There are more similarities between the Orioles and their American League Championship Series opponent, the Kansas City Royals, than not — they both have solid pitching, stellar bullpens and play exemplary defense — but the way they score runs is completely different.
The Orioles led the major leagues with 211 home runs in the regular season, 25 more than the next-highest club, while the Royals were last with just 95. But when it comes to stolen bases, the teams rank the exact opposite, with the Royals leading the majors with 153 and the Orioles ranking last with 44.
Over the course of the season, Orioles players have often said they never feel out of any game because they know they can change it with one swing of the bat. And one only needs to look at the AL wild-card game — in which Kansas City stole seven bases and erased a four-run, sixth-inning lead on their way to beating the Oakland Athletics — to see how they've made speed an X-factor.
But as the teams meet with a trip to the World Series on the line, neither plans to change its identity.
Players from both teams said their strengths have more to do with finding what works at their respective ballparks. There's no secret that Camden Yards is one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball, while the Royals have found their strength in manufacturing runs in spacious Kauffman Stadium.
"If the wind's blowing dead in, we'd rather have some speed," Orioles first baseman Steve Pearce said. "Power can be nullified a little bit. I'm sure if the infield's all muddy, I'm sure they wish they had power. The way this park plays and has been playing all year, power is fun, but speed can kill you, too. It's tough because those are just big assets to a game. They can turn a single into a triple. It's tough."
Even though the Royals didn't hit a lot of home runs this year, they believe they can take advantage of Camden Yards.
"You can say that if you want, I mean that's what the stats say," Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas said about his club's lack of home runs. "But if you put us in a different ballpark other than Kauffman, it might be a little different. It's a great power-hitting team here in the Orioles, but we've got to do everything we can to keep them in check and keep them from hitting those longballs. Our pitching is great. Our defense is great. If we're able to go out and do what we can do, we'll be in good shape."
The Royals' top two home run hitters — Alex Gordon (19) and Salvador Perez (17) — hit fewer homers combined than major league leader Nelson Cruz's 40. The Orioles have three active players with at least 20 — Cruz, Adam Jones (29) and Pearce (21). First baseman Chris Davis, who won't be on the ALCS roster while finishing out a 25-game suspension, also hit 26.
The Orioles hit 107 homers this season at Camden Yards, not counting three in two postseason games, so they're hoping to take advantage of not only playing in front of the home crowd, but also the ballpark's hitter-friendly nature.
"I think it's big," Cruz said. "They bring in those guys in the late innings trying to steal bases, but if we go up early, it's not going to do any difference. They [have] guys [who] can steal bases flat out. We need to make sure we have the lead early. That will be good for us. It's not a secret. They're an aggressive team. It's not going to be any surprise. We're prepared for us."
The Royals have hit four home runs in four postseason games, so they have shown they can hit for power in the playoffs.
"Is our power in a slump like that?" Kansas City outfielder Jarrod Dyson said. "I think we've done hit a bomb in every single game this postseason. We run into some mistakes that pitchers are making. Our speed's going to come to play every day. I'm not sure we're going to the longball, but I'm pretty sure we're going to hit one out of [Camden Yards]." We've just got to keep our same approach going. The same approach as we have at our yard, we've got to bring it here.
"We've got to not try to do too much because we're in a bandbox. We've just got to go out there and play our game. We know it's going to be a good series. It's going to be a dogfight every game. They're going to throw their best out there, and we're going to bring our best. We'll see what happens. I look forward to us coming out on top though."
The Royals have three players with 28 or more steals — Dyson (36), Alcides Escobar (31) and Lorenzo Cain (28) – and five with double-digit steals. No team that has led the major leagues in stolen bases has advanced to the World Series since 2008, when the Tampa Bay Rays had 142 and won the AL pennant.
But the Royals — a team that is 12 for 13 in stolen-base attempts this postseason and has 10 more than any other playoff team — have used their speed to build momentum in October.
"It's done a lot for a lot for our confidence," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "That's our M.O. as a team. We're athletic. We want to us our legs as much as possible, so we're gonna keep running. The good thing is that teams know we're going to do it, but those guys are fearless. We've been doing a good job to get this far, and we're going to keep using our strengths as a ballclub."
The Orioles have long focused on curtailing opposing running games under manager Buck Showalter, concentrating on lowering pitchers' times to the plate.
"It's a part of Buck's philosophy every spring training, especially the guys in the bullpen," Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz said. "If we can be a 1.2 [seconds], 1.3 or lower, it pretty much eliminates the running game where we don't even need to worry about the runners because we're so quick to home plate and we can concentrate on getting hitters out. Buck really emphasizes it every year."
And even without catcher Matt Wieters, who played in just 26 games before season-ending elbow surgery, his replacements — rookie Caleb Joseph and trade acquisition Nick Hundley — have been students in learning techniques from Wieters to throw out runners.
Even though he has struggled at the plate, Joseph caught 40.4 percent of base runners in the regular season, the best in the AL. Hundley threw out just five of 27, but he has caught two of his last six. As a team in the regular season, the Orioles caught 27.5 percent, which is near the league average.
"I don't think we have to put an emphasis like, 'If we don't stop this, we lose the series,' because I think there are so many other things that are going to play factors in this," Joseph said. "But we do throw runners out and our pitchers do a great job of allowing us to do that.
"Whether it's a stolen base or a caught stealing, it's a big momentum shift either way. The playoffs are all built around momentum shifts, so you're in bad shape if one stolen base ends your season."