By Matt Straub
What a difference a year makes. After struggling mightily a year ago, I went 3-for-4 in the Division Series and if the Dodgers had gotten a hit with a man on second at some point, could have had a clean sweep.
Now it's on to the League Championship Series, which feel easy to predict this year, always scary for a prognosticator. Hopefully the reasoning I feel the way I do about each series is sound. The problem is, even if it is, baseball can be a crazy game. In a way I hope these games are, as the last round was incredibly entertaining.
Today we'll look at the American League, which starts its Championship Series tonight, and we'll do a full breakdown on Mets-Cubs in time for Game 1 of that series.
Kansas City Royals
vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Everyone's talking about Back to the Future II predicting the Cubs to win the 2015 World Series, but this feels like a blast from the past. These teams met in the 1985 ALCS, one of the first series I remember watching any of.
The 1980s were an era where both these teams were competitive just about every year, and it appears as though we're entering another run for each team, which is good for baseball. The Royals were a win away from a title last year, while the Blue Jays came on like gangbusters this season after some key additions to become powerhouses for the first time in 20 years.
Each team had a real struggle to win their Division Series, though the Blue Jays got all the attention for what has become known as "the inning" against Texas. This series likely won't be easy, as the Royals have exceptional resilience and good depth throughout the roster while the Blue Jays are a bloop and a blast from being in any game.
The key will be which team is able to impose its style on the other. If the games become slugfests, the Blue Jays will roll. If the Royals are able to manufacture runs here and there and make small leads the difference, they will like their chances. Toronto wants to hit home runs while the Royals are hoping to use a solid lineup and great speed to find ways to score.
Where Kansas City could have a big advantage is on the mound. Johnny Cueto seemed to get things figured out in his last playoff start, while Edinson Volquez and Yordano Ventura are both capable of striking out a ton of guys on a given day. I have more faith in them than I do Marco Estrada and Marcus Stroman. And as we've covered here before, David Price is not a postseason ace. I definitely don't trust him to start a big game.
In the bullpen, despite some injuries, the Royals have a clear edge. Throw in Chris Young, who proved an invaluable swingman against Houston, and I love the Royals' pitching compared to Toronto.
Offensively, the Blue Jays have put together a team which will dominate your MLB the Show league if you update the rosters, but one which hasn't been consistent in the playoffs so far. Troy Tulowitzki has looked lost as the plate at times, and while they have ended up scoring a bunch of runs, they have relied quite a bit on the home run in key spots, something which might be harder to do against Kansas City.
The way the Royals play, or at least can play, is much more sustainable. If one of their speedsters can get on, especially to start an inning, the Royals don't need more than a hit to get a run, and certainly don't need a 400-foot homer to score.
Throw in the experience the Royals gained last year and that they have home field and can play better defense, and I think the pick is an easy one.
Which is why I'm holding my breath.
Matt's Pick: Royals in 6
Brad's Pick: Blue Jays in 7