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ALCS 2014: Q&A with Royals Review's Max Rieper

Great defense, great bullpen, crazed fans. It's like looking in a mirror.

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles and Royals start an exciting ALCS tomorrow in Baltimore. Royals Review's Max Rieper answered a few questions to help us learn about our new enemy. Max was not only knowledgeable and thorough in his answers, he was also friendly. Damn you, Royals fans! How will we ever get any ammunition for #KCHateWeek? I answered some questions for Max that can be found here.

1) How are you holding up? And the Royals Review community? Are you sleeping OK? Can you believe that one of our teams is going to be in the World Series? I mean, WHAT.

No one in Kansas City has gotten much sleep lately, and we love it. Its been an amazing, wild, nerve-wracking, euphoric run 29 years in the making. What's really great is the support we've gotten from fans from other teams congratulating us. Even many Orioles fans wished us well against the Angels, and there seems to be a lot of mutual love between the two fanbases, I suppose because we've both experienced some lean years over the last decade. I imagine that mutual love will end Friday, but I think it is terrific for baseball that we will get some fresh faces in the World Series, whether it be the Royals or Orioles.

2) What starting pitchers will the Royals use in this series, and what can you tell me about them? I'd rather not see Danny Duffy. Can you make it so that we don't have to see Danny Duffy?

You'll have to see Duffy, but most likely it will come out of the bullpen. Duffy left a start against the Yankees in September after just one pitch, and missed his next two starts. He had two outings to finish the year, but was left out of the rotation for the ALDS. My guess is the team either doesn't see him as 100%, or they see him as more effective out of the bullpen, where he pitched well back in April, holding hitters to a line of .167/.286/.200.

The Royals will start James Shields in Game 1, and it sounds like Yordano Ventura and his 100 mph fastball will start Game 2. That leaves Jason Vargas and former Oriole Jeremy Guthrie to pitch Games 3 and 4 at Kauffman Stadium, which works out better with their flyball tendencies. The fanbase would certainly rather see Duffy start than Vargas or Guthrie, but Ned Yost has been making all sorts of mystifying decisions lately that have worked out.

3) I've heard all about how Ned Yost makes bad decisions, and I saw some of it first hand in the wild card game (the most stressful game I've watched in awhile). What are your opinions on him as a manager and do you think his decisions are enough to make or break the Royals in this round?

Ned Yost has certainly been a lightning rod among Royals fans this year. I think he is probably a better manager than most people give him credit for. The bullpen has been fantastic nearly every year since he took over, and the team was dead last in bullpen ERA the year he took over, so I don't think that's all an accident. The players seem to like and respect him, which is probably a manager's most important job. Ned gets a lot of flak for playing small-ball, but the Royals were just middle-of-the-pack in sacrifice bunt attempts this year, and the sacrifices late in the Wild Card game made sense when you only need one run to tie or win. The team steals a lot, but have done so at a very high success rate (81%), so that has been an added benefit.

Ned gets a lot of criticism because he has a gruff, condescending attitude towards the press, and because his moves are amplified when the team plays so many close, low-scoring games. He makes bad decisions like nearly every manager in baseball, he just doesn't have the offense to bail him out like other managers typically do. He's had some stupefying decisions in the post-season, but so far they've largely worked out. He should probably head to a casino to play blackjack and starting hitting on 16.

4) At first glance the Royals offense is underwhelming. Other than Alex Gordon, who should the Orioles be scared of at the plate? And is Mike Moustakas's playoff surge something you expect to continue?

Alex Gordon has actually been mired in an awful slump the last month, hitting just .190/.333/.286 in September, which is why he's been demoted to sixth in the lineup. Salvador Perez is exhausted, and it has showed as he has been awful offensively in the second-half, swinging feebly at anything near the plate. Eric Hosmer would probably be the closest thing the Royals have to a hitter Orioles fans should be scared of, as he's been swinging for more power lately. However Hosmer has been inconsistent and his strike zone judgment can be frustrating at times, so a good approach by Baltimore pitchers could neutralize him.

Any offense from Mike Moustakas is really just icing on the cake, as he is in there for defense at this point. He still has good pop as he demonstrated against the Angels, and he did impress by hitting the ball the other way and beating the extreme shift a few times. Still, he had a .271 OBA this year, and has a .290 OBA in nearly 2,000 career plate appearances. He's not really a guy you can count on offensively.

While the Royals don't have many hitters Orioles fans should be scared of, its when they're on the bases that they seem to instill fear into opponents. The Royals led the league in steals, with five guys in double-digits with steals, which doesn't including the fastest guy on the team - pinch-running specialist Terrance Gore. They set a post-season record with seven steals against the Athletics, and were clearly in the heads of Angels pitchers every time they got on base.

5) Is there any reason to think that the Orioles will be able to score any runs off of the Royals bullpen? Does it have any weak spots at all?

It's been the post-season of bullpen implosions, and the success of the Royals bullpen this playoffs was a big reason they were able to outlast the Athletics and Angels. The combination of Kelvin Herrera-Wade Davis-Greg Holland is about as automatic as it gets in baseball, and the team got a boost when 2014 first-round pick Brandon Finnegan was promoted and showed he could retire Major League hitters out as well.

If there is a weakness, it may be health. Herrera had a scare when he left Game 2 of the ALDS with a forearm strain, but he was able to return for Game 3 without any problems. Greg Holland missed about a week in September with a "twinge" in his shoulder, but returned just as effective as ever. I mentioned Duffy's injury concerns before. There is concern Brandon Finnegan has had a big workload this year - remember he began his season in February pitching for Texas Christian University. When you have pitchers that can throw as hard as the Royals relievers, injuries are always a concern. But everyone seems healthy so far, so we'll keep our fingers crossed.

6) If the Royals win this series, predict which Royals player will take home the ALCS MVP and why. If they lose, predict who will be the goat.

If the Royals win, it will be because they are continuing to get the power they missed all year. Eric Hosmer has been taking a "feast or famine" approach to the plate lately, and if he continues to run into fastballs and clobber them over the fence, I can see him taking ALCS MVP. Another interesting candidate may be Lorenzo Cain who has been sensational in centerfield and is more valuable on defense than many players are on offense. He hit .301 this year with a career high 28 steals, so a good performance by him could set the tone for what the Royals like to do - steal bases and play defense.

If the Royals falter it will likely be because the starting pitching didn't keep the Orioles in check. The Royals need a strong performance by James Shields to set the tone. Yordano Ventura was rocked by the Athletics in his brief relief appearance in the Wild Card Game, but seemed unfazed when he returned to start against the Angels. Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie are pitchers Royals fans hold their breath over as each is capable of delivering an awful performance. The Royals just need the starters to keep the game close to let the magic happen in the late innings again, but if they can't make their pitches, the Orioles certainly have hitters to make them pay.