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Bob Lutz: These Angels can be deadly

Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout, at 23, has established himself as a baseball superstar. He’ll get his first taste of the postseason tonight, when the Angels and Kansas City Royals meet in Game 1 of the ALDS in Anaheim.
Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout, at 23, has established himself as a baseball superstar. He’ll get his first taste of the postseason tonight, when the Angels and Kansas City Royals meet in Game 1 of the ALDS in Anaheim. AP

The first and most pertinent statistic to investigate for a Kansas City Royals opponent isn’t how they hit, how they pitch or how they field.

It’s how their catchers throw.

The Royals are obviously going to try and run their foes out of the ballpark in postseason games, as their seven stolen bases in the American League wild card win over Oakland on Tuesday night illustrates. They were 7 of 7 (not counting Eric Hosmer’s first-inning out at home), in fact, with some daring steals among them.

So, before we get to how the Los Angeles do the general things that make a baseball team tick, let’s look at how they throw out base runners.

The Angels go with a catching platoon of Hank Conger and Chris Ianetta. Conger has thrown out 18 of 75 base stealers this season; Ianetta 21 of 70. That comes to 39 of 145, about 21 percent.

Gentlemen, start your engines because the Royals, far and away the most aggressive and successful running team in the American League, are going to be running in this best-of-five AL Division Series that begins tonight in Anaheim.

The Angels rely on a loaded offensive lineup that includes center fielder Mike Trout and first baseman Albert Pujols. But there’s nowhere in the LA lineup where a pitcher can relax.

Trout (.287, 36 homers, 111 RBI) and Pujols (.272, 28, 105) are the big boppers, but the Angels have their share other threats with players like Howie Kendrick (.293) and Erick Aybar (.278), hitters who have frequently hit at the top or bottom of the lineup but are now often in the middle of the A’s order. Cole Calhoun, the Angels’ leadoff hitter, has a .373 on-base percentage and some pop with 17 homers.

The Royals are going to have to pitch carefully to a team that was 53-29 during the final three months of the season and went from four games out of first place in the American League West on Aug. 10 to 11 games in front on Sept. 13 thanks to a 25-6 run.

The Angels are 52-29 at home, where they won two of three against Kansas City in late May. Here are some keys for the Angels in this series:

Josh Hamilton – The former AL MVP has missed 21 of the Angels' last 22 games because of shoulder and other upper-body injuries. He says he’s ready for the ALDS, but what can he give the Angels. As recently as 2012 with Texas, Hamilton batted .285 with 43 homers and 128 RBIs. He’s mostly been on the shelf, though, since the Angels signed him to a huge free-agent contract. But the 33-year-old Hamilton is dangerous. He batted .263 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs in 89 games this season. All of his homers came on the road.

Albert Pujols – After a couple of tough seasons with the Angels after signing a 10-year, $250 million free-agent deal, Pujols has been more like himself in 2014. He’s still nowhere near the hitter he was during his prime with the St. Louis Cardinals, but Pujols can still be a game changer. And he’ll be motivated to prove to skeptics that, at 34 and beaten down by some injuries recently, he still has plenty left in the tank.

Starting pitching – Jared Weaver (18-9, 3.59 ERA) goes tonight in Game 1 against Kansas City’s Jason Vargas. Weaver doesn’t throw particularly hard, but he has guile. He’s tough. Twenty-eight year old rookie Matt Shoemaker will go in Game 2 against Yardano Ventura. Shoemaker has been a revelation, going 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA. The Angels’ Game 3 starter will be left-hander C.J. Wilson, who will oppose James Shields at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday night. Wilson has been a disappointment since signing as a free agent from Texas and is 12-10 with a 4.51 ERA. It appears the Angels are set to come back with Weaver on three days rest for a possible Game 4 at Kauffman on Monday.

Bullpen – The Angels already had a good bullpen before they acquired Huston Street from San Diego at the trade deadline. Now they have one of the game’s elite closers and six other strong bullpen arms: Joe Smith, Kevin Jepsen, Mike Morin, Fernando Salas, Cory Rasmus and Jason Grilli. Those seven have combined to pitch 373.1 innings for the Angels this season and have allowed only 286 hits and 105 walks while striking out 374. Their combined ERA is 2.63. Also, starter Hector Santiago can help out of the pen.

Thanks for reading and enjoy Game 1 tonight.

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