ALCS Preview and Prediction

I’m not going to waste any time here and I’m not going to beat around the bush.  This is basic statistics and my thoughts on who will win.  Nothing more and nothing less.  So, let’s get to it.

Infield

First Base:

Orioles first baseman Steve Pearce enjoyed a breakout season this year mashing 21 homeruns and 49 RBIs with a slash line of .293/.373/.556. Pearce was a respectable five for five on stolen base attempts and he displayed excellence with the glove committing only one error all season long while playing multiple positions.  That error was committed at first base, however.

Eric Hosmer, on the other hand, regressed a little from last season to this season, but it based on his short career it looks like this season is the norm and last season was the exception. With a slash line of .270/.318/.398 he didn’t display as much power as he has throughout his career hitting only 9 homeruns with 58 RBIs.  He was 4 for 6 on the base paths.  The defending gold glove award winner committed 10 errors at first base this season.

Edge: Orioles

Second Base:

Rookie Jonathan Schoop had an under-the-radar season for the Orioles displaying an arm that is probably the strongest in all of baseball at second base and amazing skill with the leather. Schoop did commit seven errors in 551 chances at second base this season, but the majority of those errors were at the beginning of the season while he was still trying to get comfortable.  Schoop is built like an NFL linebacker and is a threat go deep at any time, hitting 16 homeruns this season and 45 RBIs with a batting line of .209/.244/.354.  Not much of a threat to steal he was two for two this season.

Omar Infante is a crafty veteran that is good in all aspects of the game. He is somewhat inconsistent at the plate with a batting line of .252/.295/.337.  He hit 6 homeruns with 66 RBIs and was surprisingly inactive on the base paths this season stealing only nine bases on 12 attempts.  Infante committed 11 errors in 502 chances, which is the second most he has had in a season since 2004.

Edge: Even

Third Base:

With another knee injury to Manny Machado and the 25-game suspension of Chris Davis for using Adderall the Orioles are forced to thrust much maligned player Ryan Flaherty into the starting role at third base. Many Orioles fans despise Flaherty and believe that he belongs in the minor leagues.  I think those people don’t know anything about baseball and are completely wrong.  In the 2014 season Flaherty played six positions for the Orioles committing a total of 10 errors, five of them coming at third base.  Sure, his batting line of .221/.288/.356 won’t win any MVP awards, but he did manage to club 7 homeruns and 32 RBIs in just 281 Plate Appearances and was one for one in the stolen base department.  His 68 strikeouts are definitely a cause for concern, but as seen in the Detroit series, Flaherty’s glove can win you some games.

Mike Moustakas is an equally frustrating player, yet for some reason he is considered one of the top up-and-coming players in baseball. I didn’t see that potential this season as he hit just .212/.271/.361 with 15 homeruns and 54 RBIs in 500 Plate Appearances.  Moustakas won’t strikeout as much as Flaherty, but at the plate I don’t see much difference between the two left-handed batters.  The biggest difference comes in the field where Moustakas is an error machine.  He committed 19 errors this season at third base, which is an atrocious number.  Surprisingly, it was still just the third most in baseball.

Edge: Orioles because of defense

Shortstop:

The shortstop battle between these two teams is a microcosm of the overall battle. This matchup is all about power vs speed.  Sure, J.J. Hardy’s homerun total this season was his lowest in five years, but every pitcher that he faces still has to respect the fact that he has 20-plus homerun potential.  Hardy had a sub-par year at the plate batting just .268/.309/.372 with just nine homeruns and 52 RBIs.  Even though every time I see J.J. Hardy throw the ball to first base it looks like his mechanics are all out of whack and the ball will go sailing into the stands he somehow manages to get the ball accurately to first base at an exceptional rate.  Hardy did commit 13 errors in 594 chances this season, however, which was the most he had since 2008 when he was still with Milwaukee.

Alcides Escobar has a quietly strong season for the Royals playing in all 162 games. Escobar displayed amazing speed this season stealing 31 bases on 37 attempts.  He managed a .284/.317/.377 batting line with three homeruns and 50 RBIs while batting at the top of the Kansas City lineup.  His defense was above average, though he did commit 16 errors in 669 chances.

Edge: Royals

Catcher:

Another major injury for the Orioles occurred at catcher this season. Matt Wieters went down with an elbow injury in May and went through Tommy John surgery later in the season.  Nick Hundley and Caleb Joseph have been sharing the catching duties.  Neither are exceptional with the bat, while Hundley struggles to keep base runners in check.  Caleb Joseph is one of the best in the league at throwing out would-be base stealers, which will be something that will likely come into play quite often in the ALCS.

The Royals will go primarily with two-time All Star catcher Salvador Perez during the ALCS. Perez is strong with the bat and the glove.  He gives the Royals a decided edge at catcher.  His 30% caught stealing rate is now very good for an All Star catcher, but luckily for him the Orioles are not overly concerned with trying to steal bases.

Edge: Royals

Outfield

Left Field:

The Orioles play with a platoon of Alejandro De Aza, David Lough, Delmon Young, and Nelson Cruz in left field. Buck usually goes with the player that has the hottest bat or the best numbers against the starter of the day, but we all know that Alejandro De Aza is the best choice in left field on a day to day basis.  De Aza spent the majority of his season playing uninspired baseball for the Chicago White Sox before being traded to Baltimore in late August.  For the season De Aza batted .252/.314/.386 with eight homeruns, 41 RBI, and 56 runs scored with 17 stolen bases on 27 attempts.  De Aza had six outfield assists on the season.

Alex Gordon is probably the best player on the Royals roster. He can do it all.  He hits homeruns (19), he steals bases (12 for 15), and he plays Gold Glove defense (eight outfield assists).  He hit .266/.351/.432 with 74 RBI and 87 runs scored.  Gordon will strikeout a lot, but he will also play the hero quite often as well.

Edge: Royals

Center Field:

Just as Alex Gordon is likely the best player for Kansas City, Adam Jones is likely the best player for Baltimore. If there is a model for consistency Jones is it.  His line this season is nearly identical to his line from the previous five seasons.  In 2014 Jones batted .281/.311/.469 with 29 homeruns, 96 RBI, and 88 runs scored.  Asking Jones to take a walk instead of swinging for the fences every time is like pulling teeth.  He walked just 19 times this season but struck out 133 times.  Jones is fast but not a particularly skilled base stealer.  He plays excellent defense and is probably the best in baseball at tracking fly balls in center field.

Cain is another top-tier player in the Royals outfield. He has the speed to get to any ball hit in the gap and gets on base with relative ease.  Once he is on base he can terrorize a pitcher with his 28 stolen bases on 33 attempts.  Cain slashed a solid .301/.339/.412 with 5 homeruns, 53 RBI, and 55 runs scored.  Most people will recognize Adam Jones, but Lorenzo Cain will make a name for himself in this series.

Edge: Orioles (slightly)

Right Field:

Nick Markakis is not your prototypical leadoff hitter. He isn’t particularly fast, and his batting average is just that, average.  But Markakis does all of the things you want a leadoff hitter to do.  He sees a lot of pitches and he gets on base.  Markakis batted .276/.342/.386 with 14 homeruns, 50 RBI, and 81 runs scored.  He walked a respectable 62 times compared to just 84 strikeouts.  His arm in right field is one of the strongest in baseball and he continues to play Gold Glove caliber defense in his ninth season.

Kansas City right fielder Nori Aoki is almost like a poor man’s Ichiro. He looks like Ichiro in the batter’s box.  He attempts slap hits similar to Ichiro.  He even plays like Ichiro in right field.  But he’s just not Ichiro.  He is still a very solid player however.  In 132 games this season Aoki batted .285/.349/.360 with just one homerun, 43 RBI, and 63 runs scored.  Speed is Aoki’s game.  He stole 17 bases on 25 attempts this season.

Edge: Orioles

Designated Hitter

This one isn’t even close. Nelson Cruz led the Majors in homeruns with 40.  Billy Butler came in with a lame nine homeruns.  Nelson Cruz led the Orioles with 108 RBI.  Billy Butler finished with a weak 66 RBI.  Nelson Cruz scored 87 runs.  Billy Butler scored 57.  Nelson Cruz stole four bases on nine attempts.  Billy Butler didn’t even try.  I don’t think I need to go on any more.

Edge: Orioles

 

Starting Pitching

I’m not going to go into depth on each individual starter. I just want to take a quick glance the four probably starters that will be used in the ALCS for each team, and how their statistics come together overall.

The Orioles four starters of Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, and Norris combined for a season ERA of 3.44 with a WHIP of 1.24 and K/9 of 6.75.

The Royals four starters of Shields, Ventura, Vargas, and Guthrie have a combined ERA of 3.57 with a 1.26 WHIP, and a 6.64 K/9. However, the Royals first three starters have a slight edge over the Orioles first three starters.  The difference is Guthrie, whose 4.13 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 5.51 K/9 throw off the rest of the rotations numbers.  My guess is that Ned Yost goes with a three-man rotation in the ALCS, or he uses Danny Duffy as his fourth starter over Guthrie.  Duffy had a perfect game through six innings back in May against the Orioles, and the Orioles couldn’t do anything against Yordano Ventura.

Edge: Royals

Relief Pitching

These are probably the two best bullpens in all of baseball. Kansas City’s top four relievers (not counting closer) combined for a 2.02 ERA with a 1.06 WHIP.  Baltimore’s top relievers combined for a 2.30 ERA with a 0.94 WHIP.  Kansas City has more strikeout pitchers than Baltimore by a long shot.  Baltimore has a secret weapon in Kevin Gausman who really came through for them in the ALDS when Wei Yin Chen was unable to get through the 4th inning.  Since the All Star break Baltimore’s bullpen has really stepped it up and has dominated opposing batters.  But so has Kansas City’s bullpen.  This is perhaps the best matchup in the series.  Whose bullpen can keep the lead?

Edge: Even

Closer

Two of the best closers in the game are going at it in this one. Zach Britton of the Orioles has been a huge surprise this season with 37 saves.  He didn’t earn the closer position until over a month into the season when Tommy Hunter just didn’t work out in that position.

Greg Holland is just scary good. With 46 saves this season, it was Holland’s second consecutive 45+ save season.  Holland is a power pitcher that has the ability to strike out the side every time he comes out.

Edge: Royals

Manager

The Royals season ended and just two days later they were playing in a wild card game against Oakland. After winning that game they had a quick turnaround in Anaheim to play the Angels.  In baseball it’s easy to stay on top of your game when you play consistently and on a daily basis.  After sweeping the Angels the Royals now have a four day layoff before travelling to Baltimore to open the ALCS against the Orioles.  The Orioles have already been through the four day layoff, having dealt with the down time just last week prior to opening the ALDS against Detroit.  The first couple of games in this ALCS series could be determined by whether or not the teams are ready to play.  Buck Showalter has proven that he knows how to get his guys ready to play after a long time between games.  Ned Yost hasn’t had to deal with this down time yet.

Yost is also somewhat unconventional when it comes to in-game decision making and is often criticized for not have a good feeling for the flow of the game.

Showalter is just the opposite. Often praised for being perhaps the best in-game manager in baseball, Buck seems to have a great understanding of flow of the game and it seems like almost every decision he makes works to his benefit.  The difference in managing ability could be the difference in the series.

Edge: Orioles

Intangibles

With both franchises not having any success for over a decade (or two) both teams fan bases are wild and hungry for a trip to the World Series. The crowds in both stadiums will be loud and into every pitch of every game.  The Orioles have more experience in the playoffs, but at this point I don’t think that even matters.  Both teams want to win, and they both want to win BAD.

Edge: Even

Prediction

This is a matchup of power vs speed. The Orioles can strike at any time with the long ball, but as we saw in the Wild Card game against Oakland the Royals can really give a team fits on the base paths.  The Orioles have a slight edge in defense and the Royals have a slight edge in pitching.  These two teams matchup together almost perfectly.  I have to give the edge to the Orioles just because of Buck Showalter and his ability to manipulate the game to his advantage.

Orioles in 7.

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