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Angels learn that regular-season success doesn't carry over

Angels learn that regular-season success doesn't carry over
Angels players watch from the dugout during the team's season-ending loss to the Kansas City Royals in Game 3 of the American League division series on Sunday. (Ed Zurga / Getty Images)

Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout worked their way around the perimeter of the spacious visiting clubhouse in Kauffman Stadium on Sunday night, exchanging hugs with teammates and coaches.

It was so quiet in the wake of Kansas City's three-game American League division series sweep of the Angels that the heavy pats on the back from each hug echoed throughout the room.

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The gestures were an indication of how close the Angels had come during a season in which they rallied after losing pitchers Tyler Skaggs and Garrett Richards to injuries in August and overcame a four-game deficit to run away with their first AL West title in five years.

But as the Angels learned in their shockingly brief foray into the playoffs, good team chemistry is great over the long haul of a six-month season — there's less squabbling, finger pointing and back stabbing — but it doesn't mean a thing in October.

Nor does having the best regular-season record in the major leagues and home-field advantage in the postseason. The Angels lost the first two games of the series at home, each in 11 innings, and never found their footing against a Royals club that suffocated them with stout pitching and stifling defense.

"We got home-field advantage, and we didn't do what we needed to do with it," said pitcher C.J. Wilson, who failed to make it out of the first inning of Sunday night's 8-3, series-ending loss.

"It shows that it doesn't matter at all what your record is during the season. Any team can win on a given day if they play better. That's what happened. We got outplayed. I got out-pitched, and we got out-hit."

There were other lessons in the wake of a devastating sweep. For Trout, the presumptive AL most valuable player, it's to do a better job of controlling his emotions on the big stage. The center fielder had one hit in the series, a first-inning home run in Game 3.

"Sometimes, you hear the crowd going, you want to do so much, you get out of your approach," Trout said. "You try to do a little too much, and that's when you get in trouble. It's something you have to work on."

For Josh Hamilton, it's to know your limitations. The left fielder was convinced he could bounce back from injuries that forced him to sit out 22 of the final 23 games because he did so in 2010, when he sat out most of September because of cracked ribs and starred in the AL Championship Series for Texas.

But Hamilton was the AL MVP that season. He is nowhere near that caliber of player now. His timing was off, and he went hitless in 13 division series at-bats, failing to strike the ball with any authority.

Yes, Hamilton played decent defense, but the Angels would have been better off with Efren Navarro or Collin Cowgill in left field.

For Manager Mike Scioscia, it's to not deviate too much from the script. The Angels dropped 26 sacrifice bunts all season but tried three in the late innings of Game 1, none of which led to runs.

Scioscia trusted Hank Conger to share catching duties with Chris Iannetta all season but refused to lift Iannetta in the eighth inning of Game 2, when he really needed a player who could bunt a runner to third base in a tie game, because Iannetta was a little better than Conger defensively.

He platooned players in the designated hitter spot for most of the season but started right-handed-hitting C.J. Cron over the left-handed-hitting Navarro against hard-throwing right-hander Yordano Ventura in Game 2 and right-hander James Shields in Game 3.

Cron went one for seven with five strikeouts in the two games, his only hit a double against reliever Wade Davis in Game 2.

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"There's nobody you can blame. You can't point fingers. We win as a team, we lose as a team," first baseman Albert Pujols said. "It's disappointing because we want to bring another championship to the city of Anaheim, and we didn't do that. But we have too many veteran guys here. I think we can bounce back. It's not going to be the last postseason we're going to be in as a group."

Where do the Angels go from here? Well, they don't reach for the dynamite.

General Manager Jerry Dipoto said he will look to add rotation depth — Skaggs will sit out 2015 because of elbow surgery — and bench depth, and he has to decide whether David Freese or Gordon Beckham, or someone else, will be the third baseman next season.

But the core of a lineup that led the major leagues in runs will return, as will most of a rebuilt and improved bullpen. And the Angels are already pushing up against the $189-million luxury tax threshold for 2015, so don't expect a major off-season overhaul.

"There's no need to blow this thing up," Dipoto said. "We played two 11-inning games and lost. We ran into a good team with momentum that did little things to win games. I don't think the world fell on us."

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