If the Kansas City Royals can duplicate their 4-3 regular-season advantage over the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series, they’ll be headed to the World Series.
The Royals wouldn’t care a bit if the ALCS goes the seven-game limit, all they want is a chance at their second World Series title, their first since their one-and-only in 1985.
It’s the ultimate contrast of styles, as the Royals rely on pitching, defense and speed to be successful, while the Orioles flex their muscles with the long ball to back some pretty darn decent and underrated pitching.
The Royals should fill comfortable opening the series tonight in Baltimore’s bandbox since their ascension to playoff status could be greatly attributed to their outstanding play on the road. If they had been even moderately successful at Kauffman Stadium (only 42-39), they would have won the division in runaway fashion.
It’s too bad there was such a wide gap between the end of the divisional series and the championship series. The Royals turned in a white-hot week with the stunning come-from-behind victory over Oakland and then the unlikely three-game sweep of Los Angeles, the team with the best record in baseball. You just hope their jets haven’t cooled and the emotion hasn’t worn off. It will be evident early if the Royals have pancaked emotionally.
Kansas City manager Ned Yost begins the second “yostseason” with James Shields throwing in Game 1. He did pick up the win in the title-clinching game against the Angels, but in actuality hasn’t been sharp for several starts. Don’t be surprised if he’s tagged for an early homer by Nelson Cruz, as his pattern has been to give up the big fly early. Shields does have trouble keeping the ball in the park and at Camden Yards, scores sometimes reflect those of slow-pitch softball. The Royals can’t afford to get into a slugging contest, because that’s not who they are.
Shields was thought to be gone after this season because of impending free agency, but there’s rumors now the Royals are willing to back up the truck and overpay, something to the tune of $80 million over four years, which is a lot of the Glass family's Wal-Mart stock. While he’s not worth $20 mil a year, his leadership and inspiration to the team cannot be overstated. He brought a winning mentality to this team and taught it how to be successful. Now he needs to deliver on his “Big Game James” monicker, maybe the most overused nickname in all of sports.
The Royals’ bats have been alive down the stretch, but can they continue? Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas went yard twice apiece against the Angels, which seemed like an aberration. It would help if the team could unleash from “frenzied hitting,” which has been their trademark when they’re going good.
I’ll admit I haven’t been a believer in the Royals all year. Their hitting has been too spotty and the pitching has been on a season-long sizz, something that almost never happens. The bullpen trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland turned in a season probably never before seen and you just hope they have a couple of more weeks of lights-out pitching in them. And Yost scares me in the dugout, as this is a series he could get badly outmanuevered by the cagey Buck Showalter, right now one of the very best, if not the best, managers in the game along with San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy.
Can the Royals pull it out? Sure, though I’ll follow my season-long script that they probably won’t. I still like the Orioles in six, but when it comes to the Royals, I’ve been wrong before — many times, in fact.