Written & Media by Joe Hubbs
With the Divisional Series concluded, four teams now fight in the League Championship Series for a chance to play in the Fall Classic. The Giants, Cardinals, Royals and Orioles all have their eyes locked on a shiny Commissioner’s Trophy, which will be the last one Bud Selig gives out. Thus far, the playoff excitement is enough to draw in not just the attention of loyal fans of these competing teams, but any baseball fan who enjoys…well…good baseball. From 18 inning sagas, to gritty pitchers duels, all the way to 12 run slugfests, this year’s MLB Playoffs is directing all of our faces out of the study material and onto the flat screen. Let’s take a look at what matchups will be the reason for our procrastination the next week and a half.
ALCS: Baltimore Orioles vs Kansas City Royals
Orioles: The Orioles surprised everyone this year with a record of 96-66, the second best record in baseball behind the Angels. The pennant winners of the American League East didn’t just squeak by into the playoffs in a division
highlighted with the likes of the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox, but blew the competition out of the water. The Yankees, who were second in the East finished 12 games behind Orioles, and last year’s World Series Champs, the Boston Red Sox sunk to last place, 25 back of Baltimore. The Orioles boast a powerhouse offense that wasted no time pounding Detroit in the first game of the NLDS for a 12-3 win against former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. Against one of the best pitching staffs in the league, the Orioles put up seven more runs in game two, and finally secured a close 2-1 victory against David Price in game three for the sweep. Nelson Cruz, who hit two homeruns against the Tigers in the ALDS and 40 in the year, solidifies a scary heart of Baltimore’s lineup accompanied by Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, and Steve Pearce. Even with stars Manny Machado and Matt Wieters out with injury and Chris Davis lost to suspension, the Orioles lineup proves to be a challenge for the young Royals’ pitching staff. However, inexperience in the Orioles own pitching staff could also prove to be a problem down the stretch if somehow the flare in their bats dies out.
Royals: Kansas City is the biggest surprise of the postseason. Not only did they surmount an amazing comeback to take the Wild Card game from Oakland in extra innings, but they
took two 11 inning wins and an 8-3 blowout from the best team in baseball. Pujols, Trout and the rest of Angels’ nation are still standing in Angel Stadium of Anaheim staring out the dugout in disbelief after the sweep. In their first playoff appearance since winning the World Series in 1985, the Royals are turning heads with timely hits and unhittable pitching. Winning three of their four postseason games in extra innings, the Royals show a fast growing maturity for a team of guys who have never even heard of playing baseball in October. The Royals corner infielders Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas both hit two homers in the series against Los Angeles and are complemented by other power hitters Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, along with a good mix of speedsters at the top of the order in Nori Aoki and Lorenzo Cain. As for pitching, the staff is young, but the bullpen has virtually allowed no runs so far in the playoffs, and if it gets to the ninth Greg Holland is one of the best closers in the business.
Predictions: Both teams are coming off of sweeps in the ALDS, but I have got to give the edge to Kansas City. Baltimore’s big boppers have come out big thus far, but there is no stopping this magical element that is carrying the Royals. The Royals just have more all-around tools with fast, above average outfielders, power, and a tough bullpen. They have already shown that when games come down to the wire they are supreme. So I would not be surprised to see another extra inning game or two, but I am going to say the Royals in five games.
NLCS: St. Louis Cardinals vs San Francisco Giants
Cardinals: Missouri magic is not just in Kansas City, but as usual, the Cardinals have been struck by Merlin’s October spell. A season in which the Cards trailed Milwaukee for the first five months, the Birds somehow put together a fabulous finish to September, two games above Pittsburgh. Now in the playoffs the Cards are doing something they forgot how to do all season long- the long ball. Twice the Cards faced Clayton Kershaw, the greatest pitcher on the planet and likely NL Cy Young winner, and twice they pelted him in the seventh inning. The series really took a turn for the Cards favor in game one when they they overcame a 6-1 deficit in the seventh inning to win 9-8. Matt Carpenter had the key three run double in the first game off of Kershaw and tore the Dodgers apart with three homeruns, three doubles, seven RBI’s and a .375 batting average. Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, and Randal Grichuk also hit homeruns against the Dodgers, combining with Carpenter for seven in the series. After finishing the season last in the NL in homers, the Cards lead all teams in the post season. The 3-1 series victory over the Dodgers was not all offense however; several Cardinals pitchers are pitching very well also. John Lackey won a marvelous game three, going seven innings with eight strikeouts. Rookie long reliever Marco Gonzales is also showing poise in his first post season, cleaning up both games against Kershaw and taking two wins in the series.
Giants: The Giants dominated the Pirates 8-0 in the Wild Card game and after beating the team with the best record in the NL they also have a big gust of momentum pushing them full steam into the NLCS. San Francisco took both games on the road against the Nationals, including an 18 inning marathon concluded by a belt by Brandon Belt. The contest was the longest in MLB postseason history, second only to a Braves-Astros game in the 2005 Divisional Series which also lasted eighteen innings, but with a shorter timeframe. Coincidentally, Tim Hudson who started the game and pitched 7.1 innings
with eight strikeouts also started the game in 2005 for the Braves. Like the Dodgers-Cardinals series, every game the Giants won was decided by one run, and they ended up beating Washington 3-1 in the series. Nobody in particular is hitting extremely well for the Giants, but the real story is their bullpen. In 19.1 innings they have allowed only four runs. Starters Madison Bumgarner, Hudson, Jake Peavey, and Ryan Vogelsong pitch confidently, knowing that when they make their exits after six or seven frames the game is in good hands. Santiago Casilla collected two hitless saves, and long reliever Yusmeiro Petit clobbered six shutout innings the 18 inning contest, striking out seven.
Predictions: These are the two best teams in the NL for the past five years. The Cards are certainly going in with a chip on their shoulder after letting go of a 3-2 series lead in the 2012 NLCS that allowed the Giants to win the World Series. Like the Royals, it is hard to deny this magical element that has overtaken the Cards, so it is hard to go against them. However, I could see this series going either way. If it comes down to a battle of the bullpens at any point, the Giants will win. Trevor Rosenthal, the Cardinals closer, and the rest of the gang in the Birds pen are quite shaky in close contests, while the Giants pen does not look touchable. The recent power surge of the Cardinals offense will certainly play a factor though because the Giants are currently struggling to come up with runs. In fact, in their clinching game against the Nationals they had to score on a wild pitch to win the game. Barring any long, extra- inning games, I say the Cards take this series in six and make their second World Series appearance in a row- a Missouri magic, I-70 showdown, rematch of the 1985 World Series against the Royals.
The American League Championship Series begins Oct. 10 in Baltimore and will be broadcast on TBS while the National League Championship Series starts Oct. 11 in St. Louis and airs on FOX. Head to http://m.mlb.com/postseason-schedule/?tcid=mm_mlb_schedule for the full playoffs and TV schedule.