MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

KC's surprising dingers signal trouble for opponent

Royals a playoff team because of small ball, pitching, defense; power an added threat

KC's surprising dingers signal trouble for opponent

KANSAS CITY -- Every time Ned Yost was asked how his Royals would approach the Angels, he had the same basic answer: Count on pitching and defense, then manufacture some runs.

Here's exactly what he said on the on the eve of Game 1 of the American League Division Series: "We're not a home run-hitting team. We can't sit back and wait for a three-run homer or a two-run homer. We've got to make stuff happen."

  Date   Recaps Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 10   KC 8, BAL 6 (10 inn.) video
Gm 2 Oct. 11   KC 6, BAL 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14   KC 2, BAL 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15   KC 2, BAL 1 video
He wasn't playing possum, either. This was truth as he knew it. After all, the Royals are the first AL team to reach the postseason after finishing last in home runs since the 1959 White Sox.

Turns out they were saving their strength.

While it was speed that allowed the Royals to eek out an electrifying victory over the A's in the AL Wild Card Game, the ALDS sweep of the Angels was more of a tribute to John Mayberry, Steve Balboni and Bo Jackson than Willie Wilson and Johnny Damon.

Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer won Games 1 and 2 with 11th-inning home runs. Neither waited for drama to build in Sunday night's clincher, with Hosmer's two-run blast in the third inning and Moustakas' solo homer in the fourth helping build a big lead for James Shields en route to the 8-3 victory.

"They stole some bases, but it never really factored in any of the games," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Those guys did not miss mistakes in this series. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, when they got pitches to hit, they hit them."

The two-homer game was only the second since Aug. 22 for the Royals. They'll need all the power they can muster to hang in with the Orioles -- who out-homered them 211-95 during the regular season -- in the AL Championship Series.

Led by Nelson Cruz, the O's have done their part to make this an October built more around hitting than pitching. In the 12 games so far, the average is 9.2 runs and 2.5 home runs, up from 8.1 and 1.7 in the regular season.

But the Orioles are supposed to hit home runs. When the Royals produced them to go along with their all-around terrific play, it was like dropping down trump cards.

"It was huge," Yost said. "Won us two games. Coming into this game, we were hitting .162 as a team, they were hitting .141, but the difference was the two big home runs. That gave us the edge. Tonight, the power was huge again."

Alex Gordon's three-run double off soon-to-depart starter C.J. Wilson had given the Royals a lead in the first inning. Hosmer's ringing drive over the wall in left off Hector Santiago -- a lefty vs. lefty homer -- pushed the lead to 5-1, and Moustakas jerked a pitch from Mike Morin down the line in right to make it 6-2 in the fourth.

"We like to swing the bat, like to put the ball the ball in play," said Hosmer, who hit .270 with nine homers in the regular season. "But when it comes down to the postseason, when it comes down to situations like this, you've got to battle and you've got to make sure you're staying aggressive, but aggressive within your zone. As an offense, I think we've been doing a good job staying aggressive in that zone, not going outside of it, getting good counts."

Here's hoping the Royals will forgive us for not seeing them coming. They may have been viewed as a surprise at one point, but that thinking is outdated.

There's no question that the two best teams in the AL will meet in the ALCS. The Angels led the league with 98 wins, but have seemed vulnerable since losing top starter Garrett Richards on Aug. 20. Meanwhile, the Royals (45-23 since July 22) fit the definition of a team peaking at the exact right time.

Yost's team has put on an absolute clinic over the last week, with its unflappable relievers and ground-covering outfielders repelling runs like a human force field. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain robbed Albert Pujols and Howie Kendrick with back-to-back plays in the fifth inning, the first one a face-first dive, the second a sliding grab.

That was the Royals being the Royals. The cherry on the top is to get big hits (home runs, no less) from the 26-year-old Moustakas and 24-year-old Hosmer, former first-round Draft picks who seem to only now be answering questions about their potential.

"I told the boys with about a week to go [in the regular season], 'Look, some of you guys haven't had years that you really wanted to have, but we get to the playoffs, nobody is going to remember that,'" Yost said. "Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, these kids are all stepping up big time and putting us in the position that we're in right now. I mean, we're going to go to Baltimore and fight for the American League. There's two teams left standing, and it's going to be a great series."

Especially if the Royals can keep answering firepower with firepower.

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.