The Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals took no quarter in their first round match-ups, bringing them squarely into a seven-game series lock in the American League Championship Series. The two teams left in their ascendant wake, the Detroit Tigers and the Los Angeles Angels, both looked geared for a deeper postseason run but are searching for answers on their way out. The meeting of these two teams already has a place in history given their relative paths up the bracket, serving to highlight the unlikely pairing in the annals of a script often seen in MLB playoffs.
In a postseason devoid of Yankees or Red Sox, the American League had a wide-open feel, but a predictable small market versus large market mentality. Detroit and Los Angeles, ranked fifth and sixth in payroll on the books this year among all MLB teams, faced the Baltimore Orioles at 15 and Kansas City Royals at 19, respectively. The Oakland Athletics also sided on the lower payrolls, being 25 out of 30 on that list and giving the left side of the bracket a divisive, us-versus-them motivation for these teams on the lower half of the monetary spectrum. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants are all within the top 10 in payroll and the St. Louis Cardinals are not far behind at 13, all but voiding that feeling in the National League.
The Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals find themselves knocking on the door to a World Series berth in the ALCS despite the dollar amount of other teams involved. The players behind the money, talent that had delivered for years, suddenly fell away for either losing team. Detroit had the last three Cy Young award winners – Matt Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price – pitching, and each of them lost in consecutive games. The Angels have a lineup with three former Most Valuable Player award winners, and those three offered a combined three hits and two solo home runs in 37 at bats, which is the baseball equivalent of evaporating under a heat lamp.
Baltimore Orioles versus Kansas City Royals is a marquee that seems to go against the ALCS trend of big names in the second biggest venue in the Majors. The Angels were only the second team since 1969 to be swept in their opening round after having the best record in all of baseball, and the Royals accomplished this feat both times with the first coming against the 1980 Yankees. The Tigers were the first team to have those three consecutive Cy Young winners pitch in consecutive games in MLB history. None of them could pull out a win.
The Baltimore Orioles, on the other hand, brought their power arms and swings – their staples for this year – and the Royals suddenly found strength in their bats and mixed that with their trademark defense and timely hitting. For further historical context, this is the first time in MLB history that the team with the most home runs will be meeting the team with the least in the ALCS. James Shields, who helped finish off the Angels, would be eligible to start the first games against the Baltimore Orioles while the O’s could counter with Chris Tillman or any of their other aces when the series opens Friday, Oct. 10 for any other history these two teams are set to create.
Commentary by Myles Gann