Like any good superstitious Orioles fan, I’m doing my best to replicate my life last week. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to see a repeat performance from our beloved Birds after they swept the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS. It’s the reason that I wore the same hat to game two that I wore to game one and it’s why I’ll be breaking down the O’s matchup against the Royals in the same fashion I did for the ALDS (over on MASNSports.com) seven days ago.
I’m doing my part, Baltimore. I sure hope you’re doing your’s.
The regular season ended on Sunday for the Orioles and playoff action didn’t begin until last Thursday night. For the Championship Series, the O’s will have an additional 24 hours as their matchup against KC begins on Friday at 8:00 PM. Thankfully, like the O’s, the Royals swept their Division Series opponent, the Angels, and will have the same amount of layoff between games. We’ll all get to avoid hearing the well rested vs. sluggish narrative of teams with a long break compared to those with a short one. Thank goodness.
So with that, let’s dive in.
It’s undeniable that the Orioles lack that true ace that Kansas City posses, but the two team’s starting staff’s did post very similar numbers in the regular season. The Royals starters had a team ERA of 3.61, with the O’s finishing .01 lower at 3.60. Both rotations had similar K/9 (6.59 for the Royals, 6.91 for the O’s), BB/9 (2.46, 2.96), HR/9 (0.88, 1.03) and recorded ground balls at a similar percentage (42.1%, 40.7%).
So who do we give the edge to? Despite the fact that the Royals rotation has outperformed the O’s in the postseason so far, I’m going to go with the Birds for this one.
There’s no doubt that James Shields is more seasoned staff ace when compared to Chris Tillman. However, the O’s number one starter posted similar totals to Big Game James in the second half, outperforming him in ERA (2.33, 2.62) and tying him in FIP (3.38). Shields has pitched two of the Royals four playoff games in 2014, surrendering six earned runs (4.91 ERA) on 11 hits, walking four and striking out 10. Tillman went just five innings, allowing two earned runs (3.60 ERA) on four hits in game one against the Tigers.
Besides the top of the rotation starters, it’s hard not to give the edge to the Orioles over the Royals remaining starters. According to WAR, Wei-Yin Chen was Baltimore’s best starter this season, he’ll either be up against Yordano Ventura, who walked over four per game, or Jason Vargas, a fly ball pitcher who had a 4.50 ERA in the second half. You also have to like the Miguel Gonzalez/Bud Norris combination over that of Vargas/Jeremy Guthrie or perhaps even Danny Duffy.
On to the bullpens. As I point out this morning in my guest column on MASNSports.com, the Royals bullpen has pitched 19 innings in the postseason, allowing just five earned runs (2.37 ERA), while the Birds relievers have let three runs score over 12 innings(2.25 ERA). Andrew Miller, Darren O’Day and Zach Britton in Baltimore and Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland in Kansas City, the 7-8-9 inning guys, are what makes this debate so tough. All six relievers have ERAs of 1.70 or lower, but the Royals back end of the bullpen is more strikeout heavy with Davis’ 13.63 K/9 and Holland’s 12.99.
O’Day and Britton depend more on getting outs on balls in play, they have a .218 and .215 BABIP against respectively. From a talent standpoint, I like KC’s bullpen over Baltimore’s, but because of Buck Showalter’s ability to manage his relievers compared to Ned Yost’s, I think this one is a toss up.
The battle on offense is one of the wackiest parts about this series. This year, the Orioles led baseball with 211 home runs in the regular season. The Royals had just 95. Nelson Cruz, Adam Jones and Chris Davis combined for as many homers as the entire KC roster. So far, Baltimore has out-hit, reached base more and out-slugged the Royals in the playoffs. It’ll be a matchup of small ball versus long ball and bunting versus homering. Look for Caleb Joseph and his 40 percent caught stealing percentage to get more playing time this series with the speed that the Royals bring on the bases.
Lastly, let’s look at defense. While most baseball games are 27 outs, these two clubs do a great job of shortening that total with stellar play in the field. KC’s series against the Angels was full of defensive highlights, while the Orioles flashed the leather against the Tigers as well.
This season, the Birds slightly outperformed the Royals in defensive runs saved (49, 40), but were just behind them in UZR (54.8, 61.1). While Baltimore has seen “great” defensive play (according to DRS) from Jonathan Schoop and J.J. Hardy, three Royals have fielding their positions at a Gold Glove caliber, Alex Gordon, Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain. I’ll give the advantage to Royals in this category, though both teams will be strong in the field.
Overall, I feel confident that the Orioles are the better team in this Championship Series matchup, but October baseball can be weird. I honestly never thought I would be previewing an LCS with either one of these two clubs, so who knows what could happen? Just like in the division series, I feel very confident in Buck Showalter’s ability to get the most out of his club and push the right buttons. His decision making has led the Orioles to this series in the first place.
Image Credit: Keith Allison