ALCS

In the most improbable of fashions, the ALCS matchup is set, with the Wild Card Game-winning Kansas City Royals set to take on the AL East-champion Baltimore Orioles. KC swept the team with the most wins in the majors, while the O’s won three straight against the past three AL Cy Young winners in Max Scherzer, David Price, and Justin Verlander. We are now left with the most unlikely of scenarios in the AL playoff picture. Much has been made of the Royals’ 29-year absence from the playoffs, but it’s the Orioles who have two years on Kansas City when it comes to a World Series drought, with their last appearance being in 1983. Here’s how the series schedule shapes out:

Game 1 @BAL: Friday, Oct. 10
Game 2 @BAL: Saturday, Oct. 11
Game 3 @KC: Monday, Oct. 13
Game 4 @KC: Tuesday, Oct. 14
Game 5 @KC: Wednesday, Oct. 15 (if necessary)
Game 6 @BAL: Friday, Oct. 17 (if necessary)
Game 7 @BAL: Saturday, Oct. 18 (if necessary)

This matchup certainly lacks cache, with no big markets involved, and is certainly not anywhere close to a Yankees-Red Sox matchup, or really any other natural rivalry in the AL. However, this series is intriguing on so many levels. As stated above, the Orioles haven’t been to the World Series since ’83, while the Royals haven’t seen the Fall Classic since 1985. These are traditional baseball markets that are hungry for winners, which we have certainly witnessed on TV from the K (Kauffman Stadium) and Camden Yards. (I certainly realized what an awesome baseball city Baltimore is when I saw the first-place Orioles play at Camden in late June- who would’ve thought they’d maintain that position at the end of September.)

Although these cities are traditional baseball markets, they are also small markets. The Royals opened the season with the game’s 19th-highest payroll, the Orioles the 15th-highest. The only teams to have smaller television markets in baseball are the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cincinnati Reds.

The franchises possess so many similarities, yet these two teams are so different. The Orioles finished first in AL HRs, while the Royals were last. Kansas City led the American League in steals, while the Orioles were last. Yet in this matchup of power versus speed, each of these teams relied on elite defense and bullpens to get where they are today.

Which underdog is off to the Fall Classic? To be a better idea, let’s take a lot at the positional matchups.

Starting Pitching: Chris Tillman (13-6), Wei-Yin Chen (16-6), Bud Norris (15-8), Miguel Gonzalez (10-9) vs. James Shields (14-8), Jason Vargas (11-10), Yordano Ventura (14-10), Jeremy Guthrie (13-11)
With the series not kicking off until Friday, these teams get 4 off-days to rest up and set up their rotations. The trio of Vargas, Ventura, and Shields were great against a potent Angels lineup (on paper), but will surely get a tougher test against a hotter Orioles lineup, in a longer series. We also didn’t get a chance to see Jeremy Guthrie, who would be going up against his former team in this series. As for the Orioles, Tillman and Norris were both masterful in their starts, but Chen was shaky in his game 2 start and it is tough seeing the young Bud Norris repeating 6 innings of shutout ball. Because James Shields is the only true ace in this series, and will get two starts if this series goes 5-plus, the Royals get a slight edge.
Edge: Kansas City

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Chicago White Sox

Catcher: Nick Hundley/Caleb Joseph vs. Salvador Perez
Unfortunately for Baltimore, this is a lopsided positional matchup due to injury. Things would be much more interesting here if Matt Wieters (or even Steve Pearce) were behind the plate, but Tommy John surgery and a Chris Davis suspension have left the Orioles with a platoon of their C and D options. On the other side, the Royals have a back-to-back All Star who is as durable as they come (288 games played over the last two years).
Edge: Kansas City

First Base: Steve Pearce vs. Eric Hosmer
Hosmer has already put up 2 homers this postseason and has come up with a ton of timely hits in a short period of time. I’ve voiced my love for the underrated Pearce in my Wild Card and ALDS previews, but Hosmer is simply swinging the hotter bat. Plus, he seems to be the emotional leader in the Royals’ clubhouse right now.
Edge: Kansas City

Second Base: Jonathan Schoop vs. Omar Infante
This is a matchup that I would just REALLY like to skip over but instead I’m just filling up space by writing this sentence. Plus, each team must (unfortunately) field a second baseman.
Edge: Kansas City

Third Base: Ryan Flaherty vs. Mike Moustakas
My criticism of Moustakas before the Wild Card game and ALDS couldn’t have come at a worse time, with the “Moose” coming up with 2 big Home Runs so far this postseason (he only had 2 total since the end of July entering the playoffs). His postseason OPS of 1.048 gives Kansas City the edge entering the series, over a soft-hitting Flaherty -who does provide a reliable glove- that has a career average .221 and just 2 hits in the ALDS.
Edge: Kansas City

Shortstop: JJ Hardy vs. Alcides Escobar
JJ Hardy is the defending Silver Slugger winner at short in the AL and I’m as big an advocate for Hardy as anyone (my 2008 and 2013 fantasy teams will back me up here). This is why it pains me to say the Escobar has the edge in this matchup. A major reason why the Royals have gotten to this point is their speed and the main catalyst for this speed is Escobar and his 31 steals (on 36 attempts). If Kansas City wants to reach the Fall Classic, they’re going to have to play to their strengths, which will mean relying heavily on Escobar getting on base and grabbing some bags.
Edge: Kansas City

Outfield: Delmon Young/Alejandro De Aza, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis vs. Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Nori Aoki
A main highlight of the playoffs thus far has been Lorenzo Cain making back-to-back diving grabs to prevent a possible Angels comeback and clinching a three-game sweep of the Angels for Kansas City. Such highlights have yet to occur in the Orioles outfield, but I emphasize yet. Baltimore owns one of the most athletic outfields in the bigs and I am very much intrigued by the platoon they’ve shown off thus far in left with Delmon Young and Alejandro De Aza, who was an under-the-radar acquisition from the White Sox. As much as Alex Gordon is an offensive catalyst in the middle of the Royals’ order, Adam Jones is far-and-away the best overall player in either of these outfields and puts the Orioles over the top.
Edge: Baltimore

Orioles' Jones watches his two-run home run off of Yankees closing pitcher Rivera during the ninth inning of their MLB American League baseball game at Yankee Stadium in New York

Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz vs. Billy Butler
Although Butler started the playoffs off strong with 2 hits in the Wild Card game, he failed to get a hit in the three-game sweep of the Angels. Meanwhile, Baltimore’s DH led the majors in homers this year, has a history and going yard in the fall, and had a line of .500/2/5 in three games against Detroit.
Edge: Baltimore

Bullpen: Zach Britton (C), Tommy Hunter, Darren O’Day, Andrew Miller vs. Greg Holland (C), Scott Downs, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera
Baltimore owns a very solid bullpen, led by Zach Britton who notched two saves against an explosive Tigers lineup. Trade-deadline acquisition, Andrew Miller, also proved to be valuable, getting Baltimore 10 outs in a perfect fashion over two appearances. Unfortunately for the Orioles, Kansas City has one of the most reliable bullpens in baseball. Greg Holland also secured two saves in the Royals’ ALDS sweep, but unlike Britton, did it without surrendering a run. Wade Davis has also been as good as a back-end arm as you can have this season, and rookie Brandon Finnegan has an emerged as a dominant young arm.
Edge: Kansas City

 

Pitching is essentially a wash in this series (when you combine both the starting rotations and bullpens). The Orioles finished 3rd in AL ERA, while the Royals were 4th in terms of starters, while the bullpens were ranked 3rd and 5th respectively. These offenses were also very similar over the course of the season, with Baltimore finishing 6th in runs, and the Royals 9th. Although the Royals’ lineup is coming in hot with some momentum (and superior speed), it is hard to discount the power Baltimore has from top to bottom in its lineup. Buck Showalter and the home crowd at Camden will spring the Orioles to their first World Series appearance in 31 years.

Baltimore Orioles in 7