TSL High Heat Playoff Poker: MLB Brings Out The Brooms In The ALDS

The Kansas City Kids will face Buck’s B-More Bombers in Game 1 of MLB’s American League Championship series starting Friday.

Ned Yost’s Royals flipped the script on MLB and embraced the “playoffs-as-new-life” philosophy in its three game sweep of the heavily-favored LAA Angels. Entering the ALDS the Angel’s high-powered offense was supposed to be too much for the Royals “small ball" style. KC has one of the youngest teams in the game and have been knocking on the door of the MLB’s upper echelon squads for a few years, but none of their homegrown prospects has truly ascended to superstar status, which has hindered the squad at times. During the regular season KC was last in the majors in homeruns , but have hit four in first its four postseason games—all coming from Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, former KC first-round picks. The babies have finally grown up.

“Were clicking on all cylinders at the right time. Our pitching has always been there and now our hitting is coming around,” said Alex Gordon.

KC has taken its game to a new level. It’s pitching and bullpen has silenced all trash talkers to date. The Angels high-priced triumvirate of Trout and former MVP’s Hamilton (0-13) and Albert Pujols (2-12) were a combined 3-37 (.081) for the series. You need your bread and butter cats to come through in the postseason, so the fact that LA bowed out in such disappointing fashion is easily explained by the ineptitude of their bashers.

If manager Buck Showalter is the most integral part of the Oriole’s AL East division crown and subsequent playoff success, then Nelson Cruz is a close second. Cruz has faced Detroit twice in the postseason during his 10-year career and he’s owned them like a stinky jockstrap.

MLB’s only 40-homer dude was the difference in Game 3 of the ALDS with the Tigers, belting a two-run homer in the sixth inning Sunday to give the Orioles a 2-1 win and complete a three-game sweep. B-More will head to its first ALCS since 1997, with intentions of balling in its first WS since 1983. It was Bruiser Cruz’s second home run of the series and eighth in nine career playoff games against Detroit.

"I don't know," Cruz said when asked about his constant smackdown of the Tigers. "It's just something you can't explain. I think if you prepare the right way good things will happen. If you prepare the right you're more likely to be successful…Nothing against Detroit. It's just, basically it was crazy and I guess I get hits at the right time."

It was also Cruz’s 16th career postseason blast, which ties him with Carlos Beltran for 9th all-time. The Orioles sweep isn’t a huge surprise to anyone. The Tigers did its usual playoff two-step and Nelson Cruz continues to prove why he and not “people’s favorite” Mike Trout is the clear MVP. Trout had zero impact on the Angles series despite his lauded, multi-faceted skill set.

He was a non-factor and when his team needed him to truly be an MVP; he was 1-12 with an abysmal .083 batting average. If that was A-Rod, fans would be calling for his cleats on a skillet, but its Trout – the guy media heads are pushing to replace Jeter as the face of baseball so he'll probably get a playoff pass on this one. Even the great Willie Mays struggled in his first playoffs in 1951, batting .182 in 22 at-bats. 

I’m sure Trout will get his share of postseason chances before his career is over, but he came up small in his rookie effort while Baltimore appears to be a team of destiny. Where they lack in big-name starting pitching and All-Star performers (Lost 1B Chris Davis—a 50-homer guy last season to a 25-game Amphetamine suspension that includes postseason games and 3B Manny Machado to injury), they make up for in leadership, coaching prowess, power and chemistry. Buck Showalter is a baseball mind with few rivals and his moves are diamond-studded right now. This dude broke baseball’s Cardinal law and put the winning run on base in the ninth inning of Game 3 in an attempt to set up a double play. This type of maneuver – if it fails – can draw the ire of fans, media and baseball purists, haunt the franchise and damage a legacy forever.

Buck has been doing this a long time,” Tigers Manager Brad Ausmus said of the decision. “I don’t think he could do anything that would shock me.”

Showalter can smell the finish line. During his 16-year managerial career, he’s had some strong squads, but never had the chess pieces set up in a way that would maximize his strengths, and he always had the brass ring snatched from his grasp after setting the stage for everyone to succeed.

Three times before Showalter’s teams had reached the playoffs, losing their opening series each time. Twice, he had the misfortune of guiding a club to the divisional round of the playoffs only to see a different manager take it to a World Series title the year after he left.

It’s like being nominated for Producer of The Year at the Grammys and a week before the winner is announced your credits are stripped from you, you’re dropped from eligibility and your replacement wins the award.

The Yankees, who lost a division series under Showalter in 1995, won the 1996 championship under Joe Torre. The Arizona Diamondbacks, who lost a division series under Showalter in 1999 and fired him after an 85-77 season in 2000, captured a title in 2001 with Bob Brenly.

Everything has fallen into place for the O’s this season. By the time they did face the reality of dealing with going to war without Machado and Davis, B-More already had a double digit AL East lead.

That gave Showalter time to experiment and tweak his O’s lineup enough to keep the ship moving, and three postseason games later they impressively defeated Detroit's "Three The Hard Way" rotation of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price. Nothing short of a World Series c’hip will satisfy Showalter, who has taken his share of shorts for being super-intense and tough on his players. He's got to feel like it's his destiny. If he looks around at the potential managers that he'll be facing in the World Series, he's got the upper hand in age, experience and baseball acumen. Winning it all would be a culmination of his MLB journey, which similiar to life, was one big pattern of LSD-like highs and opium den lows. 

"Most of it's been self-inflicted,"Showalter said to various baseball writers during a wide-ranging conversation in his office prior to the ALDS. "The same reasons people are good at these jobs are the reasons their shelf life gets shortened. You think about it…you wear on people, you do. There's not many people wound like you are."

KC will be a definite road block to that perfect ending Showalter seeks. For Buck, a win would actually be the beginning of his tenure as an elite manager and "franchise builder." A rejuventor. A lot of managers have won, but very few have been credited with being constructors. Guys who can take torn franchises and make them competetively whole again. 

Unfortunately for the O's, no one gave these young guns the memo that they were supposed to be nothing more than a feel-good story like the Pirates were last season. The first team to four gets the prize behind the World Series door. KC is running as fast as it can to get there. Baltimore will wait for them to stumble and then slowly and efficiently go in for the kill. Either way, it’s a battle of wills and guaranteed thrills. The underrated drama and excitement of baseball on full display.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.