There are two Championship Series’ going on starting this weekend. Sadly, the two teams that I would want to make it to the next level have to face off against each other. So it is with great respect (and frankly a decent bit of trepidation) that I say “Great Job this season Orioles, and if you were playing anyone else I would absolutely cheer for you, but since you are playing the Royals, you are dead to me and you’re going down!!”.
The Starting Rotation – The rotation has done what they needed to. It’s been somewhat scary at times, looking at you James Shields, but it’s been what is needed. If they can continue to limit the damage to 2 or 3 runs per game, then they will have done everything needed for this team.
The Bullpen – The bullpen was brilliant in the previous playoff games. The emergence of Brandon Finnegan to go with Herrera, Davis & Holland makes the ‘pen even more of an asset. In fact, I am of the belief that instead of just hoping to get to the 7th, I think that once we get to the 6th, the Royals should go with Finnegan if there is any question with the starting pitcher and all will be well. (Of course that’s not how Ned will play it, so buckle up!)
Salvador Perez – Here’s hoping that the rest has done Sal a boatload of good. No one is tougher, but his swing needs to return to normal. He succeeded in having one of the four biggest hits of the playoffs even with that terrible swing. His defense and control of the pitchers has been exceptional as always (I mean did you see how much his throw beat Trout by?!) and that is the #1 thing he must do. But to pull off this series, he will have to contribute at least a little bit at the plate.
Eric Hosmer – He’s had the biggest coming out party of the post-season. An extra-inning home run and a .500 batting average have launched him into the driver’s seat of this team. It’s probably a bit much to ask him to keep hitting that well, but as close to it as possible will be key.
Omar Infante – Omar has had a couple of nice barehanded plays and had a very critical sacrifice fly. But beyond that he’s been a pretty sizable disappointment. (I’m confident injuries are a factor…just as full disclosure). If he doesn’t come out of the time off hitting, it really would behoove the Royals to consider starting Christian Colon in his place.
Alcides Escobar – Esci’s speed and defense have definitely lived up to expectations. He’s another one that has been a bit sluggish at the plate and could use a bit of a boost to get things going, especially out of the lead-off spot.
Mike Moustakas – Moose has been a bit of a revelation. After a year of scuffling, he provided a key extra-inning home run, bunted against the shift, and is hitting around .300. That is much more than was expected of him coming in as the number 9 hitter, so if he can continue to produce at this level it will be a big boost for this lineup.
Alex Gordon – Amusingly, there were so many lefties that the soon-to-be four time gold glove winner didn’t get nearly the number of defensive chances that he’s used to and his cohorts were able to steal the spotlight. And his average won’t blow you away this postseason, but his on-base percentage is over .400, he has 3 stolen bases, and has two huge RBI hits in the early innings of a couple of ALDS games. (The bases clearing double in the clinching game was absolutely enormous – especially coming against a lefty with 2 strikes). Alex will have to keep being himself. His defense will be a bigger factor this series and his offense will have to continue to be timely.
Lorenzo Cain – Another breakout star of this postseason. His defense has been enormous. He was one of the main drivers of the Wild Card comeback. His hustle plays, including the infield single that set up Hosmer’s home run, have been key and his speed is a difference-maker. Throw in that he’s one of two Royals to welcome his first child during this postseason and he’s definitely having his best October ever. His speed, defense, and hustle won’t go anywhere, so it’s important that he is patient at the plate and drives the ball hard.
Nori Aoki/Jarrod Dyson – They really are one person at this point. Nori will play until late in the game with a lead and then Dyson comes in for the save. Both of them have had spectacular defensive plays that have been difference makers in the postseason, even if Nori’s route running looks like a drunk circus performer at times. Nori has been primarily productive against lefties and will need to continue to do that as well as against righties in the ALCS. In the Wild Card, Dyson had probably the biggest postseason stolen base since Dave Roberts and it seems likely that his speed may be called upon at some point in this series as well.
Billy Butler – Billy has hit pretty poorly this postseason, but has had a couple of important walks. Amusingly what most folks remember is what I consider the first “heat check” I’ve seen in baseball. For those unfamiliar with the term, a heat-check in basketball is where a player feels unstoppable, kind of like Stephan Curry when I saw him at The Garden, and shoots an incredibly hard shot just to see if truly everything is going in. (It was for Curry that night). I feel like that’s honestly what the Royals were doing when Billy stole second. It’s one of those, “Everything is going our way, so let’s see if Destiny can even get Billy an SB”. And it did. But for this series, Billy needs to lay off thinking about stealing and focus on hitting like he did in August. If he’s a goose-egg in this series, it’s going to be trouble for the good guys. (Though in late innings he needs to do whatever he can to get on base so that we can get to this next guy… )
Terrance Gore – It was once said of Gore when he was in the minors that his feet don’t appear to touch the ground when he runs, and that may just sum it all up. Gore has appeared in 14 games, including 3 postseason games this season. He’s had 2 plate appearances and has a hit-by-pitch and an out. But none of that matters, because in those 14 games, he has 8 stolen bases & 5 runs scored. I can’t say if he’s faster than Billy Hamilton of the Reds, but I will say that he’s the only person in baseball that might be. He’s the handcuff that makes Butler much scarier in late innings and his presence on the basepaths could be a major factor if the games are close.
Let’s be honest… I could keep going, but I’ll spare you all. The reality is, I’m all in on this team. If I were going to attempt to be unbiased, I would pick the Orioles because their lineup has been better than the Royals’ all year and their pitching and defense are about the only team that is close to KC. But NOTHING we’ve seen this postseason is rational and I really don’t want it to start now! In the words of Sporting KC fans that brought the chant over to Kauffman Stadium in the ALDS: I. I Believe. I Believe That. I Believe That We. I Believe That We Will Win!!! Royals in 6!