Three keys for Orioles in ALCS against Royals

Three keys for Orioles in ALCS against Royals

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles and Royals in the American League Championship Series should be a beautiful contrast of styles. The Orioles led the Majors in homers, the Royals ranked last. The Royals led the Majors in steals, the Orioles ranked last.

The teams do share some similarities, though. Both have deep rotations full of solid starters and shutdown bullpens. And both play solid, if not spectacular at times, defense. To win, the O's will need to take advantage of their unique strengths while taking Kansas City out of its game.

1. Control the running game
The Royals have become a fan favorite in October with their free-running style that wreaks havoc on the basepaths and opposing catchers, but they've been doing that all year. Kansas City led the Majors with 153 stolen bases coming at an 81-percent success rate.

  Date   Recaps Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 10   KC 8, BAL 6 (10 inn.) video
Gm 2 Oct. 11   KC 6, BAL 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14   KC 2, BAL 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15   KC 2, BAL 1 video

The Orioles have a pair of catchers who will be tasked with curtailing those numbers. Nick Hundley has become Baltimore's primary catcher during Caleb Joseph's recent offensive dip, but he only threw out 14 percent of runners in 2014. Joseph, who is hitless in his last 33 at bats, led the American League at 40 percent.

2. Pounce on the starters
As solid as Yordano Ventura, James Shields and Jason Vargas have been atop the Kansas City rotation, the Royals' strength lies in the back of their bullpen where Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland lurk. Holland paired a 46-save season with 13 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.44 ERA. In front of him is Davis, who led all relief pitchers with a 1.00 ERA, struck out 13.63 batters per nine and posted a 399 ERA+, which adjusts the pitcher's ERA based on the ballpark with 100 as an average.

Herrera, who has typically been the Royals' seventh-inning man, strained his flexor in Game 1 of the ALDS before returning for their Game 3 win. And rookie Brandon Finnegan, who was pitching in the College World Series in June, has emerged as a fearless left-handed option.

Manager Ned Yost has shown more flexibility with his bullpen usage in the postseason, though. Davis only pitched before the eighth inning once in 2014 before Yost used him to get an out in the seventh inning against the Angels on Thursday.

3. Home sweet home
The Royals hit the fewest home runs in the Majors in 2014. The Orioles hit the most. In fact, Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Nelson Cruz combined to hit as many home runs (95) as the entire Kansas City team in 2014.

The Orioles still blasted one home run during their only game in Detroit during the ALDS, but Oriole Park at Camden Yards has been even friendlier for them. By sealing the No. 2 seed, the O's will open the series at home.

The Orioles scored 47.8 percent of their runs this season off of homers, the third highest percentage in Major League history. So far in October, the O's have scored seven of their 21 runs via the homer. Baltimore needs to take advantage of its tiny home field to jump out front in its first ALCS since 1997. And the Orioles will have to do it against a Royals staff that allowed the third-fewest (128) home runs in the AL this season, although they've surrendered six in four postseason games.

David Wilson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.