Raise your hand if you foresaw a Baltimore-Kansas City ALCS matchup back in April. Anyone? Anybody at all? No? That’s what I thought. It’s a matchup that’s 30 years in the making and it features ball clubs that find a way to win in vastly different ways. The Royals stole more bases than any other team in the league while the Orioles plodded along the base paths, finishing dead last in baseball, 12 behind the next slowest team. Instead the O’s mashed their way to victory, racking up a Major League best 211 homers in the process, more than double the number of dingers hit by Kansas City. Both teams feature solid starting staffs and deep bullpens that have been dynamite this year when protecting a lead. This series has all the makings of a barn burner. So who’s going to win? Let’s take a run-through at some of the more salient points:
After spending the better part of the past decade lost in the baseball wilderness, the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians have finally found a way out. The two ball clubs sit 2nd and 3rd respectively in the AL Central and they’ve both been playing well of late, posting identical 7-3 records in their past 10 games.
Kansas City has been getting it done on the mound thanks in large part to a rebuilt starting staff that currently ranks 5th in baseball in ERA. New additions like Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, and James Shields have quickly made Royals fans forget the days when Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar were the best the franchise had to offer. A 17-11 start has only furthered the thought that the Royals might end their playoff drought, closing the door on a nightmare that began all the way back in 1986.
Cleveland is also enjoying a baseball renaissance of sorts, but they are getting the job done in a whole different way. The Indians have used their bats to rebound from last year’s 94-loss disaster, leading the American League with 40 homers already. Their own offseason acquisitions, which included the likes of Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds, are hitting balls out of the park at such great frequency that fans in the outfield must be alert at all times. New manager Terry Francona has Cleveland playing loose, winning 7 of their last 8.
The offseason is always full of surprises and none have been bigger in this first inning of hot stove action than the activity by the Kansas City Royals. General manager Dayton Moore has already moved quickly to acquire a pair of middling starters, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie, to plug into what was a woeful rotation this past year, and he doesn’t appear to be done yet. Yahoo’s Jeff Passan reported that the Royals my consider dealing Wil Myers, the consensus best hitting prospect in baseball, for some elite-level pitching if the opportunity presents itself.
Over the past season we witnessed a franchise tear down a 15 year streak of incompetence using nothing more than some internal improvement from home-grown players, a brilliant bullpen, and a patchwork starting rotation. The team I’m talking about of course, is none other than the Baltimore Orioles, a franchise who defied expectations and Pythagorean theories en route to 93 wins before bowing out in the ALDS to the New York Yankees.
The Royals have once again been reduced to playing out the string in 2012 after finishing the month of July with a 42-60 (.412 win %) record, while playing some of their worst baseball during the dog days of summer. Their record in the month of July was an atrocious 7-19 (.269) and at the Trade Deadline, the franchise once again became sellers rather than buyers. Over the past 2-3 weeks however, things have started to turn around again in Kansas City, with the Royals going 12-6, and in their most recent series, a 3 game set at Kauffman against the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox, the boys in blue were able to pick up the sweep. In the final game of the set, Jeremy Guthrie, yes the same one who had an ERA over 7.00 with the Rockies this season, twirled a gem for 7 innings and was backed up by Salvador Perez, who had 3 RBI to push Kansas City to a 5-2 win. There have been some encouraging signs in the Royals recent level of play that suggest better, more competitive times are just around the bend, and maybe with a few sly off-season moves, Kansas City could field a .500 team or better in 2013.
Before the 2012 season, nearly every baseball analyst, including yours truly, picked the Detroit Tigers to absolutely dominate what looked to be a weak division. Well half of that prediction has come true thus far, because the AL Central has indeed been the weakest division in baseball. In fact its been so bad its time to dust off the old nickname, the Comedy Central. Currently the slumping White Sox hold a slim half game lead over the win-a-game-lose-a-game Indians, and a 2.5 game lead over the struggling Tigers. If baseball abolished divisions and moved all teams into one league, no AL Central team would rank among the top 5 in the American League. So does anyone really want to win this thing? Let’s take a look to see which team has the best chance, starting with those White Sox.