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2014 MLB Division Series Previews: Which Stars Will Move On to the LCS?

LDS Preview
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Major League Baseball’s 2014 season is down to just eight teams, all of whom will begin Division Series play on Thursday or Friday. Here’s a preview of the four, best-of-five series:

American League Division Series

Los Angeles Angels (98-64) vs. Kansas City Royals (89-73)

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Kansas City Royals
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How They Got Here: The Los Angeles Angels used a strong second-half surge — and the collapse of the Oakland A’s — to win the American League West in convincing fashion. The Kansas City Royals qualified for the post-season for the first time since winning the 1985 World Series. They finished just behind Detroit in the A.L. Central and beat Oakland, 9-8 in 12 innings, in Tuesday night’s thrilling AL wild card game.

Season Series: The teams split six games.

Why the Angels May Win: The Angels have a lineup of heavy hitters, led by Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, and a rotation anchored by veteran pitchers Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. If they are focused, Los Angeles could easily sweep this series. They’ll need their fortified bullpen, led by Huston Street, to close out games against savvy KC hitters who don’t try to do too much with one swing.

Why the Royals May Win: Pesky hitting, pesky base runners and a lockdown bullpen are hard to beat. The Royals aren’t sluggers, but their lineup is filled with batsmen who have been delivering clutch hits all season. They also run very well, meaning any walk, hit-by-pitch or single could quickly result in a runner on third base. If they inherit a lead, relievers Wade Davis and Greg Holland often have unhittable stuff.

Game 1: Thursday, Oct. 2, 9:07 p.m. ET, at Anaheim
Game 2: Friday, Oct. 3, 9:37 p.m. ET, at Anaheim
Game 3: Sunday, Oct. 5 7:37 p.m. ET, at Kansas City.
Game 4: Monday, Oct. 6 (if necessary) TBD at Kansas City
Game 5: Wednesday, Oct. 8 (if necessary) TBD at Anaheim

Baltimore Orioles (96-66) vs. Detroit Tigers (90-72)

Detroit Tigers v Baltimore Orioles
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How They Got Here: Baltimore surged after June 1 and never looked back while taking its first A.L. East crown since 1997. Detroit led the A.L. Central for much of the season, but the Tigers’ late-season swoon saw them needing to claw out wins in the final week to fend off Kansas City for the division title.

Season Series: Detroit dominated, winning five games to Baltimore’s one.

Why the Orioles May Win: Pitching, defense and the three-run homer. No, these aren’t Earl Weaver’s Orioles of the 1970s, but Buck Showalter’s Birds have adequate starters and led the majors in home runs. The O’s have kept games close, mashed opponents’ bullpens and held leads with a shut-down bullpen. Third-base defense has been a concern since Manny Machado went out with another knee injury, but the rest of the team’s fielding is superb.

Why the Tigers May Win: The Tigers have the best top of the rotation in the major leagues. If Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price are in peak form, the Tigers can beat anyone in any series. Oh, and former Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera might be the best hitter of this era. The only serious question mark is a leaky bullpen anchored by the ever-nervous Joe Nathan.

Game 1: Thursday, Oct. 2, 5:37 p.m. ET, at Baltimore
Game 2: Friday, Oct. 3, 12:07 p.m. ET, at Baltimore
Game 3: Sunday, Oct. 5, 3:37 p.m. ET, at Detroit
Game 4: Monday, Oct. 6 (if necessary), TBD, at Detroit
Game 5: Wednesday, Oct. 8 (if necessary), TBD at Baltimore


National League Division Series

Washington Nationals (96-66) vs. San Francisco Giants (88-74)

Washington Nationals v San Francisco Giants
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How They Got Here: Washington rolled through a weak National League East in 2014. Manager Matt Williams’ talented team won its division by a whopping 17 games thanks to a power-laden lineup and shutdown pitching. San Francisco finished just behind the Dodgers in the N.L. West. The Giants dominated Pittsburgh in Wednesday night’s N.L. wild-card game, 8-0, courtesy of a Madison Bumgarner shutout.

Season Series: The Nationals won five of the teams’ seven games against each another.

Why the Nationals May Win: The Nationals have arguably the most talent in the major leagues. Center fielder Denard Span, third baseman Anthony Rendon, right fielder Jayson Werth, left fielder Bryce Harper and first baseman Adam LaRoche can all mash pitching. Most of this team remembers its awful NLDS collapse in 2012. They won’t let it happen again.

Why the Giants May Win: Veteran pitchers like Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy and Madison Bumgarner can quickly quiet any lineup in the playoffs — just ask the Pirates. If the Giants can stay close, hitters like Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence can find a way to push runs across. Relievers Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and Yusmeiro Petit are flat-out filthy in the late innings.

Game 1: Friday, Oct. 3, 3:07 p.m. ET at Washington
Game 2: Saturday, Oct. 4, at 5:37 p.m. ET at Washington
Game 3: Monday, Oct. 6, at San Francisco (TBD)
Game 4: Tuesday, Oct. 7, (if necessary), TBD at San Francisco
Game 5: Thursday, Oct. 9, (if necessary), TBD at Washington

Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (90-72)

Los Angeles Dodgers v St. Louis Cardinals
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How They Got Here: Los Angeles was 10 games out in the N.L. West on June 8, yet the Dodgers impressively won the division by six games. St. Louis got hot as Milwaukee faded in the second half. The Cardinals held off a late challenge from Pittsburgh to make the post-season for the fourth straight season.

Season Series: The Dodgers won four of the seven games between the teams.

Why the Dodgers May Win:It’s hard to imagine a team with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke losing any games that they start. Coupled with a star-studded lineup featuring Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez, few teams can match L.A.’s depth.

Why the Cardinals May Win: The Cardinals beat the Dodgers in last year’s NLCS, didn’t they? Yes, they did. It may not be that simple, but St. Louis seems to always find a way to shine in the postseason. If they can get lights-out pitching from someone other than Adam Wainwright, the pesky professional Cards hitters could chip away at the Dodger bullpen and break some blue hearts. Again.

Game 1: Friday, Oct. 3, 6.37 p.m. ET at L.A.
Game 2: Saturday, Oct. 4, 9:37 p.m. ET at L.A.
Game 3: Monday, Oct. 6, TBD at St Louis
Game 4: Tuesday, Oct. 7, (if necessary), TBD at St. Louis
Game 5: Thursday, Oct. 9, (if necessary), TBD at L.A.

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