The opening game of the ALDS between the Los Angeles Angels and the Kansas City Royals is something of an end to a playoff drought, one short, the other one extremely long, for both teams, but also a head to head between teams that represent a very different approach to building a contender in Baseball today.
The Angels need no introduction. They finished with the best record in baseball (98 wins) after two very frustrating years of spending plenty of money and not getting too much out of it. They haven’t been to the postseason since 2009, but they’re packing players with not just talent, but championship experience, like former Cardinals teammates Albert Pujols, who finally got his groove back in 2014, and David Freese, who was the World Series and NLCS MVP when the Cardinals won the title in 2011.
The big weapon for the Angels is obviously Mike Trout, the probable MVP of the American League, leading the majors in RBIs, runs and extra base hits this season. He’s only 23, but he’s been an All-Star these past three years, hitting 111 home runs through the first 493 games of his career. There’s also Josh Hamilton, who went to the World Series with the Rangers (lost to the Cardinals in 2011), who hasn’t really proven to be a wise investment since signing for the Angels, and yet he does look better this season.
The Royals did win in the Wild Card game against the A’s thanks to a lot of hitting (winning 9-8), but that’s not going to be how they overcome the Angels, if they manage to do it at all. When managers and analysts talk about the little things teams do in order to win games, the Royals fall into that category, because the numbers don’t exactly support great success for them. And yet they’re here in the postseason for the first time since 1985, when it ended with a World Series win.
Jason Vargas, a former Angels player, will be starting for the Royals. He is 11-10 this season with a 3.71 ERA. Not exactly awe-inspiring numbers. But it’s not like he’s facing a lost cause. The Angles have weaknesses in their lineup, like having a problem with lefties, like Vargas. They are hitting only .144 on at-bats ending with a lefty offspeed pitch, chasing them on 49.3% of the time, which is the third highest number in the American League.
Jarred Weaver, 18-9 with a 3.59 ERA, has a lot more run support to count on, and also a different delivery style than Vargas, a very good friend of his since college. Although he loves opening things with fastballs, he might tend more to the curveball because how badly the Royals handle it: They’re just .185 on at-bats ending with a curveball, including embarrassing numbers for Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer, both in the bottom 10 in the majors in such at-bats.
David vs Goliath? Not quite, although the budgets might suggest that. The Royals aren’t going to win this series if it turns into a slug-fest, because they don’t have the bats and power to keep up with the Angels. More pitching duels and games that go down to little things, not making mistakes or making the most of them is the scenario that the underdogs would like to see developing.