Kansas City abused poor Derek Norris so badly in the AL Wild Card game that he may have been placed in the witness protection program for his own safety. They absolutely terrorized the Athletics on the base paths, racking up 7 steals total and they needed every single one in order to pull off the win. The bad news for Kansas City is that with that victory, they now have to face the 98-win Angels and their bevy of MVPs. The good news? Los Angeles might struggle with the running game worse than Oakland, which could provide the Royals a path to victory.
Los Angeles ran out a platoon of Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger this season, with Iannetta behind the dish about 55% of the time. Combined they allowed 106 total steals this season, the 9th highest total in baseball, while only throwing out 27% of runners who tried. Conger was the main culprit this year, allowing 57 of those swipes despite catching just 637.1 innings while throwing out just 24% of the guys who tried to run. Those numbers are probably going to have him glued to the bench, allowing Iannetta, (who has the stronger arm of the two anyways) to take the lion’s share of the backstop duties.
But, as Jon Lester proved the other night, catcher’s aren’t the only one’s responsible for stolen bases, pitchers are as well. Jared Weaver is on the bump in Game 1 it’s a guarantee that at least one Royal will swipe a bag tonight. Weaver allowed the 4th most stolen bases (25) by a pitcher in the Majors this season, giving up 1.05 steals per 9 innings pitched. He’s a little bit slow to the plate and he doesn’t exactly have the best pick-off move, so expect Kansas City to take advantage.
As for the rest of the Angels’ staff? It’s a mixed bag. Matt Shoemaker is scheduled to start Game 2 and C.J. Wilson’s on the bump for Game 3 and both can be tough on the running game. Both pitchers have seen their catcher’s kill over 30% of attempted base stealers and both do a good job getting the ball to the plate quickly.
And the bullpen? Well, when Kansas City finally does into Los Angeles’ pen, that’s when things should get real interesting. Closer Huston Street hasn’t stopped anyone this year, allowing 7 steals in around 60 innings pitched. That could lead to some interesting high-leverage situations in the 9th between Street and Jarrod Dyson, Christon Colon, or any one of the Royals many fleet-footed players.
Despite the prevailing opinion that the Royals don’t really have much of a chance in this series (53 out of 70 ESPN “experts” picked the Angels to advance), I think we’re looking at two fairly evenly matched teams. Kansas City has distinct advantages in pitching, defense, and speed, while Los Angeles comes equipped with a far deeper and more powerful lineup. These teams split the season series right down the middle, 3-3, and that seems pretty representative of the way this series will go down. I’m not done riding the runnin’ Royals yet, I like Kansas City to pull off the upset in 5.
Quick Thoughts on Detroit-Baltimore
In all honesty I’m struggling to envision this series turning into anything more than a Tigers’ romp. Detroit has a better offense, better starting pitching, and they come into this game with health on their side. They also annihilated the Orioles 5-1 in the regular season series. But this is how Baltimore does things. There starting pitchers actually finished with a better ERA than Detroit’s (3.61 to 3.89) and there bullpen is miles better than that of the Tigers. This is going to be an interesting series. Let’s take a quick look at some of the key factors in this series:
- No team will be better prepared for October than Buck Showalter and the Orioles. Over the past 3 years Showalter has been the best manager in baseball at getting the most out of the talent on hand and he’s completely adept when it comes to modern bullpen management. When it comes to mixing and matching in the late innings, few do it better than Buck.
- If you’re a believer that to be the best you need to beat the best, then this is your series. Baltimore and Detroit were the two best teams in the league when it comes to beating quality opposition. Baltimore went 51-40 against teams above .500, Detroit was 49-39. There’s a very strong chance the AL representative in the World Series comes from this match-up.
- Detroit is hoping Anibal Sanchez can provide their shallow bullpen a little depth. He’s made one appearance since August 8th and could be a little rusty, but Sanchez has phenomenal stuff when he’s on. If he can provide a couple of quality innings in this series, manager Brad Ausmus will be thrilled.
- Baltimore was the most home run dependent club in the Majors this season, scoring 47.8% of their runs directly off of the long ball. Detroit’s staff, meanwhile, allowed the 2nd fewest homers in the American League, missing out on first by just one measly dinger. Something’s gotta give here. I’m thinking it’s going to be the O’s patchwork offense, led by Nelson Cruz, Adam Jones, and Steve Pearce, giving in rather than the collection of former Cy Young winners.
- Speaking of the 31-year-old Steve Pearce, I’m just going to leave this here:
- 2007-2013 – 290 games played .238/.318/.377, 17 homers, 91 RBI, 87 OPS+
- 2014 – 102 games played, .293/.373/.556, 21 homers, 49 RBI, 160 OPS+
Even under the most optimistic of circumstances, I just can’t pick against Scherzer, Price, and Verlander. I’m going with Detroit in 4.