Other than to maybe some people in Kansas City, it looked like the Oakland A's would be playing the Los Angeles Angels in the American League Division Series. Jon Lester pitching with a four-run lead in the eighth inning seemed like a lock, and then, amazingly, came the first magic of the 2014 postseason, which surely will provide more.
So, from nowhere, it's the Royals against the Angels.
Here are five questions.
Is something special happening in Kansas City?
Suddenly, it is a valid question. The Royals became the first team in postseason history to win a winner-take-all game that it trailed by at least four runs in the eighth inning or later. They did everything to lose that game, yet somehow found a way to win a game that they trailed by four in the eighth, one in the ninth and one in the 12th. To start a postseason that way -- their first postseason appearance in 29 years, mind you -- might be a sign that something predestined is going on in K.C. It's remarkable that the Royals are here to begin with given that no team had ever made the playoffs after finishing last in the major leagues in home runs and walks. At least offensively, they defy the odds, but in the wild-card game, they somehow scored nine runs, via beg, borrow and steal, especially steal.
How good is the Angels' lineup?
It led the league in runs scored (773). In this era of dominant pitching, you have to be able to score runs, even a few of them, to win in the postseason. Last year, the highest-scoring teams in their respective leagues, the Red Sox and Cardinals, played in the World Series. That likely is not a coincidence. The Angels can score. And now they will have Josh Hamilton back in the lineup. He missed 21 of the Angels' last 22 games with shoulder and other upper body injuries. He played in only 89 games this season, and hit 10 home runs, none at home. We're assuming his return to the lineup is a good thing. We'll see about that.
How much of a weapon is Kansas City's speed?
It helped win the AL wild-card game. The Royals tied a postseason record (with the 1907 Cubs and the 1975 Reds) with seven stolen bases. Six of those steals came while they were trailing, which no one had ever done in a postseason game. In the eighth inning, they stole four bases, the first team ever to steal four bases in one inning of a postseason game. The Royals led the league in stolen bases with 153, 31 more than any team in the league. It's a big weapon for them. Jarrod Dyson's steal of third base with one out in the ninth inning -- he scored on a sacrifice fly -- was one of many huge plays in that game. To beat the Angels, a superior offensive team, the Royals are going to have to push the action, as always.
What is the status of the Angels' rotation?
Unsettled. It is miraculous how well the Angels have done without Garrett Richards, who was lost for the season in August with a knee injury. But two days before the LDS was to begin, manager Mike Scioscia still wasn't ready to announce his rotation plan because he didn't know how it would look. Jered Weaver will start Game 1, he's an ace, but after that, things are unclear. Matt Shoemaker last pitched on Sept. 15 due to a mild oblique strain. He threw a bullpen session on Tuesday, and he said he anticipated having no setbacks. But will he be the guy who went 14-3 with a 2.89 ERA in 20 starts? "Matt Shoemaker saved our season," said Scioscia. A lot could be riding on C.J. Wilson, who has won 43 games the past three seasons with the Angels, but has control issues (4.4 walks per nine innings this year), and postseason issues: He's made 10 appearances, nine starts, and is 1-5 with a 4.82 ERA, 29 walks and 10 homers allowed in 52 1/3 innings.
What is the status of the Royals' rotation?
It is also unclear after manager Ned Yost took out his best pitcher, James Shields, after 88 pitches, and inexplicably replaced him with another starter, Yordano Ventura, in the sixth inning of the wild-card game. Shields likely won't start again until Game 3. Until then, two of Danny Duffy, Jeremy Guthrie and Ventura will have to keep things together against a very good Angels lineup. And when Shields does pitch, will he be the guy they call "Big Game" James, the guy whom Royals DH Billy Butler calls "the most competitive baseball player I've ever been around"? Or will the Royals' ace be pulled again after 88 pitches?
The pick: Angels in five