Who will take the pennant in the AL and NL and play for a title in the World Series? SI's experts make their picks for the ALCS and NLCS.
After two Wild-Card Games and a wild set of Division Series matchups, just four teams remain in the playoffs. The Royals, Orioles, Cardinals and Giants all took different paths to the American and National League Championship Series, but only two of them will get to continue their dream postseason run to the World Series. Who will emerge with the pennant in the AL and NL? SI's MLB experts made their picks for each series.
ALCS: The Orioles have more experience on the field and in the dugout, more home run power to change a game with one swing, and a deeper bullpen. The Royals, with their defense, speed and cheerleading, remain a fascinating watch.
NLCS: The Giants scrape together runs with the best of them, but unless Mike Morse comes back with his timing and power intact, St. Louis' pitching should hold them down. The series has seven games written all over it.
ALCS: The Royals have the advantage in starting pitching and a slight edge in the bullpen, but I'll take power over small-ball and Buck Showalter over Ned Yost.
NLCS: These are two similar and very evenly matched teams, but San Francisco has the postseason's hottest pitcher (Madison Bumgarner), the better bullpen, and one of the best postseason managers in history (Bruce Bochy).
ALCS: Starting pitching? Even. Relief pitching? Even. Fielding? Even. The offenses, though, amount to a significant contrast in styles, and I'm giving the edge to the Royals' speed (and superior depth) over the Orioles' brute power.
NLCS: The NL's last four World Series participants have been San Francisco, St. Louis, San Francisco and St. Louis. I'm not picking the Giants to win because it's their turn, but because they look as they did in '10 and '12: one of those annoying (to opponents) teams that pitches well, catches the ball, doesn't strike out and simply wins.
ALCS: The Royals have been utterly unfazed by the big postseason stage, getting key performances from seemingly every spot on their roster, and they managed to get through the Division Series without a major gaffe from Ned Yost. They also match up well in the first two games in Baltimore, with James Shields having pitched better on the road as a Royal and rookie Yordano Ventura having aced his postseason debut in Anaheim.
NLCS: If there is one thing the Division Series proved, it was how important effective relief pitching can be in a short series. The Giants have the edge there. They are also getting leftfielder Michael Morse back from his oblique injury, while the Cardinals have had concerns about the health of ace Adam Wainwright's elbow. In a close matchup, those three things tip the balance.
ALCS: The Orioles' significant edge in power hitting and Buck Showalter's superiority over Ned Yost when it comes to in-game tactical decisions — particularly with regards to his bullpen — will prove decisive.
NLCS: With questions about Adam Wainwright lingering and the Giants' rotation firing on all cylinders at just the right time, the edge goes to the latter, which also has a big edge when it comes to managers. Bruce Bochy's aggressive approach with his bullpen separates him from others in the postseason.
ALCS: In a tight series between two teams that play excellent D and roll out dominant bullpens, give me the one that has the best chance at hitting the ball out of the park and scoring with one swing. If that team also has a clear advantage at manager, all the better.
NLCS: Both the Giants and Cardinals are great rally teams and seemingly can't be killed in October, but St. Louis' deeper rotation and postseason giant Matt Carpenter will be the difference.
ALCS: I think the Orioles will out-hit the Royals as well as out-manage them — Buck Showalter is locked in.
NLCS: The Cardinals will advance because I’ve learned the hard way not to bet against St. Louis in October, and because the universe is a cold, meaningless place indifferent to your happiness.
ALCS: James Shields may not deserve to be called Big Game James, but he is still the best starter in this series, and he's lined up to go on full rest. The Royals' bullpen makes every game a six-inning affair, and their versatile and suddenly powerful offense has enough ways to beat the Orioles to get Kansas City to its first World Series in 29 years.
NLCS: Not much separates these teams — both have strong rotations, effective relievers and plenty of postseason experience. Expect this one to go the distance, just as it did two years ago, when San Francisco capped a rally from a 3-1 series deficit to win Game 7 at home. This time it will be the Cardinals who take advantage of having Game 7 in their ballpark, as John Lackey wins a clinching game for his third different organization to get St. Louis to the World Series for the third time in four years.
ALCS: The magic runs out here for Kansas City. The Royals' speed, defense and bullpen will make this a tightly-fought series, but Baltimore boasts a lot of power, an equally good relief corps, and the huge advantage of Buck Showalter calling the shots from the dugout.
NLCS: Making it an all-bird World Series: The Cardinals. In the matchup of two teams you should never bet against, look for St. Louis' better rotation and deep lineup to hold off a Giants team that won't go quietly.
ALCS: Three extra-inning wins don't just happen by accident. In October, there are so many intangibles that come into play: grit, effort, timing, and sometimes, dumb luck. The Royals have everything going their way at a time when it counts the most. They'll ride the hot hand into the World Series.
NLCS: Even-year magic or not, the Giants are the real deal in 2014. Equipped with a four-man starting rotation that's been brilliant of late, clutch hitting, and a manager who's used to winning in October, San Francisco will nab the NL pennant for the third time in the last five seasons.