Orioles, Royals match magic
Baltimore and Kansas City. Two major league franchises with few success stories in the last few decades. Two franchises often hidden in the large shadows cast by teams in their own divisions of the American League.
Baltimore, missing from the playoffs from 1997 until 2012. Kansas City, missing from the playoffs since George Brett and manager Dick Howser inflamed passions in the Midwest.
And now the twin upstarts have ousted Detroit and Los Angeles in three-game sweeps that have given their long-suffering fan bases some reasons to wonder if a World Series could be in the future.
Baltimore has done it with nearly unmatched relief pitching, the most home runs in all of the Major Leagues, a solid defense and enough starting pitching to usually allow the bullpen of achievers to win games.
Kansas City has done it with the same nearly unrivaled relief pitching, enough team speed, a reliable defense and enough starting pitching to usually allow its bullpen of achievers to win games.
The same sort of blueprints except Baltimore hits home runs and the Royals steal bases and score with a team full of batters who hit at least .260.
Baltimore just eliminated Detroit. Kansas City beat Oakland, 9-8, in a wild card game, and then stopped the favored Angels in three straight games — the last before the first sellout crowd at Kauffman Stadium since Johnny Appleseed was touring the Midwest with his free handouts.
The Orioles will host the first two games of the best-of-seven series.
With Andrew Miller, Darren O’Day, Zach Britton and Brad Brach presenting a united front of lead-protecting relievers, the Orioles have marched into the postseason with their arms extended. Starters Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez only have to wade through five innings in reasonably untattered fashion to give the Orioles their chances to dig up enough homers to win.
Nelson Cruz, Steve Pearce, Adam Jones and company hit the home runs . . . and then J.J. Hardy, Nick Markakis, Jones, Pearce and the same company make enough defensive plays to hold on to the scant leads.
Baltimore doesn’t have Matt Wieters, Manny Machado or Chris Davis — supposedly a death knell blow to the team’s hopes– but its pitchers have carried enough weight to make Atlas, Hercules and The Terminator jealous.
More than three starting pitchers could be used in a best-of-seven series. But the same sort of consistent relief stoppers and defense are what the Orioles need to oust the Royals.
Kansas City chased Detroit in the Central Division, finally clinching one of the league’s two wild cards.
Starting pitchers James Shields, Jason Vargas, Yordano Ventura, Jeremy Guthrie and Danny Duffy were a capable group — just like Baltimore owns.
Relievers Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Jason Frasor and Brandon Finnegan matched Baltimore’s becoming-legends bullpen.
Holland had 46 saves and a 1.44 ERA in his 65 games. He pitched in all four of Kansas City’s playoff games. He didn’t allow a hit to the Angels and fanned seven in his four innings. Davis appeared in 71 games, struck out 109 in 72 innings and had a 1.00 ERA. He won nine games. He pitched in all four playoff games. Herrera appeared in 70 games and had a 1.41 ERA. Finnegan was in three of the four playoff games, pitching 4 innings and allowing one hit. Frasor had 1.53 ERA in his 23 regular season games. He also appeared in three playoff games.
Alcindes Escobar played in all 162 games as the team’s shortstop. He batted .285 and had 31 stolen bases. Outfielder Norichika Aoki hit .286 and stole 17 bases. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain batted .301 with 28 steals.
Outfielder Alex Gordon provided 19 homers, infielders Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas provided some power and Hosmer batted .270. The reliable catcher is Salvador Perez and he batted .260 with 17 homers. Long-time designated hitter Billy Butler hit .271 but has gone hitless — the same as second baseman Omar Infante — in the four playoff games to date.
Kansas City had only 95 homers as a team, but stole 153 bases and had a team batting average of .263.
The two teams have similar payrolls with the Peter G. Angelos Orioles supporting a 101 million list and the Royals paying their players a total of 93 million, including pitcher Shields a sum of 13.5 million alone.
The teams have both suffered away from the playoffs for too long. And now both are being watched by the teams with much larger payrolls in New York, Boston, Detroit, the Angels, Texas and Toronto.
Let the bullpens show their wares.
Let a few runs be enough.
Let Dick Howser and George Brett be remembered on one side . . . and Earl Weaver, Ken Singleton, Brooks and Frank, stellar starting pitchers and 20-game winners and old Memorial Stadium with Wild Bill Hagy waving his much-used cowboy hat on the other side.