In short—nearly everything has gone wrong.
In game one of the ALCS, the Orioles wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the 9th inning, only to surrender two home runs in the tenth.
In game two, the middle of the order failed to seize opportunities to put runs on the board. In game three, it was more of the same good fortune that seems to have attached itself to one side of this series.
Kansas City’s bullpen has been lights out. The Orioles, thought to have a comparable arsenal of arms, hasn’t gotten the job done well enough. The Royals’ starters have pitched well enough to win; the Birds’ rotation has done just enough to lose.
The bitterness only gets worse with each game. Close enough to be in-the-game and within reasonable striking distance; far enough away from causing any real threat or imposing any true danger to a team that’s become as flawless as any in the history of October baseball.
Perhaps that’s just it. Maybe it’s just “their time.” Much like the 2012 Ravens, who went on a magical playoff ride behind the arm of Joe Flacco—who had an otherwise average season with pedestrian numbers—these Royals heroes are playing above the level that anyone thought possible.
Mike Moustakas, a struggling third baseman who hit only .212 this season and spent time in AAA earlier this year, has a .280 postseason average with four homers and a slew of plays that have made him look like the lovechild of Brooks Robinson and George Brett.
Eric Hosmer, who batted .270 with only nine home runs during the season, has become an intimidating cog in the middle of a batting order that only featured only three players who recorded double-digit home runs.
Even defensive-minded players like Alicides Escobar and Omar Infante have gotten into the mix of timely hits and solid contact—which has been the issue for Orioles pitching since the first inning of the series. The Royals just don’t miss pitches, they work and work and work the count until they slap the ball to an area where defenders aren’t.
It’s the classic case of old-school baseball—“hit ‘em where they ain’t.” The Royals have perfected it.
On the other side of the series, the Orioles have done the stark opposite. Adam Jones—perhaps the most undisciplined hitter in the history of the modern game—has swung at anything moving in his general direction; a strategy that’s responsible for his .137 career postseason average.
In many ways, the Orioles were going to go as far as Jones was going to take them. The lineup, outside of Jones and Cruz, doesn’t strike much fear into the hearts of the Royals’ pitching staff.
Considering that the only true starter in the infield is shortstop JJ Hardy, it’s no wonder the Birds have run into Royal-blue-brick-wall in this year’s ALCS.
Steve Pearce is a feel-good story, but he’s not truly the type of guy you really want batting fifth in your order when you’re playing for a World Series.
Ryan Flaherty is a decent utility player—primed for being a defensive replacement. When he plays every game at the hot corner, it doesn’t say much for the prospect of cranking out big-time run production.
Of course, Pearce and Flaherty’s daily presence can be attributed to Manny Machado’s untimely injury, but more credit should go to Chris Davis for selfishly breaking the rules and taking a banned substance at the risk of throwing a wrench into his team’s chemistry and personnel maneuvers.
Moreover, Jonathan Schoop and Caleb Joseph are raw rookies who are on a larger stage than they’re ready for, while Nick Hundley is nothing more than a light-hitting backup on any true contending team.
Couple these shortcomings to the ineffective at-bats from Jones and Nelson Cruz—not to mention the lack of Delmon Young usage—it’s not too hard to see why the Orioles are in a 3-0 series hole.
Heading into the fourth—and potentially final—game of the ALCS, the Orioles will need to right the ship quick.
Adam Jones has to display patience. Miguel Gonzalez has to throw blanks for at least six innings. Nick Markakis has to either hit for power or do something on the basepaths. The bullpen has to avoid late inning walks. Buck Showalter has to understand when to send pinch hitters to the plate. And on, and on, and on.
So far, through three games, nearly everything has gone wrong. And with the above list of fixes, it’s hard to imagine anyone or anything can right this sinking ship in the next four-to-six hours.