In an unexpected turn of events, the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals will go head-to-head for a chance to represent the American League at the 2014 World Series in the best-of-seven ALCS (Series starts Friday on TBS).
When the 2014 postseason began, the Los Angeles Angels had the best record in the American League and the Detroit Tigers were the defending AL pennant winners. After the divisional round however, both of these teams are gone and both were eliminated by being swept.
Left standing are the Orioles, who before this year hadn’t won a playoff series since 1997 and who had only made the playoffs once in the last 17 years and the Royals, whose appearance in the postseason was the first in 29 years.
Needless to say, this was not the championship series most would have expected. But, it is the one they got. It is time to put the Tigers and the Angels, the could-have-beens and should-have-beens, back in the rear-view mirror where they belong and focus on the two teams that are going forward.
Probable Pitchers Game One: (KC) James Shields vs (BAL) Chris Tillman
Perhaps the reason why seeing the Royals and Orioles in the ALCS shouldn’t be surprising is because of their pitching. This season, the teams ranked top 12 in pitching in the American League and did even better in the divisional round. The Royals had just a 2.93 ERA while the Orioles pitched to a 3.33.
For KC, the main man is James Shields. For Baltimore, it’s Chris Tillman (pictured). Shields entered the postseason having come off of one of the best seasons of his eight year career. The 32-year-old righty finished the regular season with a 3.21 ERA, a 14-8 record and 180 strikeouts. He started a personal best 34 games and has already made two postseason starts this year and eight total in his career.
Tillman meanwhile is still wet behind the ears when it comes to postseason experience. The 26-year-old Baltimore ace made his first career playoff start just last week, securing the victory in the process. During the regular season, Tillman too started a personal best 34 games and had the second best year of his career in wins (14) and ERA (3.34).
Typically experience is beneficial in these kind of situations but when it comes to Shields, this may not be the case. “Big Game James” as he has been called, hasn’t really been that “big game” since the 2008 postseason. Shields helped to lead his Tampa Bay Rays all the way to the World Series with a 2.88 ERA in four starts, 25 innings pitched.
Clearly this isn’t lost on Shields. In fact, with the team he has behind him, it is fair to say that if Shields returns to where he was in 2008, the Rays might not be the only team “Big Game” leads to the World Series. If the first two starts are of any indication, this postseason could go either way for Shields.
Formerly in the AL East, Shields is no stranger to facing the Orioles. In fact, over his career, Shields has allowed just 57 runs in 149.1 innings pitched against Baltimore, which amounts to a 3.44 ERA. Against the six Baltimore hitters who have faced him at least 15 times, only three are hitting over .250. None are hitting over .300.
And while Tillman doesn’t have the track record against the Royals and Royals hitters that Shields has with the Orioles, the 26-year-old is coming off the two best months of his career in which he went 6-1 and had an ERA of just 2.14.
It is kind of a toss-up but the slight edge has to go to Shields. He’s been here, he has experience pitching to Baltimore and he knows what it takes. He has the stuff, he just needs to go out and throw. If he does this, KC should leave game one with a 1-0 advantage.
By the Numbers
- Kansas City – 14th in runs, 4th in BA, 16th in OBP, 19th in SLG
- Baltimore – 8th in runs, 9th in BA, 17th in OBP, 3rd in SLG
When it comes to the offensive side of the ball, the edge belongs to Baltimore. Not only does the team excel when it comes to timely hitting but it does so with both consistency and the long ball.
Leading the way in both of these categories is Nelson Cruz. The former Texas Rangers’ star, Cruz led all MLB hitters with 40 home runs and 108 RBI. So far in the playoffs, he is batting .500, 6-of-12, with two home runs and five RBI.
But while the Royals were the only team in baseball without 100 regular season home runs, they did still manage to hit and manage to score. Kansas City finished with the fourth best batting average in the majors. Like the Orioles, they have kept true to this in the postseason as Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, are all hitting above the .263 average set by KC in the regular season.
Kansas City Royals vs Baltimore Orioles ALCS Betting Picks
Entering the postseason the Royals were listed as the biggest longshots to win the World Series at 18/1. With the updated playoff picture, Kansas City now sits at 5/2 odds which is third of the final four teams. But that said, the Royals busted the odds before and they could well do it again.
The Royals are in the midst of a playoff winning streak that dates back to the last time they were here, 29 seasons ago. This team has seemingly picked up where that one left off and behind their talented team, both on the field and in the front office, this team seems poised for success.
In a best of seven series, take the Royals to emerge on top after six games. This is not to discount the Orioles but rather to support what has meant something in baseball the past few years and that is destiny. Kansas City was the first team to win their first three playoff games in overtime and they have emerged as the team of destiny. That in and of itself could take the Royals to the ultimate pinnacle of baseball success.