Speed, defense, and pitching vs. power, defense, and pitching. Who wins?
On the surface, that’s likely to be what it boils down to when the Baltimore Orioles face the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series, beginning Friday night at Camden Yards. On a deservedness scale, it couldn’t get much more even. The Orioles haven’t won the AL Pennant since 1983; the Royals, since 1985. Remember the Bret Saberhagen, George Brett, Amos Otis, Dan Quisenberry bunch that beat St. Louis in the ’85 World Series?
This is not expected to be as easy as sweeping the Tigers in the divisional series – but that wasn’t expected to be easy, either. Remember? Three Cy Young Award winners facing the Orioles?
The Orioles and Royals were third and fourth in the league in team ERA during the season, the Orioles at 3.43, the Royals at 3.51.
The Royals held baseball’s highest scoring team, the Angels, to six runs and a .170 batting average and swept the Angels in the American League Division Series. The Orioles held baseball’s second highest scoring team, the Tigers, to 10 runs and a .218 average in a sweep of Detroit.
Here’s how stark the offensive comparison is: the Orioles were first in baseball in homers (211) but last in stolen bases (44). Kansas City was last in homers (95) but first in stolen bases (153). The Royals have stolen 12 bases in their four playoff games this year, and are 5-for-5 in steals against the Orioles this season, with Nori Aoki, Lorenzo Cain, Pedro Ciriaco, Jarrod Dyson and Alcides Escobar getting one each.
On the power side, even though it isn’t much, Alex Gordon has hit 8 home runs in 26 games at Camden Yards. Billy Butler has 28 extra-base hits against the Orioles, including 10 home runs. However, the Royals’ projected No. 2 through 6 batters (Aoki, Cain, Eric Hosmer, and Butler) are hitting a combined .161 lifetime vs. Chris Tillman, the likely Game 1 starter for the Orioles.
Delmon Young has 14 home runs in 346 at-bats against Kansas City, the most he has hit against any team. J.J. Hardy has 27 RBI in 41 games against the Royals and is hitting .301 lifetime against them. Nick Markakis and Adam Jones are hitting a combined .299 against James Shields, the Royals’ expected Game 1 starter. Nelson Cruz has 8 homers, 29, RBI, 13 walks, and 42 strikeouts lifetime against the Royals’ staff, and has hit only .209 against them. But he is hitting .333 with 4 homers and 8 RBI against Jason Vargas.
Davis’ suspension still has five games to go, meaning he’d miss the first five of this series. To add him to the roster just for possible use in Game 6, and/or the World Series, Showalter would have had to commit to playing a man short for the first five games against Kansas City. The other dilemma was that if Showalter had brought a player vote into the decision, that would force the players to tell a teammate, “Sorry, but we’d rather have Chris.”
Would you want that job? Same token, would you want the job of telling Davis you’d rather have someone else?
The pitching comparison reveals arguments fairly equal on both sides
The pitching comparison reveals arguments fairly equal on both sides.Bud Norris
has a 0.68 ERA against KC in two starts, one being a 1-0 loss in May. Showalter has yet to announce which game Norris will start. Shields has 7 wins in 13 career starts at Camden Yards, his most at any road park in a nine-year career. The K.C. bullpen allowed just one run over 12 innings against the Angels. The Orioles bullpen allowed three runs in 12 innings against Detroit.
So now that we’ve given most of the key numbers, some courtesy of masnsports.com, and some courtesy of baltimoresun.com, what do they mean? Do statistics get thrown out the window in a series like this? Most of the time, they do.
Logic would not have said the Royals would beat the Angels. Between the number of times Showalter uses numbers to make a decision, and a combination of gut feeling and karma, he has about the same success rate – a pretty good one – with both methods.
As mentioned, the Orioles, although they won 96 games, weren’t supposed to beat three consecutive Cy Youngs. Nor were the Royals supposed to take on the team with the AL’s best record and track meet them to death in three straight.
Lastly, reports are that Zach Britton‘s wife, Courtney, who has no career numbers against the Royals, gave birth to a baby boy Tuesday night in Burbank, Calif. Britton will rejoin the team for its Thursday workout at Camden Yards.