Cinderella Story: Everything You Need To Know About The Orioles-Royals ALCS Matchup

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The Orioles will take on the Royals in Major League Baseball’s American League Championship Series, which will start October 10. Here’s how the two teams got to the league’s semifinals and what to look for in the matchup:

ALDS #1, Baltimore over Detroit:

The Baltimore Orioles had little trouble knocking the Detroit Tigers out of the playoffs, completing a sweep of their American League Division Series with a 2-1 win.

The Tigers saw their bullpen, which had been shaky all year, crumble in games one and two in Baltimore. A stellar opening by O’s starter Bud Norris (6.1 innings, 2 hits, 0 runs) put an end to their season in game three.

Manager Buck Showalter has brought the O’s back to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons and has led the team to its first ALCS since 1997. The ALDS victory over Detroit is a milestone win for Showalter, who had to wait until his 16th season as a big-league manager to finally capture a playoff series win.

Known throughout his career for his ability to mold teams into contenders, the salty manager had twice seen teams he helped to build go on to win the World Series the year after he was replaced. This happened first with the Yankees in 1996 and then again with the Diamondbacks in 2001.

A relieved Showalter told ESPN after his team completed the sweep,

Believe me, I’m happier than you can imagine. But most of it comes from getting to see the players get what they’ve put into it.

Showalter’s Orioles ran away with their division toward the end of the season and finished with a 96-66 record, 12 games better than the second-place Yankees. A lot of their success can be attributed to a power-packed offense, as the O’s led the AL with 211 home runs and finished second in slugging percentage at .422.

Their pitching was also solid, which backed up their bats with an overall ERA of 3.43 — third best in the league.

Nelson Cruz was big for Baltimore vs. Detroit, much as he was all year long. The designated hitter was one of the top power hitters in baseball this season, having finished first in home runs with 40, third in RBI with 108 and fifth in slugging at .525.

Cruz’s success carried over to the Tigers series, where he hit 2 homers and notched 5 RBI in three games, while also boasting a .500 batting average.

Cruz is no stranger to postseason success. In 37 career playoff games, he has 41 hits, including 16 home runs and 9 doubles, knocking in 32 runs and slugging at an incredible percentage of .710!

ALDS #2, Kansas City over Los Angeles:

The Kansas City Royals also swept their ALDS matchup, dismissing the Los Angeles Angels, who came into the playoffs with a major league best 98 wins. After stealing games one and two on the road in LA (both times using extra innings), an early offensive explosion was enough for the Royals to win game three comfortably.

The Royals made a name for themselves in the regular season by playing a style of ball that capitalized on their speed and athleticism. They led the American League in stolen bases with 153 and have continued to be effective on the base paths in the postseason, where they have stolen 12 bases in 13 attempts.

KC has also played a beautiful brand of team baseball in the playoffs, advancing runners and getting them across the plate, with five sacrifice hits and three sacrifice flies, thus far.

Manager Ned Yost praised his young and explosive team after his team’s first-round win. He told ESPN,

It’s really fun to see their development and watch them come into the postseason and just really take their game to the next level.

Timely, clutch hitting has also been a key contributor to what has become a magical run for the Royals, starting with a 12-inning comeback win in the AL Wild Card game verses the Oakland A’s.

Third baseman Mike Moustakas hit a home run in the 11th inning to beat the Angels in game one of the Divisional Series. First baseman Eric Hosmer did the same thing in game two, again in the 11th.

The Royals’ pitching has been strong, to boot, as their staff boasts a 2.93 ERA in the playoffs, which is best in the AL.

The team had solid outings from each of their starters against Los Angeles. Jason Vargas pitched six innings in game one, Yordano Ventura allowed just one run in seven innings in game two, and James Shields allowed two runs while tossing six innings in game three.

The KC bullpen was equally effective during the series, rendering just one run in 12 innings of work.

Three keys that could determine who wins the ALCS:

1. Can the Orioles stop the Royals from stealing?

All year long, the Royals wreaked havoc upon getting on base, and the inability of Oakland and Los Angeles to slow them down proved costly. The O’s will have to do a better job of holding KC put if they don’t want to suffer the same fate as the A’s and Angels.

Baltimore pitchers and catchers combined to catch 28 percent of the runners trying to steal, allowing 84 stolen bases, while cutting down 32 runners, which was good enough for sixth in the league.

However, catcher Nick Hundley, who started two of the three games versus Detroit, has not done a great job throwing out base runners this year. In the regular season, he had a feeble .139 caught-stealing percentage and threw out only five of the 36 runners who attempted to swipe a base against him.

So, look for Kansas City to run early and often if he is behind the plate.

The Os’ other catcher, Caleb Joseph, did a much better job against base stealers in 2014, amassing a .404 caught-stealing percentage and allowing 34 swipes, but nabbing 23 greedy runners. Because of this, Showalter may choose to put him behind the plate for the majority of innings against the high-octane Kansas City running game.

2. Can the Royals slow down Nelson Cruz?

Cruz is a notorious playoff force. He was named MVP of the 2011 Texas Rangers, after setting records for home runs (6) and RBI (13) in a series.

Being that he is a key cog in Orioles offense, which relies heavily on the long ball, slowing Cruz down would go a long way for the Royals in this matchup.

The right-handed slugger has tallied 29 hits, 8 homers and 29 RBI against the Kansas City pitching staff over the course of his career. But, in 139 at-bats, he has managed just a .209 batting average, while slugging at .417, both well below his overall career averages of .268 and .501, respectively.

Cruz does have good numbers against Vargas, with 10 hits in 30 at-bats against the left-hander, including 4 HRs and 8 RBI. He is also 6-24, with 6 RBI verses Jeremy Guthrie, and 2-10, with a homer and 6 RBI off of Jason Frasor.

Shields and Ventura, on the other hand, have shut Cruz down for the most part. Cruz is a combined 5-27 against the pair, which is good for only a .179 average, but two of the five hits have been long balls.

3. Home field advantage?

Both fan bases will be raucous, as they have waited double-digit years for their teams to win a round in the playoffs.

The Royals last captured a World Series title in 1985, and the Orioles last won it all in 1983. This means crowds at both Camden Yards in Baltimore and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City will be juiced up, attempting to will their team back to the promised land.

Thanks to a better regular season record, the Orioles will have home field advantage in the best of seven ALCS, which could prove advantageous. If both teams hold serve, the decisive game seven would be back in Baltimore, and the Orioles would have last licks.

It would also behoove the O’s to win game one at home because they need to break the momentum of the raging Royals. The Royals have used all types of heroics and extra-inning excitement to make them the Cinderella story of the 2014 playoffs.

Will the Orioles be able to punch their ticket and watch the clock strike midnight on Kansas City’s season or will the Royals run through another opponent en route to the World Series? Tune in to the American League Championship Series, which begins on Friday, to find out.

Top Photo Courtesy: Twitter

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