Royals Ascend; Giants Capitalize Again

The Kansas City Royals are the champions of the American League. No, that's not a misprint. Kansas City won their first AL pennant since 1985 when they completed the sweep of the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday. The San Francisco Giants, who have won two World Series since 2010, are one win away from joining the Royals with their win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Four of the NLCS.

ALCS: Royals Crowned AL Champs

Score: Royals 2 – Orioles 1

Series: Royals win 4-0

Game Hero: Kansas City bullpen; 3.2 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 1 BB, 2 K

Game Summary: Since the eighth inning of the American League Wild Card game, the Kansas City Royals have had the look of a team of destiny. The Royals fulfilled the first part of that destiny on Wednesday, beating the Baltimore Orioles, 2-1, to secure the 2014 American League championship. The Royals return to the World Series for the first time since 1985.

Down 3-0 in the series, the Orioles knew they had to get off to a good start in Game Four. Unfortunately for Baltimore, their defense let them down and put them in an early hole.

After Baltimore went quietly in the first, the Royals quickly put pressure on Orioles’ starter Miguel Gonzalez. Alcides Escobar led-off with a high chopper over the mound that hit the second base bag and scooted past Orioles’ second baseman Jonathan Schoop for an infield hit. Gonzalez then hit Nori Aoki with a pitch and the Royals were suddenly in business.

Up stepped Lorenzo Cain, who would be named the ALCS MVP after the game. Cain, the Royals’ number three hitter, elected to bunt the runners over. In doing so, he became the first number three hitter to bunt in the first inning of a post-season game since Steve Garvey did it in 1984 (h/t ESPN Stats & Info Twitter). The bunt was successful in moving up the runners, making it the first sacrifice bunt of Cain’s MLB career. Royals manager Ned Yost said later that Cain bunted on his own.

While not a sound baseball strategy, Cain’s decision to bunt wound-up working out perfectly for the Royals, a theme for this post-season. With runners on second and third, Eric Hosmer hit a grounder to first. Steve Pearce fielded it and threw a home and the throw looked to be in-time to get Escobar. However, as Escobar slid into the plate, his foot kicked the ball out of Orioles’ catcher Caleb Joseph’s glove. The ball squirted away and Aoki scored all the way from second, giving the Royals a 2-0 lead.

Those two runs were all that Jason Vargas and the Kansas City bullpen would need. Vargas, the veteran left-hander, put together an outstanding start for KC. He allowed just two hits in 5.1 innings, striking out six and walking three. One of the two hits was a Ryan Flaherty homerun in the third inning that made it a one-run game. Other than the homerun, the Orioles never put a runner in scoring position when Vargas was in the game.

The Orioles only threat to score after the third came in the sixth inning. Vargas walked the lead-off batter Schoop. Royals’ manager Ned Yost elected to keep Vargas in the game to face the lefty Nick Markakis, and Vargas rewarded Yost’s faith by striking the Orioles’ right-fielder out. Then Yost turned to Kelvin Herrera, who dominated the Orioles during this series.

Herrera retired the power-hitting Pearce on a pop-up to short before Adam Jones singled to move Schoop to third. That brought Nelson Cruz to the plate. Cruz has a lifetime 1032 OPS in the post-season and hit two homeruns against the Tigers in the ALDS. Cruz hit the ball hard off Herrera, but lined it right to second baseman Omar Infante, who squinted through the late-afternoon sun to make the catch. It was just that kind of series for the Orioles.

After that, the game was all about the Royals’ bullpen. Herrera zipped through an easy seventh and was followed by Wade Davis, who allowed a two-out single and nothing else in the eighth. Then came the ninth and closer Greg Holland. Holland walked Jones to start the inning and looked jittery early on. He got Cruz to hit a grounder back to the mound that looked like a sure double-play, but Holland rushed the throw and it took a great stretch by Escobar to record the force out at second.

That brought up Delmon Young with a runner on first and one-out. Like Cruz, Young has had a flair for the dramatic in the post-season over his career. Coming into the game, he had a career 981 in three ALCSs. Holland and Young battled, with Young fouling off two straight fastballs after the count was 1-1. Holland then appeared to shake off for the slider, and he got Young to swing through it for strike-three. After that, all that stood between KC and the World Series was J.J. Hardy. Holland got two strikes on Hardy early in the count and then induced him to hit a groundball to third baseman Mike Moustakas, who took a little crow-hop and threw a strike to first to end the game and send the Royals to the World Series.

The Orioles will have plenty to think about this off-season after a tough series loss. Playing without three of their best players (Manny Machado, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis), Baltimore was hardly dominated in the sweep. They lost all four games by a combined six runs and their pitching staff allowed just three earned runs over the last two games of the series. But the bounces didn’t go their way in the series, and their two late-inning meltdowns in Games One and Two turned out to be too much to overcome.

In sweeping the series, the Royals became the first team in MLB history to win their first eight post-season games. They will have to wait six days to try to extend the streak to nine. Cain, the series MVP, hit .533 in the ALCS and made several outstanding defensive plays. But the MVP award could have easily gone collectively to the KC bullpen, which allowed just two runs on 10 hits and four walks in 16 innings. They struck-out 15 and recorded saves in all four games.

What’s Next: The Royals will wait on the conclusion of the NLCS to see who they will be playing in the World Series, but they know where Game One will be played. The American League earned homefield advantage in the World Series with their All-Star Game win in Minnesota earlier this year. The World Series begins on Tuesday, October 21st.

NLCS: Giants One Win Away From Series

Score: Giants 6 – Cardinals 4

Series: Giants lead 3-1

Game Hero: Buster Posey, 2-for-3, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 1 R

Game Summary: The St. Louis Cardinals came out swinging in Game Four of the NLCS, but the San Francisco Giants hit back and eventually capitalized on defensive mistakes by the Cardinals to take a commanding three games to one lead in the series. Now the Cardinals face the prospect of having to defeat Madison Bumgarner in an elimination game.

The game got off to a good start for the Cardinals when Matt Carpenter pulled a groundball into right for a hit. Hustling all the way, Carpenter took advantage of a deflection by Giants’ second baseman Joe Panik for a hustle double. San Francisco starter Ryan Vogelsong then walked Jon Jay. He recovered to retire Matt Holliday on a pop-up, but Matt Adams came through with an RBI single to give the Cardinals an early 1-0 lead. A double-play off the bat of Jhonny Peralta limited the damage to one run, however.

The Giants wasted little time answering the Cardinals. Gregor Blanco led-off against Shelby Miller and he hit a flyball to center that Jay ranged to the warning track to get under. He had a play on it, but the ball glanced off of his glove and fell for a double. As they have throughout this series, the Giants would make the Cardinals pay for their defensive mistake. Panik singled to right, moving Blanco to third. Buster Posey stepped to the plate and delivered a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Miller was able to match Vogelsong in limiting the first inning damage, inducing a doubleplay off the bat of Pablo Sandoval.

St. Louis got right back to work against Vogelsong in the second. The red-hot Kolten Wong hit a ball in almost the exact same spot as Blanco did, and with the exact same results. Blanco got his glove on the ball, but it bounced out and Wong cruised into second with a lead-off double. A.J. Pierzynski then singled up the middle, scoring Wong.

Vogelsong survived the rest of the second inning, but he ran into trouble again in the third. Holliday doubled to right to start the inning and Adams followed with a single, giving the Cardinals runners on the corner with no outs. Peralta hit into a 5-4-3 double-play, but the run scored to give St. Louis a 3-1 lead. The double-play would cost the Cardinals a run, however, as Wong followed Peralta’s at-bat with a solo homerun to right. Wong has five extra-base hits in his last three games.

The Giants pinch-hit for Vogelsong in the bottom of the third, and it paid off when Joaquin Arias singled to center. He moved up to second on a Blanco groundout. After Panik flew out, Posey came to the plate with Arias at third and two outs. The former NL MVP singled on a line-drive to left, bringing home his second run of the game and narrowing the Cardinals’ lead to two runs. Miller then ran into trouble getting the final out of the inning. He walked Sandoval and allowed a run-scoring single off the bat of Hunter Pence, bringing the Giants to within a run at 4-3.

Right-hander Yusmeiro Petit, who threw six scoreless innings in the Giants’ 18-inning win over the Nationals in the NLDS, took over for Vogelsong. He struck-out the side in the fourth, retired the side in order in the fifth and worked around a walk in a scoreless sixth. His work in relief of the struggling Vogelsong turned the tide of the game in the Giants' favor.

The Giants weren’t able to bring in the tying run in the fourth or fifth, but they got to work in the bottom of the sixth. Marco Gonzales came on in relief for St. Louis and immediately walked Juan Perez, who pinch-hit for Travis Ishikawa. Brandon Crawford followed with a single and Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy chose to pinch-hit for Petit with Matt Duffy. Duffy dropped down a sacrifice bunt, pushing the runners to second and third.

Blanco came to the plate and he hit a groundball that was fielded by Adams at first. He hesitated slightly and threw home too late, allowing the tying run to score. Panik then hit another groundball to Adams, who stepped on first and inexplicably decided to throw to second to try to get Blanco rather than looking back Crawford, who didn’t run from third when the ball was initially hit. As soon as Adams threw to second, Crawford took off for home and he scored when Adams’ throw pulled Peralta away from second base.

The nightmare inning continued for St. Louis when Gonzales was pulled for Seth Maness. Posey delivered another run-scoring single and the Giants were suddenly ahead, 6-4. Sandoval followed Posey with a single of his own, but Maness was able to keep the deficit at two runs when Pence popped out to first.

St. Louis mounted a two-out rally in the top of the seventh when Jay walked against Giants’ reliever Jeremy Affeldt and Holliday singled against SF reliever Jean Machi. Bochy made his third pitching change of the inning, bringing in Javier Lopez to face Adams. Lopez fell behind, 3-0, but battled back to 3-2 before Adams grounded out to second to end the threat.

The Giants had a chance to add to their lead in the bottom of the seventh when Brandon Belt led-off with a single and Crawford doubled him to third with one-out. Michael Morse pinch-hit in the pitcher’s spot and hit a groundball to third. Carpenter came home with the throw and cut down Belt trying to score. Blanco would ground out to end the inning.

San Francisco called on set-up man Sergio Romo in the eighth inning and he retired the first two batters before allowing a single to pinch-hitter Oscar Taveras. Randal Grichuk flew out harmlessly to end the inning.

In the bottom of the ninth, Giants closer Santiago Casilla came in looking to extend his streak of batters retired without allowing a hit past 33. He retired the first two batters of the inning on a pop-up and a strike-out before allowing a single to Jay. That brought to the plate the dangerous Holliday as the tying run. Casilla threw ball one but then got Holliday to swing-and-miss on a fastball and foul another fastball off. With the count 1-2, Casilla froze Holliday on a 94 MPH pitch in the lower-, outer-half of the plate for a called strike three.

What’s Next: The Giants can claim their third National League title in five years with a win on Thursday. Madison Bumgarner will take the hill against Adam Wainwright in a rematch of the Giants’ 3-0 win in Game One.

Scout MLB Network Top Stories