According to FanGraphs’ defensive metrics, Toronto’s Russell Martin was the top defensive player at this position, followed closely by Salvador Perez. Martin has a reputation as being one of the best in the game at handling a pitching staff. But he hit just .200 against the Rangers, while Perez had a 1.159 OPS after hitting two homers and walking twice.
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In 101 games this year, Chris Colabello has an .886 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He hit 19 doubles and 15 home runs in 360 plate appearances. Hosmer’s .822 OPS was lower but he did collect 93 RBIs, and none of the Royals’ infielders would want anyone else catching their throws at first. Hosmer should win another Gold Glove and that defense makes the difference here.
Ben Zobrist hit .333 against the Astros, walked a couple of times and made some wonderful defensive plays. What more could you ask for? Toronto’s Ryan Goins hit .250 this season and had a 1.5 offensive wins above replacement (per Baseball Reference). Zobrist’s was 1.6 in just 59 games with the Royals. This is the first time in baseball history that two second baseman from Dallas Baptist University will face off in a playoff series.
Josh Donaldson has a good shot at being the league’s MVP this year. He also remains a villain in the eyes of Royals fans after this year’s series in Toronto. Against Texas, Donaldson hit a pair of homers, and by the way, he ranks as the second-best defensive third baseman behind Adrian Beltre. Mike Moustakas hit just .111 against Houston, but he has had an outstanding season. Outside of a minor slump coming out of the All-Star break, Moustakas was good from start to finish. His OPS of .817 is the best of his career by more than 100 points.
EDGE: Blue Jays
Buddy Ryan once derisively noted that all Cris Carter did was catch touchdown passes. Well, when Alcides Escobar bats leadoff, all the Royals do is win. Not all the time, of course — it just seems that way. And when he swings at the first pitch of the game, the Royals’ chances improve even more. Go figure. Troy Tulowitzki missed most of September with with upper back muscle bruises and a small crack in his left shoulder blade. He hit .095 against Texas but is unquestionably one of the best offensive shortstops in the game. Both are very good defensive players, too.
EDGE: Blue Jays
Ben Revere was acquired by Toronto from the Phillies at the non-waiver trade deadline. After a slow start in Toronto, he gave the Blue Jays just what they wanted from a leadoff hitter, batting .344 after Aug. 11. That continued into the playoffs, as he hit .304 and stole two bases. Alex Gordon hit just .250 with 29 strikeouts in 26 game after returning from a groin injury. But in the ALDS, he threw out a runner on the bases and made a few great catches. He greatly aids the Royals with his defense.
Kevin Pillar made a Cain-esque catch against Texas in Game 5, and his defensive numbers were just a hair worse than Cain’s (per FanGraphs). However, Pillar’s slash line of .278/.314/.713 doesn’t measure up to Cain’s (.307/.361/.838). Plus, Cain seems to step up when it’s needed. He had a big hit in the Game 4 comeback against the Astros, and he got the Royals started in Game 5 with a single and motored home on Eric Hosmer’s single to center.
The odds of seeing Alex Rios replicate a Joey Bautista-type bat flip? Maybe worse than being struck by lightning while finding out you’ve won the lottery as Bigfoot walks past. Rios had two doubles against the Astros and hit .286 out of the ninth spot in the lineup. And his defensive numbers via FanGraphs are better. But Bautista’s power is a game-changer (as Texas learned), and that makes all the difference here.
EDGE: Blue Jays
Kendrys Morales had a productive ALDS, swatting three homers, including one off Dallas Keuchel that removed any doubt about the outcome in Game 5. It was a continuation of a sensational season in which he hit 41 doubles and 22 homers with 106 RBIs and a .847 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Here’s the thing: Edwin Encarnacion had 39 homers, 31 doubles, 111 RBIs and a .929 OPS.
EDGE: Blue Jays
This is the most difficult category to pick. Will the Royals get the Johnny Cueto who stumbled down the stretch or the one who dominated the Astros on Wednesday? Who will be the Royals’ No. 4 starter, Chris Young or Kris Medlen? Toronto ace David Price has a career playoff ERA of 5.04 and is 0-6 as a starter. Can that possibly continue? Marcus Stroman tore an ACL in the spring, but he returned late in the season and provided a boost. Stroman and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey could be X-factors here. And while on the subject of questions, what if Mark Buehrle was a surprise addition to the roster (0.714 WHIP in 14 innings vs. Royals this year)? Nah, won’t happen.
Let’s start with the back end of the bullpens. The Royals’ closer is Wade Davis, who had an 0.97 ERA over the last two seasons combined. The Blue Jays counter with rookie Roberto Osuna, who had 20 saves and a 2.58 ERA. Good, but not Davis. Brett Cecil was injured during the ALDS, and that’s a significant loss. Toronto picked up LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe at the deadline; they solidify the pen but can’t match Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar, Ryan Madson and Danny Duffy.
PREDICTION: Royals in seven. They wanted home-field advantage for this very reason and it’ll be a tipping point in a pivotal Game 7