Royals-Angels Division Series Preview

The Los Angeles Angels are a hefty (-185) betting favorite to beat the Kansas City Royals in the American League Division Series that starts later tonight (9 PM ET, TBS). The Angels bring the best record in baseball, at 98-64 and some World Series cache in the persons of first baseman Albert Pujols and manager Mike Scioscia. The Royals bring the momentum of their comeback in the AL wild-card game. Let’s take a look at the key issues that decide the Royals-Angels Division Series matchup.

Los Angeles has won all year with their offense, leading the American League in runs scored, and it starts with Mike Trout, the presumptive American League MVP. Trout finished with a .377 on-base percentage/.561 slugging percentage and he leads up a lineup that has steady power throughout.
Pujols, rightfielder Kole Calhoun and designated hitter C.J. Cron all have slugging percentages in excess of .450. Hamilton is at .414, but more than capable of an explosive display—he was MVP of the 2010 ALCS when he was with the Rangers and hit the home run that would have won the 2011 World Series until the remarkable St. Louis Cardinals’ comeback stole his thunder.
Kansas City can’t match that power production. They have no one with a slugging percentage over .450, and Alex Gordon is the only who even sniffs that level, at .432. There’s a reason the Royals stole seven bases in their wild-card win—they have to manufacture a run at a time.
BaseballThe Royal rotation is better top-to-bottom, but the landscape works for the Angels in a short series. Jered Weaver is an 18-game winner with a 3.59 ERA and ready to start tonight. Matt Shoemaker won 16 games with a 3.04 ERA and will go for Game 2. Then further consider that Kansas City can’t use ace James Shields until Game 3, because he started the wild-card game, and it accentuates the Angel edge for this series.
Los Angeles does not have depth, a problem underscored by the fact that Weaver is already scheduled to pitch on short rest in Game 4 (though we’ll see if that changes if the Angels have a 2-1 series lead). If this series were best-of-seven, or if Shields could go Game 1, starting pitching might be a KC edge. But not in a short series and not when the Angels’ third starter, C.J. Wilson, has pitched well in previous postseason appearances with the Rangers.
So far the outlook looks bleak for Kansas City. It’s about a wash when it comes to getting runners on base, Los Angeles has a better chance for a big inning, and their pitching lines up better. But if the Royals can play even up for six innings, then it’s a whole different ballgame.
The Kansas City bullpen of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland is of the lockdown variety. It’s a pen at least as good as the one that carried the San Francisco Giants to World Series champagne in 2010 and 2012. You can further add Jason Frasor and Aaron Crow to that corps, along with one of the starting pitchers moving back here for the playoffs. Royal skipper Ned Yost needs to empty the pen game in and game out and try to win on the back end.
It’s not that the LA bullpen is bad—Huston Street has been great, with 41 saves and a buck-37 ERA, and Joe Smith has been terrific in the eighth inning. But it’s not nearly as deep a group and I feel a little skittish about Street in the postseason—maybe the image of Magglio Ordonez taking him deep for the home run that won the 2006 ALCS when Street was in Oakland and was pitching against Detroit, is too ingrained in my mind. I don’t know. But I do know that objective evaluation says the Royals have more quantity in any case.

That’s the Kansas City hope. Scrap and steal their way into the game and win with the bullpen. It’s a doable formula. Ironically, it’s how the Angels tried to win throughout much of the ‘00s. They won a World Series in 2002, but after that kept getting knocked out by the Boston Red Sox—or in 2009 the New York Yankees—because those teams had more muscle.
Now the Angels are the heavyweight with the power, while the opponent is the scrappy underdog. The latter is a nice story, but the former is the team to go with. Los Angeles advances.