Step outside, baseball fans, and take a deep breath. Smell that bracing perfume in the air? That’s the fine, fresh scent of the first baseball postseason since 1993 to be completely devoid of the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox.
And while the absence of those two ratings behemoths is surely causing some long faces at TBS and FOX Sports, baseball fans probably won’t miss either of them; not when there are juicy storylines aplenty in this year’s American League playoffs, which begin tonight in Kansas City.
Wild Card Game: Oakland A’s vs. Kansas City Royals
The Royals, who just ended a 29-year postseason drought (the longest of any current franchise in the four major sports) face off in this one-and-done Wild Card showdown against the Oakland A’s, who went from looking like the best team in the majors at the end of June to narrowly staving off a ’69 Cubs-style collapse at season’s end.
Late-season acquisition Jon Lester (16-11, 2.46 ERA) will be taking the mound for the A’s, while the Royals counter with James Shields (14-8, 3.21 ERA); the A’s went 0-2 against Shields this year, while Lester beat the Royals three times. What with the Oakland squad’s rowdy appeal and the Royals’ “little engine that could” ability to scratch out wins despite hitting an MLB-low 95 homers, it’s sad that only one of these teams will be advancing beyond this game. But unless Kansas City skipper Ned Yost finds a way to over-manage his players out of the ballgame, as is his occasional wont, look for the Royals’ superior bullpen to make the difference in this one. Prediction: Royals
ALDS: Detroit Tigers vs. Baltimore Orioles (Starts October 2)
After coming up short in three straight postseasons, 2014 was supposed to be the year that the Tigers were finally going to win it all – and it still may be, though the team barely played .500 ball after the All-Star break, thanks to an inconsistent offense, some questionable handling of the starting pitching by rookie skipper Brad Ausmus and a bullpen apparently built with the sole intent of boosting business at the coronary care units of Michigan hospitals.
The Buck Showalter-led Orioles, on the other hand, spent the second half of the season cruising to their first division title since 1997. The Tigers beat the Orioles in five of six meetings this year, but all of those games were played early in the season, when the Tigers were looking invincible and the O’s were still getting their shit together. Still, the Cy Young-winning trio of Max Scherzer, David Price and Justin Verlander (who has recently been pitching like the JV of old) likely give the Tigers an edge in this best-of-five series. Prediction: Tigers in 5
ALDS: Oakland A’s/Kansas City Royals vs. L.A. Angels of Anaheim (Starts October 2)
Owners of the best record in the American League, the Angels get the honor of facing the AL Wild Card winner. The Angels were 10-9 overall against their division rival A’s this season, but they went 7-3 against them in August and September. They also split six games with the Royals during the first half of the season, well before the Halos’ late-season surge.
The availability of rookie pitcher Matt Shoemaker (16-4, 3.04 ERA) is a legitimate question mark, the Angels haven’t gotten consistent offense out of anyone other than Mike Trout and Albert Pujols all year and they’ve went 3-7 after clinching the AL West; even so, the Halos looked pretty invincible throughout the second half, and it’s hard to bet against them here. Prediction: Angels in 5