The Royals’ sweep of the ALDS was magical. I mean that semi-literally; I am more convinced of the existence of magic now than I ever was in my childhood. Surely someone at Angels Stadium put a spell on Lorenzo Cain to allow him to hang up in the air for approximately five minutes before catching Kole Calhoun’s leadoff blast. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas must have had some sort of strength potion before extra innings started in Game 1 and 2 (no word on whether potions count as PEDs). And we’re all well aware of it by now, but Billy Butler stole a base, and that had to be the work of some evil sorcerer.
People- well, maybe not on here, but some other people- are still looking for reasons why the sub-90 win Royals were able to sweep the team with the best record in baseball. It doesn’t make sense that the Royals outplayed the Angels, because the Angels have all sorts of stars and a fish and the Royals essentially have Alex Gordon, WAR leader for a handful of days in August and then… not much since. It doesn’t make sense that the Royals out-managed the Angels, because the Royals have Ned Yost and the Angels don’t. Magic seems like a good solution.
Well, the Royals did end up outplaying the Angels. And they might have ended up out-managing the Angels, too, thanks to Mike Scioscia’s quick hook in Game 3. I think that, for the most part, people are beginning to acknowledge that the Royals are a good team, but there are still some myths floating around out there. None of them are as far-fetched as magic, but all of them can be dispelled fairly easily.
The Wild Card winner has more momentum
This one seems to come up every year- because the Wild Card winner got to play an extra game between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the LDS, and the division winner just had a bunch of days off, the Wild Card winner has momentum and the division winner is rusty.
Yeah, that’s wrong.
Wild Card Winner
2013 AL: Tampa Bay Rays
Boston Red Sox
2013 NL: Pittsburgh Pirates
||94||68||St. Louis Cardinals||LOSS 3-2
2012 AL: Baltimore Orioles
New York Yankees
2012 NL: St. Louis Cardinals
You might be hearing this more often this year because both Wild Card winners won their series after jumping out to 2-0 leads, and both would have swept if Madison Bumgarner hadn't momentarily forgotten how to play baseball. And yet there’s no indication that Wild Card winners have any added advantage from playing more recently. In fact, having to burn their No. 1 starter just to get to the LDS is typically a big disadvantage. Anything can happen in a small sample size (the Cubs swept the Orioles back in August), but far more often than not, the top teams dispatch the wild cards.
What about the momentum the Royals have been carrying with them since their enormous win over Oakland that seemed to propel them through the ALDS? Even if that momentum does exist, the Orioles were even hotter than the Royals in the ALDS and the long break is going to affect them just as much. And here’s the kicker: no team left in the playoffs can play with the level of energy and enthusiasm that the Royals will, and good luck finding a home crowd that will be as electric as the one at the K.
So if momentum doesn’t exist, what helped the Royals sweep the Angels?
Did the Angels’ bats go cold?
Ah, yes, that has to be it. The Angels scored more runs than any other team in the majors this year. But any team can slip into a slump. It’s far more likely that the Angels just couldn’t get their bats going than the Royals- those perennial losers- shutting down such a powerhouse team.
Nope. That’s wrong too. The Royals just shut down a powerhouse team.
During the regular season, the Angels generated over 4.7 runs per game. Against the Royals in the ALDS, they only put two runs across the plate per game. Small sample size? Absolutely, but it’s not as if their bats were cold all series. They put the ball in play at a rate slightly above their average (and right in line with what we expect from Royals pitchers).
However, the BABIP fairy was not kind to the Angels. I calculated they hit .234 on balls in play over the series (feel free to check my numbers). But that can’t all be attributed to luck- the Royals made plays when they needed to, and stole a healthy handful of hits away from the Angels. How many times did Lorenzo Cain throw his body to the ground to make a play? It was about fifty times, wasn’t it? And he caught every single one.
The Angels hit the balls in the right places, and probably should have had closer to 4.7 runs per game than 2, but thanks in no small part to the Royals’ defense, the regular-season winners were shut down.
The Royals’ defense is playing with reckless abandon- and it’s working marvelously. Nori Aoki doesn’t have any idea where he’s going except that he’s going to catch the ball. Omar Infante’s hand is made out of Velcro, so he has no need for silly things like gloves. Jarrod Dyson had his arm amputated and replaced with a cannon.
All of these things could come back to bite the Royals in the next series (it is nearly impossible to swing a bat one of your arms is a cannon). But this defense has been so good for so long that it’s hard to envision a scenario where it falls apart. Oriole Park is about the same size as Angels Stadium, and a little bit smaller than the K, so the outfield should be able to cover just as much ground as they did in the ALDS.
Here’s the thing about baseball.
October is weird and crazy and fun and exciting and heartbreaking and if you think you can predict what happens next, you have another thing coming to you.
Throw out the predictions. ESPN picked the winners of each series before the playoffs began. They got every single series wrong. As much as you may like to rag on ESPN, they are self-dubbed "The Worldwide Leader in Sports." You’d expect them to get at least one right. Nope. You’d have better luck picking based on which mascot would beat the other in a fight. (Sluggerrr would definitely win that, right?)
We have no idea what’s coming next. For all we know, the Royals could accidentally lose their DH in game one, keep the game scoreless through sixteen innings, and then win on a Jeremy Guthrie homer. I would consider that normal after everything we’ve been through.
And if you’re one of those people that wants normality in their lives, that can’t place this weird experience into their everyday lives, here’s a message for you: Don’t worry about trying to find excuses. Don’t worry about trying to figure out how the last play just happened. Don’t worry about trying to figure out what’s going to happen next. Just sit back, enjoy the ride, and let the magic wash over you a little bit at a time.