Wild Card Kansas City Royals at #2 Baltimore Orioles
In without a doubt the most surprising league championship series since I began to follow baseball avidly in 2006, the Kansas City Royals will face off against the Baltimore Orioles for a trip to the World Series. There’s really no other way to describe the Royals’ victory over the Angels in the ALDS as anything other than shocking. Not only winning the series, but sweeping the team with the best record in all of baseball, the first time that has ever happened. A combination of good pitching, timely hitting, and excellent baserunning launched the Royals into their first ALCS since 1985.
On the other end, in a somewhat less surprising result, the Orioles swept the Detroit Tigers to reach their first ALCS since 1997. Although Detroit still has several big name pitchers and hitters, things just didn’t quite come together for them this season, in fact they nearly lost the division title to the Royals. As I said in my ALDS preview blog, I think Baltimore has been one of the most complete teams this season. They have good starting pitching, a solid bullpen, they play great defense, and they can hit for power and average. They play with the confidence of a veteran postseason team, and are a disciplined team led by a veteran manager.
Both teams will have five days rest before starting their series on Friday, so pitching rotations should not be a big factor. Kansas City does have one postseason veteran in James Shields, but Shields really has not been as impressive as everyone seems to think in both this postseason and prior years. The Kansas City Royals will simply be overmatched in this series as Baltimore advances to the World Series in five games behind series MVP Adam Jones.
Wild Card San Francisco Giants at #3 St. Louis Cardinals
Yet another Clayton Kershaw postseason collapse has eliminated my preseason World Series pick and sent the Cardinals to their fourth consecutive National League Championship Series. They will take on the San Francisco Giants in a rematch of the 2012 NLCS, in which the Giants rallied from a 3-1 series deficit and went on to win the World Series. In complete contrast to the ALCS, these teams are used to being at this stage practically every year. They have combined for 4 World Series titles since 2006 and represented the National League in the World Series 4 straight years (5 after this year).
One interesting story line in this series is that each of these teams will feature a starting pitcher from the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox. Both the Giants’ Jake Peavy and the Cardinals’ John Lackey pitched their respective teams to wins in the Division Series. Both rotations are pretty strong in general. The Giants feature Wild Card game winner Madison Bumgarner as well as veteran Tim Hudson in addition to a very good bullpen. The Cardinals will start the series with 20 game winner and Cy Young candidate Adam Wainwright followed by Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller to go along with an equally good bullpen.
Clutch hitting was a huge reason that both of these teams advanced to the next round. Neither team has necessarily a big superstar such as a Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout, but rather are well balanced on offense and make the key plays when they need to. Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey lead the Giants while Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams pace the Cardinals. Managers Mike Matheny and Bruce Bochy are some of the best in the game as well, and it will be fun to watch them go head to head in a chess match with each other.
This should be a really entertaining series overall. I’m guessing the Cardinals will the favorites to win, but the Giants always seem to find a way when nobody expects them to, and they have this pattern going with winning the World Series every other year, so I think San Francisco will win the NL pennant in a hard fought 7 game series behind MVP Madison Bumgarner.
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