ALCS Game 3 preview: Can Orioles dig out of 0-2 hole to Royals?
Start Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Series: Royals lead 2-0
Status: Of the previous 73 teams to get out to a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series in major league postseason history, 60 of them (82 percent) went on to win that series. Of the 24 teams to win those first two games on the road, 21 (87.5 percent) won the series. No team in LCS play has ever dug out of such a hole. The three teams in that pulled it off are the 1996 Yankees, the 1986 Mets and the 1985 Royals, who overcame 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to beat the Cardinals for the only world championship in team history. Those '96 Yankees, who lost the first two games of that year's World Series to the Braves at home by a combined score of 16-1, are the only team to lose the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home and come back to win the series in fewer than seven games.
In order to win this series and continue their season, the Orioles have to go no worse than 4-1 over the next five games against a team they have defeated just three times in nine meetings this year between the regular and postseasons.
Matchups: Wei-Yin Chen's first start this postseason, in Game 2 of the Division Series against the Tigers, got off to a promising start, as he gave up just a single through the first three innings. But he was roughed up when the lineup turned over in the fourth, with the first five men he faced picking up hits, including a double by Miguel Cabrera and back-to-back home runs by J.D. Martinez and Nick Castellanos. Chen was ultimately hooked with two outs after a single by Rajai Davis, and finished the day having allowed five runs in just 3 2/3 innings.
Looking at Chen's performance during the regular season, that second time through the order seems to be his trouble spot. Opponents hit .305/.347/.477 in their second at-bat against Chen this season, numbers that jump to .317/.357/.509 if you factor in his Division Series start, when he faced Detroit's entire order a second time before being removed. When Chen survives that second pass, however, he holds his opponents to a .268/.305/.426 line the third time through.
Unsurprisingly, all six of those fourth-inning hits by the Tigers against the lefthanded Chen came off the bats of righthanded hitters. The good news for Chen heading into this game is that the Royals' top hitters in the postseason — Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Alex Gordon — are all lefthanded. Chen allowed just three runs in 12 1/3 innings across two starts against Kansas City early this year, both of them Orioles wins, but he will need to be careful against righties Lorenzo Cain, who is 6-for-8 (.750) in this series, and Billy Butler, who is 8-for-18 (.444) in his career against Chen.
Chen's mound opponent, veteran righty Jeremy Guthrie, will be making both his postseason debut in this game and his first game appearance of any kind since Sept. 26, giving him a whopping 16 days of rest heading into this start. Guthrie finished the season strong, allowing just three runs (one earned) in 20 1/3 innings over his final three starts. If he had settled into any kind of groove there, however, one imagines he has fallen out of it by now. Guthrie and Chen previously faced off on April 26, with both allowing just two runs in seven innings in a game won by Baltimore on a walkoff single in the bottom of the 10th. In Guthrie's other start against the Orioles this season, he allowed four runs in eight innings in a 4-0 Kansas City loss.
Despite being a 35-year-old veteran who has thrown at least 175 innings in each of the last eight seasons, with all but 90 2/3 of his career innings coming in the AL, Guthrie hasn't faced Baltimore's top bats all that often. That's because he pitcher for the Orioles for five years, having first established himself as a major league starter with them in 2007 after being claimed off waivers from Cleveland. Guthrie spent five years as the workhorse of a bad rotation on a bad team before being traded twice in quick succession in 2012, eventually landing with the Royals.
Still, of the Orioles he has faced, he has handled them well. Six men in Baltimore's projected Game 3 lineup have faced Guthrie before (in order of plate appearances: newcomers Alejandro De Aza and Nelson Cruz, former teammates J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis and rookie Jonathan Schoop) have hit .226/.295/.258 against him in in their careers with just three extra-base hits in 105 PAs, none of them home runs.
In Search of Quality: The next quality start turned in by a starting pitcher in this series will be the first. The first four men to take the ball haven't come close, as not one has met the innings minimum (six) or held his opponent to the maximum number of runs (three) that define such a start. The closest thus far has been Kansas City rookie Yordano Ventura, who allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings before being removed from Game 2 due to shoulder tightness. Speaking of which, the Royals believe that Ventura will be able to start Game 6 if this series gets that far, though they could buy Ventura some extra rest by wrapping the series up in Kansas City. Outfielder Jarrod Dyson, for one, thinks that is exactly what the Royals are going to do.
Who's Your Daddy?: Lorenzo Cain is coming off a heck of a week. Last Sunday, he made a pair of crucial catches on consecutive batters, scored one run, and knocked in another in the Royals' decisive 8-3 win over the Angels to complete their sweep of the Division Series. That sweep meant that Cain didn't have to choose between team and family when his wife gave birth to their first child on Tuesday. Since returning to the team on Friday, he has gone 6-for-8 with two walks, a pair of doubles, an RBI and four runs scored while continuing to make highlight-reel plays in centerfield as the Royals jumped out to a 2-games-to-0 lead in this series. Now, he's back in Kansas City, reunited with his wife and son, and ready to face the lefthanded Chen in Game 3. During the regular season, Cain hit .313/.357/.470 against lefties.
Power Play: This has been a fairly high-scoring series thus far, with the average score of the first two games being 7-5 and the two teams hitting a combined .310. The Royals have just two more hits and two more walks than the Orioles to this point (25 and nine to Baltimore's 23 and seven in 88 and 87 plate appearances, respectively). The O's actually have the edge in stolen bases, stealing twice without being caught, while Kansas City has just one steal (by Cain) in three attempts, not counting Gordon getting picked off first in Game 1.
What has given the Royals the edge on offense, surprisingly, has been their power. They have as many home runs in this series (four) as the Orioles have extra-base hits, and Baltimore has just one home run (Jones' two-run shot off Ventura in the third inning of Game 2). Kansas City, meanwhile, has added five doubles to their four round-trippers, giving them a .553 slugging percentage on the series to the Orioles' .367.