(Reuters) - A battle between home run bashers and small-ball specialists looms as the power-hitting Toronto Blue Jays and opportunistic Kansas City Royals meet for the right to represent the American League in the World Series.
The Royals, who will host the opener of the best-of-seven AL Championship Series on Friday, are striving to return to the World Series after ending a 29-year wait last year, while the Jays are determined to reach it for the first time in 22 years.
Toronto’s modern day Murderer’s Row of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion combined for 120 homers in the regular season for the home run-leading Blue Jays who belted 232, while the Royals stood 25th with 139 as a team.
But there are different ways to score runs, as Lorenzo Cain showed in Kansas City’s deciding game in the Division Series against Houston when he dashed home from first base on a single when the Astros’ center fielder slipped while fielding it.
The Royals, who took the San Francisco Giants to a decisive Game Seven in last year’s World Series with the tying run on third in the bottom of the ninth, pride themselves on putting the ball in play, rather than losing it over the outfield wall.
Kansas City struck out 973 times, the fewest in Major League Baseball, 134 less than the next most efficient team.
”That’s the strength of this club, the ability to put the ball in play is key,“ Royals manager Ned Yost said. ”A lot of times it can be a ground out, it could be a pop up, it could be a fly out.
“It’s crucial in situations when you have runners in scoring position.”
The Blue Jays are not all-or-nothing at the plate, but their prodigious power is the heart of their attack.
In Wednesday’s emotional Division Series-clinching win over Texas, Encarnacion cleared the wall and Bautista blasted a three-run, game-changing home run in the seventh that iced a win over the Rangers and sent Rogers Centre fans into delirium.
Both teams bolstered their rosters at the trade deadline.
Toronto prominently added pitcher David Price, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and left-fielder Ben Revere.
Kansas City supplemented their club with right-hander Johnny Cueto and versatile second baseman Ben Zobrist.
The bullpen edge belongs to the Royals, who also possess more speed on the bases, and both teams play superior defense.
Toronto led their season series 4-3, with some bad blood emerging from the teams in August when players from each team were hit by pitches.
Home field advantage belongs to the AL Central winning Royals, whose 95-67 record was better than AL East champions Toronto’s 93-69, giving Kansas City top seeding. But the atmosphere in title-starved Toronto takes a back seat to no one.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue