Gah, the Angels. The Royals certainly didn't spend very much time getting to an organization I actually dislike. Since the St. Louis Cardinals are about to start a series with the other Los Angeles squad, the Angels can't claim my most-hated label. That said, I am pretty tired of them; I have a a bit of affinity for the Orioles, and the Tigers, while a division rival, are the sort of "tail end of the contention window" team that hasn't got over the hump that sort of makes me feel for them a bit (just not when they play the Royals). I think you all know I like the Royals about as much as a human can, so that leaves one team in the AL remaining that can truly draw my ire (warning, extreme examples of sarcasm and historical revisionism may follow).
That's the Angels. This organization snatched a World Series title back in 2002, which is probably the last time that they could actually honestly play the underdog card. Sometime over the next decade or so, they switched to being one of the organizations that "plays the right way" and such. The Minnesota Twins, of course, had the highest ranking in this category due to rising to power in a weak division, but the Angels ran a close second. They were a perennial playoff team during the mid-to-late 2000s, and they drew the ire of baseball fans for not being able to beat teams that everyone hated more than them:
- 2004 -- 92-70 Regular Season, lost ALDS 3-0 to the Red Sox -- This is probably the exception, as the Red Sox were still a plucky bunch of millionaires back then. I say this with as little sarcasm as possible, as the Sawx are one of my baseball mistresses)
- 2005 -- 95-67, Beat Yankees in ALDS 3-2, Lost to eventual Champ White Sox 4-2 -- This is around when the Angels became sort of intolerable. They did everyone the favor of knocking off the Yankees, but flubbed a chance to go to the World Series by someone losing to a team managed by Ozzie Guillen.
- 2006 -- 89-73, 2nd Place -- Once again good, but didn't make the dance
- 2007 -- 94-68, Lost ALDS 3-0 to the Red Sox -- The Angels continue their epic futility against a team that actually does stuff such as "work counts" and "have players not named Vlad Guerrero who can homer." For the third straight playoff appearance, they lost to the eventual champ.
- 2008 -- 100-62, Lost ALDS 3-1 to the Red Sox -- Yep. Again. This time blowing one of the better regular season records in franchise history on a first round lost. The Sawx didn't go all the way this year, making the futility against them look all that more silly.
- 2009 -- 97-65, WON ALDS 3-0 against the Red Sox, Lost ALCS to Yankees 4-2 -- Demons finally exorcised! Hooray, Angels. They promptly fell flat on their faces against New York.
For the next two years, the team unsuccessfully tried to recapture the "magic" of those years, only to discover that, when you don't have great pitching, a line-up full of out-makers centered around a couple decent hitters isn't actually a recipe for success. In 2012, though, Mike Trout appeared, and the Angels were good again, though not good enough for the playoffs. Last year, of course, they crashed back below .500, in part due to the initial failure of megadeals to Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols.
And now, here we are, in 2014, and the Angels had the best record in baseball. They retain, against all odds, their reputation for "playing the right way," even though this version of the team is powered by a generational talent in CF who does everything, and the millions that they've thrown at problem spots on the roster. Mike Scioscia is still their manager, so I suppose that's part of it. Still, make no mistake, the Angels organization haven't got to this point through being smart, they've done it through moneymoneymoney and Mike Trout.
For the Royals to be taking on the Angels here is sort of like the little brother coming back a decade later to try and beat the jock older sibling at bloody knuckles. The Angels organizational philosophy, back in the day (and somewhat still now) of out-making, good defense, good speed players, seems to be the basic formula for Royals success. Probably the only thing more hilarious would've been if Dayton Moore built has team on trying to be the 2012 Orioles.
Enough snarking, on to the Position Player Ups and Downs:
Alcides finishes the season at .285/.315/377. Coupled with a consensus defensive improvement, there's little doubt this has been the best season of his career. It still hurts my brain when he hits leadoff, but this isn't Escobar's fault. That hitting line might not look pretty, aside from batting average, but with league-wide offense down, it's pretty solid for a SS.
Yes, Aoki's surge has been a heckuva lot of fun. Yes, he's obliterated the Francoeurian Stanard for Kauffman Stadium RFs. Yes, he hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game in the biggest PA of his life. Actually, forget it. Let's just stick with that. Aoki's had a fun month.
But for real, Lorenzo Cain was one of the few people who actually smoked a Jon Lester offering during the WC game. Cain finished at .301/.339/.412 on the year, and he's probably raised expectations too high for the future based on that -- I doubt very much that he's a .330 wOBA guy without the BABIP surge he collected this year, which was out of whack even with the marked improvements he made.
This all said, WAR had him at just shy of 5, which is pretty awesome. And also money in the bank. Let's not mince words any further. Whatever the reasons, Cain has had a damn good year, And he managed 50 more PAs than in 2013.
Willingham could do nothing else for the rest of the playoffs, and would still be in "never needs to buy drinks in KC" territory, in my opinion, for his Professional Hitter's bloop in the bottom of the ninth.
After carrying the team to ridiculous degrees down the stretch, given how hard that is for individual baseball players to do, Gordon's actually gone cold. On a night where Lester looked good but hittable, Gordon was the guy who just couldn't figure him out. However, let's not be too hard on Alex, lest we forget how much he's done for the Royals this season. And, well, you know, every season.
Perez has been so bad at the plate lately that his walkoff hit isn't enough to save him from the angry arrow. Seriously, I don't remember seeing him flail this badly as a Royal. It's a testament to what a wonderful, awful, random, heart-jerking sport that baseball is that Perez was the one to send the Royals into the ALDS. It was a magic moment that most of us won't forget.
Now stop swinging at low and outside sliders.
At .271/.323/.379, it was not a good year for Butler. Though forces beyond his control might have something to do with his season-long struggles, it's hard to guess how much value he'd bring next year. However, he has finished this season on a high note, with six multi-hit games in the last two weeks. And he did not look the least bit lost in the clutch, driving in the first run for the Royals in the WC game and then lining a clean single off Luke Gregerson late.
Hosmer, in the biggest game of his pro career, went 3-for-4 with two walks. On base five times. We can wax poetic about the nature of his hits--bloopers, a triple that some people thought should've been caught--but at the end of the day, you've got a guy who got on base five times. Hosmer's hit well since his return, and the WC game triple, with two outs left in the Royals season, was the cherry on top of his triumphant reappearance.
Omar Infante is hitting and fielding almost exactly as he was a month ago. This is not good, and not worse than before. And, what with it being October, I've run out of creative ways to frame that.
If you watched Moustakas's PAs against the A's, you could be fooled into thinking he was actually adjusting to the shift they put on. I don't know if that's something that he can replicate at all in the future, but it sure looked nice to see a hitter who doesn't seem very flexible in his approach actually get an opposite-field knock in a big game.
Finishing at .212/.271.361 on the year, I'm still pretty sure that non-tendering Moustakas should be seriously considered.
Dyson forever. He's not allowed to buy drinks in KC either, based on that late-game SB and dance.
Also, unsung hero for the Royals? Derek Norris, and Geovany Soto's hand injury.
Guys Who Don't Get Their Own Paragraphs Who Are Nonetheless Here: Raul Ibanez, Erik Kratz, Christian Colon, Terrance Gore, Jayson Nix
I'm not sure I have to tell you who and when the Royals play tonight.
Also, I'd like to share this, particularly for you old-timers (though it applies to everyone here), what I put up on facebook to share with people who aren't familar with my Royals Review writing experience:
Guys, the Royals won. They're a real live playoff team. Their front office is a bunch of a morons who think the earth is flat, their manager is a contentious bag of idiocy, they can barely hit their way out of a paper bag, the best pitcher on the roster is leaving at the end of the year, the best hitter barely made it out of the shitty player development system, but they just beat the Oakland A's 9-8 in 12 innings. For the first time since 1985 (one year before I was born), they're in a real playoff series.
Since I've been contributing to Royals Review for years, couldn't be happier for all the people who've followed the team since 2007 and before. They deserve a playoff win. This'll be one of the coolest, craziest sports memories a lot of those people will ever have. And now it's one of mine, too. Never thought I'd watch that happen when I started writing about that sad sack team in college.
So thank you guys for sharing that experience. And thanks for reading. Whatever happens against the Angels and going forward, it's been a blast.