Blasts From The Past For Kansas City & Baltimore Open AL Division Series

A left-handed hitting third baseman hits a clutch home run for the Kansas City Royals. The Baltimore Orioles win a postseason game with pitching and home runs. Somewhere upstairs, George Brett and Earl Weaver were smiling (though in Brett’s case “upstairs” just means his box at the game, with Weaver’s reference being eternity-based). Baltimore started the AL Division Series round by beating Detroit 12-3, and then Kansas City won the nightcap at the Los Angeles Angels 3-2 in 11 innings.

Mike Moustakas won it for the Royals with an 11th-inning home run. The Orioles got an early home run from Nelson Cruz to get a 2-0 lead and then a huge solo blast from J.J. Hardy to make the game 4-2 in the seventh, before the Birds finally blew it open in the eighth. But beyond the home runs, the biggest story of each game was the bullpens.
It’s a predictable storyline. The Orioles and Royals each have deep bullpens and it’s their biggest edge in their respective series.  Baltimore starter Chris Tillman pitched reasonably well, but Detroit hitters did a terrific job driving up his pitch count, particularly Ian Kinsler who generously provided souvenir foul balls to the fans down the first base line, repeatedly spoiling two-strike pitches. Tillman got through five innings, but it took him 105 pitches to do it.
BaseballDetroit only trailed 3-2 when Oriole manager Buck Showalter went to the bullpen, and that’s normally a good formula for winning. But not against Baltimore. Showalter emptied the pen, going through Andrew Miller, Darren O’Day and Zach Britton to still hold a 4-3 lead after eight.
Britton would have come in for the ninth, but when the Tigers melted down and allowed an eight-run inning, Showalter let Tommy Hunter finish up. Even that probably works out well for Baltimore—they need Hunter in this series and he was able to get some work in a low-pressure situation.
The Tiger bullpen has been this team’s problem area for at least three years, and the eight-run inning was just the latest manifestation. It’s the risk that comes with assuming they can just ride Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price to victory in this, or any other postseason series. Those pitchers have no room for error. Scherzer pitched well, but the mistakes to Cruz and Hardy were all it took for Baltimore to get ahead—even if the game had been tied when the Detroit starter left, the edge would still have shifted dramatically to the Orioles.
Kansas City manager Ned Yost was no less aggressive with his own bullpen. He removed Jason Vargas after six innings, even with the score tied 2-2 and gave his relief corps a chance to win it. Neddy went through seven relievers, in part because Kelvin Herrera had to leave after one batter in the seventh with forearm tightness (he’s day-to-day), but it worked. The bullpen gave up one hit in five innings of work and eventually Moustakas struck the blow that won the game.

The loss is a bigger deal for Los Angeles than it is for Detroit. The Angels lost at home, and the dropoff from Weaver to #2 starter Matt Shoemaker and from there to the rest of the staff is steep. Kansas City is also assured that staff ace James Shields’ start in Game 3 will be, at worst, the pivot game of the series, rather than must-win.
The Tigers lost on the road and they still have Verlander and Price the next two games. Detroit can restore order for themselves if they win today, and frankly, even if they fall behind 0-2, it’s not over.
Game 2 of both series go today, as they bookend a quadruple header of baseball, with the National League swinging into action. Detroit-Baltimore is at noon ET, with Verlander facing Wei-Yin Chen. The Royals-Angels game is the nightcap, at 9:30 PM ET, with Yordano Ventura and Shoemaker on the mound.