The Royals and Orioles are both surprising participants the American League Championship Series, and since they're not the Red Sox or Yankees, no one seems to know much about these teams. So we sat down with Stacey Folkemer, the Editor over at Camden Chat to discuss the Orioles amazing run and what we can expect in this upcoming ALCS clash between the Royals and Orioles.
Royals Review: A lot of attention has been paid to the Royals breaking their 29 year playoff drought, but the Orioles actually have a longer championship drought than the Royals, with their last title in 1983. How has this run been for Orioles fans and is there a feeling they could win it all this year?
Stacey Folkemer: It has been amazing, wonderful, exciting, happy, lovely, incredible, strange, weird, and unexpected. In 2012, when the Orioles were clawing their way to one of the wild card spots, I spent the entire season waiting for it to fall apart. All the Orioles had given me for my entire adult life was disappointment, so I was ready for more. In hindsight it really took away from my enjoyment of the season, and I promised myself I wouldn't do that again. This year I loved every minute of it, but of course the Orioles helped me with that by cruising to a relatively stress-free division title.
I think that there is an feeling or expectation that the Orioles can win the entire thing this year. This team is very good, although it's easy to understand why people who didn't watch them all season might not understand that. No matter what happens, it's just been a joy to watch Baltimore finally come alive again as a baseball town.
Royals Review: The Orioles seem to have very good starting pitching depth, but no one that really stands out from the rest. How do you see the ALCS rotation for Baltimore playing out?
Stacey Folkemer: I expect the Orioles will roll out the same four-man rotation of Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez as they did in the ALDS (though Gonzalez didn't actually get to pitch in that series). Rookie Kevin Gausman will be in the bullpen to pick up the slack on any of the starters who aren't getting the job done early on. None of these starters will leave a team quaking in their cleats, but generally none of them will implode either. They were very successful on the second half of the regular season, pitching to an unheralded 2.98 ERA.
Royals Review: Buck Showalter has earned a ton of praise the past few years for turning the Orioles around. How do you see him as a manager, and do you see his tactics being a factor in this series?
Stacey Folkemer: I love Buck Showalter. When the Orioles first hired him, I reached out to Adam Morris over at Lonestar Ball who wrote a very good but kind of frightening story on Showalter that we posted on Camden Chat. That had me convinced that Showalter would come in, whip people into shape, piss everyone off, and be gone in a few years. But as far as I can tell, that Buck Showalter is gone. Maybe he mellowed naturally with age, maybe he made a conscious decision to change his ways, I don't know.
Showalter is a meticulous planner, which accounts for a lot of his preparedness on the field. But his biggest success has been his ability to get every single player on his side, from Adam Jones and Nick Markakis all the way down to the players that only saw time on the roster for a few days during the season. It appears that these players will follow him anywhere and it has really fostered the idea that this team is a family more than ever. Most players say that they'll do anything if it's in the best interests of the team, but in the case of the 2014 Orioles I actually believe it. He is of course a good on-field manager as well, particularly with his bullpen management. There were times over the season where he did seem a little too committed to certain players in the bullpen, but those times weren't too frequent and seems to have gone out the window now that the Orioles are in the postseason. The general thought is that Showalter out-managed Brad Ausmus in the ALDS and that he'll do the same with Ned Yost in the ALCS. Time will tell on that second one.
Royals Review: Chris Davis will miss this series due to his drug suspension. How will that impact the Orioles lineup and is he still a bat that will even be missed?
Stacey Folkemer: The Orioles missed Chris Davis' bat this year, even when he was in the lineup. By the time he started serving his suspension he was a solid .196 hitter who was pretty good at taking a walk and capable of hitting a home run every now and then, but not much else. Is he more valuable than Ryan Flaherty? Yes, sure. But not to the point that it feels like the Orioles are really suffering without him. Plus, if he hadn't gotten injured early this year and suspended late, maybe we never would have gotten to see what Steve Pearce can do.
A popular thought about Davis's troubles this year are that he never fully healed from his oblique injury early in the year, so if the Orioles do get to the World Series, maybe his involuntary vacation from baseball gave him the time he needed to get back to 100% and he'll crush his way to series MVP.
Royals Review: Steve Pearce has seemingly gone from anonymous AAAA slugger to one of the best players on one of the best teams in baseball. What do you attribute his fantastic season to?
Stacey Folkemer: Pearce has always been a patient hitter and good against lefty pitchers, but he's taken that to an entirely new level this year. I don't know what exactly changed for him, other than this year he is finally healthy and was finally given the chance to play every day. In years past he kept getting injured, which lead to less playing time, and then when he was healthy he hadn't proven himself worthy of every day playing time, and that happens for enough years and suddenly he's 28 years old, which is too late to expect him to ever turn into anything. The Orioles were forced into using him this year due to the injuries to Davis and Machado, and he responded.
An ESPN article about him a few days ago talks about changes he's made at the plate, but I haven't really noticed them. Part of that is, I'm sure, because before this year I never saw him play regularly. I'm certain that he's been playing over his head a bit (5 WAR in just 383 PA isn't going to be the norm for him), but I do think he has several years ahead of him as a productive everyday player.
Royals Review: The Royals running game has received a lot of attention this post-season. With Matt Wieters out, it seems like the Orioles have turned to a tandem of Nick Hundley and Caleb Joseph. Who do you see getting the call in this series, and how effective can the O's be at limiting the Royals run game?
Stacey Folkemer: I think we'll see both catchers get time in the series, as has been for most of the year and the ALDS. We actually just posted a story on this on Tuesday, if your readers want to check it out. Caleb Joseph has proven himself a far superior defensive catcher this season, especially in the area of throwing out runners. Joseph had a 40% success rate throwing out would-be base stealers this year to Hundley's 14%.
The problem with Joseph is that, other than a mid-season surge, he just cannot hit. That makes the temptation to start Hundley greater. Hundley isn't great at the plate, but compared to Joseph (who had a hit in just two of his final 16 games this season) he's pretty good. You'll definitely see Hundley start when Tillman starts for the Orioles. Hundley and Tillman are a package deal. Part of that is probably because Tillman doesn't need much help with baserunners. He's very good at keeping them from even trying to steal, as there were only four attempts (one success) against him during the season. Norris has also been good at holding baserunners, so Hundley will probably start when he pitches as well. Chen and Gonzalez haven't been as good at holding runners, so it's likely Joseph will be catching when they start.
Royals Review: Who is an underrated player for the Orioles you think could make a big difference in this series?
Stacey Folkemer: That's a tough one, but I think I'll go with Jonathan Schoop. Schoop has been playing 2B for the O's all season but I don't think many people know about him. He turns one of the quickest double plays in baseball, which could be a difference maker against a team with a lot of speed. His bat bordered on terrible overall this season, but if a pitcher makes a mistake or puts a ball up in the zone, the kid has big power. He crushes home runs. If he gets a hold of one, no ballpark can hold it.
Royals Review: What will be the key to the Orioles winning this series? What will be the biggest factor if they lose this series?
Stacey Folkemer: The Orioles have had a pretty balanced approach of good starting pitching, good hitting, and a great bullpen. If those things stay in line, they have a good chance to win this series. Honestly, I'm not all that worried about the pitching, but the O's offense could falter. They rely on home runs and big hits more than getting on base with regularity (.311 OBP in the regular season), and that could be their downfall.
Many thanks to Stacey Folkemer from Camden Chat for her time. You can read her at www.camdenchat.com.