By Barry Federovitch
For The Chris Murray Report
Somebody’s gonna hurt someone before the night is through. Somebody’s gonna come undone. There’s nothing we can do – The Eagles ‘’Heartache Tonight’’
Whose misery will end this week?
Do you prefer the Kansas City Royals, who haven’t won the World Series in 29 years, since George Brett was their regular third baseman and Bret Saberhagen was their ace? Or are you pulling for the Baltimore Orioles, who haven’t won since they took down the Phillies’ Wheeze Kids in 1983, but haven’t played in the Fall Classic in 31 years?
Underdog vs. Underdog in the 2014 American League Championship Series. But only one can win and given what we just saw in twin sweep upsets in the ALDS, it’s not readily apparent who that will be. The more you look at the best-of-seven series that begins at Camden Yards Friday, the more you can become confused.
But all emotion aside, these are very different teams with diametrically opposed reasons for optimism that they will represent the A.L. in the 2014 World Series.
WHY THE ORIOLES WILL WIN
1. They’re the better team- The most debatable point. They’re missing Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters, all key components, but they won the ever-tough A.L. East going away, while the Royals had to scramble to claim a wild-card berth. The O’s won 96 games, tied with the Nationals for second-best record in baseball behind the Angels (compared to 89 for the Royals) and really have done the most to this point.
2. They have the best manager- Royals skipper Ned Yost has done a nice job, but is frequently under criticism for his moves (particularly in the wild-card playoff against Oakland). Buck Showalter? Considered the best bet for the Manager of the Year Award, masterfully manipulating a lineup all season that on paper doesn’t even look like a playoff team. When push comes to shove, who will make the moves that make the difference? This year, no one’s been better than Buck.
3. The Orioles have homefield advantage- Rarely a key point, but possibly significant in a series where the two teams will have strong sentiment on their side. The O’s were a healthy 50-31 at Camden Yards this year and should the series go seven games would have the deciding game at home. The Royals were a strong 47-34 on the road (so this could be a push), but at a mediocre 42-39 at the K could have a tough time sweeping the middle three games in Kansas City.
4. The Orioles have the power edge: The Royals may preach speed, but would not have gotten past the Angels without timely homers by Eric Hosmer and Matt Moustakas in the ALDS. Continuing hot streak or brief aberration? The Royals only hit 95 homers this year, fewer than half of Baltimore’s 210, which is usually fully exploited by Camden Yards.
5. Chris Tillman gives the O’s an edge- Both bullpens are great and intuitively the better bullpen wins most series. But in Game 1 starter Chris Tillman, the O’s may have a pitcher who can stymie the Royals. In his lone start against KC this year, he spun a five-hit shutout. Tillman also beat the Royals in one outing in 2013 and hasn’t lost to them in over two years, possibly a key factor since he should start twice in the series.
WHY THE ROYALS WILL WIN
1. They are the hottest team- Among the four remaining playoff teams, no one is clicking all-around like the Royals right now. They can steal seven bases in a game, hit big extra-inning homers, get dominant starting pitching and/or strong relief. They beat the Angels by winning in many ways, which is the easiest path to a championship.
2. Speed doesn’t slump- A key unpredictable factor in any postseason series is weather. Will the wind blow in during key games and neutralize the power of both clubs? Or will wet conditions slow the track and take away the stolen base? More likely the Royals, who led the A.L. in stolen bases, are less prone to slumps. They have speed up and down their lineup (compared to the O’s, who virtually never utilize the stolen base) and are great at making something out of nothing (they were second in baseball in infield hits with 158). Neither team walks a lot, but if you keep the ball in the park, the Royals have a clear edge.
3. The Royals know they can beat the O’s- It was a small sample size, but the Royals won the season series (4-3). Most significant in this was that the Royals won two of three in Baltimore (where the series begins and may end). KC has already shown that it isn’t intimidated by loud postseason road crowds, but it helps to have a positive history in Baltimore.
4. Big Game James- Neither side is long on postseason experience, but it may help the Royals to have James Shields, a veteran of many big September and October clashes during his time with the Rays. Shields could be matched up twice with Chris Tillman this series and just a split in the first two games in Baltimore will go a long way toward giving the Royals the edge in the series.
5. Greg Holland- Most postseason series come down to who blows a game or two in the later innings. In Greg Holland, the Royals possess what may be the best closer in the game. Holland was 1-3 with a 1.44 ERA and 46 saves this year and hasn’t given up a hit in four postseason innings. Going back to last year, Holland has been as good as any reliever in the Junior Circuit and could be the difference if games are decided in the ninth inning.
Conclusion: One hidden factor is homers allowed, an area KC had a clear edge this season (Royals pitchers allowed 128 homers compared to 151 surrendered by the O’s). Add the league’s best eighth-inning man (Wade Davis, 9-1, 1.00) and it might just be enough for the Royals to take the series in seven games.