Opposite dugout: Royals ride pitching, speed, defense into ALCS

RoyalsLogo.jpgManager: Ned Yost, fifth year Record: 89-73 ALDS result: 3-0 over Angels Postseason stats: 1B Eric Hosmer (.500/.632/1.143, 2 HR, 5 RBIs, 5 R); 3B Mike Moustakas (.286/.333/.714, 2 HR, 2 RBIs); LHP Jason Vargas (0-0, 3.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP); RHP James Shields (1-0, 4.91 ERA, 1.36 WHIP) Season series vs. O's: 4-3, 26 runs scored, 18 runs allowed Pitching probables Game 1, Oct. 10: James Shields vs. Chris Tillman, 8 p.m., TBS Game 2, Oct. 11: Yordano Ventura vs. Wei-Yin Chen/Bud Norris, 4 p.m., TBS Game 3, Oct. 13: TBA vs. TBA, 8 p.m., TBS Game 4, Oct. 14: TBA vs. TBA, 8 p.m., TBS Game 5, Oct. 15 (if necessary): TBA, 4 p.m., TBS Game 6, Oct. 17 (if necessary): TBA, 8 p.m., TBS Game 7, Oct. 18 (if necessary): TBA, 8 p.m., TBS Series breakdown The Royals have rolled into the American League Championship Series in surprising fashion. Down 7-3 with the A's needing five outs to eliminate Kansas City in the AL wild card game, the Royals roared back with three runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to tie it. After falling behind 8-7 in the 12th, Kansas City struck again, scoring twice in the bottom of the third extra frame to walk off with a 9-8 win. The Royals didn't stop there, riding that momentum to shock the Angels, the AL's top seed and owners of the best record in baseball. And Kansas City did it with relative ease, sweeping the Angels in the AL Division Series by earning a pair of 11-inning wins in Anaheim and a decisive 8-3 victory in Game 3. So, a club that hadn't made the playoffs since winning the 1985 World Series, a club that has just put together consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1993-94 is all that can keep the Orioles from reaching their first World Series since 1983. The Royals have gotten to that point with a fascinating mix of strengths - strong pitching, elite speed and solid defense. During the regular season, the Royals led the majors in steals by 15, but were last with 95 homers. They ranked ninth in the AL with 651 runs and 10th with a .690 OPS. But they made up for it in part with the second-best average (.263), fourth-most doubles and fifth-most triples in the AL. Kansas City had five regulars finish the regular season with at least 12 steals - outfielder Jarrod Dyson (36), shortstop Alcides Escobar (31), outfielder Lorenzo Cain (28), outfielder Nori Aoki (17) and outfielder Alex Gordon (12). But only three finished with a double-digit homer total and none with more than 20 - Gordon (19), catcher Salvador Perez (17) and third baseman Mike Moustakas (15). Gordon led the Royals with a .783 OPS and 74 RBIs. Cain added a .751 OPS and first baseman Eric Hosmer a .716 OPS. Perez had 70 RBIs while designated hitter Billy Butler and second baseman Omar Infante had 66 RBIs apiece. Four players had at least 32 doubles, however - Hosmer (35), Escobar (34), Gordon (34) and Butler (32). So no one on the Royals posted eye-popping numbers at the plate, but they didn't have to with the team's combination of pitching and defense. Kansas City finished sixth in the AL in defensive efficiency ratio and fourth in defensive runs saved. Gordon finished fourth in the AL with 27 runs saved in left. Cain added 24 runs saved in center and right while Dyson had 14 runs saved in center. On the mound, the Royals ranked fourth with a 3.51 team ERA (3.15 after the All-Star break), fourth with a 3.60 rotation ERA and fifth with a 3.30 bullpen ERA. The Royals' starting staff is a deep, solid group that had no members post an ERA above former Oriole Jeremy Guthrie's 4.13. The rest of the rotation pitched to ERAs between 2.53 and 3.71. Right-hander James Shields starts the series opener tonight against Chris Tillman. He went 14-8 and finished fourth in the AL with 227 innings, 11th with a 3.21 ERA, 11th with 180 strikeouts and 14th with a 1.18 WHIP. He wasn't quite as good in the ALDS and wild card game, going 1-0 with a 4.91 ERA in two starts. Shields has solid career numbers against the Orioles, going 11-7 with a 3.52 ERA in 26 starts. He was especially good against them this year, going 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA in two starts. Right-hander Yordano Ventura starts Game 2 against either Wei-Yin Chen or Bud Norris. Ventura had a strong rookie season, going 14-10 and finishing 10th in the AL with a 3.20 ERA. He has appeared in two postseason games so far this year (one start), allowing three runs in 7 1/3 innings for a 3.68 ERA. Ventura posted excellent numbers in two starts against the Orioles this season, going 1-1 with a 1.26 ERA, 17 strikeouts and three walks in 14 1/3 innings. That includes a gem where he tossed eight scoreless innings at Camden Yards. The rest of the rotation hasn't been announced, but left-handers Jason Vargas and Danny Duffy are options to start Games 3 and 4. Vargas went 11-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 30 starts in his first season with the Royals. In his first career postseason start, he allowed two runs on three hits in six innings in the ALDS. The 31-year-old has always pitched well against the Orioles, going 2-3 with a 1.94 ERA in eight career starts. Duffy went 9-12 with a 2.53 ERA in 31 appearances (25 starts) this season. Duffy is 1-1 with a 1.46 ERA in three career appearances (two starts) against the Orioles. He allowed just one unearned run on two hits in seven innings over two appearances (one start) against Baltimore this year. Duffy has made just one appearance so far in the playoffs, tossing a scoreless inning in the ALDS. Guthrie is also an option to start in the series. He has yet to pitch in the playoffs after going 13-11 with 202 innings pitched in 32 starts this season. After spending 2007-12 with the Orioles, he is 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA in four career starts against them over the last two seasons. The Royals rotation and the Orioles' league-leading power could make for a combustible combination. Shields and Guthrie finished tied for the ninth-most homers allowed in the AL while Vargas surrendered the 22nd-most. Kansas City follows its solid rotation with a strong stable of relievers. Three members of the bullpen pitched to ERAs under 2.00 in at least 65 appearances - closer Greg Holland (46 saves, 1.44 ERA, 65 appearances), right-hander Wade Davis (9-2, 1.00 ERA, 71 appearances) and right-hander Kelvin Herrera (1.41 ERA, 70 appearances). Left-hander Brandon Finnegan provides another weapon and a good story. The 21-year-old rookie had a 1.29 ERA in seven regular season appearances and has a 2.25 ERA in three postseason appearances in the same year he pitched in the College World Series. The Royals selected him in the first round of this year's draft. The Orioles might have already gone through three Cy Young Award winners and arguably the most talented middle of the order in the league. But now they must go head-to-head with a far different opponent, one that will challenge them more with their gloves and legs for the AL pennant.

Orioles lineup for Game 1 of ALCS
Royals lineup vs. Orioles in Game 1 of ALCS

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