Heading into the 2014 ALDS, all talk was about the inexperience of the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals versus the buzz saw that is the bats of the Los Angeles of Anaheim Angels and the Detroit Tigers. How on earth could the pitching staffs of the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals keep the number one and two ranked teams in runs scored in check? Could a team that hasn’t reached the postseason since 1985 or a team that hasn’t won a postseason series since 1997 really compete with two teams that have reached the ALCS a combined four times in the last five years? Well surprise surprise, it was the inexperienced guys in blue and orange that struck first and second in their respective series and are both just one game away from clinching a spot to face each other in the ALCS.
For the Baltimore Orioles, it has sort of been business as usual. Starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen’s performance in Game Two was a bit of a disappointment, but the bullpen that has ranked in the tops of the league since the All-Star break performed just as well as it was expected to. Also, as if it was just the regular season still, the O’s have been using their power hitting to get the job done and scoring in bunches. Through just two games, the Orioles continue to pound the ball and rank first among all playoff teams in runs scored with 19.
However, throughout the regular season, this Kansas City Royals team could have been considered almost the exact opposite of the O’s. All-season long, the Royals have relied on their stellar defense and execution of small ball in order to manufacture runs. Ranking first in the league in steals and stolen base percentage (the O’s rank last) and dead last in the league in long balls during the regular season (the O’s rank first), who would of ever thought it come playoff time it would have been the homerun ball that would inevitably lift the Royals to a two-game sweep of the Angels on the road?
In Game One, it was the late game heroics of third baseman and number nine hitter Mike Moustakas, who hit a solo-homerun, that led the Royals to a 3-2, 11-inning surprise win. In Game Two, it was Eric Hosmer’s first career postseason homerun in the top of the 11th inning that put the Royals up 3-1. They eventually would win by the score of 4-1.
Both the Royals and Orioles are unsurprisingly doing what they do best in their series. The O’s are using their power to punish the bullpen of the Tigers and have been leaning on their bullpen to do exactly what they have been doing ever since the trade for Andrew Miller. The Royals are making web gem after web gem, relying on their defense to make plays alongside a few timely hits in order to “steal” a win late. Both teams have, however, surprised the nation in executing their strengths to near perfection through two games against two extremely talented ball clubs. Perhaps unsurprisingly to the coaches, players and fans in and closest to the Royals and O’s locker room, maybe the nation should have considered these two ball clubs to be the extremely talented ones and hands down favorites. Regardless, the series for both teams isn’t over yet and both teams could have just as easily been down two-games to none as they are up.
What to Watch for in Game Three
Baltimore Orioles/Detroit Tigers
Bullpen vs. Bullpen – Every baseball fan in America could be able to point out this alarming statistic: through two games, the Baltimore Orioles bullpen have given up just two earned runs in just over nine innings pitched. On the other side, the Tigers bullpen in just two innings of work (the eighth innings of Games One and Two) gave up a combined 12 runs.
Difference Maker: Anibal Sanchez, who has pitched two clean innings in just 30 pitches for the Tigers, should see more work as the rest of the bullpen continues to struggle. As the only man who seems to be getting the O’s out with relative ease, why not let him stay in every game until he hands it off to the closer? With their backs against the wall, it should be interesting to see if first time coach Brad Ausmus continues to over think it or not.
Timely Mistakes vs. Timely Hitting – Most fans would have considered Delmon Young’s three-run triple in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game Two as the biggest turning point of the game. However, it was actually the top of the eighth inning that turned the game in favor of the O’s. With two men on and nobody out, Detroit got a huge double from Victor Martinez. Torii Hunter would score easily from second base, but in what turned out to be a horrible base running blunder, Miguel Cabrera attempted to score from first base and was thrown out by a country mile. So instead of having a man on third and second with nobody out, setting up any sacrifice hit to ensure another run, the Tigers failed to score again in the inning and would inevitably lose by just one run.
The timely hitting late in games from Baltimore during the first two games was and will continue to be huge moving forward. But if the Tigers continue to make mistakes late in games, squabbling chances to extend leads against a team that has the potential to rattle off eight runs in an inning, this series won’t just fail to make it back to Detroit, it will fail to make it to Game Four.
Game Three Prediction: The Tigers surprisingly quiet the bats of the O’s with the next Cy Young award winning pitcher on their roster and pounce on Gonzales early and often. Detroit Wins 6-3.
Kansas City Royals/LA Angels
C.J. Wilson vs. James Shields – The homeruns maybe a surprise twist in these playoffs for the boys in blue, however, they are still winning in Royals fashion: impeccable defense and timely hitting. In Game Three, with two former aces on the mound and with the Angels facing elimination, this defense and timely hitting will- yet again- be surely tested. Shields, who has pitched in three career ALDS games, is 1-2 with an 8.04 ERA. Expect the bats of Anaheim to finally arrive in KC with the intent to do some much needed damage. Wilson, who hasn’t pitched in a playoff game since 2011, struggled mightily in his last ALDS start, giving up six earned runs in five innings. In a game that could be decided by which bats show up against which struggling pitcher, it would be hard to go against the Angels three games in a row.
Take the Lead and Run – The Angels have never led in this series. The Halo’s scored the most runs in the league by a long shot during the regular season and the most talent at the plate still resides in that locker room. If they could find a way to jump on Shields early and often on the road and quiet the home crowd that had been waiting for a moment like this since Top Gun was first released in theatres, the Angels could finally swing momentum back in their favor.
Game Three Prediction: The “big three” of the Angels finally cash in on their chances versus the Royals and win big in a game that should have been closer given the circumstances. Anaheim wins 7-1.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles