From throwback feel to lockdown 'pens, ALCS will thrill
Royals-Orioles matchup offers plethora of compelling reasons to tune in
Throwback uniforms, anyone?
After all, if this was 1982 or '83, it would have made perfect sense for the Royals to meet the Orioles in the American League Championship Series.
Back then, in down periods for the Yankees and Red Sox, Earl Weaver's Orioles and George Brett's Royals were the power franchises of the AL. Both Buck Showalter and Ned Yost are old enough to know this, but only 23 of their players were alive in 1985, the last time either the Royals or Orioles played in a World Series -- and most of them were toddlers.
This was the first World Series played entirely at night. Maybe Royals reliever Jason Frasor got to stay up late to catch a few innings. The oldest player likely to see action in the ALCS, Frasor was a second grader living just south of Chicago when Kansas City played St. Louis in the I-70 World Series.
Who would have thought that it would be 2014 before a team from Kansas City or Baltimore returned to the World Series? After all, the Royals had been in the playoffs seven times in 10 years and the Orioles had played in six World Series between 1966 and '83.
They were fixtures. And then they weren't.
That they're back again is only part of why the ALCS should be so much fun. Here are 10 reasons:
1. These are clearly the two best teams in the AL. Never mind that the Orioles were the No. 2 seed in the AL and that the Royals had to stare down elimination in the AL Wild Card Game. The Orioles are 53-27 since July 1, the best record in the Majors for that stretch. But since July 22, they're only one-half game better than the Royals, who came within an eyelash of running down the Tigers in the AL Central.
As it turns out, it's a good thing they didn't. Had the Royals been Central champs, they would have played the Orioles in the ALDS. Now we gets to see these compelling teams with a spot in the World Series at stake.
2. These lineups are about as much fun as it gets. The Orioles are playing without Chris Davis (suspended), Manny Machado and Matt Wieters (both injured), but they pounded the Tigers' bullpen relentlessly in 12-3 and 7-6 wins to start the postseason. They rely on power hitting, including a Major League-high 211 home runs -- and Nelson Cruz keeps mashing, including two homers in the AL Division Series.
Kansas City is the first team to get to the postseason after finishing last in the AL in home runs since the 1959 White Sox. There's a lot of Go-Go in these Royals, whose speed was described as "intimidating'' and "game-changing'' by White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper. The Royals have stolen 12 bases in the postseason, one more than the other nine teams combined. But it was timely home runs that helped them sweep the Angels, with Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas stepping up to help produce 24 runs in four postseason games.
3. Nobody catches the ball better than these guys. The Royals (Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon and Hosmer) and the Orioles (Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy and Machado) snagged six of the AL's Gold Glove Awards last year, and Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain has emerged as a one of the best-fielding outfielders in the Major Leagues during the postseason, with a series of eye-popping catches. Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar has been terrific, too.
4. These are two of most timeless ballparks in baseball. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, with the short outfield fences and the warehouse behind right field, ushered in the era of retro ballparks after a generation of cookie-cutter multisport stadiums. Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium, which opened in 1973, was an exception to that rule as part of a two-stadium complex. It was designed by the Kansas City firm of Kivett and Myers, which would spawn HOK Sports. HOK, in turn, worked with the Orioles' Janet Marie Smith to design Camden Yards. Kauffman Stadium still has its signature fountains but much of the outfield terrace was turned into seating areas and splashy amenities during a renovation completed in 2009.
5. You never know what Orioles' manager Buck Showalter will say or do. For instance, he went against the book with an intentional walk that put the go-ahead run on base in the ninth inning of the 2-1 clincher against the Tigers. Royals manager Ned Yost is frequently criticized for his lack of imagination and daring. The managerial matchup will be described as a mismatch in the Orioles' favor, but give Yost credit for getting the most out of his team.
6. Both teams have lockdown bullpens used to controlling the late innings. The Orioles and Royals can match arms with each other -- they're a combined a 4-0 with a 2.32 ERA over 31 innings in the postseason. The Royals might get a slight edge here, thanks to their willingness to use electrifying rookie lefty Brandon Finnegan to complement the established trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera.
7. Yordano Ventura, the best $28,000 that the Royals have spent, is a rookie starter with a $100 million arm. In blowing away the Angels in Game 2 of the ALDS, he showed the remarkable poise to go with his triple-digit fastball. He's entering the ALCS on a roll and could leave it as the MVP, as he has the most talent of any starter who will appear in the series. That's not to knock Royals ace James Shields, Orioles ace Chris Tillman or anyone else. Both teams have deep rotations, and that's generally how you win in October in the era of multi-tiered playoffs. But Ventura is the pitcher you shouldn't miss.
8. Steve Pearce, who has hit 21 home runs for the Orioles since they designated him for assignment in April, and the Royals' Nori Aoki are the kind of players who can help these mid-level-payroll teams go. Baltimore was extremely fortunate that no one claimed Pearce on waivers when it made the 31-year-old available. Kansas City, meanwhile, has gotten everything it hoped for when it traded left-hander Will Smith to Milwaukee for the 32-year-old Aoki last winter. A three-time batting champ in Japan, Aoki is as much fun to watch as anyone in baseball. He's a magician at the plate -- slapping the ball to all fields -- and though he's regularly switched out of games when the Royals are protecting leads, he generally makes all the catches in the outfield, but not without giving fans a scare.
9. Hall of Famers Jim Palmer and George Brett will be on the property. If there's a rain delay -- and the forecasts in Baltimore and Kansas City show there could be -- producers should cue the footage of Palmer, now an Orioles' broadcaster, squirming as he faced Brett, now vice president of baseball operations for the Royals. Only 11 pitchers faced Brett more often in his career, and the two essentially fought to a draw. Brett hit .342 off Palmer but managed only two home runs (and just three strikeouts) in 73 at-bats.
10. Crab cakes vs. KC BBQ. There's no wrong answer.
Can't wait for Game 1. Do we really have to kill time until Friday night?