Tuesday night’s raucous affair in Kansas City won’t soon be forgotten, although the Oakland Athletics probably will need to bury it in the pile of ridiculously crushing playoff defeats they’ve suffered in the last 15 years.
The Kansas City Royals’ 9-8 victory in 12 innings over the A’s leaves just four teams remaining now in the hunt for the 2014 American League pennant and a spot in the World Series, and three of the teams haven’t won the championship in a very long time. The most recent title for this quartet came in 2002 when the then-Anaheim Angels took home their first and only title.
For the first time since 1993, there are no Red Sox or Yankees in the postseason — and that is somewhat refreshing for the rest of the AL cities, of course. It’s down to Baltimore, Detroit, Kansas City and Los Angeles.
Let the wild rumpus start, as Maurice Sendak once wrote, although maybe the Royals have a head start on everyone else already.
1. The Team to Beat?
The Los Angeles Angels won 98 games this year, the most in the major leagues. They posted a +143 run differential, which is the best number of any remaining AL team. The Angels have home-field advantage throughout the league playoffs, too. But they have rotation issues, and it’s hard to win in the postseason without an ace or two at the top of the rotation. The Angels have two aging veterans — Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson — and then a few unknowns behind them (Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago). How the rotation fares against the Royals’ small-ball lineup will determine a lot in terms of L.A.’s postseason fortunes.
2. Missing the Big Bat
The Baltimore Orioles won the AL East for the first time since 1997, and they haven’t won the World Series — or even been to it — since 1983. The team will be without a few major contributors, too, in its ALDS matchup: third baseman Manny Machado has been out with injury for some time, and first baseman Chris Davis is currently serving a suspension for illegal-substance use. Baltimore also played most of the season without catcher Matt Wieters. Somehow, the Orioles still won 96 games, including 50 at home. How good would the team be with those players at full strength?
3. Can Detroit Finally Win It All?
The Detroit Tigers have been teasing us since 2006, and since then, they’ve lost two World Series in stumping fashion and come up short in a few other postseasons. Is this the season they finally break through and win it all for the first time since 1984? It may be a little less likely, as this squad probably is the least talented of Detroit’s five playoff teams since 2006. Knowing baseball and finicky fate, that could mean the Tigers will surprise us all.
4. Run, Royals, Run!
Kansas City stole seven bases against an injury-depleted Oakland catching corps on Tuesday night. And since the Royals haven’t been in the playoffs since 1985 when they won it all, the team is energized by its long-suffering fan base as we all saw in the game against the A’s. The city believes in its boys in blue, and sometimes, that’s all that matters. Ask the 2010 San Francisco Giants, for example. Who doesn’t want to see the Royals succeed? That question is meant for those not in Baltimore, Detroit or Los Angeles, of course.
5. Five-Game Series Still Isn’t Enough
The ALDS deserves its own seven-game format, and while that would add extra games to the already-grueling and expanded playoff structure, five games with so much meaning just doesn’t cut it for squads that proved their worth over 162 games in the regular season. Any playoff series can be fluky, of course, so why not reduce the flukes as much as possible and make the LDS a seven-game affair? It will happen soon enough, of course, simply because of added revenue for all parties involved. It’s just too bad we won’t get to see more of these great matchups this year.
6. Prediction No. 1: Broken Halos
Call this an extended hangover from Tuesday night, but the Royals look like a team of destiny. They refuse to lose, and even if it was just one game, it was a huge game for the Kansas City franchise and fans. Early in the 2014 regular season, the San Francisco Giants looked like world beaters — but they crashed back down to earth. Then, it was the A’s everyone anointed next, and we all know what happened there. Now, the Angels have been the darlings for the past several weeks. Baseball teaches us to know our history, and that means L.A. is going down in the ALDS, probably in four games.
7. Prediction No. 2: Crouching Tigers
For the reasons noted above, it makes almost no sense to pick the Detroit Tigers to win this ALDS series. But the last two years, they were also the No. 3 seed in the same round of the playoffs, and they advanced to the AL Championship Series with hard-fought, Game Five victories on the road. They won’t need a Game Five to beat the Orioles this year; the Tigers will win it in four games, in front of the Motown fans.