Neither of these teams sniffed the playoffs last year. The Angels because of a franchise-wide allergic reaction to Albert Pujols' horribleness, the Royals because they were too young to fully appreciate the scent of the playoffs. And now, one year, a bunch of Angels wins, a special season in KC, a sure MVP trophy for Mike Trout, and 12 innings of crazy-ass Wild Card baseball later, the Royals and Angels match up in the ALDS.
The answer seems obvious, but are these two playoff newbies better or worse?
2013 Kansas City Royals: 86-76, 3rd AL Central
2014 Kansas City Royals: 89-73, 2nd AL Central, Wild Card
Lost: Ervin Santana
Luke Hochevar (hurt)
Gained: Omar Infante
Better or worse?
These Royals ain't new. Ned Yost's 2014 bunch is nearly identical to his 2013 crew. The Royals still run (led the AL in steals both years), and definitely don't walk (last in the league this year). They don't strike out either (fewest K's in the league, in '13 and '14). The Royals hit for average (top five both years) but not for power (fewest bombs both years). Players come and go, but the Royals' slap-happy small ball will never change. The pitching staff, bolstered by young Yordano Ventura and the dynamic HDH trio (Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland), is every bit as good as last years' staff that led the league in ERA. So, better or worse? We should know better than to think the Royals will stay idle -- someone's probably stealing second as we speak. On the move.
2013 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 78-84, 3rd AL West
2014 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 98-64, 1st AL West
Lost: Mark Trumbo
Gained: David Freese
Better or worse?
Let's go ahead and call the Angels' twenty-game improvement from 2013 "better." Most of the team's hitters, certainly a strong suit for this squad, have held steady. Albert Pujols has greatly improved on his anomalous 2013. David Freese has been a decent addition. Mike Trout has displayed even more power. And Kole Calhoun has emerged in the outfield. Anaheim's pitching staff has shown the most improvement, raising their team-wide FIP by over 50 points (from 4.08 to 3.57). This despite poor seasons from their two supposed aces, Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson. The Angels have been performing ongoing bullpen reconstruction surgery, which is now where their strength lies. The team got Huston Street and Jason Grilli in midseason traits, acquired Fernando Salas and Joe Smith in the off-season, and promoted rookie Mike Morin. So? The Angels are clearly better than last year.