What needs to happen in order to get Alex Gordon back?

Here’s the rub when it comes to Alex Gordon coming back to KC.

The Royals aren’t going to outbid the wealthiest teams, and they’re not going to shell out a crazy huge contract for pretty much anyone but Gordon. There’s a group of five outfielders generally agreed upon to be the top tier of free agents. They are…

  1. Jason Heyward
  2. Justin Upton
  3. Yoenis Cespedes
  4. Alex Gordon
  5. Dexter Fowler

The top two are definitely the upper echelon. Gordon and Cespedes are interchangeable. Fowler is a close 5th.

Another wrinkle in the mix: the Colorado Rockies are shopping Carlos Gonzalez, who would be in that Gordon/Cespedes range, maybe just below. So we’re really looking at 6 top tier players available. But how many teams are in the market for a top OF guy? In no particular order…

  1. Royals
  2. Giants
  3. Angels
  4. Cardinals
  5. Orioles
  6. Cubs

So there you have it. Six teams. Six players. The question is who goes where? What sequence of events needs to take place for the Royals to get Gordon back?

And it’s not like this is just a matching game. There are other players involved too – notably Chris Davis and Johnny Cueto – who can drastically change the landscape of all this. But we’ll get to that. Let’s start at the top with Jason Heyward.

The Cubs and Cardinals are bidding each other up on Heyward. To me, it’s been a foregone conclusion that Heyward will end up in St. Louis after the Cardinals missed out on David Price. If they were willing to pay out a giant contact to Price, then they have the money available to sign Heyward. And with Matt Holliday only having one year left on his contract, it seems to make a lot of sense for them moving forward.

But the Cubs are being jerks and driving up the price for their division rival. Heyward would look awesome in a Cubbies uniform, and he’s the type of player who deserves a giant contract, and the Cubs are so young its unlikely they’ll regret adding a player like him. Ultimately, I don’t think he’ll go to Chicago though.

If he does go to Chicago, that’s bad news for the Royals. The Cardinals’ backup option is almost undoubtedly Alex Gordon, who has been referred to as the “poor man’s Jason Heyward” – left handed hitter, best defensive corner outfielder, all around good player. Only difference is Alex’s age.

So that’s first thing that needs to happen: St. Louis must get Jason Heyward.

If the Cardinals get Heyward, I’d be surprised if Chicago went the Alex Gordon route. I’d expect them to settle on re-signing Dexter Fowler instead, who is younger and a switch hitter. Cubs manager, Joe Maddon, loves switch hitters and all things flexibility – i.e. why Ben Zobrist is now a Cub. They don’t need a lefty bat as badly as St. Louis does, and Fowler would be returning to a club he already knows.

So that’s the second thing that needs to happen: Chicago needs to settle on Fowler instead of Gordon.

I’d also like to note: if Chicago does in fact go the Gordon route, I’d really like it if Dexter Fowler fell to KC. Just saying. We’ll talk about that later.

The Orioles are an interesting case right now because they’re currently negotiating with first baseman Chris Davis for a mega deal re-signing. Davis has reportedly wanted a Heyward-like contract upwards of 9-10 years and $200MM. That’s not going to happen. Baltimore has reportedly offered $168MM, but has since taken that offer off the table.

If the Orioles add Davis, then they won’t have the money to add a top tier outfielder. Which, in order for the Royals to be able to grab Gordon, they need all the other bidders to have found another option. If the Orioles remove themselves from the outfielder race, then it makes it more likely KC will get Gordon back. Or, if they can’t sign him, the Angels, Giants, Cubs or Cardinals need to. This is all fluid. Somehow the other 5 teams need to find their guys and Gordon needs to be left without a dance partner.

Another wrinkle might be Johnny Cueto’s contract. He’s probably going to end up with something in the $130-140MM range. If he signs with one of these teams, then their payroll will skyrocket and they’re unlikely to add an expensive outfielder. It’s also possible that the Cardinals could add both Davis AND Cueto, taking them out of the Gordon market that way too. That probably doesn’t have to happen, but it might. Again, fluid.

If the Orioles don’t sign Davis, they’re most likely to go after Upton, Gordon or Cespedes. They’ve been most linked to Upton, but it would seem they need a left-handed bat. Let’s just hope they sign Davis and we can be done with it.

So that’s the third thing that needs to happen: Baltimore (or another team in the OF market) needs to sign Chris Davis.

So, assuming Heyward and Fowler and Davis go to St. Louis, Chicago and Baltimore, respectively, that leaves the Angels, Giants and Royals bidding for Gordon, Upton and Cespedes, potentially trading for Gonzalez.

This is the situation KC needs: more players than suiters. If they can wait it out until this moment, they have a legitimate shot at brining Gordon back. It’s a crapshoot from there, but the market would already be significantly lower with a higher supply. Kansas City would at least be able to make a competitive offer and Gordon could consider a hometown discount.

So that’s the final thing: the Angels and Giants need to want Upton or Cespedes or Gonzalez as much or more than they want Gordon.

So here’s the rub:

  1. Heyward to St. Louis.
  2. Fowler to Chicago.
  3. Davis to Baltimore.
  4. Two of Upton/Cespedes/Gonzalez to Anaheim/San Francisco.
  5. Royals bid to Gordon looks good enough to come home.

And throw in the fact that there can be no other #MysteryTeam who emerges out of nowhere and swipes one of these guys.

What are the odds of all this? Like…20% maybe? 15%? Yeah, not good. Fingers crossed.

-apc.

Image accessed here.

The Royals Offseason Hot Stove Status

First question: why is it called Hot Stove? It’s the stupidest name ever.

So here’s the real question: how do the Royals get better this offseason?

Last year at this time, we were all trying to figure out how to make the Royals just 90 feet better. There were a few weak spots on the roster – notably they needed replacements for James Shields, Nori Aoki and Billy Butler, all of which, in retrospect, weren’t even remotely important to the 2014 roster.

Okay, you can argue that each had their merits – especially Shields – but then we watched in awe as their replacements pretty much made a joke out of the need to improve at each position. Edinson Volquez was exactly as good as James Shields, and much better in the postseason. Kendrys Morales was only the top designated hitter in baseball in 2015, and suddenly all of Kansas City realized how disappointing Billy Butler had always been. And Alex Rios wasn’t nearly what we hoped he would be when we gave him $11MM to cover right field, but it’s not like Aoki was God’s gift to baseball either.

The struggle for Dayton Moore and the Royals this year: they really can’t make this team better than it was last year. I mean, they’re the defending World Series Champions (still never gets old saying that), so they kinda peaked. And the players they’re losing this year aren’t as easily replaceable – particularly late season rentals, Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist (who signed with the Chicago Cubs last night for 4 years, $56MM – he’ll be missed and we wish he and his family, including their daughter B. Royal Zobrist, well). And while we’re all still holding out hope that Alex Gordon might set a new record for highest contract ever given out by the Royals ($55M to both Mike Sweeney and Gil Meche), as the Winter Meetings progress in Nashville, that is looking less and less likely.

Of course, there are multiple dominoes that need to fall before we really know Gordon’s value – Jason Heyward will set the market for outfielders and Justin Upton will quickly follow, possibly Yoenis Cespedes too – and until those things happen, we won’t hear anything on Gordon. That said, he’s been linked to the Giants, Cardinals, Cubs and Tigers – in that order of likelihood – all of whom have deeper pockets to pay an aging outfielder significant cash.

So while I’d love to go for broke the next two years before the Royals core four – Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar – become free agents in 2018, it’s becoming clear that unless KC pulls the trigger on Gordon in the next 48 hours or so, their goal isn’t to win as much as possible in the short term, but to sustain relevance over the long term. And when I type it out like that, it makes sense to me too.

Many others – Rany Jazayerli, for example – disagree. Most fans want to win now. Screw 2018 and beyond. They want a dynasty now at the risk of prolonged mediocrity later. What’s the phrase? Two in the hand?

Anyway. The problem is still the fact that no matter what pieces the Royals add, they’re not going to be immediately better than last year’s team was at the end of the season. And that’s fine. I mean, Cueto and Zobrist were trade deadline pieces and Alex Gordon is a once in a lifetime type of ballplayer for this club. We might be able to add Cueto/Zobrist types at the deadline again, but we can’t expect to match our postseason roster as we head into the season. It’s unrealistic.

However, we could match our Spring Training roster. And that should be our goal. From that list we’re losing Gordon, Rios, Madson, Greg Holland, Jeremy Guthrie and Franklin Morales. We’ve already brought back Chris Young to our rotation. And we’ve added our good friend Joakim Soria to the bullpen along with lefty Tim Collins who missed the 2015 season after undergoing elbow surgery during Spring Training. So that leaves obvious holes in the outfield corners, potentially still the bullpen, and starting pitching.

I should also add – the core of this team is intact and will continue to thrive through 2017 with or without Alex Gordon. Just like last year’s narrative was ultimately that the success of the 2015 Royals depended on Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Cain, Hosmer and Moustakas, the same is true now.

So while the restructuring feels different, the fact remains that this team is going to be good again in 2016 and 2017. Which is why I disagree with Rany and the others, and believe we ought to be playing for 2018 and beyond as well as right now.

Anyway. Here’s where we stand.

Bullpen

I’ll start with the bullpen because it’s the Royals greatest strength and, I believe, the most important thing we need to sustain in order to maintain our level of excellence.

They added Soria for 3 years, $25MM. Relievers are volatile and paying three years is risky, but that’s what the top guys are asking for, so the Royals really had no choice there. The question is whether they are overpaying for those three years. It’s easy for me to get all emotional about all the Soria memories – Welcome to the Jungle, the scoreboard engulfing in flames, the conversation about whether “Mexicutioner” was racist or not, etc. – but some have asked if they could’ve kept Madson for what the Athletics are now paying him: 3 years, $22M? The major difference there is age. Madson is 35. Soria is 31. That’s pretty much all I need to know. Objectively, I’m fine with the deal. Subjectively, I’m absolutely crazy about it. Welcome back, Jack.

Bringing back Tim Collins to take over for Franklin Morales is fine too. That gives us a lefty out of the bullpen, but you never know how effective guys will be in their first year back from Tommy John surgery. I’d feel much more comfortable with another lefty out in the bullpen.

Enter Danny Duffy.

I’m pretty tired of sitting around hoping Duffy pans out as a starter. The guy looks brilliant a few starts out of the year, but more often than not is disappointing. We need a guy out of the bullpen and Duffy strikes me as the type of guy who would be totally cool moving out there and could really thrive in that role the same way Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar have. It sounds like the Royals might be thinking similarly here. So that makes our bullpen…

Wade Davis
Kelvin Herrera
Joakim Soria
Luke Hochevar
Danny Duffy – L
Tim Collins – L

That’s a strong strong group.

One last note: it’ll be interesting to see what Greg Holland gets for a contract after he was non-tendered by KC after having surgery late in the season. He’ll be out all of 2016, and probably won’t be 100% until part way through 2017. It’s possible he could get a contract similar to what Kris Medlen got from KC this year coming off injury. I wouldn’t be opposed to the Royals giving him a 4 year back-ended contract, but I doubt we’re the only ones thinking like that.

Rotation

Moving Danny Duffy to the bullpen opens up an additional spot in the rotation. Jason Vargas is out for 2016 recovering from Tommy John. Bringing back Chris Young was a no brainer, and it’s been reported that he turned down an additional year to stay in Kansas City. Losing Jeremy Guthrie isn’t a huge deal – he was grossly overpaid in 2015 at $9MM.

All that to say, we need another arm in our rotation. Our current rotation (if Duffy moves to the pen) looks like this:

Yordano Ventura
Edinson Volquez
Kris Medlen
Chris Young

The name I’ve seen most connected to the Royals is Scott Kazmir who has a history of being a great pitcher in Tampa Bay, Anaheim and Oakland, but his meteoric crash in Houston after the 2015 trade deadline raises lots of eyebrows. He’s exactly the type of low risk, high upside kind of guy the Royals could certainly go for.

Royals also have been linked to CJ Wilson, who could be acquired via trade. He’s owned $20MM this season by the Angels who wouldn’t mind unloading his contract but would probably need to send cash along with him. Wonder if they’d be interested in a swap for Omar Infante‘s gem of a deal? (Just kidding, we’re stuck with the remaining $22MM on his contract, and now that Zobrist is off the market, it’s time to face the music and hope Omar improves in 2016. Poor Christian Colon.)

We’ll see what happens here, but the Royals undoubtedly need to add an arm that can eat innings. Duffy could be that guy, I suppose, but I think it’ll be Kazmir or someone else.

Corner Outfield

The departure of Alex Rios isn’t very sad. The probable departure of Alex Gordon is devastating. It’s not over yet, but every moment that passes without word on Gordon feels like bad news for KC. Fingers crossed.

Regardless of whether they get a deal done with Gordon, Dayton Moore has mentioned that they believe it’s time to give Jarrod Dyson a legitimate shot in the outfield. His defense and athleticism is certainly strong enough, but it’s his bad – specifically his terrible numbers against left-handed pitching – that is the concern. He’s hit .260/.323/.345 over the past four seasons, which isn’t miserable, but that’s in limited action. Can he sustain or even improve that over an entire season? Or is it more likely that the added work will wear him down and cause an even worse dip in his numbers?

If he can raise his OBP from the .320s to the .350s, then that’s a no brainer, and as it is, I don’t think this team gets worse if you replace Alex Rios’s 2015 production with Jarrod Dyson.

And if we don’t sign Gordon – the top name I’ve heard connected to the Royals are Gerardo Parra, but I’d be interested to see if they make a run at Denard Span instead. Neither of them were extended qualifying offers by their former clubs, so the Royals wouldn’t have to surrender their 1st round pick if they picked them up (this goes for Kazmir as well, who was traded and therefore void of having a QO option – no matter who KC signs out of FA, it’s almost guaranteed they won’t have a QO attached to them).

Parra, who was traded mid-season, hit .291/.328/.452 for Milwaukee and Baltimore last year. But he was awesome with Milwaukee and miserable with Baltimore. His defense dropped significantly last year, and that’s certainly not a plus with Kauffman’s massive outfield.

Span is the better option. His offensive numbers are comparable, but he’s done it for longer and he didn’t drop off at the end of last year like Parra. His defense wasn’t much better, but it was. He brought a lot of energy to the Nationals over the past few seasons, and would likely fit in well on an energetic team like KC.

Another option that I haven’t heard anyone talking about: what if the Royals were able to re-sign Alex Rios to a much more team-friendly deal? It might be interesting to see if he can out-perform his 2015 campaign (not difficult to believe) while making less than half his contract. Something like 1-year, and $3-5MM would be well within the Royals capacity and could provide a bridge to up and coming guys like Bubba Starling and Brett Eibner.

One other note: it’s been rumored that the Royals might try third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert in the outfield a bit this Spring Training. He’s athletic and was remarkably good in his short stints while Moustakas was injured or on bereavement in 2015. If the Royals managed to extend Moustakas (whom I believe is the most likely candidate) whom is currently blocking Cuthbert’s road to the majors, then this is a fun option to explore.

Extensions

It’s too bad the Royals couldn’t extend Cain or Moustakas before they broke out last year. Especially Cain. He was a prime extension candidate two years ago, but now that he’s a true superstar who finished third in the MVP voting this year it’s likely too late for that with Cain. He’s also not the youngest guy in the league at 29, and by the time his contract will be up, he’ll be 31 and likely declining. He has always been my favorite Royal, and as much as I’d like to see him stay longer, I’d be surprised if KC could make something happen with him due to his age and superstar status.

Hosmer is as good as gone, in my opinion. He’s a bright lights, big city kind of guy, and I fully expect him to finish up his time in KC and sign a giant contract in Miami, Los Angeles or New York in 2018. It is what it is. Start looking for a prospect who can play incredible defense at first base after 2018, okay?

Escobar is a question mark.I’m not sure other teams will think as highly of him as KC does, but I would be surprised if we committed to him beyond his current contract. It’s possible we could re-sign him, but that seems more likely after his contract is up than right now.

Which leaves Moustakas, who after years of struggling and trips back and forth between KC and Omaha, finally figured it out this year. In 2013-14, he wasn’t panning out enough to want to extend him, but after 2015 he might of out performed what he will likely do in the future. And in sports, you don’t give contracts for what a guy has done, but what you believe he will do. If one of these four was going to get an extension, I think Moose is the most likely candidate.

But it’s doubtful. It’s more likely that the Royals will let their contracts play out and then see if they can re-sign them after 2017. It’s really scary for a small market team to give away 6 or 7 year contracts to anyone at all. We don’t want to get stuck throwing money at a guy who isn’t worth anything anymore.

Okay. That’s all I’ve got.

You know the right thing to do Alex. We’ll build you a statue and everything.

-apc.

Image accessed here.

 

Kansas City Royals: 2015 World Series Champions

It doesn’t feel real.

I’ve both heard this phrase from others and said it myself dozens of times over the past two days since the Kansas City Royals wrapped up the 2015 World Series with another comeback over the New York Mets.  It feels like some form of suspended alternate reality. It’s barely computing.

Sure, I ran out to the garage and found my stash of leftover fireworks, but blowing those up almost felt like I was doing it because it was what I was supposed to do. I honestly have no idea how to react. I’ve been surprisingly calm about the entire thing, but perhaps a better word is “stunned” or “in disbelief.” It feels like a movie script. Or even a dream. Maybe it’s because I watched them celebrate on TV on the road rather than in person at The K that it feels so strange. But even after the parade yesterday, it hasn’t totally sunk in. It feels so odd. Unfamiliar.

And that parade! Holy smokes. Eight-hundred thousand of us all in one place. I’ve never experienced anything like it, and I’m sure I never will again. I kept having to pause and look around me and realize where I even was. The last month has been another whirlwind, and to have it all culminate in the happiest mass of humanity/traffic the city has ever witnessed, again, just didn’t compute.

I expect it takes some time to really sink in. Maybe every major event that transpires between now and Spring Training will further convince me that it actually happened. Maybe for some of you the parade is what sealed the experience. It probably helped a bit for me, but I’m not totally there yet. Maybe it will sink in when Salvador Perez and Eric Hosmer go on Jimmy Fallon tonight. Or when the whole team visits the White House and President Obama makes some wise crack about his embarrassing Chicago White Sox. Maybe it’ll sink in then. Or maybe on Opening Day when we raise the “2015 World Champions” flag in the presence of the team we beat to get it. Maybe that will be the moment I really can grasp what has happened here.

Or maybe it will never fully sink in. Maybe this is what it always feels like when something of this magnitude actually happens, when everything you’ve been working toward actually comes to fruition. Maybe championships just feel this way. I don’t know. I’ve never been here before.

I’m thinking back on all the comebacks and am realizing that I was emotional during ALDS Games 4 and 5, ALCS Game 6, WS Games 1 and 2 and 4. But once the Royals won Game 4 in New York and went up 3 games to 1, something in me clicked over from hopeful to expectant. I no longer hoped we would win the World Series, I knew we would. It was only a matter of when. When Hosmer took home to tie the game, I yelled. And when Christian Colon singled to drive in Escobar to take the lead, I yelled again. And when Lorenzo Cain doubled to make it 7-2, I yelled a third time. But none of those were on the level of pure elation I’d experienced in those other games.

Somehow I’d moved into another state of being where I was no longer hoping for something to happen, but instead was smacked with the reality that what I was hoping for was happening. I didn’t need to hope anymore because my hopes had been realized. As a Kansas Citian, this just isn’t something I really know how to comprehend.

I was a fetus in 1985 the last time the Royals won the World Series, so I have no memory of the ’85 World Series or the parade or George Brett or Willie Wilson or Frank White or any of those guys. I’ve since learned about them, and watched videos and read statistics, but I have no idea what it was like to watch that team play and feel caught up in the entire journey with them. To me, those guys are legends. And these guys who just won it all – this 2015 Kansas City Royals team – they’re just a group of normal dudes who love playing this game together.

But that’s the thing – these aren’t just normal dudes. We’ve all just witnessed greatness. George Brett said at the rally last night that this is the greatest Kansas City Royals team ever. What?! Could that be true?

I think it is true. The names Gordon and Cain and Perez and Moustakas and Hosmer and Escobar will be legendary. Many on that list will become Royals Hall of Famers someday. Some of them may have their numbers retired or even a statue created for them. We witnessed greatness. The stuff of legends.

And someday I hope I can walk through the Royals Hall of Fame with my kids or with my kids’ kids and tell them about Alex Gordon hitting a game tying solo shot with one out in the 9th. Or about Lorenzo Cain scoring from first base on a single. Or about Eric Hosmer sliding head first into home on a routine grounder to third base.

I’ll tell them about The Johnny Cueto Experience and about Alcides Escobar‘s hit streak. I’ll tell them about how Ben Zobrist was a doubles machine and how Salvador Perez’s World Series MVP could’ve gone to any one of a dozen guys on the roster – including a cyborg relief pitcher named Wade Davis who racked up the highest Wins Above Replacement of any pitcher this postseason. I’ll tell them about Killer Kelvin Herrera‘s 3 extra innings of work in the final game of the season, a feat that goes unnoticed due to our bullpen’s expected utter dominance.

I’ll tell them about the emotional adversity this team faced with the deaths of 3 different players’ parents – Mike Moustakas‘s mom, Chris Young‘s dad and Edison Volquez’s dad – and how the team rallied around each. And I’m sure I’ll tell them nothing but glowing tales about Ned Yost, the manager with the highest postseason winning percentage in all of baseball all-time.

Legends only grow over time, and there’s nothing this team can do to take away from what it’s already accomplished. Back to back American League Championships, and now a World Series. And who knows, maybe there’s even more to come? It’s only 2015, for crying out loud, and this team’s window supposedly doesn’t close for another two years. They have some work to do this offseason to make that happen, but I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s another post for another day.

For now, I know this…

Greatest team. Greatest fans. Greatest city. Unbelievable.

-apc.

Header photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images, accessed here

Royals-Mets World Series Primer & Prediction

They did it. The Kansas City Royals, for the second time in as many years, are American League Champs. They’re headed to the World Series. Again. Expectations were high – this team and this fanbase expected to be here. In fact, anything less than a World Series return was likely to be considered a disappointment after how last year ended. And they actually did it.

I’ve watched this approximately 9 million times over the past three days. I can’t get enough Yordano. His accent. His laugh. The way he rolls his head around like a Muppet. The way his mouth opens wide like a Muppet. The way he looks almost exactly like a Muppet. There’s a very strong possibility I’ll be dressing up as Probably Drunk AL Champ Yordano Ventura for Halloween this weekend. And of course, someone has already remixed it.

Yordano has every right to be that amped about the circumstances. Conquering the Toronto Blue Jays has been the Royals’ top priority since around early August. It was so evident that the Jays were the Royals biggest American League threat that the Royals advance scouting department dedicated two scouts solely on figuring out the Blue Jays tendencies and weaknesses. And boy, were they successful. (If you really want to get excited about the minutiae within the Royals ALCS victory, I highly recommend giving this SI piece by Tom Verducci a read if you haven’t already. Seriously. Click over. I’ll wait.)

So many great moments from Game 6 to talk about. Back in Game 2, David Price shut the Royals down for the first 6 innings, but then in the 7th the Royals shredded him for 5 runs. On Friday night, Ben Zobrist picked up right where he left off hitting a solo home run in the first inning. Mike Moustakas added another solo home run in the 2nd thanks to this kid.

Click to watch the video.

With the exception of one pitch to Jose Bautista, Yordano was locked in on Friday night. On that one pitch, Salvador Perez set up low and away – the spot where Royals pitchers had been pitching the Toronto slugger the entire series – but this pitch tailed up and out over the plate. Bautista feasts on mistakes, and he hit the ball a mile. The Royals would get the run back in the 7th when Alex Rios – of course it was Rios – singled in Moustakas from second base. But before he made it to second base, Moose was on first base, and this happened…

Chris Colabello clearly believes he has the ball. Moose is like, “uh, ball’s over here, bro.”

After his RBI single, Rios did something even more incredible: he stole a base off David Price. Alex Rios was the first and only person all season long to successfully steal on Price. What! Again, for more on the awesomeness on this moment, go back up and read that article I linked before if you didn’t the first time. It is without question the best baseball article I’ve read in months.

Anyway. The score was 3-1 going into the 8th, and Wade Davis, the Greatest Relief Pitcher in Baseball and suspected android, was warm in the bullpen. Ned Yost decided to go with Ryan Madson instead against the top of the order – Ben Revere, Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. I…wasn’t happy. I’ll let my Twitter feed tell the story from here…

Then Madson gave up a monster 2-run HR to Bautista.

And if that wasn’t enough, Madson walked Encarnacion too. Only then did Yost decide to go to The Greatest Relief Pitcher in Baseball, Wade Davis.

And then the rain came, and I went through at least three of the five stages of grief.

But by the time I sat back down in my wet Kauffman Stadium seat, I had somehow managed to not only accept what had happened, but was able to healthily move on reminding myself that the Royals were still going to win this game.

Wouldn’t you know the Royals did rally. Because they always do. Because this team never quits. Their rally consisted of an 8-pitch walk by Lorenzo Cain and a single by Eric Hosmer. That’s it. That’s all it took to take back the lead after the rain delay.

Actually, that’s not all it took. It took a the speed of Lorenzo Cain, the study and send of Mike Jirschele, the instinctual toss back into second base by Jose Bautista and the hard turn and retreat back to first by Eric Hosmer. You want another look into the details of that moment? Check out this article by Joe Posnanski. People are already calling it Cain’s Mad Dash, an homage to Enos Slaughter‘s run of the same name in the 1946 World Series.

Except Cain’s is even more impressive for two reasons: 1. He wasn’t running with the pitch and 2. The hit was a single, not a double. Here’s this from Inside Edge…

And then Wade Davis, over an hour since he’d gotten the 23rd and 24th outs of the game, went back out for he 9th inning and dramatically – with two on and no outs! – got outs 25, 26 and 27 to seal the AL Championship for the Royals. What a freak. Wade Davis has yet to prove to me he is actually human.

Okay, I’ve already given the ALCS too many words here. Moving on.

Time to look forward. To the World Series. To the New York Mets

Offense

A lot has been written about the Mets power starting pitching vs the Royals high contact offensive approac, but, as is usually the case in overworked narratives, I don’t think primary storyline is what will ultimately decide this World Series. I have a feeling this series will come down to whether to not the Royals starters can silence the hot bats of Daniel Murphy and Curtis Granderson.

One thing to note when you look at the Mets stats: they are not even close to the same team as they were to start the season. During the first half of the season, the team hit .233/.298/.363. That improved to .257/.328/.443 over the second half. Why the change? A complete lineup overhaul. They got David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud (it’s pronounced “dar-no,” impress your friends) back from injuries in August. They added Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline. They called up Michael Conforto from Triple A. It’s not the same team.

If we focus on just the second half of the season, the Mets sit right around the middle of MLB in terms of batting average, but very near the top in on base percentage and slugging. The offense is led by Curtis Granderson (who has quietly had a fantastic postseason hitting .303 and stealing 4 bags), Lucas Duda (who was quiet for a while but is still a scary HR threat) and Yoenis Cespedes (who is, in the opinion of this blogger, one of the top 5 all around ballplayers in baseball right now). But the postseason hero has been Daniel Murphy, who inexplicably went from hitting 14 HRs during the regular season to being a postseason juggernaut. He has hit home runs in 6 consecutive postseason games and 7 in the 2015 postseason overall. Carlos Beltran and Reggie Jackson eat your heart out. The guy is on a tear, and if he cannot be cooled off, then we can go ahead and chalk this series up as a win for the Mets.

This team isn’t the Blue Jays or the Astros, but they’re closer to those guys than they are the Royals in terms of offensive philosophy. As Eno Sarris points out over at Fangraphs, the Mets either walk, strikeout or homer at a rate significantly higher than KC – although everyone does those three things at a significantly higher rate than KC. The Mets are patient. The Royals are still a high contact team. They feast on fastballs, which is why they were thrown the least amount of them by the end of the season. They’re free swingers, but not for much power. They take the ball all over the field, and force the defenders to make plays.

Both teams have threats up and down the lineup. The Mets are more of a slugging team, but have the ability to do the small ball things that the Blue Jays and Astros couldn’t. They’re just a better all around team. I don’t really see anything that says one team is the better overall offensive team here. Different philosophies, but both are strong.

And the fun part – almost no one has faced each other, so who knows how this will go? Although it seems the Mets are rolling the dice and starting Kelly Johnson as DH in Game 1 since he’s 4-14 lifetime vs Volquez…all 4 of which came prior to 2010. Seems relevant in 2015. 

Edge: Push

Defense

Guess what?! The Royals still have the best defense in baseball.

Like the Blue Jays, overall this Mets lineup is pretty average defensively, but they are blessed with a phenomenal centerfielder. Juan Lagares is a Gold Glover, but he hasn’t started every game this postseason due to his lack of offense. With Kauffman Stadium’s large outfield, I’d be shocked if he didn’t get the start over Michael Cuddyer, who has played some lefty irks this postseason, and who may have some pop in his bat but is not on the same level as Lagares defensively.

Unlike the Blue Jays, their shortstop is a weakness. When the Mets lost Ruben Tejada to a fractured leg on Chase Utley‘s takeout slide in the NLDS, Wilmer Flores stepped in as his replacement. Flores can hold his own offensively compared to Tejada, but the drop defensively – especially against a high contact team like KC – is significant. He just doesn’t have range. Neither do David Wright or Daniel Murphy, for that matter. I’ll be looking for a lot “seeing-eye” grounders to get through the middle and left side of the infield.

Edge: Royals

Starting Pitching

Game 1: Matt Harvey vs Edinson Volquez

Remember back in September when everyone was freaking out about Matt Harvey’s innings count? The dude was basically supposed to only throw 180 innings this season coming off his Tommy John surgery. Going into Game 1, he’s thrown 202 inning between the regular season and postseason combined. So if his arm flys off, it’s not some Halloween stunt. 

Not that he has shown any sign of slowing down: Harvey went 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA during the regular season. His postseason ERA is 2.84, so he’s kept pace. He’s given up 4 earned runs on 11 hits in 12.2 innings this postseason against the Dodgers and Cubbies. Not exactly unhittable, honestly. He throws 54.4% fastballs around 96-97 mph, and mixes in a slider, curve, change and sinker as well.

It should be noted that Volquez’s fastball is up about 4 mph this postseason. That may not sound like much, but when the difference is from 92 to 96 mph, well, it is. It also means that while the media is touting the Mets “power starting pitching,” the Royals can actually match their speed in each game. Amazingly, Volquez’s postseason gameplan has not been to rely on his changeup at all, but to double down on his fastball.

People like to throw around the fact that Edinson Volquez’s career postseason ERA is 6.56. Just shush them. It’s all in the past. This postseason he has been much better, and even better than his line suggests, honestly. If Ned had just pulled him after 5 innings in his last start he’d be sitting on 2.16 ERA. Instead, Yost left him in too long and his ERA this postseason is 4.32. I guess poor managing shouldn’t let him off the hook, but the fact remains that Ed has been much better than his postseason stats suggest.

Of the three Mets righties, Harvey throws the most straight four-seam fastballs, and it’s his most valuable pitch. But the Royals hit fastballs. And righties. So unless Harvey can really brandish his secondary pitches, he could be in for a long night.

One wrinkle here though – and this goes for all four Mets starters – the Royals biggest advantage is in the bullpen. KC will have to decide whether to be aggressive on fastballs, or work the count a bit and get Harvey’s pitch count up to get to the pen. I think Harvey, with his high innings count, is the most likely to be yanked early in these first three games.

I have a good feeling about this first one. Volquez has been solid, and Ned never makes the same mistake twice. If both these starters go 5 innings, the Royals bullpen will hold down the fort.

Game 2: Jacob deGrom vs Johnny Cueto

Was it literally just last week when I wrote “How much more confident are we seeing Johnny Cueto’s name in the rotation now after his performance on Wednesday?” Yuck. What a stinker he threw in Toronto last week. Kris Medlen came in and pitched lights out in relief, but the damage was done. Cueto seemed to give an excuse for each of the 8 runs he allowed over just 2 innings – the mound is higher, there’s a man stealing signs in centerfield, the umpire was squeezing him, etc., etc. Can it, Johnny. If you’re not lights out early, you won’t last in the World Series. Again, Ned doesn’t make the same mistake twice. Cueto will have an extremely short leash this Wednesday. Danny Duffy ought to plan on getting warm in a hurry.

And he better be solid because you can bet that Jacob deGrom will be. It’s hard to look at this staff and say that one guy is the “ace” because honestly they have three, but this guy is it. With an ERA even better than Harvey’s at 2.54, deGrom is the real deal. His hair is disgusting, but his game is not.

Again, fastball/sinker guy – 45.7% FB, 15.5% sinker – with a slider, change and curve mixed in. His changeup is his second best pitch in terms of value, but he throws all his pitches well. It’s weird, these guys (deGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard) all start to blend together after you stare at their numbers for a while. It’s bonkers. Their skills are so eerily similar. It’s like they were drafted the same year (they were) and groomed in the same system.

This entire game depends on Cueto, but even if he’s locked in, there’s no guaranteeing he can out pitch deGrom, who is now 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA. If there’s one guy who can dismantle the Royals like He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named again, it’s deGrom. And his hair is equally gross…have I mentioned that yet?

Game 3: Yordano Ventura vs Noah Syndergaard

Let’s throw fire. Lots of it.

This game is almost certainly going to set some sort of record for most 97+ mph pitches in one game. Syndergaard throws his fastball around 98 mph. He touches 100 mph regularly. He also has a very good low-80s curveball about 20% of the time to keep hitters off balance.

Dude sounds exactly like Yordano Ventura. Except he looks like Thor.

Ventura relies less on his fastball now than he did last year – his curveball is not only his best pitch, but one of the most valuable pitches in all of baseball. Syndergaard is a rookie, and his fastball is his greatest strength, so it’ll be interesting to see if his numbers shift in his second year like Yordano’s have. But who cares about 2016?! This is 2015, and Yordano has proven he can handle the biggest stage for two years straight now.

My best guess – the Mets pitchers will work hard to establish their secondary pitches and keep the Royals from zoning in on their heat. Syndergaard is the most likely to struggle with this transition. I have a feeling the Royals not only slap around his fastball, but also take a couple hanging breakers to #DongTown at Citi Field.

Game 4: Chris Young vs Steven Matz

Buncha weirdo stuff here after those first three matchups.

Steven Matz, another rookie, is the lone lefty in the Mets rotation. He’s your prototypical three-pitch guy – fastball 68%, curveball 19%, changeup 11%. He changes speeds very well dropping from 94 mph on his fastball to 77 on his curve. Since he’s a late call up, there’s not much on him in terms of numbers, but in the postseason he’s done a fine job albeit in short starts. In fact, it’s very likely we see multiple innings of Bartolo Colon in this game as well. One can only hope the stars align and we get to watch Chris Young get a plate appearance against Colon. That would be fun.

Oddly, I have no qualms about Chris Young anymore. I don’t feel like our season hinges on his performance, and he always seems to impress me. He just goes out and does his job as a very tall right handed pitcher.

I should also add: expect to see Danny Duffy in this series if any of our starters gets into trouble. With the Roayls throwing 4 right handed starters, you can bet the Mets will counter with a lefty-heavy lineup. Which means if any of our starters gets into trouble, countering with a lefty of our own makes a lot of sense.

I like our chances in Games 1, 3 and 4, but Game 2 certainly feels like a loss on paper. But pretty much across the board, the Mets starters appear slightly better. It’s like they’ve got a RHP machine that just keeps churning out power arms. But who knows. You can’t predict baseball, man, but the Mets clearly have the better rotation, and it doesn’t really matter if your’e better elsewhere, pitching wins championships.

Edge: Mets

Bullpen

Here’s something new: Kelvin Herrera is suddenly throwing a slider.

During the regular season, Herrera threw breaking balls around 5% of the time. In the postseason, that number has risen to 25%. I mean, who does that?! Who just starts throwing a new pitch in the most stressful and intense games of the year? During the regular season, he relied almost entirely on blowing guys away with his 100 mph fastballs. And when that didn’t work, when they’d fouled off enough pitches, he’d get them lunging goofily at his changeup. But now he’s throwing a breaking ball a quarter of the time.

Wade Davis is just so good. Like, Mariano Rivera good. He gets the ball and there is no doubt in my mind the game is over. Ryan Madson has now blown two games this postseason – Game 4 vs Houston and Game 6 vs Toronto – but the Royals have won them both. Danny Duffy has been great out of the bullpen when he hasn’t been expected to pitch to righty power bats.

At this point, all of the Mets’ trusted bullpen arms are attached to one man: Jeurys Familia. The perfect formula for the Mets is to get their strong starters to go deep into the game – preferably 7 or 8 innings – and then bring in Familia for the final 3-6 outs. His season ERA was 1.84. As far as closers go, he’s very very good. The other two arms we’ll certainly see this series are those of Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed acquired this year from Oakland and Houston, respectively. They’ve struggled this postseason, Clippard especially.

Edge: Royals

Baserunning

The Royals steal more bases because they’re the faster overall team. Whether or not one team steals more bases than the other might not be what matters here. The reality is that both of these teams are smart, and they make you pay on the base paths with their intelligent baserunning. If an outfielder doesn’t hustle, they’ll go first to third (or home). If there’s a double play possibility, they’ll hit and run. If there’s a chance to advance a base, both of these teams are going to take advantage. The Mets have 8 stolen bases this postseason (half by Granderson). But it’s their mind – not their speed – that’s gotten them here.

But cmon. This is getting tiresome. The Royals are the better baserunners. They’re equally smart as the Mets, but they also have the threat of Terrance Gore and Jarrod Dyson off the bench at any moment. If the Royals need a bag, they can – and will – take it. With the quality of New York’s starting pitching, it’s likely these games will be lower scoring and we’ll see what speed do in the World Series.

Note: It’s possible that Cheslor Cuthbert or Raul Mondesi end up on the team instead of Terrance Gore. I’d be disappointed if that happened, but you can’t argue the need for infield versatility over an outfielder who can’t hit in an NL ballpark.

Edge: Royals

Prediction

Ugh. This is a good Mets team. They play smart and they don’t beat themselves. Their starting pitching is better than our starters pretty much top to bottom, but the Royals are probably a little better in every other aspect of the game. I think the Royals ability to make contact against deGrom/Harvey/Syndergaard will be enough to score a few runs each game. The question is whether or not our starters can keep the Mets’ bats at bay.

It’s funny, when you make these predictions, really what you’re doing is picking the team you think is going to win, and the number of games shows your confidence level. In the ALDS, I took the Royals in 5. In the ALCS, I took the Royals in 7. I would say I was more confident in both of those series than I am in the World Series.

The Royals better win Game 1, because I don’t feel confident at all about Game 2. I’m most confident about Games 3 and 4, Which means we’d have to win 2 of 3 down the stretch to take the crown.

I think we can do it.

Royals in 7.

-apc.

Image: MLB on Twitter: @MLB, accessed here.

Royals-Blue Jays ALCS Primer & Prediction

Phew. I’m worn out.

There was some extra drama in both Division Series this year, but the two best teams in the American League managed to meet in the Championship Series anyway. The Blue Jays and the Royals have been on a bit of a collision course for this series since around the trade deadline. And now we’re here. And it’s awesome.

And how about that ALDS!? Holy smokes. I had thrown in the towel on Monday afternoon. It was 6-2 and I thought the series was over. All I wanted was to see Wade Davis throw a bit before the team packed it in for the winter. Then Alex Rios singled. Then Escobar singled. That’s when I stood up. Then Ben Zobrist singled. Then Lorenzo Cain singled. Then Eric Hosmer singled. That’s when I began pacing around my living room. Then Carlos Correa misplayed a Kendrys Morales chopper and tied the game. Then Drew Butera and his hair had a gorgeous 10-pitch plate appearance and walked. Then Alex Gordon grounded out, scoring a run. It was 7-6. I was going to get to see Wade Davis after all, but not in the scenario I expected.

Then in the 9th, Hosmer – who had 1 measly hit through the first 3 games – unleashed his built up frustration on a 2-run bomb. I think that’s the moment that put me on the floor because somehow I discovered I was watching Davis record the final three outs laying flat on my back in front of the TV.

Then Wednesday. O, Wednesday. Johnny Cueto was dynamite. He threw 1 pitch from the stretch all night – the 2-run home run to Luis Valbuena – but even that was a pretty nice pitch. And that situation wouldn’t have even happened if not for a poor throw by Mike Moustakas that could’ve very easily been called an error. Even still, the Royals finally played a full game of high contact/low strikeout baseball and won 7-2. The first strikeout didn’t occur until the 4th inning by Ben Zobrist. The “bad boys” hit the ball hard all night long and it was only a matter of time before those hits found green. Alex Rios, team scapegoat, hit the go-ahead double scoring Perez and Gordon. And a Morales somehow golfed a ball into the left-centerfield fountains for a 3-run homer in the 8th.

My ears were ringing well into Thursday afternoon. My throat is still a little sore from yelling. For the second consecutive year, I managed to bruise my right forearm due to a poorly executed high five. I’ve never ever heard Kauffman louder. Not even at the Wild Card Game. Somebody call the Guinness record dudes, pronto.

That’s how we got here. It was exhausting. But I’m thirsty for more. Bring on the Blue Jays.

The Toronto Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals don’t like each other much. We know this. Game 1 starter Edison Volquez hit Josh Donaldson with a pitch the last time these teams met. Ryan Madson later hit Troy Tulowitski. The Jays retaliated and Aaron Sanchez hit Alcides Escobar. It got ugly.

The Royals, somehow, came out of the scrum as the “bad boys” of baseball. Which is hilarious considering Toronto pitchers have hit more batters and Royals batters have been hit more often. And it wasn’t the Royals and Astros benches that cleared in the ALDS – it was Toronto and Texas. Maybe the nation will discover each teams true colors after the ALCS.

Going into the playoffs, the Jays were the one team I really didn’t want to have to face. But alas, there’s no going back from here. It’s on. Let’s take a look at the ALCS.

Offense

The Blue Jays led all of baseball with 891 runs in the regular season. That’s 127 more than the second highest team. Ridiculous. They hit 232 home runs. Buncha freaks. Their 2-3-4 hitters averaged 40 HRs this season. Read that again. Josh Donaldson hit 41. Jose Bautista hit 40. Edwin Encarnacion hit 39. All the power comes from the right side too – the only lefties in their postseason lineup are Ben Revere and Ryan Goins, who are the only guys who don’t hit for power, although Justin Smoak and Dionner Navarro bat switch and will get their cuts off the bench.

We know the Royals style of play – make contact and rely on the guy behind you to get you in. I was not happy with the Royals approach in the first three and a half games of the ALDS. They were swinging too hard and trying to out-homer the Astros. They were striking out at a rate of 8 K per game in the first 4 games of the series. That’s unacceptable. We will not win games if we aren’t making productive outs.

But when the Royals backs were against the wall, down 4 runs in Game 4, they were forced to abandon their power swings and go one base at a time. And it WORKED. Game 5 looked like a different team. We battled at the plate and made solid contact throughout the game. This team lives and dies by BABIP, but the sample size is large enough over an entire game that if we can play our game we’ll be okay.

But the Blue Jays offense is absurd. Even in a larger ballpark like Kauffman, they hold the clear edge.

Edge: Blue Jays

Defense

The Royals have the best defense in baseball. We know this. Their outfield, catcher, shortstop and first baseman give them an edge up on every team in baseball.

However, the Blue Jays are really really good too. The numbers say Kevin Pillar is as good a centerfielder as Lorenzo Cain and Russell Martin is as good a catcher as Salvador Perez. Josh Donaldson is a Gold Glove third baseman and Troy Tulowitzki is terrific at shortstop as well. And even though the numbers don’t suggest it, I know the kind of arm Jose Bautista possesses in right field.

You don’t make the playoffs without a decent defense, and Toronto – specifically Kevin Pillar – might make things a little tougher than, say, Carlos Gomez did. But the Royals are better or at least comparable at every position.

Edge: Royals

Starting Pitching

Game 1: Marco Estrada vs Edinson Volquez

We’ve got a changeup matchup!

Marco Estrada has one of the best changeups in baseball. In fact, there were only 4 pitchers in all of baseball with a more valuable change according to Fangraphs: Zack Greinke, Francisco Rodriguez, Cole Hamels and Danny Salazaar. His fastball sits around 90 mph, occasionally hitting 93. He has pretty consistent splits between righties and lefties and he is just about as good on the road as he is at home. In his only career start at Kauffman back in July, he gave up 2 runs on 9 hits, losing against a filthy Danny Duffy.

Edison Volquez is a three pitch guy – fastball 50% of the time, curveball and changeup both 25% of the time. His fastball is not his best pitch, but his curve and change are both really really good. Volquez comes in just a few spots behind Estrada in terms of changeup value this year. As long as Volquez can avoid grooving fastballs, he’s not a bad matchup against the Blue Jays. I’d look for him to work hitters in with the fastball to keep them from getting their arms extended, but quickly go to the curve and the changeup after the fastball has been established.

This game is a tossup. Very comparable guys who have both been consistent for their teams all season long. I think whichever pitcher is able to more effectively throw their offspeed stuff ought to win.

Game 2: David Price vs Yordano Ventura

So far, Yordano Ventura hasn’t been quite as impressive as I expected him to be this postseason. He gave up 3 runs in 2 innings before being pulled during the Game 1 rain delay, and game up 3 runs again in Game 4 on short rest. He looked much better on Monday than he did in Game 1 – there was a bit of extra fire in the elimination game, I thought.

We know what he does. He throws fire, but his curveball is actually his best pitch. Hitters set up looking to catch up to the gas and he puts them away with the breaking ball.

David Price sure has had a strange postseason so far. He pitched Game 1 of the ALDS against the Rangers and threw 5 innings of 5 hit 5 run ball. He took the loss. And instead of turning back to Price on short rest in Game 4 like the Royals did with Yordano, when the Jays were down 2-1 they opted to send R.A. Dickey to the mound instead. He came in for 3 innings of relief and gave up 3 runs on 6 hits. Doesn’t make any sense. Jays manager, John Gibbons went with rookie Marcus Stroman in Game 5 meaning their staff ace threw 8 innings of 8 run ball. Weird. Either Gibbons has no faith in their deadline acquisition, or they just liked the matchups better in Games 4 and 5. I just don’t get it.

Both teams know what they’re facing between these two guys. Both teams have to be happy to send out these guys if they find themselves down 0-1 at this point. Again, it’s a toss up game. Odds say the series is 1-1 headed to Toronto.

Game 3: Johnny Cueto vs Marcus Stroman

How much more confident are we seeing Johnny Cueto’s name in the rotation now after his performance on Wednesday? He came out throwing harder than he has in weeks. Again, he was dynamite, and if that’s the Cueto we get the rest of the way, look out. Cueto pitching in Game 3 means he’ll be in line to throw Game 7 if this series goes the distance.

But who is Marcus Stroman? He’s got 5 pitches – fastball, cutter, curve, slider, changeup. He gets ground balls on about two-thirds of balls put in play. He coaxes guys into pulling the ball on the ground – over 50% of hitters pull the ball against Stroman – so expect the Blue Jays to shift quite a bit when he pitches. It’s rare that he gives up home runs.

Assuming Cueto can be anywhere close to what he was in Game 5, this game should be low scoring which obviously favors the Royals. I like KC to go up 2-1 after three games. From there, who knows what will happen? Could the Royals throw Volquez and Ventura on short rest? If we have a series lead, I’d like to see Kris Medlen, a groundball guy himself throw his first game in Toronto. I don’t like Chris Young, a flyball pitcher, starting at Rogers Centre.

After watching of Cueto on Wednesday, I have to give the pitching edge to KC.

Edge: Royals

Bullpen

The Royals still have the best bullpen, and I have even more confidence in it after watching Wade Davis get 6 outs in Game 4. Sure, Ryan Madson struggled in Game 4, but that’s been so rare this season that it actually feels good to have that out of the way and behind us.

The Blue Jays bullpen is pretty good. Rookie Roberto Ozuna is going to be a name in baseball for a while. He’s notched 20 saves as the back of the rotation guy. The Jays lost lefty Brett Cecil during the ALDS to a calf strain, so they’re shorter than they were initially. Here’s a fun note: former Royal and Australia native Liam Hendriks has been one of their top guys out there with a 2.92 ERA. If he wasn’t good enough for the Royals bullpen, yet he’s good enough for Toronto, I think we’re done here.

Edge: Royals

Baserunning

For a group of bruisers, the Blue Jays actually have a legit running game. Revere and Pillar are their speed guys. Revere steals 30-40 times each year and Pillar stole 25 in 2015. Look for them to swipe a bag in a close game if those two are aboard.

But neither of them are as fast as Jarrod Dyson or Terrance Gore, and they don’t have the luxury of deploying them at will like the Royals do off the bench late in the game.

Edge: Royals

Prediction

I like the pitching matchups on paper. If the Royals can win 1 of 2 at home to start the series, we’ll be in good shape, I think. I’ve got a ton of confidence in Johnny and Yordano, and if they throw 4 of our 7 games, I think we take this series. David Price is shaky right now. Estrada and Stroman are beatable. If our starters can get us through 5 innings of quality baseball, this offense is strong enough to match what the Blue Jays can put up. Again, the Royals model is sustainable and can be reproduced game after game. 

This series is going to be a battle – I’d be shocked if the benches don’t clear at least once – and the Royals do not want to get behind in this series because Toronto has the power to squash them the way Houston couldn’t quite do.

Royals in 7.

-apc.

Royals-Astros ALDS Primer & Prediction

The Royals are in the ALDS and they didn’t even have to survive a dramatic and emotional Wild Card game. I feel like we cheated somehow, but, no, we actually just won 95 games.

I actually wrote this on Tuesday night as the Wild Card game was wrapping up, but, as it turns out, when you’re not connected to WiFi, WordPress doesn’t auto-save your content like usual, and when you click “Publish,” it moves to a page that says “Safari isn’t connected to the internet,” and you lose everything. Woof. An hour of my life I’ll never get back.

So let’s try it again. I’ve written it once before, so it should be better the second time around, right? That’s how that works. Fur sure.

Dallas “I think I’m better on short rest” Keuchel shut down the New York Yankees 3-0 on Tuesday night on just 3 days rest. The Yankees looked pitiful – so pitiful, in fact, that I was confident enough to start writing this post around the bottom of the 7th inning. The Yankees would’ve been the easier matchup for Kansas City, but no dice. Here we are, and it’s the Astros.

So how do the Royals matchup against Houston? Let’s take a gander.

Offense

The Astros and Royals couldn’t be more different in philosophy, yet they scored nearly the same number of runs on the season. Astros scored 729 and the Royals scored 724 – good for 6th and 7th in the MLB.

Houston relies heavily on the long ball. They finished 2nd in all of baseball with 230 HRs behind only Toronto (232). Nearly every guy in their lineup can go yard – Evan Gattis, Carlos Correa, Luis Valbuena, Colby Rasmus and Chris Carter all hit 20+ HRs. They take their hacks, and they connect a lot, but they miss way more often. The Astros stuck out more than any team in the American League, and more than any team in baseball when you eliminate pitcher statistics. 

Their contact rate is 75.9% – the worst in the American League. Expect Royals pitchers to rack up the K’s in this series.

The Royals, on the other hand, are obsessed with making contact. Best in baseball at 81.9%. (It’s amazing what a difference 6% is over the course of 162 games.) They finished not last (!) in the AL in home runs this year. It’s a miracle. They hit 3 more than the Chicago White Sox, who are the absolute worst.

It’s interesting that two opposite philosophies yielded the same overall results. The edge really boils down to the ballpark. In Houston, home runs are much easier to come by with the Crawford boxes in left field. Kauffman Stadium is a pitcher’s park with a huge outfield and homers aren’t nearly as common. With home field advantage, the Royals get the slight edge. Barely.

Edge: Royals, slightly.

Defense

Another year at the top for KC.

The Royals finished another year with the most defensive runs saved (DRS) in baseball: 56.9. They’ve got gold glovers are nearly every position. Even their adventurous right fielder, Alex Rios, is an advantage over the rest of the AL teams in the playoffs with -0.2 runs saved above average. That’s how bad AL right fielders are, and thats why the MLB made a major mistake giving away Gold Gloves to LF-CF-RF instead of just 3 outfielders. 

Anyway. The Astros shift on the infield more than any other team in baseball, yet still finished the season below the middle of the pack in DRS at -7.6. Their outfield defense, however, is solid, and that’s what matters most at The K. Carlos Gomez, George Springer and Colby Rasmus can cover some ground. They play a strange shallow outfield alignment that just begs to be burned, hopefully that doesn’t take the Royals out of their offensive game plan. Overall they’re better than the numbers suggest. They’re average, but they’ve “got it where it counts,” so they say.

But they’re not the Royals defense. C’mon. This defense is historically good. Moving on.

Edge: Royals.

Starting Pitching

Game 1: Collin McHugh vs Yordano Ventura

Collin McHugh’s best pitch is the slider which he throws 38% of the time. His put away pitch is the curveball, but I’ll be surprised if he has many opportunities to throw it. He throws first pitch fastballs almost half the time, and I expect the Royals high contact offense to jump on them early and often. The more KC puts the ball in play, the more KC has the advantage.

Yordano Ventura seems to have redeveloped into the “ace” that he is. Ever since he got “sent down” to Omaha but then brought right “back” after Jason Vargas needed Tommy John surgery. And ever since Johnny Cueto has shown up, it seems Yordano has learned a little bit about deception and his K rate is suddenly through the roof. In his last 11 starts, Ace has struck out 81 batters. In his previous 17 starts, he had only whiffed 75. He’s notched 11 K’s in three different starts recently – a feat he had never done in his career to this point.

So let’s do the math – McHugh throws first pitch fastballs to a high contact team, and Ventura is striking out the masses against a high strikeout team. This matchup favors KC significantly.

Game 2: Scott Kazmir vs Johnny Cueto

Scott Kazmir was the first domino to fall at the trade deadline coming to Houston from the Athletics. The Royals faced him on July 24 – the day after he was traded – at Kauffman Stadium and Kazmir absolutely shut KC down: 7 innings. 3 hits. 0 runs.

But in August and September, it’s been a very different story for Kazmir. In his last 11 starts, he’s 1-6 with a 5.22 ERA. He went from being a solid compliment to Dallas Keuchel to barely being considered as a postseason starter.

This should sound familiar to Royals fans because it’s almost exactly the same narrative we’ve experienced with Johnny Cueto, Kazmir’s Game 2 opponent. Cueto looked awesome in his first few starts, but had a string of 5 straight starts where he looked absolutely dreadful. Finally, after significant confusion as to what was happening, it was revealed that Cueto wasn’t comfortable with how Salvador Perez was setting up. That’s since been resolved, and Cueto has spun 4 straight quality starts with a 3.24 ERA. His last start vs Minnesota was a 5 inning, 1 run tune up.

It would seem that Cueto has the edge here, and I hope he does, because Game 3 isn’t as promising.

Game 3: Edinson Volquez vs Dallas Keuchel

Let’s not over think this one – Dallas Keuchel is the best pitcher in the American League. He will be the 2015 AL Cy Young winner. He also has the best beard.

Or maybe we should over think this, just for fun. 

In his career, Edison Volquez is 6-0 with a 2.70 ERA. He’s 3-0 at Minute Maid Park. Current Royals are a career .300/.380/.393 off Keuchel. In 2015, Lorenzo Cain is 5-7 with 2 doubles and a home run. And it’s the Postseason…anything can happen.

But let’s be honest, it would be stupid to pick against Keuchel here.

Game 4: Kris Medlen/Chris Young vs Lance McCullers

Lance McCullers is a rookie for the Astros. He’s got a reverse split so he’s stronger against lefties. He is terrific at home (1.86 ERA) and absolutely awful on the road (5.03 ERA). As much as one would like to think the Astros have confidence in Kazmir, the reality might be that they have more confidence in McCullers in Game 4 than they do in Kazmir anywhere.

But wouldn’t you know, Kris Medlen is terrific on the road, but awful at home. Of Medlen’s 26 earned runs this year for the Royals, 24 of them have been at Kauffman Stadium. I don’t really know how that works, but it’s the truth.

This game is a total toss up, to be honest. Heck, Chris Young could even start, and he’s been even better than Yordano over his past two spot starts leading up to the playoffs. My best guess: Medlen gets the start with a VERY short leash. Gets the hook if anything happens and Young takes over from there.

Assuming Yordano Ventura is waiting to throw Game 5, That gives KC the overall advantage, I think. If we had to face Keuchel twice, I might consider it a push, but the nod goes to KC here too.

Edge: Royals, based only on matchups.

Bullpen

See: defense.

Again, both teams are really good at this phase of the game, but the Royals, again, are simply the best in baseball. Wade Davis. Kelvin Herrera. Ryan Madson. Even with the loss of Greg Holland to a torn UCL, this bullpen is the best there is. In fact, with the addition of Danny Duffy, it’s very possible this bullpen is better without Greg Holland. Now you have a shut down lefty in the pen instead of a guy who has done nothing but terrify Royals fans for months.

But the Astros bullpen is no slouch. The Astros watched what the Royals were able to do in the postseason last year, and immediately went out and signed Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek out the gate during the offseason to shore up their bullpen. Will Harris and Tony Sipp have emerged as strong pieces as well. Their bullpen is really good, but it’s not as good as KC.

Edge: Royals.

Baserunning

That’s what speed do.

The Astros are quick on the bases. They led the American League in stolen bases in 2015 with 121. Jose Altuve leads the way with 38 bags. Jake Marisnick stole 24. George Springer added 16 and Carlos Correa, 14. This team likes to run, which I find interesting because they’re a home run hitting team. But I suppose that also means they know how to hit sac flies.

However, Games 1 and 5 will be an issue for their running game, as Yordano Ventura is so quick to the plate, its essentially mathematically impossible for opposing team to steal on him. It takes a breaking pitch, a double clutch and a poor throw by Salvador Perez to make the play close. So if they’re going to steal, they’ll need to run on somebody else.

The Royals had 104 steals this year – a dip from previous years in the running game likely do to a slight increase in power. They simply haven’t needed to use their legs as much this year. But they have speed whenever they want it off the bench. Jarrod Dyson has gotten “ZOOM” etched into his hair again this year. He ready. But he’s not even the fastest guy on his own team. Terrance Gore is the fastest man in baseball (if he doesn’t get left off the postseason roster in favor of Jonny Gomes, that is). Oh, and Paulo Orlando used to be a sprinter for Brazil soooooo…

The Royals haven’t needed the running game in 2015, but it’s still there at their disposal when they need it. And they will, because the playoffs are drastically different.

Edge: Royals.

Prediction

It’s a trend, fur sure, but it’s also a reality – the Astros are a very good team, but the Royals are slightly better in every facet of the game. They’re faster. Their bullpen is deeper and stronger. their ballpark matches up better for the offense. Their rotation is probably weaker, but the matchups still give the Royals an edge.

On paper, I’d expect the Royals to win comfortably in Game 1 – confidence high. Game 2 is somewhat of a mystery, but barring Kazmir turning into Houdini, things seem to point to the Royals there too – confidence moderate. Gotta expect a loss to Keuchel in Game 3 – confidence low – but a bounce back win in Game 4 after five different Royals pitchers combine for a n0-hit bid deep into the ballgame – confidence high.

Make no mistake – this Astros team is talented. The 2015 Astros hope to be the 2014 Royals. They play with heart and have a lot of fun doing it. And in baseball, anyone can win on any night. It’s a game of inches, and all it doesn’t take much to make all these hot takes meaningless. Even the best teams only win about 60% of the time in this league. I don’t want to get too confident here, so let’s assume the worst about Game 2 and say…

Royals in 5.

-apc.

Photo courtesy of Hex FX Ariels. Follow on Twitter at @FXHex.

2015 MLB Predictions Revisited

These sort of prognostications sure are fun, but they’re generally a mindless way to write about baseball in a format everyone seems to care about. Myself included. When the various media “experts” come out with their predictions, I’m genuinely interested in their takes. I get excited when people pick my team. I get immediately annoyed and write them off as morons when they choose to pick against my heart’s desire. I hope none of you write me off as a moron.

But let’s take a stab at it anyway, shall we?

Before I get to my postseason predictions, let’s take a look at my 2015 preseason predictions and see how awful I did. We’ll start with the American League because it was far far worse.

AL East

My Prediction: Boston Red Sox

Actual:
Toronto Blue Jays & New York Yankees (Wild Card)

I overthought this one. My gut told me Toronto around February, but I fought it figuring they’d find a way to underachieve like they have in years past. I underestimated Josh Donaldson, and who would’ve known they’d be so aggressive at the trade deadline adding David Price, Troy Tulowitzki and Ben Revere. Totally changed everything.

I even admitted in my preseason post that I know better than to “buy into teams that spend tons of money to restock their team,” yet I somehow picked Boston. Another example of this method failing to pay off. I’ll never do it again.

AL Central

My Prediction: Kansas City Royals & Cleveland Indians (Wild Card)
Actual: Kansas City Royals

The Indians were just dreadful out the gate and it took a long time for things to begin to come together for them. They made it close, but had dug themselves too deep of a hole.

Meanwhile, the Royals did exactly what I expected them to do – plus about 10 more wins. I was confident in this bunch and they didn’t disappoint. Here’s what I had to say back in April:

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 mean, how did people not see this coming? It was obvious. Throw in the brilliant additions of free agents Chris Young and Ryan Madson, and this team was hard to beat…is hard to beat.

AL West

My Prediction: Seattle Mariners & Oakland Athletics (Wild Card)
Actual: Texas Rangers & Houston Astros (Wild Card)

The worst. The Mariners were the sexy pick for a lot of people preseason and I guess I got sucked into the hype myself. And the Athletics jacked with my psyche again – Billy Beane basically cleared house and added as many prospects or trade deadline commodities as he could in order to tank for the future. (He also signed Billy Butler, which seems very unrelated.) That’s what the plan looked like in April, but I assumed there was something more. That’s what it was.

What on earth happened in this division!? The five teams finished in nearly reverse order than what I (and most everybody else) predicted. Texas? Houston? What?

NL East

My Prediction: Washington Nationals & Miami Marlins (Wild Card)
Actual: New York Mets

I was so close to picking the Mets as a wild card team, but never would’ve guessed they’d own this division the way they did. I thought the Nationals were going to win 100 games! I suppose Washington ended up being such a toxic clubhouse that it allowed New York to walk over the rest of the weakest division in baseball. The Mets went 45-28 against the rest of the NL East. Miami ended up being a clunker before and after Giancarlo Stanton got injured, but still won 71 games. Philly and Atlanta were as bad as advertised.

NL Central

My Prediction: St. Louis Cardinals & Pittsburgh Pirates (Wild Card)
Actual: St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates (Wild Card) & Chicago Cubs (Wild Card)

The three strongest teams in the National League are out of the same division. The Cardinals, by some miracle, managed to overcome injuries to seemingly their entire team – Adam Wainwright, Matt Adams, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Jon Jay, Carols Martinez, Jaime Garcia started the season on the DL – and not only win the division, but win 100 games. Actuslly, that “miracle” is called their “farm system” which continues to be the most coveted in all of baseball. I don’t know how they do it. Like rabbits.

I thought the Cubs would finish close, but would have to wait until next year. Nope. The team has been really good, and Jake Arrieta has emerged as one of the top 3 pitchers in the game alongside Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. The Pirates are one of the most complete teams in baseball, and were nipping at the Cardinals heels the entire second half.

NL West

My Prediction: Los Angeles Dodgers
Actual: Los Angeles Dodgers

Yep. You’re going to win a lot of games when you throw the two best pitchers in baseball 40% of the time. It’s just not fair.

So overall, I got 4 of the 10 teams correct: Royals, Cardinals, Dodgers, Pirates. Pretty poor showing this year. The AL East continues to give me fits.

Okay, on to the playoffs. Let’s start predicting things and giving reasons for it.

Wild Card

Astros over Yankees

The Yankees are fading. The Astros have been playing good baseball over the past few weeks. Yankee Stadium isn’t a remotely scary place to play. Houston relies on the home run ball, and Yankee Stadium is the perfect ballpark for that type of team to excel. With a righty going in Masahiro Tanaka, I expect lefties Luis Valbuena and Colby Rasmus to both deposit homers in the right field short porch.

Cubs over Pirates

Jake Arrieta is a beast. The Pirates will not beat him. The only way Pittsburgh win this game is if they’re tied 0-0 and the Bucs manage to win against the Chicago bullpen in extras. Gerritt Cole is a fine pitcher, but he’s not in the same league as Arrieta.

That said, if Pittsburgh can make it past that menacing Wild Card game, look out. This team is loaded and might be the most formidable NL opponent. But…Jake.

ALDS

Royals over Astros in 5

I’d be a lot more afraid of Houston if the Royals were playing this series on the road (the same goes for if KC faces the Yankees). The Royals are simply the better team in all facets of the game. With Keuchel pitching on Tuesday, the next he would be available is Game 3 on Sunday (which, at home, he is essentially unbeatable). I think this series goes the full 5 games, but the Royals take it in the end.

Rangers over Blue Jays in 4

David Price is good, but so is Cole Hamels. At first glance, it would seem that whoever wins that Game 1 matchup is going to win this series. However, consider this: in two games against Rangers starter Yovani Gallardo this season, the Blue Jays have notched 6 hits and scored exactly 0 runs. Obviously the playoffs are a different animal, but maybe? One of those games was at home, the other at Rogers Centre. If the Jays can’t figure out how to hit Gallardo, they’re in trouble. The Rangers can match the Blue Jays power too, which is how you have to beat them up north. Toronto led the MLB in scoring, but Texas finished 3rd. Plus I just really like Delino DeShields Jr., and I really don’t want the Royals to face the Jays.

NLDS

Cardinals over Cubs in 5

These two division rivals have never faced each other in the postseason. I almost wish it didn’t have to happen because the mystique is probably more fascinating than the reality will be. The Cubs have Arrieta and Jon Lester going in 3 of the 5 games in this series, so picking the Cardinals means they’ll have to take down Lester at least once. But Dan Haren, Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel? Really? I’ll take Jaime Garcia or Lance Lynn against any of those guys.

It’s weird to say this because the team won 100 games, but this Cardinals team feels like the 2006 or 2011 teams that both won the World Series. Those two teams were Wild Card teams, yes, but the injuries the team has sustained makes them seem like they’re underdogs in a way. Plus, getting Wainwright back and in the bullpen brings back so many memories of 2006.

Mets over Dodgers in 5

The Mets rotation is, somehow, better than the Dodgers. LA has the better 1-2 punch with Kershaw and Greinke, but Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey are near the top as well. But from there on, the Mets are much better with Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon over Brett Anderson and Alex Wood. Wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Clayton Kershaw get beat in the playoffs again this year. Usually it comes at the hands of the Cardinals. This year it’ll be Yoenis Cespedes and the Mets.

ALCS

Rangers over Royals in 6

At this point, who even knows if the matchup is going to happen. At least in the LDS I’m talking about 3, maybe 4, teams that will actually be playing. Whether it’s the Blue Jays or the Rangers here, I don’t like the Royals chances. Both teams have the ability to score too many runs, and whether it’s Hamels or Price, I’m afraid the Royals quest to “Take the Crown” ends in the Championship series.

NLCS

Mets over Cardinals in 6

Because I’m picking Mets/Cardinals it’s almost guaranteed to be Dodgers/Cubs. If it happens, I think the Mets rotation is just better than the Cardinals. If the Cubs face the Mets here, I’ll take the Cubs since they went 7-0 against New York this season.

World Series

Mets over Rangers in 6

Because I just don’t believe the Rangers can get that elusive 27th out.

Psh, who knows? It’s as good a prediction as anyone else is gonna have. Most of us could predict a couple of 6 year olds in a rock-paper-scissors matchup better than we could predict the Postseason. But hey, it’s fun. And if the Mets win it all, I’ll be the one saying I told you so.

And at a certain point, you just start picking the things you don’t want to happen because then you’re happier if you’re wrong. C’mon, KC.

-apc.