American League baseball fans may have finally caught their breath after Tuesday's extra-inning thriller between the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics, but it's time for more playoff baseball Thursday.
In fact, fans will be treated to a doubleheader of action as the Division Series kick off with a pair of Game 1s. Here is a look at the schedule and broadcast information for each contest before delving into some previews and predictions.
Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles have home-field advantage and finished with six more wins than the Detroit Tigers, but it is hard to see Detroit as an underdog in this series.
After all, the Tigers will send the past three American League Cy Young Award winners to the mound in the first three games (Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price). All it takes is three wins to move on to the next round.
Scherzer will start the proceedings in Game 1 with his 18-5 record and 3.15 ERA against the Orioles' Chris Tillman (13-6, 3.34 ERA). Orioles manager Buck Showalter discussed the pitching matchups leading up to the series.
"I think we all know what it looks like on paper," Showalter said, according to The Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "But there's a lot of things that look a certain way on paper for us that we were able to overcome."
The Tigers are looking to reach their fourth consecutive AL Championship Series and knocked off Baltimore in five of the six regular-season contests. If nothing else, experience could play a role.
The Orioles are also decimated by injuries, as Manny Machado and Matt Wieters are both out while Chris Davis is suspended. Nelson Cruz and Adam Jones will be asked to carry the load against the Tigers pitching staff while Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez will look to do the same for Detroit against Baltimore's hurlers.
If the Orioles have one major advantage, it is the bullpen thanks to Zach Britton, Andrew Miller, Darren O'Day and Tommy Hunter.
Still, starting pitching and experience will help the Tigers continue their dominance of Baltimore in Game 1. Look for Scherzer to control the game from the outset, as the Orioles' late-inning stars won't get a chance to shut the door Thursday.
Prediction: Tigers 4, Orioles 2
Kansas City Royals at Los Angeles Angels
Somehow, the Kansas City Royals need to find a way to recover quickly from their dramatic 12-inning comeback in the Wild Card Game and get ready for the Division Series.
The Royals and Los Angeles Angels split their six regular-season games this year, so fans could be in for a tightly contested series. Kansas City hasn't been to the playoffs since 1985 while the Angels return for the first time since 2009.
The Angels will send ace Jered Weaver (18-9, 3.59 ERA) to the hill to face Kansas City's Jason Vargas (11-10, 3.71 ERA) in a showdown between former college teammates. Interestingly enough, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times noted that the two are particularly close, which adds another dynamic to Thursday's game:
Offensively, Los Angeles has the trio of Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton (who returns after missing 21 of 22 games), but it is Trout who the Royals have to worry about the most. He led the majors in RBI, runs and extra-base hits and could be the key to the entire series.
Kansas City can't match the Angels in terms of star power, but it will look to win with the same small-ball approach of steals, contact, bunts and solid defense that helped it beat Oakland in the Wild Card Game.
The thought here is that the Royals eventually win the series because of their dominant bullpen and the fact that Los Angeles only has one fully healthy and consistent starter. The Royals were actually 65-4 when leading after six innings this season largely thanks to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland (who had a combined 1.28 ERA this year).
However, Weaver will prove his worth as that one consistent and fully healthy Angels starter Thursday and will dominate the small-ball lineup that Kansas City sends to the table. Starting pitching will prevail in both Game 1s.
Prediction: Angels 5, Royals 2
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