The Blue Jays avoided elimination in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series with a 7–1 win. Marco Estrada's dominant start on Wednesday not only saved Toronto’s season, it also bought the Jays a crucial day off that could further slow Kansas City’s momentum, and it gave his team's bullpen a chance to regroup after a disastrous Game 4. As positive as all of that may have been for Toronto, however, the Royals could still end the series tonight.
• This is the 98th best-of-seven postseason series in the World Series era (1903-present) to reach a sixth game. Of the first 97, the team trailing 3–2 forced a Game 7 52 times and came back to win the final two games—and thus the series—29 times. That’s 54% and 30%, respectively, slightly better than coin-flip odds. Of the 29 teams to come all the way back and win the series, 10 did so by winning the final two games on the road; the 2004 Red Sox were the last to do it, taking Games 6 and 7 at Yankee Stadium in their famous comeback from a 3–0 deficit in the ALCS.
• This postseason has not been kind to either of tonight's starters. Ventura gave up two early runs in his ALDS Game 1 start, then was replaced after a 48-minute rain delay and saddled with the loss. His two starts since then—ALDS Game 4 and ALCS Game 2—have been similar in shape. Ventura pitched five innings in the former and 5 1/3 innings in the latter, allowing three runs in each and both times exiting with his team trailing. In both of those games, however, the Royals staged a conga-line comeback after Ventura’s departure and wound up winning.
• The latter of those comebacks came against Price, whose Game 2 start in this series was one of the most confounding of his increasingly frustrating postseason career. After giving up a single to Alcides Escobar on his first pitch of that game, Price retired 18 Royals in a row and entered the seventh inning with a 3–0 lead and just 66 pitches thrown. Toronto's Ryan Goins then misplayed a pop-up into a single to start the seventh; six batters later, the Royals were up 4–3, and Price was on his way to the showers, destined for his seventh loss in as many postseason starts.
• Price’s 0–7 postseason record as a starter (his lone playoff win came in relief) is a bit misleading: Three of those starts were quality, and, while with the Tigers, he held the Orioles to two runs over eight innings in Game 3 of last year’s ALDS in a 2-1 loss. Still, he has a 5.44 ERA in those seven turns, allowing eight home runs in 48 innings (1.5 HR/9). It’s clear that he’s not been the same pitcher in the playoffs.
• Given Price’s postseason struggles, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons’s usage of him so far has been baffling. Price’s start on Sept. 26 was by far his worst as a Blue Jay (5 IP, 4 ER against the Rays), so the team decided to skip his final scheduled regular season start, thus giving him 11 days off heading into his ALDS Game 1 turn. But after Price struggled in that outing (7 IP, 5 R, 2 HR), the Jays started messing with his routine even more, bringing him out of the bullpen in Game 4 despite holding a six-run lead and letting him throw 50 pitches. Although he struggled as a reliever against Texas that day (3 IP, 3 R), Gibbons had Price warming up again in Game 5 of this series. As a result, Price, who rarely throws between starts, hasn’t been on his normal routine in four weeks.
• One reason for Gibbons’s bizarre usage of Price is that he clearly has very little trust remaining in his bullpen outside of setup man Aaron Sanchez and closer Roberto Osuna, who were the only relievers to pitch in Toronto’s Game 5 win. Sanchez has allowed just one unearned run in seven innings this postseason; Osuna has allowed only one run in 7 1/3 innings. The two have also combined to strand five of seven inherited runners.
• The rest of the bullpen, however, has been a mess. Top lefty Brett Cecil suffered a calf strain in the Division Series, knocking him out for the remainder of that series and this one. The righthanded rookie who replaced him on the roster, Ryan Tepera, retired just five of the 12 men he faced in Game 4, and veteran setup man LaTroy Hawkins has retired just five of 14 opposing hitters this postseason. With those two relegated to garbage time, Gibbons’s middle relief options are down to secondary lefty Aaron Loup, deadline acquisition Mark Lowe and converted starter Liam Hendriks. All are capable, but Gibbons appears to lack confidence in them. Hendriks went a long way to gain his manager's trust with a yeoman’s outing in relief of R.A. Dickey in Game 4, holding the Royals to a lone single over 4 1/3 innings. He threw 59 pitches in that outing, but after two days of rest, he should be available in this game. Also available will be Dickey, who threw just 48 pitches in his abbreviated Game 4 start.
• The Royals' bullpen, of course, has been dominant once again, with closer Wade Davis and setup men Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson and Luke Hochevar combining to throw 10 scoreless innings in this series, striking out 12 against two walks and seven hits. It will be of vital importance for the Jays to get out to another early lead on Ventura, and for Gibbons to be aggressive in pulling Price so as not to experience a repeat of Game 2.