Kansas City Royals' Greg Holland celebrates after the Royals' 9-8 victory over the Oakland Athletics in 12 innings in the AL wild-card playoff baseball game in Kansas City, Mo. Baseball has had a history of one-game playoffs dating to Cleveland's 8-3 victory over Boston at Fenway Park to win the 1948 American League pennant. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
The 2014 Major League Baseball playoffs started last night with an instant classic in Kansas City.
The Royals, making their first postseason appearance since the 1985 World Series, hosted the Oakland A’s in a one-game playoff to determine who would move on to the next round.
Oakland’s Brandon Moss hit a 2-run home run in the first inning and he hit a 3-run shot in the fifth as the A’s built a 7-3 lead.
It wouldn’t hold.
Kansas City responded with three runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to force extra innings. The game turned into a buntfest in extras, with Oakland pushing one run across in the top of the 12th.
The Royals used a one-out triple for Eric Hosmer, a Christian Colon single and steal of second base and a Salvador Perez single to win it in walkoff fashion in the 12th, 9-8.
Kansas City moves on to take on the Angels in the ALDS. It’ll be Detroit-Baltimore in the other series.
First, some thoughts on the Royals’ game.
Ned Yost, KC manager, left James Shields in the sixth inning and he gave up a single and a walk to start the inning. Yost then called on fireballing starting pitcher Yordano Ventura in relief, even after Ventura had thrown 73 pitches in a Sunday start. Moss homered and Kelvin Herrera gave up three straight singles later in the inning as the A’s surged ahead.
The Royals have such a good bullpen, so it’s puzzling why Yost when with Ventura in that situation when he’s not accustomed to pitching with inherited runners.
Wade Davis and Greg Holland followed with one flawless inning apiece. Rookie Brandon Finnegan, who was selected in the June draft, gave up one run on one hit over 2 1/3 innings of relief. Jason Frasor recorded the final two outs for the save.
Yost’s bullpen usage has been an issue all season long and the Royals kind of made the playoffs in spite of that. We’ll see if Mike Scioscia manages circles around him in the next round.
The Royals also had four successful sacrifice bunts as Yost decided to play for one run. For this team, it’s not the worst idea. The Royals don’t hit a ton of home runs or extra base hits, but the bunting puts a ton of pressure on the hitter at the plate as you’ve given away an out to move up 90 feet. With a special, one-time-use Wild Card roster, Yost had plenty of flexibility to make moves. He’ll be limited in the ALCS, having to carry four starting pitchers.
Now that the matchups are set, let’s take a look at the ALDS.
Detroit Tigers pitcher Joba Chamberlain swings a bat during baseball practice in Detroit Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. The Detroit Tigers start the playoffs at the Baltimore Orioles in Game 1 of the American League Division Series Thursday. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Detroit vs. Baltimore
This series starts Thursday in Baltimore. It’ll be Max Scherzer vs. Chris Tillman in the opener.
Detroit will use Justin Verlander, David Price and Rick Porcello in games 2, 3 and 4, respectively.
Baltimore hasn’t yet announced its rotation for the rest of the series, but the O’s expect to use Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris in some order.
Let’s take a look at who’s got the edge.
Starting pitching: Detroit pushed its chips to the center of the table at the trade deadline, acquiring Price from Tampa Bay for a haul of prospects. Scherzer has again been terrific this year and Porcello, 25, has had a career year. Verlander has slipped from his prime of a few years ago, but he came on strong with a solid August and September.
Add that up and it’s a much stronger unit than what Baltimore will send to the mound. Expect Detroit’s starters to go deep into these games and give the Tigers a huge boost.
Edge – Detroit.
Bullpen: What the Orioles lack in the starting rotation, they make up for in the bullpen. Zach Britton has had a career resurgence since taking over as closer. Darren O’Day was one of the top set-up men in baseball and Tommy Hunter is a fine sidekick in the late innings. Brian Matusz, another Baltimore starter who has found a home in the bullpen, is killer on left-handed hitters.
Detroit, on the other hand, has had a dumpster fire of a bullpen all year long. Closer Joe Nathan has a 4.81 ERA and blew a career-high seven saves. Al Alburquerque has been fine, but he probably walks too many batters. Former Yankee farmhands Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain probably don’t inspire a lot of confidence.
The O’s also have Buck Showalter calling the shots from the dugout, so expect Baltimore to go to the bullpen early and often if their starters can’t cut it. Also look for the Baltimore hitters to be patient, trying to drive up the pitch count and get the Detroit starters out of the game.
Edge – Baltimore.
Lineup: Both of these teams can mash.
Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz led the league with 40 homers. Adam Jones is another of the league’s top sluggers. Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy and Steve Pearce have also had strong years at the plate.
The O’s have been hard-hit by injuries and suspensions, as Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters are all out.
Detroit has a incredible middle of the order with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Torii Hunter can still rake, Ian Kinsler has a mix of power and speed and J.D. Martinez has had a breakout year in left field. It’s going to be hard to see Detroit failing to score runs, especially against the O’s rotation. The question is, how many will they score?
Edge – Detroit.
Intangibles: Brad Ausmus has had a fine first year on the job as Tigers’ manager, winning 90 games.
Still, he’s no Buck Showalter. With playoff games often coming down to the decisions made by a manager on when to go to the bullpen or when to put in a pinch-runner, give Baltimore the edge with their manager’s experience.
If necessary, Game 7 will be at Camden Yards, so that’s a plus for the Birds as well.
Edge – Baltimore.
Prediction: Baltimore in seven. Most of the other playoff teams are better than the Orioles in some regards, but their bullpen puts them over the top in this series.
Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout hits a home run in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Los Angeles vs. Kansas City
The only pitching pairing announced for this series so far is Thursday’s opener, which features Jason Vargas against Jered Weaver.
Yordano Ventura, Jeremy Guthrie and James Shields likely round out the Royals’ rotation. Shields could pitch game 4 on four days’ rest, or he could go earlier if the Royals feel they need him.
C.J. Wilson and Matt Shoemaker will follow Weaver in some order, with Hector Santiago also likely to get a start.
Let’s take a look at who’s got the edge.
Starting pitching: The Angels are hurting from the loss of Garrett Richards, who was having a Cy Young-caliber year before being lost for the year with a leg injury suffered at Fenway Park. Still, LA’s mix of talent, experience and rest – not to mention home field advantage – gives them the advantage here.
Weaver isn’t one of the hardest throwers in the game, but he knows how to throw strikes and work effectively. Wilson isn’t exactly efficient, but he’s a crafty lefty who can rack up some punchouts. Shoemaker (16-4, 3.04 ERA) has had a breakout year between the bullpen and the rotation.
What really hurts the Royals is the fact that they had to use Shields in Tuesday’s Wild Card game. He’ll probably be on the shelf until Game 4, which might be too late for Kansas City in this series. Vargas is the definition of a league-average pitcher, as is Guthrie. Ventura has had a fine rookie year with his impressive fastball, but how will he fare in his first playoff start?
Edge – Los Angeles.
Bullpen: The Angels have done a bullpen makeover this year, picking up Jason Grilli and Huston Street in trades. Joe Smith, signed as a free agent in the offseason, had a fine year in a set-up role, going 7-2 with a 1.81 ERA and 68 strikeouts and 45 hits allowed over 74 2/3 innings. If there’s a flaw with the Angels’ bullpen it’s that they don’t really have a go-to lefty for matchups. KC has some good left-handed hitters, so that might be an advantage for the Royals.
The Royals, however, have the bullpen as the primary strength of the team. Former Hudson Valley Renegades starter Wade Davis, almost a throw-in to the James Shields-Wil Myers trade, had a terrific year in the pen. Davis allowed 38 hits over 72 innings and struck out 109 against 23 walks. Greg Holland was one of the best closers in baseball with 46 saves and he struck out 90 and allowed 37 hits over 62 1/3 innings. Kelvin Herrera, Jason Frasor and Brandon Finnegan, all of whom have pitched well this season, round out the pen. Danny Duffy, a hard-throwing lefty, could be the long man or a spot starter depending on how the series pans out.
The problem with the Royals’ pen is the manager. Will Ned Yost make the right call at the right time or will he stay away from Davis and Holland until the eighth and ninth? If he’s willing to lean on the back end of his bullpen a little more, the Royals shouldn’t have a problem protecting a lead.
Edge – Kansas City.
Lineup: The Royals have a bunch of guys who hit for average, but they’re never going to hit for all that much power. Alex Gordon (19), Sal Perez (17) and Mike Moustakas (15) were the only Royals to hit double-digit home runs this season.
What the Royals do have is a solid mix of contact and speed, which at this time of year is generally a good strategy to have.
The Angels, of course, have the game’s best all-around player in outfielder Mike Trout. Trout had a “down year,” hitting .287 with 39 doubles, 36 home runs with 115 runs scored and 111 RBI. He only stole 16 bases this year but could be more of a threat in playoff situations.
Add in a rejuvenated Albert Pujols and guys like Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and David Freese, all of whom had decent, if not good years, and it’s going to be tough to keep the Angels off the scoreboard.
Josh Hamilton is the wild card here. He played in just one of the Angels’ final 23 regular season games, but he’ll be starting on Thursday. Will that be a blessing or a curse for the Angels to have a power hitter back after a long layoff? We’ll see.
Regardless, the Angels are in a better position to score runs and they should do just that in this series.
Edge – Los Angeles.
Intangibles: The Royals might have that team of destiny thing going for them, but they are at some major disadvantages in this series.
1) LA has the home field.
2) LA has the rest of not having to play in the Wild Card game.
3) LA doesn’t have Ned Yost as manager.
Perhaps that’s a little harsh, but Scioscia has proven he can win in the postseason before. Now, he’s got an entirely new group of players. His team had the best record in baseball during the regular season. I’m not saying the Angels are a lock to win the World Series, but LA’s playoff run doesn’t end here.
Edge – Los Angeles.
Prediction: Angels in five. KC is just fighting too much of an uphill battle to gain much traction in this series. The Royals’ starting pitchers just don’t stack up, not against the LA lineup.