4 postseason surprises hint at exciting finish
Fans should expect the unexpected in Championship Series
Only three times in League Championship Series history have two teams swept their way to the World Series -- 1969 (Orioles and Mets), '70 (Orioles and Reds) and '75 (Red Sox and Reds). It has never happened in the time since the Championship Series went to a best-of-seven format.
So don't count on both the Mets and Royals to advance in the four-game minimum this week. The American League Championship Series resumes Monday at Rogers Centre (7 p.m. ET air time on FOX Sports 1/Sportsnet, 8 p.m. ET game time), and the National League Championship Series continues Tuesday at Wrigley Field (7:30 p.m. ET air time on TBS, 8 p.m. ET game time), and the Blue Jays and Cubs obviously hope to make a more earnest series out of it.
Then again, sometimes the postseason is all about expecting the unexpected. And in this Championship Series round, four early surprises stand out:
1. The Blue Jays' RISPy business
Toronto's .286 batting average with runners in scoring position wasn't just the best in baseball this season; it was the best by an AL team in any of the past six seasons. The Blue Jays were a far more pedestrian 10-for-45 in these situations in the Division Series round, but against the Royals, they've gone almost completely AWOL. They are a woeful 3-for-23 in the two games so far, including an 0-for-7 effort in the 5-0 loss in Game 1.
Really, this is strength against strength, because while the Blue Jays routinely capitalized on opportunities this season, Royals pitching routinely squashed them. The Royals had the third-lowest opponents' average with RISP (.240) in the regular season -- the lowest among AL clubs.
Still, you would expect Toronto's performance in the clutch to adjust closer to the mean to some degree, and perhaps the home cooking will help this week. Although it's not exactly novel to suggest a team has to score to win, with the Blue Jays it's especially true. They were just 16-56 this season when scoring four runs or fewer, and they've yet to win such a game in the postseason.
Don Larsen, a guy who finished his career with an 81-91 record and overall numbers that rate as league average, is the only person to throw a postseason perfect game. The names Bucky Dent, Gene Tenace, Cody Ross and David Freese conjure up instant October memories.
So it's not entirely unusual for a guy like Daniel Murphy to own the moment the way he has.
But still. This is nuts.
Three homers off lefties -- his total for the entirety of the 2014 and '15 regular seasons? And those three homers are off Clayton Kershaw and Jon Lester? Crazy.
Four consecutive games with a homer overall (only 2004 Carlos Beltran's five-game streak is longer)? Lunacy.
Intentionally walked to get to Yoenis Cespedes? We've gone totally off the grid here, people.
"Babe" Murphy arrived with impeccable timing both for the Mets and himself, given his pending free-agent payday. Hitting coach Kevin Long has raved about the adjustments Murphy made this season to start driving the ball all over the field, and the fruit of that work is this potentially history-making performance on the postseason stage.
3. Jake Arrieta: Human being
Maybe this one shouldn't be surprising. But Arrieta entered the Division Series round on a run the likes of which this game has rarely -- perhaps never -- seen, so our expectations were, it turns out, unrealistically high.
Arrieta gave a terse "I don't know" when asked why his velocity has dipped to the 92-94 mph range after previously averaging out around 95 or 96, but the reason is pretty obvious. Arrieta is now at 248 2/3 innings for the season after pitching a career-high 156 2/3 last year. The 59-percent jump is not just a current concern, but also a future one, as it could put Arrieta at greater risk for an injury or statistical regression in 2016.
Right now, the real risk lies with the Cubbies, who have Jacob deGrom looming in Game 3 and aren't yet sure of their own starter for Game 4 (though Jason Hammel seems the strongest possibility). The Cubs thus far have gone just 4-for-27 off the fastballs of Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard, and more heat is coming from deGrom, who thus far hasn't shown any wear and tear from a 45-percent innings jump of his own.
So right now, velocity is working against the Cubs -- Arrieta's has betrayed him and Mets' starters have used theirs to befuddle Cubs batters.
4. Royal resilience
The Royals aren't surprised by it. Their fans aren't surprised by it. But it's OK for the world at large to be surprised by Kansas City's continued indefatigability.
Especially with the way bullpens are built, teams leading after three innings go on to win the game roughly 75 percent of the time.
The Royals are the exception to the rule:
• They trailed Game 2 of the ALDS by a 4-2 score after three innings. They won it, 5-4.
• They trailed Game 4 of the ALDS by a 6-2 score going into the eighth. They won it, 9-6.
• They trailed Game 5 of the ALDS by a 2-0 score after three. They won it, 7-2.
• And they trailed Game 2 of this ALCS by a score of 3-0 after six innings. They won it, 6-3.
All right, so maybe it's not quite as mind-blowing as that Michigan State win over Michigan, but still -- this stuff just doesn't happen with such regularity.
Brian Sabean used the term "cockroaches" to describe the 2012 Giants, who overcame the Melky Cabrera suspension and an 0-2 hole in the Division Series (with Game 3, 4 and 5 on the road, no less). But I'm not sure we've seen a more cockroach-y team in recent years than these Royals, who are unbelievably cool, calm and collected even in the most dire of situations.