As of this writing, the Royals are leading the O’s 5-1 in the fifth of Game 1 of the ALCS. I’ve said it already, but it’s really refreshing to see these young, hungry clubs vying for the AL pennant. Tonight we’ve seen why these teams are the final clubs standing in the Junior Circuit. Nick Markakis has hit the ball hard every time he’s come to the plate. Alex Gordon’s defense and clutch hitting make him one of the most valuable players in the league. James Shields’ velocity isn’t what it once was, but he’s shown a veteran ability to pitch out of jams throughout this postseason. And — while I was writing the last sentence — Nelson Cruz’s torrid bat has carried over into October once again. I love it.
So here’s my prediction: Baltimore in 6. Now, I’ll be rooting like crazy for Kansas City to win, but my gut tells me Baltimore — the better club by 7 games over 162 — will prevail in this series. With power hitting at a premium in this new era of pitching and defense, I have to give a slight edge to the power bats that are sprinkled throughout the Baltimore lineup. Sure, the loss of Chris Davis and Matt Wieters makes this lineup look a lot less scary, but you can’t forget about Adam Jones, Cruz, Steve Pearce, and JJ Hardy, each of whom offers more pop than anyone in the Royals lineup. That’s a fearsome foursome that can put a charge in a ball at anytime — which is an increasingly rare skill in Major League Baseball these days. (Incidentally, that’s also why I’m slightly worried all the young power hitters the Cubs are stockpiling right now. But that’s a post for another time.)
In a series devoid of dominant starters, you have to look at the O’s power as the difference maker in the series. I’d love to be wrong, but that’s my pick.
As far as the National League goes, it’s hard to be objective. But here goes. I can objectively say that this Cardinal team is NOT the best one in recent memory. The sticks haven’t really gotten on a roll all year long. As epically good as they were with runners in scoring position last season, they’ve been merely average this year. The rotation has dealt with injuries to Michael Wacha, Jamie Garcia, and Joe Kelly. On top of that, Adam Wainwright is currently dealing with “dead arm.” The lefty relievers have been a mess. And yet, here we are again, LCS bound for the fourth straight year. I’ve watched or listened to the Cards most every night this summer and I can honestly say this team is playing its best ball when it matters most.
San Francisco, on the other hand, had the best record in baseball at the end of May. At 37-20, the Giants played .649 ball for the first two months of the season. Over the next four months, the Giants were three games under, making the playoffs with the fifth-best record in the league. But baseball’s current postseason format rewards October hot streaks and the Giants — who have been to three of the last five NLCS’s in their own right — have taken full advantage. With Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy, and Tim Hudson, the Giants boast a deeper rotation than the Cards, and that might be the difference maker in this series. But in Waino bounces back from his recent dead arm issues, St. Louis has more than a fighting chance. I’m going with my heart with this one. I’m picking St. Louis in 7 in what will go down as a classic, back-and-forth NLCS.