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Orioles Series Preview: the American League Championship Series

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There is no reason why this team can't win eight of its next fourteen and be World Champions.

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles and Royals will face each other in the playoffs for the first time, although its a bit surprising the two franchises never faced off in the 1970s when both clubs were so dominant. The Orioles dominated the Royals early on in franchise history, with Earl Weaver's bunch winning 23 of the first 24 match-ups. This year, the Royals took four of the seven matchups against the Orioles this year, including two of three at Camden Yards.

This year's Orioles are a team that can mash the ball. They led the league in home runs with 211, more than twice the Royals total. They are paced by slugger Nelson Cruz, a free agent bargain who signed a one-year $8 million deal with Baltimore after a PED-suspension and draft pick compensation diminished interest in him this past winter. The Orioles will be without first baseman Chris Davis and his 26 home runs due to a PED suspension, as well as injuries to Manny Machado and Matt Wieters. Steve Pearce has gone from being a nice AAA slugger to the most valuable player by rWAR on the Orioles at 6.0.

Like the Royals, the Orioles don't walk much, finishing with the third fewest free passes in the league. Their .311 team on-base percentage was only 11th best, and they finished dead last in steals with 44, or just eight more swipes than Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson had by himself.

Catchers Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley have split time with Wieters out. Joseph is the better glove man, throwing out 40% of would-be base-stealers, but he is a liability at the plate. Delmon Young was huge for the Orioles with a three-run double in Game Two, and he was named ALCS MVP with the Detroit Tigers back in 2012. Adam Jones, who had a sensational season for the Orioles, is just 4-for-37 with no extra-base hits in nine career post-season games.

Orioles lineup

The ALCS rotations have not yet been announced, so this is our best guess at how things will lineup. James Shields will definitely face Chris Tillman tonight, with Yordano Ventura going in Game Two for Kansas City.

Orioles matchups

Looking at the starting pitching comparisons at a team level, the two teams share some similarities. They don’t strike out a lot of guys, and they both lean fly ball. The Orioles are a bit more wild, but Ubaldo Jimenez skews the walk rate. He’s been ostracized. In terms of true talent, the Royals had a 3.89 FIP vs. a 4.18 FIP for the Orioles (starting pitchers only). The Royals starters are better on true talent, but the teams’ starters had almost identical ERA values: 3.60 vs. 3.61.

The Royals are supposed to have the better defense, so why do the Orioles have a greater gap between their ERA and FIP? Why do they have a lower BABIP and higher LOB%? It’s about the clutchiness. For the Orioles, their bases empty wOBA allowed is .308. Their men on base wOBA allowed is .305. Their men in scoring position wOBA allowed is .277. The Orioles’ pitchers have gotten more outs with men in scoring position, and the Orioles team overall actually leads MLB with that .277 wOBA allowed. This analysis is clouded because FanGraphs doesn’t allow readers to look at the "men in scoring" split by only starters, which is frustrating, but it holds true when looking at individual players. It appears the Orioles do emphasize strikeouts more than contact with men in scoring position. Clutch is just a vague word describing a possible change in strategy.

Overall K% (as starter) Men in Scoring K%
Chris Tillman 17.2% 22.7%
Wei-Yin Chen 17.6% 18.9%
Bud Norris 20.2% 23.7%
Kevin Gausman 18.5% 21.1%
Miguel Gonzalez 16.6% 18.1%

The Royals bullpen has gotten a lot of attention, but the Orioles have a very good pen as well. They were third in the league in ERA at 3.10, ahead of Kansas City's 3.27, although they were just 11th in strikeouts per nine innings at 7.8. Buck Showalter has done a fantastic job at maximizing his pen's value, and the team received a huge boost at the trade deadline by adding left-handed specialist extraordinaire Andrew Miller. Kevin Gausman, a fantastic young starter for the Orioles, will head to the bullpen to provide long-relief.

Orioles bullpen

The Royals and Orioles are being painted as underdogs, but make no mistake, the Orioles won 96 games and are a very deep, very complete team. Buck Showalter's managerial acumen and a strong bullpen will make the Orioles a very formidable opponent late in games, where the Royals have enjoyed much of their magic this post-season. If the Royals want to keep playing in October, they will need to keep the Orioles off the bases so that the home runs don't hurt them much, and find a way to get to the starter before the relief corps come in.