paying attention. Which is too bad because it’s been more interesting than that NLCS sweep.
I mean, really, was anyone shocked that the Cubs lost in the NLCS and failed to reach the World Series?
If your focus was on that four-game sweep, here are some things to know before Friday night's Game 6 of the ALCS between the Royals and the Blue Jays:
You will not see frequent camera shots of Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Vedder or Bill Murray in the stands. There will be a few stars on hand in Kansas City (well, Paul Rudd and that guy from “Modern Family") but this series isn’t about celebs or curses or billy goats that have been dead for six decades. It’s about baseball. And the real stars are the ones on the field -- like Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer -- and not the ones in the stands (though don’t be surprised if the Royals win and Rudd leads an army of ants onto the field in celebration).
You will, however, see two of the finest defensive center fielders in the game: Kansas City’s Cain and Toronto’s Kevin Pillar. According to my latest GPS readings, three-quarters of the world’s surface is covered by water, one-eighth covered by Cain, 9,984,670 square kilometers covered by Pillar and the rest covered by cameramen stalking the Kardashians. Cain was the defensive star of last year’s postseason, while Pillar makes so many full-out diving grabs that he has been compared to Superman, though he has a Blue Jay on his chest, not a red S. “I have not dressed up as Superman," he joked last week, “but I don’t have to because I am Superman."
Will you see home runs like you did during the NLCS? Well, the Blue Jays led the majors in home runs during the regular season and have 12 this postseason, but they didn’t hit any during the first two games in Kansas City last weekend. The Royals, meanwhile, have hit 13 homers this postseason but just one here last weekend. Kauffman Stadium’s confines are not as friendly to hitters as Wrigley’s, so maybe Jason Hammel would have preferred pitching here.
Regardless of which side of the fence the balls land, you will actually see batters putting those balls in play. The Royals struck out a major league-low 973 times in the regular season, or 545 fewer times than the Cubs. It’s one of the secrets to their success. Hit the ball and see what happens. It’s kind of nice to see players make contact rather than swing and miss at a pitch in the dirt or watch an obvious third strike zip past and then gripe at the umpire.
Along those lines, you will hear Jose Bautista booed. Just as Blue Jays fans let Johnny Cueto have it in Game 3, Royals fans jeered Joey Bats last weekend for complaining about a called strike and also later pretending that he was going to toss a ball to fans into the stands but then not doing so. Imagine what the reaction will be if he homers and flips his bat as far as the water fountains.
You will see two of the most interesting bullpens in baseball. Despite the loss of Greg Holland, the Royals' pen remains one of baseball’s toughest, with Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis pretty much reducing ballgames by two innings. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, have used David Price and Cliff Pennington in relief this postseason. That’s right, Pennington, an infielder who on Tuesday became the first non-pitcher to pitch in a postseason game. He also is tied for the lowest postseason career ERA (0.00), which is much lower than Price’s (5.24).
You also will see one of two things: Either the Jays will pull a reverse repeat of the 1985 ALCS, when the Royals lost the first two games in Toronto, then won Game 3, lost Game 4 and won the final three games. Or the Royals will send the Blue Jays packing again.
Whatever happens, you’ll be exposed to some of the most compelling players in baseball.
Chris Colabello’s father played baseball in Italy, his mother is Italian and the Toronto first baseman played for Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He also played seven years of independent ball. Royals pitcher Chris Young played basketball at Princeton and turned down a two-year contract to play for the Sacramento Kings. R.A. Dickey wrote a New York Times best-seller and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. LaTroy Hawkins once loaned his BMW 375 to a young fan so the kid could drive it to his high school prom, then years later flew to Minnesota on New Year’s Eve to be a groomsman at the fan’s wedding. Salvador Perez was raised in Venezuela by a single mother who supported the family by selling homemade cakes, flan and lasagna out of her house or from the trunks of friends’ cars.
So if the ALCS doesn’t go the full seven games, perhaps they can just turn it into a reality show to keep us entertained until the World Series starts Tuesday. Either way, it’s worth tuning in.
Besides, you can't watch the Cubs on TV until next spring.