The Los Angeles Angels were the American League's top seed and owned the best record in baseball in the regular season, but that guarantees a team nothing in October. The Angels had a specific weakness, the kind that can end a postseason quickly, and that's precisely what occurred. The Kansas City Royals swept the Angels and will move on to the ALCS, and it's because one of these teams had significantly deeper pitching.
Los Angeles of Anaheim blew its best chance at a win in Game 1 with Jered Weaver on the mound. Matt Shoemaker was excellent in Game 2, but Royals pitching -- including rookie starter Yordano Ventura -- outlasted the Halos in extra innings once more. It set up a pivotal, must-win Game 3 for the Angels, one in which C.J. Wilson was starting. The same C.J. Wilson who just had his worst season as a starter, and now is in possession of the shortest postseason outing in Angels' history.
Wilson produced an 81 ERA+ for the Angels, and was even worse than that from June 24 onward. During his final 16 starts, Wilson threw just 76 innings -- 4⅔ per outing -- and produced a 6.04 ERA. He struck out just 58 batters against 45 walks and, despite home games in a severe pitcher park, allowed opponents a .398 on-base percentage in this stretch. He was an absolute mess who had seven starts last 4⅓ or fewer innings on the season, and he was the last hope for the Angels. Garrett Richards was out for the year with a patellar injury, Tyler Skaggs was out with Tommy John surgery, and Hector Santiago had become the long relief lefty in the pen for the playoffs because he too had issues going deep into ballgames.
The lack of depth in the Angels' rotation, and the drain it would have on their bullpen, was the primary reason we picked the Royals to advance while previewing this ALDS. The Wilson start was the even more specific reason that the expectation was for a Royals win: the rest of the match-ups could be fairly even given how good the Angels' lineup was compared to Kansas City's -- especially if Matt Shoemaker and his rib was feeling good -- but the Wilson start was as close to an easy win as you can get in October. The Royals did not disappoint, knocking Wilson out after two-thirds of an inning with a 3-1 lead in hand, and then feasting on a bullpen that had worked hard during the first two games of the series.
The Angels didn't necessarily do anything wrong. At the trade deadline, they didn't add a starter because they had the best bats in the AL and enough arms to get by: the tweaks they made to their bullpen by adding Huston Street were more important in that moment. Then Skaggs compromised the depth in the back-end of the rotation by undergoing Tommy John surgery just a couple of weeks later, and then the Richards' knee injury came a few weeks after that. They went from having an ace and a full rotation to a situation in which they were using a three-man playoff rotation that, despite its limited scope, still had to include C.J. Wilson because there was no one else. And it all happened in a couple of weeks in August.
As for the Royals, they did exactly what was needed to come away victorious. They beat Weaver, the closest thing to a guaranteed quality starter the Angels could toss out in this series. They limited the potent Angels' lineup to just six runs over three games, and did so with both their starters and relievers -- both groups were phenomenal in the regular season, and kept that up in October. Now, unlike the Angels, they get a chance to keep doing what's worked for at least one more series. It's easy to tease the lineup, especially as the announcers are trying to make Mike Moustakas sound like a positive, but the pitching and defense are legit enough that their combination of timely singles, bunts and steals could be enough to help them find another eight wins this month.