Before every game of the ALCS and NLCS, FindTheBest will break down the pitching matchup to see which team has the edge on the mound.
Based both on reputation and commonly used statistics, the matchup for the series opener seems like a major advantage for Kansas City. James Shields has been one of baseball's most reliable pitchers since debuting in 2006, averaging 13 wins and 33 starts over his last eight seasons. Chris Tillman, meanwhile, only solidified his place in the Orioles' rotation late in 2012 after three subpar seasons. He’s essentially Baltimore’s default ace, even though his 4.01 Fielding Independent ERA indicates that he's more of a mid-rotation starter.
But in a one-game vacuum, anything can happen between these two, especially since "Big Game James" hasn’t been nearly as successful in the postseason as his nickname indicates.
Shields entered October with subpar career postseason statistics (4.98 ERA in six starts), and his raw playoff numbers for the Royals thus far (six earned runs in 11 innings, 4.91 ERA) line up right with that. To be fair, two of those runs crossed the plate after Yordano Ventura relieved him in the Wild-Card Game and promptly gave up a three-run bomb to Brandon Moss. Still, he’s not as intimidating as any of Detroit's three Cy Young winners who Baltimore beat to get to this point.
Many forget that Tillman made the All-Star team last year and finished 10th in WAR (4.4) among pitchers. This season, Tillman rebounded from a mediocre first half to establish himself as a key cog in Baltimore’s post-All-Star break destruction of the AL East. He’s allowed three earned runs or fewer in 21 of his last 22 starts, going 9-4 with a 2.42 ERA during that span. Tillman also has some good karma going for him in this series: He hurled his first and only career shutout, a five-hitter, in Kansas City in May despite logging just three strikeouts.
That success could partially be attributed to the righthander’s unusually quick delivery and pickoff move, which discourages most players from stealing against him. Opponents have attempted steals 13 times on him over the past two years and only been successful twice. For context, the Royals swiped seven bases in the Wild-Card Game alone and tallied the most stolen bases (153) in the Majors this season at an 81-percent success rate. Immovable forces will collide if Jarrod Dyson, Terrence Gore or another speedy Royal gets on base with Tillman on the mound. Something has to give.
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