The Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals each swept their ALDS opponents and will now meet in the American League Championship Series. Both clubs have been in a long term playoff slump, with each team last reaching the World Series in the 1980s (Hell, the Royals haven’t been in the playoffs since the ’80s). Needless to say, there’s more than pride on the line. We’re reaching deep into our playbook to find nine things to look out for during the ALCS.
Probably the ace of the Royals pitching staff, Shields will benefit from nearly a week of rest before being the probable Game 1 stater. His season ERA was 3.21, but ballooned up to 4.91 in two games of the postseason, giving up 11 runs. But it should be noted that 8 of those were to the Athletics in the Wild Card game.
Miller came in from the bullpen for the Orioles and was lights-out. In 3.1 innings over two games, Miller had three strikeouts, one walk and zero hits. He came over in a near-deadline trade with the Boston Red Sox and has made a huge splash in an already strong relief core.
Known for being a reliable hitting menace during the season, in two postseason appearances for the Orioles, Jones has gone cold: a .182 batting average this with three strikeouts in 11 at-bats. Even during the hit parade the O’s put up against the Tigers, Jones was still a non-factor. By the averages he is due, and it could be against the Royals.
The Royals led the league in stolen bases with 153, while the Orioles were in last place with 44 steals. The O’s did manage one post-season steal, but with two young, alternating catchers behind the Orioles plate, look for the Royals to test them frequently.
The Royals reliever will be the biggest beneficiary of the long rest. With the first three Royals games going into extra innings, Herrera had to carry a huge load. The Royals hope to keep the games out of extra innings, something they’ve only been able to do once this post season, but if it comes down to a bullpen duel, Herrera needs to have a big game.
The center field storybook star of the postseason, Cain has had some great defensive stops as well. Despite a .211 batting average, in 19 at bats Cain had four runs, four hits, three RBIs and one stolen base. The solid Orioles defense will have to be on their toes around Cain.
The suspended Orioles first baseman has served 17 of his 25 game suspension. So if the series goes to six games, Davis will be eligible to play for the O’s. However, Baltimore needs to put him on the roster before the start of the series for him to be eligible. Given the shrewd maneuvers of Buck Showalter, and Davis under-performing all year, he just might be left off. Especially considering Steve Pearce is a solid defender who is currently hitting .300. But if he returns, look for Davis to try hard to get back to his 2013 form.
The reverse of their stolen bases, the Royals are dead last in home runs, while the Orioles lead the league with Nelson Cruz hitting 42 in the regular season. The Orioles offense has been known in the past to lean too heavily on their HR production. They seem to have tapered that a bit, but if they get behind, they could slip into bad habits quickly.
Ned Yost caught the ire of all of baseball when he pulled out his pitcher too early in the Wild Card game, but Yost has steered the group of underdogs to be one series away from the World Series, so he’s probably doing something right. Buck Showalter is one of the most respected minds in baseball and has the entire team of the Orioles behind him. Even though fans have often nervously mumbled about the decisions he was making during his playoff roster formations, everything he has done so far has worked out.
Orioles win in six games.