BALTIMORE — Speed versus Power.
The surprising Royals and unflappable Orioles are extremely similar with one significant exception: the fashion in which they score runs. The team that best utilizes its standard method of offense likely will win the AL Championship Series, which begins tonight.
Get ready for small ball versus long ball.
Back in April, few could have predicted these two teams would be the last standing in the AL. But the fashion in which they got here — with stunningly easy sweeps in the Division Series — makes the matchup intriguing.
Even more interesting is their contrasting styles.
Kansas City loves to take an extra base, whether it's turning a single into a double or stealing its way into scoring position. It led the majors with 153 stolen bases during the regular season then, with blazing-fast rookie Terrance Gore, added seven in a wild-card win over Oakland and five more in a three-game wipeout of the top-seeded Angels.
"Speed. That's what we do," DH Billy Butler said. "Obviously you have to be smart about it, but we're a very aggressive team. When our speed guys get on, they like to go. That's what got us to this point — that, and pitching and defense."
Baltimore, like the Royals, features a solid starting rotation, an effective bullpen and strong defense. But the O's prefer a more leisurely trip around the bases.
Although Baltimore finished last in the majors with 44 stolen bases, it led the majors with 211 home runs. Nelson Cruz had 40 of them, only 55 fewer than the Royals hit while finishing last in the big leagues as the only team that didn't hit 100.
And so, the lines are drawn. Whichever pitching staff can stifle the opposition's preferred method of offense will likely be working in the World Series.
"The best way to keep them from stealing is to keep them off the bases. That's our first goal," Baltimore reliever Tommy Hunter said. "I'm not too worried about it. You know they're fast, you know they run. Hopefully they run into outs."
The Royals are counting on their Game 1 starter and former Ray James Shields to maintain his success against the Orioles. He is 11-7 lifetime, including 2-0 this season. "It's one of those things, I guess," he said. "I feel like I can pitch good against any team on any given day."
Big deal: SS J.J. Hardy signed a $40 million, three-year contract with the Orioles on Thursday night. The contract, which comes with an option for 2018, goes into effect after his current deal expires at the end of this season.
NLCS: Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said rumors that RHP Adam Wainwright is hurt are overblown. Matheny is sticking with the same rotation that clicked in the first round, and Wainwright, the 20-game winner, is set to pitch Game 1 series against the Giants on Saturday.