MLB Playoffs: ALCS Preview

Kansas City Royals vs Baltimore Orioles

The Kansas City Royals and the Baltimore Orioles meet in the ALCS as a pair of very hungry franchises.  Kansas City hasn’t been to the World Series since 1985, and Baltimore hasn’t been since 1983.  These two teams are both very good, and capable of winning the series.

Rotation:  Both rotations aren’t full of big names, but are very good.  Each of the three pitchers (Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris) who pitched in the Orioles’ ALDS win over Detroit have an ERA of 3.65 or less, and their fourth starter, Miguel Gonzalez, who didn’t pitch in the ALDS, has a better ERA at 3.23.  The Royals are led by “Big Game James” Shields, in addition to Jason Vargas, and Yordano Ventura, who are a touch behind the O’s statistically, allowed only five runs in the three games of the ALDS against the Angels.  The Orioles are better on paper, but the Royals also pass the eye test, and I can’t see either team’s rotation being a weakness at any point during the series.
Advantage: Even

Bullpen:  The O’s bullpen is led by closer Zach Britton, who saved 37 games after moving from the rotation to the bullpen this year, and he is joined in relief by, among others, Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter, and midseason acquisition Andrew Miller, who won the World Series with the Red Sox last year.  While all of those pitchers except Hunter have sub-1.70 ERAs, the Royals trio of closer Greg Holland and setup men Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera all have ERAs of 1.44 or less, which would be a great accomplishment for one player, but is almost unfathomable for a pitching staff.  When the Royals take a lead to the 7th, they are almost unbeatable.
Advantage: Royals, but not by much

Lineup:  The Orioles led all of baseball with 211 homers, including 40 by slugger Nelson Cruz and 29 by Adam Jones, and while the team only has one hitter above a .281 average (Steve Pearce, .293), a majority of the team is in the .270-.280 range, which is not bad.  The Orioles lineup is their strength.  While the Royals lineup isn’t necessarily theirs, and while they ranked last in baseball with only 93 homers in the regular season, the team has hit a few so far in their playoff run when they seemed to need one, particularly including Eric Hosmer.  Speed is their strength, and that takes effect as they get on base, leading the AL in batting average and striking out the least.
Advantage: Orioles, but not by much

Bench:  As mentioned, speed is the Royals strength, and they lead the league in stolen bases (while the Orioles rank last).  That strength is particularly evident in pinch-running situations late in games, when Terrance Gore and Jarrod Dyson have come off the bench for the Royals to steal bases and score runs.  The Orioles do have a solid bench, with players like Ryan Flaherty, Kelly Johnson, and David Lough ready when needed, the direct impact on the teams offensive output doesn’t quite match the running Royals reserves.
Advantage: Royals

Defense:  This was the easiest criteria to give an edge in by just the eye test, but then I looked at the numbers.  The Royals also use their speed to play outstanding defense, and their ALDS win over the Angels was a highlight reel of fantastic plays, particularly by outfielders Lorenzo Cain, Nori Aoki, and Alex Gordon, as well as shortstop Alcides Escobar.  However, the Orioles led the AL in fielding percentage for the season, and even with an excellent defensive third baseman in Manny Machado out injured, the field is still full of solid defensive players.  But my eyes just can’t forget the excellence they saw from the Royals in the ALDS, with many of those plays coming in very clutch spots on their way to a series sweep.
Advantage: Royals, but not by much

Manager:  These two managers were probably the leading two candidates for AL Manager of the Year before the playoffs began, and have solidified that sentiment with their team’s success.  There is, however, a difference between Ned Yost of the Royals and Buck Showalter of the Orioles.  Yost has been in the game a long time, but there have still been a few times this year (particularly the AL Wild Card Game) that his managing, and particularly his bullpen management, have been criticized, often with legitimate evidence.  Showalter is a very old-fashioned manager, who demands respect and gets his players to play right, and who can also outsmart the opposition in a heartbeat, even going “against the book” at times to take a strategical gamble, usually paying off.
Advantage: Orioles

Home field/crowd:  Both crowds will be hungry, and therefore very loud, in this series, as neither fan base has seen a World Series since the mid-1980s.  Baltimore will have home-field advantage, hosting four of the seven games if the series goes the distance, but its hard to go against Kansas City in this criteria, even if they lack the home-field advantage.  Additionally, the Royals proved in the ALDS they certainly have an ability to win close games on the road.
Advantage: Even

Of my seven criteria, no one has the edge in the majority, but the Royals have the edge in three categories, the Orioles have it in two, and there are two ties.  The two teams aren’t necessarily even in all the individual phases of the game, but overall  this matchup is very even between two very strong baseball teams.  In the end, the Royals magical run will continue, but expect a great series, with the games and the overall series coming down to the wire.

The Royals will win the series, 4 games to 3.

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