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For the Kansas City Royals the obvious question is how they should follow up their exhilarating victory over the Oakland Athletics.
Now that the Royals have won their first postseason game since Game 7 of the 1985 World Series, they now get to take on the best team in baseball when they visit the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for the Division Series.
The Royals captivated a city and even the police department when they tweeted out:
“That’s what this team is,” Eric Hosmer said to reporters after scoring the winning run on Salvador Perez’s single. “The team believes in the guy next to him, and we’re going to fight until someone sends us home.”
If the Kansas City Police Department is going to tweet about more clinching games, getting Mike Trout out or limiting his impact is a good way to start.
Trout is unnaturally being touted as the next face of baseball in the wake of Derek Jeter’s retirement and while it’s a nice distinction to have, it would be better to see it naturally happen with a dominating postseason.
The Royals will do their best to not let that happen unless their grand scheme is to let him hit two home runs, drive in five runs, and win each game 9-8 or 8-7.
Obviously that’s not what they want but they certainly wouldn’t mind reprising their impersonation of the 1959 Go-Go White Sox or 1985 St. Louis Cardinals. Kansas City advanced to this series with seven stolen bases and four in the eighth inning.
If things are to go their way against the best team in the game, the Royals will need stolen bases and infield hits, two categories in which they lead the league.
Their first order of business is facing Jered Weaver. Weaver was an 18-game winner and is pitching in the postseason for the first time since making one start and three relief appearances against the Yankees in the 2009 ALCS.
Weaver rebounded nicely from the elbow injury that limited him to 24 starts. His strikeout rate peaked at 9.35 per nine innings in 2010 and this year’s 7.13 rate was similar to 2009. Weaver is one of three remaining Angels from their last postseason team. The others are Kevin Jespen and Howie Kendrick.
Of course with the way the Angels have spent money recently, the plan was not to go five seasons without playing a postseason game. Since losing Game Six of the 2009 ALCS in New York, the Angels have won 80, 86, 89, and 78 games.
That’s even with Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in the middle of the order. That has not exactly been the “Murderer’s Row” but it’s still dangerous as the Angels led the league with 773 runs, were second in hits and fourth in home runs countering a group that stole the fifth-fewest bases in the league, which is a contrast to the teams that drove the Yankees crazy on the bases in previous years.
Trout finished with a .287 average, a .939 OPS, 36 home runs, and 111 RBI. Pujols rebounded from an injury-plagued 2013 and finished at .272 with 28 home runs and 105 RBI. Hamilton appeared in one game in September and batted .263 with 10 home runs and 44 RBI in 89 games.
Pujols is no stranger to the playoffs with 74 games and two championships with the Cardinals. During that time he batted under .200 in just one series while racking up 18 home runs and 52 RBI. Hamilton’s postseason appearance was his final game for the Texas Rangers. That was the AL wild card game against the Orioles when he dropped a fly ball and was 0-for-4.
From a pitching standpoint, the Royals could be at a disadvantage since they won’t be able to use James Shields in Games One or Two. Instead they will go with former Angel Jason Vargas, who is one Weaver’s best friends in the game.
“He’s one of my best friends,” Weaver said to reporters in Anaheim Wednesday. “We formed a really cool and special bond at Long Beach. It didn’t take us long to become friends. He’s a mellow guy off the field. I feel like I’m a mellow guy off the field. But once we get on the field, we’re competitors, and we want to win. I think that’s shown throughout our careers; that when we do get on the mound, it’s all about winning.
“He’s one of those special guys that comes into your life, and I don’t really talk to too many people that you come in contact with away from playing baseball. You kind of lose relationships and things of that nature, but that’s one relationship that I’ve held on to through the years. It’s nice to be able to call him and talk to him.”
Friendship aside, getting the ball for Game One is a chance at redemption for Vargas. Over his final four starts, Vargas had a 9.00 ERA and did not get an out in the fifth inning in his last two starts.
Vargas posted a 9.00 ERA in his final four starts, and could not collect an out in the fifth inning in either of his last two starts. Overall he was 11-10 with a 3.71 ERA in his first season with the Royals after spending last year with the Angels.
The Angels are the veteran team whose window could be closing with aging talent around Trout. The Royals are the upstarts looking to run their way all the way to the World Series.
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