With the ALDS beginning tonight, I thought I’d look at five things to watch for during those series.
With Three very good bullpens and one sucky one, chances are these series will come down to bullpen use, whether it’s using them a lot to spell average rotations, or in Detroit’s case, overusing their above average starters in an attempt to *avoid* using their bullpen. In the end, it’ll come down to bullpen usage. These pitching staffs aren’t balanced, at least not yet. (Kansas City has a couple of young aces in development if they continue their steady development, and if their current bullpen is still performing close to this level when those kids peak, watch out! Same for the Angels and Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker., though with those two it’s more a matter of them being healthy.)
Power vs. Speed.
In the LAA vs. KC series, you’ve got, on one hand, a team that’d make the 80’s Cardinals proud in KC. They pestered their way past the A’s in a surprising WC victory. Now the question is can they pull that off against the Angels. Can their pesky offense keep up with the thump that the Angels bring to the table? If you’d asked me this before the WC game, I would’ve said resoundingly “No!” Now I’m like…”Probably not…” Making contact and relying on your speed, when working right, can produce a surprising amount of runs. They scored the 14th most runs in the majors, not that high, but more than you’d expect from a team last in home runs and walks, respectively. Still, the Angels’ offense has a higher ceiling seeing as how it was *1st* in runs, so if KC’s starters can’t contain it long enough to hand the game over to the bullpen, it doesn’t matter how much KC pesters the Angels.
Clutch Pitching vs. Clutch Hitting.
Baltimore’s starters have been solid overall, and have done a good job with runners in scoring position. They’ll need to keep that up versus Detroit (I don’t see Detroit winning with just solo home runs, do you?) If they can do that, their own offense, still solid in spite of some injuries and suspensions, and good bullpen can take care of the rest. Otherwise Baltimore’s offense, which scored 50 less runs than Detroit and isn’t operating on all cylinders, will have a hard time keeping up with the 2nd ranked offense in the league.
The heart of the A’s order vs. Cerberus
If the game is close going into the 7th inning, Ned Yost will turn things over to Cerberus, a popular nickname for KC’s three-headed bullpen monster. I want to see what happens when those three guys (Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland) face off against Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and especially Mike Trout face off against them. A 9th inning matchup between Trout, the best hitter in the game, and Holland, arguably the best closer in the game, with the game on the line, would be especially interesting.
Depth vs. Stars and Scrubs
One of the oldest debates in baseball is whether it’s better to field a deep team full of solid players or a team of a few stars and a bunch of average or below average players. The playoffs often heighten this debate, as teams who rely on both strategies tend to face off. This is true in the case of Detroit vs. Baltimore. The Oriole’s depth allowed them to weather the loss of key players on offense. Having a player like Steve Pearce, who can come off the bench and take the place of injured or suspended players and hit 20 home runs, bat .293 and get on base at a .373 clip can be invaluable. Detroit’s offense, which is deep when healthy, hasn’t needed a guy like that since it has maintained its health for the most part. Their one injured regular, Jose Iglesias, wasn’t exactly an offensive powerhouse. He can hit for average and put up a solid OBP, but that’s it. Still, when he went down, it did create a black hole at shortstop they’ve struggled to fill, showing their lack of depth. That lack of depth is more apparent on the pitching side, especially in the bullpen. They tried to rely on Joe Nathan to close, only to see him struggle all season. The only reason he got 35 saves is because they had nobody else to trot out there. The only reliable reliever they’ve had, really, has been Al Alburquerque. They did acquire Joakim Soria from Texas to help, but he’s struggled when healthy in his short time with Detroit. Contrast that with Baltimore’s bullpen. They lost their closer from last season, Jim Johnson, to Oakland, anointed Tommy Hunter as his replacement, slid Zach Britton in there, and he shined. Then, as the season went on, they added Andrew Miller (who continued to perform well) to an already solid bullpen, giving them depth and flexibility that I’m sure Detroit envies.
So who’ll win? Well, the series I *want* is Baltimore vs. Kansas City, but I’m afraid we’ll end up with Los Angeles vs. Detroit, the two most over-hyped teams in the American League.
As always, thanks for reading.