Five questions facing Royals before ALCS
KANSAS CITY -- The Division Series party is over -- but just maybe a bigger celebration is in the works. The celebration of the American League Division Series victory is behind the Royals, but they're developing a taste for champagne. Now they have to get past Baltimore in the AL Championship Series to pop more corks. Game 1 is set for Friday (7 p.m. CT on TBS).
"They're a phenomenal team, they've got Nelson Cruz, a guy that's a tremendous power hitter," manager Ned Yost said on Monday. "Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, [Nick] Markakis -- those guys are all tremendous players.
"They play the game like we do a little bit. They've got tremendous defense, they've got speed, they've got good pitching, they've got a good bullpen. They have a little more power than we do, we have a little more speed than they do. So I think it's going to be a fairly even match, it's going to be close games, it's going to be a tight series and it's going to be fun."
Five things to look for from the Royals' perspective:
Who will be in the rotation?
Undecided so far. Behind likely Game 1 starter James Shields will be three others from the five-man rotation. Yost noted that the Royals like to use Jason Vargas on the road and Jeremy Guthrie at home, so that could be a clue. The first two games are in Baltimore, so maybe Vargas gets the ball in Game 2. Or maybe not.
"We always like Jeremy Guthrie here, Vargy always does a good job on the road but so does [Yordano] Ventura, so does [Danny] Duffy," Yost said. "We'll look at it and see what's better for our team."
Who will be the long man in relief?
Not sure. That task fell to Duffy in the ALDS, but his only appearance came in the 10th inning of Game 1 and he wound up the winning pitcher. Duffy pitched 6 2/3 perfect innings against the Orioles earlier this year, so he might figure as one of the four starters in this round.
A good long man is a playoff must, because of possible injury or, as in the case of the Angels' C.J. Wilson on Sunday, an early meltdown. If not Duffy, it could be Guthrie.
Will the backend bullpen threesome be intact?
Yes. There was a ripple of apprehension when seventh-inning specialist Kelvin Herrera had to be pulled with forearm tightness in ALDS Game 1. He missed a game but came back in Game 3 blazing 101-mph fastballs, setting up Wade Davis for the eighth and Greg Holland for the ninth.
Yost (disclaimer: "I'm not a doctor") theorized that Herrera, in the stifling heat of Anaheim, merely suffered from a cramp that night. There definitely was no sign of discomfort or injury on Sunday.
Will there be any changes in the starting lineup?
No. Yost made it clear that he's sticking with the same basic lineup he's used since Sept. 13. Why not? Including the playoffs, it's gone 13-6.
"I don't see any reason to change it right now," Yost said. "The whole thought was, let's get some speed at the top of the lineup and create some havoc. It's definitely worked out for us."
Will playing in cozy Camden Yards be helpful?
They hope so. The Royals, home run-deprived all season, suddenly went long ball in the playoffs with all of four in the ALDS -- two by Eric Hosmer, two by Mike Moustakas. Could a hitter-friendly ballpark help extend this trend?
"I know our guys like playing there, they all like playing there," Yost said. "Beautiful place and they know if they hit it, it's not going to the warning track. They can put it in the seats there, so everybody likes it."