The Return of Billy Butler

I’ve never been a huge fan of Billy Butler.

At least not Billy the Ballplayer. Many of you know this. If nothing else, my posts and tweets between 2007 and 2014 support this. I do not support the DH in general (another conversation for another time), but I’ve never felt that Billy Butler was even a good DH, let alone a good ballplayer.

My favorite ballplayers are those who are good at all aspects of the game. Five Tool players, if you will. The five tools are defense, speed, arm, hitting for power, and hitting for average. The more tools a guy has, the more inclined I am to be a fan. Lorenzo Cain, for example, has emerged as someone who has at least 3 tools. Jarrod Dyson has 3 tools. Alex Gordon has 4 tools. Alcides Escobar has 3. Moose has 3. Kendrys Morales has 2 tools. Salvador Perez has 4 tools. Eric Hosmer has 4 tools.

Billy Butler has 1 tool.

He can hit for average. That’s all he could ever do as a Royal. He doesn’t throw. He never really played defense. He is one of the slowest runners in the game. And despite what you may have seen before, Billy was never a consistent power threat at the plate. He had one year with 29 HRs and another with 21 HRs, but overall, he couldn’t get the ball out of the yard. Sure, he hit a ball out of Minute Maid Park the other night, but the theme of Billy’s career was that he hit singles and doubles. Sometimes hits that should’ve been doubles would turn into singles because of his lack of speed.

Since Butler debuted for the Royals in 2007, not a single qualifying designated hitter ranks lower in SLG according to Fangraphs (.449). He just doesn’t have the power output that a DH ought to. He is, however, second in AVG behind only Victor Martinez (.309) and third in OBP behind David Ortiz (.384) and Martinez (.373).

So he has a tool: he hits for average. He does that well.

At this point, the game of baseball seems to have moved on from the designated hitter. There are really only a couple true DHs in the league anymore, and only Ortiz and Martinez are All Star caliber. To me, the reality is that professional ballplayers need to be able to do more than just hit. Which is why you will always hear me refer to designated hitters as “professional hitters” and not “ballplayers.” They don’t play ball. All they do is swing a bat and watch their teammates play the rest of the game without them. Hitting – when based off the 5 tools – makes up just 40% of the tools needed to be a complete ballplayer.

Thus, without the power game, Billy is 20% ballplayer and 50% hitter. I just can’t get excited about that as a baseball fan.

Caveat: There was that one point when Hosmer was hurt last year when Billy got some extended time at first, and his overall number spiked greatly. Something happened in Billy that made him a better ballplayer when he wasn’t confined to only one dimension of the game. Which might be why the Oakland Athletics decided to take a gamble on him at first base this year. I wonder what could happen…but I digress.

Where was I? Oh yes – I was never a Billy Butler fan.

I was one of the many Royals fans who absolutely loved pointing out every time Billy Butler grounded into a double play. Billy has the most GIDPs of anyone not named Albert Pujols.

I was one of the many Royals fans begging with Dayton Moore to trade Billy Butler at the trade deadline last year and pull something positive out of him in the end in return.

I was one of the many Royals fans who would make sarcastic comments regarding Billy Butler’s speed on each of the dozens of times he would run first to third on a single. “He’s just SO FAST,” I’d say.

But then he did this…

butler2b.0

And then this…

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And none of that DH garbage mattered anymore. In a wild turn of events, I suddenly loved Billy Butler.

But as the past 6 months have gone on, I’ve realized it’s not Billy Butler the Professional Hitter who I finally fell for. It’s not his skills as a single tool player that finally won me over. It was Billy Butler the person who I was suddenly crazy about.

It was Billy Butler the Symbol of the Resurrected Royals who stole that base.

I mean, just look at that chubby smile! How can’t you love a moment like that one!? He doesn’t really even do it right.

His production on the field didn’t even matter anymore. It was about what he represented as a member of the Kansas City Royals for 10 years that mattered to us after that moment.

Billy Butler (along with Alex Gordon) were the two Royals players who you could look at and think, “this team has come a long way.” They were the two who had been around the longest and had experienced so much disappointment and heartache. And it’s not like they were stars while the rest of the team stunk, they were just as much a part of the sadness as they were apart of the joy during the playoff run. Gordon was a miserable third baseman and thought to be a bust. This fan base has had such a love/hate relationship with Billy over the years too. He was in and out of the doghouse over and over again. It was just last September that the was benched for a week and pouted to Ned Yost the whole time.

After October, and specifically after that stolen base in the ALDS, none of that pouting in the doghouse business mattered to me anymore. Even if Billy had a terrible 2014 season (which he mostly did), it didn’t matter. His legacy in KC isn’t connected to his production anymore. His legacy is now the face at the top of this post – his is the embodiment of the Resurrected Royals.

Or maybe that’s a bad way to say it…I think we’d all rather Alex Gordon be the body. Billy Butler can be the soul.

But it’s even more than that – it’s how Billy talks about my city. He calls Kansas City home. He loves the fans. He loves the BBQ. He loves the city. He has voiced over and over again that he hopes to be back in KC someday. He misses it and didn’t want to leave. He doesn’t even seem to want to cover up that fact for his teammates or for Oakland fans 0 I mean, it probably has to irk them a little bit, right? This team just knocked them out of the playoffs last year. He’s almost too open about it, in my opinion. But it’s clear that he loved KC.

Billy Butler, unlike most professional athletes, somehow managed to become one of us.

He’s a Kansas Citian.

And the way he talks about my city makes me so proud.

So why will I be cheering for Billy Butler this weekend when he returns with the Oakland Athletics and gets his 2014 AL Champs ring, celebrating his 29th birthday in the ballpark he knows best? Not for what he did for this team to help them win, but for what he now represents for this ball club and my city. One tool or ten tools, it doesn’t matter. He has a place in the heart of the city now.

We’ll all cheer for Country Breakfast tonight and all weekend. We might even tear up and cry a bit. But make no mistake, I won’t be celebrating what he did on the field. It’s what Billy Butler represents that I’m celebrating: a team reborn and a love affair between a city and one of its own.

Best of luck, Billy.

-apc.

Banner image via Sporting News. GIFs posted here and from KC Star here.

The Royals are 7-0: AL HBP Conspiracy, Rios’s injury, and the problem of that other good team in our division.

Well, here we are a week later and the Royals have lost the same number of games they had last time I posted about them: zero.

This is obviously not sustainable. They will lose eventually, and when they do, this team will shrug, brush off its shoulders, and come to play again the next day. Because that’s what I’ve come to know of this team now. They play to win every single game, and they expect to win every single game. And so far in 2015, they’ve done exactly that. The bullpen and defense have been what we expect them to be. The starting pitching has been terrific. Those are not shocking. What is shocking is this team’s offensive output.

With the exception of Gordon, Infante and perhaps Hosmer, this entire offense is on fire right now. Four different Royals have a hit in every game: Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Kendrys Morales and Salvador Perez. Mike Moustakas has an OBP of .500. So do Cain and Morales. Morales is slugging .724, but doesn’t even have the highest SLG on the team. That belongs to Salvador Perez (.759) who also leads this team with 3 of the teams 10 home runs.

But can this team top the Tigers?

The only offense that compares to the Royals through 7 games is the Detroit Tigers, who sit at 6-1 and one game back of the Kansas City Royals in the American League Central. Which, regardless of whether this offensive output is sustainable (it’s not) or whether this team is playoff bound (they are) what remains to be seen from this team is this:

Can this team beat the Detroit Tigers?

Recent history suggests they cannot. They went 6-13 against the Tigers in 2014 and finished 2nd in the division by a measly 1 game. One game! All they needed was to win 8 of 19 and they would’ve won the division outright. Instead, they were forced to play in the Wild Card game. Why? Because they couldn’t beat the Detroit Tigers.

The Royals have all the confidence in the world, and I believe that confidence will continue through the first 22 games. But game 23 matches us up against the Tigers, and for some reason this team always seems to whither when they face Detroit.

The first week of the 2015 season is over, and sports sites are releasing their first updated power rankings. Doesn’t matter where you look, KC and Detroit are going to be at or near the top. Which speaks this reality: as hot as the Roys are, the Central, whether the Royals like it or not, still goes through Detroit. So, sure this team is on fire, but the Tigers have won this division 4 consecutive years, and if the Royals can’t take them down, then it’s back to the Wild Card game again in 2015.

The Royals were a miraculous finish away from being one and done in the playoffs in 2014. Had that Wild Card game ended in favor of the A’s – if Salvy’s grounder had been one inch to the right and into Josh Donaldson‘s glove – then the postseason run wouldn’t exist, and last season would feel like a failure, and the current swagger this team has wouldn’t exist either. We’re fortunate to be where we are.

My point: even if this team is outrageously good and we win 95 games…if the Tigers win 96, then it’s not what we want. Then all we get is a coin flip matchup against some 85-win team that has all the momentum having just clinched the final AL playoff spot. If we want to avoid another potential 1 and done, we have to be able to take down the Tigers.

We’ll revisit this in a couple weeks when Detroit comes to Kauffman. But for now, let’s all live under the assumption that the Royals are the best team in baseball, shall we? That’s way more fun.

The American League HBP Conspiracy

Speaking of fun: let’s talk conspiracy theories.

I’m a conspiracy theorist at heart. Real life is fun and all, but life is way more exciting if you try hard to buy into conspiracies. Why just accept that the United States landed on the moon when you can toss around the idea that it was all faked in a NASA studio? Why just accept that the Denver Airport is simply an airport and not…something else? Why just accept that Area 51 is just a military base and not a space alien research center? Why just accept the fact that Jeff Goldblum, Will Smith, Randy Quaid and Bill Pullman didn’t save planet earth?

And why just accept that it’s a mere coincidence that American League pitchers have hit TWELVE Royals batters in 7 games?

Moose and Alex have been hit 4 times apiece. Lorenzo twice. Hosmer and Rios both once. Rios’s HBP just landed him on the 15-day disabled list with a fracture in his hand. Is something up here? Are AL pitchers targeting our players? Because let’s be honest, injuries and fatigue are all that can slow this team down.

There are counter arguments, sure. The first damning evidence would emerge by looking at the count was when guys got plunked.

  • 0-0: Lorenzo v Samardzija, Lorenzo v Quintana, Moose v Santiago, Gordon v Alvarez, Moose v Salas, Gordon v Ramos, Rios v Graham
  • 0-1: Gordon v Samarzija, Gordon v Duensing
  • 1-0: Hosmer v Alvarez
  • 1-2: Moose v Quintana
  • 3-0: Moose v Wilson

Well look at that. 7 of the 12 HBPs came on the first pitch.

Except this isn’t as egregious as it initially looks because the probability a guy gets hit decreases with every pitch. Not because guys are less likely to get hit, but because they’re less likely to see that pitch count. You figure guys hit the first pitch like 10% of the time, which means something like 35% of at bats make it to 1-0 and 55% make it to 0-1 based on normal strike to ball ratio which is roughly 2:1. Then there’s a chance a guy hits the second pitch of the at bat, and the odds decrease even more.

So, naturally, more guys get hit on a 0-0 count purely because everyone sees that pitch count. Odds decrease exponentially as the at bat continues. (But the odds of getting hit by a pitch maintain the same odds regardless of pitch count.) Ten of the twelve HBPs were on the first or second pitch of the at bat, which is a distribution that makes perfect sense.

The other two outliers were obviously accidental too: Moose getting hit with a 1-2 count against Jose Quintana is obviously not intentional. Why would anyone hit a guy when he’s already got two strikes on him? And Moose getting hit with the 3-0 pitch by CJ Wilson barely grazed him. It was even questionable as to whether it was a walk or a hit by pitch when it happened.

Moustakas and Gordon getting hit most isn’t shocking either. They’re both left handed hitters with power so pitchers are trying to keep them from getting their arms extended by pitching them inside. You can throw Hosmer’s HBP in this group too. Same situation trying to saw him off. Throwing inside means more batters hit. It’s science.

Lorenzo getting plunked by Jeff Samardzija on Opening Day was definitely intentional. First pitch fastball following a Moose home run. And it seems possible that Gordon or Moose getting hit by Samardzija is also likely, but otherwise most of these don’t seem malicious.

Apparently I’m not the only one making something out of this. The KC Star wrote about it today too.

I should mention that the Texas Rangers also have been hit 12 times this season, but it’s not like they’re a threat or anything. The only waves they’re making this year came on this embarrassingly seismic moment. So maybe we are (I am) looking into this more than we ought to.

Yes. That is exactly the case. Let’s move on.

Rios Injured. Gore called up.

Never good to lose a starter, and it’s definitely not ideal to lose a guy you’re paying $11M this year. But as far as overall damage done, there are far worse players the Royals could be without.

Dyson will play center. Cain will move to right. And the Ultimate Outfield will start together for the first time in 2015. (By the way, googling “Ultimate Outfield” brings up Royals links at the top. Just wonderful stuff.)

To replace Dyson’s pinch running threat, the Royals have added Terrance Gore to the 25-man roster. And with Paulo Orlando available as a sixth outfielder, they can run for a guy like Morales without having to send Gore’s under-developed bat to the plate.

After Gordon, Infante and Hosmer, Rios is the only other guy who you could say isn’t “on fire” right now. He’s hit very well, but not nearly at the level of Salvy/Kendrys/Esky/Moose. Dyson is a drop off offensively, but his defense and speed doesn’t make the drop off as bad as one might expect. At least that’s my opinion. Still, hopefully Rios isn’t out long and the discomfort doesn’t linger the way his injured thumb did throughout 2014 with Texas.

Tony Kornheiser’s quote on PTI

I will leave you with this.

“Why can’t Kansas City be the best team in the American League for two or three or four years? Why can’t they?”

Thank you, Sir Tony. Thank you.

-apc.

The Royals are 1-0: lots to get excited about from Opening Day.

Aside from the clouds, a few moments of spitting rain and a 10 minute panic attack after Yordano Ventura grabbed his right wrist, Opening Day went swimmingly.

The Royals won 10-1 and Ventura was the dominant pitcher we need him to be. The bats were hot as Jeff Samardzija was introduced to the Royals high contact bats. Every Royals hitter reached base but Omar Infante, and even he hit the ball hard on Monday and deserved a better line than he ended up with. Mike Moustakas and Alex Rios homered. Morales drew three walks. Ryan Madson threw his first inning of professional baseball in 4 years in the 9th. It was a fun game.

But it’s just one game, and we can’t thump our chest too much. Just like last year’s Opening Day loss to the Tigers, we can’t jump to conclusions about this team based on one game. It’s a 162 game season, and this one game – despite it being a stellar performance – only counts for 1, and the Royals magic number is 162. So, there’s still a lot of work to do.

That said, we can pull a few nuggets of speculation out and celebrate the signs of what may (or may not) be to come. Let’s get to it.

Moose’s first career opposite field home run.

Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Monday’s home run off Samardzija was Moose’s first ever to the opposite field. Here’s his HR chart via ESPN Stats & Information. i Three things stand out here.

The first thing that stands out is that one lone red dot in right field that is way further than all the others. That one came off of Lance Lynn on June 24, 2012. Recorded at 464 feet.

The second thing that stands out is the home run the farthest left, which is the one Moose hit on Monday. It’s obviously a rare scenario for Moose to hit anything to the left side, so to see him hit for power the opposite way is something to celebrate. I think if Moose can get it into his head that he can have success without pulling the ball, we could be in for a decent season from Mike Moustakas. Which would also be rare.

But then the third thing that stands out is that the home run wasn’t to left field at all. “Opposite field” is technically based on splitting the field right down the middle. As you can see, Moose’s homer barely qualifies. If you asked what part of the field that HR went to, you’d say it went to center field, not left. So technically, it was opposite field, but it wasn’t THAT opposite field. So let’s keep our emotions in check here because it wasn’t like he sliced one into the bullpen in right. So lets not get carried away and start talking like Moose now hits with power to all fields.

But still. It’s something.

The newcomers do not disappoint.

Did any Royals hitter walk three times in a game last year? I could probably look it up, but it’s easier to speculate that it never happened in 2014. Somebody prove me wrong.

We’re one game into the 2015 season and it’s already happened. Kendrys Morales walked three times on Monday. One of them was intentional. Last year the Royals finished dead last in all of baseball with 380 walks. Their team OBP still managed to end up middle of the pack aided by their high batting averages, but if we can work the count and get on base more, this team is going to be extremely dangerous on offense. With three yesterday, Morales is currently on pace for 486 walks. Obviously he’s not going to do that, but it’s fun to say. He also doubled. I still like this signing.

Alex Rios was even more impressive. He went 3-4 with a home run and a stolen base. In the 7th inning with the Royals already up 6-1, Rios got the pitch he was looking for on a 3-1 count and deposited it in the right field camera booth. Along with walks, the Royals also lacked power last year finishing dead last in MLB with only 95 big flies. People weren’t happy with the Royals gave Rios is $11M deal for the 2014 season, but if this is a testament of what’s to come, then we’re in for a treat this year.

And Ryan Madson, the last player to make the Royals 25-man roster, pitched the 9th inning. He gave up a hit and a walk, but induced a double play and ended the final frame with no damage. Madson hasn’t pitched since 2011 with the Phillies but has already managed to comeback and make a MLB roster after being out of the game so long. He has upside as a veteran in the bullpen, and it’s good to get him some work in a stress-free situation like Monday was.

Yordano good.

Ventura looked like an ace on Monday, yes? His stuff was working, he looked comfortable. He only gave up 1 run – an absolute monster home run to suspected robot, Jose Abreu – and he was only at 78 pitches when he left the game with a thumb cramp.

When I saw Yordano slumped on the grass holding is arm and writhing in pain, I panicked. I thought that was it and that the season was already over after just 6 innings of baseball. Kauffman Stadium was silent and suddenly the cheering subsided. Herrera came on to pitch the rest of the 7th.

It looked serious in the moment, but quickly it was speculated and confirmed on twitter that it was just a thumb cramp.

But it highlights this truth: if the Royals are going to succeed in 2015, their two young starters, Ventura and Danny Duffy, are going to have to stay healthy and carry this team. Both have a history of scaring us. Duffy had Tommy John surgery two offseasons ago and was the Royals best starter last year coming back from surgery, and Yordano had multiple moments in 2014 where he left the game early or missed a start with fears about his arm/elbow. We need these guys to throw a combined 380-400 innings.

I cried again.

This is becoming a theme, I suppose, but the AL championship ring ceremony and postseason video montage got the water works flowing again. I couldn’t help it. I’ll probably always cry when I think about that 2014 run. The Wild Card game. All three ALDS games. The ALCS clincher. Game 6 of the World Series. They all brought tears of joy to my eyes.

I’m not even embarrassed about it anymore.

There weren’t any clips from Game 7 in the montage. I expected it to end with some “unfinished business” tag at the end, but it didn’t. It just buried the sadness and highlighted the celebrations. Fair enough.

Bruce Chen was back and got a ring. He may have received the loudest cheers. Billy Butler, James Shields and Nori Aoki were not in attendance because they were playing baseball elsewhere. Louis Coleman, recently placed on waivers, got a ring too and it was awkward. Aaron Brooks got a ring for his single miserable performance. Ned Yost told the team physician not to lose his ring doing rectal exams.

***

I’m supposedly heading back out to the K tonight. We’ll see if the game happens or not with the rain we’re supposed to get. Danny Duffy gets the ball either tonight or for the first part of a double header tomorrow.

Good to have the Roys back in town and off to a good start. I’m still convinced that this team is better than last year’s team. I expect the playoffs…then who knows.

-apc.

2015 MLB Predictions

Congratulations, baseball fans. You did it. You successfully navigated the miserable winter months. Spring has arrived. And, save for a flurry of offseason moves and meaningless spring training games, you’ve been deprived of the game you love. But the wait is over.

Thankfully, for those of us in Kansas City, the offseason went by much faster this year due to it being one month shorter than it has been the previous 29 years. Still, it’s good to have baseball back.

Before I make my predictions for the 2015 season, let me quickly point out how wildly successful my 2014 predictions were. I, along with everyone else who predicted these things, whiffed on the AL East. I missed on the Pirates too, and made the mistake of picking against the A’s. But 7/10 ain’t bad.

So here we go. Let’s look into the future together. Postseason picks in italics. I’ve added ALCS/NLCS/WS/MVP/Cy Young winners this year too.

AL East

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

Another year of uncertainty in the AL East. The Red Sox reloaded adding Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. The Yankees did nothing and appear fragile. The Blue Jays added Josh Donaldson but are young and lack a rotation. The Orioles were predicted to stink it up last year but ran away with the division and are likely under projected in 2015. The Rays are a dark horse as always.

Typically I refuse to buy into teams that spend tons of money to restock their teams. I think it takes a year to gel as a unit and establish an identity. However, the Red Sox rotation is already strong and on paper this is the best team in the division. Look for Mookie Betts to break out this year too.

AL Central

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

Another wide open division, and one where I am obviously biased. The Indians return basically the same team but their defense is terrible. The Tigers added Yoenis Cespedes but lost Max Scherzer, and now Verlander is injured. The Royals are defending AL Champs and have lots of swagger, lost Billy Butler, James Shields and Nori Aoki but added Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios, Edinson Volquez and Kris Medlen. The White Sox had perhaps the best offseason of any AL team. The Twins will not contend.

But I’m picking my hometown boys. People keep saying the Royals got worse in the offseason but I just don’t see it. Morales and Rios are both upgrades. Shields is gone, but Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura both have the potential to match his production. Plus they have three of the most sustainable strengths to their advantage: bullpen, defense and speed. I believe in this team, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Indians and Royals swap spots. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tigers absolutely tank and finish 4th.

AL West

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

I’m not going to make the mistake of picking against Oakland two years in a row. The A’s blew up their entire team and look like they’re probably going to win the Cactus League this year too, whatever that’s good for (absolutely nothing). The Angels and Mariners are both really good though and it’s hard to pick one of the three to miss. The Mariners just missed the playoffs last year. If they can stay healthy, I think they’ll run away with this division in 2015. The Angels will likely regress slightly and should still contend, but I think they’ll end up on the outside looking in. Houston will continue to improve – they appear to be trying out the Royals model of success in bolstering up their bullpen. The Rangers are going to be bad.

NL East

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

While the American League has all sorts of intrigue, the National League is a joke. Washington is going to run away with this division. They were already the best, and then they added Max Scherzer. The Marlins and Mets are both no slouch, but the Nats could win 100 games this year. The Marlins added Dee Gordon, Michael Morse and Mat Latos. They extended Giancarlos Stanton and get Jose Fernandez back from injury. The Mets get their ace back too in Matt Harvey. Plus both teams get 18 games against the Phillies and the Braves which ought to inflate their records a bit. They’ll be in the mix come September.

NL Central

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

As has become the norm, this division race will be good, but the Cardinals will eventually pull away and the Pirates will separate themselves form the rest. The Cubs obviously got much better with the acquisition of Jon Lester, and if they can get their prospect trio – Kris Bryant, Jorge Solar and Javier Baez – into the majors sooner than later, they could manage to make a push in the second half. But I do think 2016 is their year to return to the playoffs.

NL West

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

The Dodgers are only going to be better from last year. They added Jimmy Rollins and dropped Matt Kemp. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher and best player in baseball, in my opinion. You can talk about Trout all you want, but Kershaw has the power to completely dominate a game. The Padres added Justin Upton, Kemp, and former Royal and Ray, Wil Myers. Their biggest addition is James Shields. Their bullpen is dominant too. They could do some damage, but I see them finishing as the first team out. The Giants got much worse this offseason with the loss of Panda, and with the injury to Pence. Plus, Madison Bumgarner is super overrated. The Rockies and D-Backs are…not great.

So my postseason looks like this:

AL: Red Sox, Royals, Mariners, Indians, Athletics
NL: Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers, Pirates, Marlins

ALCS: Mariners over Athletics
NLDS: Dodgers over Nationals

WS: Dodgers over Mariners

AL MVP: Mike Trout
NL MVP: Yasiel Puig

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw

Here’s to a great 2015 MLB season! As always, I’ll be rooting for a 1985 rematch. (Which nearly happened last year. So close.)

-apc.

1944 World Series

Let me begin with this: the St. Louis Browns Historical Society has an absolutely beautiful website. Take a look: thestlbrowns.com. Bravo.

The Browns were perrenial losers. The bottom of the American League. They fired Branch Rickey who turned the Cardinals into a winner and later signed Jackie Robinson to a deal with Brooklyn. The 1944 Browns also had a one-armed left fielder, Pete Grey.

Here’s what the STLBHS has to say about the 1944 St. Louis Browns…

When the U.S. entered World War II, President Roosevelt gave the “green light” to keep playing. New manager Luke Sewell got surgical with his 1942 roster, and rebuilt the team. The Browns lost a few men to the war effort, but other teams said goodbye to key players. By 1944, every Browns infielder was classified 4-F, or excused from military service, many for physical limitations. The Browns cashed in on their odds, opening the season with a bang — nine straight wins.

Cut to October 1, 1944, the last regular-season game. The pennant was at stake. No player on the Browns roster had ever made it to a World Series. The Browns led the visiting Yankees 5-2 into the ninth. Down to the final out, Oscar Grimes shot a high fly ball into foul territory. Browns first baseman George McQuinn nabbed it. Pandemonium ensued. The Browns were going to the World Series to face the Cardinals.

Thus began the Streetcar Series, called such because St. Louis had so many trolleys at the time. Both teams would have the home field advantage — the Cards for the first two and last two games; the Browns for the three in the middle. With a 3-1 Game 6 loss, the Browns said goodbye to their “Cinderella season” and World Series hopes. After World War II, the rest of the league’s talent was replenished. The Browns’ best years were put behind them as they returned to last place.

I guess you can call it a “Cinderella season,” but let’s be real: with the war at it’s height, it’s not like the Browns were the prettiest girl at the ball…they were more like the only girl at the ball.

The Browns and the Cardinals played in the third World Series to be ever hosted in the same ballpark for all games: Sportsman’s Park. The other two took place at the Polo Grounds in New York City. It also is one of two all-Missouri World Series, the other being 1985 when Kansas City won it all against the Cardinals.

Embarrassingly, the Junior World Series in Baltimore outdrew the real World Series that same year – a large reason why the Browns would end up moving to Baltimore a decade later. 1944 was clearly a low point for baseball. The war was taking it’s toll.

The Cardinals were in their 3rd straight World Series, the previous two splitting against the Yankees. Stan Musial struggled in both of those series, but in 1944 he was his normal self hitting .304/.360/.522 and hitting his only career postseason HR in Game 4.



The Games

The Cardinals had a huge chance in the 3rd inning of Game 1. They loaded the bases with 1 out and couldn’t score. The next half inning George McQuinn’s hit a 2 run homer off veteran Mort Cooper and the Browns had the first runs of the Series. Denny Galehouse worked around 11 baserunners (7 H, 4 BB) allowing just one run in a complete game affair. Browns took a early series lead.

Game 2 was an epic 11-inning walkoff win for the Cardinals. The game was tied 2-2 after nine. George McQuinn hit a leadoff double to start the 11th for the Browns, but they couldn’t score him. 

Ray Sanders led off the bottom half with a single. Whitey Kurowski bunted him to second. Marty Marion was intentionally walked. Ken O’Dea won it with a pinch hit single to right field scoring Sanders from second. Cardinals win in walkoff fashion to tie the Series at 1.

Game 3 featured another huge game for George McQuinn, who went completely bananas in the postseason turning his regular season .250/.357/.376 into a .438/.609/.750 – aided heavily by his 7 walks over the 6 game series. The obvious MVP if the Browns had managed to pull it out in the end (if they handed out MVP awards in 1944, that is). He went 3-3 with a double and a walk in Game 3, setting the table for the Browns 6-2 win.

Game 3 also featured another complete game by a Browns pitcher, this time Jack Kramer who struck out 10.  This is the last World Series game the St. Louis Browns would ever win.

Game 4 was over early. Stan Musial hit a 2-run home run three batters into the game. The Browns only chance to counter came in the 2nd when catcher Red Heyworth grounded into a 5-4-3 double play to end the rally. The Cardinals added 2 more in the next inning and it was 4-0. The Cardinals went on to win 6-2. This time it was Harry Brecheen of the Cardinals throwing the complete game. Series tied, 2-2.

Game 5 was a pitchers duel and a rematch of Game 1 starters: Mort Cooper and Denny Galehouse. This time both men would go the distance, and Galehouse actually allowed two fewer baserunners. Unfortunately for the Browns, two of those hitters – Sanders and Danny Litwhiler – circled the bases. The Cardinals won 2-0 behind Mort Cooper’s final World Series appearance. This was his 3rd career World Series win, 2nd career World Series complete game and 1st career World Series shut out.

And Game 6 sealed it for the Redbirds. The Cards posted a 3-run 4th inning and that was plenty. The Browns only trip to the World Series ended in a 3-1 loss that wasn’t even that close – the Cardinals had 10 hits and 4 walks and had plenty of chances to add to their total, but it wouldn’t matter in the end.



The Cardinals won their 5th championship and 2nd in 3 years. We’ll see them again in 1946 to complete the 3 straight even-yeared championship circuit (just like the Giants completed in 2014). But next year features two different faces. 

As for the Browns, well, to quote Eminem, “you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, cause opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo.”

So true, Marshall. So true.

-apc.

Photo cred: 1944 Brochure accessed here, 1944 ticket stubs accessed here. Game 1 at Sportsman’s Park photo accessed here.

Cactus League: Happy Yordano Day

So he gave up 4 runs in 1 inning in his first spring outing…so what? There are still few things in baseball as exciting as Yordano Days.

I’m not totally certain where the term “Yordano Day” originated. I picked it up sometime early in the season last year. Maybe I invented it. I’m not sure. All I know is that every day Yordano Ventura pitches feels like a freaking holiday for me.

Someone decided to launch a Twitter account this year, apparently: @yordanoday.

Okay fine. It’s all me.

Yordano didn’t have it yesterday. Well, maybe he did, but it’s Spring Training, so it doesn’t really matter. It’s not like Ventura is going to lose his starting spot based on a poor Cactus League. At most, he’ll lose out on pitching Opening Day on April 6. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter one bit.

Established ballplayers come out in Spring Training working on specific things. Mike Moustakas is working on his bunting and taking the ball to the opposite field. Alcides Escobar may be working on his plate discipline as the leadoff hitter going into 2015. Bubba Starling (not established as anything but a potential bust) may want to start working on not striking out 5 consecutive times.

Pitchers do the same thing. They might need to work on or develop a new pitch. Or perhaps there’s a specific mechanical adjustment that needs to take place. Or maybe they’re trying to establish comfort pitching inside. The point is that pitchers aren’t always bringing their best stuff in Spring Training. Their bread and butter may be on the back burner.

This is why we shouldn’t geek out when Mike Moustakas wins the Cactus League batting title. It’s also why we shouldn’t freak out when Yordano Ventura allows three of the first four batters he faces on base. Not great, but let’s remember where we are.

Ventura did admit that he needs to get more movement on his fastballs. His pitches were too straight, he said, but he felt good. Ned Yost said he may have been overthrowing a bit, but overall was impressed and thought he looked fine.

I got to watch Yordano warm up. What a freak. He begins by tossing with Salvador Perez in the outfield. Every throw he takes three steps back. Soon, he’s rifling the ball from the center field to the right field corner – something like 250 feet away. Hits Salvy in the glove every time. Pop. Pop. Pop. Then Salvy throws the ball back so high its like Ventura is practicing flyballs. Then he slowly moves back in and the two walk to the bullpen to throw from the mound.

Just listen to it. Sheesh.

Every time Ventura reaches back to throw, my heart skips a beat. It’s so powerful. It sounds like a bottle rocket. Ssssssifffffff-POP! But the other reason is because I get scared. His arm is insane, and every time he throws I’m afraid he’s going to catch the return throw from Salvy and motion to the trainers to come check out his elbow. It feels inevitable. I hate that it feels so inevitable.

Ventura looks bigger than I remember him. His shoulders looked broader. His body looked thicker. He clearly worked hard in the offseason – or perhaps his adult body is still developing – but it eases the fear somewhat. Means the torque on his ligaments is assuaged by the size of his muscles. It’s good news – although it may just be my eyes playing tricks on me observing him so up close.

A few other notes from the Royals’ 11-9 win against the Indians on Friday…

Alex Rios looks great. He had three hits yesterday and hit his second homer of the short spring season. Making a case for himself as Cactus League MVP after just three games.

The Royals only won the game because the Indians defense is awful. They botched multiple plays that led to an eight run 5th inning capped off with a Brett Eibner three run HR. Thanks, Tribe.

Speaking of awful defense, Orlando Calixte had a rough game at short. He airmailed a throw to first. His range is poor. Just reenforces how valuable Alcides Escobar is to this team defensively. He played all 162 games at SS last year. Christian Colon is the backup option and with Omar Infante continuing to be a question mark at 2B, it puts our middle infield depth in the spotlight.

Kelvin Herrera pitched one inning. He was lights out. Good. Herrera is the first of the HDH trio to pitch this spring. I think we know who Davis and Holland are at this point. They’re proven. Herrera had a good year, but part of me wonders if he pitched over his head last year. Herrera had a good year, and I hope he continues what he established himself to be last year.

***

I’m back in KC now. Spring Training was fun, but the rest of it will need to be watched from afar. Great start – with the exception of Tim Collins being injured, there’s a lot to be excited about in 2015.

Also, I got sunburnt.

-apc.

Cactus League: Billy Butler, Pete LaCock and Lee Smith.

Day 2 from Spring Training. 

Let’s get to it.



Cubs Welcome Country Breakfast

We spent yesterday the Cubs facilities checking in on Billy Butler and the visiting Oakland Athletics. As we all know, the Royals let Billy walk after declining to pick up his 2015 option. Negotiations were extensive, but ultimately Billy took a 3 year, $30M deal to play for the A’s.

I have a rocky past with Billy. I generally cannot stand the designated hitter, and Billy has historically been a frustrating player at that “position.” He hits singles and doubles. He does not hit for power. He does not play defense (although, Oakland plans to give him a lot of time there). I’ve never seen him throw a baseball. He was one of the least valuable baserunners in baseball last year.

So he’s one-dimensional. A one-tool player. He hits for average, and that’s it.

Late in the season, Ned Yost benched Butler. Butler whined. He was obnoxious, and I couldn’t wait for the Royals to let him walk. If the Royals postseason run hadn’t happened, Billy would’ve left town without eliciting any emotion whatsoever.

BUT…then he stole that base.

And the Royals did go on that postseason run, and suddenly Billy Butler became the face of the resurrected franchise. The guy who had been there through the darkest times and came out on the other side a winner.

So strangely, over the course of about 6 weeks, my emotions surrounding Billy Butler were transformed. Which is how I somehow found myself wanting to check in on his yesterday in Mesa, AZ. I’m going to miss Billy – I think Kendrys Morales is a better player and putting aside emotions, it’s the right move for the franchise – but Billy was Billy, and he can’t be replaced.

Except yesterday’s game did nothing but help me forget him quickly.

First, he completely ignored me and Dan as he walked into the visitors dugout. We were 3 feet away. I was wearing my #16 Billy Butler powder blue jersey. I told him we miss him in KC. And he gave us the cold shoulder.

Then he went 0-3 at the plate. Snoozer. Not doing much to keep me interested. The A’s come to Kauffman Stadium on April 17-19. I’ll be there on April 18 – which is Billy’s birthday.

Thankfully, there were other happenings that more that made up for Billy’s disappointing day.



Pete LaCock’s 1980 AL Champions ring

There were a group of former Cubs players signing autographs during the game. Fergie Jenkins and Lee Smith were the big names. But I made eye contact with Pete LaCock and he was noticeably excited that I was decked out in Royals gear.

We talked for about 10 minutes. I asked him about his time in KC, how the 1980 World Series loss compared to the 2014. He answered by taking off his 1980 AL Champs ring and handing it to me. Didn’t even ask. Just gave it to me and told me to try it on. Pretty cool.

Look how faded the front is – it looks like the photo is out of focus it’s so worn. Pretty cool experience as long as I ignored Pete’s complaining about the Royals disrespecting him by only giving him upper deck tickets to the World Series. The nerve.

Meeting Lee Smith

The highlight of the day was meeting Lee Smith. 

He was sitting next to Pete LaCock and I spent most of the time with Pete trying to figure out what I was going to say to Smith when the conversation shifted.

I decided to share the story that I wrote about a few months ago – my experience as a 7 year old watching him pitch for the Cardinals in 1993. We laughed about how long he used to take walking to the mound. He said Tony La Russa’s word for his walk was an “amble.”

“I don’t even know what that word means!” said Smith.

I shook his hand twice and both times was shocked at how massive his hands are. I was tempted to ask him to hold a ball for me, but that felt weird. 

Instead, he brought up how short the Cardinals infield felt while he was on the mound. Ozzie Smith (5’11”), Terry Pendleton (5’9″) and Jose Oquendo (5’10”) all had “short man syndrome” according to Lee, who stand at 6’5″. Add an additional 11 inches from the height of the mound, those infielders would come in for a conference and he felt like he could “scoop em all up and put em in his pocket.” 

Great guy. Huge smile. Very friendly. An honor to meet him. My only regrets: not getting a photo with him and not being prepared with his card to sign. Drat.

***

Today is Yordano Day and my final day in Arizona. Headed to Goodyear to watch the Good Guys take on the Tribe this afternoon. Big win yesterday – Cheslor Cuthbert with a 2-run walkoff in the bottom of the 9th to take down the Rangers for the second straight day. 

Miguel Almonte looked great according to Vahe Gregorian of the Star. Escobar and Morales both had two hits apiece. Bubba Starling went 0-3 with three strikeouts. Woof

-apc.

Cactus League: Royals go back to back to back, win opener 13-2.

Baseball back and it feel so right. I’ve been missing these boys something fierce.

To celebrate, I decided to make a quick trip down to Surprise. I woke up at 3:30am, caught a 5:50am flight out of KC and was in PHX by 7:45am. My friend Dan – who you may remember from my time in Houston, Arizona and San Diego last April – lives in downtown Phoenix, so he and I are hitting a few games over the next few days. The current plan: catch today’s game in Surprise against the Rangers and Yordano Ventura’s start on Friday in Goodyear against the Indians. In between, I think we’ll go give Billy Butler a visit in his new A’s uniform against the Cubs on Thursday. Supposedly they have a pretty sweet new ballpark out here.

The Royals dominated their Cactus League opener 13-2. It was over early: it was 6-0 after 6 Royals batters. The pitching staff did their job, and the offense more than pulled their weight. 



 A few highlights…

Hosmer/Morales/Rios go back to back to back.

Like I said, this one was over early. Here’s how the first inning went down for good guys…

Escobar: BB
Dyson: 1B down the third baseline
Cain: 1B bloop to center, RBI
Hosmer: 3-run HR, at least 450′ to straight away centerfield
Morales: solo HR
Rios: solo HR

…Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales did a decent job making a first impression today. Both are coming off a down year in 2014 and lots of Royals fans are wondering if they’re worth the large contracts we’re giving them. Personally, I’m looking for both of them to bounce back. Will the power hitting continue in the regular season (or the rest of the Cactus League, for that matter)? Who knows. But it was good to see today.

Other first impressions: Morales looks more fit than Billy Butler, whom he’s replacing at DH. And Rios has very very long legs.

Tim Collins leaves game with elbow injury.

Collins is scheduled to have an MRI tomorrow, but initial reports make it sound like it isn’t super serious, but it’s something to keep an eye on for sure. Even if he’s injured, it’s not like losing Tim to an injury is going to make or break our bullpen. He’s fighting for one of the last spots in the pen as it is along with Franklin Morales as a lefty.

Perhaps the largest impact of a Tim Collins injury would be that if Franklin Morales doesn’t impress, the Royals may be forced to roll with Brandon Finnegan in the pen to start the season. They’d much rather let Finny begin the season in the minors, continuing to develop him as a starter, but if they can’t land a lefty reliever with Collins or Morales, Finnegan is likely their man.

Jandel Gustave throws fire and looked rull nice.

Replacing Tim Collins in today’s game: Jandel Gustave. The Royals acquired Gustave in the Rule 5 draft this offseason from the Houston Astros. The stipulation with the Rule 5 draft is that the player must remain on the 25-man roster for the season in order to retain the rights to that players contract. Gustave is young and throws a billion MPH, but his BB/9 ratio is a robust 6.7 during his time in the minors dating back to 2010. So basically, he has no idea where it’s going when he lets go. Which is scary because he throws 100+ MPH.

He came in from the bullpen today and fired three warmup fastballs…102…102…104. Sheesh. Talk about terrifying for an opposing hitter.

Cheslor Cuthbert: gems on gems on gems.

Cuthbert’s opportunity in the majors mostly depends on whether or not Mike Moustakas can turn the corner this year and put up some decent numbers in non-Cactus League play. He made a good case for an opportunity with three legit plays this afternoon. One diving to his right; one on a hard hit grounder and one leaning far over into the stands just past the Royals dugout. Looked stellar in the opener.

***

Those were my initial takeaways from today. Royals looked fresh and powerful. Definitely the better team. Tomorrow is the Billy Butler Memory Tour. Breaking out the Butler Roys jersey and A’s cap. Can’t wait.

-apc.

Shuffle Lessons, Volume 4.

Let’s do some shufflin’, shall we? This one is a lightning round: I’m only giving myself until the end of each song to write about it.

For a refresher on the process, you can go back and read other lessons.

Drunk and Hot Girls – Kanye West

Blah. Rough start.

The lowest point on Graduation. Well, the only low point on Graduation, really. Along with “Barry Bonds” (which I admittedly like from time to time), this makes up the sad 9/10 spots on the album. Skip it 90% of the time. Although, it’s hilarious when Kanye makes fun of her singing. It’s good for a laugh, but for the most part this is…blah.

From Above – Ben Folds & Nick Hornby

I don’t listen to this album enough. Nick Hornby, author of High Fidelity, wrote the lyrics. Ben then composed, played and sang them. Brilliant stuff.

It’s a track about soulmates. Everyone has one, but we rarely end up with them, according to Hornby. Personally, I think the idea of soulmates is a buncha baloney. I think there are probably dozens of mates we could marry. Maybe more. The trick is finding someone who feels the same way, but I mean, c’mon – you’re telling me my soulmate just happened to coincidently live right around the corner from me? Of anywhere in the world? Nah. I think we just meet people we like and love and decide to commit. Connection? Sure. But “soulmates” is a made up romantic ideal that I refuse to buy into. Sorry, Karlie.

Late – Ben Folds

MOAR BEN. Songs for Silverman is probably Ben’s most beautiful album. It lacks his Five goofiness, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking as an album. It’s just serious business.

“Late” is no different. It’s a tribute to Elliott Smith. Smith was a singer-songwriter who suffered from depression and died from stab wounds that may or may not have self inflicted. The lyric “the songs you wrote got me through a lot just want to tell you that,” is particularly meaningful – I wish more of us would take the time to share why we are important to one another. Perhaps Elliott Smith (if suicide was the cause of death) would still be with us had Ben shared this with him earlier?

Bloodstream – Ed Sheeran

How is Ed Sheeran already on my Top 2000 played list? He ascended quickly. I guess I gave this album 4 or 5 listens before writing my GRAMMY post about it.

Bloodstream is one of the better tracks on x. (It’s pronounced “multiply” – lame.) The song is about drugs/drinking – as most of Ed’s songs are. It’s dark and eerie – an outlier on x since most of the songs are either poppy fresh or acoustic chill. Here’s the whole album review.

Smile Away – Paul & Linda McCartney

Ranking the Beatles without thinking about it…

  1. Paul
  2. George
  3. John
  4. Ringo

Now, ranking the margin of victory between each ranking without thinking about it…

  1. George to John
  2. Paul to George
  3. John to Ringo

Paul is my favorite by a wide margin, but George is my second favorite by an even wider margin over John. And the fact that John is close to Ringo at all speaks volumes of how I feel about Lennon. Too political and ideological for me most of the time. Gets annoying.. George is the most talented, but Paul is the most fun and his Wings career is way too good.

Ram is one of my all time favorite albums. It stands alone as an album by  only Paul & Linda McCartney, before the rest of Wings was formed. “Smile Away” is fun and lively. The story is simple: Paul runs into a friend on the street who says he can “smell your feet/breath from a mile away.” Paul decided to brush it off and smile away. I guess it’s about positivity/not giving a rip about what others think. Which is maybe what got Kanye to tap Paul to co-produce his new album, So Help Me God, whose title was announced today.

-apc.

Religion and Hip Hop at Rice University

This popped up in my Twitter feed today via both okayplayer and BLUNTIQ and I thought I should pass it along here. 

Bun B is co-teaching a course on religion and hip hop at Rice University with Professor Anthony Pinn. There is an on-campus version of the class, but also a free online version as well. The course is six sessions. I’ve enrolled. If you have even a cursory knowledge of hip hop music, I encourage you to look into it for yourself at EdX.org.

If you enroll in the next month maybe we can go through it together!

I’m a fan of anything that reframes religion in new ways. I’m a believer that we all experience God in different ways, and that there are huge spiritual/religious intersections in all areas of life. It’s is a driving driving force behind the book project I’m working on, and in my opening chapter, I hope to encourage all people do discover where it is that they see God connecting in ways traditionally understood as non-religious or secular.

I’m not a hip hop guru like these fellas in the video (plus I’m white, and I’m unable to fully grasp the black experience that much of hip hop is rooted in), but I do love the genre and have come to appreciate it on a deeper level. I’d say I’m mostly plugged into mainstream stuff, but I was raised listening to DC Talk in elementary school (to which I’m not remotely embarrassed, but Rosenberg jokingly brings up in the interview as the band kids would pass out CDs of in the cafeteria – that wasn’t me as far as I remember). Bun B brilliantly responds that there “probably wouldn’t be Lecrae without DC Talk.”

I’m deeply invested in church culture, a current seminarian, and have great concern for how the gospel is extended in our world. Everything Eblo says regarding “Christian music” resonates strongly with my experience of the genre too – which is why I get so excited about Lecrae breaking into the Best Rap Performance category at the GRAMMYs this year. I’m tired of Christian music being labeled separately from “secular” music. It fragments the music industry and cheapens music both within and without the “Christian” genre. As if non-“Christian” music has nothing to say about God (which it does), and often “Christian” music, frankly, isn’t very good, but can survive by marketing themselves as such. There’s also a session on Islam, which excites me.

I’m enrolled in the course beginning in late March. Excited to see what Professor B has to say about the overlap between religion and hip hop.

-apc.

Image cred: EdX.org.

Game 20: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Ah yes. The final piece of the Ballpark Tour 2014 post series.

I was able to post about 27 of the 30 ballparks I visited in 2014. Three of them were just too much to write about in the moment: Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Oriole Park at Camden Yards. I don’t have time right now to post a lengthy post game report as I did the others, but dragging/dropping my photos takes next to no time at all.

So here you go. My photo post from my trip to Baltimore.

Commencing photos now.

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My favorite ballpark. Amazing tour. Major rain delay. “Here we go, O’s” can sound remarkably like “Here we go, Royals” if you say it fast enough. We got free shirts.

-apc.

Game 18: Fenway Park

As I mentioned in my book update a few days ago, I didn’t have the time to do a postgame blog on three ballparks during my tour last summer: Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

But I have plenty of time to do a photo post since all it entails is drag/dropping a bunch of photos into WordPress. So here’s a look at my trip to Fenway Park.

Commencing photos now.

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Incredible tour. Just about saw a no hitter against the Red Sox. Incredible space. More to come in the book so stay tuned.

-apc.

Game 17: Yankee Stadium

I posted in my book update that three ballparks along my tour were too meaty to do justice in a postgame blog. And while I didn’t have time to write about them then, it takes no time at all to upload a photo post from each of them. This is the first of those three. The other two are Fenway Park and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Commencing photos now.

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Still feels weird to look at myself wearing a Yankees cap. Stay tuned for more on my Yankee Stadium experience when the book comes out next year.

-apc.

Book Update

Can you believe it’s nearly baseball season?! I can’t. As much as I bemoan the winter months, I’m shocked at how quickly we’ve pushed through them. Pitchers and catchers are reporting to camp! It’s crazy how fast the offseason has blitzed by. It’s as if the 2014 MLB season lasted a month longer than normal here in KC…

Anyway. I want to update you all on where I am in terms of my book.

The writing is ongoing. I’ve had a couple setbacks, but I also seem to get more and more excited daily as my vision for this book has taken its final shape. Let’s start with the setbacks and end with the exciting bits.

The first bit of bad news is that my publisher went out of business. The House Studio was a part of the Nazarene Publishing House and had to close their doors at the beginning of December. I held out hope that they might re-form under a new group and retain my project, but alas, that’s not the case. So I’m back on the prowl for a publisher. I have a couple leads, and self-publishing is always a last resort option. I figure I’ll let that play out when I’ve completed my first draft and can submit it around to various publications. We’ll see what works out – this could end up being a good thing in the end. I’m hopeful.

The other bit of bad news is probably more neutral news. I’m in my final semester of classes in seminary and I’ve discovered that as my classes have gotten tougher, my workload has increased and my time to write a book on the side has decreased. The book has to take a backseat to my academics. Seminary is hard work. Imagine that. I call this “neutral news” because with every class I attend, book I read and paper I write I’m gaining more and more insight into themes this book will revolve around. So while it’s a slight delay in the writing process – I’m about 6 months behind schedule – it’s leading to better content on the back end, so I feel great about taking my time. I don’t want to throw together some sloppy piece of work. Writing is an extension of self, and I want something I’ll be proud of in the end, so bear with me!

Okay that’s the bad/neutral news.

Here’s the good news.

First, the ballpark tour was an incredible success. I had no rainouts or missed flights or delays in my schedule, which is a borderline miracle in itself. I’ve never experienced a busier, more exhausting or more exciting season of my life than the 2014 baseball season, and I have all of you to thank. I also got to share experiences with old friends and new friends across the nation (and Toronto!), which was an incredible blessing. I think a lot of my emotions surrounding the Royals’ World Series loss was due to the realization that not only was the season over, but it was the end of a long string of wonderful relational moments as well.

In the midst of my travels, I experienced how difficult it is to be a beat reporter in baseball. I was able to post 27 of the 30 blogs as I went along. The only three I couldn’t complete in time were the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles which felt too meaty to do justice in a quick postgame blog. They’ve been placed on the “you’ll have to wait till the book is out to read about those games” list.

Which brings me to my next piece of good news: my outline is finished and a handful of chapters have already been completed. My outline for the book consists of all 30 MLB ballparks and a spiritual insight discovered in each place…and an October Epilogue! When my classes wrap up in May, my writing calendar opens up completely to this project, which is going to be SO refreshing. A draft is due to my seminary by December in order to graduate next May, so I can pretty safely say that’s about when the book will end up coming out as well: Spring Training 2016.

So there you go. An update on where my project stands for those keeping track at home. Believe me, I wish I could get this out of my brain and into your hands sooner. Thanks for your patience and for your continued support!

-apc.

The 2015 Grammys in Review

Phew. Last night was crazy. I started the 2015 Grammys in the airport in Denver and finished them at home in Kansas City. I missed certain performances live due to boarding and safety information protocol, but I was able to catch up this morning on the major moments I missed the first time around.

The Grammys are a highlight for me each year. It’s basically a 3 hour concert of the greatest musicians in the world, so when people say they just can’t get into the Grammys I visualize myself giving them a wedgie before calmly responding, “that’s understandable.” No. It’s not really understandable. I mean, how often do we get to witness John Mayer, Questlove, Herbie Handcock, ELO and Ed Sheeran playing music in the same place at the same time?

It’s just a special night. It’s loads of fun.

If you’ve been following along here at all over the past month you know that I took some time to review all 5 albums up for Album of the Year, which I believe is the most important category. Last year, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories took home top honors. This year, it was Beck’s Morning Phase.

Beck over Bey

Going into last night, I had Beyonce as the clear favorite and Beck as a dark horse. If there was someone who was going to take down the Queen, I thought Beck had the best chance among the others. I didn’t really think it would happen, but wouldn’t you know it, the dude pulled it off.

And he deserves it. He really does. Morning Phase is a beautiful album. It’s perfect for waking up on a grey Saturday morning, dropping the needle on the turntable and sipping some coffee for the next 47 minutes.

Twice last night, Beck tried to give the spotlight to someone who was a bigger star than he is. When he accepted his award, Kanye West stood up and “pulled a Kanye” by running up like he did to Taylor Swift back in the day. He ran up and acted like he was going to do it again but pulled away at the last second, laughing. Meanwhile, Jay-Z and Beyonce were absolutely mortified until they realized he was joking.

“No, Kanye, no…bahahahaha.” And just look at Jay shaking his head. It never gets old.

Except Kanye wasn’t really joking. He made comments after the show saying that Beck should give the Grammy to Beyonce and that Beck isn’t a true artist. Major jerk move. To which Beck responded later that he thinks Kanye is a genius regardless of what he thinks of him in return.

It’s hard for me to say this because I spent a decade of my life borderline obsessed with Kanye West’s music, but I’ve finally had enough of his ego. I justified his antics when he embarrassed Taylor Swift by remembering that he was standing up for his friend, Beyonce, even if it was at the expense of someone else. You can think someone else was more deserving, but you cannot publicly claim that someone isn’t a true artist. Art is not objective, and Kanye West is not the absolute rule.

Clearly Kanye’s never seen this:

Yeah. Put a sock in it, dummy.

Anyway, when Kanye started walking away, Beck told him to come back. He invited him on to the stage with him. Weird. Then later, following his performance with Chris Martin of Coldplay, Martin intentionally faded into the background to give Beck the spotlight. Beck noticed this at the last second and ran back and tried to pull Martin back into the front.

There’s something selfless and open about Beck that is very likable. Like when he began his entire speech with “Hi, Prince.” Just so genuine and friendly. It’s sad Kanye’s antics took the spotlight away from him. Because he deserves the spotlight.

By the way, during his speech Beck also thanked David Campbell for doing the strings on Morning Phase. David Campbell is Beck’s father. Campbell has quite the resume of arrangements and I encourage you to take a quick scroll through the list on his Wikipedia page.

Top 10 Performances

According to LL Cool J at the top of the show, there were 23 performances during last night’s show – probably why the winners only goy 6 seconds to give their acceptance speeches – and while I’d like to talk about each one separately…I’m not going to.

But what I am going to do is list my Top 10 performances with a line or two about each one.

10. Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga – Cheek to Cheek – This song is cute, but every time I hear it, it makes me miss Amy Winehouse. She would’ve been the right choice for this song. Lady Gaga is fine, but Amy…

9. Beck featuring Chris Martin – Heart is a Drum – Listening to one song from Morning Phase is like being forced to only eat one potato chip. The performance was good, but I wanted more of the album than just this sampling.

8. Sia – Chandelier  – So Sia just stands in the corner and sings with her face to the wall while Kristen Wiig runs around dancing dramatically? Goofy stuff. But a powerful song.

7. Ed Sheeran featuring John Mayer, Questlove & Herbie Hancock – Thinking Out Loud – The first time I saw this performance, I was so entranced by John going nuts on his pink guitar that I totally missed Herbie sitting on the piano behind him. Quest is awesome. I wish he’d hung around for the ELO performance. Wish it was a funner song too – TOL isn’t my favorite of his, but I’m a big fan of large chunks of x.

6. Usher featuring Stevie Wonder – If It’s Magic – “If It’s Magic” is track two off side four of Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. Last year, Stevie performed “Another Star” which comes two tracks later on the same side. The song in between these two is “As” which is my all-time favorite Stevie Wonder track. Since it seems the Grammys are now attempting to cameo Stevie Wonder as much as possible while he’s still around, I’m holding out hope for an “As” performance in 2016.

5. Pharrell featuring Lang Lang – Happy – What a fantastic rendition of the song that Pharrell obviously realizes is starting to get a bit redundant in the world these days. Lang Lang provides an epic piano solo while Pharrell and his backup dancers do the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” motion. The Great Hans Zimmer comes out on guitar. I am itching for new N*E*R*D in 2015.

Pharrell continues to plow an amazing path in the world of today’s music. He’s come a long way in a really short amount of time. It’ll be interesting to see where he goes in the future with the success of not only GIRL, but also his many collaborations and productions in recent years.

4. John Legend/Common – Glory – The final performance of the Grammys. Common has one of those voices – similar to Morgan Freeman, I think – that commands attention. He’s not necessarily the best rapper, but what he lacks in cadence he makes up for in clout. He has a powerful presence and the subject matter is obviously wonderful.

Also, I love the word “glory” – in Hebrew, the word is kavod which means something has significant weight. When we glorify God, we are recognizing that God has kavod. And when we ask for his glory to reign, we are asking that his weight overcome the heavy burdens we feel in our world. Appropriate image for this performance, I think.

3. Hozier & Annie Lennox – Take Me to Church/I Put a Spell on You – Four comments about this performance: 1. Hozier looks like Madison Bumgarner. 2. You may know Annie Lennox (that woman who looks like Ellen Degeneres) from The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and her song “Walking on Broken Glass.” 3. Her new album includes a cover of “I Put a Spell on You.” 4. A song originally by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins that you might recall from this Pringles advertisement…

2. Beyonce – Take My Hand, Precious Lord – Chills. Just chills. Over and over and over. The more I watch it, the more I love this performance. Power singing about power. Creates some exponential biological singularity situation. Brings me to my knees. Another “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” here too.

1. ELO featuring Ed Sheeran – Evil Woman/Mr. Blue Sky – I had no idea ELO was going to be performing, so when Ed announced them, I exclaimed “YES” in the airport loud enough that the woman at the gate raised her eyebrows in my direction.

In the summer of 2004, I found Electric Light Orchestra’s Greatest Hits on cassette at a used bookstore. It was one of the three cassette tapes I had in my car for about a year until I sold my 1991 Geo Prism for a new ride in 2005. Mr. Blue Sky has the power to put anyone in an immediately positive mood (most of their music has this power, I suppose). That piano in Evil Woman just gets me immediately bumpin. These two tracks probably round out my top five ELO songs along with Livin’ Thing, Don’t Bring Me Down and Strange Magic (you can keep Xanadu, no thanks).

But the best part of this performance – for the second year in a row – was Paul McCartney dancing along in the audience. In case you’ve forgotten, in 2014, we had Snap and Wiggle Paul during Daft Punk’s performance:

This year, we were awarded with an equally wonderful moment. Behold, Sing Along Standing Paul:

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Sir Paul, in the very front row, appears to be the only one standing in the entire Staples Center. But what happens here? It seems Paul makes eye contact with someone to the left of the camera, nods, then throws his hands up and sits down.

DID SOME JERK HAVE THE AUDACITY TO TELL SIR SING ALONG PAUL TO SIT DOWN?!? No one tells Paul to sit down. No one. Ever. This is unacceptable and must be addressed. But I’m not really worried. The Illuminati will likely take care of it in one quick silent movement. It’s possible that’s what Madonna’s performance was all about.

Sam Smith Wins a Bunch

Best New Artist. Record of the Year. Song of the Year. Best Pop Vocal Album. He also performed with Mary J. Blige.

Whatever. I will not argue that the dude has some crazy pipes, but the sound of his voice give me the creeps. He’s got some weird lisp thing going on along with a glottal situation that makes me want to run away when he sings. It’s unfortunate.

I can see how he could win all the categories above – people really seem to love the guy – but Taylor Swift should’ve won at least one of the two song categories for “Shake it Off.” I’m just thankful he didn’t win Album of the Year because In the Lonely Hour is just one big cryfest that never goes anywhere else.

A quick bit on Kanye

What are these new Kanye songs? “Only One” sounds like something off 808s and Heartbreaks only there’s no 808 and instead of heartbreak it’s heartfelt. So maybe it’s the opposite in terms of content, but the autotuned voice and stripped down style is NOT working for me. “FourFive Seconds” is maybe a little bit better, but if these are the tracks that are supposed to launch a new album you’re counting down to…sorry Kanye. You may have finally lost me.

But what I don’t understand, is how Paul McCartney’s touch has created this stuff. Paul is quirky and goofy and way out of the box. So is Kanye West. I’d think that if this partnership is actually going to create something, it would have to be waaaaay out there. Paul has never been one to make boring music. Kanye certainly hasn’t either. But these two songs are boring. They offer me nothing exciting and I don’t get it.

Couple that with the comments I mentioned earlier, and I’ve all but given up on Kanye West. The only thing I can figure that might save him is if this album turns out to be another stepping stone on to another chapter in his musical discography. Perhaps his forthcoming album will act like an interlude like 808s ended up doing. Who knows. But he’s on really thin ice.

A quick bit on country music

A quick comment on country music here: this years performances were good. Miranda Lambert (who I think is adorable) played early in the show, but the two that I really enjoyed were Eric Church and the Brandy Clark/Dwight Yoakam back to back performances around the halfway point.

Last year, I had a serious issue with the country music performances. I left struggling to understand the genre. What makes something “country” music these days? Is it storytelling? Because then Ed Sheeran is a phenomenal country artist. Is it the sound of their voice? Because then anyone can play country music if they just change up their twang. I don’t understand.

But this years performances seemed to fit the bill. There wasn’t an over the top voice alteration to fit the genre, and there was plenty of storytelling to go around. It wasn’t the poppy, boy band country, and it wasn’t stereotypical subject matter either. All that to say, it didn’t leave the same bad taste in my mouth as it did in 2014.

Cats on the Red Carpet

Finally, I have to share this shot of my cats – Desmond (right) and Hugo (left) – from the Red Carpet last night.

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A thousand shout outs to Maureen for her photoshopping brilliance.

That pretty much does it for the Grammys this year. Another amazing year in music comes to a close. Looking forward to the 2016 Grammys, AKA “D’Angelo Wins Everything.” Although, Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special will get some nods, and if Frank Ocean decides to exist again, I’m sure he’ll make his presence known too. Until then, it’s back to baseball for me.

-apc.

BACK TO GRAMMYS HOMEPAGE

In the Lonely Hour – Sam Smith

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Most every romantic comedy has this in common: a minute-long segment, deep into the storyline, when everything is falling apart between the protagonist and his/her primary love interest. Both are sad and lonely but don’t if know if that sadness is reciprocated. So they flounder for a bit while they figure out their emotions.

You know the section I’m talking about – the movie cuts back and forth from one side of the broken relationship to another checking in on how each individual’s life is progressing without their other half.

It goes like this: First, she’s reading a book at a coffee shop but can’t concentrate. Cut to him distractedly working in his office glancing periodically out the window at…something. Cut to her walking a dog in the park. Cut to him shooting hoops at the gym. Then cut to her teaching preschoolers or something. Cut to him sitting in his apartment typing her 555 number into his phone, but he can’t bring himself to hit the “Call” button. He’s probably listening to Boyz II Men too. Meanwhile, she’s staring at her old corded phone on her bedside table wondering if it’s going to ring or not. And it doesn’t. Because he won’t call. It hurts too much.

And that is what we have here. That is this Sam Smith album in a nutshell. This album is angsty and melancholy and emotional and whiney…

…and it never resolves anything.

From start to finish of In the Lonely Hour – from “Money on my Mind” to “Lay Me Down” – Smith pours out his soul. It’s vulnerable. It’s gut-wrenching. It takes some serious guts to bare your soul so publicly, and admire Smith’s openness and honesty on this album. Bravo on stepping out with authenticity and boldness. Unfortunately, this album just doesn’t go anywhere. It starts bleak and ends in bleak. It’s flat. One dimensional.

As many of you know, I spend my weekends sitting in seminary classes discussing God, Church, Scripture, etc. I’m currently in a class on Worship – what is it? how do we do and why? – and part of what we have been learning is how a worship gathering is constructed. What is the goal of each element in the order of events and how does it move/lead the worshiper from normal life and into something that transcends the normal? Do the elements of worship – songs, prayers, sacraments, sermons, etc. – take the congregation somewhere religious/spiritual?

I often look for a similar movement in music: does an album move or lead the listener into something that transcends their norm? Do the songs progress and take the listener on a journey somewhere?

Good albums do this well. Past “Album of the Year” winners have done this well. Last year’s Random Access Memories by Daft Punk does this. Adele’s 21 – the 2012 winner – does this. Arcade Fire did this in 2011. Taylor Swift did this in 2010. OutKast did this with Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2004. Norah Jones did this in 2003.

D’Angelo’s Black Messiah does this, which is one of the bazillion reasons it will win everything in 2015.

Fellow AOTY nominees Beck and Beyoncé and Pharrell do this.

But In the Lonely Hour does not do this. It’s deep and emotional, sure. But that’s kind of it. It never goes anywhere. It’s one long plateau of emotion and it gets old really quick. Drop the needle at any moment on this record and you’re going to hear basically the same thing.

That said, Sam Smith has quite the pipes. His range is incredible. He’s got the range of Whitney Houston and the emotion of Norah Jones. The only gripe I have on his voice is that it sounds like he has a perpetual glottal bubble. I just want him to clear his throat or swallow.

It’s hard to find tracks that are favorites among an album that doesn’t really go anywhere. Most have the same feel to them. I guess I’ll just highlight the ones that are most popular and move along.

These are the top tracks from In the Lonely Hour

Stay with Me Sam would rather hold hands than have a one night stand, but mostly because he’s the most emotional being on the planet. This is a real heartbreaker…and so are all the others.

Lay Me Down The last song on the album. It’s basically the same song as “Stay with Me” lyrically. More heartbreak. More desire to lay next to someone. Work through your emotions, please. ZzzzZZzzz.

Money on my Mind – This is the first track on the album and probably the high point for me. It’s fun and snappy. Meh sings about doing music for the love of it…he’s not in it for the money. I could say the same thing about youth ministry.

I’m Not the Only One Wah-wahhhh. Sam knows he’s not the only one his lover (who is a dude, by the way) is with. But rather than tell it to his face, he’d rather just let it eat him up inside and sing a song about it.

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So where does In the Lonely Hour rank among the other four albums up for the top Grammy? Probably in lower half. Beyoncé and Beck are the top options. Pharrell’s album is very strong but people won’t look past the success and annoyance of “Happy.” Ed Sheeran is fun and poppy, but gets old quick – plus I’m not into the slow stuff at all. It’s all subjective at some point, but Sam Smith probably slides in between Pharrell and Ed. I’d put him last.

Don’t get me wrong – Sam Smith is talented, has a wild voice and puts out good music, which is why it’s up for Album of the Year. Just not my jam.

Looking forward to the Grammy’s on Sunday night. Hope these posts come in handy for at least one person when the big night gets here.

-apc.

For other reviews up for Album of the Year…

Pharrell Williams – G I R L
Ed Sheeran – x
Beck – Morning Phase

Beyonce – Beyonce
Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour

RETURN TO GRAMMYS HOMEPAGE

Shuffle Lessons, Volume 3.

It’s been a long time since I posted a Shuffle Lessons. My last SL post came on August 18, 2012 – back when I still wrote in lowercase letters and the Royals hadn’t made the playoffs in my lifetime. A few nights ago I got into a conversation about various artists from my teenage and college years – Green Day, Simple Plan, The Rocket Summer, Linkin Park to name a few – and I got a hankering to do a quick shuffle through my iTunes.

Plus I have a LOT of other writing to get done today, and things like this always provide a nice way to break through the writer’s block and get the blood flowing in the fingers a bit.

A refresher on how this works: I open iTunes, select my “Top 2000 Most Played” playlist, click “shuffle songs” and write a paragraph on the first five songs that come up. It’s very random, but with a few caveats. If another song off the same album comes up, I’m skipping it and going on to the next one. If the song provides nothing substantial out of context, I’m skipping it. Example: the track “The Library (Intro)” opens the new Childish Gambino album – It’s a 5 seconds long snippet of some spinning machinery…I’m not writing a paragraph about that despite it having 11 plays and breaking in near the bottom of my Top 2000 Most Plays playlist.

If you want to listen to the songs, the titles are all linked to each of them.

Okay. That’s all the caveats. I’m giving myself 20 minutes here so lets get started, shall we? Lettuce.

Say You Will – Kanye West

In the wake of his sample heavy and insanely popular third album, Graduation, Kanye’s mom passed away from a botched surgery and his long-time fiancé broke off their engagement. This was around 2008. We all wanted another installment of the academic-themed College Dropout/Late Registration/Graduation albums, but instead we got 808s and Heartbreaks – a stripped down emotional auto-tuned album that was mostly disappointing. I guess I should’ve expected Kanye to trek into new territory after he “graduated” from his first three works, but this was too different and not remotely revolutionary. Although, looking back on this album after Dark Fantasy and Yeezus makes me realize that 808s was simply a stepping stone toward what the sound would eventually become.

“Say You Will” is the opening track to the album. Subtle piano and choir-esque “ahhs” accompanies the “beep…boop” and drum cadence that loops throughout the track. The song is fine – a perfect example of what is to come on the album.

Related: I prefer this Dido/Kanye mashup of the song…

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? – Amy Winehouse

Continuing the “preceding album is one of my all-time favorites but this album was forced in another direction” theme with this one – Back to Black was one of my all-time favorites and a death caused the followup to drastically move in another direction. It was the death of Kanye’s mother that changed his direction, but the death between these albums was Amy’s own. I was on vacation in Europe in the summer of 2009 when I found out Amy Winehouse had died from drug use in Camdentown. I had been in Camdentown just two days earlier exploring the shops and pubs of the London neighborhood. It was shocking and breaks my heart still.

Thus, this track comes on her posthumous work, Lioness: Hidden Treasures. She had been recording and working on another album at the time of her death, but it’s obvious she didn’t have much work done on it because this album feels far from complete. The album is mostly covers and remixes of her old stuff with a couple new tracks. “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” is a cover of a track by the same name by The Shirelles from 1961. Here’s that song…

It’s a good cover – true to the original, so nothing really earth-shatteringly special. But it’s still beautiful. “WYSLMT?” has horns and backup Dreamgirls-esque vocals. I just love Amy’s voice. I can picture her in a smokey lounge sitting on a stool with a spotlight on her while she melts the hearts of everyone present. If only. RIP Amy.

Necromancer – Gnarls Barkley

Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo made a wonderful team their three years of making music – way too short. They put out two albums. I love them both.

In the past, I’ve asked myself this question: which Gnarls Barkley album do I like more, St. Elsewhere (2006) or The Odd Couple (2008)? St. Elsewhere has some of my favorite Gnarls tracks – “Crazy” and “Smiley Face” and “Go-Go Gadget Gospel” and “The Last Time” – but The Odd Couple is a better album from start to finish. It lacks the real stinkers that St. Elsewhere has. About 75% of the time I think I like The Odd Couple more. But then “Crazy” comes on and I get thrown back to the summer of 2006 and it’s St. Elsewhere instead.

“Necromancer” is one of those stinkers. Tracks 7-12 make up the desert portion of the album, and it’s track 12. Honestly, the only time I listen to this track is when I fail 6 consecutive times to skip these tracks and go straight to track 13, “Storm Coming.” The song features distorted static vocals with a ominous dark feel to them. There’s no chorus. Just a few verses with synth solos between verses. Danger Mouse really kills it with these solos, but they’re lost between Cee-Lo’s weird verses. Moving on.

Daria – Cake

“Man, why don’t I listen to more Cake?!” – me, this past Saturday morning when I woke up and listened to two and a half of their albums – Fashion Nugget (which this song comes from), Prolonging the Magic and some Pressure Chief since I didn’t have class.

John McCrae is the vocalist for Cake. I only know his name because Ben Folds announces him following McCrae’s backup vocals on the live album version of “Fred Jones, Part II.” As you probably know, his style is unlike anything else around. Is he singing, or is he just talking? Hard to say, but I really enjoy it.

I always assumed that “Daria” was about the MTV show by the same name – Daria was a spinoff of Beavis and Butthead, which I was never allowed to watch as a kid but nevertheless quoted at the lunch table with the kids who did. But upon further research I discovered that Daria first aired in 1997 and Fashion Nugget came out in 1996. Maybe they were singing about her before she had her own show. The show featured the Cake song a couple times though, so maybe MTV and Cake were in talks about it? I sure don’t know. Anyone out there have the answer to this conundrum?

This isn’t my favorite song on the album, but only because Fashion Nugget is so strong. It’s good fun just like the rest of Cake’s stuff though. Big fan of Cake.

Pusher Love Girl – Justin Timberlake

Rounding out this Shuffle Lesson is the ultimate Vacation Track – the strings that open “Pusher Love Girl” and the entire 20/20 Experience immediately transport me to a boat in the middle of the Miami intercostal waterway. I just can’t help it. The memories this song triggers are just way too strong.

Justin is singing about Mary Camden (aka Jessica Biel, his wife) being his drug that takes makes him “so high [he’s] on the ceiling, babe” and “all [he] want[s] is [her].” The strings guide this song along with Justin’s falsetto, backup horns and a snappy cadence that immediately forces a strange and uncontrolled response of weightless arms. It’s light and airy and somehow the arms just start floating away from the sides of my body. Is it a dance? Hard to say. Again, I can’t help it. This song just gets into my bloodstream like Jessica gets into Justin’s.

I will say – this song is three minutes too long. Justin loves his extended tracks these days and this song just goes on and on about being a “junkie” for her love. I can do without part two of this track.

But now I’m turning off this vacation track so I can be productive. This was fun. On to writing some papers and some book.

-apc.

Baseball Card I Spy

B795ZdQCAAADwkiIt’s Friday. Let’s play a game.

When I was a little kid – maybe 2 or 3 years old – my parents got me a stack of my first baseball cards. The cards probably weren’t anything spectacular and I probably bent them and put stickers on them and such. I couldn’t read yet, but they tell me that I was able to tell them whose picture was on each card. I’d memorized the names or something. Or I recognized them from seeing them play on TV. Or my dad had told me stories about his favorites and I’d remembered them.

My parents would lay them all out on the floor and say, “I Spy…Jack Clark!” and I’d quickly point out which one I thought Jack Clark was for them. Good parenting, really. I was obviously raised well.

Anyway. Yesterday, I had some fun playing the same game with the picture above tweeted out by the Baseball Hall of Fame – @BaseballHall. The wallpaper behind Craig Biggio, John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez is at the MLB Network’s studios in New Jersey.

Those cards from my childhood would’ve been from around 1986-1990, which are the majority of the cards on the wallpaper here.

It’s tough to make many of them out, but my eyes immediately found the 1987 Topps Mike Laga card just above Biggio’s Tom Brady Face.

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The pink jersey really gave him away.

Next, I noticed the 1986 Topps Hal McRae down low between Smoltz and Pedro.

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I posted both of them to twitter and tagged View from the Skybox@VFTSB – a local card collector I follow asking if he could pick any out from the picture. He claimed he couldn’t, but his retweet pulled a couple replies from others…

Good eye! Here are the two cards mentioned…

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Anybody else spy any recognizable cards in that pic? Give it a look and see what you can come up with.

In related news, I’m now toying with the idea of creating my own wallpaper somewhere in my home. Or maybe it’s for sale as a legit wallpaper somewhere. I’ll have to look into it.

Happy Friday everyone. Enjoy the weekend.

-apc.

Beyoncé – Beyoncé

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Look. This is Beyoncé’s world and we ought to just be thankful we get to breathe the same air she does. Beyoncé – the album and the artist – is going to win Album of the Year, and it’s not really close.

First thing I need to bring up about this album is it’s release. Sometime in the middle of the night on December 13, 2013, it just appeared on iTunes. There was no build up. No pre-release single. No rumors or leaks. One moment it wasn’t there, and then the next moment it was. After 3 days, 800 thousand people had downloaded the album. In 10 days: 1.3 million downloads.

Apparently writing and recording had begun as far back as 2012. It’s a visual album, with 14 songs and 17 videos, and the collaborator list extends to something like 50+ individuals – from big names like Pharrell, Drake, Sia and Justin Timberlake to relatively unknown names like Boots, who produced the bulk of the tracks. And obviously her husband, Jay-Z.

How is it even possible for 50 different people to stay completely silent on the project for well over a year?! How does no one say anything for that long?! What kind of power must an individual possess in order to keep a group that large so silent for so long?

Somehow, Beyonce has risen to that level of power. This is NOT the girl from Destiny’s Child. This is not even Sasha Fierce. This is NOT the leotard wearing, hand waving diva from Single Ladies. She and her husband have managed to transcend all others on this planet. I have no hesitation in dubbing them the most powerful couple in the world.

I suppose it shouldn’t be shocking, then, to imagine that Queen Bey is capable of such a release. It really sparks the conspiracy theorist in me – what sort of power are we dealing with when it comes to Beyonce? Does she know whether the Apollo 11 mission actually landed on the moon? Does she know the truth behind the Denver Airport construction conspiracy? I mean, in the same year that her husband released an album with “Holy Grail” in the title, Beyonce manages to sneak a complete visual album on to the internet without anyone noticing or anyone saying a word? This is some serious Illuminati ish, if you ask me.

I mean? Who is she even competing with for Queen at this point? Taylor Swift? Lady Gaga? Next to Bey, these two seem off-brand. At one point on the album, Bey tells us all to “bow down, bitches,” and we basically respond, “yeah, sure…I mean, yes, ma’am.”

But here’s the other thing about the surprise release: it only worked because this album was so daggum good.

“But Adam, it’s dirty! Have you listened to the lyrics? It’s like super sexual and dark and graphic in places.”

Isn’t it though?! Yep, this isn’t the Beyonce we’re all familiar with. This Beyonce is deeper and darker and harsher than ever before. This isn’t Bootylicious or Jumpin’ Jumpin’. This isn’t Irreplaceable or even Crazy in Love. This album is hot and heavy and borderline voyeuristic in spots. This album gives us a peak inside Beyoncé’s marriage that we probably shouldn’t be allowed to see.

Beyonce is trying to say something about marriage. In a culture where the sanctity of marriage is rare, the divorce rate is skyrocketing and promiscuity is borderline applauded, suddenly there’s Beyonce and Jay-Z. She’s telling us that marriage can be ultra sexy and desirable. Sex isn’t only attractive when it’s promiscuous – marriage can be steamy too. This isn’t a message we receive often in our culture.

It’s actually refreshing to listen to an album and know exactly who the artist is singing about. When she sings about how she’s “Drunk in Love” and the last thing she remembers is “our beautiful bodies grinding up in that club” – you know exactly who she’s dancing with. Jay-Z is the focus of every love interest-focused lyric. It’s an interesting twist we don’t see often in music these days. This is like John Lennon and Yoko Ono only instead of breaking up the Beatles they basically rule the entire planet.

But its not just about Bey and Jay – it’s also about motherhood. The last track on the album is called “Blue” after her daughter and future destroyer of worlds, Blue Ivy Carter. Blue undoubtedly has achieved genetic superiority over the rest of mankind. (It’s also been rumored that Beyonce is pregnant with #2. Or, should I say, they’ve hired another surrogate for round two.) Blue even gets her first vocal spot at the end of the album: “Hold on to me! Hold on!” Beyonce is positioning herself as a wife and mother – and one with all sorts of power.

This whole album exudes power. There’s even a track titled “Superpower” with Frank Ocean (naturally, my favorite track on the album since I’m a sucker for anything Frank does). It’s a feminist album. Women are powerful, and Beyonce the most powerful of them all.

Flawless” incorporates a spoken feminist speech from Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, that questions how we have taught women to view themselves – as lesser, smaller, less powerful and less free to be sexual and ambitious as men. There’s no mistaking the agenda here. Beyonce ought to be applauded for her willingness to unabashedly fight for how her gender is represented. The album reframes multiple aspects of womanhood – marriage and kids, sure, but power and influence and sexuality too.

The album took a risk and moved Beyonce away from being a poppy, Top 40 artist and toward the heart of the hip-hop/rap genre.

The tracks are occasionally disjointed – longer tracks, seemingly two song in one at times – and there are a half dozen jarring moments into audio clips of musical competitions from Beyoncé’s childhood or paparazzi crowds. The tracks are structured in completely different ways. It’s tough to find a classic verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure on this album. “Haunted” – for example – incorporates multiple movements: an intro audio clip, an opening verse and a spoken section all lead up to the actual track which doesn’t really begin until 3 minutes into the song. It’s a journey from movement to movement rather than a typical pop album from track to track. The exceptions are “XO” and “Drunk in Love” – the first two singles for the album – which are probably the most well known tracks but the ones I’m the least jazzed about.

Let’s take a quick track-by-track look at the album and wrap this thing up…

Pretty Hurts – Written by Sia. It’s a song about beauty and self worth. Not my favorite. Also, I can’t stand that the open to the whole album is some guy asking Beyonce (aka Miss Third Ward) what her aspiration in life is at some beauty pagent. Meh.

Haunted Already mentioned the structure of this song, but it’s one of my favorites. Eerie and ominous.

Drunk in Love – Surfbort.

Blow – An upbeat Pharrell and JT track. It’s basically the same lyrical content as Justin Timberlake’s “Strawberry Bubblegum” and just as awkward in spots.

No Angel – Least favorite song on the album. I usually skip it. It’s the only one I can say that about. Lots of breathy vocals from Bey. Just not a fan.

Partition – The most explicit track on the album, hands down. Things get hot in the back of a limo and “we ain’t even gonna make it to this club.” The intro percussion was conceived by JT.

Jealous – Interesting conflict in the marriage conversation. The wife is home cooking dinner for her man in the buff…”so where the hell you at!?” But seriously, Beyonce gets jealous? Doubtful.

Rocket – Oooooo a slow jam?!? Smooth and sultry. Beyonce has even said it reminds her of D’Angelo’s “Untitled.”

Mine – This song features Drake. I’m not a big Drake fan, but this song is beautiful. “I just wanna say, you’re mine all mine” the chorus croons.

XO – The single. If this was all you heard off this album, you might think this is the same ole Beyonce.

Flawless – The feminist track. Coined the phrase “I woke up like this.”

Superpower – In a world starved for more Frank Ocean, this track feels like a Godsend. Amazing how similar their voices are – nailing the insanely low end of the register but able to go high too. I’m praying for a new Frank Ocean album in 2015.

Heaven – A song about death?! Woah. Sad and dark, but freeing at the same time.

Blue – A song for and about her daughter, Blue. But don’t be fooled by the sappy subject matter – this song is legit.

There you go. The album that I believe is a no brainer for Album of the Year. And deservedly so. When someone inevitably makes some comment about how the Grammys just give awards to the biggest names, I’ll be here to remind you that the biggest names are huge for a reason.

This album is insane, and deserves any award it receives.

My Top Tracks: Superpower, Haunted, Flawless, Mine

-apc.

The other albums up for Album of the Year…

Pharrell Williams – G I R L
Ed Sheeran – x
Beck – Morning Phase

Beyonce – Beyonce
Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour

RETURN TO GRAMMYS HOMEPAGE

Should the Royals have sent Alex Gordon? Nope. But what if they’d tried a squeeze bunt?

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What if?

It’s been nearly three months since Mike Jirschele decided to hold Alex Gordon at third base with two outs in the bottom of the 9th down 3-2 in Game 7 of the World Series. Three months later and we’re still talking about his Decision. But let’s be honest – three months, three years, three decades…it doesn’t matter – Jirschle’s Decision will continue to be debated among Royals fans forever.

Today, Lee Judge of the KC Star posted about that very question: Should Alex Gordon have tried to score? The argument lives on.

A few days ago, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback claimed he’s the sort of guy who would’ve sent Alex Gordon.

I’ll keep my mouth shut regarding Brownback’s opinion on that (and other things), but I’m no different when it comes to theorizing what the Royals’ options were at that moment. Personally, I think Jirschele made the right decision in holding Gordon. Brandon Crawford was already fielding the relay throw while Gordon was rounding third base. It would’ve taken another fumble from Buster Posey or an errant throw in the resulting rundown play for Gordon to score. All of us agree the ball would’ve beaten Gordon home by a substantial margin.

But still…what if?

The conversation typically boils down to odds. Was it more or less likely that Gordon would’ve been safe versus Salvador Perez getting a hit off of Madison Bumgarner? Obviously in hindsight, Perez failed to get a hit to tie the game and the Royals lost 3-2 and stranded Gordon at third.

The odds were not in the Royals’ favor regardless. You can maybe say that Perez had a 20% chance to get a hit in that situation – probably generous – and you might say that Gordon would’ve been safe 1 out of 10 attempts trying to score in that same situation. If you limit the options to just those two possibilities, the odds of Perez getting a hit is about twice as likely as Gordon scoring. In that case, Jirschele’s Decision to hold Gordon was the correct one.

However, there’s another possibility that I think may have put the Royals in the best possible odds of winning the game. After holding Gordon at third, there were a number of moves Ned Yost could’ve made to put the Royals in an better chance to win than simply the 20% chance of Salvy getting a hit off Bumgarner.

Step 1: Pinch run with Terrance Gore.

Step 2: Pinch hit with Jarrod Dyson.

Step 3: Squeeze bunt for a single.

Yes, I know. This is the exact ending of Major League.

Okay fine, Hayes scores from second, but still. Same idea.

Jarrod Dyson had 13 bunt single attempts in 2014 and was successful on 9 of those attempts. In 2013, Dyson attempted 18 times and was successful 10 of those. So over a two-year stretch, Dyson went 19-31 attempting to bunt for a single – a .613 average, or 61.3%. That number is among the best in baseball.

Obviously that number doesn’t tell the entire story. There’s still the possibility that the Giants could go home and tag out Gore at the plate. First of all, I doubt they would’ve tried for Gore – the faster of the two runners and the tougher of the two plays to execute. Second, Gore is so fast, he would likely be across the plate by the time the fielder even gets the ball in his glove. Whether they went home or to first, the odds are still worse with multiple out possibilities.

The most important difference though is the fact that the Giants would’ve likely been playing Dyson to bunt. Corners in, prepared to field the ball quickly. Those 19 successful bunt single attempts are likely all in situations where the infielders are playing back and Dyson saw an opportunity to get tricky and take the base they were giving him. A situation like this would be very different, and his odds of making it to first would decrease significantly.

But would they drop as far as 20% chance? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?

To me, the odds of Gore getting thrown out are minimal. The greater odds are that Dyson’s bunt goes right back to Bumgarner and he tosses him out easily at first. In order to be successful, Dyson’s bunt would probably need to go past a charging third baseman and toward the shortstop. If Dyson could lay it down in the space behind and to the left of the mound, he’d have a good chance of beating the throw and there’s no way there could be a play at home.

Not only that, but it heightens the chances that something goes wrong on the Giants’ part. Maybe a fielder can’t pick the ball up. Maybe there’s an errant throw to first. If the play is at home, maybe Posey drops the ball, or Gore kicks it from his glove. Maybe the throw to first hits Dyson in the back en route to first base. To me, the chances of something happening in a squeeze bunt scenario are much higher than if Jirschele had just sent Gordon home. My hunch is that the odds would be higher than 20% – the chance Perez gets a hit – as well.

At minimum, it forces the Giants to make a play, which was the Royals game plan all season – high contact rate, speed on the bases, make the opponent make a play. Good things happen when you put the ball in play, so the saying goes.

Naysayers will point out that if you pinch hit and pinch run for two of your best hitters, suddenly their bats (and gloves) are out of the lineup for subsequent extra innings. Noted. But that cannot be the thought process when putting your team in the best position to win at that moment. And sure, if the bunt failed we’d all be up in arms about why Yost took the bat out of the hands of the Wild Card hero and the only guy to score a run off Bumgarner the whole postseason (Salvy hit a solo homer late in Game 1).

But it’s also hard to imagine a more poetic ending for the 2014 Kansas City Royals. If only we could go back.

I imagine we’ll never reach a point where this conversation is exhausted and/or agreed upon. It’s a fun conversation despite its belaboring. It’s all hindsight and “what if” speculation, but on paper, it might’ve provided a better chance of the Royals tying the game than the other two alternatives.

Ultimately, I think we need to accept that we weren’t going to win the game. That’s the reality, and it sucks, but it’s true.

90 feet, man. It was right there.

-apc.

Image cred: KC Star, accessed 1/21/15: LINK.

Morning Phase – Beck

81coqLBpCWL._SL1400_Beck is up for Album of the Year at the Grammys? File that one under, “didn’t even know he made an album in 2014.”

My scope for Beck is admittedly narrow. I know his biggest hits – namely “Loser” and “Where It’s At” – as well as anyone, but the rest of his catalogue is basically foreign. I know two of his albums, really: I got into Guero (the songs “E-Pro” and “Girl” specifically) back in college for a few months, and his fifth studio album, Odelay, is more of a word I’ve heard before than an album I’ve listened to at all. Overall, I’d say I’m clued into about 4% of the music Beck has put out. Why so low? Mostly because his discography includes TWELVE STUDIO ALBUMS. He’s putting out music like he’s U2, only instead of forcing it upon anybody with an iTunes account, he never told anyone.

It’s pretty amazing a guy who was worried about becoming a one-hit-wonder back in the early 90’s has suddenly had three different albums nominated at the Grammys for Album of the Year (Odelay, 1997; Midnite Vultures, 2001; Morning Phase, 2015). Beck keeps making music and it keeps getting critically high praise.

Beck’s real name is Bek Hansen. He was born Bek Campbell but his parents divorced and he took his mom’s name. He dropped out of school after 8th grade. At 19 he moved to New York with a guitar and eight dollars. He was basically homeless on both coasts for many years, living on friends couches that he met in NYC. His transient upbringing led to a variety of influences. Sometimes he would play gigs at bars or coffee shops and people wouldn’t really be paying attention so he’d start making up ridiculous lyrics to see if anyone would notice.

Beck wrote “Loser” as a goofy side project that he didn’t really think much of. When he moved back to LA it got released as a single and blew up on the radio. Still essentially homeless, he thought it was a mediocre song, but suddenly record companies were in a crazy bidding war over him. He signed with Greffen Records which basically just told him to do whatever he wanted – probably why he picked them over others.

I can’t figure out who Beck really is. I get the vibe he’s an anxious songwriter who fears getting labeled as…anything really, but especially a one-hit-wonder. It seems like any time Beck begins to get pigeon-holed as some sort of genre or “type” of artist, he pushes back and becomes anti-that. His time in New York found him heavily involved in the anti-folk movement, and he seems to have adopted the “anti-” mindset all the time.

Name a music genre and I bet he’s associated with it. Most of the awards he has won or been nominated for are in the “alternative” or “rock” categories – which basically means nothing anymore – but he sites hip-hop as a major influence as well as Latin music. Both are likely due to the neighborhoods where he grew up in poorer areas of LA. He’s electronica. He’s folk. He’s anti-folk. He’s funk, and soul, and blues. He studied R. Kelly (insert Trapped in the Closet reference here) and his R&B style. Pitchfork said his album Midnight Vultures “wonderfully blends Prince, Talking Heads, Paul’s Boutique [by the Beastie Boys], ‘Shake your Bon-Bon’ [by Ricky Martin], and Mathlete.”

Beck seems to have much higher standards for himself than the rest of the public does for him. He thought Loser was average, but the public loved it. He writes dozens of songs and then scraps them all and only uses 1 for the final record. There’s a story of Beck writing something like 40 songs, recording them on to cassettes and then leaving a briefcase full of said cassettes backstage at a show and losing them forever. Seemingly every record is a hodgepodge of old songs he’s recorded that he throws together when he feels it’s time to release more content. It’s like he’s Apple or something – he has everything everyone wants already locked and loaded, it’s just a matter of the rest of the world reaching the point where they’re asking for it.

All that to say, Beck’s all over the place. His transformation album to album is insane. Even back to back releases are can be night and day. His last album, Modern Guilt was produced by Danger Mouse (!!!) and sounds like it was produced by Danger Mouse. It’s funky and electronic. It’ll make you bump and groove.

That was 2008 and it’s been 6 years. So I had no idea what to expect when I picked up Morning Phase for a listen and a review. Only 29 more days til Grammy night. Gotta toughen up.

But wait – this isn’t the quirky, all-over-the-place Beck I was expecting. This is mellow. Chill. Subdued. This album is more like Iron and Wine or Sigur Ros or Guster than it is any of those bands Pitchfork mentioned back in 1999. Morning Phase is deep strings and sustained piano chords. It doesn’t jump around like Beck’s early records do, this one is cohesive throughout. It’s easy listening – an acoustic record you might put on after you wake up while you work on a sudoku or read the sports page and sip on coffee – especially if the temperature is in the single digits. It feels like a sunrise over a chilly pasture. I bet the directors of Pride and Prejudice wish they could go back in time and use this album for that juicy emotional scene when Darcy tells Elizabeth that his affections have not changed. (“You have bewitched me, body and soul, and I luh…I luff…“)

Apparently the foundational tracks for Morning Phase were written in 2005 – that’s nearly a decade ago, by the way – but Beck tabled them until 2012 when he began to expand on “Blackbird Chain” and “Country Down” (featuring a harmonica solo) and “Waking Light” which hold down the back half of the album, the latter coming at the end. Interesting that the songs that drive the whole album would end up on the B-Side. Here’s “Waking Light” the song that concludes the record…

Beck kinda looks like Michael Cera.

It’s hard to pick out other favorite tracks off an album that is so solid from start to finish (I’m having the same problem with D’Angelo’s Black Messiah too – love em all). I suppose “Blue Moon” is the single for a reason, so I should probably share it next.

It’s a sad and melancholy album, but there’s no denying that this album is beautiful and deserves to be nominated for a Grammy. If history has anything to say about it, Beck will probably lose out to a more mainstream album (read: Beyonce), but should take home other categorial honors instead. Morning Phase is up for Best Rock Album, Song and Performance (for “Blue Moon”) against the likes of Ryan Adams, Jack White, The Black Keys and Utoo.

If I were voting, I’d pick it for Best Rock Album of the year and give Song/Performance to Ryan Adams/Jack White for “Gimme Something Good” and “Lazaretto.” This album ought to be critiqued as a unit and not as an individual song. Blue Moon is nice, but the entire 47 minute album is where its at (see what i did there?).

-apc.

For other reviews up for Album of the Year…

Pharrell Williams – G I R L
Ed Sheeran – x
Beck – Morning Phase

Beyonce – Beyonce
Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour

RETURN TO GRAMMYS HOMEPAGE

My Imaginary (yet Equally Subjective) 2015 Hall of Fame Ballot

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The 2015 Hall of Fame class will be revealed tomorrow. Over the past month or so, the BBWAA members have been filling out their ballots and submitting their picks for this year’s HOF.

The Hall of Fame vote is the definition of subjectivity. A whole bunch of sportswriters cast their votes on who should and should not be enshrined in Cooperstown for eternity. Each one has different opinions. None are wrong. None are right. It’s just one giant opinion.

Even when we try our best to break things down into purely stats, we’re forced into subjectivity when we decide which stats are most important to consider when awarding a ballplayer with immortality. Is a pitcher’s earned run average more important than another’s strikeout rate? Is postseason performance more important than long term success in the league? How do stolen bases compare with home runs or on base percentage? It’s a nightmare, really.

But that’s not even half of the struggle. In the post-steroid era of baseball, even the statistics can’t tell us everything we want to know. How does one compare an admitted PED user with someone with worse statistics who may have used but we aren’t totally sure? Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are arguably the two most dominant ballplayers of their generation whose accomplishments land significantly higher than their peers on the 2015 HOF Ballot. Others – Jeff Bagwell, for example – has never been linked to steroids use, but the population cannot help but speculate due to his size and the era he played.

And then there’s the case of Mark McGwire, who admitted to the use of an over-the-counter supplement, but who (along with Sammy Sosa) managed to resurrect the game of baseball with the home run race of 1998. The two created a buzz surrounding the game in a time that desperately needed them. That race is going to be talked about in baseball history books forever. Anyone who “saved” the game of baseball ought to be considered for the Hall of Fame, right? That sort of thing transcends stats.

See what I mean? Way too subjective.

A quick caveat here: I make fun of other sports a lot – football and basketball in particular – because of how subjective they are. The referee can throw a flag or blow the whistle on literally every play if they want. It’s all their opinion. There’s no arguing with the matter. Even with instant replay being used a half dozen times per football game, NFL officials continue to bicker over the “correct” call on the field. The official will make a call – let’s say, a fumble recovered by the defense – and they’ll go to the monitors to review it. Meanwhile, the FOX/CBS guys will talk to their network referee in the booth and he’ll say that “the officials got the call right on the field, and this should stand as called.” Then they cut back to the field and the lead ref declares that the “ruling on the field is overturned and it’s not a fumble after all.” The game cannot escape subjectivity.

Which is another reason I love baseball so much. It is virtually void of subjectivity. And even the primary aspect that isn’t – the umpire calling balls/strikes – is embraced as the “human element” of the game. Sure, it’s subjective, but that’s part of the game and one of the reasons I love it. (I could go on a rant about how much I hate the new catcher rules for this very reason, but I’m already on a giant rabbit trail as it is…caveat over.)

All that to say, Hall of Fame balloting is super subjective and it feels somewhat foreign to the game of baseball. Football and basketball are games created with inherent subjectivity as part of the game. Baseball is not.

The HOF vote is also a broken system. Two rules in particular are extremely frustrating for voters this year. First: the problem of years of eligibility on the ballot. Second, and the larger issue of the two this year: the problem of limiting the number of votes.

It used to be that players were eligible for 15 years. That number has recently been reduced to 10 years as a way of pushing out players who have been linked to PEDs in recent years. Typically, if a player managed to hang around on the ballot for a handful of years, he’ll slowly receive more and more shares of votes the longer he remains. A player must get at least 75% of the vote to be elected and if they receive less than 5% of the vote, their name is removed from the ballot. Bert Blyleven, for example, only got 17.5% of the votes in his first year on the ballot. By his 14th year, he received 79.7%. By reducing the number of years, the committee has made it less likely that players like Bonds and Clemens will slowly increase their odds in the eyes of the public as their case slowly marinates over the years.

Unfortunately, that means that guys like Jeff Bagwell or Mike Mussina – both Hall of Famers, in my opinion – might get pushed off the ballot before their stock can rise enough to get them in. Obviously this will take longer to play out, and as time goes on we’ll learn more about how this affects the votes of the BBWAA.

The other issue has immediate ramifications. The HOF voters can only select 10 names, and this year, the ballot is jam packed with deserving names. Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez are on the ballot for the first time and both are locks. According to the Baseball Think Factory, John Smoltz (1st ballot) and Craig Biggio (3rd) are looking like locks as well (although, I feel differently about one of those two this year, more on that in a minute).

Then there’s Bonds and Clemens, who in my opinion are Hall of Famers despite their obvious red flags. They’re in a class of their own.

From there, the ballot only gets more convoluted. Voters are forced to pick 4-6 names out of a list of 10-12 deserving candidates. I could easily pick 12 names this year and I would still leave off some very deserving candidates.

Tim Raines, Lee Smith, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Larry Walker, Don Mattingly, Gary Sheffield, Fred McGriff and Jeff Kent. McGwire and Sosa too. Regardless of how you slice it, voters are guaranteed to leave off names that arguably deserve the HOF.

So let’s get subjective.

This is who I would vote for if I had a HOF ballot…

  • Randy Johnson
  • Pedro Martinez
  • Roger Clemens
  • Barry Bonds
  • Tim Raines
  • Craig Biggio
  • Mike Piazza
  • Curt Schilling
  • Mike Mussina
  • Jeff Bagwell

I’d also vote for John Smoltz and Lee Smith. And probably Alan Trammell. Maybe even Edgar Martinez and Mark McGwire if I could. And I’d even consider Larry Walker. Oh, Gary Sheffield too.

See what I mean? It’s impossible to limit it to 10 deserving names this year. The limit should be lifted or amended moving forward because this is ridiculous.

Some voters are even intentionally leaving Johnson or Martinez off the ballot so they can give votes to guys like Mattingly (15th and final year on ballot), Walker (5th), Raines (8th), Trammell (14th), Smith (13th), or others who may need a hike up in percentage. Sure, that means Pedro and Randy won’t be unanimous, but at least the other guys who deserve it are getting a slight boost for future years.

Okay. Here’s how I made my decisions…

Johnson and Martinez need no explanation. Bonds and Clemens are the greatest players of their generation and I believe they’re deserving with or without PEDs.

Jonah Keri convinced me that Tim Raines deserves my vote in a sidebar from his book, Up, Up and Away.

Biggio just barely missed by two votes last year and he deserves it again this year. Mike Piazza is probably the best offensive catchers to ever play the game. Jeff Bagwell was a beast and is the best first baseman not named Gehrig or Foxx or Pujols.

Which brings me to 8 votes down, and three deserving pitchers to choose from: Schilling, Mussina and Smoltz.

I’m not totally understanding why Smoltz is such a lock for the HOF in his 1st year on the ballot while Schilling and Mussina – in their 3rd and 2nd years respectively – are not. Every stat I look at points to Schilling getting in before the other two. Yet as of this post, of all votes made public, Smoltz has received as many as the other two combined. I’m stumped.

I guess I can come up with a few reasons why people might be favoring Smoltz. First, are people lumping John Smoltz in with last year’s first ballot elections of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine? The three were teammates in Atlanta for years in the midst of their 14 consecutive NL East titles, and I wonder if people are saying, “well, if the other two got in, then I guess we have to vote for #3 as well…”

Second, I wonder if Smoltz’s consistent postseason presence is pushing him up higher than the other two. Smoltz went 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA. He pitched in forty-one postseason games. But it’s not like the other two didn’t have a lot of postseason success too: Mussina has 23 appearances and Schilling has 19. All three of them have storied postseason careers, but when the team you play for makes it to the playoffs that many times, you’re going to have a lager body of work.

Finally, and this is the biggest one: John Smoltz won the Cy Young in his best year, 1996. But that seems unfair based on his competition at the height of his career. Smoltz’s only NL competition that year was Kevin Brown. Schilling’s first great year was the next one, 1997.

  • Smoltz 1996: 2.94 ERA, 276 K, Won CY
  • Schilling 1997: 2.97 ERA, 319 K, 4th CY
  • Schilling 2001: 2.95 ERA, 293 K, 2nd CY
  • Schilling 2002: 3.23 ERA, 316 K, 2nd CY
  • Schilling 2004: 3.26 ERA, 203 K 2nd CY

Schilling finished second in the Cy Young voting three different times – 2001, 2001, and 2004 – and 4th once, losing to his teammate Randy Johnson in 01/02 and to Johan Santana in 04 (I originally wrote Clemens here, but he was the Cy winner in the AL, my apologies). Craziest stat I saw on Schilling: he led the league in K/BB rate in 5 of 6 consecutive years from 2001-2006. His strikeout to walk rate of 4.38 is the highest of any pitcher in this century – better than even Pedro Martinez and Mariano Rivera. Insane.

John Smoltz had a better peak of his career in 1996 maybe, but Schilling was obviously better in my opinion and for longer. Smoltz converted to closer during the second half of his career, a la Dennis Eckersly, so maybe that’s the appeal – only guy with 200 wins and 150 saves, if you’re into those sorts of stats. To me, Mussina played a high level longer than Smoltz did too, and was also a better defender winning 5 Gold Gloves. His defense is likely what makes Mussina’s career WAR significantly higher than Smoltz’s as well – 82.7 versus 66.5, and Mussina compiled it in 3 fewer seasons.

All 3 players deserve to be in the HOF, and all will be elected to Cooperstown someday, I think. Ultimately, it was a toss up between those two for me, and I probably would choose Mussina over Smoltz for two not-so-great reasons. 1. I just finished Buster Olney’s book The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty which talks at length about both Schilling and Mussina in the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and Diamondbacks. Probably influenced my decision. 2. I went with who I thought would need a vote more this year and in future years. They both deserve it almost equally, but Mussina needs the push with votes coming in the way they are.

Although, I’m considering changing my mind if “Mussina” gets autocorrected to “musician” one more time. Infuriating.

So there you go. My apologies to the rest of the crew. Better luck next year…except you Donnie Baseball, you’ve had your chance.

If you’re still here, thanks for reading about this completely subjective post about my HOF vote that doesn’t actually exist. Cheers.

-apc.

Lee Smith, Summer of 1993

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In the summer of 1993, the Midwest was in the midst of a historic flood. The Missouri and Mississippi rivers overflowed and left miles of the Iowa/Missouri/Illinois landscape underwater.

That same summer, I travelled to St. Louis with my dad and grandpa for a three game Cardinals series. The water was creeping on to the highway in places. Crews were hauling sandbags up in some spots. I remember getting about halfway between KC and STL and listening to my dad and grandpa discuss whether we should turn around and head home or keep on pressing on against the flood waters.

I was only seven, so the memories I have of the trip aren’t terrific. I think the Cardinals played the Mets which (if correct) would make the series July 29, 30 and August 1 late that summer. The Cardinals won the first two and lost the third to Dwight Gooden. Of the memories I have, the one that stands out the most is of Lee Smith.

Lee Smith was a large man – 6′ 5″, 220 lbs – with a light beard and nappy hair that stuck out from under his cap dramatically (at least early in his career, but he kept it high and tight after leaving the Cubs). The thick elastic waistbands of the 80s and early 90s certainly did his physique no favors – especially as he reached his mid-30s with the Cardinals.

Smith earned the save in both games the Cardinals won that series in ’93. I remember my dad sitting next to me in our seats in the upper deck of old Busch Stadium, nudging me with his elbow and pointing across to the home bullpen as the door opened. He told me to watch how slow Lee Smith walked toward the pitchers mound.

Sure enough, as Smith emerged from the bullpen door he showed no sense of urgency as he walked the 300 or so feet to the mound. He just sauntered in taking foreeeeever.

I remember finding this absolutely hilarious, but I also remember wondering, “how did my dad know that was going to happen?” It didn’t occur to me that Smith did it every time and my dad had watched him for over 3 years walk out of the bullpen for the Cardinals and 8 years before that with the Cubs (although, the walk was much shorter at Wrigley than Busch.) I figured it out the next night though when the Cardinals called on Smith again. This time, I nudged my grandpa and told him to watch how slow Smith walked in from the bullpen. I’m sure my grandpa was already fully aware of it, but he feigned being astonished anyway. Thanks, Grandpa.

Smith was an 7-time All Star and finished his career with the most saves (478) in MLB history (he has since been passed by Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera). He was arguably the most dominant relief pitcher of his era.

As the Hall of Fame vote draws near, it’s clear that Lee Smith won’t make it in again this year. The ballot is too jam packed with names and with the 10 player maximum rule, there’s no way he’ll join the likes of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Craig Biggio. I wouldn’t vote for him myself actually. Last year, Smith got 29.9% of the vote. He will likely drop a bit this year but get the 5% necessary to remain on the ballot. But he’s running out of time. It seems like he may never reach Cooperstown, but let’s be honest, he’s a borderline candidate anyway.

But Hall of Famer or not, I sure loved watching the guy pitch. He was a part of my household humor growing up. Any time someone walked too slowly around the house, it’s possible they could be referred to as “Lee Smithing” it. If I played my NES for an extra 10 minutes after be summoned for dinner, my dad would holler down the basement stairs at me: what’s taking so long down there, Lee?

A few weeks back, I found the 1991 Topps card in a box of my old baseball cards. It’s essentially worthless – worth a nickel or so, probably – but I found it encased in a plastic protector sleeve. My 7-year old self thought he was a Hall worthy.

Anyway. Always liked Lee Smith. He’ll always have a soft spot in my heart thanks to the memories he left three generations of the Cooper family during the flood of 1993.

-apc.

Christmas Board Games, 2010-2014. This year’s purchase: Camel Up.

Does anyone else buy Christmas gifts for themselves?

No? Nobody?

Well, I do. That way even if everyone else really bombs the gift giving, I still have the gifts I got myself to fall back on. It’s foolproof. It’s never resorted to that though, so instead I just get some bonus gifts for myself.

Typically these gifts come in two forms: baseball cards in my own stocking and board games.

I’m just now realizing this, but 2014 will mark the 5th consecutive year of buying myself a board game for Christmas. I always write our cats names on the To/From tags as if they’re not actually gifts “To: Adam, From: Adam” – but the jig is up, and even the cats probably know the truth by now.

I thought I’d share the past 5 years worth of board games with you all. They’ve actually all been a hit up to this point. Maybe this tradition will continue and I’ll post a new game every December. Who knows. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Here are the 5 board games I’ve picked up over the past 5 years dating back to 2010.

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2010: Ticket to Ride – Europe

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Ticket to Ride is an game of railroad expansion. It’s probably the most well known game on this list – I had already played the United States version prior to this purchase. If you’ve only played the US version – you gotta grab the Europe version. It’s way more difficult and has a few extra quirks thrown in that make the game more interesting.

Each player gets cards with a few destination routes on them and the goal is to complete as many routes/railroads as possible. You get more points for the degree of difficulty in the route. For example, if your two route goals are London to Paris and Constantinople to Edinburgh, you’re goal is to create a rail path that connects those cities. Obviously, London to Paris is not a long trek, so it’s easily accomplished, but you don’t get many points for it. Constantinople to Edinburgh is corner to corner across Europe, so it would be one of the most rewarding routs to complete.

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The catch is that opponents are utilizing the same routes and once someone plays in a location, you can’t go there anymore, so being strategic, secretive and methodical is important if you want to keep your opponent from blocking your routes.

The wrinkles in this game that make it different from the U.S. version: there are tunnels and depots to make the game a bit more difficult. Tunnels are harder to build than normal rails and require more of a risk/reward if you can pull one off. They’ll get you there faster, but if the cards don’t fall your way it could set you back a turn. Depots are necessary in the European version – since the continent and cities are way more compact, the game allows you to build up to three depots so you can utilize opponents rails to reach your destinations.

Overall, it’s a more cutthroat version of the United States game as it’s much more difficult to maneuver around the tighter terrain. It’s a fun strategic game that is relatively simple for anyone to figure out. A game lasts about 45 minutes too, so it’s the perfect length to get involved without people getting bored. Great family game. I’d recommend it for anyone.

2011: Wits and Wagers

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We play this game nearly every time we go to my parents house for an evening. It’s a party trivia game – super simple, somewhat educational and a game where winning or losing doesn’t feel super important.

Each full game lasts 7 rounds. Each round centers around a different trivia question, and every question has a numerical answer. Examples: How many Grammys did Kanye West’s debut album, “The College Dropout” win? Or, How many total hours did the Apollo 11 mission spend on the moon? Or, How many rat tails are in minkerfoils? Or, What year did Babe Ruth allegedly “call his shot” before hitting a home run at Wrigley Field?

I’m just spitballing here though. These may or may not be real questions.

Players have tiny dry erase boards to write their guesses to each question. These answers don’t have to be remotely correct, they simply become the boundaries for the betting round that follows. Answers are spread across the game mat from smallest to largest number as seen here.

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Then players have an opportunity to bet on which of the players answers is closest to the correct answer without going over (a.k.a. The Price Is Right wagering). Players each begin with two betting tokens and can increase their bets by 2-1, 3-1, 4-1, etc. – each round they can bet on either 1 or 2 different answers and can risk as many of their chips as they want.

This game is all about smart betting based off educated guesses. Older players likely have an advantage in this game as they have a greater bank of facts and years in their brains, but that can also work to their detriment when they think they know the right answer rather than betting the right answer.

For example, the answer to the Babe Ruth question above is the year 1932. People generally know that I know a lot about baseball, so they might intentionally bet on my answer or around it even though they have no idea who Babe Ruth was. In fact, they might even guess “1999” and be no where close, but simply follow my guessing or betting.

I might intentionally write “1970” on the card as a way of duping my opponent into betting the wrong place, even though I know that’s not even close to being correct. Individuals who know more than others at the table about a question sometimes get so caught up in knowing the answer that they forget that isn’t how the game is won. You don’t get any points for guessing the number correctly, your only reward comes from successful betting.

It’s a super fun multigenerational game to play together as a family. The questions are diverse and level the playing field for the group. Extremely fun game. Lasts about 15-20 minutes total and playing multiple games in a sitting is totally an option.

2012: Alhambra

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I first learned what the Alhambra was when my wife got to visit the real one when she studied abroad in Granada, Spain, in the summer of 2007. Well, she wasn’t my wife yet, but I was really hoping she’d want to be someday. I’ve since gotten to go back with her on two separate occasions. Just writing that paragraph gives me the itch to go back and visit again.

The Alhambra was in the voting for one of the modern wonders of the world. It’s a Moorish defense castle located in the Sierra Nevada mountains in southeastern Spain. It’s a gorgeous structure with detailed intricate architecture, fountains and (my personal favorite) enormous hedges.

This game is a bit of an anomaly on the list because I actually bought this as a gift for my wife as much as myself. We are both super nostalgic when it comes southern Spain and when I discovered this game and read it’s overwhelming positive reviews, I was really excited to get it.

In the game, each player builds their own “Alhambra” by drawing money cards of four different currencies and paying for tiles corresponding to that currency. Tiles are then constructed in front of each individuals by placing the tiles adjacent to one another. Some tiles have gardens on them, others have turrets or fountains or ornate hallways. Points are awarded for the most tiles of each color-coded category and to the player with the longest exterior wall.

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It’s not a super complicated game. Individuals with heightened spacial recognition excel at this game. It has less strategy than some similar games – Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride are likely more strategic than this one. It’s a strategy game for those people who don’t love strategy games – takes about 45 minutes to an hour. Plus, when you’ve actually been to the real thing, it’s fun to get to imagine yourself strolling the halls of the Alhambra you’ve created.

2013: Puerto Rico

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This is the most strategic and complicated game on this list. The premise of Puerto Rico is that each player is a governor of San Juan, settling and developing the city by growing commodities – corn, wheat, coffee, etc. – and shipping the goods off to Europe for building supplies to further your development.

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I imagine this game as a zoomed in version of Settlers of Catan, actually. Rather than simply picking up cards on the corresponding spaces, each commodity must be purchased, grown, loaded and shipped in order to receive any further development. If products aren’t shipped out in time, they go bad and you lose them.

I’ve probably played this game a half dozen times in the year that I’ve owned it. It’s rare that it gets pulled out though because it’s a bit too meticulous for me. It’s about an 60-75 minute game. It’s still super fun, but I think I’d rather play something a bit more simplified – board games are fun, but at a certain point they start getting too technical and lose their excitement. This game flirts with that edge. Still, if you’re a Ben “Cones of Dunshire” Wyatt type, then this is your game.

2014: Camel Up

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Presenting the 2014 Christmas Board Game: Camel Up (which, my wife tells me looks like “Camel Cup” on the front of the box).

Camel Up is basically a trip to the racetrack. Five camels begin in the starting block together and move (slowly) around the perimeter of the board space by space. Players then win or lose the game by betting on these camels throughout the game.

Each camel has a color-corresponding die. The dice are placed inside the pyramid which then serves as a pseudo-Yahtzee cup, only this pyramid is rigged up to only let out one die at a time. Whatever die is rolled, that corresponding camel moves forward that many spaces. When all 5 dice are rolled, the betting round ends, money is won or lost, and the dice return to the pyramid for the next round.

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Players can bet on which camel is in first place after each betting round, but they can also place bets on the overall winning and overall losing camel at any point in the race. Whoever gets their bet in fastest (and is correct) gets the most money paid out. Whoever has the most cheese at the end wins.

The best part about this game: if the camels end up on the same tile, they are placed on the back of the camel that is already there. So it’s possible for all 5 camels to be stacked on top of one another on the same tile. If, for example, the yellow camel is the second from the bottom of the stack and the yellow die is rolled form the pyramid, the player would then pick up the yellow camel and all the camels on top of it. This means a camel is never out of the race. A last place camel could end up on the back of another camel and just ride it out to victory.

For example, in the game board image above, if the white die rolls a 3 or a 2 and then any of the orange/yellow/green dice rolls combine for at least 2, suddenly the white camel has plunged from last to first. In fact, if the right sequence happens (white 2, orange 2, blue 3, yellow 3, green 3) the white camel can move a combined THIRTEEN spaces and cross the finish line on that turn.*

* – Just noticed that the white die has already been rolled and that camel is done moving for this leg, so scratch that, but you get what I mean. Anything is possible.

I will say – and this is unabashedly juvenile of me – it’s a little awkward when one camel is “riding” the other camel. I’ll just let that comment stay right there.

As this game is brand new, I’m excited to work it into the board game repertoire. From everything I’ve read and the one time I’ve played it, I think it’s going to be a real hit.

It’s somewhat strategic, but with a lot of luck involved. However, unlike the bad luck you can experience in Settlers or Monopoly or Risk, this game doesn’t force you to hate your life while you sit there and fail at the expense of the dice. No, regardless of your status in the game, there is always a decent chance the camel you bet on will win it all, and the action doesn’t end until a camel has officially crossed the finish line. Plus, games only last about 30 min, so losing goes much faster (not that i would know…zing).

Rooting for the camels is hilarious. The drama builds with each leg as the camels get closer to the finish. Highly, highly recommend this game.

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So there you have it. The Christmas Board Games I’ve picked up for myself from 2010-2014. I’m open to suggestions for 2015 and beyond. I have mostly made these decisions based on internet research and awards won, and I’ve done a pretty good job of picking them so far. None of them are busts, and a somewhat wide spectrum of gameplay involved.

Let me know if you want more information or want to get together and play. I love a good old fashioned board game night – although, Monopoly and Settlers of Catan are hard to trump for me.

-apc.

The Royals sign RHP Kris Medlen for $8.5M over 2 years.

MLB: New York Mets at Atlanta Braves

WHAT. ON. EARTH. IS. HAPPENING.

We thought they were finished, but apparently they’re not! The Royals have added to their week of free agent pick ups – Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios and Edinson Volquez – and have agreed to a contract with Kris Medlen that will pay him $2M in 2015 and $5.5 in 2016 with a mutual $10M option for 2017 or a $1M buyout.

Dayton, you dog, you. Incredible work.

All this time we knew they needed three pieces – RF, DH and SP – and yesterday’s Volquez signing just didn’t seem to be the answer for most of us. He’s fine, and was the best option at that price, but we felt underwhelmed, deflated.

But this changes everything.

After the Royals signed Alex Rios on Monday, I wrote about how they still needed to add a starting pitcher. I offered up Volquez as a safe option that wasn’t a sexy name, but that would at least bring some serviceable innings to the 2015 starting rotation. I also offered the option that they could take a gamble on a pitcher who missed 2014 due to injury – specifically Kris Medlen who had just been non-tendered by the Atlanta Braves. Here’s what I wrote on Tuesday morning…

The other option would be to take a gamble on a pitcher who missed 2014 due to injury. Kris Medlen missed last season due to Tommy John surgery and was non-tendered by the Braves. What do you get from a guy coming back from Tommy John surgery? Who knows. Could he be the guy who threw a 2.47 ERA from 2012-2013 or would he be a shell of himself? And is that worth a $5-6M gamble? Hmmm. Answers please, Dayton Moore.

I never believed for a moment that they would pick up both Volquez and Medlen, but Dayton Moore has gone and stirred things up even more with this move. They’re essentially opposite players in terms of their potential ceiling, so paired together, this feels like a brilliant move. On the one hand, Volquez is coming off his best season as a starter, and we pretty much know his ceiling is his 2014 season. His control is questionable, and he’s not going to be lights out, but he’ll eat up innings. You know what you’re getting with Edinson Volquez and it’s not great. He’s…fine.

But with Kris Medlen, we really have no idea what we’re getting. Medlen was incredible with the Braves from 2009-2013. He has a career 2.95 ERA. He strikes out nearly 8 batters per 9 innings. He walks less than 2 batters per 9 innings. His career WHIP is a notch above 1. Kris Medlen was going to be one of their top starters. He was entering the prime years of his career. Instead, he had to undergo his second Tommy John surgery of his career.

So what are we getting with Kris Medlen?

It’s a lottery ticket basically, but the upside is astronomical. We’re paying $2M in 2015 for a gamble on a guy who could come back from injury and be an absolute stud in our rotation. He probably won’t be ready by Opening Day, and with the depth of the Royals rotation now, we may let him take his time and trot him out there sometime in June.

Even then, he would probably be a back of rotation guy for this year, pushing Guthrie or Volquez back to the bullpen. He’ll have to work his way back to his old role as a top of the rotation guy. This also takes the pressure off the bullpen to have additional long men available rather than having to turn to Hochever/Frasor early and making Herrera/Davis/Holland work more innings than they should be throughout the season. This also almost guarantees that Brandon Finnegan starts the season in the minors.

Kris Medlen has ace-calibur stuff. A fastball in the upper 80s, but pinpoint control. His changeup and his curveball are his best pitches. From 2012-2013 only two pitchers (Cole Hamels and, interestingly, Jason Vargas) generated more value out of their changeup than Medlen did, and only 8 players had a more valuable curveball. Basically, Kris Medlen has the stuff to potentially be a top of the rotation type of guy, as long as he can jump back from TJS #2.

So this year we’ll spend $2M on a second-half starter. We can expect around 80 innings from Medlen this year, but could be really special in 2016 if he can work back to his old form.

We have unbelievable depth at starting pitching suddenly. Which is very important, and we were fortunate to not have any injuries to our rotation in 2014. High five to one of baseball’s best training staffs. With the addition of Kris Medlen, the pressure on Ventura and Duffy is lifted, and you have one of the highest upside pitchers waiting for the ball come midseason.

So in 2015, the Royals are on the hook for $6.5M for Morales, $11M for Rios, $10M for Volquez and $2M for Medlen. That’s $29.5M in 2015. Rios is gone in 2016, but the second year for both Morales and Medlen is more money, so it’s $9.5M for Morales, $10M for Volquez and $5.5M for Medlen. That’s $25M in 2016. We are sure to lose either Greg Holland or Wade Davis’s option for that year (if not before this season), which reduces that commitment even further.

All that to say, we’ve had a busy busy week and our pocketbook isn’t on the hook much at all. Suddenly this move makes yesterday’s move feel completely justified. By signing veteran guys to modest money, if any of these four exceeds expectations, we’re going to come out way on the plus side on these deals.

And we didn’t have to give up anything but cash to do it. I absolutely love this deal. Bravo, Dayton Moore. Bravo, David Glass.

I thought this team was done with signings yesterday, but apparently I was wrong. This team is still moving and shaking and who knows what might be in store for tomorrow. What a crazy busy and exciting week in the life of Royals baseball fans. Phew.

…SO IS IT SPRING TRAINING YET, OR WHAT?!

-apc.

The Royals sign RHP Edinson Volquez for $20M over 2 years.

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And there it is.

The final piece of the roster puzzle is righty starter Edinson Volquez, who signed a 2-year, $20M contract with the Royals this afternoon. He joins Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios, who both signed earlier this week, as the trifecta called upon to fill in the gaps left by Billy Butler, James Shields and Nori Aoki.

I have a lot of thoughts as it pertains to this signing, and I want to rifle through them so I can get to the second half of this post which is a look at the complete roster as it stands right this minute.

First a little bit about Edinson Volquez.

Volquez is a veteran starter who has played with 5 different teams since 2008. He’s had two terrific seasons. Most recently, he posted a 3.04 ERA over 192.2 innings with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the best pitching performance of his career. His other terrific year was back in 2008 for the Cincinnati Reds: 3.21 ERA, 196 innings and he was elected to his only All Star Game.

Unfortunately, all the years in between 2008 and 2014 are borderline stinkers. Volquez’s career 4.44 ERA is ripe. He strikes out quite a few – 8.1 K/9 – but he also walks a ton – 4.5 BB/9. In 2012, he led the league with 105 walks. In 2013, led the league with 108 earned runs. In 2008, he led the league in hit batters with 14, and he matched that number again last year. None of these are great categories to lead the league in. He’s kind of a wild thing out there, apparently. Effectively wild, we might say.

His 2009 season was cut short due to Tommy John surgery, and his 2010 season was segmented by a 50 game suspension due to PED use coming off his injury.

I should also mention that Edinson Volquez started the Pirates NL Wild Card game and he got shelled by the Giants: 5 innings, 5 hits, 5 runs. (Before you go throwing stones at the guy, remember James Shields line from the AL Wild Card game: 5 innings, 5 hits, 4 runs.)

But still, I know what you’re thinking…not great. And if you were actually thinking that (which I’m sure you were), you’d be right.

Edinson Volquez isn’t great.

But, just like Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios before him, I think he is good enough to get this team back to the playoffs for the second consecutive season. There’s just a little more pressure on him than those other two to pan out.

Edinson Volquez likely slots in as our 3rd or 4th pitcher in the rotation (depending how high you are on Jason Vargas). If you thought the Royals were actually going to replace James Shields with another #1 starter out of free agency, you’re crazy. The replacement for James Shields is Yordano Ventura. It always has been. He is our best pitcher, and Danny Duffy is not far behind him as our #2. The Royals are looking to them to take another step in 2015.

So my first thought following the Volquez deal is it puts an immense amount of pressure on Duffy and Ventura to carry this team next year. Are they going to be up to the task? We’ll have to wait and see.

What we need out of Edinson Volquez is about 180 innings with an ERA in the 3’s. If he can do that, this signing is absolutely worth the $10M/year we’re paying him. Signing proven veteran guys is never cheap.

Oh, and the other thing you get from signing Volquez? You get to keep your prospects and your draft picks and your future.

The Royals signed three players to semi-expensive deals without having to surrender any other pieces, and none of their contracts extend beyond two years. It’s going to stretch the pocketbook (and you have to applaud David Glass for being willing to extend the payroll into the $110-115M range, by far the highest in team history), but it’s not going to restrict the future of this team even if none of these guys work out.

Which feels unlikely…doesn’t it seem like at least one these three will be a big hit? Alex Rios is the surest thing of the three. He has hit around .280 his entire career, and we can anticipate him doing it again in 2015. Morales and Volquez are slightly bigger risks with Morales’s curious contract situation in 2014 and Volquez coming off his only good season since finishing 4th in the 2008 Rookie of the Year vote.

By the way, for those of you who hated the Morales deal because he had a terrible 2014, you are basically required to like the Volquez deal because he had an awesome 2014. Just saying. You can’t flip-flop your opinion on how much one season matters versus an entire career.

The Royals are paying $48M over the next two years to these three guys. The obvious rebuttal is the same as it was after Rios signed on Monday: why couldn’t they add two cheaper pieces at DH and RF and funnel all those funds into one big name top starter?!

The reason is in the length of the contracts. If we were going to sign a monster name, we’d have to commit to that individual over 5+ years (not to mention the loss of a draft pick). We simply cannot pay a guy $20M/year for that long. Even if we allocated that much dough to swing it, we shouldn’t commit that much money to a single player for that long. If anything were to go wrong – injury or suspension or a major slump – our team tanks because we have too much money invested in one place. This team needs to spread the money over all 25 guys, not just one or two major pieces.

Did anyone really expect us to add Jon Lester? Or Max Scherzer? Or James Shields? Heck, even Melky Cabrera and Yasmany Tomas as right field options seemed far fetched when their names were making the rounds. This team was never going to add a monster piece. It was always going to be three good-not-great players…in fact, I’m a bit surprised we even ended up with those pieces solved. If they hadn’t signed Volquez (supposedly the Twins were after him too) they probably would’ve been stuck with Jake Peavy instead, and that would’ve been way way worse. (Although, Peavy has been on the last two World Series teams – 2013 Red Sox and 2014 Giants – maybe we missed our chance. Psssh, as if he won’t be available at the trade deadline again this year.)

So there it is.

Kendrys Morales. Alex Rios. Edinson Volquez.

We knew the three pieces they needed to add, and Dayton Moore went out and added all three of them without having to sacrifice the future of this club (speaking of, if you don’t know yet, Will Myers was just traded to the Padres in a three team deal and the Rays got squat in return).

A few reminders before we look at the full roster…

  1. We have the best relief pitching in all of baseball and our starters only need to go 6 innings.
  2. We have the best defense in baseball, a giant, pitcher-friendly ballpark, and lots of speed. Those three aspects of the game are sustainable no matter how the offense and pitching performs.
  3. The core of this team – the guys who won us 89 regular season games, won 8 straight postseason games and took us to within 90 feet of a World Series championship – are still here. The success or failure of this team will be because of them. Just like last year.
  4. That said, this is not the same team because they ought to have all matured following the success and excitement of last season. We can expect a slight bump in production from all our young guys.
  5. Final caveat, and this is one I don’t like to think about…our payroll at $110-115M, which feels higher than it should be. Maybe they’re putting the postseason revenue directly back into the roster, but it’s possible that we might still trade Wade Davis or Greg Holland for prospects.

Okay, that’s enough reminders. Let’s look at the roster as it stands right now…

Rotation

  • Yordano Ventura
  • Danny Duffy
  • Jason Vargas
  • Edinson Volquez
  • Jeremy Guthrie

Bullpen

  • Greg Holland
  • Wade Davis
  • Kelvin Herrera
  • Luke Hochevar
  • Jason Frasor
  • Tim Collins
  • Louis Coleman
  • Brandon Finnegan (?)

Lineup

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

Reserves

  • Jarrod Dyson
  • Christian Colon
  • Erik Kratz

That’s a complete 25-man roster right there. It’s probably more likely that Brandon Finnegan starts in AAA and we add some depth to our reserves list somehow. Teams typically don’t have 13 pitchers and 12 hitters. Usually it’s the other way around, but who knows – why not double down on our bullpen arms?

Overall, I’m perfectly comfortable with this offseason.  I’m not completely over the moon, but it’s not like the Royals were going to suddenly have a $150M budget. But again, we may need to check ourselves the next time we try to cast the blame on David “Malt-o-Meal” Glass*. The budget is up by nearly 20%.

* – Tasty O’s and Fruity Dyno-Bites are cheaper for a reason…c’mon.

We had needs, we addressed them. Nothing flashy or extravagant, but with good enough pieces to put us back in a position to contend for the AL Central without sacrificing our future by giving up draft picks and prospects.

Barring anything crazy, that’s your 2015 Kansas City Royals.

-apc.

Photo cred: Getty Images – WPXI.

The Royals sign RF Alex Rios for $11M in 2015.

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Another piece of the 2015 Royals puzzle was added yesterday evening when AL Champs agreed to a 1 year deal with right fielder Alex Rios for $11M. This comes on the heels signing Kendrys Morales to a 2-year, $17M deal just four days ago.

Rios is a career .278/.323/.439 hitter and is coming off a .280/.315/.398 campaign with the Texas Rangers. Rios was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the first round of the 1999 draft, debuted in 2004 before being traded to the Chicago White Sox in 2009. He was traded to the Texas Rangers in 2013 in the wake of Nelson Cruz’s suspension for PEDs. His 2006-2008 years in Toronto were his best, but he still posted 3.4 WAR in 2010 and 4.1 WAR in 2012 while with Chicago. His career average is 2.6.

Rios is a good veteran player. He’s going to be productive and make a team better. He is expensive at $11M and immediately becomes the second highest paid player on this roster following Alex Gordon, but that’s the price of a good everyday right fielder in today’s market. The Royals pursued Yasmany Tomas, Torii Hunter and Melky Cabrera (in that order) but ultimately had to let the market come to them. They didn’t like the price tags the Diamondbacks, Twins and White Sox were willing to place on each of these guys, so they waited until it made sense. Alex Rios was their guy.

Is he worth $11M? Not a chance. But for a flier on a proven guy for 1 year, that’s what the price is these days, I suppose. The only other alternative is to sign a guy like John Mayberry Jr. to a cheaper deal but probably for multiple years, and with this current nucleus of returning players, I’m not sure we want to commit to anyone beyond 2015 or 2016 unless we absolutely know they’re the right fit.

Speaking of fit, I think Rios is going to fit in nicely on this team. He’s fast, which is sort of a prerequisite on this team, especially with our larger outfield. He puts the ball in play, which is also the Royals style. And his defense is serviceable enough, but I would continue to watch for the late inning Dyson defensive replacement move we all got used to seeing with Nori “The Adventure” Aoki out there. Rios isn’t much better with the glove, but he’s guaranteed to be a lot less goofy than Aoki…despite what the photo above may suggest.

I like this move just fine. You needed a right fielder, you got a solid veteren right fielder. The Morales move may have been a lateral one, but the Rios move is an obvious upgrade.

People (mostly the Royals Twitter community) are hating on this Rios signing like he’s Jeff Francour Part Deux ready to plummet this team into oblivion. I think it’s important to remember that Alex Rios – despite being paid $11M – is not what the success of the 2015 Royals depends on. Were the Royals successful last year because of Nori Aoki and Billy Butler? No way. They helped, and didn’t hurt, but the success was in the defense, the pitching, and ability to make productive outs and manufacture runs. That hasn’t changed. Rios (and Morales) will have roles, but the success of this team lies on Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, HDH and our core of affordable talent – Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, and especially Salvador Perez and his ridiculously team-friendly contract. In the same way we don’t count on Omar Infante to be our savior, we won’t count on Morales or Rios either. They’re serviceable pieces, and we want major production from them, but they’re not going to make or break the success of this team.

Or, let’s put it this way: if Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy both post a 4.50 ERA next year, this team flat out does not make the playoffs, but if Morales and Rios both bat .250/.300/.350 and hit a combined 3 HRs? This team is still far from toast.

Which is why I wouldn’t have minded if we’d found him for cheaper. If they’re not centerpieces, then why are we paying nearly a combined $20M for them? I would’ve rather seen them sign a guy for significantly less money – not to continue to beat the John Mayberry Jr. horse, but the Mets signed him for a mere $1.45M – and put that savings into a top tier starter for a year or two. Lester and Scherzer need longer contracts. Shields probably too…I wonder if he would’ve come back for, say, $18M for 1 year. Eh, probably not.

At least it’s only for 1 year for Rios, and not multiple years. That’s what I keep falling back on. Regardless what happens, we won’t be on the hook for his contract in 2016 and beyond (unlike Infante, who we are still trying to pawn off on some other sucker).

So we got piece 2 of 3. I’m as pleased as I expected to be. Not a great move, but a good one.

Now all we need is piece 3 of 3.

A lot of starting pitchers have already signed, but there are still a lot of names out there. One of them will become the final piece of the puzzle. Names like Edison Volquez (192.2 IP, 3,04 ERA) or Aaron Harang (204.1 IP, 3.57 ERA) may not sound as sexy as those top tier guys, but their innings and earned run average are more than good enough to fill in. For what it’s worth: Shields threw 227 IP with a 3.21 ERA. Lester: 219.2 IP, 2.46 ERA. Scherzer: 220.1 IP, 3.51 ERA.

If we assume that Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy will take a step forward in their innings and that Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas maintain their production, we don’t need 230 innings. 180 innings would do just fine. Throw in the deepest bullpen in baseball, and you’ve got a recipe for success.

The other option would be to take a gamble on a pitcher who missed 2014 due to injury. Kris Medlen missed last season due to Tommy John surgery and was non-tendered by the Braves. What do you get from a guy coming back from Tommy John surgery? Who knows. Could he be the guy who threw a 2.47 ERA from 2012-2013 or would he be a shell of himself? And is that worth a $5-6M gamble? Hmmm. Answers please, Dayton Moore.

I’m still feeling confident that this team can contend for the AL Central – they already have their core established, and we know it can be a recipe for success. These two latest ingredients ought to only make things better…I guess I’ve moved past the puzzle and moved on to a food analogy. Cool.

For what it’s worth, they’re 20:1 to win the World Series right now. They were 16:1 the moment the World Series ended. Add a starting pitcher, and we ought to be right back where we were…

…just 90 feet away.

-apc.

Photo cred: The Greedy Pinstripes.

The Royals sign DH Kendrys Morales for $17M over 2 years.

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After a patient week at the MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego, the Royals finally made a move to improve their club by signing switch-hitting power DH Kendrys Morales to a two year, $17 million with performance incentives up to $18.5 million. With the addition of Morales the Royals have addressed one of their three major needs.

Morales played with the Angels from 2006-2011, joined the Mariners from 2012-2013, and he chose to turn down his qualifying offer entering free agency prior to the 2014 season. Mistake. No team wanted to surrender the draft pick to add Morales and he remained a free agent until finally Minnesota picked him up in June. He played 39 games with the Twins before being sent back to Seattle to help a Mariners playoff push that never came to fruition.

With such a tumultuous offseason, it’s not surprising that Morales’s 2014 production dipped significantly from his 2012-2013 campaigns. In fact, he was one of the worst hitters in baseball in 2014 hitting .218/.274/.338 and only 8 HRs in 98 games split between two clubs.

Thus, the primary question we’re all asking of Morales is whether 2014 was an anomaly or the start of a legitimate decline in ability.

Personally, I’m willing to look past his 2014 campaign. I don’t know what missing Spring Training and the first 2 months of the season can do to a baseball player physically and mentally, but it certainly isn’t ideal and is an easy explanation for such a decline. Sure, Morales is 31 and probably past his peak athleticism, but a drop that significant seems to be an obvious result of bizarre contract circumstances. He hit .280/.333/.480 from 2006-2013. To me, that outweighs 2014 enough to sign the guy called upon to replace Billy Butler.

The Royals chose to let Butler leave for free agency rather than picking up his $12.5 million option for 2015. Dayton Moore was quoted yesterday as having some regret for not bringing him back. It seems the DH market was thinner than anticipated which is likely why they ultimately seemed to panic and sign Morales to a somewhat pricey contract. That amount – $17M over 2 years – seems a bit high, but the Royals likely didn’t have much choice. With such a thin DH market, they were likely going to have to overpay no matter what. It’s the market they were presented with, unfortunately.

Everyone wants to compare Billy to Kendrys, and I’m no different. Billy gets on base more often (.359 vs .324 OBP), but Kendrys hits more homers (18 vs 25 HR/162 game avg). Billy is three years younger. Morales grounds into almost as many double plays as Billy does. Neither are fast. Both can play first base if called upon.

So, yeah, Billy Butler scores out as the slightly better player, and his contract in Oakland ($30M over 3 years) reflects that as would his contract in Kansas City had they decided to pick up his 2015 option.

Except the primary beef on Billy over the years has been this: for a DH he lacks power. Some of that is due to playing in an expansive Kauffman Stadium, but at this point we all know he’s a singles hitter with the occasional double to the gap. So before we get too far down the “why did we let Billy go, he was this team’s savior” road, let’s not forget that Ned Yost benched Billy down the stretch due to his lack of production, and we were all begging for Dayton Moore to ship him away at the trade deadline. Just because the dude had a few key hits in the postseason and took out a full page “thank you” ad in the KC Star on Thanksgiving, don’t let that cloud our eyes from our past frustrations about Billy. Fans have always had a love/hate relationship with Billy Butler, and I’m sure our relationship with Morales will be the same. I think relationships with DH’s are just like that – they have one specific job (hitting), and when they’re good at it, we love them, and when they’re bad it at, we don’t.

Kendrys Morales can drive the ball – specifically fastballs from the right side of the plate – and he can drive them farther than Billy Butler can. He just doesn’t do it quite as regularly. So it’s a trade off: OBP vs HRs. We needed a power bat and the DH was one of our primary needs. It’s not a sexy pick up, and Morales doesn’t solve all of our problems in a single player, but assuming he has even the slightest bounce back from 2014, he helps this team maintain it’s DH production from a year ago (which, we also can’t forget, wasn’t anything to write home about anyway).

And just because he’s not everything that Billy Butler was, we’re saving $3.5M this season by adding a player in Morales who is very close to Butler in OBP and exceeds him in HR. This seems like a lateral move overall, and that’s what this team needs to do. I’m fine with it.

Which means that $3.5M can be used elsewhere.

Remember that scene at the beginning of Moneyball when Billy Beane and his old school scouts are all trying to figure out how to replace Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen? They didn’t need to replace each one individually, they simply needed to replace their collective value. We need to do the same.

Butler had a WAR of -0.3 in 2014, but averages 1.6 over his career.
Aoki: 1.0 in 2014. 2.5 career.
Shields: 3.3 in 2014. 3.0 career.

Interestingly, they all had down seasons in 2014 (even Shields compared to recent years). For consistency’s sake, that means we need to replace a cumulative 4.0 WAR from 2014, but maybe closer to 7.2 WAR for their careers.

Morales had a WAR of -0.3 in 2014 – same as Billy, amazingly – and has a career average of 1.2 WAR. Added power. Lost OBP. So what we’d like to be able to find is two guys whose cumulative WAR is in the 4.0 to 5.0 range and we’ll come out ahead and we have more power to show for it with more money to invest in it.

Easier said than done? Of course it is. Looking strictly at the numbers makes the whole game seem like cake. But my point isn’t to solve the equation as much as it is to offer the equation itself.

We still need pieces, and it’s possible when all is said and done that the addition of Kendrys Morales will look just fine in conjunction with a right fielder and a starting pitcher (and I might even throw in a utility man who can add value off the bench…or in place of Omar Infante if the Royals happen to find any suitors).

One small caveat here before I wrap this up: I am a bit confused as to how this signing happened after all the conversation about the Royals utilizing a flexible DH spot in 2015 to get Salvy and others a few days off in the field. To me, adding a RF/DH hybrid was what needed to happen to provide that sort of fluidity, but alas, looks like we’re stuck with Salvy’s catching another 150+ games in 2015.

What I’m saying is that Morales is only one piece of the offseason puzzle. Hopefully my optimism in Morales bouncing back is not misplaced. There are still more moves to come, so calm down, Kansas City. The offseason is long – it’s December 11 and we have until early March to make moves – and Dayton Moore is not done adding pieces for 2015.

Stay the course, and let’s all revisit the Morales deal in March when the roster is set and in October when the Royals take the crown.

-apc.

Photo here: It’s All About the Money

x – Ed Sheeran

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I’m not a musician.

I took piano lessons for something like eight or ten years when I was a kid. I started when I was 7 and quit sometime in high school. I never learned how to read sheet music without counting “Every, Good, Boy, Does, Fine,” so at a certain point (high school) the music got too difficult to play by ear. I don’t have many regrets in life, but dropping the piano instead of finding a jazz piano teacher who can teach playing by ear could be considered a regret. Maybe there’s still time. Life after seminary.

Today, I can play most piano chords – C, F#, D7, Asus2, G, Emaj7, etc. – throw it at me and I can look at the keys and play it. I understand chord progressions. I can sit down at a piano and play through most any song as long as I’m given the chord progression. I can even figure out the melody if I’ve listened to a song enough times. But I’m not a musician, and I don’t review albums as if I am.

I do, however, know how to groove.

I like percussion, cadence, chord progressions, samples and lyrical flow among other things. Strings are gorgeous. Gimme a dirty bassline (see: “Don’t” on this album) and I can’t get enough. The tone of an artist’s voice is more important to me than what they’re singing about. I don’t care much for actual lyrical content – songwriting is impressive and creative, absolutely, but for some reason my ear doesn’t hear the words themselves. I don’t know the words to some of my all time favorite songs.

When I listen to music, my mind is not tuned into the meaning or language in songs. I’m in it to experience the groove. I feel music more than I listen to it.

Friends who know me well will respond: “Whatever. You know all the words to all the songs we listened to on that road trip we went on that one time.” True. And some artists are easy for me to actually hear and internalize lyrical content – hip hop, boy bands, pretty much anything I digested between 1998 and 2004 – these are exceptions. When I take in an album for the first time (Ed Sheeran’s x, for example) I don’t hear the words themselves as much as I hear their sound and flow (both areas where Ed excels greatly).

I say all this to make sure we’re all on the same page for where these album reviews come from: I am a consumer. My angle is not remotely “expert” on anything besides my own personal experience of music.

If you’re purely a consumer like me, then these reviews are for you.

Disclaimer over. On to the review.

***

It’s pronounced “multiply,” which is an extremely annoying album title, but follows up nicely to Ed Sheeran’s debut album + (pronounced “plus”) which is equally goofy.

But that’s pretty much where my negativity ends with this album. Ed Sheeran is fantastic. x is predominantly acoustic guitar centered with strong percussion/piano parts, but what truly drives the sound Ed Sheeran’s work is his vocal cadence. He’s quick and clever with his flow. His crooning quickly gets into my shoulders and neck area and gets me bobbing around.

The only song I really knew off this album prior to my first listen this week was “Sing,” and I was already a big fan. It came across Justin Timbelake-ish. It’s the high range vocals that do it – every time he goes up, he sounds like JT. Turns out, that track is produced by Pharrell Williams and while I was doing some research I literally read, “Justin Timberlake’s debut album, Justified, was a favourite of Sheeran’s, which he consciously tried to channel for ‘Sing,'” on Wikipedia. Well, boom. Talk about stroking my listening ego.

Take a listen here…(warning: video contains puppets)…

Caveat here: Sheeran wanted to keep “Sing” off the album and work more exclusively with Pharrell and put it on a future album. It’s the only Pharrell track on the album, so it’s naturally one of my favorites. But let’s be honest: if Ed puts out a full album with Skateboard P he’ll win multiple Grammys. You heard it here first. We’ll revisit it in a couple or three years. #Grammys2017?

Also, I’m not sure everyone realizes just how impressive Pharrell Williams is. I mentioned this in my review of G I R L earlier this year, but everything the dude touches turns to gold. But this isn’t a Pharrell post, so moving on.

This album keeps me bringing me back to Adele. Not necessarily in the sound, but in the content. This whole album is about Sheeran’s heart being broken and drinking/drugging his sorrows away. He’s not happy with this chick, and it’s entirely to our benefit. I’ve often thought if Adele falls in love and gets married we’re going to lose out on a lot of quality music. I might feel the same way here. Nobody wants to hear cute love songs (okay some people do, but I don’t) – we want tales of heartbreak and anger and frustration. WE want songs that get under our skin and make us feel something strong. That’s how Ed is like Adele – okay, they’re both British too.

Sheeran clearly has a bent toward self-medication. The entire focus of “Bloodstream” is feeling the chemicals kicking in as he tries to recover from broken heart. Those are his words, not mine. He mentions drinking away his sadness in multiple songs – which ALWAYS reminds me of Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.”

Elton and Jamie Foxx get the most mentions on how Ed Sheeran hit it big. Now I’m picturing the three of them hanging out at the booth from Horrible Bosses drinking cider – Elton and Ed on one side of the booth and Motherf*cker Jones drinking from a straw on the other. I digress.

While the core of the album is groovy and fast-paced, “One” is an odd choice for an opener upon first take. It’s directed toward the same love interest from +, which feels opposite from the rest of the album. However, it makes sense when partnered with track 2, “I’m a Mess.” By opening the album with love, it actually manages to pull the listener into the heartbreak deeper. Ed’s like, “here’s this love that I had, and now I’m going tell you how I jacked everything up and now I’m broken hearted.” And I’m like, “thanks, but no thanks, Ed. I wish I’d never met this girl so I wouldn’t have to feel your heartbreak as much.” It’s better for it though. “One” is a cute lead track that I’m sure the sentimental ladies really swoon over.

Apparently “One” was the first track recorded too, which makes me believe the track layout is less about the ebb and flow of the album as much as mirroring the story of Ed Sheeran’s own life. I wonder…is the track list simply in order of when he wrote them? Hmmm.

I should also mention this nugget: Ed Sheeran can rap. “The Man” and “Take It Back” are both straight rap. Don’t let his lyrics convince you otherwise: “I’m not a rapper/I’m a singer with a flow,” he says in the latter track. Malarky, I say. This is acoustic rap and it’s so good. It is a bit strange to hear someone with an English accent rapping – just different. The sound has a subtle enough difference that it sounds like something fresh and new.

There’s a balance between up-tempo grooves and stripped down acoustic ballads here. I’m a huge fan of the former and kinda meh about the latter – shocker, I know. Overall, it’s a very strong album. Henceforth, I’ll proudly claim to be an Ed Sheeran fan.

Top Tracks (no particular order):
– Sing
– Take it Back
– The Man
– Don’t
– Bloodstream

x is up for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album at the 2015 Grammys. His competition for AOTY: Beyonce, Sam Smith, Pharrell and Beck. His competition for BPVA: Coldplay, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, and Sam Smith.

As of this post, I think he’s the front runner for BPVA, but will lose out to Queen Bey in AOTY.

One last thing before I go: I’m planning reviews for all 5 albums up for Album of the Year. Potentially more than that if I really get into this. You can find the other links here (will update links as posts are released).

For other reviews up for Album of the Year…

Pharrell Williams – G I R L
Ed Sheeran – x
Beck – Morning Phase

Beyonce – Beyonce
Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour

RETURN TO GRAMMYS HOMEPAGE

-apc.

Ballpark Tour 2014: Panoramas

I took SO MANY panoramas in 2014! I took at least one – often dozens – at each ballpark on my Tour this season. This series marks the best of those panoramas at each game. They have all been amateurishly edited and cropped for consistency.

All in all, I’m very pleased with how these turned out. Again, something magical is happening in the Bay Area, or maybe that’s just where my pano skills reached pro form. I’m also pleased with the shots of Citizens Bank Park and US Cellular Field.

I am a bit disappointed with myself that I didn’t plan ahead better for this series. I could’ve taken them all from the same location in every park or at least waited until other fans arrived and the game was going on – I feel like about half of these feature the grounds crew. Oh well. Too late. Spilled milk.

In case you missed past posts – check out my original Tour Itinerary and the first draft of my Ballpark Rankingus. Might be worth the read if ballparks are your thing.

Okay, enough writing. You didn’t come here to read words, you came to look at photos which are with 1,000 words each. So here’s 30,000 words on the 30 MLB ballparks in order my visit starting with Cincinnati on Opening Day. Enjoy.

Note: the date/name goes with the pano below it. It gets confusing after a bit of scrolling.

March 31: Great American Ballpark – Cincinnati Reds

Great American Ballpark

April 4: Kauffman Stadium – Kansas City Royals

Kauffman Stadium

April 7: Busch Stadium – St. Louis Cardinals

Busch Stadium

April 13: Turner Field – Atlanta Braves

Turner Field

April 14: Globe Life Park at Arlington – Texas Rangers

Globe Life Park at Arlington

April 15: Minute Maid Park – Houston Astros

Minute Maid Park

April 16: Chase Field – Arizona Diamondbacks

Chase Field

April 17: PETCO Park – San Diego Padres

PETCO Park

May 8: Dodger Stadium – Los Angeles Dodgers

Dodger Stadium

May 9: Safeco Field – Seattle Mariners

Safeco Field

May 10: O.Co Coliseum – Oakland Athletics

O.Co Coliseum

May 12: AT&T Park – San Francisco Giants

AT&T Park

June 3: Coors Field – Colorado Rockies

Coors Field

June 11: Angel Stadium – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Angel Stadium

June 25: Citi Field – New York Mets

Citi Field

June 26: Citizens Bank Park – Philadelphia Phillies

Citizens Bank Park

June 27: Yankee Stadium – New York Yankees

Tankee Stadium

June 30: Fenway Park – Boston Red Sox

Fenway Park

July 1: Nationals Park – Washington Nationals

Nationals Park

July 2: Oriole Park at Camden Yards – Baltimore Orioles

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

August 6: US Cellular Field – Chicago White Sox

US Cellular Field

August 7: Miller Park – Milwaukee Brewers

Miller Park

August 7: Wrigley Field – Chicago Cubs

Wrigley Field

September 3: Target Field – Minnesota Twins

Target Field

September 17: Tropicana Field – Tampa Bay Rays

Tropicana Field

September 18: Marlins Park – Miami Marlins

Marlins Park

September 21: PNC Park – Pittsburgh Pirates

PNC Park

September 22: Rogers Centre – Toronto Blue Jays

Rogers Centre

September 23: Comerica Park – Detroit Tigers

Comerica Park

September 24: Progressive Field – Cleveland Indians

Progressive Field

So many memories from a crazy summer. I’m excited to share them with you when my book comes out next year.

I’m trying to figure out what I should do with this collection beyond this post. Probably a coffee table book or something. Let me know what ideas you might have.

-apc.

“Hi, this is Ken Griffey Jr., Let’s talk about the Kansas City Royals’ offseason moves (or lack thereof).”

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I’ve been playing a lot of Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball for Nintendo 64 lately. It’s a terrific break from paper writing. I started a full season about a week into November and immediately started trading players. I’m the Royals, but they’re hardly recognizable anymore.

First, I traded for Griffey. I had to give up Johnny Damon and Jose Offerman, but the upgrade is completely worth it as Junior is easily the best player in the game. It’s very weird to see Damon in a Mariners uniform but Griffey’s never looked better.

Then I shipped Mike Sweeney and Jeff King over to Chicago for some dude named Frank Thomas.

Then I pulled Hideo Nomo and Trenidad Hubbard from the Dodgers. Nomo is great and a very fun reminder of how much fun he was to emulate when I was a kid. Hubbard’s bat is average, but he is off the charts on speed. Stealing bases/small ball is my jam (Go Royals), so Hubbs fits into my system perfectly. I don’t remember what I gave up for those guys though. Probably a starting pitcher. Or maybe it was Hal Morris.

Finally, I flipped Dean Palmer and Sal Fasano for Omar Visquel who promptly fractured his ankle and is on the 1-2 month DL. Terrific. Desi Relaford is holding is own at SS though. For now.

I also claimed a rookie named David Ortiz in free agency. He and Frank Thomas now swap 1B/DH duties.

So now my roster looks like this:

C – Mike MacFarlane
1B – Frank Thomas
2B – Shane Halter
3B – Dave Hansen
SS – Omar Visquel
LF – Trenidad Hubbard
CF – Ken Griffey, Jr.
RF – Jermaine Dye
DH – David Ortiz

SP – Kevin Appier, Hideo Nomo, Tim Belcher, Jose Rosado

RP – Glendon Rusch, Hipolito Pichardo, Jim Pittsley, Jaime Bluma, Jeff Montgomery

My next goals are to add Tony Gwynn in place of Dye or Paul Molitor to cover part of the weaker infield. I may need to wait for Visquel to get healthy and use him as a bargaining chip and let Desi stay at SS.

I guess you could say it’s a Process.

Not sure why I decided to start this post with my fictional video game roster, but it felt like a good starting point as any to talk about the Royals’ offseason. If only it was this easy in real life…

The RF/DH Situation

The real life Royals haven’t been nearly as active. They had a few key positions of need, and they haven’t made the moves we all expected them to make to address those needs. Specifically starting pitching, and a right fielder who could also serve as a designated hitter.

I made a list of their top needs and fully expected them to have addressed them by now. I thought we were players for Yasmany Tomas, but he went to Arizona. I thought we’d look into signing Nick Markakis or Torii Hunter or Alex Rios or Melky Cabrera to cover our OF/DH need. Hunter retuned to his old Minnesota home. Markakis went to the Braves to fill the void left by Jason Heyward moving to St. Louis. KC is supposedly in the Melky discussion, but I’m not sure we’d want to lose the draft pick we’d have to surrender of we signed him. Rios is still available and apparently the Royals have checked in on him too. Thanks but no thanks. It’s beginning to look like we won’t be pursuing a big name outfielder for 2015. It seems the Royals are content to just sit back and let the market come to them rather than springing for the big names.

At this point I’d look for the Royals to make another move like they made acquiring Nori Aoki last year (who is still unsigned and probably won’t be pursued until after the bigger names go, but the way things are going, I wonder if they’d take another 1 year flier on him?). Again, the worst case scenario here is that Cain plays RF and Dyson starts in CF.

Two names out of Toronto could be ones to watch. Colby Rasmus has never been a spectacular and somehow got paid $7M by the Blue Jays to hit .225/.287/.448 in 2014. We wouldn’t pay him anywhere near that , and would probably platoon him with Dyson and keep swapping Cain back and forth between RF and LF.

The other name from the Jays has Royals connections: John Mayberry Jr. is a beast with all the power but not much MLB success. He would be dirt cheap, and could provide depth in the outfield as well as at 1B behind Eric Hosmer. When I saw JMJ in Toronto back in September, I was shocked at how big the dude is, but he looked borderline lost at the plate. On a day when the Jays scored 14 runs off the fading Mariners, JMJ was the last Jays starter to get a hit – he went 1-4 with a double in the 8th, a walk and one ugly strikeout.

Just a couple names to consider. Nothing revolutionary, but it’s beginning to look like that’s the kind of offseason we’ll be having with KC.

Neither of these options addresses the DH hole in our lineup either. Which is why I’m afraid we’re going to have to take more drastic measures.

The final possibility is that we ship Greg Holland or Wade Davis elsewhere in a trade. Holland is the preferable choice because he’s the most expensive of the two, and honestly, I think Davis is the better of the two. But a move like this is only possible because of how active Dayton Moore has been with the bullpen.

Bullpen moves aplenty

The Royals have been very active in retaining the MLB’s best bullpen. First, they brought back Jason Frasor on a $1.8M deal with a club option for 2016. Then they signed everybody’s favorite #1 overall pick, Luke Hochevar, to a 2 year, $10M deal.

I love bringing back Frasor, but I’m pretty curious to see how Hochevar does coming off Tommy John surgery last year. Luke’s career was very disappointing as a starter, but he turned it around in the pen in 2013. Feels like a lot of money to give a guy who has only had one good year in his career and is coming off a major injury.

Assuming these two work out (and assuming we don’t ship Holland or Davis away) we seem to have fixed the “sixth inning issue” we faced in 2014. In fact, we’ve strengthened our bullpen to the point that we can just work backwards from the 9th inning to the 1st instead of the other way around.

9th – Holland
8th – Davis
7th – Herrera
6th – Hochevar
5th – …we literally only need 4 or 5 innings out of our starters. It’s kind of a joke.

And with how brilliant Brandon Finnegan was in September/October, he might just end up out there as well if our starters seem strong enough without him. He’d be a great 6th option out of the pen of needed.

When the season ended, with the departure of James Shields, the primary need appeared to be starting pithing. Now? I’m not so sure. If our bullpen is strong enough, we may not even need to jump at a top starter at all. Just someone serviceable who can give 5 innings to get the ball to HHDH. (The only reason I’d want us to ship Davis instead of Holland is so we could start referring to it as “Triple H.”)

Ervin Santana

Let’s be honest, it’s only a matter of time before Ervin Santana comes back to KC. He was great here in 2013, and he tried to get more money elsewhere but couldn’t find the market he wanted. He found a home in ATL and had a fine season, but he’s back on the market and seems to be a perfect fit in KC.

We can’t afford a Tier 1 starter, but giving a 4-year deal to a guy of Santana’s ability seems wise. Butler Olney of ESPN has reported that Santana wants 5 years, but that seems like a stretch. The only hiccup in the plan would be if another team (I’ve heard the Giants mentioned) were able to show more commitment with a longer deal.

A rotation of Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie and Santana? AND Finnegan? Seems more than good enough. And with our bullpen as strong as ever? Good to go.

Plus, he’s as likeable as they come. Just sign the guy.

Another note: Jeremy Guthrie appears to be recruiting Santana himself (top-left).

Atta boy, Jeremy. Go get him. And while you’re at it, can you convince him to bring Justin Upton along with him? Just kidding…but really.

Daniel Descalso

This isn’t going to happen, but I’d love to see it at least pop up as a possibility. The Cardinals decided not to tender utility infielder Daniel Descalso a contract this week. Many of you know that I come from a long line of Cardinals fans, and my dad raised me to root for them too. It’s a point of contention between other Royals fans and I because they hate the Cardinals with all of their being. I get that, and I won’t fight them on it either.

Anyway, as a Cardinals supporter, Descalso has been my favorite player for STL over the past few years. He plays about 50-80 games a year. He’s a backup utility guy who can play all four infield positions, and even pitched an inning in 2014. He’d cost less than $1M to add as a better-than-Christian-Colon bench player, especially if we think Colon needs additional time in AAA.

Probably most importantly: he hit .364/.472/.448 versus left-handed pitching in 2014. Sure, his career numbers aren’t phenomenal and the sample size was a bit smaller, but that’s 33 points higher than Danny Valencia hit this year at close to the same cost. Those LHP numbers are obviously way better than Mike Moustakas too. And with Infante’s age/injury status and the complete lack of depth behind Escobar (who played all 162 games last season), it might be a good idea to add a versatile and MLB-proven utility guy for the bench and occasional start.

Biased? Maybe a little bit. I do own a Descalso jersey t-shirt. But I also think it’s a good fit a la Danny Valencia last year only with more positional flexibility. Just an idea. Take it or leave it, Dayton.

And finally…

Do I think the Kansas City Royals are the team to beat in the AL Central? I do. Get at me.

-apc.

Royals Rumors: Ryan Howard, Jon Lester, and Yasmany Tomas

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Man. If this Royals offseason ends up half as wild as things are trending, it’s going to be one to remember. Rumors have been kinda nutty so far.

Just in the past week, we’ve been linked to three different players who – for those of us who are used to small market baseball – feel completely out of our financial league. Royals fans have no idea whether to believe the reports that we are pursuing Ryan Howard, Jon Lester and Yasmany Tomas. The news breaks and we feel ecstatic, yet leery. We know it’s not smart to get our hopes up. There’s no way we’ll outbid the Red Sox, Cubs, Yankees, Angels, Dodgers, Marlins, or [Insert Almost Any Team Name Here]. It’s unrealistic. Don’t tease us, Dayton.

And yet, this offseason is different. We’re contenders. We’re defending American League Champions. For the first time in my lifetime, our hope is not false hope.

So, let’s talk about how realistic it is that we sign Ryan Howard, Jon Lester and/or Yasmany Tomas.

Ryan Howard

Ryan Howard was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2005. In 2006, he won the NL MVP, Silver Slugger and went to his first All Star Game. He finished in the Top 10 of MVP voting over each of the next 5 years and added two more All Star Games. The Phillies won the World Series in 2008. They lost the World Series in 2009. Howard was the NLCS MVP in 2009.

In 2011, the last of those MVP voted seasons, the Phillies were the best team in the National League. They went 102-60. Ryan Howard somehow managed to get some MVP votes that year after posting a .253/.346/.488 with 33 HR and 1.2 WAR.

The final out of the Phillies 2011 season was a Ryan Howard ground out in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Cardainals. On that play, Howard stumbled out of the batters box after rupturing his Achilles tendon. He hasn’t been the same player since – he played 71 games in 2012 and 80 games in 2012. His combined WAR over the last three seasons is -1.5.

These days, Ryan Howard isn’t very good. His defense has never been where his value lies (if he came to KC he would be strictly a DH) – his value is in his power bat. He hit 23 HRs in 153 games in 2014, but he averages 41 HRs per 162 games over his career. However, Howard also struck out 190 times in 2014 and he strikes out 194 times per 162 game average.

So he’s not very good anymore, and the Phillies know it. He’s under contract to make $60M over the next three years – $25M/year with a $10M buy out in 2017. The Phillies are terrible, and are looking to get rid of his contract however they can. They might even eat the bulk of it if they happened to find some sucker franchise that would be interested in Howard’s feast-or-famine slugging.

So would Howard be a good fit with the Royals?

No way. First of all, his declining power would certainly decline more in the large confines of Kauffman Stadium. As @BHIndepMO points out, of his 23 HRs, 5 of them wouldn’t have gone out at Kauffman Stadium, potentially another 4. So probably 14-18 HRs in KC…or on pace with a Salvador Perez or Mike Moustakas.

Maybe a better way to look at this is by Bill James’s Productive/Unproductive Outs measurement. Productive Outs are outs that advance baserunners. A infield groundout doesn’t look good in the statistics, but if it advances a baserunner from second to third base, it at least helped the team by 90 feet. That’s a productive out.

Manufacturing runs and making productive outs was the Royals’ primary gameplan in 2014. They put the ball in play a ton and led the majors in stolen bases. Kansas City was the best team in baseball at manufacturing runs – 204 in total – and they were best in the AL with 291 Productive Outs in 2014. In contrast, Ryan Howard made 79 Unproductive Outs just on his own. Obviously, Howard doesn’t fit into KC’s game plan.

If Ryan Howard doesn’t fit into the Royals ballpark or game plan, why would we want him? No clue. To me, he is the antithesis of what we want on our team. His only real benefit would be as a pinch hitter, and he’s not going to be worth what we would have to pay him to have that minor roll.

In the end, the Royals interest in Howard seems to have been overblown. The Royals probably called Philly just to check the price then the Phillies probably leaked it to make it seem like Howard was in high demand to lure other suitors.

Jon Lester

I exchanged tweets with Mayor Sly James yesterday about the Royals’ interest in Lester. He asked, “What do you think about the rumor that the Royals are pursuing Jon Lester?” I responded that I’m pretty sure “pursuing” is a stretch.

Jon Lester is one of the top two free agents this year along with Max Scherzer, but he’s arguably the best option for a team to sign because he doesn’t have the draft pick compensation attached to signing him because he has no qualifying offer. Scherzer and James Shields both require that the signing team give up a draft pick. Lester doesn’t.

Lester started last year with the Boston Red Sox and was traded at the deadline to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes. He was awesome for the A’s down the stretch but the rest of the team stunk and the offense fizzled. He was particularly tough against the Royals themselves – that is, until they finally got to him in the 8th inning of the American League Wild Card game: 7.1 IP, 8 H, 6 ER.

The Royals have apparently been in preliminary discussions with Lester’s agents, which basically means nothing at all. The Cubs and the Red Sox are considered the primary suitors for Lester (and the other will probably sign Shields/Scherzer), but Peter Gammons just tweeted this afternoon that the Yankees are involved too. (Shocker.)

To me, this is either just a smoke screen or a non-story. Every team has conversations with every major free agent who could fill their need. You never know. Preliminary discussions could go something like this…

**RINGING**

Lester Camp: “Hello?”

Royals: “Hi. Can we afford your client?”

Lester Camp: “Nope. We want at least $160M over 6 years.”

Royals: “Okay then.”

**CLICK**

I mean, if David Glass is willing to open up the checkbook and go crazy for Lester, I’m not going to stop him, but this feels alike a massive stretch.

Yasmany Tomas

Here’s the intriguing option. Yasmany Tomas is a 24-year old power hitting outfielder who defected from Cuba over the summer. I wrote last week that Melky Cabrera and Torii Hunter are likely our best options to fill the RF/DH positions left vacant by Nori Aoki and Billy Butler. Well, Tomas is a better option than either of those guys. I just never thought we would be willing to afford him.

He would probably require around a 7 year, $75M contract, which the Royals might actually be able to afford with the money made on postseason revenue along with cash freed up by Butler and Shields. If the Royals signed Tomas, they could keep Dyson in his same fourth outfielder/pinch runner role while adding significant power to the core of our lineup.

Other Cuban defects have made massive contributions to their teams –  Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu in particular.

When I first heard the news about Tomas, I thought if sounded too good to be true, but it sounds like this actually has some traction. He has been linked to a lot of teams, so it’s important to keep our emotions in check. However, he had a work out for the Royals in the Dominican Republic yesterday, and this showed up on Twitter along with this photo…

Happy Birthday Yasmany!!! All he wanted for his birthday was to play in a ball game!…
@JAloujr Happy Birthday Yasmany!!! All he wanted for his birthday was to play in a ball game!…

Yes, that’s Yasmany Tomas in a Royals uniform. Looks good on him despite #40 already belonging to Kelvin Herrera. It’s got me dreaming too much. I should probably keep my hopes in check before I get carried away.

Tomas – along with the signing of a second-tier starter (probably Ervin Santana) – would be the perfect piece for this roster going into 2015. Don’t con me here, Dayton. Make it happen.

So of the three players – Lester, Howard and Tomas – only one of them seems to be a real possibility from where I’m sitting. Which is in a seminary class, actually. Shhhhhh.

-apc.

Photo: From Section 215. Accessed 11/14/14.

Free Agency: What are the Royals biggest needs this 2014-15 offseason?

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Following the 2010 season – a mere 4 years ago – I’m not sure I could’ve written this post. Things were just too terrible to address in a 1000-word post.

That year, 2010, Billy Butler played 158 games at 1B and Yuniesky Betancourt played 151 games at SS. Gil Meche and Jose Guillen accounted for over 1/3 of the team salary. Coming off his 2009 Cy Young campaign, Zack Greinke had a bit of a set back (also he didn’t want to be in KC and was a borderline poison in the clubhouse) and was being shopped around the league, eventually going to the Brewers. Luke Hochevar was disappointing to say the least. Kyle Davies was the absolute worst. Brian Bannister was out of baseball. Bruce Chen was arguably our best pitcher this time 4 years ago.

Billy led all position players in WAR at 3.2. David DeJesus was second with 1.9, but he was a free agent heading to Oakland. Alberto Callaspo had a decent year but was traded to the Angels mid-season. Mike Aviles seemed to be a bright spot, but his .304/.335/.413 would drop to .255/.289/.409 in 2011.

Things were dark, and it was not easy to look at the organization and pinpoint three or four steps to becoming contenders.

It was a hot mess.

Thankfully, Dayton Moore knew what he was doing. He flipped Greinke for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Jake Odorizzi. Two years later he flipped Wil Myers and Odorizzi for James Shields and Wade Davis. Alex Gordon emerged as an all-star left-fielder. And Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez were groomed within the system and suddenly a championship team took shape.

This isn’t the 2010-11 offseason. This is the 2014-15 offseason, and it’s amazing how easy building in free agency can appear when you’re already a contender.

Today – again, just 4 years later – it’s relatively easy to pinpoint those key places the Royals need to address. It’s clear where this team has holes – some holes bigger than others, but holes nonetheless. So let’s look at the spots where the Royals need to improve and what they might be able to do to address each position.

Starting Pitcher

This is the big one. We all know how important starting pitching is in Major League Baseball. James Shields has officially rejected his qualifying offer, so the current Royals rotation for 2015 currently looks like this:

Yordano Ventura
Danny Duffy
Jason Vargas
Jeremy Guthrie

There is the possibility that Brandon Finnegan could be added to that list, but I think most of us would like to see him log some additional time in the minors prior to being thrown into a starting roll. Even if he is lights out in Spring Training and earns a spot on the roster, I’m not comfortable leaning on him for 20-30 starts. Besides, we need depth for when Yordano inevitably needs Tommy John surgery. Ugh, I hate that that is always a looming possibility.

So what are our options? Well, if Shields is out of our price range, then Jon Lester and Max Sherzer certainly are too. But second-teir starters like Francisco Liriano or Ervin Santana could be a fit. Santana loved his time in KC in 2013, and we know he can have success in the friendly pitching confines of Kauffman Stadium. Liriano’s 2014 campaign wasn’t nearly what his 2013 was, but he posted a low-3’s ERA for the second straight year and threw 150+ innings for the 4th straight year.

Personally, I’d love to see Ervin back in blue. Apparently the Royals have scheduled a meeting with his agent at the GM winter meetings coming up. Go get him.

Right Field/Designated Hitter

I’ve lumped these together because we ought to be able to kill two birds with one stone here. If we could find a power hitting right fielder, it would provide a lot of flexibility for this lineup moving forward. You could utilize a more fluid DH position between different guys – most importantly Salvador Perez who played a billion games behind home plate this season.

Names like Torii Hunter and Melky Cabrera have been floated around. Cabrera hasn’t played much right field (could we put him in CF with Lorenzo Cain full time in RF?), but we wouldn’t be putting him out there for his defense. Besides, with Jarrod Dyson available off the bench for defense, we would have the flexibility to simply utilize Melky as a DH as well. Torii is intriguing to me – more veteran leadership a la Shields and Raul Ibanez this past season, sure, but I’m not sure I want to sign a guy whose career is so clearly on the decline. But he wants a ring badly, and he would certainly make us better.

There’s still a possibility that Billy Butler returns for a much cheaper payday than he might get elsewhere, and if that happens, it would be interesting to see what the Royals did in RF without the need for a DH bat.

Nori Aoki isn’t completely out of the question either, although I’ve heard he’s seeking 3 years and I’m not sure the Royals would want to commit that much to him. He did a great job getting on base for us in 2014, but his defense remains an adventure.

And who knows – maybe Dyson can be a legitimate every day starter and we can unleash The Ultimate Outfield every day next year. He’s one of the best CF in the game. He’s such a threat off the bench, but he also put up 2.8 WAR this year as a part-time player which is the highest of his career.

If Melky is affordable, I’d love to see him back in a Royals uniform on a 2 or 3 year deal as a hybrid DH/OF. To me, he’s the best option. Better than Torii Hunter. And don’t try and convince me that Ichiro is even worth considering.

The other idea that has been circulating since the trade deadline this year is the possibility of trading for Marlon Byrd. Not sure what we would have to give up, but it’s worth noting.

One last thought: This time last year I was gushing over the possibility of Carlos Beltran making his way back to KC. Lots of people weren’t in support of the move, but I think we can all agree that he would be the perfect guy to complete this lineup. Freaking Yankees.

Update: Okay one more thought – apparently the Royals are pursuing Ryan Howard assuming the Phillies agree to eat the majority of his contract. Very interesting news.

Third Base/Utility Infielder

“But, you said that Mike Moustakas was a different player in October!” Yes, I did say that, and I still believe that he was. Moose looked relaxed, as if he no longer felt he needed to prove himself.

But he still wasn’t that great. In 15 postseason games, he hit .251/.259/.558. His 5 postseason home runs set a Royals record and resulted in a huge SLG split, but even with his AVG at .251, is that good enough to give him 150-160 starts next year? Especially when he hit .172 off of lefties…not acceptable as a full-time player.

That said, we’ve had a small sample size of Moose as a “relaxed” postseason player. I’d like to see a full campaign from him to determine whether he’s turned it around or not. Verdict is still out.

Omar Infante played with an injured shoulder to finish the season. If that lingers or becomes a trend it would be nice to have infield depth.

And God forbid Alcides Escobar gets hurt. He played all 162 regular season and 15 post season games last year, and we didn’t really have a backup plan for a while until Christian Colon was called up mid-season.

All that to say, we need options, and I’d prefer versatile options if possible. I’m a huge supporter if the utility man.

Christian Colon has proven he’s good enough to be on the roster coming off the bench, but I’m not sure he has much of an upside beyond his current role as a backup. Somebody like Emilio Bonefacio or Mark Reynolds might work. Just more as a safety net than anything else in case of injury or the return of MoustakAZ .

Left-Handed Bullpen Arm

Finally, we need a lefty out of the bullpen. We’re stacked with righties – Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland are all righties – but we are weak on lefties. Francisley Bueno and Tim Collins aren’t the scariest of foes out of the ‘pen. Of course, to compare anyone to those other three is unfair, but I’d rather see any of those guys than any lefty we currently have on the roster.

Brandon Finnegan was our best option during the postseason, and he made for a decent bandaid when called upon. He really only had one bad outing – Game 4 of the World Series – but we want him to be a starter in the future. Somebody like Josh Outman or Andrew Miller would be nice, but they might be too expensive depending which of the above moves we choose to make.

It would be wise for us to take a gamble on a lefty arm. We can’t call on HDH every time like we did this year. They just about ran out of gas in August/September.

***

It’s a new time in KC and there are very few holes on this team moving forward. With our postseason revenue and likely increase in season ticket sales next year, we ought to have more money than ever before as well.

The best thing we have going for us? The fact that winning usually begets more winning. So let’s wheel and deal. After all, we just need to get 90 feet better.

-apc.

APC’s MLB Ballpark Rankings

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After touring all 30 MLB ballparks this summer, I get asked almost daily which one was my favorite, and it’s always so difficult to say. I loved them all in one way or another. Even the ones at the bottom of the list had bright spots that I appreciated about them. Even Tampa.

Besides, how am I supposed to pick ONE favorite park? That’s like asking me to pick a favorite fruit or Jeff Goldblum* movie.

How does one compare Fenway Park and PNC Park? Or Safeco Field and Dodger Stadium? Or Marlins Park and US Cellular Field? These pairings have very little in common, but yet they each appear right next to one another on my initial rankings. Do I favor Boston’s history over Pittsburgh’s downtown vista? Do I favor Seattle’ retractable roof over LA’s classic 50’s flare? And how does one even attempt to compare Marlins Park to any other ballpark in the game, let alone perhaps the most basic concrete cookie-cutter park in existence?

Some gorgeous ballparks have terrible teams (San Diego or Colorado, for example) or lousy fans (New York or Los Angeles) while some really ugly ballparks field a championship contending team and have great fans (Oakland, for example).

It’s not an easy ranking to do, and the “right” answer isn’t immediately clear.

What was clear was that I was going to need to put together some sort of algorithm in order to effectively rank these ballparks. I needed to land on some systematic approach to ranking various categories from 1-30 and assign point values for each. I was also going to need to give certain categories more weight than others.

This is still all completely subjective, but it gives me a little bit more to lean on besides a purely arbitrary ranking. Here are the initial 5 categories that I’ve utilized to rank. I should add that this is NOT my “official” list – just a first attempt mock up. Here we go…

  • Ballpark Design (BD): 65% – This category should obviously hold the most weight, so I’ve given it nearly 2/3 of the score. This category includes architecture, views, features, and history. If you push me hard enough, I may pull out the history and re-rank with that as a separate category. We’ll see.
  • Surrounding Area (SA): 15% – If I learned one thing about ballparks this summer it’s this: the best ballparks are usually downtown, and they’re usually surrounded by some spectacular spots to hang out and grab some local food and a beer before or after the game. If it’s nothing but parking lot – the experience isn’t nearly as great. This category also includes transportation to and from the ballpark.
  • Gameplay (GP): 10% – I also acknowledge that my rankings are going to be based primarily on how much fun the single game I attended was. Rather than try to ignore this and eliminate the bias, I’m choosing to include it in my rankings. It’s not a significant percentage, but it’s enough to bump Oakland as high as #26.
  • Fan Rank (FR): 8% – Every city has diehard fans, but not all of them enhance the experience at the ballpark. This is probably the category that will get me the most flack.
  • Beer Rank (BR): 2% – The Washington Post did a survey on which ballparks had the best micro-brewery beer selection and ranked them 1-30. I haven’t tweaked these numbers at all, they’re directly from the article linked above. I’m not sure if 2% was enough to influence any one ballpark over another, but it’s a crucial part of the stadium experience.

I need to probably add a history, city, and food category, but this will suffice for now. Let me know what other ideas you have. For now, here’s what I ended up with for my initial results. First place received 30 points in each category. Last place received 1 point. I’ve broken it down into 7 tiers…

Tier 7: I Don’t Care If I Ever Get Back

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30. Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay Rays – 2.55 (BD 1, SA 8, FR 2, GP 4, BR 7)

The only thing I liked about Tampa was the old man I kept score with during the last two innings who kept dropping f-bombs. He’s the only reason they didn’t finish dead last in Fan Rank.

29. Globe Life Park at Arlington, Texas Rangers – 3.91 (BD 3, SA 6, GP 1, FR 9, BR 12)

Freezing cold game. Rangers got pounded. No views. Like playing ball in an ugly castle courtyard.

28. Marlins Park, Miami Marlins – 5.97 (BD 6, SA 7, GP 3, FR 7, BR 8)

Modern design, unlike any others, but it just didn’t feel like baseball. The game was so boring that I left my seat to go find a TV with the K-State/Auburn game on it.

Tier 6: The Bronx Bummers

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27. US Cellular Field, Chicago White Sox – 7.25 (BD 4, SA 13, GP 14, FR 11, BR 21)

The last ballpark built in the concrete cookie-cutter era of park design. Very basic and unexciting. Good beer selection though and you can’t beat the L train dropping you off right by the park.

26. O.Co Coliseum, Oakland Athletics – 7.33 (BD 2, SA, 3, GP 30, FR 29, BR 13)

One of the ugliest ballparks in the game, and the only one that can really give The Trop a run for its money. This was the best game on the tour though – walk off double and on field fireworks after the game. Impressive tailgating and dedicated fans too.

25. Angels Stadium, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 8.28 (BD 11, SA 1, GP 2, FR 6, BR 15)

Right around the corner from Disneyland, this ballpark felt like an amusement park. Took 2 hours to drive there in LA traffic. The parking lots surrounding it aren’t lit well at all. All that, and they got torched by the Athletics.

24. Yankee Stadium, New York Yankees – 9.27 (BD 7, SA 20, GP 13, FR 5, BR 1)

Impressive? Sure. The monuments and history are certainly something. Otherwise, Yankees Stadium wasn’t all I had expected it to be. It’s too big for baseball. Big fan of the neverending popcorn bucket. Worst beer selection in baseball.

Tier 5: The Forgettables

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23. Chase Field, Arizona Diamondbacks – 10.21 (BD 9, SA 18, GP 5, FR 14, BR 2)

Cavernous interior space. Swimming pool beyond centerfield. Downtown Phoenix is pretty cool, and the fans seem pretty committed for such a young franchise. This might rank higher if the roof was open.

22. Nationals Park, Washington Natinoals – 10.75 (BD 8, SA 15, GP 19, FR 13, BR 18)

Humid. Woof. Fans were making up new chants – even if those chants were basically the J-E-T-S chant with 50% different letters. Stephen Strasburg pitched a gem while I was there. Is there a time of year when D.C. isn’t ultra sweaty?

21. Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians – 10.91 (BD 5, SA 26, GP 16, FR 20, BR 28)

Awkward interior dimensions, distinct 90s ballpark vibe, and not in a good way. Passionate fans. Downtown Cleveland is super cool.

20. Rogers Centre, Toronto Blue Jays – 11.36 (BD 10, SA 16, GP 17, FR 8, BR 6)

Toronto is basically Canadian Chicago, and that’s a good thing. Another “wish the roof had been open” ballpark. This game was in the middle of the pennant race against Seattle, so it was extra rewarding to watch the Jays pile on the runs.

19. Comerica Park, Detroit Tigers – 13.08 (BD 13, SA 9, GP 15, FR 16, BR 25)

Conflicting game watching the Tigers win and move one step closer to clinching the AL Central over the Royals. Downtown Detriot is not great, but Comerica itself was a very nice space. Curmudgeony upper deck vendors too.

18. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia Phillies – 13.46 (BD 14, SA 4, GP 24, FR 12, BR 20)

Awesome game. Fourteen inning Chase Utley walkoff. Beautiful ballpark. Delicious hot dog. Ivy covered batters eye was my favorite part.

Tier 4: Middle of the Packers

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17. Turner Field, Atlanta Braves – 14.80 (BD 15, SA 11, GP 18, FR 19, BR 4)

How do you not love Hammerin’ Hank Aaron? Turner Field is on the way out, not sure why they need to do away with it. Also, they have a Waffle House out in left field. Overall, Atlanta was extra average.

16. Citi Field, New York Mets – 14.82 (BD 16, SA 12, GP 11, FR 15, BR 16)

AKA Not Ebbets Field. It’s a great ballpark, can’t beat taking the subway to the game. Felt generic. More stuff about the Brooklyn Dodgers than the Mets though.

15. Minute Maid Park, Houston Astros – 15.35 (BD 19, SA 10, GP 6, FR 10, BR 5)

Gorgeous ballpark. Roof was open. I stood with two of my best friends beyond the outfield wall and celebrated the Royals winning on the road. Yordano and Lorenzo both wore #42 on Jackie Robinson Day.

14. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati Reds – 15.79 (BD 12, SA 21, GP 21, FR 27, BR 29)

Opening Day festivities skyrocket this ballpark very high on the list. Great fans lined the streets for the parade. Cardinals spoiled the game 1-0 for the Redlegs.

Tier 3: The Butter Fans

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13. Coors Field, Colorado Rockies – 16.13 (BD 17, SA 22, GP 12, FR 3, BR 17)

Sat 600 feet from home plate with my youth group. Gorgeous views of the mountains. Unfortunately, the fans don’t care much about baseball, they just like being outside on a beautiful night in the city. Fair enough.

12. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles Dodgers – 17.36 (BD 24, SA 2, GP 9, FR 1, BR 24)

Fans arrive late and leave early to beat traffic. Can’t blame them, LA traffic is rough. Otherwise this ballpark is easily in the top 10, borderline top 5. Also, Vin Scully is the best.

11. Safeco Field, Seattle Mariners – 18.12 (BD 21, SA 19, GP 7 FR 4, BR 30)

See: Houston and Colorado. (Except Seattle is perhaps the most gorgeous city on the planet.) And, like these other two, she’s a beautiful ballpark…butter fans…

Tier 2: Great Venues and Great Fans

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10. Target Field, Minnesota Twins – 19.74 (BD 18, SA 24, GP 20, FR 25, BR 22)

That limestone is terrific. Minnie and Paul shaking hands out in centerfield symbolizes a city united over baseball. Twins fans are baseball fans and a quality bunch. Downtown Minneapolis is legit too.

9. Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals – 20.31 (BD 20, SA 17, GP 27, FR 23, BR 11)

Best Fans in Baseball? Eh, but 8th place ain’t bad. Love this ballpark, brick everywhere, arch out beyond centerfield. Opening Day at Busch was rainy, but still a victory.

8. Miller Park, Milwaukee Brewers – 20.90 (BD 22, SA 14, GP 22, FR 24, BR 19)

The ballpark is a retractable roof but all throwback Fenway Green in color. Best old school logo in baseball. Quality fans. Delicious Bloody Mary’s.

7. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City Royals – 21.24 (BD 25, SA 5, GP 26, FR 18, BR 10)

This might look like a homer pick, but it’s not. Very underrated ballpark. If it was downtown it’d be right at the top. Was there from Opening Day to Game 7. Home sweet home.

6. PETCO Park, San Diego Padres – 21.77 (BD 23, SA 28, GP 8, FR 17, BR 23)

The green space beyond centerfield is the most unique space around the league. Repurposed Western Metal Supply Co. Building is beautiful. Too bad the game was awful.

Tier 1: Heaven on Earth

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5. PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates – 26.03 (BD 26, SA 27, GP 23, FR 28, BR 27)

Incredible view of downtown. Right on the water. Clemente. Mazeroski, Stargell. Wagner. Yellow bridges. Yellow everything. Completely packed. Last home game of the year.

4. Fenway Park, Boston Red Sox – 26.26 (BD 27, SA 29, GP 25, FR 21, BR 9)

Hard to believe that three ballparks beat out Fenway. The oldest ballpark still standing. The Green Monster is gorgeous and Yawkey Way is probably the greatest baseball stroll in America.

3. Wrigley Field, Chicago Cubs – 26.84 (BD 30, SA 30, GP 10, FR 22, BR 4)

Wrigleyville, man – 100 year anniversary season of “The Friendly Confines.” #1 ballpark, #1 surroundings. Only thing the North Side lacks is a winning team, and it’s been a long long time. Maybe Joe Maddon is the difference…

2. AT&T Park, San Francisco Giants – 27.21 (BD 28, SA 25, GP 29, FR 26, BR 14)

The Bay Area treated me well. Oakland and San Francisco were the two best games I saw. Won a $50 Levi’s gift card when rookie Tyler Colvin launched a homer into McCovey Cove. If you go to AT&T Park, I highly recommend the Arcade seats.

And the winner is…

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1. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore Orioles – 28.02 (BD 29, SA 23, GP 28, FR 30, BR 26)

Congratulations, Orioles fans. You’ve made it big. The ballpark that changed the architecture game. Since 1992 retro parks have been the name of design game. B&O Railroad building is the perfect homerun target that no one has ever hit outside of Ken Griffey Jr. in the All Star Game. Down to the open air press box, every single cranny is modelled after ballparks from the past.

There you go. Feel free to tell me where I got it right but more likely where I got it wrong. Again, this is just my first stab at these rankings, you never know how things might change between now and my book release.

-apc.

* – Okay, obviously Independence Day is the right answer. Jurassic Park is a distant second. Maybe Tom Hanks would’ve been a better option here.

Sigh. The 2014 MLB season is over. The Royals lose the World Series…SO MANY EMOTIONS.

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It hurts, you guys. It really really hurts.

After years and years of darkness, 8 years of The Process, spring training, 162 grueling regular season games, and an 11-4 postseason record, losing by a measly 90 feet is just so so painful.

When we won the Wild Card game a month ago, I remember fans exclaiming that they never had a doubt that we would win (I still don’t believe them), but last night I may have felt something similar…I never really thought we were going to lose. I thought we had it. From the first pitch to the final out, I thought we had it.

Alex Gordon’s hit that Gregor Blanco misplayed felt like confirmation of that belief. It was just a matter of time. The game was never going to end 3-2, I just knew it.

Then when Salvador Perez came up, it was like the Wild Card game all over again. Sal played the hero in that game, and he would play the hero again in Game 7. But he didn’t. Instead, he popped out to Pablo Sandoval in front of the visitors dugout. Panda secured the ball, fell backward on to the grass and the rest of the Giants players mobbed him.

The Giants – not the Royals – are the 2014 World Series champions.

Kauffman Stadium went silent. It felt like a scene out of Gravity, like we were all Sandra Bullock and George Clooney floating in outer space while the San Francisco Giants celebrated around us in the void.

I just stood there, stunned. The thought crossed my mind that if maybe I stood there long enough, something might happen where we’d get another chance – as if the umpire would realize that, oops, there were only two outs, or maybe the final catch would need to go to instant replay, or that suddenly we’d all discover that it was only the 8th inning and we had another opportunity next inning.

Nope.

It was real.

That was it.

Season over.

Heart.

Broken.

90 feet.

So close.

The tears started to come. I fought them. I got a text from my dad around then that said, “Sorry buddy. Hurts.” More tears. More fighting. It dawned on me that win or lose, about two months of pent up emotion needed to be released. It was either going to be in immense joy, or in the form of some very ugly crying.

Then something truly amazing started happening – we all started chanting “Let’s go, Royals!” while the Giants celebrated. We were proud of our team. We were hurt – crushed, really – but we were proud to be standing where we were, feeling as bad as we did.

I’ve never experienced heartbreak as a fan quite like this before. I don’t like it, but it’s better than the alternative. Wouldn’t we all rather feel this – whatever THIS feeling is – than continue to feel nothing like we have for so many years?

In fact, I’m thankful for this feeling. It hurts so badly, but I am still so thankful.

I am thankful for how this season has touched my life, the lives of my friends and family, and my city. The 2014 Royals united a city and uncovered a love for baseball that had been long forgotten and many never knew existed. Kids want to be baseball players for Halloween this year. I had two different students tell me this week they’re considering going out for baseball this year – a game they’ve never played before because they “could never get into it.”

Casual Royals fans understand the intricacies of the game now. This success has created a new generation of fans in KC. It’s a new culture, really, and it’s a culture I’ve always longed for. Today, I can confidently say that I live in a baseball town. KC is back on the baseball map, and I cannot tell you how happy that makes me.

Thank you, Royals, for all the stories, feelings and memories you have created for this city in 2014. Not only that, but how you have invited us into those stories as well.

I have always been proud to be a Kansas Citian. I love this city. It’s been my home my entire life, and wherever I go visit, I always land back here with a smile on my face. Kansas City is home, and I’m thankful that this postseason coverage has made my home look as awesome as it truly is to the rest of the world.

This team has created pathways of conversation all over KC, and these postseason games have allowed me to reconnect with some of the people I love most in this world. I’ve been reminded of who I love and why I love them and I’ve met new friends along the way. I’ve hugged and high fives more people in this month than in any other month in my life.

I’ll write more about this team’s future and perhaps a “year in review” piece later, but for now, I just want you to know that in 2014, for the first time in my life as a sports fan, I had my heart truly broken. Sure, I’ve had moments of let down and frustration in the past, but this was something bigger and deeper and intimate between a team and it’s fans.

It hurts to come this close and not win it all. We came up against a historic postseason performance at the wrong time. Bumgarner was too good to overcome. But that just means have unfinished business to tend to in 2015, and I’m confident we’ll be back in the mix for many years to come. Because baseball is back in Kansas City. It’s going to be a long winter without you, boys.

It turns out Bart Giamatti was right: baseball really does break your heart.

And I, for one, wouldn’t want it any other way.

…okay that’s a lie, I’d rather have been World Series champs, but you get it.

-apc.

World Series Game 7: Take the Crown

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Game 7.

Tonight, a World Series Champion will be crowned. Tomorrow, there will be no baseball. Today, millions of fans in Kansas and Missouri will be wrought with anxiety and accomplish nearly nothing at the office.

Let’s pause for just a moment and remember this: one month ago yesterday we were scoreboard watching as the Royals finished up the regular season with a 6-4 victory in Chicago, their 89th of the season. We needed the Tigers to lose in order to force a tie breaker scenario. They didn’t lose. We would have to face Oakland in the dreaded Wild Card matchup.

Kauffman Stadium started selling gear with “October” printed all over it and I couldn’t help but worry that the Wild Card game was happening on September 30, and a loss would mean we never played in October at all. From the beginning, I always thought that game would be the end.

Then, to quote the Fresh Prince, our lives got flip-turned upside down.

Suddenly this team became a team of destiny. Shoulders relaxed. Mike Moustakas became a destroyer of baseballs. Players laughed. Billy Butler stole a base. Confidence soared. Jarrod Dyson ran his mouth and was absolutely right. A team became the darlings of the nation. Lorenzo Cain became a household name and a friggin American hero.

This entire month has been surreal. Technically, October has 2 more days, but tonight, in Kansas City, October will effectively come to an end.

Did you guys hear Ned Yost’s comments before yesterday’s game? “Even though our backs are against the wall, what is so weird about it is it doesn’t feel like our backs are against the wall…because I think we’re going to win.” Feigning confidence for his team? Maybe. But I don’t think so. It feels right, doesn’t it? Oddly correct. Ever since that Wild Card comeback, this team has just known they were going to be here tonight.

In some strange pseudo-Jedi kind of way, I’ve always known it too. I’ve said multiple times that this team cannot be jinxed. They are destined to win it all. The players know it, Ned knows it, I know it, and you know it too.

We all know they’re going to win it all.

Last night’s game was a joke. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Yordano Ventura/Jake Peavy matchup was the most lopsided matchup possible. After a 10-0 result, I look like a bonafide genius. And if that wasn’t enough, I took to Twitter right before the first pitch last night…

…pretty embarrassing about the strikeouts and thinking the offense would only throw up 4 runs. Here was the result.

It was so obvious to me. Maybe it was to you too. Yordano is our best pitcher. He has been pretty much all season. There were a couple weeks when I thought Danny Duffy would give him a run for his money – and nothing against his performance, because he has been brilliant at times – but our 2014 ace was not James Shields. It was Yordano the whole time.

Now, tonight.

Let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter who we throw and in what order at this point. Our entire bullpen is ready to go. Jeremy Guthrie gets the start, and any combination of Duffy-Herrera-Vargas-Davis-Finnegan- Holland-Shields will be fine.

The Giants will counter with Lopez-Affeldt-Bumgarner-Romo-Petit-Lincecum with Tim Hudson getting the start. If this is a bullpen battle, I like the Royals’ chances – although the Giants’ pen is no slouch.

This same matchup ended in a 3-2 Royals victory in San Francisco in Game 3. Alex Gordon had the key hit: a double off of Hudson scoring Alcides Escobar. It’d be nice to get something like that out of Alex again. He’s looked pretty awful lately, especially against Bumgarner.

Someone will need to come through like that again tonight. Will it be Alex? Alcides? Hosmer? Moose? Lorenzo? Omar? Billy? Nori? That’s the thing about this team – you never know who is going to come through, but it’s always someone.

My prediction: it’ll be Alex again. And I’m standing by my prediction before the World Series began: Yordano Ventura will be the MVP.

One more game. Finish this thing, boys. It’s been an incredible month – probably the best of my life – and you’ve completely changed this city. Thank you for what you’ve done for us this year.

It ends tonight. Let’s take the crown.

-apc.

The Royals are coming home for Game 6, down 3-2: “Never tell me the odds.”

Nasty. Nasty. Nasty.

That’s the word that keeps popping up in my text messages and twitter feed in reference to Madison Bumgarner. So nasty. He has beaten us twice now, and “beaten” is putting it mildly. If the Giants can close this series out over the next two games, there is zero question that Bumgarner will be the MVP.

As much as we can – and have and will – grill Ned Yost’s questionable management in Game 5, we can’t really cast blame at anyone in a Royals uniform. I went on a rant last night about it because I was frustrated, but my frustration should be directed at Madison Bumgarner, not Ned Yost. Gotta give credit where credit is due.

But I’m still frustrated.

The experience of baseball fandom is like riding a giant pendulum back and forth between hope and despair. Just last week, Kansas City was buzzing unlike anything I’ve ever seen. A week ago this same coffee shop was decked out in blue. Then we took a 2-1 series lead and we were about as hopeful as could be.

Today, it’s silent. Today, I’m one of only two people here wearing royals gear. No one is smiling at each other. We’re all just trying to go about our business without having to talk about last night’s poor performance. Eye contact is minimal, talking is non-existent. We’re all avoiding the painful royal blue elephant in the room*.

* – I want to add a line about Madison Bumgarner kicking the elephant in the crotch or something, but that metaphor breaks down and isn’t as clear as I’d like it to be. Oh well. Whatever. That’s what today feels like.

The pendulum has swung us hard toward despair. For a fan, hope brings optimism, but with despair comes realism. Last week I talked a lot about how alive and optimistic this city felt because I was ultra-hopeful. Today, no one around here wants to feel anything. At this point, we just want to talk about our chances. What are the odds?  Is there still a chance?

Of course there’s a chance. There’s always a chance in baseball until the final out is recorded.

Mathematically, things look grim. Assuming baseball games are a coin flip, the Royals only have a 25% chance of coming up twice in a row. Fangraphs has the Giants at 73.7% to win the World Series – slightly better than 50-50, but still not great.

In an effort to try to grasp for some hope, other writers might reference the 1985 team being down 3-1 and coming back to win it all or the 2002 Giants being up 3-2 and losing two straight. They’ll tell you that teams down 3-2 coming home are 22-8 in Game 6…73.3%. They’ll tell you that since 1923 the road team has gone into Game 6 up 3-2 thirty different times. Of those 30 times, here’s the breakdown of how it played out…

  • Road Team in 6: 8 times.
  • Road Team in 7: 9 times.
  • Home Team in 7: 13 times

…13/30 times the home team has won two straight. That’s a 43.3% chance of winning, historically, and 43.3% is much much higher than 25%.

That’s all fun to talk about, I suppose, but these teams aren’t those teams. These teams are these teams. I don’t like looking at past stats as hopeful indicators of present situations. We don’t care about what teams have done in the past. We care about these teams over the nexts two games. Can we win two straight? Of course we can. In fact, these two upcoming games have already happened and the Royals won both of them. They’re rematches of Games 2 & 3.

If we can win the next two games, it will mark the third time we’ve won two straight vs the Giants this year. We won 3 straight when we faced them back in August. We won 2 straight last week in Games 2 & 3. We just have to do it one more time. Besides, if we’ve learned anything about this Royals team this postseason it’s this: with their backs against the wall, they have what it takes to fight out of it.

All that to say, I’m here to tell you that despite the numbers aginast us, the Royals are very much still in this series. Hope is not unrealistic. Sure, I’m feeling most of the way toward realism right now, but when we look ahead to Games 6 and 7 as individual matchups, we have to like what we see.

Game 6: Yordano Ventura vs. Jake Peavy

A rematch of Game 2 which the Royals won 7-2. Ventura scattered 8 hits over 5.1 innings allowing just two runs. He wasn’t flawless – especially in the first inning – but he was plenty good enough. Herrera pitched 1.2 while Davis and Holland threw 1 inning apiece. All scoreless.

Jake Peavy, miraculously managed to slip through 5 innings with only two runs allowed. He even retired 10 straight at one point, which may have led to the decision to let him face the heart of the Royals lineup a third time through. The Royals lit Peavy and the bullpen up for 5 runs in the 6th inning and never looked back.

I don’t see Peavy getting that opportunity again in Game 6. I think Bruce Bochy will have him on a short leash with Lincecum ready. Ned Yost needs to have Danny Duffy ready to do the same. This is a must win game, and Yost obviously needs to pull out all the stops.

That said, Yordano + Duffy >>>>>> Peavy + Timmy The Freak.

Yeah, James Shields pitched well yesterday, and he’s technically our “ace” – or at least his salary suggests he is – but I believe strongly that our actual ace(s) are the two guys lined up to appear tomorrow.

Yordano Days are the best days for a reason, you guys. Let’s just throw fire, okay?

It’s also important to mention that instead of Jarrod Dyson and the pitcher in the lineup, we will have Nori Aoki and Billy Butler. The offensive advantage shifts heavily in the Royals direction coming back home for these last two games.

Game 7: Guthrie(?) vs. Hudson

Another rematch of starters. Guthrie pitched well in Game 3 – 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R – and he has earned my confidence over the past two months. Herrera, Finnegan, Davis and Holland combined for the final 12 outs and the Giants had no chance.

Tim Hudson went 5.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R. The Royals got to him with a run in the first and two more in the 6th – have we all noticed that these two innings are when the Royals score pretty much all of their runs? So far they’ve scored 15 runs in this series and 9 have come in the 1st or 6th innings. The Royals seem to have two trajectories: get on the board early and play with a lead, or let the starter cruise through 5 innings and get to him on the third trip through the lineup.

With pitchers having a short leash before the third time through, this makes it imperative that we strike early off of both Peavy and Hudson. Get em on, get em over, get em in, and early. We won’t see a pitcher three times in the same game over the next two games.

That said, I’m guessing that these will still be the starters for this game, but it’s possible that we could see someone throw on short rest. The Giants have announced Hudson will start Game 7, but the Royals haven’t said who it will be. Could be Guthrie or Vargas (or Duffy?). My money is on Guthrie, but it wouldn’t shock me if Ned threw Vargas and had Guthrie ready to go as well at any sign of things going wrong.

The starters from yesterday will likely be available too. James Shields threw 94 pitches yesterday while Madison Bumgarner threw 117. I can’t imagine either of these guys would be the first options for middle relief – Volgelsong and Vargas, Duffy and Lincecum would likely make an appearance first.

If this series goes to seven games, it will be so interesting to see how Ned Yost manages. If I were him, I’d have Herrera/Davis ready for relief at the first sign of trouble and let them go until Duffy/Vargas have had enough time to warm up completely and come in to start an inning. Then, same thing – first sign of trouble, have the other one ready to get out of the jam. If we can dowse the fires as they happen, our bullpen is good enough to bridge available starters together to get to Holland.

Maybe elimination Ned will be the Ned we’ve all been hoping for all this time. He sure seems like he’s learned a thing or two about managing over the past few weeks.

So what are the odds?

Obviously they’re in San Francisco’s favor overall, but not as much as the coin flip method or Fangraphs would make you think. I’d say the Royals have around a 60% chance of taking Game 6 behind Yordano/Duffman. Game 7 is probably closer to a coin flip, but the game being at home tilts it slightly in the Royals favor too. I’d say it’s 60-40 and 55-45, Royals the favorites in both, which puts us at a 33% overall chance for the Royals to take both games.

We’ve already seen both of these matchups before, and the Royals won both of them. Why wouldn’t we expect them to do it again? But I’m getting ahead of myself. First thing’s first, and that’s win tomorrow. And the Royals are the favorites to do exactly that.

A parade could still happen this weekend, and I got chills just typing that out.

-apc.

PS – If you aren’t aware, that’s a Han Solo quote in the title…for all you people who used to be my friends.

World Series Game 5: A Quick Postgame Rant

I need to rant about Ned Yost’s performance tonight, but there are two things I need to address before I do so.

First, I have been a Ned Yost defender all year long. I don’t join in with the #Yosted banter because it’s mostly just hypercritical fans who like to gripe. I think Ned does a great job managing a clubhouse and getting the best out of his players. He understands the longview of the baseball season. He maintains his emotions and has proven now that he can motivate a team through 162 games and beyond. I think that has way more to do with managing than any strategic decision a manager ever makes or doesn’t make.

And I’m not alone. Dayton Moore agrees. Or maybe I agree with him. Back in 2006 when he was hired as general manager of the Royals, he had 5 points for what he wanted out of a manager. They are…

1. Communicate with the front office.
2. Earn the players respect.
3. Keep players focused for 162 games.
4. Keep players motivated for 162 games.
5. Keep politics out of the clubhouse.

…no strategy needed. Just facilitate a healthy and happy clubhouse for a whole season. That’s 95% of managing in my opinion, and it’s not easily done. It takes the right kind of individual to manage 25 or 40 grown men with grown egos. And let’s be honest, if any of us did 95% of our job well, we’d be pretty highly valued in our careers.

But Ned Yost isn’t valued in baseball. In the 2014 postseason, Yost has faced Bob Melvin, Mike Scioscia, Buck Showalter and now Bruce Bochy. All of those men are loved by their fans, city and by baseball. Ned Yost – a “dunce” according to the Wall Street Journal before the ALCS – has beaten them all. Even Bochy early in this series.

The issue with Ned? The extra 5% of his job is the most public. And he’s admittedly not the greatest at that portion of the game.

Yet I have continued to defend his managing, because I believe strongly in the other 95%, and have the ability to overlook the various “miscues” he has had this year. Even with those, Yost gets an unfair wrap because no one ever applauds the manager when they make the right choice. We only criticize when the manager makes a mistake.

We praise the ballplayers, but we point fingers at the manager. It’s a tough job and I don’t envy anyone in that position.

Which brings me to my second pre-rant point: whether Ned Yost makes the right or wrong choice, it is still the players’ job to produce on the field and at the plate. Managers only have so much control over the outcome of a game. Ned said it himself after he brought in Ventura in the Wild Card game – a decision that he now claims to have learned a lot from – just because it doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean it was the wrong move.

So before I take off here, I want us to all understand those two points. I have defended Yost because managing a ball club is much more than strategy, and the players ultimately dictate the success or failure of a team and its manager.

That said, I’m about to go off on Ned Yost’s managing in Game 5 of the World Series.

Bottom 4

The grumbling began in the bottom of the 4th, and the questioning began in the top of the 5th inning.

The Giants had already scratched 2 runs across. The first came in the 2nd inning when Hunter Pence led off with a single and went to second after Brandon Belt took what the Royals’ defense was giving him by beating the shift, dropping down a bunt single. Both runners advanced when Travis Ishikawa flew our to Jarrod Dyson – rough night – in deep centerfield. Both runners advanced, and Pence scored on a Brandon Crawford groundout to make it 1-0.

The second run came in the 4th off of three singles that managed to find daylight. Pablo Sandoval singled to left. Then Escobar alligator armed a groundball in the hole off the bat of Ishikawa. Then Crawford blooped one toward centerfield – Dyson, coming in hard, couldn’t get there in time and had to play it on a bounce. He didn’t field it cleanly allowing Sandoval to score from second.

Which is what started the grumbling. Fans were frustrated that Dyson was in centerfield instead if Lorenzo Cain, as if Cain could’ve made the catch and prevented the run from scoring. Which simply isn’t true. Centerfield is massive at AT&T Park, and if Dyson couldn’t make that catch, then Cain couldn’t either. Statistically, Dyson is actually the better outfielder, which is just hard to wrap our minds around since we have seen so much flashy brilliance from Lorenzo this fall. But it’s true.

However, Cain probably wouldn’t have bungled it off his mitt, so perhaps Dyson did allow a run. So be it. Ned went with his best defense and it let him down.

Top 5

The Royals had only gotten two hits at this point – one from Lorenzo and one from Salvador Perez – both singles. With one out, Omar Infante smacked a double to center, and the Royals seemed to be in business. Except up next came Dyson and Shields.

Some would’ve rather seen Josh Willingham, Nori Aoki or Billy Butler here instead of Dyson. A pinch hitter wouldn’t have gotten much to hit with the pitcher spot coming up next, and first base open. Pinch hitting for Dyson would’ve made a lot of sense, followed by the other one hitting for Shields next. You don’t get many chances off of Bumgarner, so it’s important to be aggressive when you have any slight ray of light.

Instead, Ned stuck with Dyson and Shields who both struck out to end the inning and the “threat.” Felt like a missed opportunity.

Bottom 5

Of course, right on cue, Ned turns out to have seemingly made the right call. With runners on 1st and 2nd and two out, Hunter Pence hit a shot to the gap in right-center. Lorenzo Cain, as we have come to expect, made great catch running back and to his right saving two runs and ending the threat.

It was a catch that Aoki or Willingham would never have made in the same position. Point, Ned.

Not only that, but Shields lasted another inning, saving the bullpen and keeping the Royals in the game.

At this point, thanks to Cain’s catch and Shields’ quality start, the “dunce” was done just fine.

Bottom 7

This is where the wheels really came off. The inning began with a double switch: Kelvin Herrera came into pitch, occupying the #7 spot in the lineup instead of Omar Infante, and now batting in the pitcher’s spot and taking over at second base would be Jayson Nix.

First of all, it’s baffling to me that Nix is even on this team over utilityman, Christian Colon. Nix still hasn’t tallied a hit since joining the Royals on August 30. He’s now 0-10 as a Royal. Meanwhile, Christian Colon is just as good defensively, faster on the bases, and hits the ball much better. Unless Colon’s finger wasn’t 100% following his injury, Nix has no business even being on this roster.

But here we are, and he is. And he was suddenly lined up to bat 2nd in the 8th inning. In Game 5. Of the World Series.

My biggest issue with the move isn’t Nix as much as it is the timing of the move by Yost. For some reason, Ned felt it was of the utmost importance for Herrera to throw multiple innings down 2-0, otherwise he would’ve just let Herrera takeover the #9 spot for Shields instead of pulling the double switch. If Ned had waited an inning to pull the trigger, he could’ve sent Herrera out for the 7th, pinch hit Billy for him in the 8th, and then brought in Wade Davis to start the 8th and done the double switch then.

Top 8

Instead, Yost sent Billy Butler out to pinch hit for Dyson and lead off the 8th inning. Billy saw 3 pitches, none of which were strikes…

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…yet they were all three strikes. Our best hitter off the bench was done after three crummy pitches.

Then up comes Jayson Nix in the pitcher’s spot. He’s the last infielder on the team, so you can’t pinch hit for him and he goes quietly flying out to left field.

Escobar struck out to end the inning. Pitiful all around.

Bottom 8

Nori goes out to play right and Cain moves to center, and Herrera comes back out to throw the 8th – which is still a dumb idea – and he promptly gives up two singles to Sandoval and Pence.

Which forces Yost to go to Wade Davis anyway, just with 2 on and none out. Wade struck out the side, but not before the Giants plated 3 insurance runs spearheaded by a Juan Perez double off the centerfield wall. Suddenly the game had been blown wide open. It was 5-0 Giants, which is how the game would end.

What I would’ve done differently:

1. Don’t double switch. Give Herrera the 7th and that’s it.
2a. Pinch hit for Dyson with Billy Butler.
2b. If he gets on, pinch run with Gore.
3. Pinch hit Aoki for Herrera. Sure, Aoki is 0-16 lifetime vs Bungarner, but hitless against MadBum is better than hitless against the whole league (Nix).
5. Finally, execute the double switch. Nori for Dyson (Cain moving to CF, Nori out to RF) and bring in Davis to start the 8th with his spot in 8 spot now occupied by Billy/Gore. That way Davis – who rested yesterday and has a day off tomorrow – could pitch his normal 8th inning and not come in later with runners on base.

The resulting lineup would have been…

Escobar – SS
Gordon – LF
Cain – RF-CF
Hosmer – 1B
Perez – C
Moustakas – 3B
Infante – 2B
Dyson – CF
Butler – PH
– Davis – P
Shields – P
Herrera – P
– Aoki – RF

Instead of this…

Escobar – SS
Gordon – LF
Cain – RF-CF
Hosmer – 1B
Perez – C
Moustakas – 3B
Infante – 2B
Herrera – P
– Davis – P
Dyson – CF
Butler – PH
– Aoki RF
Shields – P
– Nix – 2B

That way you get Aoki’s bat instead of Nix’s. You keep Infante in the game. You give HDH the innings they’re used to throwing. You would also save a bat for later on the off chance you happened to tie it up and things went later.

This is NL Managerial Strategy 101 here. It’s not complicated stuff, yet Ned Yost biffed on it entirely.

Of course, the players probably wouldn’t have come through anyway. The damage had already been done. But this sort of thing is the extra 5% that the manager needs to get right to be considered great. The manager’s job is to put his players in the best position possible to succeed, and Yost didn’t do that at all in Game 5.

Would we still be down 3-2 coming back to KC? Probably. But in a game that looks like a 5-0 blowout on paper actually came down to a handful of little mishaps. Championship baseball is in the details, and Ned Yost hurt his chances for the first time in a while.

-apc.

World Series Primer & Predictions: If baseball is designed to break your heart, why does KC feel like THIS?

IMG_0756

“[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.” – A. Bartlett Giamatti, Take Time for Paradise

And all the division winners shout, “AMEN.”

I have called Kansas City home for 28 years, and I’ve never seen this city so gosh darn happy. Happy and united. Content. Not remotely at odds with one another. The past few weeks have felt like some borderline utopian world. It’s like the whole city has a secret – everybody’s in on it – and we keep nodding to one another as if to say, “I know, man. I know.”

Royals.

I was in line at the register at Target over the weekend and realized I was surrounded. I did a quick 360 degree inventory of the store, and there was a Royals cap in every direction. The lady in front of me had blue and white fingernails. The guy one aisle over was buying one of those giant team magnets that stick to the side of your car. This team has transformed this city. It’s socially acceptable to end conversations with, “Go Royals!”

Maybe I just run in baseball circles, but this city doesn’t seem concerned with any other sport right now. The Chiefs beat the Chargers on the road Sunday. Fun, but that’s not what’s most important. K-State won in Norman. Mizzou beat up on Florida. KU had their Late Night at the Phog at the same time as a Royals game and had one of the lowest turn outs in years. Defending MLS champions, Sporting KC, clinched another playoff spot the other night too.

All of that is well and good, but it’s all back page news around here these days. It’s late October and the Royals have Kansas City’s full attention.

Basically, Bart Giamatti was full of it.

The World Series begins tomorrow night at Kauffman Stadium. It hardly feels real. Just typing that feels like I’ve made a mistake. I’m just certain I’ll wake up from this dream any second now. This isn’t real life.

The Royals haven’t lost a game in the playoffs. They “swept” the Athletics in the Wild Card game, 1-0. They swept the Angels in the ALDS, 3-0. They swept the Orioles in the ALCS, 4-0. No team has ever gone 8-0 in the playoffs before. This team is already historically successful and have out-performed even the most hopeful fans’ expectations.

Let’s do a preseason hypothetical, just for fun. What if we were all contestants on Let’s Make a Deal, and had the following scenario…

“You chose Door 1, and you’ve won an American League Championship! Would you like to keep your championship, or risk it all by choosing behind Door 2?!”

Royals fans everywhere would’ve taken the pennant, right? Why would we ever be greedy? Any success is better than our success in recent (and not so recent) years. The mere fact that the pennant was ours to have would’ve been enough.

Except now it’s not hypothetical…and we’re all getting greeeeeeeedy.

Which is exactly what we should be doing. We want more. Consolation prizes are for suckers. No one cares about the “also rans” or the “honorable mentions.” To quote the great poet Vanilla Ice, “Anything less than the best is a felony.” Kansas City deserves to be greedy – 29 years of futility has earned them that. This fan base has learned to be okay with coming up short. Moral victories are sort of this city’s thing.

Not this time. We want 4 more wins. That’s all it takes. Four more.

I can’t even imagine what this place will be like this time next week. I don’t even want to think about it. I just want to feel it when it gets here. There’s no such thing as heartbreak at this point. We’re past that. But we’ve also earned ourselves more than a moral victory, so let’s keep rolling, okay? Four more.

*********

Now it’s time for some Fall Classic predictions. Let’s get to it.

Prediction 1: James Shields takes a no-hitter into the 4th inning.

This goes for either Game 1 or Game 5. James Shields hasn’t looked sharp thus far in the post season. He’s been very beatable in his three starts so far. For some reason I think I’ll go against the grain this time around. With the strength of his cutter and change up, I think he’ll breeze through the Giants lineup early and avoid any hits until the second time through the order.

He’ll need to be on point, because Madison Bumgarner has been the arguably the best pitcher in the postseason. Hopefully the offense can scratch across a few runs for Shields.

Prediction 2: Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson get lit up for a combined 11 runs in their starts.

Peavy is on for Game 2 in Kansas City and Hudson ought to get the nod for Game 3 in San Francisco. Whether the Royals win Game 1 or not behind James Shields, they ought to be up at least 2-1 after three games with the way they destroy these two guys.

Check out the Royals team batting statistics against Peavy…

peavy

…and against Hudson…

hudson

Billy Butler, Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon all destroy Jake Peavy. The Royals numbers against Huson are slightly less impressive, but Raul Ibanez has SIXTY-SEVEN career at bats against him. Since Ibanez’s role on this team is borderline player-coach, he should be able to prep the rest of the lineup on Hudson. Interesting to note that Ibanez absolutely smokes both of these guys. Which brings me to prediction 3.

Prediction 3: Raul Ibanez gets a hit in the World Series.

UPDATE: Ibanez was left off the World Series 25-man roster, so this prediction is pointless.

Thus far, Ibanez hasn’t even been on the Royals postseason roster. Josh Willingham has taken his potential spot mainly because Willingham doesn’t look straight out of a Just For Men ad.

But Ibanez’s numbers against the Giants pitching is way too good to leave him off the roster. If they want to add him, they’ll have to drop Tim Collins off the 25 man roster, which is doable, but going up against an NL team, relief pitchers will probably be at a premium. Which brings me to my next prediction.

Prediction 4: Danny Duffy logs multiple innings in this series.

Maybe a starter gets knocked out early. Maybe another game goes 18 innings. Maybe Ned Yost mismanages the whole pitchers-batting thing and runs down our bullpen in SF. I don’t know. I just really want to see our statistically best pitcher get into a game somehow.

Prediction 5: Eric Hosmer drops a homer into McCovey Cove. 

This is more hoping than predicting at this point. When I was in SF for my ballpark tour, we saw two HRs hit over our heads. I would love to see a #HOSBOMB land in the bay.

Prediction 6: The Kansas City Royals win the World Series in 6 games.

I’m confident in Shields in Game 1, but I don’t think he’ll be good enough to beat Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner has been lights out this postseason. Ventura has been lights out. Vargas has only given up 4 hits in his 2 postseason starts (3 of them home runs), but I like his odds on the road. Guthrie has an ERA of 2.25 since the beginning of September and was awesome in Game 3 last week. It seems pretty likely that the Royals can come back home with a 3-2 series lead for Game 6 – Ventura vs Peavy, and Ventura takes us home with another gem. Which brings me to my final prediction.

Prediction 7: Yordano Ventura is the World Series MVP.

There it is. I have all the confidence in the world in Yordano. He has given the Royals a reason to celebrate since the beginning of the season. Every day he takes the mound, I feel like something magical is going to happen. It would surprise me if Yost allowed him to throw beyond the 6th inning with the strength of our bullpen, but it won’t matter. He’ll go 2-0 and won’t allow a run.

And once again, the Royals are poppin’ corks in front of their home crowd.

Four more. See you at The K.

-apc.

The Royals are World Series bound! Photos from ALCS Game 4

The Kansas City Royals are American League Champions, and Lorenzo Cain, a.k.a. “My Boi” was named ALCS Most Valuable Player.

There are no words.

Well, there are, or there will be, but now that this series has wrapped up I should probably take some time to catch up on my seminary work. We’ll revisit probably on Monday morning, but for now some photos will have to suffice.

IMG_0586.JPGEntering through Gate D. I started a “Let’s Go Royals!” chant that spread to at least 30 people and lasted at least 12 seconds.

IMG_0596.JPGALCS MVP and Nori squat.

IMG_0600.JPGAlcides Escobar broke up a play at the plate scoring he and Aoki. Jarrod Dyson goes full parade mode and starts chucking handfuls of bubble gum out of the dugout and into the crowd. I saved mine for a postgame celebration.

IMG_0607.JPGIt’s pronounced, “Gor-DAHN.”

IMG_0738.JPGThe dugout went nuts after Gordon’s catch against the wall in left field. Lots of cap tips on this team.

IMG_0740.JPGJason Vargas pitched very well. Ned pulled him for Herrera after 5.1 innings of 2 hit 1 run ball.

IMG_0741.JPGNice work, Vargy.

IMG_0739.JPGDave brought his broom.

IMG_0742.JPGThis has been The Wade Davis Experience. Another day at the office.

IMG_0743.JPGRoyals should’ve capitalized here and didn’t. Billy Butler lead off double (not pictured), Terrance Gore in to pinch run (pictured), Alex Gordon comes up. For a guy who loves to bunt, Ned Yost sure ignored a perfect time to move up Gore to third. If Yost had, Gore would’ve scored on Salvy’s next at bat. An insurance run would’ve been nice, but 2 > 1 too.

IMG_0744.JPGThen this guy showed up. Thinks he can just stand anywhere he wants to because he’s got a big ole camera. my footage was probably better (see above) anyway and my camera fits in my pocket and makes phone calls too.

IMG_0745.JPGGordon celebrates.

IMG_0746.JPGPaul Rudd celebrates. No word yet on whether the party at his mom’s house actually happened.

IMG_0747.JPGRusty Kuntz awesome moment of the night: about 10 minutes into the celebration, Rusty looks over and spots the three ball boys standing in the dugout watching the fun. Rusty walks over and motions for them to join. A security guard objects, but Rusty plays his “don’t you know who I am?” card and the boys light up and rush out on to the field, group-hugging Kuntz on the way. Terrific.

IMG_0748.JPGLorenzo Cain, ALCS MVP.

IMG_0749.JPGHeart melts.

IMG_0750.JPGSalvy traded his Champs cap with a fan for his own giant face.

IMG_0751.JPGBig Game James acknowledges the fans’ “stay in KC!” chant. He seemed appreciative while also thinking, “but Boston is going to offer me $100k over 5 years, so…”

IMG_0752.JPG“Hey man – wanna play Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball on SEGA over at your place later? Ok, see you then.”

IMG_0753.JPGThen Salvador Perez jumped on the dugout and hugged a kid. Salvy initiated.

IMG_0754.JPGSo happy.

IMG_0755.JPGThen he hugged another kid. Salvy did NOT initiate.

IMG_0756.JPGWe were still hanging around well over an hour after the final out…

IMG_0757.JPG…we weren’t the only ones.

IMG_0759.JPGSo long for now, Kauffman. See you Tuesday for Game 1 of the 2014 WORLD SERIES.

-apc.