2014 American League Division Series Preview: Kansas City vs. Los Angeles

After riding the emotional roller coaster that is playoff baseball on Tuesday night, the Royals reward is playing the best team in all of baseball. Congratulations Kansas City! Here’s a preview of what they’ll be up against.

Starting Pitching

Since James Shields pitched in the wild card game (making it impossible to pitch twice in the series without being on short rest), Jason Vargas will get the start in Game 1 for the Royals and he’ll face the Angels Jered Weaver.

Starters

EDGE: Kansas City. As good of a team as the Angels are, the main question surrounding the team all season has been their starting pitching. Those questions were shushed by the unexpectedly pleasant performances of Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, and Matt Shoemaker. Then all of a sudden, Richards and Skaggs are injured and out for the year, while Shoemaker suffers an oblique injury in September and was (until recently) questionable for the postseason. According to my sources (i.e. the internets), he’ll likely be starting Game 3 of the series, but it’s unclear how effective he’ll be.

Bullpens

Top 3 relievers for each team (by fWAR).

Relievers

EDGE: Kansas City. Did you expect anything else? They have arguably the best bullpen in baseball. However, the Angels’ bullpen has been pretty, pretty good as well though. After putting up -0.1 fWAR as a unit (27th in baseball), they did a complete 180 turnaround after the break, producing 4.0 fWAR, which was the best in all of baseball. Obviously, the trades for Jason Grilli and Huston Street helped. Grilli is actually left off the list above because although he’s produced 0.9 fWAR for the Angels, he was really really terrible for the Pirates.

Offense

Offense

EDGE: Los Angeles. They have the best offense in baseball. Period. The same sources that informed about Shoemaker have told me that Hamilton will be ready to go for the series as well. He’s been productive with the bat this year (113 wRC+), but he hasn’t consistently seen major league pitching since the beginning of September. Even in his absence, Collin Cowgill has filled in nicely on both offense (103 wRC+) and defense (9 DRS), so the Angels should be ok. That and they have Mike Trout, the best baseball player on the planet.

Baserunning

Baserunning

EDGE: Kansas City. The Angels run the bases better than Kansas City, but no one disrupts a pitcher’s timing and steals bases better than the Royals, and we got a front row seat during the wild card game as to just how devastating they can be on the base paths. While the Los Angeles catchers aren’t as bad as Oakland’s in stopping the running game (according to rSB), they are still rated as below average. Kansas City’s ability to steal bases (and the Angels ability to contain them) may continue to play a key role in the outcome of a couple of games during this series.

Defense

Defense

EDGE: Kansas City.

Verdict

The Angels were the best team in baseball in 2014, and while they have some flaws that Kansas City could exploit, I think the Angels will emerge victorious in the Division series. Mainly, I think the Angels offense will score too many runs to let Kansas City follow their preferred script, which is to have the lead after 6 innings and go to their 3 top bullpen arms to finish off the game. Even if Kansas City has a lead after 6, baseball games rarely follow the preferred script, and I don’t have a lot of confidence in Royals manager Ned Yost’s in game decisions when it doesn’t.

*DEFINITIONS: FIP, wRC+, UBR, wSB, DRS, UZR/150, rSB

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