After four days of no baseball in the American League to give everyone a chance to second guess whether this series will actually happen, the Baltimore Orioles get set to host the Kansas City Royals for a right to play in the World Series. One of the most unlikely and unpredictable ALCS’ in recent memory begins with each team’s ace: James Shields against Chris Tillman.
Every time James Shields has taken the mound in the postseason, it’s been considered possibly the last game he throws at Kauffman Stadium – or in a Royals uniform all together. He’s not at Kauffman Stadium tonight; and it’s also very likely he gets another crack at Baltimore in the seven-game series. This will be Kansas City’s fifth postseason game of 2014, and the third start for James Shields. But earning a sweep in the ALDS gives Kansas City that luxury. But how much of a luxury is it really?
Shields has been good this year, but he hasn’t been dominant. And while it probably would be fair to say he’s never been dominant for any long stretch in his career, he’s definitely taken a small step back as he moves along the downward sloping portion of the MLB age curve. His changeup is still first-rate, but he doesn’t have the same zip on his fastball, which takes away from that pitch’s effectiveness. Shields has given up six runs in 11 innings of playoff baseball along with three in each of his last three regular season starts. Again, he’s been pitching well but I have my doubts as to whether he can pitch well enough to win the Russian Roulette style of play that the Royals have been successful with this month.
Especially because the Orioles will fight fire with fire, and Chris Tillman. Tillman put up similar numbers to Shields this season, but he does it a little differently. You’ll see a lot of fastballs from Tillman and about an even mix of curveballs and changeups to supplement that heater. His four-seamer averages just over 92 MPH, but he has excellent command of the pitch and his arm is a bit livelier than Shields’ at this point in their careers. I think he has what it takes to beat, not only Shields, but the Royals staff as a whole in a pitching duel. Ultimately, we should expect every game in this series to come down to the bullpens. And for what it’s worth, I think Baltimore has the long-term advantage in the series too.
Free Pick: Baltimore (-127)
YTD: 40-27-3 +7.74