136376-so-youre-telling-me-theres-a-c-2tqk

The Royals are 60-60: So you’re telling me there’s a chance?

This is the second year in a row I’ve done absolutely no blogging in June or July. When the Kentucky Derby ends, this site just sits idle until mid-August when the postseason race heats up. Not by choice, necessarily. It’s a time commitment thing. Summer is busy. August, on the other hand, is not.

So let’s talk Royals.

I want to talk about two different things today. First, a quick look at how we got here. Second, stew a bit about what we’re rooting for the rest of the way.

How did we get here…what went wrong?

Nearly everything has gone wrong that could’ve gone wrong. 

Looking at pitching first: Luke Hochevar is done for the season. Offseason addition, Joakim Soria, has been mostly terrible in his Royals return. Kris Medlen is done for the season. Wade Davis is on the DL. Chris Young spent time on the DL and was atrocious in the rotation. Hopeful September call up, Kyle Zimmer, is done for the year (again). Mike Minor has had setbacks on his return. It’s a mess, really.

On the offensive side of the game: Mike Moustakas is out for the season with an ACL injury. Alex Gordon missed some time on the DL too, but even when he was healthy he’s been terrible. Gordon’s batting average was below .200 as late as August 9, yet somehow Eric Hosmer has been even worse since winning All Star Game MVP. Lorenzo Cain spent time on the DL. If you’d told me all those things at the start of the season, I’d tell you we’d only win 70 games.

How did we get here…what went right?

Yet somehow this team is 60-60 with 42 games left. They sit 9.0 games out of the Central behind Cleveland and Detroit and 6.5 games out of the Wild Card behind a half dozen different teams. And therein lies the biggest problem – no matter what the Royals do down the stretch, there are enough teams ahead of them it’s still extremely unlikely they’ll break into the postseason. But we’ll get there in a second.

For as much misfortune as the Royals have had, it’s easy to overlook the fact that a lot of things have actually tipped their way. Things like Paulo Orlando competing for a batting title and Cheslor Cuthbert hitting .290/.327/.443 and turning in a different web gem nearly every night in Moose’s absence. Cuthbert has been so good that we’re literally asking the question, “What do we do with this guy when Moustakas comes back?” (The answer, of course, is that he takes over at DH for Kendrys Morales next season when he doesn’t return.)

Danny Duffy is 10-1 with a 2.73 ERA and is in the AL Cy Young conversation. Yordano Ventura has taken another step. Ian Kennedy – despite leading the majors in home runs – has been more than adequate. Kelvin Herrera has been his normal dominant self and if Matt Strahm has been equally solid since being called up this past month. #VoteOmar has been cut and replaced by #2HitWhit and #RAM. 

If you told me all that stuff back in April, I’d’ve thought we’d been pace to win 95 games.

So when you think about it, of course they’re .500. They’ve balanced the good and the bad, injures with unexpected success stories. All in all, it’s been a very polarized season, but over the course of a long long baseball season, extreme good and extreme bad have a way of averaging out to .500.

On July 31, the Royals were 49-55 and 12 games back in the division. On August 9 they were 6 games under .500. Since then they’ve gone 7-1 and if they haven’t resurrected their season yet, they’re at least resurrected a blog post like this one. Sure, suddenly this team is .500 again, but .500 teams don’t play in the postseason. So the Royals will have to finish very strong to defend the crown in 2016. And some other things probably need to tip their way too.

For the sake of time and energy let’s say the Royals finish something like 27-15. They’ve got 10 games left against the Twins and 7 against the White Sox, so that number is certainly possible. And with the exception of next week’s road trip to Miami and Boston, the remainder of the schedule is either at home, or on the road vs AL Central opponents. That finish would put KC at 87 wins, which is right on the bubble of being a Wild Card team.

The Wild Card

The issue here is not the record – 6.5 games back with 42 to play is absolutely doable. If it was about the record, I’d just end this post now by saying, “The Royals need to win 27 or more games before they lose more than 15” and wrap it up. Cause that would do it, it it was just us vs another team. The issue, as I said at the top of this post, is the number of teams the Royals are chasing.

Here’s the current American League Wild Card standings:

  • BOS 67-52 (+1.0)
  • BAL 66-53
    —-
  • SEA 64-55 (2.0 GB)
  • DET 63-57 (3.5)
  • HOU 61-59 (5.5)
  • NYY 61-59 (5.5)
  • KC 60-60 (6.5)

The Royals need to pass FIVE different teams to land the final Wild Card spot currently held by Baltimore. The Red Sox and Mariners are hot. The Tigers and Astros are not. Baltimore and Yankees are somewhere in between. Additionally, the Red Sox are only 1 game behind the Blue Jays in the AL East, so Toronto is actually in the mix as well.

Boston, Baltimore and Toronto: The first thing that must happen is at least one of these teams needs to have a bit of a free fall. The Orioles are the most obvious option as they’re in 3rd, but I sure do hate Toronto. The Red Sox are rolling, it’s tough to think thy’ll let off the gas.

Which leads to the second thing that needs to happen: The other two teams need to stay hot. I know that sounds counterintuitive at first, but all these teams play each other multiple times over the next 6 weeks. Baltimore/Boston: 7 games left. Baltimore/Toronto: 6 games left. Boston/Toronto: 6 games left. The best way to gain ground on the final Wild Card spot is for the Sox and Jays to hand the O’s a combined 13 losses. That opens things up immediately.

If those teams all split the series, then the Royals likely won’t gain enough ground to overtake any of them. Doesn’t matter which one plummets, but one of them has to. And the best thing that can happen is the other two mow down the rest of the competition around the league.

Detroit: Just swept these guys, and it did wonders for our chances. We can’t waste our time worrying about what Detroit will do. We have 6 games left against them. If we take care of business against them, we can make up the ground ourselves. Assuming the Royals do their part, we control our own destiny against the Tigers to some extent. That said, they’re playing the Red Sox this weekend, and if Boston is going to be one of those teams to pull away, might as well root for the Sox this weekend. We’ll know more on these guys by Monday, but if we’re worried about the Tigers, then we’ve already lost.

Yankees: What a shock to see this team in the mix. Major sellers at the trade deadline, yet due to an influx of youth, they’ve hung around are are in the mix in late August. What do we want from the Yankees? Well, we want them to follow suit based on what the other three AL East teams do. They have 9 games against the Orioles left, 7 against Toronto and 6 against the Red Sox. They need to help beat the team that fades, but lose to the two teams that pull away. But again, if we’re worried about the Yankees, then we’ve already lost.

Astros and Seattle: I’ve been high on Houston from the beginning. While the White Sox were busy fooling everyone into wondering, “Is Chicago for real?” the Astros were so bad out the gate, many thought their season was over. Not me. The season is long, and good teams rise to the top and bad teams eventually drown. And here we are in mid-August and the Astros are in the mix.

The Mariners, on the other hand, are on a surprising surge. They’re finally looking like the team many of us believed would be great back in 2014 and 2015. These two teams play each other 6 times down the stretch. Houston has 4 games vs Baltimore this weekend and Seattle has 3 games vs Toronto in September. Otherwise, it’s AL West matchups galore for them. We need to be huge Angels and Athletics and Rangers fans.

So there’s a lot here, but again, none of it means anything if the Royals don’t finish strong themselves. The best thing you can do to make the postseason is win a lot of games. Right.

The Division

And then there’s Cleveland, currently sitting at 68-50. They’re 18 games over .500 and up 9.0 games on the Royals in the division. The two teams play each other 6 times the rest of the way. 

If you look at it a certain way, it’s actually easier to make the playoffs by winning the division than it is by winning the Wild Card. If we continue to assume the Royals finish at least 27-15 (a big assumption, sure, but understandably necessary), and the Indians finish 19-25, then, eureka!, we’ve done it.

The Indians are essentially a lock for the playoffs. They have been for some time now. But their remaining schedule is anything but soft. In fact, the Indians have the hardest remaining schedule in the AL Central besides the Twins, for whom every game is hard. The next 10 games for Cleveland: 3 vs TOR, 3 @ OAK, 4 vs TEX. Throw in 4 vs HOU, 6 vs KC and 7 vs DET in September/October, and that’s a bit of a gauntlet. Nine games is a lot to make up, but it’s not impossible. Some examples:

  • The 2009 Twins were 7.0 back on September 7. Won the division.
  • The 1969 Mets were 9.5 back on August 13. Won the division.
  • The 1995 Mariners were 12.5 back on August 15. Finished 25-11. Won the division.

It’s not unprecedented. Sure, it’s still unlikely, but who knows? All it takes is one bad week. Maybe next week is it? Go Blue Jays, Athletics and Rangers. We’ll see.

But for now, this weekend vs Minnesota is a must win. Do another sweep, boys.

-apc.

693239_1280x720

2016 Kentucky Derby: Cooper Family Live Draft

Yesssssssss.

The most exciting two minutes in sports is back: The Kentucky Derby!!

The Tradition

The Cooper Family has been doing this for years. Each year we study up on the 20 horses running for the roses and make our selections on who we think will win. It’s purely for pride. (Although, I’ve been considering getting some sort of trophy created to pass around to whoever the current champion is…maybe next year.)

I remember making picks with my Dad when I was a kid – but The Draft has really become something larger since around 2002, and every year it seems to gain some momentum. Perhaps it’s due to marriages and our expanding family size. Perhaps it’s because I started doing these annual Live Draft posts in 2014. Perhaps it’s because, for the most part, we’re all living back in the same city again. Hard to say, but there’s good energy here so why not really make a big deal out of it?

But before we get to this year, let’s talk briefly about last year, since, you know, I won.

You know, that whole thing about hindsight being 20/20 is particularly apropos when one of the horses you’re considering drafting becomes the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Last year’s Derby winner, American Pharoah, had the best odds on draft day at 3-1. Sure, there were comparable horses running last year at Churchill Downs – Dortmund (4-1) and Firing Line (7-1) were right there at the finish too – but after AP absolutely obliterated the competition in the sloppy Preakness a few weeks later, it was clear the gap at the top was wider than originally believed. I even wrote, “there’s no true favorite like there has been the past few years,” in this section of last year’s draft post. I was wrong. American Pharoah was clearly a notch above the rest.

And he graciously fell to me at pick #3. Thanks, fam.

Yes, I’m coming off my first ever Cooper Family Kentucky Derby win. It feels good, sure, but it was a gift more than something I earned. My wife scored pick #1 and took Dortmund. My mom took a flier on Carpe Diem with pick #2 which didn’t hit. And the horse of destiny just kinda landed in my lap.

Repeating will be a tall order though, since we decided to draft in reverse order from our previous year’s finish. I have the 7th pick. But more on that in a bit. First, let’s talk about the horses.

Links to the last two Derby drafts…

The Horses

There is a clear favorite this year.

Nyquist has never lost a race – a perfect 7-0 in races leading up Derby. When betting lines were first posted earlier this week, he was 3-1. He’s named after a hockey player, Detroit Red Wings’ right winger Gustav Nyquit. Amazingly, I know more about the horse than I do the man.  The next closest line is, Exaggerator, winner of the Santa Anita Derby, opening at 8-1.

But weirder things have happened than a clear cut favorite finishing in the middle of the pack. Look no further than 1994 when Holy Bull – the Horse of the Year that year – entered the Derby as the clear favorite, but sloppy track conditions and a poor break cost him. He ended 12th out of 14 horses. See? Anything is possible.

Like listen to this argument: Nyquist ran the San Vicente Stakes in California on February 15, then the Florida Derby on April 2, and now is headed to Kentucky a month later. Traveling can certainly wear down a horse. Plus, only one of the entrants has ever run a 1 1/4 mile race before, so who knows which of these horses has the stamina to go that extra 1/8 of a mile. And all it takes is a hesitation out the gate, or getting pinched around a turn.

See? Wide open. (Yeah right.)

If that happens, the number of challengers appears deep with a whopping 13 horses in the 10- to 20-1 range: CreatorGun Runner and Mohaymen opened at 10-1; Brody’s Cause and Mor Spirit at 12-1; Destin opened at 15-1, as did the two speedy pace horses, Outwork and Danzing Candy.

Oh! And you can’t ever count out Victor Espinoza these days. Jockey of the past two Derby winners. He’s riding Whitmore (20-1) this year – expect that line to drop as we approach post time.

So if you’ve got, say, the 7th pick in the draft, and you’re certainly not going to end up with Nyquist, there are guaranteed to be horses out there that have a shot. The full list by position as of this post:

  1. Trojan Nation 50-1
  2. Suddenbreakingnews 20-1
  3. Creator 10-1
  4. Mo Tom 20-1
  5. Gun Runner 10-1
  6. My Man Sam 20-1
  7. Oscar Nominated 50-1
  8. Lani 30-1
  9. Destin 15-1
  10. Whitmore 20-1
  11. Exaggerator 8-1
  12. Tom’s Ready 30-1
  13. Nyquist 3-1
  14. Mohaymen 10-1
  15. Outwork 15-1
  16. Shagaf 20-1
  17. Mor Spirit 12-1
  18. Majesto 30-1
  19. Brody’s Cause 12-1
  20. Danzing Candy 15-1
  21. Laoban (Alternate) 50-1
  22. Cherry Wine (Alternate) 30-1

Click here for the complete list of horses, post positions and betting odds.

Here’s what jumps out initially…

Both of those speedsters are interesting options. Outwork is coming out of post position 15 and Danzing Candy out of position 20. The way the gate is constructed, those are terrific spots for speedy horses. There are 14 slots in the main gate, and an appendage is attached housing positions 15-20.

Here’s a photo…

mg8872

See what I’m saying? You can see what can happen out of the gate – the 14, 15 and 20 horses have the most room to work with and establish position.

If you’re a pace horse, this is helpful to quickly get out ahead of the pack. And the two fastest horses in this race are on both ends of the attachment. Outwork and Danzing Candy have every opportunity to get a good jump and pace the pack. If that happens, this has the makings of a very very fast race.

Now, some people don’t believe post numbers matter in the slightest. The best horses get the best jumps get the best race posturing get the better finishes. And I agree with that for the most part, but at the same time, certain positions can certainly help. And when a race has been happening for 141 years, certain trends begin to develop.

The inside numbers (posts 1-5) have the shortest distance to run because they have the inside track, sure. But they’re also the most likely to get pinched against the rail. Generally, if a horse is on the inside, they want to be in spots 1, 2 or 5. Spots 3 & 4 are the most likely to get pinched and effectively eliminated in the first quarter mile.

Good news for Gun Runner. Bad news for Creator.

The outside numbers (posts 13-20) have a longer distance so a slight disadvantage. However, if they can get a good break, they typically have more room to work with and are rarely eliminated over the first quarter mile. Nyquist got a bit of a disadvantage being in #13, but not much. If you’re in the outside third, 13 and 16 (Shagaf) have produced the most winners.

The only gate to never produce a winner? 17.

Sorry, Mor Spirit.

The ideal positions are somewhere in the middle, in the 5-12 range. Posts 8 (Lani) and 10 (Whitmore) have the best winning percentages among the middle numbers.

Whoops. Really got into post positioning for a moment there. In the end, we don’t really know anything at all. It’s all one big crapshoot. Pick the best horses and hope for the best – that’s always the better shot. If Mor Spirit is still available late in the draft, am I still picking him over Trojan Nation or Oscar Nominated? Absolutely.

Most of what I just wrote was an attempt to make my family members gain some level of interest in horses I don’t want in hopes they pick them before it gets to me…OR WAS IT?! What if this entire post is a ploy to sucker my family into picking the chumps again this year?! Hmmm. Just doing my own jockeying for position here.

The Family Draft Order

In past years, we’ve picked numbers out of a hat and made it completely random. That’s just no fun for those who end up with the last pick and have no shot at picking California Chrome, American Pharoah or Nyquist. My dad definitely has the most wins in our family, but most (all?) have come due to lucking into a high pick and selecting the favorite: Orb in 2013. Big Brown in 2008. War Emblem in 2002. Pretty sure he won all of those and had a top 2 pick every time. I’m sure it was very rewarding to defeat his offspring on the regular.

So this year, we’ve adjusted the rules. From now on, we’ll be selecting in the order we finished the previous year! That way the loser from the year before has first dibs at the favorite next year. From there, it snakes back to the first pick. Any leftover picks then jump to the final picker and go in reverse order. This year there are 20 horses, so the picking order looks like this:

  • Mom – 1 & 14
  • Holly – 2, 13 & 20
  • Quinten – 3, 12 & 19
  • Anna – 4, 11 & 18
  • Karlie – 5, 10 & 17
  • Dad – 6, 9 & 16
  • Adam – 7, 8 & 15

I have picks 7, 8 and 15. Woof. The price of success, I suppose.

So who am I targeting with pick 7? Who knows. I’ll end up with whoever is left off the top of my board, and – as any good NFL general manager will say – I’ll take the best player available. I’m hoping someone in the Creator-Gun Runner-Mohaymen tier falls to me, but that feels like a stretch. Exaggerator and Nyqvist will be long gone. My sister, Anna, is a sucker for Victor Espinoza so Whitmore probably won’t be there either.

So that leaves…who? Destin? Brody’s Cause? Blegh. No thank you. The reality is I’ll end up with two also-rans who may or may not have lead hooves. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong.

I’m most likely to pick two horses whose names are the most fun to root for, so HERE WE GO, SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS! What a name.

The Draft

**The Draft is happening Saturday morning. Check back then for updates as the picks come in.**

Pick 1: Nyquist (Mom)

Mom picks the favorite right out the gate. No messing around here.

Pick 2: Exaggerator (Holly)

And Hol follows up with the obvious followup. Who saw this coming? (Everyone.)

Pick 3: Creator (Quinten)

For some reason Creator isn’t getting any love for coming into the derby with such solid odds. Quinten has a good horse here, but it’s not the route I would’ve gone.

Pick 4: Whitmore (Anna)

In a completely unsurprising move, Anna takes her boy, Victor Espinoza.

Pick 5: Gun Runner (Karlie)

Amazing that Mohaymen and Gun Runner are still on the board at this point. They were #’s 2 and 3 on my draft board. Karlie gets a terrific horse at number 5.

Pick 6: Mohaymen (Dad)

And Dad somehow gets an unbelievable pick at #6 overall.

Pick 7: SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS (APC)

This just in: all the good horses are gone. If I could trade back and acquire more picks, I would, but I’m not sure that’s allowed. So I’ll go with the best name in the race here, just like I said I would.

Pick 8: Outwork (APC)

If you read everything up to this point, you know I liked the pace horses, Outwork and Danzing Candy, so I’ll take the one closer on the inside. Hoping DC falls to me at #15. Doubtful.

Pick 9: Mor Spirit (Dad)

No horse has ever won from the 17 gate, but Dad appears hopeful. “Maybe this is the year!” That’s the Spirit. Although, he did win Jimmy Fallon’s Puppy Predictor this year.

Pick 10: Destin (Karlie)

Solid gate positioning. Best available. Good pick here.

Pick 11: Brody’s Cause (Anna)

Terrible name. Best odds out there. Does anyone know what his Cause is?

Pick 12: My Man Sam (Quinten)

Has “dark horse” written all over it. Solid positioning and underrated. Dad makes the following joke: “Used to be Sam I Am before he was sold into slavery.” Wonderful. Everyone loves a good slavery joke…

Pick 13: Mo Tom (Holly)

The first of the two Toms is finally off the board. Won’t be missed. Should finish last.

Pick 14: Danzing Candy (Mom)

Love this pick. Danzing was one of the favorites a month or so ago, but slid in April and then got shoved to the #20 gate. But he’s got the speed to pull it off.

Pick 15: Shagaf (APC)

So I’ll take Shagaf, because, I have no idea.

Pick 16: Lani (Dad)

Dad takes the other grey horse in the mix. Lani is a guy’s name, supposedly. And he’s from Japan, so who knows what we’ve got here. “Could be the steal of the draft” in a prime post position.

Pick 17: Oscar Nominated (Karlie)

Terrible horse. But whatever, all the remaining horses stink, so might as well grab the one with the best starting position. Karlie finishes with Gun Runner, Destin and Oscar Nominated. That’s a good group.

Pick 18: Majesto (Anna)

Majesto is the horse I know the least about because he’s really not worth my time.

Pick 19: Trojan Nation (Quinten)

Q takes the inside rail. Too bad the Nation is going to get bumped early by…SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS.

Pick 20: Tom’s Ready (Holly)

And Holly picks up the pieces and adds the other Tom. She ends up with Exaggerator and the Toms. Sounds like an up and coming garage band. Dibs band name.

So here’s where the draft left us…

  • Mom: Nyquist, Danzing Candy
  • Holly: Exaggerator and the Toms
  • Quinten: Creator, My Man Sam, Trojan Nation
  • Anna: Whitmore, Brody’s Cause, Majesto
  • Karlie: Gun Runner, Destin, Oscar Nominated
  • Dad: Mohaymen, Mor Spirit, Lani
  • APC: Suddenbreakingnews, Outwork, Shagaf

Well…the good news is I’ll get an early pick in 2017.

Immediate takeaways – Mom’s draft was obviously strong with Nyquist, but adding Danzing Candy is a strong pick at #14 overall. Dad and Karlie had fantastic drafts for the picks they had. Anna’s way too sentimental to ever actually win this thing.

I think Danzing Candy and Outwork get out to the front from the outside, but fade late from giving too much to claim the pace. I really like Suddenbreakingnews and My Man Sam emerging from the rail horses as contenders, but getting worn out trying to keep up with Gun Runner and Nyquist, who should fall in behind the pace, boxing out Exaggerator. Mohaymen ought to just pace behind Nyquist and hope to have more left in the tank down the stretch. I anticipate a fast race where only the strongest survive.

If I’m picking a superfecta, I’m going with Nyquist, Gun Runner, Mohaymen, Outwork.

The Results

And Nyquist takes it.

The race played out almost exactly like everyone expected – Dancing Candy paced the group but faded late, Nyquist and Gun Runner hanging just off the pace kicked it into gear around the far turn. Exaggerator held back and got caught up in the middle until a hole opened up late and he scampered to a strong second place finish. Gun Runner barely hung on for third in a photo alongside Mohaymen and Suddenbreakingnews.

It’s fitting that Mom would win on Mother’s Day weekend. She picked the obvious favorite and he pulled through with ease.

So that means our family standings for this year’s Kentucky Derby look like this…

  1. Mom (Nyquist)
  2. Holly (Exaggerator)
  3. Karlie (Gun Runner)
  4. Dad (Mohaymen)
  5. APC (Suddenbreakingnews)
  6. Anna (Brody’s Cause, 7th)
  7. Quinten (My Man Sam, 11th)

Dad finished with 3 horses in the top 10 – Mohaymen, Lani (9th) and Mor Spirit (10th). Along with Gun Runner, Karlie also did well with Destin (6th). Anna’s horses struggled – Whitmore was the last to finish, and Majesto was second to last. Holly did well with Exaggerator, but the Toms were respectable too finishing 8th (Mo) and 12th (‘s Ready).

Quinten will get the first overall pick next year. His horses were not great on paper, nor in the Derby. He finished 11th (My Man Sam), 13th (Creator) and 16th (Trojan Nation).

I did as well as I could. Suddenbreakingnews (5th) was the best finishing horse remaining when it got to me. That at least counts for something. Outwork was a long shot if he could keep up with the heavy hitters, and was sitting pretty going into the last quarter mile but faded significantly down the stretch, as many predicted he would. He finished 14th.

Shagaf…did not finish.

Photo creds: CNN accessed here; Insider Louisville accessed here.

PI-MLB-Royals-Alcides-Escobar-070115.vadapt.664.high.96

The Royals are 13-12: Offensive Concerns and a Different Leadoff Option

It’s May, and things are…fine.

April started great, with the Royals splitting with the Mets, sweeping the Twins, and wining 3 of 4 at Minute Maid Park in Houston. After dropping 2 of 3 in Oakland, the Royals came home to win 4 of 6 against the Tigers and Orioles. Through 18 games, they sat at 12-6. This is a good start.

But April ended poorly. The Royals won only 1 game the rest of the way after getting swept by the Angels and losing 2 of 3 to the Mariners. The offense sputtered. The defense struggled. The pitching stumbled. The West Coast has not been friendly thus far.

So here we are, on May 2, and the Royals are 13-12. Things are fine. The first 3 weeks were, for the most part, strong. This past week has been, almost entirely, terrible. If that trend continues throughout the season, this team is a playoff team. The baseball season is long, and there are going to be times when the team is thriving and there are going to be times when the team is regressing. That’s baseball.

So that’s what we’re looking for: Trends. What are the current areas of concern that we ought to be worried about turning into trends?

Consider the case of Joakim Soria.

If I had written this post two weeks ago, Soria would’ve highlighted the argument. On Opening Night, Soria made his triumphant return out of the bullpen to take the bump for the Royals. He pitched the 8th inning, inheriting a 4-0 ballgame. He got 2 outs. He gave up 3 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks. He left the game with runners on 1st and 2nd and needed Luke Hochevar to get him out of it.

Between April 3 and April 19, Soria had a 7.71 ERA. He had given up 6 runs on 10 hits and walked 5 in 7 innings over 8 games. Opponents were hitting .333/.417/.567 off him. Not great.

But while the rest of the team has been floundering on the west coast, Joakim Soria has looked more like himself. From April 20 to May 1, his ERA is 2.21, and the only blemish is a home run to some guy named Mike Trout. The temporary concern did not become a trend, and the pumpkin turned back into a carriage. Or something.

So what are the concerns? And which of them are trends?

Save for a few poor outings, the pitching has been strong, and while the defense hasn’t been as tight as we are accustomed to it being, it’s not like the 9 guys who make up one of the best defenses in baseball suddenly got the yips and can’t play. They’ve had a few slow turns on double plays and couple plays by Escobar and Cain that we know they usually make. Those will come around.

No, the concern is on the offensive side of the ball. We know this. And it’s not just a couple guys either, it’s basically everyone not named Eric or Michael. Eric Hosmer has reached base in every game this season but one. He is hitting .337. Mike Moustakas is has 7 home runs. He is slugging .548. He can seemingly go to the opposite field at will.

The rest of the team is hitting .233/.283/.324. Basically, the rest of the team is hitting like 2015 Omar Infante. Infante, interestingly enough, is bringing up those numbers hitting a .256/.289/.346 this season. Take out his .256/.289/.346 from those numbers, and the rest of the team sits at a .230/282/.321.

The Royals have been shut out 3 times in the last 4 days at the hands of Felix Hernandez, Wade Miley and Gio Gonzalez. Two lefties and one of the best pitchers in baseball? Sure. But those numbers above aren’t just over the past week. It’s over an entire month of the season. And that’s concerning.

Who are we really talking about here? The biggest culprits are Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Kendrys Morales. Let’s throw Alcides Escobar into the mix too, although, when you don’t expect a lot of offensive production from a guy it’s tough to point to him as the problem. But he’s still a problem…just a different kind of problem. We’ll get to that at the end. The major issues are Gordon, Morales and Cain.

The Alex Gordon Concern

Alex Gordon’s issue is strikeouts. He’s already fanned 32 times in 2016 which means he’s on pace for 207. Last season, Chris Davis led all of baseball with 208 Ks. No one else had over 200. Last year Alex Gordon struck out 92 times. He averages 144 per 162 games. This is a problem, but is it a trend? There’s no way this strikeout rate will continue. It’s simply not consistent with Gordon’s career body of work. His .205 batting average is the lowest among our 9 starters.

I don’t know what the explanation is – it’s like he’s not picking the ball up or his timing is off or something. Last night, while facing Jonathan Papelbon in the 9th, Gordon couldn’t catch up to a 91 MPH fastball up in the zone. He got multiple pitches he typically feasts on, but he couldn’t barrel them. Something is off with Gordon, but I’m not totally sure what it is.

I can tell you this though: it’s Alex Friggin Gordon. He’ll work harder than any of us at finding out what his issue is. He has a body of work that over the course of a season is among the most consistent in baseball. There is about as much chance that Alex Gordon strikes out 200 times as there is the Chicago White Sox win the 122 games they’re currently on pace for. It’s early, and numbers do weird things in small sample sizes.

The Kendrys Morales Concern

But Kendrys Morales isn’t much better at .217. Big Ken had a slow start, hitting just .160 over the first 7 games of the season. But then he hit .324 from games 8 to 17. But over the past 8 games he’s hit a paltry .136 – just 3 hits in 22 ABs.

But Morales’s most recent struggles seem to be due to bad luck more than anything else. According to Fangraphs, Morales is making harder contact (38%) in 2016 than he has in any season in his career. He has hit the ball HARD over the past week or so. He blistered a deep ball to RF just foul in Seattle and had at least one line drive land barely foul down the LF line. Two nights ago he hit a line drive directly to the second baseman. Just last night he squared up a ball that the left fielder caught a foot shy of the wall.

Granted, his 19.2% soft contact rate is also his highest since 2008. Makes sense his numbers would be a bit polarized with the start he’s had, but all in all I don’t think there’s anything to be concerned about when it comes to Morales’s bat. Slow start, sure, but over the middle chunk of April he was excellent, and he’s had a ton of bad luck over the past few games. Look of him to take off in May.

The Lorenzo Cain Concern

Cain has gotten better and better every season over the past three years. Every year we expect him to regress, and every year he impresses us more than the year before. He’s an All Star, should be a Gold Glover, he finished 3rd in the AL MVP race last year. He’s on the verge of being a star. And at some point over the past few years – maybe it was winning it all, or maybe it was just missing out on the MVP – but at some point I think he bought into the hype himself and started trying to be more than he his.

Cain’s issue this season is that he’s trying to hit for too much power. He’s leaning back and ending up having terrible plate appearances. It looks like he’s guessing at the plate, hoping to connect with one. Rather than maintaining his balance and spraying pitches all over the park, he’s sitting back and hoping to guess right on a fastball.

Since this is a list of concerns, you know it hasn’t gone well. He’s hitting .231/.300/.297. He has 2 home runs, but otherwise doesn’t have any extra base hits. Zero doubles. Zero triples. His K% is up from 16.2% in 2015 to 27.0% in 2016 – not as bad as Gordon’s 32.7%, but it’s bad.

However, over the past 5 games or so, Lorenzo has begun hitting to right field again. In fact, all of his hits in the past week have been to CF or RF. He’s been pretty consistently bad over the season, scattering 2 or 3 hits over each series, but he seems to have identified what the issue is and addressed it.

I’m the most worried about Cain though because he doesn’t have the body of work present to point to and say, “See, that’s who he really is, he’ll turn it around.” No, Cain’s career success has really only been limited to the past two years, so I’m less optimistic that he’ll turn it around like I am with Gordon and Morales. But he’s already showing glimpses of his old self. I’m not ready to call this a trend yet though. I’m hopeful.

The Leadoff Hitter Concern

And finally, you get the one legitimate concern in the lineup. Our leadoff hitter, Alcides Escobar.

This has been well chronicled by many, but still: no team in baseball got less production out of the leadoff spot last year than the Kansas City Royals. Yet they won the World Series…in large part due to the overwhelmingly hot bat of Alcides Escobar. He was the ALCS MVP. He hit a leadoff inside the park homerun in Game 1 of the World Series. He was on fire.

But cmon. He has a career .261 AVG and .291 OBP. If we learned one thing from Moneyball it’s that you want the guys at the top of your lineup to get on base so that your sluggers can hit them in. But I understand, OBP isn’t the Royals gameplan – it’s ambush hitting, it’s putting the ball in play, it’s forcing the defense to make a play, and in that sense, I suppose he fits the Royals formula for success.

But the best argument against Escobar as the leadoff hitter is the one laid out by Craig Brown at Baseball Prospectus: over the course of a full season, do you really want Alcides Escobar to get 150 more at bats than, say, Alex Gordon? (Not on the streak he’s on right now, no, but you get the point.) Because that’s what is happening. A poor hitter is getting 150 more plate appearances than a good one. Doesn’t compute.

That said, I question whether there’s a better option. The only options I’ve heard are Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain or Jarrod Dyson. But regardless of how you structure it, those guys all present problems too. Gordon and Dyson both create a lineup that’s too lefty heavy at the top, and Dyson has never proven he can hit over a full season and Gordon basically sucks right now anyway. Cain creates a hole in the 3 spot, which would need to be plugged by…who? Hosmer? Morales? Gordon? Again, lefty heavy.

Here’s my alternative suggestion…

  • Mike Moustakas
  • Lorenzo Cain
  • Eric Hosmer
  • Kendrys Morales
  • Alex Gordon
  • Salvador Perez
  • Omar Infante
  • Jarrod Dyson
  • Alcides Escobar

Yep. That’s right. Just move Esky to the bottom and move everyone else up.

You can split hairs over who should go where in the 7-8-9 slots, but that’s not the point. The point is that the lineup now has the same turnover as it did before, only those extra 150 plate appearances from Escobar are now being spread out among the rest of your best hitters.

Is Mike Moustakas the prototypical leadoff hitter? Absolutely not. Doesn’t he have too much power to be hitting with no one else on base? Completely agree. But what other option is there? We don’t have a leadoff hitter on this team, so it doesn’t really matter who we go with. The point is that lineup construction generally doesn’t matter outside of which guys you want getting the most swings over a season. Who do I want getting those swings? Moose, Cain, Hosmer, Morales and Gordon.

So, what do we have to be concerned about? Is there an apparent trend we need to be aware of? Honestly, not really. Gordon’s track record suggests he’ll turn it around. Morales has been mostly unlucky. Cain has already shown glimpses of figuring out his stroke, but he’s the biggest worry of those three.

Finally, get Escobar out of the leadoff spot. And since we don’t actually have a legitimate leadoff hitter, why not do the simplest possible adjustment?

I’ll listen off the air, thanks.

-apc.

Photo cred: Fox Sports accessed here.

03-chris-archer-080215-getty-ftrjpg_g0nk6spo445a1711okvf1nnzm

Defining an Ace III: Who will rise above the Ace Line in 2016?

If you missed Parts 1 & 2 in this series, here they are: Defining an Ace and Introducing Ace Line Calendar.

As we gear up for the 2016 season, there are some “ace” questions on my mind. Specifically three…

  1. Which starting pitchers can we confidently call an “ace” entering the season?
  2. Which starters below the “ace line” are most likely to break into ace status this season?
  3. Are there any starters who are likely to backslide and lose their ace status in 2016?

If you haven’t used the Ace Line Calendar yet, here’s a refresher on how it works. Find today’s date on the calendar. Click over to Bill James Online’s Starting Pitcher Rankings and compare the values listed there to the ones on the calendar. If the value is higher than the “Obvious Yes” value, then he is obviously an ace. If it’s lower than the “Definite No” value, then he’s definitely not an ace. If it’s in between, then it’s open to some debate.

To further understand it, let’s look at our first question.

Who are the aces entering the 2016 MLB season?

Today is March 30, and the values for that date on the calendar are 486.4 and 474.6. When we embed those values into the current BJO SP Rankings, the rankings look like this…

  1. Clayton Kershaw – 596.4
  2. Zack Greinke – 554.6
  3. Max Scherzer – 540.5
  4. Jake Arrieta – 539.4
  5. David Price – 533.0
  6. Madison Bumgarner – 533.0
  7. Chris Sale – 512.1
  8. Corey Kluber – 504.0
  9. Dallas Keuchel – 502.5
  10. Jon Lester – 500.9
  11. Cole Hamels – 499.2
  12. Felix Hernandez – 488.6
    —— Obvious Yes Line – 486.4 ——
  13. Johnny Cueto – 481.6
  14. Jacob deGrom – 476.0
  15. Stephen Strasburg – 475.3
    —— Definite No Line – 474.6 ——
  16. John Lackey – 471.6
  17. Jordan Zimmerman – 465.1
  18. R.A. Dickey – 464.3
  19. Tyson Ross – 463.4
  20. Sonny Gray – 463.0
  21. James Shields – 462.5
  22. Chris Archer – 461.7
  23. Jose Quintana – 461.6
  24. Francisco Liriano – 459.1
  25. Gerrit Cole – 456.1
  26. Lance Lynn – 447.3
  27. Edinson Volquez – 445.0
  28. Julio Teheran – 444.5
  29. Carlos Carrasco – 442.1
  30. Wei-Yin Chen – 442.0

Based on the Ace Lines, your obvious aces entering the 2016 season are Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, Jake Arrieta, Madison Bumgarner, David Price, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Dallas Keuchel, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels and Felix Hernandez. There is some hesitation in calling Johnny Cueto, Jacob deGrom and Stephen Strasburg aces, so they’re on the bubble right now, and everyone ranked lower than that is currently on the outside looking in.

Which brings us two question two…

Which current non-aces will reach ace status in 2016?

The obvious answers are Johnny Cueto, Jacob deGrom and Stephen Strasburg. All it takes is one good start and they’re back in the club. Who is deeper on the list that we need to be watching for?

The first two names that come to mind are Matt Harvey (437.2) and Adam Wainwright (319.5) . Harvey could be in the mix as early as May or June he already had time to climb the ladder in 2015. Wainwright would have to pitch like Jake Arrieta did last season to come anywhere close to making it, but his name will be on the rise for sure.

Lots of folks are expecting Chris Archer (461.7) to break out in 2016 for the Rays, and I’m no different. I expect him to compete for AL Cy Young. His name will almost certainly be among the other aces by the end of the year. Carlos Carrasco (442.1) is currently behind Corey Kluber in the Indians rotation, but after back to back strong campaigns in 2014 and 2015, he is poised to make it there as well. It’s possible that Justin Verlander (433.0) might get his swagger back after fading significantly in 2014 and most of 2015, and Shelby Miller – the unluckiest pitcher in baseball in 2015 – could turn a corner now with the Diamondbacks, a team that plays solid defense and provides a lot of run support.

Finally, Gerrit Cole (456.1) is entering 2016 with a chip on his shoulder. He thinks he deserves a raise and an extension, and he’s probably right, but the Pirates aren’t budging and they certainly don’t have to. He’s set to make $541,000 in 2016 after going 19-6 with a 2.60 ERA in 2015, and he’s even more motivated this season. His name will almost certainly climb the rankings.

Of course, the names right around the line could rise or fade slightly, but those are the names I’ll be watching closely.

Any other names you’d expect to become obvious aces in 2016?

Which current aces will fall below the Ace Line in 2016?

Barring a season-altering injury, great pitchers don’t generally implode and turn terrible overnight, so predicting names to drop below the ace line in 2016 is tougher to pick, but there are a few names that could dip in 2016.

Madison Bumgarner has had a terrible spring. Granted, there is absolutely no correlation between Spring Training and regular season stats. Sometimes guys are trying out new pitches, or working on pitching inside or outside, locating pitches. Who knows? Winning isn’t important. It’s the practice that matters. But when the phrase “wasn’t very good” comes straight from the horses mouth, well…you have to wonder. He has lingering foot and ribcage injuries that he claims haven’t been nagging him, but you never know. When there’s smoke…

While we’re talking about the Giants, I’ll throw Johnny Cueto into the mix as well. We saw Cueto struggle with a new team, catcher and ballpark when he joined the Royals in the second half of last season. Developing rapport in Spring Training can only help, but I do wonder which Johnny Beisbol the Giants will see out the gate.

The only other name that gives me any pause is Corey Kluber, but I don’t think that’s founded on anything. His 2015 season was just bad luck. His 9-16 record looks awful, but his 2.97 FIP looks really nice. His 1.054 WHIP was down from 2014 and his K/BB rate was just as strong as well. I expect him to stay among the aces.

But really, everyone listed there belongs, and it’s hard to envision anyone who doesn’t belong among that group. Barring injury, I’d be surprised if any of them dropped below the line.

I’ll be monitoring this list throughout the season.

Is it April 3 yet?!

-apc.

Image cred: Getty Images, accessed via The Sporting News.

mariners_diamondbacks_spring_baseball_c0-225-3527-2281_s885x516

2016 MLB Predictions

I was going to wait until Alex Rios signed with a team before doing these predictions, but it seems he may not sign until after Opening Day. Which means the balance of power could still shift significantly. This is sarcasm.

Opening Day is just 6 short days away. The calendar is nearing April, which means the NCAA tournament has lost it’s intrigue and Spring Training games somehow feel even more pointless every day. I’m itching to get back to baseball, and what better way than to make some 2016 season predictions?

AL East

  1. New York Yankees
  2. Tampa Bay Rays
  3. Boston Red Sox
  4. Toronto Blue Jays
  5. Baltimore Orioles

I can tell you who won’t win this division: the Orioles. What in the world are they doing in Baltimore? Going into the offseason they had a gap at 1B with the free agency of Chris Davis. Not only did they re-sign him to a stupid expensive contract, they tripled down on the position by also adding Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez. Will they hit home runs? Absolutely. But they’ll also have to play Trumbo in right field where he is atrocious defensively, and their pitching is neither impressive nor deep. This team will lose a lot of 10-8 games.

Beyond that, this division appears wide open. Take your pick.

Toronto will score an insane amount of runs, but I refuse to pick a team with two stars (Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista) involved in contract disputes. The Red Sox are projected to be the strongest team with the addition of David Price and a maturing outfield. David Ortiz‘s final season could be memorable. The Yankees added Aroldis Chapman and now have the best 7-8-9 trio in baseball. The Rays have quietly built a deep (albeit unexciting) roster of talent. Kevin Keirmaier is the best defensive outfielder in the game and Chris Archer is soon going to find himself among the best.

I’ll take New York and Tampa with Boston just missing the cut.

AL Central

  1. Kansas City Royals
  2. Cleveland Indians
  3. Minnesota Twins
  4. Detroit Tigers
  5. Chicago White Sox

People say this division is the most wide open in baseball, but I just don’t see it. Perhaps what they really mean is “every team in this division is a regression candidate” which is the more accurate statement. You can assume consistency as much as you can assume regression, and the Royals have proven they are for real and they have a formula that works. And the next person who says, “Yeah, but they lost Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist!” can shove it. Neither of those guys were on the team until the end of July in 2015 – KC was 61-38 and up 9 games in the Central before their arrival – and the team they have right now is better than the one they began 2015.

The questions surround their challengers. Can Detroit bounce back or are they as washed up as they appeared in 2015? Will the Twins build on their surprising 2015 season or will their young talent backslide this season? And can the Indians – who have one of the strongest starting pitching arsenals in the league with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar – do anything else well enough to succeed, or will their defense bite them again this season?

The White Sox will be bad despite what a handful of national experts will tell you. I’m almost as perplexed by their offseason as I am with Baltimore’s. Why do they need both Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier? How many third basemen does one team need? Doesn’t make sense. This team will underachieve as they always do.

AL West

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Los Angeles Angels
  4. Seattle Mariners
  5. Oakland Athletics

Everyone is picking the Astros in 2016, and for good reason. This Houston team is going to be really really good. The only question mark in their lineup is whether Jon Singleton and rookie A.J. Reed can lock down first base. Otherwise they’re strong up and down their lineup: Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, Colby Rasmus, Carlos Gomez, Luis Valbuena, George Springer, Evan Gattis, Jason Castro. They even have solid outfield depth in Preston Tucker and Jake Marisnick.

The other two teams to watch in this division are the Angels and Rangers. The Halos still has Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, and they added Andrelton Simmons‘s gold glove defense this offseason. The question is whether their pitching can show up like it did in 2014, or whether they’ll continue to struggle. I don’t understand why they didn’t do more this offseason – they appear to be

The Rangers are the more likely team to beat out the Astros for the division. Prince Fielder appears to be his old self. Their rotation is deep with Cole Hamels, Yu DarvishDerek Holland, Colby Lewis and Martin Perez. Otherwise this is pretty much the same team that won 88 games in 2015 plus Josh Hamilton. It’s going to come down to Texas, Cleveland and Boston for the final wild card spot, and my money is on the veteran Rangers.

In recent years, the American League has been harder to predict because the competition is more level across the league. This year, there are scenarios in which nearly every AL team (besides Oakland, really) could make the postseason.

In the National League, I only count 8 possible postseason teams…

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets
  3. Miami Marlins
  4. Atlanta Braves
  5. Philadelphia Phillies

In the East, there are only two options: Washington and New York.

The Mets strength is their rotation of Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. They brought back Yoenis Cespedes. They added Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker to play middle infield. Dusty Baker‘s Nationals also feature strong starters in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, and they have a guy named Bryce Harper who seems decent. They added Daniel Murphy from New York. Twenty-two year old Trea Turner sounds a lot like Jose Altuve to me, but he was optioned to AAA last week, but it sounds like he’ll eventually get the job at shortstop later this season. If he clicks, watch out for the Nats.

This race will likely come down to two things: who can stay healthiest and who can beat the other three teams in the division the most. When you get to play 1/3 of your games against Miami, Atlanta and Philadelphia, you’ve got a chance to win a lot of games. I’ll take Washington to bounce back this year while New York inexplicably can’t put it together to defend their NL pennant.

One additional note about the Marlins: I can’t wait to watch this team improve under new skipper, Don Mattingly, and rookie hitting coach, Barry Bonds. I guarantee you this team will rake in 2016. Bonds is going to be dynamite. There’s not enough pitching talent to take them to the postseason, but they’ll be fun to watch in 2016.

NL Central

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. St. Louis Cardinals
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Cincinnati Reds

In the Central, it’s a three team race yet again. This division entered a new phase when the Cubs took down the Cardinals in the NLDS in 2015. They’re young, they’re deep, they’re loose and already have postseason success. It’s easy to understand why the Cubs are the favorites to win it all in 2016. Bringing back Dexter Fowler, signing Ben Zobrist and swiping Jason Heyward and John Lackey from the Cardinals this offseason only helps their case. They’ve got the reigning Cy Young in Jake Arrieta and the best manager in baseball in Joe Maddon. Postseason? Absolutely. World Series? Who knows.

The Cardinals did nothing this offseason. They just sat there and watched while the Cubs spent gobs of cash on the guys mentioned above. They’re all in on their “next guy up” philosophy in 2016. Their team fell apart in 2015 – Adam Wainwright missed the season with an Achilles injury, Matt Holliday only played 73 games, Matt Adams only played 60 games and Yadier Molina missed a month with a thumb injury…and they still won 100 games.

Last year’s roster was stabilized by consistent play from Matt Carpenter, Jhonny Peralta and Jason Heyward. But Heyward is gone and Peralta is already going to be out for a while with a thumb injury. Suddenly names like Tommy Pham and Stephen Piscotty are everyday players, and yet they’re almost certain to step in and fill in without causing the team to decline at all. They have a machine in St. Louis that churns out successful big leaguers and they’re all in on their system this year. And you know what? It feels foolish to bet against it. I’m betting they sneak into the Wild Card game this season.

And poor poor Pittsburgh. This team has been bitten by the Wild Card Game two consecutive years, and it’s not inconceivable to think that they could be where the Royals are had one of those games gone differently. Last year they had the second best record in baseball behind STL, and they have nothing to show for it. They need Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano to be nails this season and shore up their rotation, and they need Jung Ho Kang to return to health and stay hot this year. Josh Harrison becomes the everyday second baseman with the departure of Neil Walker, and John Jaso steps in for Pedro Alvarez at first. This team seems like they’re going to regress a bit, and I’m afraid Pittsburgh misses the playoffs this season. They deserve better.

NL West

  1. San Francisco Giants
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers
  4. San Diego Padres
  5. Colorado Rockies

And this is where it gets brutal. I see three playoff teams in this division too, but only two of them can make it. Which one misses the cut in 2016?

Giants: They added Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija (who I think is grossly overrated) to an already strong rotation with Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain. They added Denard Span in the outfield who I think is going to have a very strong campaign this year. Buster Posey is healthy, Hunter Pence is healthy, and 2016 is an even year.

Dodgers: They lost Zack Greinke, but they still have the best pitcher on Earth in Clayton Kershaw. They’ve got a new manager in Dave Roberts. Corey Seager is the man at SS this season which should be an improvement. They added Scott Kazmir to replace Greinke, but they’re also putting a lot of their hope in Kenta Maeda at SP. The Dodgers already has a string of injuries concerns (Andre Ethier, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthey, Mike Bolsinger will all start the season on the DL), but they’ve brought in enough talent that this team ought to be able to survive it. If Second Half Joc Pederson shows up along with an unhealthy Yasiel Puig, this team might be in trouble. There are a lot of “if’s” on this team, but they should have plenty of money to solve them, right?

Diamondbacks: They gained Zack Greinke who, along with Shelby Miller, shore up a starting pitching unit that ought to be significantly improved upon from last season. Paul Goldschmidt is a perennial MVP candidate and A.J. Pollock emerged last season as a star in the league. Projections expect this team to hover around or just below .500, but I feel like that’s underestimating this squad. The offense was there last season and ought to be potent again this year, throw in a powerful rotation, and I really like what I see in this team. They went 79-83 in 2015, and got much better this offseason.

But I can’t pick all three to make the playoffs which means I have to pick against one of them, so I’m leaving out the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016. It’s a bold prediction, but these things aren’t any fun if you don’t take some chances.

So here you go, my 2016 MLB predictions…

American League: Yankees, Royals, Astros, Rays, Rangers
National League: Nationals, Cubs, Giants, Diamondbacks, Cardinals

ALCS: Astros over Yankees
NLCS: Cubs over Giants

World Series: Cubs over Astros

AL MVP: Carlos Correa
NL MVP: Bryce Harper

AL CY: Chris Archer
NL CY: Zack Greinke

AL ROY: A.J. Reed
NL ROY: Corey Seager

-apc.

Image cred: The Washington Times accessed here.

img_2654

Cactus League: Weirdo stuff at Camelback

KC was at Camelback Ranch in Glendale Thursday taking on the hated White Sox. Things got weird, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s start by talking about Camelback Ranch.

Camelback Ranch

I’ve now been to 4 different Cactus League. Surprise (Royals, Rangers) is pretty basic as far as Spring sites go. I went to Goodyear (Reds, Indians) and Mesa (Cubs) last year, and those are both really pretty, but Camelback Ranch (Dodgers, White Sox) is on another level.

Camelback features yellow seats – similar to the pale yellow seats of Dodger Stadium – and a beautiful red-brown concourse with a tarp overhang for extra shade. The buildings are stone and iron with vegetation built in around the edges. It’s really impressive. 

 

I’m hoping to make it to Salt River Fields (Diamondbacks, Rockies) on Saturday, and I hear their facility is the best out here. But for now, the park in Glendale is top of my list.

Duffy plunks two consecutive batters

Okay, now let’s get to the weird stuff.

Ian Kennedy was the starter. He went 3 innings ad only allowed 2 hits, one of which was a solo home run to Matt Davidson. Danny Duffy relieved him throwing innings 4 to 6. He also allowed 2 hits and also allowed a solo home run to Public Enemy #1, Brett Lawrie, in the 5th.

But the 4th inning was classic Danny Duffy. He started by giving up a single and a stolen base. Got a guy to pop out, but then promptly lost control and hit two consecutive batters – Hector Sanchez and Mike Olt. He was very deliberate in apologizing to Sanchez – not sure if he apologized to Olt or not – and then with the bases loaded and 1 out, just when you think Duffy is going to fall apart entirely, he got a strikeout and a groundout to end the inning with no damage.

The bullpen looked great too – 3 innings of 1 hit ball. Luke Hochevar threw a perfect 7th, Brian Duensing threw a perfect 8th, and Ross Ohlendorf – who has had an absolutely dreadful Spring to this point – stranded a leadoff double in the 9th.

Triple Play

Okay, now let’s get weirder. In the 5th inning Raymond Fuentes singled and Dusty Coleman walked, bringing up Tony Cruz with two on and nobody out.

The Royals tried a double hit and run. Coleman and Fuentes broke with the pitch and Cruz laced a fastball hard into left field. The ball carried and found leather on a line. The left fielder tossed it to the second baseman who tossed it on to the pitcher covering first, and the White Sox had turned a triple play. A 7-4-1 TP for those of you keeping score at home. Inning over.

Butera Inside-the-parker

Yet somehow things got even weirder.

The box score says the Sox committed 3 errors on the day, but those of us who were there know that was extremely generous. It easily could’ve been 5 or 6.

The most egregious “hit” call came in the 7th when the Royals blew the game open. They batted around and put up 7 runs.

Drew Butera was playing first base. In fact, all three KC catchers were in the game – Cruz catching, Salvador Perez DHing. Butera hit a line drive into left center. The left fielder took a bad angle and couldn’t close on it. Then he fell over. The ball rolled to the wall.

The center fielder, backing up the play, reached the ball first. He bent over to pick it up. He couldn’t. At this point, Butera is somewhere between second and third. The defender tried again and the ball evaded him again. Butera came around to score standing up – the Royals second inside the parker in three days.

But no, the outfield did nothing wrong, let’s give him a home run. Sure.

Royals won 9-2. The White Sox looked really terrible. And I sure don’t care much for Brett Lawrie. He couldn’t be a better fit on this Chicago team.

Headed back to Surprise today. Diamondbacks @ Kansas City. Until tomorrow.

-apc.

img_2630

Cactus League: Gordon and Hosmer murder baseballs, KC wins 7-5.

Greetings from Arizona!

I’m in Phoenix over the next four days checking out Spring Training with my buddies, Dan and Zach. The weather is warm and the libations are on point. Life could be worse.

The Royals played two split squad games on Wednesday. I was in Surprise watching the Royals play the Milwaukee Brewers. Yordano Ventura got the start for the home team against Wily Peralta. The other was in Peoria against Seattle. Sounds like Drew Butera had a day there.

Here were the takeaways for me from yesterday’s game in Surprise.

Hosmer and Gordon hit balls far.

I don’t talk about Eric Hosmer enough. I forget about the guy. Maybe I take him for granted. He gets so much attention from the ladies and media that I don’t feel inclined to add to the noise. He’s fine, but I admit, he’s not my prototypical favorite ballplayer. I like generally appreciate defense, speed, versatility and pitching. He’s got a couple of those, I suppose. I gravitate towards shortstops, pitchers, centerfielders and utilitymen. Corner infielders and corner outfielders generally just aren’t my primary interest. Forgive me.

But Wednesday, the corners stole the show. Hosmer went 2-2 with a walk and HR (like 420′ to straightaway CF), Mike Moustakas went 2-3 with a double, and Gordon went 4-4 with a HR (like 440′ to CF). Multiple baseballs were murdered, obviously.

Hosmer launched his in the 3rd. It landed halfway up the centerfield batters eye. Gordon matched him in the 6th. His landed 3/4 of the way up and one hopped the wall beyond. Crushed. It.

See that green grass and wall beyond centerfield? Hosmer’s ball landed halfway up the grass. Gordon’s bounced to the wall.

Spring Training games are mostly pointless in terms of wins/losses, but what does matter is whether or not guys appear to be in rhythm. They’re called “Training” games for a reason. And the starters, in general, do appear to be in rhythm. Those three combined to go 8-9 vs the Brewers, which is about all you can ask for really.

Salvador Perez and Omar Infante left a lot to be desired, however. Infante batted third today and went 0-3 with 3 popouts. Salvy went 0-3 with a walk and grounded into a bases loaded double play. In that at bat, Salvy got ahead in the count 3-0, but had the green light for some reason (again, probably wouldn’t be swinging 3-0 during the regular season). If that ball had found grass, it could’ve really been a route.

Fortunately we only expect something from one of those two. I’m fully anticipating Christian Colon winning the second base job.

Yordano roughed up early, dirty late.

I’ve been impressed with our starters so far this spring. Kyle Zimmer has looked sharp. Edinson Volquez has felt sexy. Ian Kennedy impressed me. Yordano looked solid in his first start.

But Yordano got roughed up a bit on Wednesday giving up 3 runs on 5 hits in the first inning. It seemed like the Brewers were working on slapping the ball the opposite way off his fastball.

He settled down for the next two innings though throwing a perfect 2nd and 3rd. The last batter he faced was Chris Carter who he threw 4 pitches – 2 dirty breaking balls, a show-me 97 mph fastball, and one more knee buckling curve. Made him look foolish.

It seems like Ventura is figuring out he doesn’t just have to throw smoke to get guys out. He wasn’t spectacular in 2015. It’d be nice to see him revert back to his 2014 self this year. Overall, Wednesday was both poor and yet promising.

The Eephus League Scorecard

Most of you wont care about this one bit, but I’m trying out a new scorecard this week.

In the 1940s, a new pitch developed called the “eephus” pitch. Supposedly invented by Rip Sewell, it was basically a slowball junk pitch. Only one man ever hit one for a home run – that was Ted Williams in the 1946 All-Star Game. I think that stat is real. Maybe not. Apparently the word “eephus” is thought to come from the Hebrew word for “nothing,” as in, “that pitch ain’t nothing.”

The original scorecard is sleek and pocket sized. I bought the cheapest one as a trial run. If it goes well this week, I’ll get the half season one for the regular season. Just wanted to rep a pretty sweet company if you’re into scorekeeping like some of use nerds.

Check out Eephus League here.

Welp. That’s it for now. Headed to Camelback Ranch today to see KC take on the Worst Sox.

-apc.