The Angels, who host Game 1 Thursday at 6:07 p.m. PT on TBS, will have their hands full.
Here are three keys to beating the upstart Royals.
Get to them early
The back end of the Angels' bullpen has been dynamic since Huston Street solidified the group in mid-July. The Royals' back-end trio may be even better. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, the closer, posted a combined 1.28 ERA while striking out 258 batters in 204 1/3 innings this season. That's scary.
The Angels' offense -- first in the Majors in runs, seventh in OPS -- is going to have to do most of its damage against a Royals rotation that includes James Shields, Yordano Ventura, Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas and Danny Duffy. That staff was tied for 10th in the Majors in starting-pitcher ERA, which is good, but nowhere near as menacing as what their backend trio did.
Contain the running game
The Angels made some strides in controlling the running game this year, after it got away from them last season. But Chris Iannetta and his pitchers will face a huge challenge against Kansas City, a team that easily led the Majors in steals with 153 this past season. The Angels ranked 17th in caught-stealing percentage at 26.9 percent -- up from 21.1 percent last year -- and allowed the ninth-most stolen bases with 106.
Royals center fielder Jarrod Dyson stole 36 bases, Alcides Escobar had 31, Lorenzo Cain had 28, Nori Aoki had 17 and Alex Gordon had 12. Terrance Gore, added to the roster for their Wild Card Game, can also be a threat if he's taken once again as a pinch-runner. The Royals had the fifth-lowest slugging percentage in the AL this year. They scrape runs mostly by taking the extra base whenever possible. And the Angels must keep that to a minimum.
A solid effort by the rotation
The Angels' biggest question mark heading into the postseason is the rotation. They've been left with four starters ever since Garrett Richards went down with a devastating knee injury on Aug. 20, joining Tyler Skaggs on the shelf for the rest of the season. To make matters worse, Matt Shoemaker has been rehabbing from a mild strain in his left oblique since Sept. 16, an ailment he says has mostly alleviated but is still worth monitoring in the first round.
The Angels finished with baseball's best record mainly because their bullpen was deep, their offense was dangerous and their rotation consistently kept them in games. Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Hector Santiago and Shoemaker don't have to be lights-out. They just have to give them a chance, and, ideally, turn a lead over to the back-end trio of Kevin Jepsen, Joe Smith and Street. Angels manager Mike Scioscia won it all in 2002 with a rotation that barely averaged five innings and gave him two quality starts in 16 postseason games; it's possible to follow a similar script this year.