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10 Takeaways From The Orioles Getting Swept By Kansas City In The ALCS

The O’s were swept in a postseason series for the first time in franchise history.  The Royals became the first Major-League team to start a postseason with eight straight wins (something only possible since 1985 when the LCS expanded to a best-of-seven format).  Here’s what happened and why.

Game 1: 8-6 10-inning loss at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Oct. 10

Game 2: 6-4 loss at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Oct. 11

Game 3: 2-1 loss at Kauffman Stadium on Oct. 14

Game 4: 2-1 loss at Kauffman Stadium on Oct. 15

    

1. Neither team's starting pitching was very good

This was the first-ever postseason series in which no starting pitcher, for either team, threw at least six complete innings.

The Orioles’ starting pitching was terrible in Games 1 and 2 and just so-so in Games 3 and 4

Chris Tillman allowed five runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 1, giving up seven hits and two walks.  The fact that manager Buck Showalter didn’t start Tillman on regular rest in Game 4 despite the opportunity to do so off the postponement of Game 3 on Oct. 13 said a lot about the confidence Buck had in his “ace,” who, remember, struggled in Game 1 of the Orioles’ three-game sweep of Detroit in the ALDS (threw 105 pitches and gave up two homers in lasting just five innings).

Bud Norris allowed four runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 2, giving up nine hits.

Wei-Yin Chen allowed two runs in 5 1/3 innings in Game 3, giving up seven hits and a walk on 80 pitches.

Miguel Gonzalez allowed two runs (one earned) in 5 2/3 innings in Game 4, giving up four hits, four walks, two hit-by-pitches and a wild pitch on 85 pitches.

The Royals’ starting pitching followed a similar script to the Orioles’.  James Shields and rookie Yordano Ventura combined to allow eight runs in 10 2/3 innings on 15 hits in Games 1 and 2, but Jeremy Guthrie (one run in five innings) and Jason Vargas (one run in 5 1/3 innings, six strikeouts) were better in Games 3 and 4, respectively.  

2. The Orioles’ offense was good in Games 1 and 2 but bad in Games 3 and 4 and overall was lacking its biggest weapon

The O’s batted .291 (23-for-79) over Games 1 and 2 but just .119 (7-for-59) over Games 3 and 4.

The O’s totaled just two homers in the series off leading the majors with 211 homers.  The Royals, who finished last in the majors with just 95 homers, actually out-homered the O’s in the series, 4-2.

First baseman Steve Pearce went just 1-for-17 with a walk in the series.

Second baseman Jonathan Schoop went just 1-for-11 with two walks in the series.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy went just 3-for-15 with a walk in the series.

3. Nelson Cruz cooled off

The DH/left fielder began this postseason with two hits in each of the first five games (during which he went 10-for-21 with two homers and seven RBI), but he went 0-for-7 with a walk over the final two games of this series.

4. The Orioles’ most productive batter in the series was a surprise

Flaherty, who has been a bad offensive player over his three seasons with the O’s, blasted a solo homer in Game 4 and finished the series 4-for-12 with three walks.

5. Zach Britton and Darren O’Day struggled mightily in Games 1 and 2, but the Orioles’ bullpen ultimately delivered

Britton and O’Day combined to allow four runs in 2 2/3 innings on four hits and four walks in Games 1 and 2.  

Still, Orioles relievers combined to allow five runs in 15 1/3 innings (2.93 ERA) in the series.  

Andrew Miller tossed four scoreless innings over three games, recording five strikeouts.  

Kevin Gausman tossed 4 1/3 scoreless innings over two games.

6. The Royals’ bullpen was terrific

Royals relievers allowed just two runs in 16 innings in the series, recording 15 strikeouts and holding the Orioles to a .172 batting average.

The Royals’ top three relievers (seventh-inning man Kelvin Herrera, eighth-inning man Wade Davis and closer Greg Holland) each pitched in all four games and combined to allow one run in 14 2/3 innings, recording 15 strikeouts.

Holland became the third pitcher to record four saves in a postseason series.  Dennis Eckersley (1988 Oakland Athletics, ALCS) and John Wetteland (1996 New York Yankees, World Series) are the other two.

7. The Royals’ defense was excellent

The O’s and Royals were arguably the two best defensive teams in the majors during the regular season.  And while the Orioles’ defense in the series wasn’t bad (though catcher Caleb Joseph did commit a catching error in the Royals’ two-run first in Game 4), it was the Royals who made one great play after another.

Left fielder Alex Gordon made a sliding-forward catch of a Pearce fly ball in deep left-center with two outs in the bottom of the third in Game 1.

Center fielder/right fielder Lorenzo Cain, who went 8-for-15 with two walks and won series MVP, robbed Hardy of two hits in Game 2:

     •    diving catch while running to his left on a fly out in right-center while playing center field in the bottom of the sixth

     •    running catch on a bases-loaded two-out fly ball as it sliced toward the right-field line while playing right field in the bottom of the seventh

Third baseman Mike Moustakas made two excellent grabs in Game 3:

     •    diving catch to his left of a Pearce line drive in the top of the fourth

     •    diving and backhanded catch over the railing atop the bullpen suite of a pop out by center fielder Adam Jones in the top of the sixth

Gordon made a running catch with the sun in his eyes while running into the right-field wall to rob Hardy of a hit in the top of the fifth of Game 4.

8. Game 3 provided two mini-controversies

Guthrie caused a stir by wearing a t-shirt that read, “These O’s ain’t Royal” after Game 3 (the line is in reference to the Chris Brown song “Loyal”), but he apologized on Twitter that night and in front of reporters the next day.

Pinch runner/center fielder Jarrod Dyson, who scored the winning run in Game 3 on a sacrifice fly, told CBSSports.com after the game that third baseman Ryan Flaherty “put the knee down” on him on a pickoff try of Dyson at third base.  Showalter the next day: “It's funny how imagination runs rampant this time of year."

9. The Orioles' TV ratings in D.C. were quite good

The following is courtesy of Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post and SportsMediaWatch.com.

Orioles-Royals ratings in the D.C. market:

Game 1 – 5.7

Game 2 – 4.5

Game 3 – 6.3

Game 4 – 3.8

(By comparison, Games 1 and 4 of the Wizards-Bulls first-round playoff series last spring received D.C. ratings of 5.34 and 5.7.)

Nationals-Giants ratings in the D.C. market:

Game 1 – 6.9

Game 2 – 9.5

Game 3 – 5.9

Game 4 – 8.8

O's-Royals Game 3 aired on a Tuesday night on TBS and had an 8:07 p.m. start time.  Nats-Giants Game 3 aired on a Monday afternoon on MLB Network and had a 5:07 p.m. start time, taking place hours before Redskins-Seattle on Monday Night Football.  Still, even when you consider all of that, the fact that O's-Royals Game 3 out-did Nats-Giants Game in the D.C. market says all you need to know regarding whether there exists a substantial Orioles fanbase in the D.C.-area.  

10. The Orioles on Oct. 9 announced the re-signing of Hardy

The biggest long-term item regarding the O’s may have been what they announced the day before Game 1: the re-signing of Hardy to a three-year contract extension with an option for 2018.  The deal is worth a reported $40 million.  

2015 will be Hardy’s age-32 season.  His biggest strength is his defense, which is excellent.  Since Hardy joined the Orioles in Dec. 2010, he is third among all major-league shortstops with 44 Defensive Runs Saved (Atlanta’s Andrelton Simmons is first with 88).  Hardy this season led A.L. shortstops with a 13.9 Ultimate Zone Rating and was seventh among all A.L. players with 2.1 Defensive bWAR.

The Orioles’ re-signing of Hardy to a three-year deal despite him being in his 30s communicates two things to me:

     a.    The O’s see Hardy’s defense as so good that it overrides his offensive struggles.  He has been a below-league-average offensive player over his last three seasons.  Hardy’s OPS+ in each of the last three seasons working backwards (100 is average): 93, 99, 81.   

     b.    The O’s don’t trust third baseman Manny Machado’s knees to move him to shortstop, which is the position he primarily played in the minors.

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