ALCS and NLCS Previews and Free Picks [2014]

By Mike Ivcic

Just when I think I’m finally getting a hold of this whole “prediction” thing, reality decides to take a giant swipe at my ego and knock it down a few pegs. After boasting about picking 8 of 10 teams to finish exactly in the correct spot in the preseason, I promptly nailed both Wild Card games and felt quite good about myself. Then, the LDS began and I took a giant nosedive. Dodgers and Nationals in the NLCS? Maybe next year. Tigers and Angels squaring off? Maybe on the golf course. Yes, all four of my picks failed to win their respective series in the LDS round, so I begin the LCS preview with some major re-evaluation of the four teams left standing.

Kansas City Royals vs. Baltimore Orioles
G1 – Friday, October 10, 8:07pm @ Baltimore (TBS)
G2 – Saturday, October 11, 4:07pm @ Baltimore (TBS)
G3 – Monday, October 13, 8:07pm @ Kansas City (TBS)
G4 – Tuesday, October 14, 8:07pm @ Kansas City (TBS)
G5 – *Wednesday, October 15, 4:07pm @ Kansas City (TBS)
G6 – *Friday, October 17, 8:07pm @ Baltimore (TBS)
G7 – *Saturday, October 18, 8:07pm @ Baltimore (TBS)
So… about that ALCS between the Angels and Tigers… oops. As it turns out, the Orioles and Royals are both pretty good teams that can hang with the big-time payroll teams, and now one of them will make their first World Series appearance since the 1980’s (full disclosure: the O’s last made it the year before I was born, KC last made it the year after I was born). It’s always exciting to have new teams reaching the late stages of the playoffs – well, unless you’re a Detroit or LA fan. Still, it’s hard to root against either of these teams, who are almost polar opposites of each other, but ultimately only one will prevail.

The Orioles have young, unknown starting pitching without much in the way of experience and love to smash the ball all over – and out of – the ballpark. They don’t run a whole heck of a lot, and their manager is one of the smartest, most able skippers in the game. On the flip side, the Royals are led by a seasoned playoff ace and are quite possibly the best small-ball team in the game today. They run like Usain Bolt in the 100-meter dash and win in spite of, and not because of, one of the dullest managers still holding a job.  They really could not be much more diametrically opposed to each other, save for one key factor: bullpens.

The Royals won three extra-inning games in a row, mostly because their bullpen managed to surrender just two runs total after the A’s five-run mega-6th inning in the wild card game, and the second of those two was in game three against the Angels when KC already held an 8-2 lead. Meanwhile Baltimore feasted on the always-porous Tigers ‘pen while surrendering just two runs of their own in the three LDS games, coming through big time in the series clincher when Showalter had Zach Britton walk the winning run intentionally to set up the double play, only to see it play out perfectly with the series-ending 5-4-3 groundball. Believe me when I tell you that Ned Yost would not have made same move because he’s just not that savvy, and that definitely scares me about this series. When it comes to managers, it’s definitely advantage O’s.

The thing about the Royals is that they just seem like a team of destiny, too inexperienced and naïve to understand that they’re not supposed to be here, doing what they’re doing. They are the poster child, along with the Clippers and Bills, of hapless sports teams, never quite able to get their organization into the modern mode of success… only now they have, and they’re loving every second of it. Both ballparks will be loud, but there’s something about a fanbase that’s been waiting nearly 30 years that just brings the decibel level up another notch, and right now the best remaining World Series matchup is a 29-year re-run of the I-70 series with the Royals and Cardinals.

Still, with all of that said, Baltimore has Nelson Cruz, Buck Showalter, and homefield advantage. I can’t find enough to tip the scales in the other direction.
Pick: Baltimore 4, Kansas City 3

San Francisco Giants vs. St. Louis Cardinals
G1 – Saturday, October 3, 8:07pm @ St. Louis (FOX)
G2 – Sunday, October 4, 8:07pm @ St. Louis (FS1)
G3 – Tuesday, October 6, 4:07pm @ San Francisco (FS1)
G4 – Wednesday, October 7, 8:07pm @ San Francisco (FS1)
G5 – *Thursday, October 9, 8:07pm @ San Francisco (FS1)
G6 – *Saturday, October 18, 4:07pm @ St. Louis (FOX)
G7 – *Sunday, October 19, 7:37pm @ St. Louis (FS1)
Let’s just run back the 2012 NLCS, shall we? Sure, some of the key figures have shifted slightly, but these two teams are still very similar to the ones that met two years ago, a series won by the Giants en route to their second championship in three years. The Cards were the defending champs at the time, and were ultimately done in by a lack of clutch hitting – something that clearly shouldn’t be the case this time around after their tremendous performance in big spots against the game’s best pitcher in Clayton Kershaw. Sure, Don Mattingly may need a shot of adrenaline or four so that he can jump off the bench a little more quickly next season and pull his star lefty before the seventh inning gets out of hand, but credit St. Louis with getting the big hits and the biggest moments to advance.

The Giants, meanwhile, simply outpitched one of the best pitching teams in the game – especially everyone in the bullpen not named Hunter Strickland. Bruce Bochy outmanaged Matt Williams at every turn (probably because Bochy’s done this a few time and Williams… well… hasn’t) and the lineup, anemic as it can sometimes be, produced enough runs to advance. It should create a very interesting matchup between two teams who won their respective series in a very similar manner.

The deciding factor I see here is the Cardinals ability to actually “produce” runs, whereas the Giants seem to “manufacture” runs. With both teams sporting well-rested aces (Bumgarner for SF, Wainwright for STL) and very good bullpens, the difference could ultimately be St. Louis’ ability to put the ball over the wall, as opposed to relying on singles, doubles, solid baserunning, and a defensive mistake or two. San Fran just doesn’t seem to have the type of offense that can erupt like the Cardinals did in the 7th inning of Game 1 against LA, and that means I can’t put my confidence in them. Either way, just suffice to say I’m rooting for the ALCS winner to beat the NLCS winner in the World Series, no matter the result of either series, because I’m absolutely sick of both of these clubs.
Pick: St. Louis 4, San Francisco 2