With yet another win fueled by defense and pitching on Wednesday, the Kansas City Royals claimed their first American League pennant since 1985 with a 2-1 victory in Game Four of the AL Championship Series. The win completed a four-game sweep over the Baltimore Orioles and cemented a perfect 8-0 run through the AL playoffs for Kansas City.
Combined with their 41-22 finish to the regular season, the Royals come into the World Series on a fantastic roll, comparable to the 2007 Colorado Rockies. Whether Kansas City suffers the same fate as those Rockies remains to be seen, as the San Francisco Giants still battle the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League pennant.
To refresh your memory, the Rockies finished the 2007 regular season by winning 14 of their last 15, including a Game 163 to clinch the NL wild card spot. Colorado then went 7-0 through the NL playoffs to reach the Fall Classic. But the hottest team in baseball's postseason that year had to wait around for a week while the Boston Red Sox won the ALCS in seven games over the Cleveland Indians, and the rust morphed into a sweep for Boston in the Series.
These Royals deserve better, especially after playing almost perfect baseball since the wild-card circus against the Oakland Athletics two weeks ago. Kansas City outscored the best team in baseball -- the Los Angeles Angels -- by a combined 15-6 score for a three-game sweep in the AL Division Series. Then the Royals outpaced the Orioles, 18-12, in four games for the AL pennant.
Kansas City won slugfests on the road, and Kansas City won squeakers at home. This is a team that just knows how to win, evidently.
On this 50-22 stretch right now, the Royals will have momentum on their side — and their rotation set — for Game One of the Fall Classic on October 21 at Kauffman Stadium, thanks to the AL's victory in the All-Star Game this summer.
The Kansas City rotation is pretty formidable, obviously. "Big Game" James Shields (14-8, 3.21 ERA during the regular season) will take the mound for the Royals in Game One of the Series, and this is why the Royals traded for him prior to the 2013 season. He hasn't been perfect this postseason, but he hasn't lost a game, either, of course.
Yordano Ventura (14-10, 3.20) and Jason Vargas (11-10, 3.71) have backed Shields ably in the postseason, and even Jeremy Guthrie (13-11, 4.13) has pitched well. Manager Ned Yost will have some time here to sort out his pitching order with the five days off before the team's next game day.
The bullpen is reminiscent of some of the best in history: Kevin Herrera (1.41 in 70 innings pitched during the regular season), Wade Davis (1.00 in 72 IP) and Greg Holland (1.44 in 62.1 IP) are a formidable trio, very difficult to score off of at the end of games. If Kansas City has the lead after six innings, it's often over for the opponent.
Three of top 14 defensive players in MLB this year — based on defensive Wins Above Replacement value — play for the Royals: center fielder Lorenzo Cain, left fielder Alex Gordon and catcher Salvador Perez. Cain was named the ALCS MVP, and Gordon is a three-time Gold Glove winner — perhaps soon a four-time winner. Perez also won a Gold Glove in 2013.
Outfielder Jarrod Dyson, who doesn't even start for the Royals but often enters games as a pinch runner and defensive replacement, finished 20th overall in defensive WAR, as well. Gordon was 10th in overall WAR to lead the team.
This a team that fields the ball very well. It's an underrated skill in today's game, but with the Royals' success, you have to imagine there will be a lot of copycats in 2015.
Much has been made about how the Kansas City bats have perked up in the postseason, and yes, the team has hit more home runs than you'd expect from the squad that hit only 95 the entire season.
First baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas and designated hitter Billy Butler combined to hit just 33 HRs this season, but each had strange power outages. Hosmer hit 50 homers from 2011-13 before dropping to nine this year; Moustakas posted a career-low slugging percentage; Butler hit 29 HRs in 2012 before dropping off to nine this year.
So the power outage may have been just a 2014 regular-season issue, as clearly, these guys can hit. We really shouldn't be surprised by the power being shown in the postseason.
Everyone knows the Royals can run, too, so you're looking at a capable offensive lineup if they play up to their potential.
World Series Outlook
It's hard not to like a team that hasn't lost yet in the postseason, but it's also unreasonable to expect the Royals to not lose again, either. Can they go 12-0 through the playoffs? Doubtful, and that's no knock against Kansas City. If anyone has the confidence to do it, these kids in K.C. do.
Another reminder: three times since 2006, a team cruised through its LCS matchup in four games, while the other LCS went seven games. And each time, the team that swept its LCS got hammered in the World Series: the 2006 Detroit Tigers, the aforementioned 2007 Rockies and the 2012 Tigers.
Kansas City's Fall Classic fate may well rest in the hands of the other LCS result.
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