American League Division Series Previews and Picks [2014]

By Mike Ivcic

For the first time in this new format, I have started the postseason with a 2-0 record. Sure, it didn’t exactly play out as I expected – the Royals needed one of the most impressive comebacks in an elimination game that I’ve ever witnessed, while the Giants managed to score a whole lot more runs than I anticipated – but either way, both of my picks advanced. Now, we move on to the real first round, with ALDS picks today. Be sure to check back tomorrow for NLDS Picks.

Kansas City Royals vs. Los Angeles Angels
G1 – Thursday, October 2, 9:07pm @ Los Angeles (TBS)
G2 – Friday, October 3, 9:37pm @ Los Angeles (TBS)
G3 – Sunday, October 5, 7:37pm @ Kansas City (TBS)
G4 – *Monday, October 6, TBA @ Kansas City (TBS)
G5 – *Wednesday, October 7, TBA @ Los Angeles (TBS)
It’s hard to believe, but I actually think the Royals got a good break matching up with the Angels. Neither team has the sort of dominant starting pitching like the Tigers do, and even though the LA offense is tremendous, they don’t play in a tiny band box like Baltimore where the Royals running game would be negated. Thus, KC should be given a very legitimate chance to advance here, especially after showing steely resolve in the Wild Card game, rallying from four runs down in the 8th and a run down in the 12th to beat Oakland.

To me, the biggest key for the Royals to actually win this series is to take one of the first two in LA. It sounds simplistic and cliché, but with James Shields ready to go in Game 3 on Sunday, the Royals could put the Angels in a tough spot if they find a way to beat Jered Weaver or Matt Shoemaker. Clearly Mike Scioscia is thinking along the same lines, holding C.J. Wilson back until Game 3 to matchup with Shields if that’s what Ned Yost elects to do, but either way the Royals can’t come back down 0-2.

These two teams played virtually even during the regular season, splitting their six head-to-head matchups and the Angels holding a 30-26 run advantage. The Angels led the league in runs, while their pitchers actually held opponents to the 4th-lowest BAA of .236, so this is no small task standing in front of KC in their first postseason trip since 1985. I would love to say that they’ll continue to ride the wave all the way to the World Series, but I just think this LA team is too stacked and too motivated after back-to-back seasons of disappointment. This is their first postseason game since 2009 despite having one of the league’s highest payrolls, and I think they win a close, hard-fought series.
Pick: Los Angeles 3, Kansas City 2

Detroit Tigers vs. Baltimore Orioles
G1 – Thursday, October 2, 5:37pm @ Baltimore (TBS)
G2 – Friday, October 3, 12:07pm @ Baltimore (TBS)
G3 – Sunday, October 5, 3:45pm @ Detroit (TBS)
G4 – *Monday, October 6, TBA @ Detroit (TBS)
G5 – *Wednesday, October 7, TBA @ Baltimore (TBS)
Welcome to the matchup that features many people’s preseason World Series winner against the surprising AL East upstart. Neither is an accurate prediction of what these two teams should have been – I told you in March that the Tigers would suffer offensively with the trade of Prince Fielder, and I saw a weak AL East ripe for the Orioles taking. Now the homer-happy O’s, who have managed to complement their live bats with some live arms as well, get to face off against the team with the best starting rotation in the game – if you judge based on name only.

That’s really the core issue for Detroit, which is built to win yesterday. Suddenly Justin Verlander appears human, which means everyone else in the rotation has to slide up a spot. It’s why they traded for David Price at the deadline, but they were forced to weaken their offense by shipping Austin Jackson to Seattle in the process and really haven’t looked like the same scary team since. True, they staved off the Royals and won the Central, and now that it’s October they can roll Price and Verlander together with Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello to form the best postseason rotation in the AL (sorry Tigers fans, the Nationals still blow you away), so there has to be some confidence on the part of Brad Ausmus as he enters his first postseason as manager.

But that last sentence could be the kicker. While it’s true that he’s never had much postseason success, Buck Showalter has clearly proven himself to be one of the game’s best managers, especially when handed young, developing teams. The O’s got their feet wet two years ago and at times appeared almost scared when faced with the spectrum of playing the Yankees in the Bronx. There’s no such luster or lore at Comerica Park, and this time it’s Baltimore with home field. Couple that together with the emergence of Chris Tillman as a top-end rotation type of pitcher, and suddenly Baltimore may have the right mix to continue their “surprise” run for another round.
Pick: Baltimore 3, Detroit 2