Orioles & Royals Complete AL Division Series Sweeps
The Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals punched their tickets to the American League Championship Series, each completing three-game sweeps of the AL’s betting favorites, the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels. Here’s a brief look back on their Game 3 wins in the AL Division Series…
Baltimore 2 Detroit 1: Earlier this year, I was at an Orioles-Brewers game in Milwaukee where I live. I was with a hard-core Orioles fan, who told me that while he loved Buck Showalter and felt him to be the best current manager in baseball, that Buck could do some head-scratching things from a strategy perspective.
Sure enough, that night, Buck summoned an intentional walk to put the winning run on base, so the pitcher had to bad with two outs (it was in the 10th inning of a game that had seen both managers fire a lot of bullets). I defended the move, my friend criticized it in advance. The pitcher hit a double to the wall to score the winning run.
Fast forward to early evening in Detroit yesterday. The Tigers trail 2-1 and have a man on second with one out. Buck again puts the winning run on base, so he can face the bottom of the order. Say this for the Baltimore skipper—he sticks to his guns. This time, closer Zach Britton induced the double-play ground ball that clinched it.
Later this week, I’m going to issue MVP awards for each Division Series. I haven’t look at the complete series stats yet, but Nelson Cruz is certainly up for discussion and his two-run homer for the only Oriole runs added to his case.
There’s a lot of soul-searching going on in Detroit, but the reality is this—the Orioles were a better team. You don’t need advanced sabermetrics or a complete scouting report. You just need access to the standings—Baltimore won 96 games and Detroit won 90. That’s not an insignificant differential.
Their “three Cy Young winners” were all Cy Young winners whose best years had been in seasons other than 2014, and in the case of Justin Verlander and David Price, none pitched as well as any of the top four Oriole starters in this particular season. The ability of the Baltimore staff was shown clearly yesterday when Bud Norris matched zeroes with Price, until Cruz’s home run finally broke the ice.
So enough about what a shocking upset this was. The better team advanced. And while I won’t say enough about the Detroit bullpen—it’s a real problem and has been for some time—it wasn’t the only reason for the series loss. When a mildly inferior team loses a series that was, in each individual game, extremely close (Game 1 didn’t get ugly until the eighth inning), it shouldn’t send shock waves through baseball.
Kansas City 8 LA Angels 3: This one should send shock waves through baseball. That the Royals won the series isn’t a shock—I didn’t predict it, but once they got past Jered Weaver in Game 1, you knew the Angels were in trouble. Any team with deep pitching has an edge in the postseason, and Kansas City has that, more so than the Angels.
It’s the power surge of KC that’s shocking, with Eric Hosmer hitting his second home run of the series to help blow this open. Alex Gordon ripped a bases-clearing double early on, and though the Angels made various noises during the game—solo shots from Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, a four-hit from Erick Aybar—the night was one long party in Kansas City.
And not just the power surge, but the sweep. This is the first time that the team with the best record in baseball has lost a Division Series in a sweep. The lesson? Depth counts. The Los Angeles pitching staff couldn’t match up in the bullpen, and once Weaver was finished, couldn’t match up in the rotation.
The American League Championship Series begins Friday in Baltimore.
The National League resumes its Division Series action today. The San Francisco Giants look to close out their own sweep of the Washington Nationals at 5 PM ET today, sending Madison Bumgarner to the mound to face Doug Fister.
And the one series we know isn’t ending in three straight is the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers. The pivotal Game 3 is a 9 PM ET, with John Lackey facing Hyun-Jin Ru. I picked St. Louis to win this series and stand by it. But if they don’t win this game at home, the outlook will be bleak.