What a great postseason this has been. The cinderella stories in the American League; the resurgence of the Giants and Cardinals in the National League. Tonight, after two days without baseball, the postseason restarts again, with the Orioles and Royals on tap in game one of the American League Championship Series at Camden Yards. Here is my ALCS preview.
The Orioles over the Royals in seven games
The Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals are the two hottest teams in baseball. That's why it is a really hard series to predict. The Orioles have home-field advantage in games one, two, six, and seven, so that is why I like them in this series. Yes, it's such a close series to pick that I'm going with home field advantage in my prediction. Let's break down their strengths and weaknesses.
When it comes to offense, the Orioles are the rule of the land. They play in Camden Yards, a bandbox for their sluggers in Nelson Cruz and Adam Jones, both of whom finished with 25 or more home runs. The Orioles scored 705 runs in the regular season, ranking eighth-highest in the majors. Their 211 home runs ranked first. In the ALDS, they showed that they could beat a good pitching staff, besting Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and David Price all in a row, getting clutch hits in nearly every game. The Royals pitching shouldn't be an issue for this high-flying offense.
As for the Royals, they don't care about homers. Kansas City ranked dead last in home runs this season with just 95. They take more of a "small ball" approach to scoring runs, stealing the most bases (153) and posting the lowest strikeout rate (16.3 percent) in the majors. In order to beat Baltimore's offense, the Royals need to get into the heads of the Orioles' pitchers and be able to run the bases well, something that obviously has been a strength for them this season. In order to win, they need a very good offensive output, something I am skeptical about.
As for the pitching staffs, the Orioles pitching staff worried me in the ALDS against the Tigers, forcing me to select Detroit to advance to this series. Their pitching staff just allowed 11 runs to the Tigers (3.67 runs/game) in the short three games. They have a good bullpen, but their starting pitching just seems destined to fail in the postseason. In those three games, the Orioles matched Scherzer, Verlander, and Price with Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, and Bud Norris. There is reason to be concerned.
The Royals have a really solid pitching staff. Led by James Shields, Yordano Ventura, and Jason Vargas, the Royals rotation is probably the most underrated of the final four teams remaining. Shields is a proven ace. Ventura is breaking on to the scene as a young, hard-throwing righty who went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 31 games (30 starts) this season. Vargas is the journeyman, but posted a solid 3.71 ERA in 30 starts with Kansas City this season. As for their bullpen, I haven't been impressed (that may be an understatement) with how manager Ned Yost has utilized it. We'll see if that comes into play.
I'm pretty sure these two teams, as different as they are, will make for a great series. The Orioles are playing for their first World Series birth since 1983 - the Royals playing for their first since 1985. I'm looking forward to watching great baseball.