Down to baseball's final four, predicting an orange-and-black World Series

At the beginning of the postseason, there was a chance for a Bay Bridge Series between Oakland and San Francisco, an Interstate 70 Series between St. Louis and Kansas City, and a Beltways Series between Baltimore and Washington. Now the only possibility is the I-70 Series, but it's not going to happen. The Orioles will beat the Royals in five games and play in the World Series against the Giants, who will win the National League pennant in six games. It will be a black-and-orange World Series and the Orioles will not get to return to their Browns roots in St. Louis. The Orioles will win with pitching, but Steve Pearce will be the MVP. The Royals' offense will fizzle, much like Pittsburgh last season. The Cardinals are peaking at the right time, but the Giants will play flawless baseball and Madison Bumgarner will make up for his Game 3 Division Series throwing error and win the National League Championship Series MVP. Getting tired of seeing the Cardinals and Giants in the World Series? That's reasonable, considering that this will be the fifth consecutive year either of those teams has represented the NL in the World Series. Here are the storylines for the teams remaining in the League Championship Series: Baltimore: Catchers Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley will be in the spotlight trying to short-circuit the Royals' running game. Joseph threw out 40 percent of potential base stealers and Hundley 18 percent, but Orioles manager Buck Showalter says a big key to stopping the Royals' running is for pitchers to deliver a pitch in less than 1.35 seconds. ... The national media will spotlight how the Orioles can play for the AL pennant without Manny Machado (knee), Matt Wieters (elbow) and Chris Davis (suspension). ... Nelson Cruz hit two home runs in the Division Series, giving him 16 career postseason home runs, tying him with Carlos Beltran for ninth on the all-time list, one behind Jim Thome and David Ortiz and two behind Reggie Jackson and Mickey Mantle. ... Both Cruz and Delmon Young have won an ALCS MVP in the past, Cruz for Texas in 2011 and Young for Detroit in 2012. ... Ryan Flaherty, who started the double play that finished off the Tigers in the Division Series, has established himself as the regular third baseman, but what happens if the Orioles win and Chris Davis is eligible for the World Series? ... Pearce, who hit 21 home runs, is the Orioles' feel-good story, given that he's gone from a contributing player to a key cog in the regular lineup, even though the Orioles released him in late April only to re-sign him. ... The Orioles announced on the eve of the American League Championship Series that they signed shortstop J.J. Hardy to a three-year contract extension that keeps him in Baltimore through 2017. It's bizarre timing, but at least the Orioles keep him away from the Mets and Yankees, who will each be looking for shortstops in the offseason. Kansas City: The Royals are a throwback team with base stealing potential. They led the AL with 153 steals, paced by Jarrod Dyson, who had 36. Shortstop Alcides Escobar had 31, Lorenzo Cain 28, Nori Aoki 17 and Alex Gordon 12. Veteran Omar Infante had nine. ... The Royals have a player, Terrance Gore, who will be used only for pinch-running. In the final month of the season, Gore had five steals in 11 games with only one at-bat. If he couldn't run, he wouldn't be in the big leagues. ... The Royals had 28 steals in 26 September games, one less than Houston for the month. ... The Royals go into the ALCS with 12 steals, one more than all the other postseason teams combined. ... Don't underestimate the Royals defense: Cain is incredible in centerfield. Escobar is one of the best at shortstop and Salvador Perez is on the verge of becoming an elite catcher in baseball. ... The Royals' Game 1 starter, James Shields, has been brilliant in his two years in Kansas City, but he's eligible for free agency after the season and the Royals aren't expected to compete with big-money teams and keep him long-term. ... Yordano Ventura, 23, is a rotation stud and even though he's never pitched this deep into the season, the Royals feel they have given him enough rest to keep him effective in the No. 2 slot in their rotation. ... Royals manager Ned Yost coached under Hall of Famer Bobby Cox when the two were in Atlanta. Yost said he learned from Cox to trust his players and coaches. And Yost said he has to get used to seeing him face on TV amid second-guessing. ... The last time the Royals were in the ALCS was 1985, the first year Major League Baseball moved from a five- to seven-game format. The Royals beat Toronto 6-2 in Game 7 at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto. George Brett was the MVP hitting .348 and having a hand in 11 of the Royals' 26 runs. San Francisco: The Giants are trying to win their eighth consecutive postseason series and make it back to the World Series for the third time since 2010. ... The last time the Giants faced the Cardinals in the postseason, they rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the NLCS to advance to the 2012 World Series. ... After playing for seven teams in Oakland and Atlanta that lost in seven different postseasons in the Division Series, pitcher Tim Hudson, 39, will pitch in his first League Championship Series. Hudson had an 8.72 ERA during September, but shut down the Nationals in the Division Series. ... Giants manager Bruce Bochy has 1,618 career wins and two World Series titles. Another World Series title would certainly put him in the Hall of Fame. ... Former Nationals outfielder Michael Morse, out since Aug. 31 with a strained oblique, is expected to be on the Giants roster. ... Can the Giants expect repeat performances from Hudson, Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong versus the Cardinals? ... The Giants say the postseason is no extra pressure because they play in front of a frenzied home crowd that feels like a playoff atmosphere every game. St. Louis: The Cardinals need ace starter Adam Wainwright, 33, to be healthy. He's dealing with elbow soreness that doesn't seem to be a problem when he gets extra time between starts. Despite fatigue, he pitched well in September. But in the Division Series, the Dodgers tagged him for six runs in less than five innings. With a week between starts, can the Cardinals bank on Wainwright? ... Michael Wacha, the Cardinals' rookie pitching sensation in last year's postseason, will pitch out of the bullpen after dealing with injuries this season. ... Third baseman Matt Carpenter hit .375 with seven RBIs in the Division Series against the Dodgers with five of his six hits coming versus left-handed pitchers, including Clayton Kershaw. Now Carpenter will face Giants ace Bumgarner. ... The Cardinals scored 15 of their 18 Division Series runs after the seventh inning. ... The Cardinals hit seven home runs against the Dodgers in the Division Series. ... The Cardinals have home field advantage. This season, they won 51 games in St. Louis, the most home wins in the NL.

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