ALCS Game 4 preview: Dickey, Jays look to even series against Royals
The Blue Jays avoided falling into a 0–3 hole in the American League Championship Series with an 11–8 win over the Royals on Monday night, but as encouraging as that outburst of offense may have been, Kansas City's own success at the plate and late rally remain troubling. Nonetheless, Toronto looks to even the series tonight at home in Game 4.
• The Blue Jays did exactly what they needed to do in Game 3: They jumped out to an early lead on Royals starter Johnny Cueto and bludgeoned Kansas City with their powerful bats, hitting three home runs and scoring 11 runs after being held to just three runs and without a homer in the first two games of the series. But that early lead masked the fact that the Royals scored eight runs in Game 3 and outscored Toronto after the third inning, 6–2. The Blue Jays have yet to find a way stifle Kansas City's lineup, which has scored at least five runs in every game of this series.
• The Royals’ lineup improved significantly when Alex Gordon returned from the disabled list, pushing Ben Zobrist to second base and Omar Infante, who has been left off the team’s postseason roster, to the bench. Since activating Gordon on Sept. 1, a span of 39 games including the postseason, Kansas City has averaged 5.1 runs per game. In the five games since Game 4 of the Division Series, in which the Royals staged a five-run eighth-inning rally to stave off elimination, they have averaged seven runs per game.
• The man charged with keeping the Royals’ relentless attack at bay in this game is 40-year-old knuckleballer Dickey. He pitched well in his lone Division Series start (and postseason debut) against the Rangers, holding Texas to just one run and walking no one, but was inexplicably removed with two outs in the fifth inning, a man on first and a six-run lead, getting robbed of a win by manager John Gibbons’s bizarre decision to burn David Price in relief. Nonetheless, Dickey has been on a nice roll for Toronto since the calendar flipped to June, posting a 3.08 ERA over his last 24 starts, including seven scoreless innings at home against the Royals on Aug. 2 in his only start against them this year. Dickey has also enjoyed pitching at home this year, going 9–3 with a 3.11 ERA in 17 home starts. With the weather turning colder and the air getting thinner, it will be to his benefit to throw in the climate-controlled environment of the Rogers Centre with the roof closed.
• In his three years with the Blue Jays, the nine men in the Royals’ starting lineup have hit a combined .218/.286/.363 against Dickey. The player with the most success against Dickey over that span has arguably been Salvador Perez (3-for-12 with a double, a home run and a walk). Perez entered this series hot but has gone 0-for-9 since being hit on the left hand by Josh Donaldson’s backswing late in Game 1.
• Opposing Dickey with be 6'10" swingman Young, whom Royals skipper Ned Yost chose for this start over 5'10" Kris Medlen, who threw five strong innings of relief in Game 3. Young’s last appearance was an impressive long relief outing in Game 1 of the Division Series: After replacing Yordano Ventura after the game’s second-inning rain delay, he struck out six of the first seven men he faced and allowed just one run over four innings while striking out seven.
That lone run, however, came on a solo home run, and points to why Young may have been a poor choice for this start. Among pitchers with 100 or more innings thrown during the regular season, Young had the most extreme fly-ball rate in baseball at 57.9%. Accordingly, his home-run rate (1.2 per nine) was high despite the fact that he pitched his home games in a homer-suppressing ballpark. Facing a home-run-hitting team in a homer-friendly ballpark, Young could be in for a very rough, or very short, afternoon.
• Young turned in a quality start in his only outing against Toronto this season and allowed only one home run, that to Edwin Encarnacion, but that was in Kansas City. Young has never pitched in the Rogers Centre before.
• Length and stamina may be an issue for Young, who has thrown more than 70 pitches in a game just once since July; this will be just his third start since then. The bad news for the Royals is that Yost burned up his long man last night, using Medlen for five innings and 70 pitches. The good news is that Medlen kept Yost from having to use any additional relievers other than lefty Franklin Morales, who threw just 20 pitches and should be available again today. That makes it all the more important for the Blue Jays to get an early lead, though as I noted yesterday, Toronto did have some regular-season success against the big three in Kansas City’s bullpen this year.