Friday, October 16
5:07 pm PT on FOX
Toronto Blue Jays (93-69) @ Kansas City Royals (95-67)
In the preseason, I compiled standings projections from eight sources: Clay Davenport, Sports Illustrated, Fangraphs, PECOTA, Bleacher Report, Rant Sports, The Sporting News, and Eastside Sports. The Toronto Blue Jays looked like wild card contenders, but no one predicted they would win 90 games. They were projected for between 80 and 88 wins by every source. Despite the Kansas City Royals making it all the way to the seventh game of the 2014 World Series, not one of these sources predicted they would win the AL Central. Their projected wins ranged from 73 wins to 84 wins, with an average predicted record of 79-83.
The Toronto Blue Jays led all of baseball in runs scored and run differential. Their 891 runs scored were 127 more runs than the next-closest team (Yankees) and their +221 run differential was almost 100 runs higher than the next-closest team (Cardinals). They were a powerhouse this year, especially in the second half. The Royals were third in the AL in run differential, at +83.
Based on their runs scored and runs allowed, the Royals were a 90-72 team, so they outplayed their run differential by five games. The Blue Jays had the run differential of a 102-win team, so they actually underperformed by nine wins.
How They Got Here
The Toronto Blue Jays came into existence the same year as the Seattle Mariners and became the much more successful franchise in their first two decades of play. It took nine years for the Blue Jays to make the playoffs, but then they made the postseason five times in nine years, culminating with back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993. Until this year, they hadn’t been back to the playoffs since.
The Blue Jays started slowly this year. They were 11-12 in April and 12-17 in May. Sitting at 23-29 at the beginning of June, the Blue Jays were in fourth place in the AL East, but only 4 ½ games back. June was a good month (18-9) but July brought more struggles (12-13). At the end of July, the Blue Jays made trades to add David Price and Troy Tulowitzki. Price has been terrific with the Blue Jays and is in contention with Dallas Keuchel for the AL Cy Young award. Tulowitzki was a big acquisition who hasn’t had as much of an impact because of an injury. A less-noticed deal at the deadline was the acquisition of outfielder Ben Revere. Revere has very little power but his .354 OBP with the Blue Jays was a nice addition to the lineup.
Since the trade deadline on July 31, the Blue Jays have gone 40-18 and outscored opponents 341 runs to 224. They went from a solid team to a great team.
Before last year’s surprising late-season and post-season run, the Kansas City Royals had not made the playoffs since 1985. That was also the last time they won the World Series. In the 28 years between 1985 and 2014, the Royals had a winning record just seven times. Last year, the Royals won 89 games to claim a wild card spot, then cruised through the postseason until they ran into Madison Bumgarner in the World Series.
This year, they got off to a good start, going 15-7 in April. The held first place for much of May but the surprising Minnesota Twins gave them a run for the top of the division in late May and early June. The Royals took back first place on June 8th and never looked back, eventually winning the division by 12 games.
Hitting, Pitching, Fielding Rankings
Rankings are based on Fangraphs statistical data. For offense, I used the metric wRC+, which means “weighted Runs Created Plus.” This looks at how a team’s offense compares to league average and takes ballpark effects into account. I used Fangraphs pitcher WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for starting pitchers and relief pitchers. The defensive rankings are based on Fangraphs’ metric for defense.
For the whole season, the Blue Jays’ starting pitchers were slightly more effective than their counterparts on the Royals. Both teams added arms before the trade deadline that should play big roles in this series. The Blue Jays added David Price and the Royals added Johnny Cueto.
If the game is close in the late innings, the Royals have the advantage, although both teams are missing late-inning specialists. The Royals will be without their closer, Greg Holland, who is out for the year with an injury. The Blue Jays’ lost a key lefty in their pen, Brett Cecil, also to injury. The Royals have enough bullpen depth to shift their late inning guys up a notch and the new closer, Wade Davis, has actually been a better pitcher than Holland over the last two years. The Blue Jays don’t have a lefty who can replace Cecil.
The Royals’ defense is like the Blue Jays’ offense in that it is also head-and-shoulders better than every other team in baseball. The Royals have been a dominant team in the bullpen and in the field for each of the last two years. The Blue Jays are a middle-of-the-pack team on defense.
The Royals had a better overall record, so will host the first two games and the final two, if necessary. Both teams were very good at home, with the Royals winning 63% of their home games and the Blue Jays winning 65%. In seven games head-to-head, the Blue Jays came out on top four times.
For me, it keeps coming back to the most telling metric we have, which is run differential. The Blue Jays were simply the best team in baseball by this metric, so they are my pick. Anything can happen in a seven games series, but I’ll take the Blue Jays to make it to the World Series.
My Prediction: Blue Jays over Royals, 4 games to 2