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The Kansas City Royals entered the 2014 postseason as the feel-good team of the year. The franchise hadn’t enjoyed home cooking in October since the glorious 1985 season. Of course, they weren’t considered a dominant club in the regular season this year by any stretch, but thanks to a combined 34-21 record in August and September, the Royals ended that woeful 29-year postseason drought. The baseball world rejoiced. It was a tremendous story.

The problem: The Royals didn’t get the message that they were supposed to quietly retreat from the bright lights and let the big boys take over the show. On Sunday evening, they finished off a riveting sweep of the Los Angeles Angels, who ended the regular season with the best record in all of baseball by two games. It wasn’t supposed to happen like that.

Things immediately got wild at Kauffman Stadium. Mike Trout clobbered a 1-0 fastball 429 feet to open the scoring in the top of the first inning. It sparked numerous snide comments that Trout finally broke out of his mini-slump. He only hit .207/.314/.483 in his final 10 games of the regular season and was 0-for-8 in his first two playoff games, so perhaps there was a kernel of truth to the sarcasm. More interestingly, though, Trout finally handled a pitch where he has struggled throughout the season. Check out the location of Shields’ fastball to Trout and Trout’s heat map (in ISO) this season:

Trout has been a mere mortal against pitches up in the zone, and on pitches up-and-in, he’s been straight-up pedestrian. Shields had to know the scouting report. He understood the hole in Trout’s swing, and he tried to exploit it. Unfortunately, good process and good execution can still be beaten by a better swing of the bat, and a quality pitch turned into a 429-foot homer that put the Angels up by a run in the first.

Unfortunately for the Angels, though, they subsequently handed the baseball to C.J. Wilson and asked him to generate three outs, and that hasn’t been his strong suit in recent months. The southpaw is broken. He’s a disaster. Coming into the game, he had a 5.64 ERA since the beginning of June. He hasn’t been able to find the zone with any consistency, and opposing hitters have noticed. His 37.9% swing rate is the worst among qualified starters by over four percent. Guys know he can’t pound the zone. Why swing?

Wilson surrendered three runs before being yanked from the game after only 2/3 inning. He allowed two singles, a walk, and a three-run double. In all four of those at-bats, Wilson began with a 1-0 count. Major League Baseball is too difficult to continuously put the opponent in the driver’s seat, and the left-hander illustrated that on Sunday evening against the Royals. Alex Gordon did the damage with a three-run double to left-center field; however, Wilson served it up on a tee with a flat breaking ball on a 2-2 count. It’s the seventh time since the beginning of June that C.J. Wilson has failed to make it through the fourth inning, and it was the second time in three starts that he only went 2/3 inning. The Angels have to be looking at the $38 million remaining on his contract and wondering if there is any conceivable way to unload it.

In some ways, it stings for Angels fans because Wilson shouldn’t have been starting Game Three. It should have been Garrett Richards or maybe even Tyler Skaggs, but the Halos suffered serious injuries in their rotation. Of course, every team has injuries to overcome. It just stings when the shortcomings in a playoff series are due to injury, rather than a lack of overall talent on the roster.

Mike Scioscia made the correct move when he removed Wilson from the game. The leash needed to be short, given the lefty’s performance over the past few months. However, one could make the argument that Scioscia had no business finishing an elimination game without utilizing the best arms in his bullpen. Joe Smith and Huston Street did not appear. Granted, Street tossed 36 pitches on Saturday and isn’t an exemplar of durability, but it’s the final game of the season. Maximize the run prevention by utilizing the best pitchers. Even Ned Yost trotted Kelvin Herrera onto the mound, despite a forearm flexor strain – though he pumped triple digits, so one would likely argue that he was fine.

For the Royals, though, Sunday evening proved electric. Mike Moustakas launched his second homer of the postseason, despite his last home run prior to the playoffs coming on August 25, and Eric Hosmer continued his torrid October. Perhaps the hero of the game was center fielder Lorenzo Cain. He only went 1-for-3 in the contest, but made back-to-back spectacular plays in center field that prevented the Angels from wiggling their way back into it.

Only a couple innings prior to Cain’s dazzling defensive performance, our own Jordan Gorosh opined:

He looked prescient after this happened:

Cain quietly compiled a +2.9 WARP this year. Only 10 center fielders were more valuable, and that number would be less if he could’ve had more than 502 plate appearances. He doesn’t offer much power. But a .269 true average with plus defense in center field? Yeah, that’ll do.

Overall, it was a beautiful game for the Kansas City Royals. James Shields consistently worked ahead in the count, throwing first-pitch strikes to 16-of-27 hitters, and tossed a quality outing. The bullpen slammed the door, as it has largely done all season. Hosmer and Moustakas provided some insurance in the middle innings, but it was an electric three-run double from Alex Gordon that started the rout. Additionally, Kauffman Stadium was juiced this evening. It was great to see The K rocking in October once more.

As for the Los Angeles Angels, Sunday evening marked a disappointing end to a promising season. They overcame injuries to own the best record in baseball, but it ultimately meant nothing. And to think, everyone thought the three-best teams in the American League were the Angels, the Tigers, and the Athletics. We’re now moving into the ALCS, and those three teams won exactly zero postseason games. Zero.

Sure, the nature of the baseball postseason leads to unexpected outcomes, but nobody said baseball is fair. It isn’t. The best teams in the regular season aren’t guaranteed a damn thing in October. The Angels owned the best record in baseball, but the Royals are the ones popping champagne and dancing their way into the ALCS. It’s October magic and it engulfed Kauffman Stadium on what became a beautiful Sunday evening.

Thank you for reading

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Grasul
10/06
Grilli actually did pitch in the game.
jimmyb1799
10/06
You have convinced me.

Seriously, though, thanks for the heads up. That was a slip-up on my end.
APJ74137
10/06
If the Tigers weren't in the Royals' heads all year (6-13 on the season), people that didn't watch every game wouldn't be harping on them as a team of "momentum." This is a quality team -- admittedly with minus power overall, but the ability is there in guys like Hosmer and Moustakas. They were bound to show that angle at some point, given talent level, age, and past performance (even if that is somewhat muted).
andrews
10/07
You can't just take out a team's record against one team and then assess them against the remainder. The Royals may have just played badly against anyone on those nights and lost the majority anyway.
bubba3m
10/06
I'm curious: has there ever been a worse team beating such a very good team in a postseason sweep? The Angels seemed to be as much of a lock as you can have in a 5-game baseball series.
Michael
10/06
Measured by the difference in regular season winning percentage, here are the most unexpected sweeps in post-season series of 3 games or longer. [Warning: it was a manual search, so errors are possible]

1954 .091 Pct difference New York Giants over Cleveland Indians 4-0

2008 .085 Pct difference Los Angeles Dodgers over Chicago Cubs 3-0

1990 .074 Pct difference Cincinnati Reds over Oakland Athletics 4-0

2014 .054 Pct difference Kansas City Royals over Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 3-0

Obviously, sweep wins by underdogs are more likely to happen in recent years.