Blue Jays manager John Gibbons had right-hander R.A. Dickey on a short leash in the ALDS, pulling him in the fifth inning of his Game 4 start against the Rangers despite a 7-1 lead. There was no leash short enough today against the Royals, as the 40-year-old knuckleballer coughed up five runs–including homers to Ben Zobrist and Alex Rios–before being pulled in the second inning.
And then things got worse from there for the Blue Jays.
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Toronto’s power-packed lineup had several opportunities to climb out of the early hole dug by Dickey, but Kansas City starter Chris Young and first man out of the bullpen Luke Hochevar wriggled out of trouble each time. And then Blue Jays reliever LaTroy Hawkins and the rest of the bullpen imploded to put the game out of reach and allow the Royals to take a 3-1 lead in the ALCS without manager Ned Yost having to use stud closer Wade Davis. (He could have avoided using stud setup man Kelvin Herrera too, but brought him in anyway.)
During the regular season the Blue Jays led all of baseball in scoring by a wide margin, totaling 127 more runs than the second-best lineup. They looked the part in Game 3 on Monday night–so much so that sign-stealing allegations resurfaced via losing pitcher Johnny Cueto–but the Blue Jays have scored 0, 3, and 2 runs in the other three games of this series.
Meanwhile, the Royals lineup–which scored 167 fewer runs and hit 93 fewer homers than the Blue Jays during the regular season–has averaged more than six runs per game in the playoffs. Through four games of this series the Royals have totaled 33 runs and 46 hits in 34 innings. Things got so ugly for the Blue Jays’ pitching staff in the 14-2 loss that Gibbons called on utility infielder Cliff Pennington to get the final out in the ninth inning rather than extend actual relievers any further in a laugher.
Toronto lost the first two games of the best-of-five ALDS at home before winning three straight games to take the series. Now the Blue Jays are again facing elimination and again need to win three straight games to advance. Marco Estrada will try to get that train rolling tomorrow afternoon against Edinson Volquez, a rematch of the Royals win in Game 1. Anything can happen, of course, but right now the idea of the Royals losing three straight games seems far-fetched. They look like a scarier, souped-up version of last year’s pennant winners.