2014 League Championship Series Primer

AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
ALCS

 

Kansas City Royals

The Regular Season in a Nutshell

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

I see three Ws in the 9 Game Increment function (look hard enough – you’ll see). V may be for Vandetta. but I’m pretty sure I’m the first one to come up with “W for Winning.” Ever. Triple W for Triple Winning. This team is charmed.

The Royals spent the year playing airtight defense, stealing bases, getting acceptable rotation production, and ruthlessly suffocating the last gasps out of opponents with a weapons-grade bullpen. Frequently getting on base and hitting for power were not part of this team’s modus operandi, thus heightening the need to do all of the aforementioned things well.

 

The LDS Setup

In their LDS sweep of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Royals continued to do all of the small things well. The rotation managed to limit the damage of a powerful Angels lineup in Games 1 and 2, while the heretofore under-powered Royals managed to eek out similar run production against a sneaky-below-average Angels rotation. The games were then placed into the hands of the bullpens, and the mighty Royals pen managed to win staring contests with a very good Angels bullpen in the eleventh inning of both contests. The Royals also hinted at the potential for some October magic with a clutch, go-ahead home run from Mike Moustakas in the eleventh inning of Game 1 (seriously?) and a devastating go-ahead blast from Eric Hosmer in the eleventh inning of Game 2 before BOTH went deep again in a Game 3 blowout (seriously? Mike Actual Moustakas?).

 

The LCS Takeaway

The Royals continued to do all of the things that allowed them to squeak into the American League playoff bracket to begin with, but they began augmenting it with home run power. As has been pointed out, home runs and bullpen performance are two staples of deep October runs, and if the Royals manage to augment their lethal bullpen with more WTF timely home runs and the athletic excellence they routinely brought on the basepaths and in the field, they will be a very, very tough out.

 

Baltimore Orioles

The Regular Season in a Nutshell

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Try to tell me the 9 Game Increment function doesn’t look like a kitty. See its massive kitty head with kitty ears off to the right? I’m pretty sure that’s a hooked kitty tail off to the left. You can’t unsee it.

Much like the Royals, the Orioles played fabulous defense and displayed an aversion to getting on base all season long. They got below-average production from their rotation, though those below average FIP and xFIP marks for the starters were significantly impacted by pitching so many games in the offense-boosting AL East Parks (a total of 110 games pitched at Orioles Park at Camden Yards, Fenway Park, New Yankee Stadium, and Rogers Centre). Similarly, their slightly above average raw bullpen  numbers are quite impressive when accounting for the run-scoring environments in which they were compiled. Unlike the Royals, however, the Orioles spent the summer pounding the crap out of baseballs. Man, the Orioles can bang. The homer-powered offense made the most of the few base runners the Orioles did actually muster (an absolutely astounding 47% of their runs scored on homers), the rotation managed to avoid a level of awfulness that would threaten to derail the offense’s efforts, and the bullpen effectively put away the leads it inherited. Just for fun, do you notice how the ERA numbers are so much better than are the FIP/xFIP ones? The Orioles’ defense saved an awful lot of runs on balls put in play, folks (the same goes for the Royals’ rotation, actually).

 

The LDS Setup

I hate to toot my own horn, but permit me the following quote from the one series I actually predicted well.

Both teams can bang. Admittedly, the Tigers possess the superior starting pitching talent, and it is not especially close, but it says here that the Orioles will sufficiently feast upon the rotting meat that is the Tiger bullpen to neutralize the talent gap. Seriously, the Tiger bullpen is hysterical. Hysterical bullpens fail in October. Failing bullpens make teams go home. The Tigers are going home very soon.

In Games 1 and 2, the Tiggies’ bullpen surrendered 9 and 4 runs respectively in the eighth inning. A low-scoring tie-game turned into a blow-out and a prohibitive 3-run lead turned into a crushing 1-run loss. While I would never say I predicted a meltdown of such proportions, I can say I was not surprised… at all. The Orioles’ bullpen, meanwhile, allowed a total of 3 runs, one of which was a garbage-time run in Game 3.  A team is not going to win much by posting a -10 run differential from the 8th inning on over the course of several weeks, to say nothing of doing so over the course of a win-or-go-home best-of-5 series as the Tiggies did.

As for the Orioles themselves, they more or less stuck to their regular season script: they clubbed some homers, their starting pitching was not especially great but didn’t get absolutely destroyed, and the bullpen and defense clamped down on the Tiggies offense to make any late-game offense extremely impactful.

 

The LCS Takeaway

The rotation will, at least on paper, have a much easier job containing the Royals’ offense than it did with a very potent Tiggy lineup. Good defense does not typically disappear magically in the postseason, so we can safely assume this team will not magically start shooting itself in the foot (though any one individual error can be greatly magnified in October). I wouldn’t guess that this team will magically stop hitting home runs, but their best opportunities to do so will be against the Royals’ rotation. While the Oriole bullpen will undoubtedly continue to do solid work, I would still bet on the Royals bullpen doing even better.

 

Bottom Line

This should be a well-contested series. I do not see either team putting away the other quickly. I would not be surprised to see either advance, though I suppose I am feeling the Royals a little more right now – I like their chances to continue hitting WTF uncharacteristic high-leverage home runs while continuing their athletic exploits in the field and on the basepaths and excellence in relief.

 

ROYALS IN 6 GAMES

 

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One thought on “2014 League Championship Series Primer”

  1. Love the LDS. I had forgotten about that….

    Man, was that a tease. I read, studied graphs (all good stuff, by the way), eagerly anticipated the NLCS… and beheld the stay-tuned-for-the-next episode. Hope that comes out soon.

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