Blue Jays' hitters know patience pays
KANSAS CITY -- The Blue Jays are known for hitting home runs, but it's their plate discipline that could be the biggest key to any success in the remainder of the American League Championship Series.
Toronto led the Major Leagues with 232 homers during the season, but the club also finished first with 570 walks. Patience at the plate has been a major factor in their recent victories, and that trend likely will have to continue if the Blue Jays want to extend the ALCS to a seventh game.
:: ALCS: Blue Jays vs. Royals -- Tune-in info ::The Blue Jays are averaging 4.4 walks per game in their five postseason victories. That number drops to 1.8 in the five losses, and with Game 6 on Friday night (7 p.m. ET airtime on FOX Sports 1 and Sportsnet, with game time slated for 8 p.m.), it will be a trend worth monitoring.
"That's what we do, and that's what makes our offense so good, really," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "Guys take their walks, and it sets things up for other guys. Take their walks."
There are a lot of strengths to the Blue Jays' offense, but one of the biggest advantages is the depth. Toronto doesn't have any easy outs, and that can cause a lot of stress for opposing pitchers who don't have the ability to take their foot off the pedal.
If teams try to pitch around any of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Chris Colabello or Troy Tulowitzki, the group is more than content to pass the baton. Even the bottom-third of the order -- Russell Martin, Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins -- have the ability to do some damage and score in a variety of ways.
That's why every baserunner is crucial and will be even more important at the pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium on Friday night. The Blue Jays can't afford to sit back and wait for the home run, but the more baserunners they get, the more scoring opportunities everyone will have.
"The one thing we have to continue to do is force their pitchers to throw strikes," said Bautista, who has eight walks in 10 postseason games. "They nibble around the edge of the zone a lot. They don't really challenge you.
"You've got to continue to be disciplined enough that if they don't want to throw anything over the plate, we have to pass the baton on to the next guy and hopefully take a walk and go to first base."
A perfect example could be found in the sixth inning of Game 5. Toronto had a slim 1-0 lead going into the sixth and Royals right-hander Edinson Volquez was on his way to another quality start. All of that changed when Ben Revere led off with a walk and Donaldson was hit to put runners on first and second.
Bautista followed with an epic 10-pitch walk to load the bases. Encarnacion followed with a six-pitch walk to score the first run of the inning. All of the patience was eventually rewarded when Tulowitzki hit a bases-clearing double to the gap in left-center field.
Toronto scored four runs on one hit and just like that put the game out of reach. If anyone panicked or tried to do too much, the sixth-inning success never would have happened. Instead, it was the Royals' pitchers who felt all of the pressure.
"In playoff games, you're trying to be a tough out," Tulowitzki said. "Those guys are professional hitters, I see it every single game, they put together good at-bats. I can't say enough. Being in the National League, I didn't get to see Bautista and Eddie. You see some highlights of their home runs, but you didn't get to see their at-bats on a regular basis.
"Since I came over here, getting to watch them, they're really professional hitters and great guys to learn from, very smart. That shows off right there, playoff atmosphere, to grind out at-bats, makes them special."