One thing is for certain. The Los Angeles Angels will play host to the Kansas City Royals in the American League Division Series. Another certain thing? It's going to be very challenging for the Angels to beat the Royals. It's the playoffs!
With that said, here are five tools to beating to the Royals at not only their own game, but ways for the Angels to utilize their own game in the process.
1. LIMIT THE RUNNING GAME WITH AGGRESSIVE PITCHING
The best way to eliminate the running game is by keeping people off the bases entirely. Obviously, hits and walks are going to happen, but by taking away mistakes, the Angels can find ways to excel.
Over the regular season, the Angels did a fantastic job of keeping the Royals off the base paths, allowing just 32.7% of batters to reach base in 240 plate appearances. There was a problem though, and that was pitching a little too far inside. The Angels pitching staff hit seven Royals batters over the regular season, giving them seven extra base runners that may not originally been there.
As everyone saw during the wildcard game, the Royals have speed and aren't afraid to attack with it. Over 2014, the Royals nabbed seven bases on the Angels, only getting caught twice. This isn't something uncommon, as both Hank Conger and Chris Iannetta aren't known for their arms and gunning down runners.
Limiting base runners starts at the plate, with strikeouts and keeping hits and walks to a minimum. With that said, aggressive pitching will be a key to success in this scenario, trying to record as many outs at the plate (strikeouts) as possible.
Pitchers will have to keep the ball low (if not for obvious reasons already), to create more groundballs, but that creates a new problem. The Angels had six errors against the Royals over the regular season and despite the best defensive season in Halos history, that's six base runners that could have been eliminated.
2. GET TO THE STARTING PITCHING AND SCORE EARLY
The Angels had zero problems with this during the regular season, attacking Kansas City's starting pitchers in all six games against them. By the end, Royals had a rough stat line against the Angels offense.
- 5.72 ERA
- 12.54 H/9
- 2.45 HR/9
- 3.00 BB/9
- 5.45 K/9
- .333 BAA
- .383 OBP
- 1.727 WHIP
The strongest asset to scoring against KC's starters was a surprising effect... the long ball. Angels batters cranked a combined nine home runs in 33.0 innings against the Royals rotation (2.45 HR/9). Home runs tend to naturally come, but with a little extra oomph behind their swings, the Angels could create big runs with the long ball.
Opposite side of the pallet though, is the Royals bullpen. Taking away Bruce Chen (5.0 IP, 5 H, 4 ER), the Royals dominated and shut down the Angels offense on more than a few occassions.
- 2.00 ERA
- 6.50 H/9
- 0.50 HR/9
- 1.50 BB/9
- 9.00 K/9
- .203 BAA
- .242 OBP
- 0.888 WHIP
Where the Royals took advantage the most was in the back end of their bullpen with Wade Davis and Greg Holland, who allowed one base runner combined in seven innings of work, while striking out 11. That's right, zero hits in the eighth and ninth with those guys on the mound. Something we forgot to mention? The Royals lost one game, we repeat, one game, when leading after seven innings. Just because it's the playoffs doesn't mean Holland and Davis will be defeatable.
3. Mike Trout, THE MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
It's obvious Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, but there's one team he tends to beat the living snot out of. Any guesses on who that might be? Yep, the Kansas City Royals.
Trout has a lifetime .361/.458/.694 against the Royals, scoring 20 runs in 19 games, with 12 runs batted in, and seven home runs. Impressive, but not as impressive as what he did to the Royals in 2014 alone.
In his six games against KC in 2014, Trout boasted a .409/.519/.864 slash. Yeah, that's pretty darn outstanding. He drilled three home runs, including the MLB season long, 489 foot moonshot into the pool at Kaufman Stadium. The Halos need to utilize their strongest tool, a.k.a., the best player in baseball, Mr. Michael Nelson Trout.
4. USE YOUR BULLPEN AS A STRENGTH
For as good as the Royals bullpen was against the Angels, the Halos bullpen may have been even better. Of course there tends to be one guy who struggles and makes the numbers increase drastically. For the Halos, it was surprising that Mike Morin had a tough time against his childhood team. So, like when noting the Royals above, we'll drop his stats and show you what the rest of the Halos bullpen did.
- 0.40 ERA
- 5.23 H/9
- 1.20 BB/9
- 7.65 K/9
- .164 BAA
- .209 OBP
- 0.716 WHIP
Holy guacamole! Those are good numbers. How about an even bolder note? The one run that put the ERA above goose eggs came from Sean Burnett, who won't be on the playoff roster. Hmm, that sounds pretty nice for the Angels 'pen. Once again, the dominance came from the back end.
Although Huston Street didn't see the Royals in 2014, Kevin Jepsen and Joe Smith did, and shut them down pretty darn well. A combined four base runners in seven and one/third innings pitched, two simple singles, a walk, and a guy getting tagged in the numbers. So what's the point in all of this?
There's so many questions about the Angels rotation right now. Will C.J. Wilson be in good form? Will Hector Santiago be able to go beyond five innings? Will Matt Shoemaker be healthy enough to throw 100 pitches? Well, hey... the bullpen is excellent against the Royals, so why not utilitize that? In a worst case scenario, and the bullpen has to be used heavily, it won't be a concern like it has been most years for the Halos.
5. PROPER LINEUP STRUCTURE
Remember that Mike Trout guy we talked about not too long ago? Yeah, well he needs to score runs. Problem is? Albert Pujols and Howie Kendrick, who bat right behind Trout, combined to go 10-for-47 (.212), with just three runs batted in against the Royals in 2014. Uh oh! How do you adjust to that?
How about moving some guys around, let's say, Erick Aybar, C.J. Cron and David Freese? Aybar finished 2014 with five runs batted in and six runs scored against the Royals, with a .375/.423/.667 slash as well. Cron finished going 6-for-19 with a pair of bombs and four runs batted in. David Freese (cue Game Six of 2011 World Series comments), also had positive numbers against KC, with five runs batted in and a .308 average.
Obviously, you won't sit Albert Pujols and Howie Kendrick, your best options at the plate and on the field. But, maybe Pujols' game strategy changes a little, and Kendrick is bumped down a spot or two in the lineup. We doubt they'll take it personal, because, you know, that whole winning a championship thing.