By Scooby Axson
October 07, 2014
John McDonough/Sports Illustrated

The Kansas City Royals aren’t supposed to be here. That is, four wins away from their first World Series appearance since 1985.

Two seasons ago, they won 72 games. While improvement was slowly coming, Kansas City was supposed to a few more years away from seriously contending.

Try to name players on their team and see how far you get. They don’t care about having star power. Not the way they just dispatched the team with the best record in baseball, the Los Angeles Angels, in three games in the American League Division Series. The Angels have the dubious distraction of becoming the first team in 34 years to have the game’s best record and not record a single victory in the playoffs.

The Royals’ opponent in the American League Championship Series will be the Baltimore Orioles, themselves coming off a sweep of the Detroit Tigers. The ALCS starts Friday in Baltimore.

The baseball playoffs are center stage, with Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer gracing the regional cover of this week's Sports Illustrated.

The matchup is a fascinating one: The Orioles slugged their way to 211 home runs in the regular season, while Kansas City was the only team in the majors that did not hit 100 home runs this season.

Instead, the Royals rely on timely hitting and making life tough for opponents once they reach base. They stole 153 bases in the regular season and swiped 12 more in the Angels series.

As SI’s Tom Verducci writes, the Royals play with a “breakneck enthusiasm on the field and in the dugout more typically found in Williamsport than major league cities.”

“It’s one big family in here. When you see your brother get a hit and you see your brother hit a two-run home run to win a game, excitement just kind of overtakes you, and you really don’t know what’s going. You’re just out there cheering,” Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas said.

For more on the MLB Playoffs​,check out this week's Sports Illustrated (subscribe here). Also featured in this issue is Ben Reiter’s feature on Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake and stories on Ole Miss and Mississippi State’s historic victories last weekend.

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