I was probably a little hard on the Cardinals in Wednesday’s column, so let’s take a more objective look today at the four teams still vying for a World Series championship and make some predictions.
ALCS: Kansas City Royals vs. Baltimore Orioles
The matchup we all expected! Although Kansas City and Baltimore were not among the favorites before and even during the regular season, it’s tough to argue with their formulas for success, though they go about their business much differently. The Orioles distanced themselves from the rest of the usually elite American League East, winning the division by 12 games and tying for MLB’s second-best record. Center fielder Adam Jones is one of baseball’s all-around elite players and Nelson Cruz provides the heavy lumber, crushing a league-high 40 homers this year.
Chris Davis won’t be on the roster for the ALCS as he serves out the remainder of a 25-game suspension after testing positive for adderall. But Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy can pick up the slack that Davis’ absence renders.
The Orioles are the more prototypical American League team: looking for the big inning, coming up with extra-base hits and knocking the ball out of the park.
On the other hand, the Royals hit a league-low 95 home runs this season (compared to Baltimore’s 211, which was tops in baseball). Kansas City is much more like a classic National League team – efficient starting pitching, great bullpen, the ability and willingness to manufacture runs. Alex Gordon’s 19 homers were a team-high and he was one of just three Royals to reach double figures.
But Kansas City led the majors with 153 stolen bases. Not surprisingly, Baltimore was last in that category with just 44. Anyone who watched both the Wild Card win over the Athletics and the ALDS win over the Angels saw the havoc their base runners create once they reach first.
The Royals’ bullpen has a 1.45 ERA so far this postseason and the grouping of Wade Davis, Brandon Finnegan and Kelvin Herrera setting things up for closer Greg Holland has been lights out. The Orioles have the better starting rotation, but work horse Chris Tillman gets the assignment of facing off with Royals ace James Shields today in Game 1 (2 p.m., TBS).
It’s a matchup of great contrast. I just like the Royals’ mojo right now and even though the Orioles are the favorite and have the managerial edge with Buck Showalter, I expect Ned Yost to lead Kansas City to its first World Series appearance since 1985.
The Pick: Royals 4, Orioles 3
NLCS: San Francisco Giants vs. St. Louis Cardinals
This will be the fifth straight season that either the Giants or Cardinals reach the World Series. San Francisco won the title in both 2010 and 2012, St. Louis won it in 2011 and lost to Boston last year. So neither club will be receiving much sentimental support. Both teams were expected to take a small step back this season, but here they are with another stellar result.
Each should feel confident in its starting rotation but San Francisco has the slight edge. Madison Bumgarner has taken the reins as staff ace with Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong the veterans behind him. Adam Wainwright got lit up in his NLDS outing against the Dodgers, but he had another amazing season for St. Louis and would win another Cy Young if not for a guy named Kershaw. Shelby Miller, John Lackey and Lance Lynn provide great depth and are all battle tested.
The Giants get their clutch hits from Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence, who all had solid contributions against the Cards this season. With three homers against the Dodgers, St. Louis third baseman Matt Carpenter is as hot as anyone in baseball right now. Carpenter, Matt Holiday, Yadier Molina, Matt Adams and Kolten Wong make the Cards’ lineup a nightmare to navigate.
There won’t be many surprises as both teams know each other inside and out. The Giants took three of four in St. Louis this year, so the Cardinals’ home-field advantage shouldn’t be much of one. While picking against Cardinals hasn’t been profitable endeavor of late, I like the Giants to make it an all-wild card World Series.
The Pick: Giants 4, Cardinals 2
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.