ALDS Review

Posted: 10/08/2014 by levcohen in Baseball

You might have noticed that I didn’t predict the first round of the MLB playoffs. That wasn’t by accident. In fact, I was in the midst of writing my prediction when I realized that I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. Now, you might argue that I never know what’s going to happen when I make predictions, and that’s true, but I usually have at least a somewhat strong opinion one way or the other. This time, I didn’t. It’s a good thing I didn’t predict the first round, because each of the four series ended in upsets. In a first round that was super exciting and featured many close games and the longest (by time) game in playoff history, the biggest surprise was not that the Royals or Orioles or Cardinals or Giants progressed (this is the playoffs, after all, where anything can and will happen) but that none of the four series went to a fifth game. Let’s recap the ALDS. My NLDS review will come tomorrow before my LCS predictions on Friday.

Baltimore sweeps Detroit: In the days leading up to the start of this series, it was pretty easy to forget that it was Baltimore and not Detroit who were 96-game winners and had homefield advantage against a 90-72 team that barely won its division. It was the Tigers and not the Orioles who were favored coming into the series, with people mostly ignoring Detroit’s regular season struggles and picking them to defeat Baltimore behind the strength of their starting pitching. The “starting pitching means more in the playoffs” card is one that is always played a lot when October rolls around and didn’t work out so well this time around (some other teams with great rotations also were eliminated, as you’ll see soon). This series was over almost before it started, as the Orioles’ 12-3 game one win set the stage for the sweep and showed Detroit’s greatest weaknesses. After Max Scherzer gave up three runs in the first two innings, he settled in with four consecutive scoreless innings. Even after he gave up a run in the seventh, the Tigers came back to score a run of their own in the eighth and trailed just 4-3. That’s when it all unraveled. Scherzer stayed in and got an out before allowing a double. He was then relieved by Joba Chamberlain. Over the course of the half inning, three relievers pitched for Detroit, giving up a total of five hits, two walks, and eight runs, one of which was charged to Scherzer. So the bullpen, which was always this team’s weakest link, allowed a 4-3 game to get out of hand. The Tigers also committed two errors in the inning, so the team’s other big Achilles’ heel came back to bite them in a big way in the eighth. The other two games in the series were one-run games, as the Tigers blew a 6-3 eighth inning lead in game two (another four runs allowed in the eighth) before losing 2-1 in game three. The bottom line is that Detroit’s rotation wasn’t good enough to offset Baltimore’s huge advantages defensively and in the bullpen. And let’s give props to Baltimore, who, in a weak AL East, flew under the radar for most of the season. The Orioles have gone from being underdogs against an underachieving Detroit team to being favored to make the World Series and perhaps even win it. That’s in spite of a rotation that, unlike the Tigers, who have the last three AL Cy Young winners, consists of Bud Norris, Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez. They’ve succeeded because of a Nelson Cruz-powered offense, an Andrew Miller-led bullpen, and an Adam Jones-led defense. To put it simply, this is a well-rounded team, and it’s a well-rounded team that handily defeated Detroit’s team of bloated contracts.

Kansas City sweeps Los Angeles Angels: Kansas City’s sweep is more of a surprise than Baltimore’s, and it isn’t close. This is a team whose only key player with playoff experience is ace James Shields, who will almost definitely be leaving in free agency. This is a team that scored nearly a run per game fewer than the Angels and a team that ended as the only team that failed to hit 100 homers. It’s a team that has scoffed as the Moneyball approach and has turned to its speed (153 stolen bases, most in baseball) and defense (by far the best defense in baseball per Fangraphs) instead of its power and plate discipline (they had a 6.3% walk rate that was worst in baseball). In essence, this is a team that seems like it should be playing in 1914 and not 2014. And after defeating Billy Beane’s Oakland in the wild card game they swept the 98-win Angels. I wouldn’t, however, call this a loss for the analytics crowd or a win for the old-timers. It’s simply a win for this amazing Kansas City team. The first four games in their postseason have been Hollywood material. First, there was the huge comeback against the Athletics, who led Kansas City 7-3 heading into the bottom of the eighth before the Royals exploded for three runs in the eighth, the tying run in the ninth, and two in the twelfth to win it after the Athletics took a 8-7 lead in the top of the inning. The wild card game comeback is made even more unbelievable by the fact that the Royals scored more than seven runs for just the third time since before the start of July. What followed was just as sweet. First, there was a 3-2, 11-inning win that featured five scoreless innings from a bullpen that’s been doing it all year. Yes, the Royals only had four hits, including a very un-Kansas City-like 11th inning homer by Mike Moustakas, but they won the game. Then came game two, another 11-inning win, this one 4-1. The bullpen threw four more scoreless innings, the defense was terrific again, and Eric Hosmer hit an 11th inning homer. It was fitting that the Royals ended it in game three, in front of their crazy, adoring home fans. Shields started and gave up two runs in six innings, further justification that the trade of Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi for Shields, which looked so bad at the time, turned out pretty well after all. Not only did the Royals win game three but they crushed the Angels, Mike Trout and all, 8-3. The Royals now have 12 steals in four playoff games to four homers and have given up four runs in 18 and two-thirds relief innings for a 1.93 ERA. Their playoff roster includes household speedsters like Terrance Gore (career .271 SLUGGING PERCENTAGE in the minor leagues and zero homers in his professional career), Jarrod Dyson (.335 SLG in MLB career), and Alcides Escobar (.349 SLG in MLB career). Meanwhile, the Angels’ powerful and well paid meat of the order of Trout, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton went a combined 4-38 with two homers. While the Angels hit as many homers as the Royals in the series (four), Kansas City outscored Los Angeles 15-6. They also out-stole the Angels 5-1 and scored eight runs in 16 and a third innings on their bullpen. Basically, Dayton Moore’s plan worked out, and the Royals are heading to the ALCS as everyone’s favorite underdog.

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