ALCS Game 2 preview: Blue Jays’ Price with something to prove at Royals
Having climbed out of an 0–2 hole to win their best-of-five Division Series against the Rangers, the Blue Jays are unlikely to be troubled by having dropped the first game of the best-of-seven American League Championship Series on Friday night. Losing Game 2 would be another matter entirely. Of the 75 teams to fall behind 0–2 in a best-of-seven series in major league history, just 13 (17%) rallied to win the series. That in addition to the manner in which they lost Game 1, being shut out for just the sixth time in their 168 games this season, and the injury suffered by cleanup hitter Edwin Encarnacion, make Game 2 an already crucial contest for Toronto.
• Despite the offense’s poor showing in Game 1, the biggest question mark for the Blue Jays heading into Game 2 is what they will get out of rental ace David Price. Price was outstanding in his first 10 starts for Toronto after being acquired from the Tigers at the non-waiver trading deadline, emerging as the principal rival to Houston’s Dallas Keuchel for this year’s American League Cy Young award by going 8–1 with a 1.95 ERA and 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings down the stretch. However, his last start of the regular season was a stinker (five runs, four earned, in five innings against the Rays), prompting the Blue Jays to skip his final regular season turn. He then struggled in his lone Division Series start, giving up five runs in seven innings, hitting two batters and giving up two home runs, and when called upon to pitch in relief in Game 4 on three-day’s rest, again proved ineffective, giving up three runs in three innings. Add that all up and Price has allowed 12 earned runs in 15 innings over his last three appearances, which works out to a 7.20 ERA. He has now made six postseason starts in his career, only half of which were quality, and thanks to poor run support, he has gone 0–6 in those starts. Working on full rest after throwing 50 pitches in relief, Price has a lot to prove in this game, which could wind up being his last start for Toronto before he hits free agency next month.
• Price’s only appearances against the Royals this season came in consecutive starts at the beginning of May and yielded two very different results. In the first game, which took place in Kansas City, he held the Royals to one run on a Lorenzo Cain solo home run in a complete-game win. Six days later in Detroit, starting against Venutra, he gave up five runs on 13 hits, including a Salvador Perez homer, over 6 1/3 innings in a game the Tigers won 6–5. Cain has good career numbers against Price (4-for-11, .364 with that home run), and former teammate Ben Zobrist has handled him well in a tiny sample (2 for 6 with a double), as well. However, the Royal who has had the most success against the left-handed Price is the one who has faced him most, former Blue Jay Alex Rios, who has hit .400/.455/.800 in 33 plate appearances against Price.
• Ventura is making his third start this postseason. In the first, he gave up three early runs to the Astros then had his outing cut short after the second inning by a rain delay. The second saw him strike out eight in five innings but allow three runs, two of which came on solo home runs by right-handed hitters. Ventura’s only start against the Blue Jays this season came in Toronto on August 1 and saw him give up five runs over seven innings, allowing home runs to Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista, the latter of whom also homered off Wade Davis in that game (7–6 Royals win). Bautista is 3-for-5 with that home run in his career against Ventura, but the only other Blue Jay with multiple hits against the 24-year-old fireballer is first baseman Justin Smoak.
• Encarnacion is in the lineup and batting fourth despite the injury he suffered in Game 1. Encarnacion was diagnosed with a sprained ligament in his left middle finger Friday night, a re-aggravation of an injury he suffered in mid August. Encarnacion hurt his finger on a swing in the sixth inning of Game 1 and was unable to take his at-bat in the eighth, when he would have represented the tying run. Smoak hit for him and popped out against Royals set-up man Ryan Madson, who prevented the Royals from scoring in that inning. As impressive as the Blue Jays’ lineup is top to bottom, Encarnacion, the team’s cleanup hitter, is one of the three key bats in the middle of the order and is coming off a .333/.478/.556 performance in the Division Series. Being without him even for that one at-bat in Game 1 was a huge loss.
• The loss of Encarnacion is compounded by the fact that Troy Tulowitzki, who is still hindered by the cracked scapula he suffered late in the regular season, has managed just two hits in 25 at-bats this postseason. Yes, one of those hits was a key three-run home run in Game 3 of the Division Series, but Tulo is 0-for-12 with a walk and five strikeouts since that game.
• As banged up as the Blue Jays are, remember they also lost their best left-handed reliever, Brett Cecil, to a torn calf in the Division Series, the Royals will want to keep a close eye on Perez in this game. Perez is hitting .294/.429/.824 this postseason and has five home runs in his last seven games, including one in Game 1, but he was hit near the base of his left middle finger by Josh Donaldson’s backswing late in Game 1. It remains to be seen whether that injury will impact his grip on the bat, despite staying in the game, as he did not come to the plate again Friday night after being hit. Perez has thus far survived a variety of bumps and bruises this postseason, including a blow to the mask that knocked him out of Game 4 of the Division Series, as well as minor car accident. Perez is in the Royals’ Game 2 lineup, which remains the same as the first six games of this postseason. It seems clear at this point nothing short of a broken limb is going to keep him out of action, but a lingering hand injury could impact his hitting, which has led the Royals’ attack thus far this October.