It was just a couple months ago that my friend texted me to ask if I wanted to get tickets for the Tigers and Athletics ALCS. Good thing I'm not very proactive.
The curiosity of playoff baseball struck again in 2014 and after four upsets in four Divisional Series matchups, we're left with quite a final four - and it's the craziest on the American League side.
The Baltimore Orioles get set to host the ALCS against the Kansas City Royals, who managed to captive much of America on their way to a 4-0 mark in the playoffs thus far, including three straight extra-inning wins to start things off. Neither team has lost a game in the postseason so far (7-0 combined), but yet no one saw them matching up.
Each team got here differently. Baltimore has done it with incredibly underrated and uniform starting pitching in the rotation. From Chris Tillman to Bud Norris to Wei-Yin Chen to Miguel Gonzalez, the rotation is solid and interchangeable. No one pitcher carries more pressure than another. And the O's have had New England Patriots-like success with filling spots on the roster. First it was Matt Weiters, then Manny Machado and then Chris Davis. Baltimore has absorbed three losses that would seem to be devastating only to come back and play even better with whatever low-level pro player takes the missing spot.
Kansas City has won with essentially the antithesis of "Moneyball." The Royals pitch, they steal bases and they win one-run games. KC has an extremely effective top-heavy bullpen, which has enabled them to play the game a certain way. Like Spain in the 2010 World Cup, the Royals try to win every game 1-0. That's a lot more difficult to do in baseball than soccer, but the principal extends beyond just a 1-0 game. The Royals play for the smallest lead possible and then hold it with a dominant 'pen.
Unfortunately for Royals fans, this Russian Roulette strategy won't carry them through a seven-game series. They've won a single-game elimination and made it through a five-game set. But the pitching has been stressed. And even with these four days off after the sweep, an injury to Kelvin Herrera and many stressful innings for young Brandon Finnegan should prove too much to overcome against a Baltimore team that has done nothing less than rally around Buck Showalter.
It will be a shame to see anyone but Showalter win the AL Manager of the Year. A true player's manager, Showalter has had the magic touch with anyone he submits into the lineup, and I think that continues through the ALCS. It certainly won't be easy, but the Orioles will move on to host the World Series.
Prediction: Baltimore four games to two.
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