The Royals jumped on the Angels first with a huge Game One victory, so I thought I'd lob a few Jason Vargas changeups at myself and try to answer six burning questions going into Game Two of the ALDS. Its the playoffs, let's get nuts.
Did Ned Yost just manage a game well?
It may seem hard to believe, but for the most part I think Ned pressed the right buttons last night. My only two gripes were (a) leaving Jason Vargas in to face Howie Kendrick with two outs in the sixth, and (b) bringing in left-hander Tim Collins instead of right-hander Jason Frasor in the 9th to face a right-hander in Gordon Beckham and a switch-hitter in Erick Aybar. I like Collins better than most, but he probably shouldn't be facing anyone hitting from the right side.
Fortunately, both moves worked out okay. I understand holding Holland out, although he should have been in there had any of the relievers go into serious trouble earlier in the game. I was a bit puzzled that Ned waited so long to bring in Dyson as a defensive replacement. But really, no serious gripes, Ned seemed to manage this game well.
How huge was it for the Royals to win Game One?
The fact the Royals were able to come from behind in the Wild Card, and now take Game One against a 98-win Angels team, I think will be a huge plus for their domes. My biggest worry heading into the post-season was the Royals getting blown out, getting down, and damaging their fragile little psyches. Fortunately, I think that Raul Ibanez pep talk worked wonders. This team believes it can come back from any situation because of their team speed, and they believe they can shut down any opponent's situation due to their dominant bullpen. They believe the defense can go get any ball hit out there. As Joe Posnanski wrote, simply believing one is capable can go a long way.
Even better, I think they rattled the Angels quite a bit. Mike Scioscia was clearly upset with the check-swing strike call on Erick Aybar in the last inning, and Angels fans have to be really worried about Josh Hamilton’s play going forward. The Royals didn’t run wild on the bases like they did against the Athletics in the Wild Card game, but the stolen base threat was clearly on the Angels’ minds, which may have affected their play.
Winning Game One is big. Winning Game One on the road is enormous.
Can the Royals get to this Matt Shoemaker guy?
Shoemaker was an absolutely terrific find for the Angels, and perhaps the best evidence that it is better to give a shot to freely available replacement-level talent than sign mediocre pitchers to multi-million dollar contracts. Shoemaker is a sinker-baller who relies on throwing strikes, but has done a good job missing bats this year. The Royals could be in trouble if they refuse to lay off the breaking stuff down low, but if they’re able to make contact and chop the ball around the infield, they might be able to wreak havoc on the bases.
Shoemaker is also recovering from injury, so its not clear he’ll be 100% or be able to go deep in this game. Kevin Ruprecht likes the Royals chances against Shoemaker tonight, so I’ll trust his judgment and say the Royals can absolutely get to Shoemaker.
How worried should we be about Kelvin Herrera leaving last night’s game after one batter?
I wouldn’t hit the panic button quite yet, but the fact he was shaking his arm and left due to "stiffness" is not a good sign. Forearm stiffness can be a symptom of ulnar-collateral ligament damage which leads to Tommy John Surgery, but let’s not use our "Jump to Conclusion" mat quite yet. Herrera is getting an MRI done today and we’ll see what that results. The fortunate thing is the Royals do have a deep pen, especially with Brandon Finnegan pitching nails lately. Teams are allowed to replace injured players mid-series, although if they do, Herrera would be forced to miss the rest of this series and the next series (ALCS).
Nori Aoki, man.
He’s like a Muppet stuffed in a Royals uniform.
So, predictions tonight?
It was nice to see Mike Moustakas pop a home run last night, if for no other reason than I forgot what it looked like to see a Royals player hit a home run. They haven’t hit one since Salvador Perez’s blast on September 27 against Chicago, and had hit just two in their previous eleven games before last night.
The Royals will probably need to hit some runs in this series, as it is hard to sustain an offense through bloop singles, bunts, and pixie dust. That will be a challenge against a guy like Shoemaker, but if a guy like Moustakas or Hosmer, who seem to be able to hit low pitches, can go down and golf one out, that would be huge.
You have to worry about Yordano Ventura’s dome a bit after his outing in the Wild Card game, but with his electric stuff I’ll take my chances. I would assume Danny Duffy is on stand-by as a long-reliever if Yordano isn’t up to snuff. It would be nice if the Royals could actually win in nine innings – my heart can’t take another four hours of intense playoff baseball.
The pitching matchup slightly favors the Royals I think, but the Angels have a much better lineup. I predict another low-scoring affair, with the magic taking a night off as the Angels hold onto a close one. But its an entirely winnable game, and with James Shields going on Sunday, the Royals have to think that if they win tonight, they could be on the verge of what seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago – the American League Championship Series.