And then there were four.

The thrilling MLB playoffs continue Friday, with the underdog Royals heading to Baltimore to kick off the ALCS and decide who will represent the American League in the World Series. The Giants and Cardinals, who have been in the NLCS in four consecutive seasons, will begin their set in St. Louis on Saturday night.

Here is a breakdown of each matchup, as well as a prediction of which two teams will be lucky enough to find themselves in the World Series on Oct. 21.


Royals vs. Orioles

Regular season series: Royals won 4-3

Royals top hitters: Alex Gordon (.266, 19 HR, 74 RBIs), Salvador Perez (.260, 17 HR, 70 RBIs), Billy Butler (.271, 9 HR, 66 RBIs)

Orioles top hitters: Nelson Cruz (.271, 40 HR, 108 RBIs), Adam Jones (.289, 29 HR, 86 RBIs), Nick Markakis (.276, 14 HR, 50 RBIs)

Royals top pitchers: James Shields (14-8, 3.21 ERA, 180 K), Yordano Ventura (14-10, 3.20 ERA, 159 K), Greg Holland (46 SV, 1.44 ERA, 0.91 WHIP)

Orioles top pitchers: Wei-Yin Chen (16-6, 3.54 ERA, 35 BB), Chris Tillman (13-6, 3.34 ERA, 150 K), Zach Britton (37 SV, 1.65 ERA, 0.90 WHIP)

Analysis: The Orioles have a better lineup, the Royals have superior starting pitching and incredible fight, and both teams have strong bullpens. This series should be a lot of fun, as the Royals and Orioles haven't been to an LCS since 1985 and 1997, respectively. The balance of power has finally shifted in baseball, giving these two storied franchises a moment in the spotlight again.

It's highly unlikely that a game will be lost by the bullpen of either team in this series -- unlike the Tigers' trainwreck of a pen, which coughed up one game to the O's and held a cringe-worthy 19.29 ERA against Baltimore.

Whoever wins Friday night will win the series. If "Big Game James" Shields and the Royals can head into Camden Yards and win Game 1, they will reach their first World Series since 1985. Considering the fact that I would take Shields over Tillman, I'm rolling with the Royals in six


Giants vs. Cardinals

Regular season series: Giants won 4-3

Giants top hitters: Buster Posey (.311, 22 HR, 89 RBIs), Hunter Pence (.277, 20 HR, 74 RBIs), Pablo Sandoval (.279, 16 HR, 73 RBIs)

Cardinals top hitters: Matt Holliday (.272, 20 HR, 90 RBIs), Jhonny Peralta (.263, 21 HR, 75 RBIs), Matt Adams (.288, 15 HR, 68 RBIs)

Giants top pitchers: Madison Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98 ERA, 219 K), Jake Peavy (w/SF:6-4, 2.17 ERA, 1.04 WHIP), Tim Hudson (9-13, 3.57 ERA, 34 BB)

Cardinals top pitchers: Adam Wainwright (20-9, 2.38 ERA, 1.03 WHIP), Lance Lynn (15-10, 2.74 ERA, 181 K), Shelby Miller (10-9, 3.74 ERA, 1.27 WHIP)

Analysis: These two organizations are mirrors of one another, and whether you root for them or not, you have to respect them. They each have excellent catchers, one ace pitcher, great farm systems and have made key, timely trades.

The X-factor in this series is the health and effectiveness of Wainwright. He gave up six runs and 11 hits in just 4 1/3 innings in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers and there has been talk that he has pitched hurt recently. If he's 100%, it'll be difficult for the Giants to overcome him, even if the Giants roll out their ace Bumgarner to face him. The Cardinals have home-field advantage and a better bullpen, which makes them the favorites to move on to the World Series for the third time in five seasons, and fifth overall since 2004.