Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The 1985 ALCS / 2015 ALCS Not-So-Parallel Parallels

Much has been made of the fact over the past week that this year's ALCS rematch between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals is a rematch of their 1985 ALCS meeting, one which is considered by many to be a classic series. But the similarities between the two end there. After the Royals went up 2-0 after the first two games, many sports writers and fans began drawing parallels to that 1985 series when the Jays were up 2-0. They would go on to be 3-1, needing only one more win in the final three games to advance to the World Series. The Royals would stage a historic comeback, winning the three remaining games to knock out the Blue Jays to go onto the World Series.

With Game 5 about to start and the Jays facing elimination, many Jays fans are looking to that 1985 series to flip the script. Many parallels have been drawn, with the Jays winning game 3 at home just as the Royals did in '85. Unfortunately, and I say this is a life long Jays fan, don't expect history to be flipped this year.

While the Jays probably have the best lineup in the big leagues this year, in their nine postseason games this year, they've struggled. With the exception of the four games they've won, their offense has been very dormant in the rest, silenced by the pitching staffs of both the Rangers and Royals. In fact, the Jays owe their ALDS victory to the three 7th inning errors by the Rangers offense which led to Jose Bautista's monster game winning home run. Before those errors, the Rangers' starting pitcher had kept the Jays at bay.

So has been the case not just with the Royals starting pitching (with the exception of Game 3's starter Cueto), but their frighteningly effective bullpen as well. Outside of the eleven runs the Jays scored in Game 3, their offense has only produced five runs. And even their victory in Game 3 was closer than it needed to be as the Royals scores four runs in the 9th inning to make it am 11-8 game. The Royals have produced most of their runs in the final three innings of each game in this series, with nine runs produced in the 7th, 8th and 9th last night. The Royals have proven that they are very effective late in the game, while the Jays have done more damage in the beginning.

But the biggest factor, I believe, is that while the Jays might be able to win tonight's game to force a Game 6 in Kansas City, I just don't see them winning both Game 6 and Game 7. One or the other, sure, but considering their current position, they won't have that luxury. As postseason - starved as the Jays and their fans are, the Royals and their fans want this more after last season. The Royals are playoff hardened, having been here before. They've had a taste, gone the distance but just missed it. So they have the hunger more than the Jays who are doing this for the first time since 1993.

In order for the Jays to be serious contenders, they need to get a taste and lose it just as they did in 1991 before winning in 1992 and 1993. From what I've seen, the Royals want it, they've tasted it and are ready to take all of it this year.

Maybe next year, Jays.

Friday, October 16, 2015

And the Winner Is...

The 2015 Postseason is well underway. 26 teams have been knocked from contention. Some rather unceremoniously, others in incredibly dramatic fashion. Now we are left with four teams competing in two separate League Championship Series to see who will go on to the World Series. There are plenty of predictions out there as to who will beat who and go all the way, the craziest coming twenty-six years ago when it was said that the Chicago Cubs would win the World Series (see Back to the Future II), something that's not so far-fetched anymore.

All four teams are trying to overcome postseason droughts that span decades. Of the four teams still in contention, the most recent World Series Champions are the Toronto Blue Jays of 1993! Yikes! The last time the Mets won in 1986, I was just about my son's age. The Royals won in 1985 (the year the first Back to the Future came out, by the way). And the last time the Cubs Won It All, Theodore Roosevelt was President and the Titanic was still three-and-a-half years from its doomed maiden voyage!

So regardless of who goes all the way, somebody's drought is going to end in the coming weeks.

So, I thought it was time to throw in my two cents, even though the first round is already over. Though I didn't put anything in writing a week ago, I have to say my LDS predictions weren't too far off.

Blue Jays v Royals
In a rematch of the 1985 ALCS where the Royals overcame a 3-1 deficit to take the series from Toronto, both teams are pretty evenly matched. Both have a way of coming from behind to win in dramatic fashion in the late innings, and each had very similar records.

However, while the Royals topped the Jays during the regular season for best record (95-67 over 93-69), the Jays had a far stronger second half and nearly overtook the Royals for home field advantage. Not to mention, the Blue Jays feature one of the best offenses in the history of the game as well as some pretty powerful bats. If anything helps balance however, it's the Royals' home field advantage. If the series goes to a final do-or-die Game 7 in Kansas City, I don't see the Blue Jays coming out on top.

Still, Blue Jays in 6.

Cubs v Mets
There's no doubt that there's something special about these two teams. Both the Cubs and Mets have struggled in recent years, each posting multiple losing seasons before coming into this season. So to say that this season has been a turnaround for both teams is an understatement. Both are youthful and charged with energy, but there's something special about the Cubs this season that is undeniable.

Cubs in 5.

Blue Jays v Cubs
Admittedly, this is my dream match up for the World Series. And to be honest, as much as I love the Jays, the Cubs are the one team I wouldn't mind seeing beat them. Both teams have been swinging powerful bats lately with plenty of monster home runs to boot, particularly in their LDS clinching games. Both are fairly evenly matched with the key to success coming down to whose pitching staff better restrains the other's offense. I see this series going all the way, with it easily going either way. However, only one team has displayed a tendency for clutch heroics...

Blue Jays in 7.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Rangers v Blue Jays: The Magnificent Seventh

I think it's pretty safe to say that the 7th inning of Game 5 of the ALDS between the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers in Rogers Centre in Toronto will go down as one of the wildest, craziest, most obscure and any other word you can find in a thesaurus in the history of baseball.

Now, I know much will be made of the collapse of the Rangers defense in the bottom of the 7th that allowed the Blue Jays to load the bases. Poor Elvis Andrus  (who botched three plays but was only credited with two errors) will need to find a new team, just as Mitch Williams needed to follow Game 6 of the Blue Jays' 1993 World Series victory. However, I don't think Andrus should receive as much of the blame as he will during the off-season.

Instead, I would look to Rangers manager Jeff Banister.

That's right. You see, after Russell Martin's return throw to Aaron Sanchez bounced off the bat of Shin-Soo Choo and base runner Rougned Odor scored, the home plate umpire called the play dead. Credit must be given to Odor who not only played a terrific series but also committed an excellent heads up play by running home (keep an eye on him in coming years). He crossed the plate even after the umpire called the play dead and returned Odor to third base, a call that was wrong. Banister ran out of the dugout to challenge the call, which was overturned after a conference between the six umpires under the Unintentional Interference Rule. Odor scored, giving the Rangers a 3-2 lead an elimination game and Rogers Centre erupted in fury.

I dare not defend the crowd in Toronto for their behavior. They acted very poorly. It is understandable that they be upset. After, it's the Blue Jays' first postseason appearance since 1993 and there was already plenty of angst regarding some of the umpiring in Game 2 on Friday afternoon. A too-close-to-call play at second base (again involving Odor) on the 14th inning was upheld in the Rangers favor resulting in a Rangers victory, in addition to an inconsistent strike zone which resulted in a higher number of strike three calls against the Blue Jays than is normal. So the umpires were already not popular in Toronto. Still, though the outcome was undesirable, the call was correct. But, it gave the Blue Jays the much-needed spark they'd been lacking the entire game.

Had Banister not challenged the call, it's likely that it would've been Texas who felt robbed. They probably would've picked up an extra spark and scored the go-ahead run in the 8th or 9th innings. Considering the Blue Jays were struggling against Cole Hammels  (they were lucky to score the 2 runs that they did, in my opinion), they probably wouldn't have overcome the deficit. Instead, it would be Texas gearing up for the ALCS in Kansas City on Friday night and not the Blue Jays.

But having already felt robbed of Game 2, the Blue Jays and their fans would not be robbed of Game 5 and have their first postseason since 1993 robbed of them by judgment calls by the umpires. When the Jays came to bat in the bottom of 7th, down by one, they came out swinging like they hadn't done the entire game. Yes, Andrus' numerous errors helped, but it's probable that with the Triple Threat of Donaldson, Bautista and Encarnacion coming up somewhere in the 8th and 9th, the Jays may have had the necessary spark to come back and win. Bautista monster home run is evidence enough of the energy that the Blue Jays possessed, an energy they would never have gotten had it not been for the weirdest yet most simple play in the top half of the inning.

Though Texas benefited in the short term, by the end of the 53-minute Magnificent Seventh Inning, Banister's decision benefited the Toronto Blue Jays. He may have been correct, but that doesn't mean it was the best decision.

Nonetheless,  Gane 5 of the ALDS between the Jays and the Rangers was easily the most tense, most exciting games of baseball I've watches since 1993. Watching the Blue Jays play the best they have in decades has brought back memories of my childhood that are filled with joy. I'm still holding our for the perfect World Series between the Jays and the Cubs, the only team I wouldn't mind seeing defeat Toronto. For now, I look forward to the ALCS against the Royals in a rematch of the 1985 series where Kansas City came back from a 3 games to 1 deficit to eliminate the Jays and ultimately go on to win the World Series.

As for things with Texas, a series that was filled with emotion and is still being talked about thanks to Jose Bautista's home run and bat flip, I'd like to paraphrase Casablanca: I have the feeling this is the start of a beautiful rivalry.