Handicapping The League Championship Series’

One of the original Baseball Prospectus writers — Joe Sheehan — has a mantra during the postseason: Ball go far, team go far. 

Purely from a Home Runs Hit perspective, only the Cardinals out-homered their opponent (6-3) and advanced to its league’s championship series. The Tigers hit five round-trippers to the Orioles four, the Nationals blasted four to the Giants one, with Kansas City and Anaheim pushing at four apiece.

In the critical moments, however, is where the true value of the mantra took shape. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas each hit a game-deciding jack in extra innings, essentially netting the Royals two matchups of an eventual sweep against the Angels; Kolten Wong and Matt Adams did the same in two of St. Louis’s victories (though not in extras); Brandon Belt hit a solo job in the 18th inning to give the Giants a win; Nelson Cruz hit an opposite-field two-run homer off David Price and the Orioles wound up winning the game 2-1 to send Baltimore to the ALCS.

Doing quick math, that’s six wins generated by home runs out of 12 total division series wins from those teams. 50%.

The Orioles are the only team left in the postseason who hits a lot of home runs, which is buoyed by their offense-happy ballpark, and that their pitching staff was middle of the pack in MLB in 2014 in HR/FB% even in spite of that fact. For similar home-field reasons the Cardinals and Royals ranked next to last and last, respectively, in hitting HRs, while the Giants were 17th with 132.

In short, each team left in the playoffs ranks anywhere from average to among MLB’s best at suppressing HRs, and the Orioles are the only team who actually hits a shitload. In a short series, which these are — even at seven games — home runs are going to play a huge role. But if the division series’ proved anything to us, it’s that the games and situations don’t discriminate against who is hitting them and who is surrendering them.

* * * * * *

ALCS: Orioles over Royals in 6

As a Rangers fan, I’m a huge supporter of the Royals and the work they’ve done this postseason. They single-handedly thwarted the A’s attempts at winning the World Series with Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija on roster, and swept the Angels to set the clocks back on Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton’s contracts. They get older and more expensive, and Anaheim’s chances of a repeat to this season get worse and worse. It’s beautiful.

Truth be told, Kansas City reminds me a lot of the 2010 Texas Rangers, which is probably the biggest reason why I like them. Over all, they’re young; they’re fun to watch. And, you know, they keep winning in spite their manager — like the Rangers in ’10.

This matchup with the Orioles, though, isn’t nearly as favorable as with the Angels. As I noted above, Baltimore is a team that puts the ball in the air quite a bit, and the Royals starting staff largely plays into that strength. Jason Vargas (38.3% GB rate) and Danny Duffy (35.8% GB rate) are extreme fly ball pitchers, while James Shields (45.2%) and Yordano Ventura (47.6%) are a bit better in that department.

Similarly, the Orioles have a fly ball starting rotation as well, but since the Royals don’t have a significant amount of punch in their lineup it’s not nearly as damaging on paper.

Both teams have excellent bullpens and play well above-average defense, with the slight rotation and team speed edge going to Kansas City. In this series, the bats are going to be what tells the story, and I’m not sure the Royals will be able to keep up.

NLCS: Cardinals over Giants in 7

Could there possibly be a worse, more boring matchup than this? The Giants are going for their third world title in five years and the Cardinals have played in the NLCS four years consecutively. Scouts can grade pitching and hitting talent, how well guys play defense, how fast they are, but most will also tell you there’s a secret ingredient to bring it all together, that isn’t always necessarily going to show on the grade sheet: makeup. There’s a reason the same teams are seemingly in the thick of it, year after year, and I tend to believe organizations like these take into account how much want their players have more so than other teams. I could be wrong.

Madison Bumgarner and Adam Wainwright are the two-best pitchers in this series, and assuming it goes the full seven game distance (as I predict), we’ll be sure to see them at least twice apiece. If we call that a wash (which I’m going to), it essentially makes this a five-game series. I give the Cards the advantage on the pitching side, the Giants the advantage managerially, and a lot of low-scoring, NL-style games.

Whatever. I just don’t feel like talking about these teams anymore. There’s no real winner in this series.

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