Ventura, Cueto have KC poised for another pennant
KANSAS CITY -- The Royals are in need of one victory -- and they have two chances to get it -- in their bid to return to the World Series.
They have their pitching set up in what should be perfect alignment.
Yordano Ventura, the team's Opening Day starter, will be on the mound for the first pitch in Game 6 of the ALCS against Toronto at Kauffman Stadium on Friday night (7 p.m. ET airtime on FOX Sports 1 and Sportsnet, with game time slated for 8 p.m.).
Johnny Cueto, acquired prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline to give the Royals a veteran ace, is in line to start a Game 7 on Saturday, if needed.
One of them can make a statement if they can shut down the Blue Jays and give the Royals a shot at claiming a World Series championship for the first time since 1985.
Ventura's season hit bottom on July 21, five days before the Royals dealt three left-handed pitching prospects to the Reds for Cueto, a potential free agent at the end of the season who was a 2014 National League All-Star and had pitched in the postseason three times with the Reds.
Ventura, 4-7 with a 5.19 ERA at the time, was optioned to Triple-A Omaha that day after giving up six runs in four innings of a 10-7 loss to the Pirates. However, he never left Kansas City. Jason Vargas failed to make it out of the first inning of his start against the Pirates that night, was placed on the disabled list with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, and Ventura was put back on the roster.
He won his next outing and wound up going 9-1 with a 3.10 ERA in his 14 starts after that momentary demotion, with nine quality starts, including a 7-1 record with a 2.38 ERA in his final 11 starts of the season.
The Royals are 2-1 in his three starts this postseason, the loss coming in Game 1 of the AL Division Series against the Astros. More telling, though, he has a composite 6.58 ERA and in 12 1/3 innings has allowed 23 baserunners -- 16 hits, six walks and a hit batter.
What the Royals, however, have not forgotten is that as a rookie last year, Ventura made four postseason starts. He went 1-0 with a 2.52 ERA.
"He's learned some great lessons this year, about how to handle adversity and how to be a No. 1 guy," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "We saw it last year during the playoffs, just kind of found a way to take his game to just a little bit of a different level. We expect him to do that [in Game 6].
"We know that he's got a 97-99 mph fastball. The thing that's going to be key to him is commanding his secondary pitches. If he can command his curveball and changeup, man, he's tough."
Tough enough to beat the Blue Jays, who will counter with their own July addition -- David Price, who was 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA in 11 regular-season starts after Toronto acquired him from the Detroit Tigers, but has had his problems, too. He is 1-2 this postseason, having allowed 13 earned runs in 16 2/3 innings. The victory, however, came in a relief role in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Rangers. He has lost all seven postseason starts he has made in his career.
And then comes Cueto, who was supposed to give the Royals the one thing they clearly lacked: an ace. The Royals had a big enough lead in the AL Central that they were able to push aside his regular-season struggles -- 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA for K.C. -- banking on him coming up big in the postseason.
Cueto was mediocre in Game 1 of the ALDS (four runs allowed in six innings), but he lived up to his reputation in Game 5, allowing two runs over eight innings as the Royals defeated the Astros, 7-2, to advance to the ALCS.
He did not maintain that dominance in Game 3 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, giving up eight runs and failing to retire a batter in the third inning of the Jays' first ALCS victory, and then first complaining that the mound on the field was higher than the one he warmed up on in the bullpen and then suggesting the Blue Jays were stealing signs.
"I'll guarantee you if he makes another start in this series, he'll be good," Yost said after the game in Toronto.
And when all is said and done, with Ventura and Cueto lined up and only needing one win to get to the World Series, Kansas City has to be feeling pretty good.