The battle of title droughts is upon us in the 2014 American League Championship Series. The Baltimore Orioles swept the Detroit Tigers while the Kansas City Royals dispatched of Oakland in the Wildcard game before sweeping the number one seed, Los Angeles Angels. The Orioles and Royals met seven times during the 162 regular season grind. The Royals took four out of seven contests. They also outscored Baltimore by a combined margin of 26-18 through the seven matchups.
Let’s take a look at the schedule as well as a comparison of the two teams from key areas. After that, we should be able to formulate a logical winner of the 2014 American League Championship Series.
Game 1 at Orioles Park at Camden Yards: Friday, Oct. 10
Game 2 at Orioles Park at Camden Yards: Saturday, Oct. 11
Game 3 at Kauffman Stadium: Monday, Oct. 13
Game 4 at Kauffman Stadium: Tuesday, Oct. 14
Game 5 at Kauffman Stadium: Wednesday, Oct. 15 (If Needed)
Game 6 at Orioles Park at Camden Yards: Friday, Oct. 17 (If Needed)
Game 7 at Orioles Park at Camden Yards: Saturday, Oct. 18 (If Needed)
The Orioles will be sending out the combination of Chris Tillman, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, and Wei-Yin Chen against the boys from Kansas City. Tillman looked solid against a tough Tigers offense in game one while Bud Norris pitched six scoreless innings with only two hits allowed. The Orioles will need that to continue but will also rely on Wei-Yin Chen to step up his five run, 3 2/3 inning output from the ALDS. Overall, the Orioles pitchers were serviceable with a 3.33 ERA and a WHIP of 1.07 against the Tigers.
The Royals can expect to send out the combination of James Shields, Yordano Ventura, Jason Vargas, and Jeremy Guthrie against the Orioles in the ALCS. In the ALDS, the Royals managed a team ERA of 1.74 and an impressive .87 WHIP. They allowed a combined six total runs in the series against Detroit. Ventura pitched a strong seven innings in his lone start with only one run allowed. Although unlikely, it would not be surprising to see the Royals only go with a three-man rotation in the series. The major difference here is the Royals have James Shields leadership in the post-season as a fallback.
Edge: Kansas City
The Orioles bullpen carried the third lowest ERA in the American League at 3.10 while also delivering with a 1.16 WHIP, good for second in the American League. Andrew Miller and Darren O’Day will be in line to pass the ball to Zach Britton in the ninth inning. Britton converted 37 of 41 save opportunities in 2014 with a 0.90 WHIP and a sub-2.00 ERA. The bullpen was solid against the Tigers in the ALDS where they allowed three runs in 12 innings pitched.
The Royals bullpen is no slouch with the fifth lowest AL ERA in 2014 at 3.30. Teams needed the lead before the seventh inning if they hoped to avoid the buzz saw that is Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland. Holland saved 46 of 48 possible games during the regular season which is nothing to shake a stick at. This bullpen also allowed just one miniscule run in the ALDS against the Angels.
Edge: Kansas City
During the season, the Orioles have the likes of Nelson Cruz, who led the league with 40 home runs in a rebound season. They also had a center field stud in Adam Jones who drove in 96 runs while hitting 29 homers during the 2014 campaign. Nick Markakis and Steve Pearce were serviceable but uninspiring options for Baltimore. The losses of Manny Machado, Matt Wieters and, Chris Davis will ripple throughout the lineup but to date they have avoided a major setback.
Chris Davis could be available for game six if the Orioles added him to the roster but I cannot see them sacrificing a spot for the first five games. During the ALDS, the Orioles showed that they could still thump it with four ALDS home runs and put up runs scoring a post-season high 21 runs in the series. Nelson Cruz is literally on fire hitting .500 with two home runs and five RBI in the ALDS. The Orioles will rely heavily on Cruz yet again.
The Royals are a team with speed sprinkled throughout the lineup. Five players stole double-digit bags in 2014 including Jarrod Dyson who stole 36 bases, Alcides Escobar who stole 31, and Lorenzo Cain who stole 28 during the regular season. They do not carry the Orioles pop but they have decent power in Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, and Mike Moustakas. The Royals played one extra game than the Orioles but that Wildcard game showed off their speed when they swiped seven bases.
In the ALDS, they also stole five which is three more than the Orioles. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas each hit two home runs in the ALDS which bodes well for the team. This is a team that can and will bunt if required to move the runners as evident in the Wildcard game.
Prediction: Royals in Six
To me this is going to be a close series between two teams that have not been active this late in the season in a long time. You could dissect the lineups or positions to come up with a solution. Then you could go back the next day and come up with a slightly different answer. While I listed the Royals and Orioles with edges in different categories, these could flip at any moment. The Royals might not have a stud bat but it is a solid lineup that contributes from top to bottom. Meanwhile, the Orioles can hit but come with a level of pop that is an edge. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Royals pitch around Cruz throughout the series and let the others in the lineup beat them.
This should be a close series with each game hanging in the balance late. It could be decided with a Tillman vs. Shields matchup in the opener. If Tillman can hold his own and get a win, this should be a series that Baltimore can win. But, if Tillman falters then this series could end up with the Royals in the World Series. The Royals have speed, they have players that can advance the runner, and a balanced attack that could be problematic. The Orioles come with name recognition but I am going to back the team with less star power and more balance. I cannot believe I am saying it but, I like the Royals in six. I love the post-season.