TORONTO — The rematch of the 2015 American League Championship Series involves two third-place teams.
The Kansas City Royals visit the Toronto Blue Jays for a three-game series at the Rogers Centre that begins Monday.
The Royals, who beat the Blue Jays in six games in the ALCS before winning the World Series over the New York Mets in five games, are third in the AL Central with a 43-38 record after losing 7-2 to the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday.
The Blue Jays are third in the AL East with a 45-39 record after defeating the Cleveland Indians 17-1 on Sunday.
A big problem for the Royals has been their starting rotation.
The Royals entered Sunday ranked 12th in the American League in starters' ERA at 4.97. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, sat third at 3.77.
After the Sunday games, Royals starters had a 27-34 won-lost record and the Blue Jays were 37-20.
“I'm not panicking about any of our starters,” Royals manager Ned Yost told the Kansas City Star. “They've kept us in games.”
Pitching coach Dave Eiland said, “We cruise along then, boom, we have a three-run inning. It's killing us.”
While the Blue Jays' starters have been good, the hitters started slowly and so did the bullpen. The relievers will enter the series against the Royals worn down by a draining series against the Cleveland Indians, a four-game split that included a 2-1 Cleveland win in 19 innings on Friday.
The bullpen should be in slightly better shape by Monday after J.A. Happ provided a seven-inning start with 11 strikeouts on Sunday.
“A crucial game — we needed a good outing,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “We were pretty banged up in the bullpen if he hadn't done that, that game might have ended up 35-30 or something.”
Troy Tulowitzki was among the disappointing early season hitters for the Blue Jays, but he again showed signs Sunday that he is beginning to hit up to his career numbers. The whole offense has perked up of late.
Tulowitzki hit a three-run homer and had four RBIs on Sunday. Since June 19, he is batting .347 (17-for-49) with six home runs.
Tulowitzki said the past two wins against Cleveland were important for the Blue Jays to give them a lift for a push in the final week before the All-Star break. The Blue Jays used a three-run eighth inning on Saturday to end Cleveland's 14-game win streak and then chased Corey Kluber early in the romp on Sunday.
“Real good,” Tulowitzki said. “I think if you're looking at it from about the seventh inning on yesterday, you think OK, if (we) lose three here, that's tough. Then you're going against Kluber, possibly get swept — that's probably going through some people's minds. To respond like we did, finish the series 2-2, and obviously have some big games coming up before the break.”
The Blue Jays and Royals played a tense four-game series last July 30-Aug. 2. The Blue Jays took three of the four games that included batters being hit by pitches and bench-clearing incidents in the finale won by Toronto 5-2.
One of the pitchers involved that fourth game will start Monday. Edinson Volquez (7-7, 4.80 ERA) is 0-4 with a 6.46 ERA in six career starts against Toronto but threw six scoreless innings in Game 1 of the ALCS, a 5-0 Royals victory.
The Blue Jays will counter with Aaron Sanchez (8-1, 3.08 ERA), who will be making his first career start against the Royals, although he has faced them as a reliever.
He is 0-0 with a 3.38 ERA in three relief outings covering 2 2/3 innings in his regular-season career against the Royals. During the ALCS, he faced the Royals four times, allowing four hits and no runs in a total of two innings.
Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar, MVP of last year's ALCS, said he was looking forward to the series in Toronto.
“I know the fans will be pretty crazy,” he told MLB.com. “But that's OK. We play good when fans are really into it. But it's another series for us that we're going to try to win. We'll come out and play hard just like always. I like to play them. I play good against them.”