The ALCS begins on Friday with the Royals taking in the Orioles in Game 1 from Baltimore, and LT Profits have your series prediction on which team’s joyride will end.
In an ALCS matchup that nobody could have predicted before the season and few people still expected at the beginning of these playoffs, the wild card Kansas City Royals (93-73) are set to take on the Baltimore Orioles (99-66). As the American League East Champions, the Orioles have home field advantage for this best four-of-seven series in the standard 2-3-2 format, with the entire ALCS televised nationally on TBS. (
The posted series line at Pinnacle Sports has Kansas City as the underdog at current odds of +121.
Top Two AL Favorites Knocked Off
Coming into these playoffs, the Los Angeles Angels and the Detroit Tigers were the two favorites to represent the American League in the World Series, but apparently that did not faze the Royals and Orioles any!
The Royals in fact have had the tougher path to get here as they were small home underdogs in the American League Wild Card Playoff Game to the Oakland Athletics, a team that had the best record in the Major Leagues though the trading deadline. Kansas City made a nice comeback vs. Jon Lester to win that game and the Royals then proceeded to sweep the top seeded Angels, impressively winning the first two games in Anaheim before wrapping the series at home.
Meanwhile, the Orioles swept the second choices from Detroit in their ALCS in which Baltimore was the MLB pick underdog despite having the home field advantage as the second seed in the AL. That was understandable though considering that they beat a Tigers’ rotation of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price.
And all of the Detroit starters pitched well, but the series was decided by the Orioles feasting on the horrific Detroit bullpen while winning the first two games at home in the late innings.
Royals Better Starting Depth
In our opinion, the Orioles are again at a disadvantage in regards to the starting pitching in this series. The closest pitching matchup in our minds is in Game 1, but we still feel that James Shields is the best pitcher in this series for either team and we give him the nod over Baltimore’s Chris Tillman.
You may recall the uproar when Kansas City Manager Ned Yost almost cost the Royals this opportunity in their very first playoff game by pulling Shields early (sixth inning) in the single elimination Wild Card Playoff, and Shields was then the winner in the deciding Game 3 vs. the Angels allowing two runs in six innings, this time being pulled with an 8-2 lead in anticipation of this Game 1 start five days later.
Shields deserved better than his 14-8 record during the season as he had a 3.21 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and a very good ratio of 180 strikeouts vs. 44 walks and he also had a very good groundball rate of 45.2 percent, all helping lead to a 3.59 FIP and 3.56 xFIP. We also prefer the depth of the Kansas City staff to that of the Baltimore staff, as Shield is followed by southpaw Jason Vargas, who has done his best pitching on the road, and flame throwing Yordano Ventura.
Tillman went 13-6 during the regular season with a 3.34 ERA and 1.23 WHIP, but his peripheral numbers were not as good as Shields as he only averaged 6.51 strikeouts vs. 2.86 walks per nine innings, he benefitted from a .267 BABIP and he had a low groundball rate of 40.6 percent, all leading to a only a 4.01 FIP and 4.20 xFIP.
Tillman then lasted only five innings in his ALDS start vs. the Tigers despite allowing only two runs on four hits (two homers) as he labored through 105 pitches. And we are not crazy about the mediocre Baltimore starting depth which will be comprised of some combination of Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez.
Both Bullpens Excellent
As mentioned previously, the Orioles feasted on the Detroit bullpen in the ALDS, but do not expect a replay of that here vs. the great Kansas City pen full of live young arms. Granted the Royals ranked a rather disappointing fifth in the American League in bullpen ERA during the season at 3.30 after having what was generally considered to be the best bullpen in baseball coming into the season, but they are fulfilling that potential in these playoffs.
The Kansas City pen has a 2.37 ERA over 19 post-season innings with 21 strikeouts, and remember that includes a bad outing by the starter Ventura in relief of Shields in the wild card game.
The Orioles do not take a backseat to anyone in regards to the bullpen either, as they ranked third in pen ERA during the season at 3.10 and continued that fine work vs. the Tigers with a 2.25 ERA over 12 relief innings. Those numbers aside, the O’s do not have the humongous bullpen edge here that they had vs. Detroit, and we are not even convinced they have the better pen in this series.
Even if you call the bullpens a wash, the edge in the Kansas City starting pitching should be enough for the wild card Royals to pull an upset.
Not Rattled on the Road
Finally, we love the chances of the Royals stealing at least one of the first two games in Baltimore, not only because of better pitching but also because Kansas City is 23-9 in its last 32 road games after the two wins in Anaheim in the ALDS.
Thus, look for the Royals being the Cinderella to advancing to the World Series by prevailing at underdog odds in this ALCS.
MLB Pick: Royals +121 (Series)