They’re calling for rain in Baltimore, but whenever the weather cooperates and the Royals get around the playing the Orioles, here are some things you can watch for:
*The catcher’s mitt and how much it moves. You can see this much better on TV than you can at a game. If the catcher’s mitt moves an inch or two: no big deal. If it moves from a corner to the middle of the plate, that’s a problem. If the target is low in the zone and the mitt moves up, that also spells trouble for the pitcher.
*James Shields’ changeup. If it’s up in the zone that’s bad; the same goes for the fastball. If a pitcher stays down in the zone he can use the entire plate; if he’s up he most likely needs to be on a corner.
*The Royals base runners. Baltimore pitchers tend to be very quick to the plate with a delivery time under 1.3 seconds. Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore can beat those times, but a lot of the other Royals can’t.
*The pitcher’s front foot. Pitchers speed up their delivery by using "slide steps" or "pinching" their front leg. If the pitcher barely picks his foot up and slides it just above the ground, that’s a slide step; if the pitcher does a very quick, but smaller motion than his regular delivery, he’s pinching it.
And notice how often base hits come when the pitcher is using a quicker delivery. Speeding up a delivery to home plate can make the pitch stay high in the zone.
*Off-speed pitches down-and-in to left-handed hitters. Lefties tend to hit down-and-in well and off-speed pitches in that location will allow them to take a shot at the right-field porch. The foul pole is 318 feet away.
*Balls hit in the air. Hit a fly ball down either line and it has a chance of leaving the park; but hit it in the middle of the field and there’s room to make the catch; centerfield is 410 feet away. The Orioles led the majors in home runs and with their power, they’re never out of a game—they can score quickly.
*The score. If it’s low-scoring, the Royals ability to manufacture a run is an advantage; if it’s high-scoring, the Orioles ability to put up runs with one swing gives them an edge.
*Guys not on the roster. They still matter; a player like Raul Ibanez might see something from the bench and pass it along to a guy headed for the plate. There are people who never step on the field who help win games. Watch the dugout and see which players are talking to a guy who is in the game.
*Which team has a lead by the seventh inning. Both teams have good bullpens; the team with a late lead may never give it up.
*The pitchers’ fielding. When it comes to playing defense, pitchers have been pretty horrible in the post-season. There have been a lot of bunts laid down this year and pitchers have had trouble fielding their position. Pitchers do PFPs during the year—Pitchers Fielding Practice—but probably haven’t worked on it much lately.
*Which team can get the ball to their closer. The Orioles do not want to see Greg Holland; the Royals do not want to see Zach Britton.
Before the team left for Baltimore, I asked Royals bullpen coach Doug Henry what I should watch for. He suggested I take a moment during every game and just enjoy what was happening. Good advice from a guy who’s been around the game a long time.
Enjoy yourself; this doesn’t happen every day.