Kansas City versus Baltimore. Let those four words float in your mind for a moment. Two teams who weren’t on anybody’s top five list to *make* the playoffs at the beginning of the season not only made it, they swept each of their respective division series.
1) The battle of the bullpens:
I know, I know, I use this one quite a bit, but given that these are two of the best bullpens in the game, this is something to keep an eye on. There’s a possible injury to one of KC’s bullpen beasts, Kelvin Herrera, but that’s ok, they’ll just slot a kid who was in the last College World Series into his spot.Finnegan’s ascendance means the Royals Cerberus is intact, meaning that they only need six innings from their starters, just like they have all year.
As for Baltimore’s ‘pen, it may not be as well known as KC’s, but it may be just as good, with their own trio to cover the back end. The emergence of Zach Britton as the closer when Tommy Hunter faltered, combined with the excellence of Darren O’Day and mid-season acquisition Andrew Miller, gives the Orioles a ‘pen to watch.
2) Battle of the no name rotations:
Quick, name a starter from either team other than James Shields! Times up! You probably got Chris Tillman, and maybe Yordano Ventura, but chances are, unless you’re a Royals or Orioles fan, or a baseball nut in general (raises hand. I mean, I asked someone about a GM on another team the other day, and he gave me a the equivalent of a blank look) you don’t know these rotations. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good, just not well known. Danny Duffy for example, may have had a losing record for the Royals, but he had an excellent ERA and WHIP at 2.53 and 1.112, respectively. He admittedly did this in 149 innings, the fewest of the rotation, about 30 less than Ventura. It was the most innings of his career though, and he’s still relatively young at 25, so this year could be the launching point of a solid career as a starter. The Orioles’ with Tillman and Kevin Gausman, have two young guns 26 or under to anchor their staff for years to come. Duffy and Gausman may not start during this series, but expect to see them in either long relief or other bullpen roles.
3) Power vs. Speed:
While the Royals showed off surprising power during the LDS, contact and speed was their calling card during the season and given Baltimore’s effective pitching staff, they need to continue to rely on it. It’ll be interesting to see how much they run on catcher Caleb Joseph, who’s got a good arm who caught 40 percent of runners that tried to steal on him. Plus, the Orioles pitchers as a whole are quick to the plate, making them harder to steal on.The Orioles, rely on the boomstick. Nelson Cruz is having a good post-season, and they have additional power in the form of Steve Pearce and Adam Jones. Jones’ patience will be key here as he only drew 19 walks all year, resulting in a low .311 OBP despite a solid .281 BA. He needs to be more patient and wait for his pitch, or his bat will be neutralized.
Neither of these teams have been to the World Series in a long time. While the Orioles did make the playoffs 2 years ago, they lost in the LDS. Their last appearance in the LCS was in 1997, where they lost to Cleveland. Their last World Series appearance was in 1983, when they beat the Phillies.
The Orioles have nothing on the Royals though, as they haven’t even sniffed the playoffs since they won it all in 1985. They did have a 92 win season in 1989, but even then they finished seven games behind the A’s back in an era when there was no wild card.
The bottom line is both of these teams are playing for the chance to do something they haven’t done in a very long time: Appear in a World Series.That’ll heighten the tension, because neither team knows when they’ll be in this position again, especially with key players like James Shields and Nelson Cruz heading off into free agency after the season in search of megabucks.
5) The Rigidity of Ned Yost versus the Flexibility of Buck Showalter:
Remember KC’s bullpen cerberus I mentioned earlier. It’s that way because Yost is very rigid. Once you’re assigned a role, you stay there forever unless you’re injured. Admittedly many managers are pretty rigid these days, but nobody’s as inflexible as he is. Whenever his starters run into trouble in the sixth inning, I think Yost develops brain cramps, because it doesn’t seem like he knows what to do. Showalter, on the other hand, adapts. He asked for five outs from Miller in one of the LDS games and got them. He’s not afraid to adapt on the fly, especially with his bullpen.
One thing I forgot to mention: Defense. Both teams have good defenses and rely on them (with the Royals outfield being the best in the business) so don’t expect many errors or defensive lapses.
I think it’ll come down to the managers, and Showalter has the clear advantage there. Orioles in 6.
As always, thanks for reading.