Let’s face it. If truth be told, the Kansas City Royals actually have been involved playoff baseball for most of September.
The Royals chased the Detroit Tigers by the tail for the last month, only to come up one game short in the American League Central. At the same time, they battled Oakland, Seattle and Cleveland for the two wild-card spots. Every game mattered. There were no nights off.
The pressure cooker boiled over Tuesday night when the Royals time and again overcame the odds and defeated the A’s 9-8 in 12 innings to advance to the best-of-five series that begins tonight in California against the Los Angeles Angels.
The Angels clinched their playoff spot a long time ago and possess baseball’s best record. They have been resting their regulars, setting up their pitching rotation just as they want. They haven’t played what could be considered a meaningful game in two weeks.
That could work to the Royals’ advantage. They didn’t need a plane to fly to the West Coast, they could fly on their emotions. This is a team that now believes it belongs. After all, it beat Jon Lester (well, not the actual loser, but he was on the mound) and if it can do that, the sky is the limit.
The Angels must crank it back up emotionally. They didn’t exactly dominate the Royals during the regular season — the teams split the six meetings – but they haven’t played each other since June 29. Both teams have undergone some physical and emotional changes since then.
Kansas City burned up James Shields for the wild-card game. Manager Ned Yost has bypassed veteran Jeremy Guthrie as well as the talented, but often times emotional, Danny Duffy in favor of soft-tossing lefty Jason Vargas, who was nearly dreadful in September. However, Vargas has pitched well on the road and just needs to hit his spots. The two Angels’ two biggest boppers — Mike Trout and Albert Pujols — do it from the right side, so Vargas will have to be careful with them.
The Royals are going to pitch Yordano Ventura in Game 2, another curious choice by the sometimes-puzzling Yost. Ventura threw 73 pitches last Sunday, was totally ineffective in the wild-card game on Tuesday and could be operating with bruised psyche. Why Duffy is being excluded is a head scratcher unless Yost believes he’ll implode emotionally or there is something wrong with him physically that Yost isn’t letting on. Shields will get the ball in Game 3 back in Kansas City, then nobody knows as Yost is keeping his cards close to the vest.
Guthrie actually has been KC’s best pitcher down the stretch, but he’s known as a hittable pitcher who is feast or famine. Maybe Yost believes the Angels would jump all over him.
It will be interesting to see if Kansas City continues to ramp up its running game that resulted in seven steals Tuesday. The Angels are known for being able to defense the run, but the Royals must turn on the burners to offset their lack of power.
For Kansas City to have a chance in the series, it must steal one of these first two games. The team now has to feel like it can’t lose at home after Tuesday. Maybe after scoring nine runs against Oakland, it has awakened offensively. That’s going to be the barometer for the Royals in this series, scoring some runs.
The odds would seem to favor the Angels, maybe in four games, but I’d love to see the Royals push them to the limit.
• Note — Catch all the action tonight on 96.7 KBBE FM with the Royals Baseball Network. Join Nick Gosnell and Steve Sell at 7:05 p.m. for a special Royals pre-game, then the pros take over.