Running against Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin is a fool’s errand. Much of what earned the Canadian star his massive offseason contract was an elite defensive game, and he hasn’t disappointed in the regular season or the ALDS. Heading in to the ALCS against the Kansas City Royals, the Blue Jays will need his right arm more than ever.
Kansas City’s memorable 2014 playoff run was powered by some consistently great base running, and their team speed will pose a significant threat to the Jays pitching staff if they’re able to fill the bases. The Royals were successful on four of five stolen base attempts in the ALDS, matching the Blue Jays in that respect.
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Toronto ran very efficiently in the 2015 season, and their 79.28% success rate actually led Major League Baseball. Kansas City ranked fourth at 75.36%, and their 104 steals put them fifth in the league. Lorenzo Cain topped the Royals with 28 stolen bases in the regular season, followed by Jarrod Dyson with 26 and Alcides Escobar with 17. Specialist Terrance Gore will also factor in heavily when late-game pinch-running situations arise.
Russell Martin enjoyed one of his finer seasons against the running game, allowing 40 successful steals while throwing out 32 runners, good for 44%. The Blue Jays may not see a great drop off when Dioner Navarro comes in to work with Marco Estrada, either. Navarro threw out 9-of-23 would-be base stealers in 2015, good for a success rate of 39%.
Also working in the Blue Jays favor is the fact that Kansas City has struggled to produce free base runners this season. Their 383 walks rank second last in all of baseball, and miles behind the first-ranked Blue Jays with 570. The pitching staff will be wise to pound the strike zone, and given the incredible defensive performance they watched in game five of the Rangers series, they should be confident in doing so.
Jays pitchers have done a great job in limiting the running game this season. Much of that can be credited back to the presence of Martin alone, but their in-game managing and quick moves to the plate have kept opposing runners off balance.
Games one and two of the Rangers series showed that, even if it doesn’t come in the form of stolen bags, aggression on the bases can give opponents an inside edge on the Blue Jays. Toronto opened up the vault for Russell Martin for a reason, and that reason begins on Friday night.