The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Royals have not only made the playoffs for the first time in 29 years, but they haven't lost a game, advancing from the one-game Wild Card to sweeping the favored Angels in the ALDS. The Royals have released their roster for the ALCS that begins Friday in Baltimore, and it's the same as the one that led them to victory in the previous round.
While the series extends from best-of-five to best-of-seven, the Royals didn't have much to change since they were already carrying four starting pitchers. Within their pitching staff they have ample flexibility thanks to Danny Duffy's ability to pitch in the rotation or out of the pen, and be an impact arm either way. Brandon Finnegan's ability to throw multiple innings is another bonus, and gives the Royals a weapon to match against the Orioles deployment of Kevin Gausman. That's all before we get to The Big Three who anchor the pen, in Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland. The bullpen is a point of strength for the Royals, and the only weakness might be in manager Ned Yost's ability to deploy them effectively, and the starting pitchers' ability to get the ball to them.
Speaking of those starters, the Royals are switching up their deployment of them. While Jason Vargas started game one in the ALDS thanks to James Shields starting the Wild Card game, it is the astronaut lion himself. Yost is sticking with Yordano Ventura in game two, thanks to his ability to keep the ball in the park, a necessity in the small confines of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. That lines up Vargas for a start at home, where Kauffman Stadium is much friendlier to his flyball tendencies. Whether Jeremy Guthrie or Danny Duffy will start game four is up in the air at this point, though Duffy's ease of transition to the bullpen and shaky mechanics would make it sense to roll with Guthrie who would also make use of the Kauffman's spacious outfield.
The Royals lineup has speed to burn, but was fueled by power in the ALDS, with Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas hitting big home runs. They'll have the opportunity to do more of that, as Camden should be a friendlier place to hit than Angels Stadium, but they're have to do more of that to keep up with the Orioles' sluggers. Their need for speed will also be tested by catcher Caleb Joseph who posted a 40 percent caught stealing rate, one of the highest in the majors. It might not be possible to stop pinch-runner extraordinaires Terrance Gore or Jarrod Dyson though. Dyson factors in on defense, and right-handed power bat Josh Willingham will likely see some action to counteract Andrew Miller, or against Zach Britton late in games. The rest of the bench consists of backup catcher Erik Kratz and utility man Christian Colon. The latter might actually earn some time if starting second baseman Omar Infante continues to struggle, but it's likely that Ned Yost will proceed dancing with the lineup that brung him.
The Royals roster:
Starting Pitchers (4): James Shields, Yordano Ventura, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie
Relief Pitchers (7): Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Danny Duffy, Brandon Finnegan, Jason Frasor, Tim Collins
Catchers (2): Salvador Perez, Erik Kratz
Infield (5): Eric Hosmer, Omar Infante, Christian Colon, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas
Outfield (6): Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Norichika Aoki, Jarrod Dyson, Josh Willingham, Terrance Gore
Designated Hitter (1): Billy Butler