Friday, October 10, 2014

2014 ALCS preview

By Rick Morris

NOTE: Picks are 2-4 so far in the playoffs.

In this underdog-seeming battle of Baltimore and Kansas City, the Royals are the first team ever to win the wild card game and advance to the LCS – Baltimore won the wild card game in its first year of 2012, but promptly went out in the LDS.  Because of the big success that wild card teams had enjoyed from the implementation of the three-division setup in 1995, MLB correctly figured that they weren’t being handicapped in the fashion that the public might expect.  The flameouts of wild card winners in 2012-13 caused questions about whether MLB might be hobbling these teams, who presumably are forced to deploy their ace just to have a chance to make the LDS and thus cannot use him more than once in that series, too much.  But you’d have a hard time making that case to any observer of the Royals, who slapped/slammed/hustled the Angels to death in three shocking games.

And while both team’s pitching rotations mirror one another, with better-than-you’d-think starters, deep bullpens and stats that are close in many areas (.07 apart in ERA, six strikeouts apart and .018 apart in WHIP) – with excellent defense on both sides, although the ALDS would incline you to believe that nobody in the world right now is better than KC – the Royals once again bring what is purported to be a pop-gun offense into a battle with explosive hitters on the other side.  Here, some differences are stark, with Baltimore’s 211-to-95 lead in home runs and 705-to-651 lead in runs.  But the flip side of high octane is frequently the whiff, and Baltimore also outpaces Kansas City in strikeouts by the whopping margin of 1285-to-985 – leading to the Royals actually leading in batting average, .263-to-.256.  And of course, the Royals lead in stolen bases, 153-to-44.

Notwithstanding his team’s hot streak, Ned Yost has unsurprisingly continued to leave himself open to question based on many of his moves, even if they have not cost the team yet.  Conversely, in an era where button-pushing managers seem to be making more of an impact in terms of scratching out extra wins (Joe Maddon, Terry Francona, etc.), few if any rate higher than Buck Showalter.  It's not even a slam on Yost to say that this battle favors Baltimore decisively.

The managerial mismatch was the reason that the pick here was the Orioles in the ALDS and in what could be a close, hard-fought series, it’s hard not to regard that strong edge substantively.  And indeed, it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which the KC popguns are silenced and the Os win this going away.  While the gut urge is to stay on Baltimore with Showalter continuing to pull the strings effortlessly, the notion of them running rings around another offense built around Earl Weaver’s beloved three-run homer is just too fresh.  Factor in the frustration that sets in when balls expected to drop into play do not and the notion of the Royals slapping their way through to the World Series looks more and more feasible.  Kansas City in 6.

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