Five questions facing Orioles before ALCS

Five questions facing Orioles before ALCS

BALTIMORE -- With the American League Division Series in the rearview mirror, the Orioles are set to open up a best-of-seven set at home on Friday for what surely will be a highly entertaining AL Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals.

The O's, fresh off a sweep of the Detroit Tigers, watched the Royals do the same to an Angels club that had the best regular-season record in baseball. So, what can be expected in the series? If early October is any indication, it's impossible to predict postseason baseball. Still, there are some questions that can be answered right now. The rest? As manager Buck Showalter says, you'll have to wait and see what the baseball gods have in store. Hopefully, in a good seat…

Will Chris Davis be a factor?

  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

I highly doubt it. Davis still has five games remaining on his 25-game suspension, meaning the earliest he would be available would be Game 6 of the ALCS -- the Orioles would have to compete with a 24-man roster for the first five games. That's not going to happen. In fact, his status for the World Series is far from certain. Should the O's sweep the ALCS, he'd still be unavailable for Game 1 of the World Series. Not that the Orioles are looking that far ahead, but it doesn't make any sense to play down a man on the roster for five games of such an important series.

Davis, who has been working out exclusively at third base in Sarasota, Fla., would give Baltimore some defense at the position, but keep in mind his bat had been struggling. Ryan Flaherty, his replacement at third, is coming off an impressive ALDS, making several nice plays in the field. Look for Flaherty to get the bulk of the O's playing time at third against the Royals, as well.

Is Kevin Gausman going to remain in the bullpen?

Yes. Gausman is a weapon in relief and you need only look at ALDS Game 2 -- in which he pitched nearly four dominant innings -- to understand why. The Orioles have enough starters the way the series is set up and the staff will get plenty of rest given that Game 1 isn't until Friday.

Having Gausman in relief gives Showalter flexibility in that he can use the young righty, who can reach the upper 90s with his fastball, as a matchup guy or to piggyback off a short start as he did in Game 2. With the other right-handers in the rotation -- Chris Tillman and Bud Norris -- throwing well, Gausman appears to be a lock to stay in the bullpen.

What happens with Miguel Gonzalez and the rest of the rotation?

Gonzalez, who was slated to pitch Game 4 of the ALDS, will get an extended layoff now as the O's have the opportunity to reset their rotation in advance of Friday's opener. Given how well starter Chris Tillman has thrown against the Royals -- he had a shutout in Kansas City earlier in the season -- it makes sense for him to start things off again.

Gonzalez, who was optioned for a reliever prior to the All-Star break, has had long layoffs before during the regular season and could throw a simulated game this week to stay on track. Right-hander Bud Norris, who was dominant Sunday in his first career postseason start, also figures to get another start, along with Game 2's Wei-Yin Chen, a left-hander who likely will fare better against the Royals' left-handed lineup than he did against the Tigers gauntlet of right-handed hitters.

Once again, don't expect any early announcements from Showalter, who didn't announce plans for Game 3 until the morning before. A master strategist, Showalter and pitching coach Dave Wallace will look over matchups, time of game and every factor possible before carefully lining up their guys.

How do the O's combat the Royals' speed?

It will be a tough test. Kansas City can terrorize clubs on the basepaths, setting a postseason record against Oakland in the AL Wild Card Game with seven stolen bases. Showalter has long instilled quick deliveries to the plate for his pitching staff, something he made a priority upon taking the helm in 2012. As a result, most of the Orioles pitchers are quick at releasing the ball, which at least gives catchers Nick Hundley and Caleb Joseph a fighting chance.

Of the two, Joseph was one of the best catchers in the AL at throwing out runners (23 of 57, 40 percent), but does not have a hit in 13 games since Sept. 10. Hundley has become Tillman's personal catcher, so he's expected in there if Tillman starts Game 1. But it will be interesting to see what Showalter does to help slow down the Royals' runners. Bench coach John Russell, who works with the catchers, will be tasked with trying to help neutralize the run game and you can bet injured All-Star Matt Wieters, who did some advance scouting for the O's ALDS series, will play a part, as well.

How much of an advantage is home-field advantage?

If Orioles fans come out the way they did in the ALDS, it could definitely be a factor. Baltimore struggled earlier this year at Camden Yards, but turned it around down the stretch. After the Game 2 victory, numerous players noted the deafening chants and towel waving of the sold-out crowd.

The Royals, though, are no strangers to hostile environments and have won every postseason game they have played in -- including two on the West Coast -- so far. Similarly, the O's are really good on the road and have been all year. Both teams, underdogs all season, are no stranger to hostile environments though having the 10th man in the crowd can never hurt.

The real bonus for the Orioles is that the Royals gifted them home-field advantage in this series by defeating the Angels, and that advantage extends to the World Series, too -- by virtue of the AL's victory in the All-Star Game -- should the Orioles advance.

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.