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By Will Korn 

Talking Sports - LCS previews: expect both AL and NL series to go the distance

 


We just don’t learn, do we?

For the last five seasons, Major League Baseball’s postseason has been teaching us the same lesson over and over: talent doesn’t guarantee anything in the playoffs.

This October, the biggest boys have fallen. The star-studded Los Angeles Dodgers and their Interstate-5 rivals the L.A. Angels were both eliminated quickly. Many people thought the Dodgers were a lock for at least the NLCS, but instead fell to the Cardinals in a surprising four-game series. Clayton Kershaw got pounded and nobody saw the league’s 23rd-best offense in the regular season taking him out twice.

In the AL, who thought the three-headed monster of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price would be swept? Sure, Baltimore was riding an emotional roller coaster after winning their first division title in 17 years. But the Tigers’ rotation has proven it can bring even the hottest teams to a complete stop in the postseason.

Just look at the 2013 Oakland A’s-Tigers ALDS series. Oakland couldn’t have been any hotter heading into Game 1 and their wheels came screeching to a halt at the sight of Verlander.

The four teams remaining in the playoffs should make the next few weeks some of the most entertaining in recent postseason memory. It’s four teams whom many would say “shouldn’t be here.” But that’s why they play the games.

ALCS

Kansas City-Baltimore

Logic doesn’t apply with these two clubs. “Well the O’s swept a stronger Tigers team, so they can surely handle the Royals in six or less, right?”

Nope. That’s not how the postseason works. Especially for a team that has as much, if not more momentum as Baltimore. Remember, this postseason is a special time for the Royals too – they haven’t been this far since 1985 when they went all the way. So this could turn out to be their lucky year.

The O’s greatest flaw is their lack of a proven postseason ace. It’s a sturdy, serviceable rotation, but not a scary one. The Royals should have an easier time scoring against this group compared to the Angels’ Weaver-Wilson duo. K.C. can continue to lean on its speed and base running, as it led the league with 153 stolen bases this season and is leading all playoff teams with 12 so far this postseason.

The Royals will need to score more than a few runs this series to keep up with Baltimore. Eric Hosmer – one of only two Royals hitting above .250 right now in the playoffs – needs some help.

For the O’s, it’s always been about the long ball that puts runs on the board in bunches. Baltimore’s offense is chugging along right now, having scored 21 runs in its three games against Detroit. Five of its nine starters are hitting .300 or better and the balls are flying out of the yard.

This series will come down to how much damage the Royals’ offense can lay on the Baltimore rotation. It’s essentially already a six-inning game each night since both of these bullpens are just outstanding.

Prediction: Orioles in seven. The Royals will give Baltimore all it can handle. But the O’s love playing in the cozy Camden Yards and have the home-field advantage. The Royals’ rotation pitches six gutsy games and then gives up a slugfest in Game 7.

NLCS

San Francisco-St. Louis

This is a matchup of postseason wizards. These two teams are probably the two mentally strongest in baseball. This is a no-fear, no-nonsense series, old-school series.

Much like the Royals in the AL, the Cards’ offense is sputtering. Outside of third baseman Matt Carpenter and center fielder Jon Jay, nobody else is barreling up the ball. The clutch regulars – Yadi Molina and Matt Holliday – are nowhere to be found, hitting a combined .233 with just one homer and three RBI this postseason.

Yadi might not be swinging a hot bat, but he’s still the best defensive catcher in the game. He can shut down opposing running games with the best snap throw to first or throw down to second since Pudge Rodriguez. It’s only a matter of time before his lumber heats up.

St. Louis is facing a grittier, if less-talented Giants rotation than the Dodgers. Giants ace Madison Bumgarner has pitched some of his best games in the postseason and has a couple of World Series wins under his belt. He won’t be frightened of the Cards’ lineup in Game 1. Neither will Tim Hudson, who was lights out in his start against the Nationals in Game 2 of the NLDS.

Fortunately for St. Louis, the Giants aren’t exactly tearing up the scoreboard either. Outside of Buster Posey, no other Giants’ hitter has emerged as a true threat. Adam Wainwright will get the ball in Game 1 in search of redemption after an embarrassing NLDS against the Dodgers by his standards.

It’s easy to imagine how this series will pan out: two struggling offenses and two excellent rotations with one true ace each. Winner of Game 1 takes it all.

Not quite. Again, these are two “anything can happen at any time” clubs who seem to care less than any other team what the predictions are. This should be a classic NL series that features minimal scoring and fantastic starting performances.

The Cards’ rotation is slightly deeper, but the Giants bullpen gets the nod in experience, as it is basically the exact same group that has helped win two titles since 2010.

This series will also be a bullpen battle. The Cards will throw fireballs in the late innings, while the Giants will throw that Reagan-era junk.

Prediction: Cardinals in seven. Numbers out the window, St. Louis has the better offense – when it decides it wants to wake up. Wainwright will redeem himself at home in Game 1, edging Bumgarner in a pitching duel for the ages. The two teams will head back to the archway for Game 5 tied at two games apiece. Wainwright and Bumgarner go at it for round two, but fail to live up to their Game 1 glory. By Game 7, the Cards’ offense will have woken up enough for a fourth World Series trip in eight years.

 

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