A look at the best-of-seven American League Championship Series between the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles:
Schedule: (All times EDT) Game 1, Friday, at Baltimore (8:07 p.m.); Game 2, Saturday, at Baltimore (4:07 p.m.); Game 3, Monday, Oct. 13, at Kansas City (8:07 p.m.); Game 4, Tuesday, Oct. 14, at Kansas City (8:07 p.m.); x-Game 5, Wednesday, Oct. 15, at Kansas City (4:07 p.m.); x-Game 6, Friday, Oct. 17, at Baltimore (8:07 p.m.); x-Game 7, Saturday, Oct. 18, at Baltimore (8:07 p.m.). (All games on TBS).
Season Series: Royals won 4-3.
Royals: SS Alcides Escobar (.285, 3 HRs, 50 RBIs, 31 SBs), RF Nori Aoki (.285, 1, 43, 17 SBs), CF Lorenzo Cain (.301, 5, 53, 28 SBs), 1B Eric Hosmer (.270, 9, 58), DH Billy Butler (.271, 9, 66), LF Alex Gordon (.266, 19, 74, 12 SBs), C Salvador Perez (.260, 19, 70), 2B Omar Infante (.252, 6, 66), 3B Mike Moustakas (.212, 15, 54).
Orioles: RF Nick Markakis (.276, 14, 50), LF Alejandro De Aza (.252, 8, 41 with White Sox and Orioles), CF Adam Jones (.281, 29, 96), DH Nelson Cruz (.271, MLB-best 40, 108), 1B Steve Pearce (.293, 21, 49), SS J.J. Hardy (.268, 9, 52), 3B Ryan Flaherty (.221, 7, 32), C Nick Hundley (.243, 6, 22 in 218 ABs with Padres and Orioles) or Caleb Joseph (.207, 9, 28), 2B Jonathan Schoop (.209, 16, 45).
Royals: RH James Shields (14-8, 3.21 ERA, 227 IP, 180 Ks), RH Yordano Ventura (14-10, 3.20, 159 Ks), LH Jason Vargas (11-10, 3.71, 128 Ks), RH Jeremy Guthrie (13-11, 4.13, 202 2-3 IP, 124 Ks).
Orioles: RH Chris Tillman (13-6, 3.34, 150 Ks), LH Wei-Yin Chen (16-6, 3.54), RH Bud Norris (15-8, 3.65), RH Miguel Gonzalez (10-9, 3.23).
Royals: RH Greg Holland (1-3, 1.44, 46/48 saves), RH Wade Davis (9-2, 1.00), RH Kelvin Herrera (4-3, 1.41), LH Brandon Finnegan (0-1, 1.29 in 7 games), RH Jason Frasor (3-0, 1.53), LH Danny Duffy (9-12, 2.53 ERA, 113 Ks in 31 games, 25 starts), LH Tim Collins (0-3, 3.86 in 22 games).
Orioles: LH Zach Britton (3-2, 1.65, 37/41 saves), RH Darren O'Day (5-2, 1.70, 4 saves), RH Tommy Hunter (3-2, 2.97, 11/17 saves), LH Andrew Miller (5-5, 2.02, 1 save in 73 games with Boston and Baltimore), RH Brad Brach (7-1, 3.18), LH Brian Matusz (2-3, 3.48), RH Kevin Gausman (7-7, 3.57 in 20 starts), RH Ubaldo Jimenez (6-9, 4.81 in 25 games, 22 starts).
Though both clubs were perennial winners during the 1970s and early `80s, this is their first meeting in the postseason. They played for the first time in 1969 after the Royals became an expansion team - Kansas City won that very first game, then Baltimore took the next 23. ... Both squads will be well-rested (and maybe a little rusty) with four days off after finishing Division Series sweeps on Sunday. ... Shields, who pitched for the Orioles' AL East rival Tampa Bay from 2006-12, has plenty of experience against Baltimore. He was 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA in two starts against the O's this year and is 11-7, 3.52 ERA in 26 career starts, including two shutouts. Markakis, 21 for 71 (.296) with two HRs and eight RBIs, and Jones, 14 for 46 (.304) with a homer and six RBIs, have the most success against Big Game James. ... Tillman shut out the Royals in with a five-hitter in May, but he gave up 20 runs in four previous starts against them. Gordon has homered twice off Tillman in 13 at-bats. ... The Orioles did not face Vargas this season. In eight games against him, they are hitting just .224 (46 for 205). Cruz, in his first season with Baltimore, had four homers and eight RBIs while hitting .333 (10 for 30) for Texas against Vargas. ... Joseph gives the Orioles the best chance of slowing the Royals' running game. He threw out 23 of 57 potential base stealers this year. Hundley nailed only 5 of 27. ... Ventura struck out a combined 17 in two starts against the O's this season. ... The Royals are hitting .313 (47 for 150) with five homers against Chen in six games over his three-year major league career. Chen, a 16-game winner this year, held Kansas City to three runs in 12 1-3 innings in two games in 2014. ... Kansas City is just 9 for 46 (.196) against Norris. Still, Norris was outpitched by Duffy - relegated to the bullpen so far this postseason - in a 1-0 loss in May.
Royals: After ending a 29-year postseason drought, the Royals (89-73) continued their winning ways in the playoffs. They rallied twice in the AL wild-card game for a thrilling 9-8 victory in 12 innings against Oakland, then won their first two ALDS games on the road against the Los Angeles Angels in 11 innings on homers by Moustakas and Hosmer. That made Kansas City the first major league team to win three straight extra-inning playoff games. The series clincher was much easier, an 8-3 victory at home for a three-game sweep of the Angels, who had the best regular-season record in the majors at 98-64. ... The Royals also took the last three games of the 1985 World Series against St. Louis, so they've won seven consecutive postseason games - in a span of three decades. ... Kansas City wins with solid starting pitching, a nasty bullpen, daring on the basepaths and sensational defense. Baseball fundamentals. During the regular season, KC ranked last in the majors with 95 home runs but first with 153 steals. ... The speedy Royals swiped seven bags in the wild-card game against the A's, including one that helped set up the tying run in the 12th inning. Cain made a series of spectacular defensive plays against the Angels, also thwarted by Aoki's glove and the arm of reserve outfielder Jarrod Dyson. Throw in the clutch homers by homegrown hitters Hosmer and Moustakas, and the rollin' Royals certainly have some serious October mojo going under manager Ned Yost.
Orioles: After clinching their first AL East title in 17 years on Sept. 16, the Orioles (96-66) coasted to the finish. Baltimore manager Buck Showalter provided position players with ample rest and gave his pitchers an extra day off between starts. Although the Orioles went 5-6 down the stretch, Showalter deemed keeping the team fresh more important than carrying momentum into the postseason. ... That strategy paid off in a three-game sweep of AL Central champion Detroit that put the Orioles in the ALCS for the first time since 1997. Baltimore is looking for its seventh pennant and first since 1983. Showalter, meanwhile, has reached the LCS for the first time in four postseason appearances. ... This is only Baltimore's second trip to the playoffs since 1997. The previous one, in 2012, ended with a Division Series loss in five games to the New York Yankees after the Orioles beat Texas in the wild-card game. ... Baltimore is still missing three key players. All-Star catcher Matt Wieters had season-ending elbow surgery in May, 3B Manny Machado had season-ending knee surgery in August and 1B Chris Davis is serving a 25-game suspension for using amphetamines. Davis would be eligible to return in Game 6 of the ALCS, but it seems unlikely Baltimore would put him on the series roster and be willing to play a man short for five games. ... Although the Orioles led the majors with 211 homers, pitching has been a big reason for their success. All four starters in the playoff rotation reached double figures in wins, and the back end of the bullpen has been solid, especially since Miller's arrival on July 31.
- Lights Out Late. Both teams rely on stingy bullpens that were a key to their success early in the playoffs, so runs could be hard to come by in the late innings. Herrera left the ALDS opener against the Angels after five pitches with a strained forearm but tossed a scoreless inning in Game 3.
- Cruz Control. A dangerous thumper all season, Cruz is often at his best in October. MVP of the 2011 ALCS with Texas, he owns a 1.059 OPS with 16 homers and 32 RBIs in 37 postseason games. Following the Biogenesis investigation, Cruz served a 50-game suspension last year with the Rangers for violating MLB's drug agreement. Then he spurned a $14.1 million qualifying offer from Texas and took an $8 million, one-year deal with Baltimore, plus available bonuses. He had a much better year than even the Orioles could have imagined, carrying a depleted lineup at times, but his power production tailed off during the final two months of the season. He turned it back on once the playoffs began, going 6 for 12 with two homers, five RBIs and four runs in the sweep of Detroit, which started three straight Cy Young Award winners.
- Managing Expectations. At the helm of his fourth big league team, the respected Showalter has a well-earned reputation as one of the game's best team-builders and tacticians. It might seem he's wound pretty tight, but no small detail escapes him. Yost, on the other hand, was once fired by Milwaukee in the middle of a September playoff race, and some of his curious moves have drawn the ire of Royals fans. With both bullpens stacked and the benches often in play, this could become an interesting chess match.
- Karma, Baby. The Royals believe this is finally their time. They were counted out for much of the season, languishing below .500 on July 22. They were counted out again in the wild-card game before two late comebacks. Perhaps the same karma that won them Game 6 of the 1985 World Series - the infamous Don Denkinger call - has reared its head for a franchise that was downtrodden for decades. But the Orioles also waited a long time to taste success, and they've relished the underdog role while overcoming one obstacle after another this year.