KC Royals vs. LA Angels: 3 important things to consider

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

The KC Royals start a series with the Angels tonight. Here’s what to watch.

The KC Royals, fresh from an extra-inning Sunday win and short series split in Chicago, return home tonight to begin a three-game set with one of baseball’s better teams. The Los Angeles Angels always entertain, but here are three things in particular to keep an eye on.

Three LA stars are making their only visit of the year to Kauffman Stadium.

This three game series is the only chance Royals fans get this season to see a trio of great Angels at Kauffman Stadium. Unless the two clubs meet in the playoffs, Los Angeles makes only one 2021 trip to Kansas City.

At the top of the list, of course, is Mike Trout, arguably (or inarguably, depending on your perspective), the best player in the game today. With two years left on his contract, Trout signed a 12-year, $462.5 million in 2019 to stay with the Angels, effectively putting to rest any notion that he’d leave LA for a team better equipped to reach the World Series. He hasn’t missed a beat since, and is enjoying yet another typical Trout season with three home runs, six RBIs and a .414/.564/.828 slash through nine games.

Ranking close behind Trout as LA’s biggest gate draw is two-way player Shohei Ohtani, deemed to be so good and so valuable by manager Joe Maddon that he hits for himself when he pitches, and is LA’s designated hitter when he doesn’t. A blister recently forced him out of the rotation, so he won’t pitch against KC this week. He’s hitting .294 with a double, two triples, three homers and eight RBIs in nine games.

Then there’s Albert Pujols, who’s in the final year of a 10-year contract. Pujols’ recent performance (he hasn’t hit higher than .270 since 2014, hasn’t had more than 30 homers since 2016, and is just 3-for-20 this season) suggests he’ll struggle to find a deal to his liking for 2022 and could retire. So this series may be the last chance to see Pujols play in Kansas City.

Los Angeles is the best team the KC Royals have played so far in 2021.

The Angels’ 6-3 record is better than that of the three teams who’ve faced the KC Royals this season: the Rangers are 3-6, the Indians 5-3, and the White Sox 4-5. LA took three of four from the White Sox, split two games with Houston, and won two of three against Toronto before rain wiped out Sunday’s game. Only the Dodgers (8-2) and Padres (7-3) have better records; the Angels’ six win total matches Boston, Cincinnati, Houston, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

(After Sunday’s 4-3 extra-inning victory over the White Sox, the 4-3 Royals are mere percentage points ahead of Minnesota for second place in the AL Central; both clubs are a half-game behind front-running Cleveland).

The Angels have a serviceable offense to thank for being tied with Houston for first place in the American League West. The Halos average 5.3 runs per game (they give up almost six, but only a bit over four without the 15-spot Toronto put up against them Saturday).

Through Los Angeles’ nine games, Ohtani, Trout and first baseman Jared Walsh lead the team with three homers each, Walsh leads with nine RBIs, and Trout’s .414/.564/.828 tops the club. His average ranks sixth in the AL and seventh in the majors.

The Angels’ bats must get them by because their rotation hasn’t been great. Righthander Dylan Bundy is the best starter so far with an 0-0, 3.75 ERA record in two starts, lefty Andrew Heaney is 1-1 but has surrendered seven runs in nine innings, and righthanders Alex Cobb (4.50 ERA), Griffin Canning (6.75), and Ohtani (1.93) have a start apiece, but no decisions.

Expect Cobb, Bundy and Canning to face righthander Brady Singer (0-1, 13.50), lefthander Danny Duffy (1-0, 0.00), and righty Brad Keller (0-1, 19.29). Because teams played only clubs in their divisions and corresponding divisions in the other league last season, the Angels have never faced Singer.

The Los Angeles bullpen can be a bit shaky. Raisel Iglesias’ two saves lead the club, but he’s also surrendered five runs (four earned) and two homers in five innings. In just two innings, Jaime Barria gave up seven of the 15 runs Toronto scored against the Angels Saturday. Junior Guerra, however, is 2-0 in seven scoreless innings and Mike Mayers’ ERA is 1.59 in five appearances.

Can struggling KC Royals starter Brad Keller put together a good outing?

After weather stole Saturday’s game from the Royals and White Sox and disrupted KC’s pitching assignments, it appears Keller will start Wednesday. Will he improve on his first two efforts of 2021?

Despite their well-earned status as one of the majors’ worst teams, the Rangers pummeled Keller for six runs in 1.1 Opening Day innings; Chicago was only slightly more kind to him Thursday, scoring four times in Keller’s 3.1 innings. Those outings make him the club’s biggest disappointment and concern so far. Should the Angels give him trouble early, KC manager Mike Matheny may summon Jakob Junis, who turned in a superb start against the White Sox Wednesday, although Junis is an ideal candidate for another turn in the rotation soon.

Keller attributes his early season struggles to a failure to be aggressive with hitters. He’ll face a Maddon-fashioned lineup drawn from these probable starters:

C: Max Stassi (.357/.471/.571, 1 HR, 1 RBI)

1B: Jared Walsh (.385, .467/.808, 3 HR, 9 RBI)

2B: David Fletcher (.205/.244/.231, 0 HR, 5 RBI)

SS: Jose Iglesias (.200/.222/.257, 0 HR, 2 RBI)

3B: Anthony Rendon (.290/.378/.387, 1 HR, 3 RBI)

LF: Justin Upton (.188/.270/.313, 1 HR, 5 RBI)

CF: Mike Trout (.414/.564/.828, 3 HR, 6 RBI)

RF: Juan Lagares (.000/.000/.000, 0 HR, 0 RBI)

DH: Shohei Ohtani (.294/.333/.706, 3 HR, 8 RBI)

With regular right fielder Dexter Fowler out for the season after tearing an ACL Friday, Gold Glover Lagares is the best bet to play right. Maddon could conceivably move Walsh there and use Albert Pujols at first, but Pujols’ unfortunate hitting renders that scenario unlikely.

Rendon could be questionable with a groin issue. If he doesn’t start, Jose Rojas probably will.

Next. KC lucky to have Hanser Alberto. dark

The Royals open a long homestand tonight at 7:10 p.m. CDT against the Angels. The clubs then play at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday and 1:10 p.m. Wednesday.