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

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

So let’s talk Royals.

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

How did we get here…what went wrong?

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

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

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

How did we get here…what went right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wild Card

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

Here’s the current American League Wild Card standings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Division

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

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

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

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

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

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

-apc.

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

It’s May, and things are…fine.

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

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

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

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

Consider the case of Joakim Soria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Alex Gordon Concern

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

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

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

The Kendrys Morales Concern

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

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

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

The Lorenzo Cain Concern

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

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

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

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

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

The Leadoff Hitter Concern

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s my alternative suggestion…

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll listen off the air, thanks.

-apc.

Photo cred: Fox Sports accessed here.

Cactus League: Weirdo stuff at Camelback

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

Camelback Ranch

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

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

 

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

Duffy plunks two consecutive batters

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

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

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

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

Triple Play

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

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

Butera Inside-the-parker

Yet somehow things got even weirder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-apc.

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

Greetings from Arizona!

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

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

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

Hosmer and Gordon hit balls far.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yordano roughed up early, dirty late.

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

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

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

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

The Eephus League Scorecard

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

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

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

Check out Eephus League here.

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

-apc.

Outfield Options

The Royals have been active this offseason and have spent more money than ever before.

They added Joakim Soria to the bullpen to help make up for the loss of Greg Holland and Ryan Madson. They re-signed Alex Gordon to the largest contract in Royals history: $74M over 4 years. They added Ian Kennedy to the second largest contract in Royals history: $70M over 5 years. They added Dillon Gee and Peter Moylan to minor league contracts hoping one or both might pan out as the next Ryan Madson or even the next Joe Blanton.

And as it stands right now, their team is better entering 2016 than it was entering Spring Training a year ago. Their overall payroll projects to be around $127M for 2016 according to Royals Review, Royals Authority and Pine Tar Press.

The only possible place they could still improve – realistically speaking, of course – is adding an additional outfield option on the cheap.

Yes, Dayton Moore and Ned Yost have both said that Jarrod Dyson deserves a legitimate shot at s starting spot in the outfield this season, and I believe them when they say it. And he’s earned it. His defense is among the best in the league. His speed is the best in the league. His role as a fourth outfielder and speed demon off the bench has been extremely valuable in helping KC make it to back to back trips to the Fall Classic.

But his bat versus lefties is poor. It’s his glaring weakness. And in order to seriously give him a shot, the Royals will have to platoon him with Paulo Orlando, who had a decent 2015, but who many believe – myself included – was mostly smoke and mirrors and is not someone we can fully trust to start roughly 1/3 of 162 games.

So the Royals may need an additional outfielder. Specifically someone who is cheap, isn’t a defensive liability, and is right-handed with strong splits versus lefties.

Here are the available outfield free agents as of this post, along with their 2015 stats, via Fangraphs. (If you’re on your phone, try turning the screen sideways to see the full chart.)

Name G PA HR SB BB% K% AVG OBP SLG Off Def WAR
Dexter Fowler

156

690

17

20

12.2%

22.3%

0.25

0.346

0.411

8.1

0.6

3.2

David Murphy

132

391

10

0

5.1%

12.5%

0.283

0.318

0.421

-0.1

-9.8

0.3

Marlon Byrd

135

544

23

2

5.3%

26.7%

0.247

0.29

0.453

0.3

-7.8

1

Jeff Francoeur

119

343

13

0

3.8%

22.4%

0.258

0.286

0.433

-6.3

-10.6

-0.7

Austin Jackson

136

527

9

17

5.5%

23.9%

0.267

0.311

0.385

-3.4

8.3

2.3

Chris Denorfia

103

231

3

0

6.5%

24.2%

0.269

0.319

0.373

-4

4

0.8

Grady Sizemore

97

296

6

3

6.8%

20.3%

0.253

0.307

0.381

-3.7

-11.9

-0.6

Will Venable

135

390

6

16

9.5%

24.1%

0.244

0.32

0.35

-1.4

0.4

1.2

Drew Stubbs

78

140

5

5

10%

42.9%

0.195

0.283

0.382

-5.4

0.2

-0.1

Skip Schumaker

131

268

1

2

8.6%

19%

0.242

0.306

0.336

-9.5

-9.3

-1.1

Alex Rios

105

411

4

9

3.6%

16.3%

0.255

0.287

0.353

-11.8

-0.2

0.2

Shane Victorino

71

204

1

7

7.8%

15.7%

0.23

0.308

0.292

-5.6

-0.9

0

Matt Joyce

93

284

5

0

10.6%

23.6%

0.174

0.272

0.291

-14.5

-7.8

-1.4

Not listed here: Nate McLouth, who didn’t play in 2015. But he’s a poor defender and he’s left handed and bad at baseball so we can just ignore him probably.

Okay. Process of elimination.

There are 4 lefties on the list: Matt Joyce, Will Venable, Skip Schumaker and Grady Sizemore. They can all be scrapped for various reasons (in addition to their left-handedness). We can eliminate Joyce and Sizemore immediately due to their atrocious defensive numbers. And as much as I would love Schumaker’s defensive flexibility – he can play infield and outfield – his defense last year was poor, and he’s a career .215 hitter off lefties, so he’s likely out of the running as well. Venable is an average defender, but he’s a career .222 hitter against lefties, so he’s out too.

Dexter Fowler is way too expensive. No time to dream here. Moving on.

Drew Stubbs is a terrible hitter. No.

Austin Jackson is the best defender on the list, and that’s always intriguing when we’re talking about Kansas City. Last year he hit .281/.333/.437 off lefties, which okay, but his strength is his glove and his legs…which sounds like Jarrod Dyson. He’s going to want a bigger contract than we’ll want to give him, but throwing his name into the mix with Cain/Dyson certainly makes one salivate a bit over the platoon possibilities. But he’s probably the most expensive guy on the list not named Fowler.

Tough to be objective about Frenchy. The Jeff Francoeur Reunion Tour would sure be fun. He had an okay year last year in Philadelphia representing the meat of their pitiful lineup. We all know about his arm and his smile, but it’s just not worth it.

That leaves these names…

Marlon Byrd
Chris Denorfia
David Murphy
Alex Rios
Shane Victorino

ESPN’s Jayson Stark tweeted this yesterday about David Murphy:

David Murphy is an intriguing option for two reasons. First, he’s got a solid bat versus lefties: .304/.360/.435 in 2015. Second, he’s a high contact guy who is tough to strike out and even harder to walk. He would fit in well offensively. But he’s a poor defender, and I agree with Stark that he’s likely out of KC’s price range for what his role would be.

Shane Victorino has never been my favorite ballplayer, but you know what you’re getting at this point. The guy has hit .300 vs lefties in his career and is coming off a season where he hit .333. He’s also a high contact guy. His defense has been solid in the past – especially when he played in the tiny right field in Fenway Park – but last year in Anaheim his defense slipped. Maybe it’s due to age, but I think it’s the size of the outfield there. And Kauffman is even larger. He’s not the best option.

Bringing back Alex Rios isn’t out of the question if the price is right. We all know Rios’s trajectory from last year: Great first week of the season before he was hit by a pitch in the hand, spent time on the DL and took basically the entire year to recover fully. He looked off the rest of the way. His defense is worse than Orlando’s but his bat is still better. We paid him $11M in 2015, and he’d have to take like a $7M pay cut to come back. But he played the hero numerous times in the postseason. And dem legs. Plus he’s a familiar face in the dugout. Last year he struggled overall and only hit .265 against lefties, but in 2014 he hit .325 and slugged .525. If the price is right, I don’t hate it.

Marlon Byrd, along with having one of the coolest names in baseball, is 38 years old, and even though power isn’t really the Royals M.O., he’s still got some pop in his bat for his age. He sucks against righties and his old guy defense is obviously below average. He spent time in Cincinnati and San Francisco last year, hitting .271 against lefties and slugging just shy of .500. If the Royals added him, he would need to compete for Orlando’s role. He’d be a safety net in case of injury, but I see him being a solid bench bat at best. I’d rather stick with what we’ve got and call up Bubba Starling or Brett Eibner in case of emergency instead.

Finally, we come to Chris Denorfia. He’s a career .285/.353/.419 hitter against lefties, and his defense is the second strongest on this list after Jackson. He was the Cubs 5th outfielder last year, and Royals fans may remember him as the guy who took Miguel Almonte deep in the 11th inning of that Wrigley makeup game last September. (See above.) He had a disappointing year in 2015, spending two stints on the DL with a hamstring issue, and struggled against lefties for the second year in a row.

Denorfia versus LHP since 2010…

2010 – .295/.382/.381 with SDP
2011 – .328/.391/.496
2012 – .337/.390/.500
2013 – .284/.355/.479
2014 – .220/.287/.300 with SEA
2015 – .211/.294/.303 with CHC

Not sure what to make of that decline over the past two years. He clearly liked hitting in San Diego. The Cubs only paid him $2.6M, and with his struggles last year I’d imagine he’d be a $1M option. We could even offer him some performance incentives to keep the payroll safe. He’s 35 years old – same age as Victorino, a year older than Murphy and Rios – but he’d be significantly cheaper than all three of them. He’s not a risk at all, but has the potential to compare with them offensively if he can get back some of that Padre lefty line. The Royals have a history of looking past recent struggles and more at a full body of work. If they believe they can resurrect Denorfia’s ability to hit lefties, they could take a flier on a guy with minimal risk.

So who do you want out of that group? Well, it all depends on what you really are looking for.

If you want a cheap guy to supplement a Dyson/Orlando platoon while you wait for prospects to be called up, I’d give Denorfia a look despite his 2014-15 numbers and hope he bounces back. If you want a guy who can step in and be an every day outfielder and push Dyson and Orlando back into their 2015 roles, I’d suggest bringing back Rios over stretching the bank for Victorino or Murphy. If you want to blow the payroll and bring in a guy who’d be a great fit for Kauffman Stadium, I’d suggest Jackson.

And it’s entirely possible Dayton Moore might value the status quo over any of those options, and I’m fine with that too. I’d be more inclined to spend big at the trade deadline than break the bank before the season even starts. If they sign anybody, I’m in for Chris Denorfia. Stay tuned.

-apc.

Image cred: NBC Chicago accessed here.

The Royals sign RHP Ian Kennedy for $70M over 5 years.

The Royals have added the last major piece of the 2015-2016 offseason in righty starter Ian Kennedy. The deal is for $70M over 5 years with an opt out after two. Although it’s not as large a contract as Alex Gordon signed a few weeks ago – $72M over 4 years – the Kennedy deal further buries Gil Meche‘s name on the Royals’ largest contracts list. Which should be celebrated.

This deal makes two things very clear: 1. Kansas City is going all in for 2016 and 2017, and 2. David Glass has been bitten by the Championship Bug and is suddenly not afraid to shell out some major dinero to stay competitive. At least over the next couple years.

So who is Ian Kennedy?

A quick glance at his stats suggests he’s an okay pitcher with a high upside when you put him in a spacious ballpark with the leagues best defense behind him. He’s had one truly great season (2011) and a few truly terrible seasons (2013, 2015). His 3.98 career ERA is whatever, but his 1.28 career WHIP and 8.31 career K/9 are both in the upper tier among active pitchers. He’s a flyball pitcher, so he has a tendency to give up home runs (he gave up 31 last year in San Diego), but we all expect that number to drop moving from Petco Park to Kauffman Stadium.

He’s what we have come to know as the classic Dayton Moore signing. There are some red flags – namely the fact that he’s coming off a dreadful season (9-15, 4.28 ERA), and if you take it at face value without digging any deeper, you’re going to hate this deal and wonder why a guy with a career ERA of 4 is deserving of a contract so lengthy and expensive. But mostly every other angle points to this being a really successful contract for KC.

For example, over the past three seasons with the Padres, he’s pitched in front of one of baseball’s worst defenses. According to Fangraphs, only the White Sox had a worse defense in 2015. Plus, the spike in home runs in SD wasn’t exclusive to Kennedy (who gave up 31). James Shields led the league in home runs allowed with 33. Andrew Cashner gave up nearly twice as many HR/9 in 2015 as he did in 2014.

Between 2007 and 2014, Petco Park averaged 120.5 home runs per season. In 2014, there were only 101.

In 2015, there were 166.

Not sure what to make of that – maybe there has been some downtown construction that has caused some sort of jet stream for balls to get caught in. Maybe this is El Nino related – lower Eastern Pacific air pressure has caused the ball to travel farther. Or maybe the pitching was just that bad. I don’t know. But there’s something fishy going on at Petco Park. 

EDIT: I just learned the left field fence was brought in about 3 feet before 2015, which isn’t much, but it’s something. That, plus the additions of Justin Upton and Matt Kemp (who combined for 28 HRs at Petco last year), was probably enough for a moderate increase. But neither of those guys batted against Shields/Kennedy/Cashner, so I’m still a bit stumped…101 to 166 is still significant.

Anyway. Why I think this deal is a good one…

The two primary reasons to really like the Ian Kennedy deal: 1. his 2011 season and 2. his ability to consistently eat up innings.

Let’s look at his 2011 season with the Diamondbacks. That year he went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA and finished 4th in the Cy Young voting behind Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. It’s an anomaly on his career stats, but it’s also the only season he ever pitched in front of a terrific defense. The Diamondbacks, according to Fangraphs, were the best defense in baseball in 2011, and by a fair margin. They were led by the other Chris Young and Gerardo Parra in the outfield, and his lower strikeout rate would suggest that he learned how to pitch to his defense rather than trying to strike everybody out. His increase in strikeouts in San Diego suggests a lack of trust in his fielders…and for good reason. In fact, I’m hoping his K/9 drops in 2016, because it means he’s using his defense instead of trying to do it all himself.

Just this morning at ESPN, Buster Olney ranked the Royals defense as the best in the league (which they have been over the past few seasons) and they can only be expected to get stronger with Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain being joined by Jarrod Dyson as an every day outfielder instead of Nori “The Adventure” Aoki or Alex “Was that max effort?” Rios. If the Royals’ pitching coach, Dave Eiland (whom Kennedy worked with in his early years with the Yankees), can remind Kennedy to pitch to his defense, there’s reason to believe Kennedy can really thrive in 2016.

The other obvious reason to like Kennedy: every season he consistently hovers around 200 innings pitched. Last year he had a small hamstring issue early in the season that brought his IP total down, but the guy averages 205 innings over 162 games. The Royals don’t really have a guy like that (nor have they needed one with their bullpen depth), but if he can come anywhere close to that number this year he’ll be an enormous asset to this rotation.

If he struggles to keep his HR rate down and chooses not to opt out after two years, I’m not thrilled to be paying a guy $14M/year to be an average #3 starter, but all signs point to him bouncing back with the help of the defense and him opting out after two years. And even if he stays, $14M would be the going rate for a guy like Kennedy anyway.

It’s also possible the Royals choose to frontload the contract a bit and give him incentive to leave after two. How his contract is structured over 5 years will communicate a lot about KC’s confidence in IK.

There were a lot of names floating around this offseason (Yovani Gallardo, Wei-Yin Chen, Scott Kazmir, specifically), but I’m happy with Kennedy’s being the one the Royals grabbed. Eh, maybe I would’ve preferred Kazmir because he had no qualifying offer attached, but I don’t like Gallardo, and I’m not comfortable with the contract Chen ended up with in Miami.

So your 2016 Royals rotation is…

  1. Yordano Ventura
  2. Edinson Volquez
  3. Ian Kennedy
  4. Kris Medlen
  5. Chris Young/Danny Duffy

Put a bow on the offseason and get me to Spring Training. I hate this offseason winter business.

-apc.

Image cred: Ron Chenoy, USA Today Sports. Accessed here.

 

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.

The Royals finish 95-67: The Postseason is (finally) here, and the American League goes through Kansas City.

Last Friday I was on a Southwest Airlines flight to Midway with my wife who knows full well that no matter how many times I fly, I will never get tired of looking out the window and down on creation. Knowing this, she takes the middle seat and gives me the window. Every time. Clearly I married up, or, in the very least, married someone significantly less selfish than I am.

Lots of Royals fans are on the flight. Loaded. Both the flight and the fans. I’m sure many of you experienced something similar on Friday night whether you were in a plane or not. It was an exciting weekend celebrating our first division championship in 30 years. <party emoji sequence>

Kansas City was playing a make up game at Wrigley Field versus the Cubs that Monday followed by three games at US Cellular against the White Sox. A woman sits down next to us on the aisle. She’s with a group of Royals fans around us. They all have an abundance of Southwest free drink loyalty coupons.

As we land, we learn the Royals have been blanked by Carlos Carrasco and the Indians, 6-0, while the Blue Jays have beaten the Rays in Toronto, 5-3, behind another home run barrage by the sluggernauts north of the border. The news circulates through the fuselage. The woman in the aisle seat swears loudly and bemoans the fact that we were just giving away home field advantage. She looks toward my wife and I for some backup, “I mean, the Blue Jays are gaining on us and Ned [Yost] just doesn’t care, right?! What do you think?”

Sidebar: Do you guys remember that scene in Groundhog Day when Mrs. Lancaster, the owner of the bed and breakfast, is making awkward small talk with Pittsburgh weatherman, Phil Conners (played by Bill Murray), when she comments, “There’s talk of a blizzard.” In response, Phil kicks into meteorologist mode and waxes eloquently about how “all this moisture coming up out of the south…at high altitude it will chrystalize and give us what we call ‘snow.'” (This is going somewhere, trust me.) Phil drones on about the highs and lows for the day and finally pauses to ask, “Did you want to talk about the weather, or were you just making chit chat?”

“Just…chit chat,” she replies as awkward as ever.

This is the question I want to ask this woman when she asks me what I think. Does she actually want to engage in baseball banter, or is she purely looking for validation as a disgruntled and perhaps tipsy Royals fan? If the former, I’m inclined to discuss how, when up a dozen games, destined to clinch and waiting for the rest of the league to shake out, it’s normal to rest starters, work out the kinks and coast to October healthy and fresh. Because once you’re in, it’s a brand new game – the previous 162 games done matter, and besides, it’s partly just a big crapshoot. If it truly is the latter, then I’m inclined to nod, throw up my hands a bit incredulously and agree with her for the sake of argument, time, and potential frustration’s sakes, that Ned is clueless, the team is toast, and will probably not only lose home field advantage, but will likely somehow end up playing in the Wild Card game despite winning their division. It’s that bad, ma’am.

Since I’m unsure of her level of chat interest, I chooses middle-of-the-road option where I disagree but over-simplify the reasoning with throwaway comments like, “they’ll be fine,” and “we just gotta get to October.” It seems to work. She responds, “Really?! I’m nervous. I hope you’re right.”

I’ve been accused of being too optimistic – ignoring obvious gaffes in the game plan and choosing to blindly hope things turn around when everything suggests things are slowly imploding. Ignore Cueto. Ignore Gordon. Ignore Holland’s inconsistency. Ignore the red hot Blue Jays. Ignore. Ignore. Ignore. It’ll be fine.

But c’mon. Games hadn’t mattered since late-August. The division had been wrapped up for so long, I was posting “who do we want in the postseason?” stuff in early September. The team had moved on. The goals were simple: get healthy and get ready. 

And they did that, for the most part. Lorenzo Cain‘s legs are sore and Salvador Perez‘s thumb and finger have taken a beating, but otherwise we are in good shape. And those were both due to freak happenstances – a foul off Lorenzo’s back knee and a couple errant throws catching Sal’s digits behind the plate.

I don’t think I was being flippant and blindly hoping. This team is, without a doubt in my mind, the best team in the American League. They have been since they started the season 7-0. Did they look bored and phone in some games in September? Absolutely. Like the night I landed in Chicago to learn that the Royals’ AAA lineup (plus Ben Zobrist) had been nearly no-hit by Carrasco. 

If anything, I believed that when the Royals were forced to play meaningful baseball games again they would rise to the occasion. Games became meaningful when they went to Minneapolis without home field advantage, and, as expected, we rose. And so did the Rays, thankfully.

Anyway. We’re here now. We did it. 

And wouldn’t you know it, but over the last week of the season, the team looked just like it did during the first week of the season. Running on all cylinders. Winning their last 5 games and  6 of their last 8. In those 8 games, their starters have given up 8 earned runs. Over 47.1 innings. That’s a 1.52 ERA. 

Is that right? That can’t be right. I’ve double checked it, but I still don’t believe it.

Yordano “Ace” Ventura is back and will start Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday. Johnny Cueto is back – or “fixed” might be a better word – and will start Game 2. Eddy is steady and will start Game 3. Chris Young has been brilliant and Kris Medlen has been too (but only on the road, oddly enough), so the two of them ought to have Game 4 covered. Throw in Danny Duffy, who looks better than ever in the bullpen, and this team is primed for the postseason. 

The bullpen doesn’t have questions anymore either. Wade Davis is the closer now that Greg Holland has had season ending Tommy John surgery. What I watched Kelvin HerreraRyan MadsonLuke Hochevar do at Wrigley Field in the 8th-9th-10th showed me all I need to know there. We have a bullpen that shortens games and a ballpark that lowers scores. And a defense that doesn’t bend or break.

So here we go, a second consecutive trip to the postseason. Last year as the underdog, but this year as one of the favorites. But know this about the postseason: anything can happen. 

The thing is though – and we learned this last year – defense, pitching and the ability to manufacture runs wins championships. Offense is a roller coaster that can ebb and flow by game. The Royals are 7th in all of baseball in runs scored, but TOR, NYY, TEX, and HOU all score more. But the Royals allow fewer runs than everybody but Houston. In the playoffs, scoring runs isn’t always sustainable, but preventing runs is. Hitting can go cold. Defense, speed and pitching really doesn’t.

I’ll look more closely at matchups and predict the postseason – like I so unsuccessfully did in 2014 – in the coming days. For now, I’ll say this: I’m pumped that we’re back playing meaningful baseball. I’m glad the team has a few days to rest Lorenzo’s legs and Sal’s hand, and I’m glad we won’t have to face Dallas Kuechel more than once in the ALDS (if we even see the Astros). And I’m glad the American League goes through Kansas City.

Here’s to another mostly unproductive, sleep deprived and emotionally overwhelming October. 

See you at the K on Thursday. 

-apc.

Photo: AP Photo accessed at NBCSports.com here.

The Royals are 88-63: Get your champagne ready…

The magic number is two. It could happen tonight.

Wouldn’t it be perfect if Johnny Cueto went out tonight and pitched lights out, clinching the Royals’ first ever AL Central division championship? Of course, we also need Minnesota to lose to Cleveland, but I was looking at the Indians’ lines against Twins’ starter Kyle Gibson, and check out these beauties…

Screenshot 2015-09-24 13.01.35

This is from ESPN’s stats page. Mike Aviles 4-6. Yan Gomes 5-9 with 2 HR. Michael Brantley (who, unfortunately, is injured) 4-11. Jason Kipnis is 2-6. Santana only has 1 hit but it was a 2-run HR. As a team they bat .344/.438/.557. No member of the Tribe who has faced Kyle Gibson is hitless against him. So, what I’m saying here is that I like our chances of clinching tonight.

The Johnny-Salvy Pairing

Throw in the fact that the Royals seem to have finally discovered the source of Cueto’s struggles and one could foresee the Royals popping corks in their home dugout about 8 hours from now.

This Johnny Cueto/Salvador Perez dynamic is really interesting to me. Andy McCullough wrote a fascinating piece following Cueto’s last start against Cleveland on how Salvy’s setup behind the plate wasn’t comfortable for his new ace. You can read that article here.

It makes sense. The 3-time All-Star catcher and soul of the team has his way of doing things. The new guy staff ace rental has his way. No one wants to butt heads. They both want to give the other the benefit of the doubt. But it wasn’t working. Finally, Cueto spoke up. We’ll see how things shake out over the next few starts.

Some folks – primarily on Twitter, so let’s not take it all too seriously – have suggested that Cueto pitch to the smaller, lower to the ground Drew Butera down the stretch. That, in the opinion of this fan blogger, would be pretty idiotic. Why would we ever want to get Cueto used to a catcher whose only purpose on the postseason roster will to be a backup catcher in case of injury? We don’t want Butera even touching a bat in a postseason game. No no no. You spend the next two weeks getting Cueto and Salvy on the same page so our best team takes the field in October. Come on, people.

Holland out. Wade in. Finally.

Ned Yost announced yesterday prior to the Royals 4-3 walks win over the Mariners that Greg Holland is out as the Royals closer and Wade Davis is in. Kelvin Herrera slides back an inning and takes over Wade’s 8th inning duties. Ryan Madson slides into the 7th to take over for Herrera. The 6th inning will be a mix/match situation, but I’m hoping Danny Duffy wants the job.

You have to wonder what took the Royals so long to make this move. It’s been very clear for more than a year that the best man in the Royals bullpen was Wade Davis. In fact, Davis has been so historically good that he may have the greatest two-year stretch by any reliever in the history of baseball. Why isn’t your best man pitching your most important inning? It could even be argued that Greg Holland wasn’t even the second best closer on the team. Herrera has been dominant as well. Yet there he was. He’s supposedly been dealing with elbow issues sin the All-Star break. His velocity is down. His control is miserable. He occasionally shows glimpses of his former self, but when a guy can’t command a fastball, he has no business being a closer.

With Holland being a free agent at year’s end, we’ve certainly seen the last of Greg Holland as a closer.

UPDATE: About two hours after this post the Royals announced that Holland has a significant UCL tear and will be shut down for the season. Supposedly he’s had the year since LAST AUGUST and has been pitching through pain. Crazy.

This Royals team isn’t messing around.

The last thing I’ll say here is that the Royals aren’t messing around this year. In the past, the Royals would’ve stuck with guys like Alcides Escobar leading off or Greg Holland closing or Danny Duffy getting more work in the rotation for the future. Not this year. This is 2015 and this – despite what the 2012 slogan maintained – is our time.

The Royals best 6 OBP guys are hitting 1 through 6 in the lineup. The Royals best bullpen arm is closing. Their second best is pitching the 8th. The Royals see that Kris Medlen is pitching much better than Danny Duffy and make the move early to prepare for the postseason. Even if that means Jeremy Guthrie has to get shelled a start or two, that’s okay, because Duffy needs to get used to the bullpen. The Royals aren’t afraid to bench their overpaid second baseman, Omar Infante (who is now going to be out a couple weeks with an oblique injury), or threaten to bench their underperforming and now bearded right fielder, Alex Rios, who has shockingly been our best hitter over the past month.

This team finally gets it. Actually, I probably shouldn’t say “finally” – I think Dayton Moore and Ned Yost have always gotten it, but they’re not playing for next year anymore. They’re finally playing for right now, and they’re making all the right moves to prepare us for the ALDS and hopefully beyond.

-apc.

Johnny Cueto’s BABIP

Let’s talk about Johnny Cueto.

The Royals gave up three left-handed pitching prospects for a couple months worth of Johnny Beisbol. In his first few starts, Cueto didn’t disappoint. In his first start at Kauffman Stadium, he threw a complete game shutout – a feat that hadn’t been done by a Royals starter all year. Since then, it’s been mostly downhill.
Going into Sunday, in his last 4 starts his ERA is a burgeoning 9.45. The Red Sox, Orioles, Tigers and White Sox have each shelled Cueto. It’s an anomaly in his career, and it’s easy to brush off and preach “sample size,” but at a certain point it still gets a bit unnerving.

Here’s something pretty interesting I’m taking a look at: 

For those unfamiliar with BABIP, it stands for Batting Average on Balls In Play and measures the average of non-homerun balls put in play that end up as hits. So if a guy goes 3-5 with a homer, strikeout, and a ground out, his BABIP is .667: the homer and strikeout don’t come into play, so of balls put in play, he went 2 for 3. Makes sense, yeah?

This metric depends on three variables: talent, defense and luck

Batters have more control over their talent on BABIP than pitchers do. Hitters can attempt to “hit it where they ain’t” – they can place their hits somewhat. Pitchers have a limited ability to really control where the ball goes off the bat. They can pitch down in the zone to induce ground balls, and they can throw on the outer half to coax the hitter to take it the opposite way, but they ultimately can’t determine the hitter’s bat speed to know what direction that ball will go. It’s much more determinant on the other two metrics: defense and luck.

So when measuring pitchers, BABIP can give a great understanding of how a pitcher is being aided or hurt by good/bad defense or good/bad luck. Better hitters have higher BABIP. Better pitchers have lower BABIP. League average is around .300 for both. Cueto’s career BABIP against is .274.

Uncharacteristically, Cueto’s last four games have all had a BABIP over .375. Here’s the list of games in the last three years of Cueto’s career where he posted a .375 BABIP or above.

  • 7/31/15 – KC @ TOR: .412
  • 8/20/14 – CIN @ STL: .412
  • 7/20/14 – CIN @ NYY: .417
  • 6/11/14 – CIN vs LAD: .375
  • 6/21/13 – CIN @ ARI: .500
  • 9/15/12 – CIN @ MIA: .444
  • 9/9/12 – CIN vs HOU: .615

It’s happened 5 times since Cueto joined Royals. To find the previous 5 times you’ve got to scroll his game log all the way back to September 2012 (I chose to omit 6/26/13 since he left with an injury after only 1.0 innings). So, in the number of times he’s posted a .375+ BABIP in the past three years…

  • September 2012 – July 2015: 5 times
  • August 2015 – September 2015: 5 times

To recap: five times over 34 months. And five times over 2 months.

In 221 career starts it’s only happened 40 times, but 1/8 of those have occurred in the past month. What is going on here? What would cause such an insane change in numbers in such a short amount of time?

At first glance, it makes no sense at all. One would assume when an All-Star caliber pitcher joins the team with the best defense in baseball, his BABIP would improve, not get worse. Right? Then what’s going on here?

The easiest solution here is to chalk it up to crummy luck. It’s also the laziest solution, so I’m wary to say that’s the problem. Cueto would have to be insanely unlucky to offset the benefit of the Royals defense. Besides, doesn’t it seem a bit too coincidental that the moment he changes teams, leagues and ballparks this spike occurs?

Perhaps the Royals defense hasn’t been as strong as usual. Alex Gordon has been out, and Ben Zobrist has been stepping in for he and Omar Infante lately. Zobrist is good, but he’s not as solid defensively as Omar and Alex. Throw in Jonny Gomes and Paulo Orlando, and the defense isn’t quite what it usually is. In Cueto’s last start, Christian Colon played 2B and Kendrys Morales played 1B. Three runs scored on grounders through the infield.

But as a whole, Cueto hasn’t given up groundball hits. It’s mostly been the result of medium to hard hit liners to the outfield. Nothing much the outfield can do about those. Besides, Jonny Gomes hasn’t even played while Cueto has been pitching. To me, it has very little, if anything, to do with the defense.

Jeff Sullivan over at Fangraphs came up with a three-part solution last week: Cueto’s faced tougher competition over the past few starts in the AL, he no longer gets to face pitchers since leaving the NL, and he’s simply made a few mistake pitches in the zone.

But Fangraphs doesn’t mention BABIP, and I think it creates a better framework in this instance. Fangraphs splits up his batting average against (BAA) over his entire career and found that this spike is right in line with others he’s had in the past. But this BABIP spike is unprecedented. He has never ever had a BABIP spike like this. It can’t just be chalked up to another peak on a chart. This is different.

Which brings me to the real question: Is it a major problem? Or is it just a freaky anomaly? With our defense, we have to assume this is just bad luck, right? It feels lazy, but it’s the only thing I can figure that would cause such a spike.

But what about talent? The one thing I’ll add in that regard is this: Johnny’s slider has been an issue lately. It’s never been his best pitch – he throws a fastball or cutter about 71% of the time and a slider only 8% – but since he came to KC, his slider has been consistently negative in value. The reason: he’s throwing it just a tick too fast, leaving it out over the plate. It’s the pitch that has consistently burned him. 

All this to say, I think there are tweaks that Cueto can make to become more effective, but overall, this streak of poor starts is strangely unlucky. Seems like a cop out, but his BABIP is so skewed it has to be the truth, honestly. Heck, maybe this is a good thing. Law of Averages would suggest that he’s due to have some good luck around the corner. 

Clean up that slider Johnny, and keep relying on your defense and you’ll be fine.

And fans – keep calm and Cueto on. 

-apc.

Photo cred: mlive.com accessed here. (Highly recommend clicking over if only to laugh at the headline.)

The Royals are 83-56: You can’t blame Greg Gibson for this one.

The Royals just wrapped up a nine game homestand which saw them go 3-6 against the Detroit Tigers (2-1) Chicago White Sox (0-3) and the Minnesota Twins (1-2). After winning their previous 8 home series, the Royals have now dropped two in a row. Yikes.

The Royals dropped the final game of the homestand last night, 3-2 in 12 innings to the second place Twins. The game included a 5 inning no-hitter from Kris Medlen who finally gave up 2 runs in the 6th sparked by a Kurt Suzuki leadoff home run. Then Ben Zobrist happened. His solo home run in the 6th and triple in the 8th led the charge to tie the game at 2. I was compelled to buy his t-shirt jersey from the team store after the game.

The game also included the Royals speed show with Terrance Gore and Jarrod Dyson swiping second and third in the 9th and 10th innings, respectively. The game also included a video review when Dyson tried to take home on a chopper back to the pitcher. Blaine Boyer threw the ball to his catcher up the third base line and Dyson had no choice but to collide with Suzuki. Dyson was called out, and I think it was the right call. As I understand the plate blocking rule, the catcher is required to leave the runner a lane, unless the ball takes him into the running lane. That clearly is what happened.

Anyway. It wasn’t Zobrist or Speed Duo who had the last word. Instead, it was Miguel Sano who hit the go ahead bomb. Although, he should’ve already been out.

We all pretty much agree the pitch was a strike. PitchFX agrees. The MLB app agrees. Ned Yost agrees. I’m sure home plate umpire Greg Gibson has seen the replay by now and also agrees. But the pitch went against KC, and, unfortunately, two pitches later Franklin Morales grooved one and Sano deposited it in the LCF stands. It’s the kind of thing Miguel Sano does these days.

Here’s the MLB strike zone on their app. Red is strike/foul. Green is ball. Blue is the ball Sano crushed.

Look, get mad all you want at the home plate umpire. You have every right to be. He blew a call. Pitch 5 was a strike and it was called a ball. You can point the finger at Greg Gibson about the bad call, but you can’t blame him for giving up the home run or for causing us to lose the game. The umpire wasn’t the one who left Pitch 7 right over the middle of the plate for Sano to clobber. That was Franklin Morales’s doing.

Gibson is also not the one who went 0-8 with runners in scoring position. That was a team effort.

ZERO. FOR. EIGHT.

The Royals had so many chances to score: Cain was on third base with one out in the 4th. Gordon was on second base with no outs in the 6th. Gore was on second base with one out and on third base with two outs in the 9th. Dyson was on third base with one out in the 10th. None of them scored. Unacceptable. A sac fly to the outfield was all we needed – multiple times! – but we couldn’t do it.

So again, go ahead and thumb your nose at the umpire all you want for not calling Sano out on strikes, but the Royals lost that game multiple times themselves before Greg Gibson ever had the opportunity.

it’s too bad the Royals squandered a great outing by Medlen. They hit the ball decently hard multiple times and couldn’t catch a break, and when they needed big hits from Kendrys Morales or Salvador Perez or Eric Hosmer, they couldn’t come through.

It was a rough homestand, there’s no denying that. The team looks flat. Pitching has been less than stellar (led by Johnny Cueto), and the offense has been stagnant. Thankfully, these games don’t mean much…yet. If they keep this up, they might mean something really soon. Toronto is now within 4 games of the Royals for home field advantage, and like I said in my last post, I do NOT want to have to travel to Toronto.

This is still a playoff team, there’s no question about that either. Their magic number is 13 with 23 to play. They’ll make it to the postseason, but will they still look like the best team in the American League when they get there?

Besides, let’s not fool ourselves into believing that once we make the postseason anything really matters. With the exception of the Wild Card game, the Royals won both series as the road team, and lost the World Series as the home team. Once October gets here, anything can happen. The goal is to get there, and get there healthy.

That’s all I got – short post for now. I’m working on a Johnny Cueto post that I hope to be done with before his start on Saturday. Until then.

-apc.

The Royals are 77-49: Too early to start thinking postseason things?

Look, I’m sorry, okay?

The summer got a bit crazy and my weekly blogging got away from me. There are at least a dozen of you who are, at minimum, wondering why I haven’t been blogging, and at maximum, genuinely concerned for my well being. Somewhere in there you might actually have missed my takes on baseball, youth ministry and pop culture.

Let’s get back to it.

When I last posted about the Royals, they were 9-3 and were dealing with being the Bad Boys of Baseball for the third series in a row. They’ve been nothing less than spectacular since then. They’re now 77-49 and have an absolute stranglehold on the AL Central. They are a handful of games up on the second best teams in the American League. With 36 games remaining…

Their magic number is 25.
Their magic number for home field advantage is 31.

Basically, the Royals are all but guaranteed to end up back in the postseason. That’s not being cocky or overconfident. It’s just the truth. It’s not too early, so let’s take a glance toward October.

Who do we want to face in the playoffs?

While the winners of the AL Central seems abundantly clear, the rest of the American League is mostly uncertain. As of right now there appears to be 7 teams fighting for 4 playoff spots. Baltimore, Toronto, New York, Minnesota, Houston, Los Angeles and Texas are all lingering. A couple of those teams scare me. Most of them don’t. It’s very obvious who the best team in the AL is in 2015.

To me, Houston and Toronto are the scariest of the remaining clubs – especially if we don’t have home field advantage. The Royals are the most complete team in baseball, but the one way they can be beaten is with the long ball. Going to the launching pads that are Rogers Centre (Toronto) and Minute Maid Park (Houston) hurts our chances significantly. Throw Yankee Stadium in there too.

In fact, looking back at 2014, Angel Stadium was the best possible place for us to begin our postseason run. It projects as a pitchers park and played to the Royals’ strengths. The Angels were overmatched in all areas last year, and recent history suggests nothing has changed: we’ve gone 11-1 against L.A. in our last 12 games. I’d love to face the Halos again in the 2015 ALDS.

It doesn’t seem likely that we’ll play the Angels anywhere but the ALDS. If they make the playoffs, they’ll probably end up in the Wild Card game finishing behind the Astros in the West. Chances are they’ll have to go through Toronto or New York first.

I was going to rank those 7 teams in order of who we want to play most/least, but David Lesky over at Pine Tar Press already did a great job of that this morning. He includes the Rays in the list of possible playoff teams, but he agrees that Los Angeles would be a great first round opponent.

I want to avoid Toronto and Houston at all costs, so here’s what I want to have happen: Angels over Blue Jays in the Wild Card. Yankees over Houston in the ALDS. Royals face LAA and NYY en route to the Series.

But who knows how things will shake out? When I think about how much things can change in September, I always remember the 2011 Cardinals: 10.5 games out of 1st place on August 25. Took over the NL Central on the last day of the season and ended up winning the World Series over the Rangers. Anything is possible.

Game 4 starter: Duffy or Medlen?

With the addition of Johnny Cueto, the return of Kris Medlen from injury and the resurgence of Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy, this team is suddenly stacked with starters. No more of that Chris Young or Joe Blanton business. Throw in Edinson Volquez, who has been our most consistently wonderful starter this year, and you’ve got a pretty formidable rotation come postseason play.

But you don’t need 5 starters in the postseason – you only need 4. Which means one of these guys is going to end up in the bullpen.

But who?

Well, it’s clearly not going to be Cueto or Volquez. That would just be absurd. That leaves one of Medlen/Duffy/Ventura is headed to the pen. And after Game 6 of the World Series, there’s no way we send Ventura out there.

So that leaves Duffy or Medlen.

The initially obvious choice seems to be Medlen because he was just added to the rotation this past week (shipping Jeremy Guthrie to the bullpen), but he looked so solid in his first start on Monday (69 pitches – 6 IP 5 H 3 R 6 K), absolutely filthy at times, in fact, and made only a couple mistakes. The most impressive stat is his pitch count. He already is showing signs of his 2012 self. If he continues to improve over his remaining starts, to me, he’s our 4th starter.

Duffy provides something the rest of them don’t: he’s left-handed. We currently only have Franklin Morales out there, and he’s been fantastic, but it would be nice to have another lefty option out of the bullpen. If we play Toronto, Duffy is guaranteed to be in the bullpen as their entire line up bats right handed. Los Angeles is also righty-heavy. But the Yankees have a pretty left-handed lineup (Brian McCann, Didi Gregorious, Jacoby Ellsbury, Bretty Gardner, Stephen Drew) and so do the Rangers (Prince Fielder, Josh Hamilton, Mitch Moreland, Rougned Odor, Shin-Soo Choo).

Conclusion: if the Royals face New York or Texas, I’d move Medlen to the pen and start Duffy in Game 4. Otherwise, I think Duffy ends up in the bullpen for the second straight year. But again, we’ll see how both of these guys look over the final month or so.

The Postseason Lineup

The trade for Ben Zobrist has me giddy. He has been one of my favorite ballplayers for a long time playing in Tampa and Oakland.

Zobrist is the ultimate utility man. He can play positions all over the field and he can play them all well. He’s the anti-Billy Butler. Outfield and second base have been his primary positions, but you don’t lose anything in terms of defense no matter where you put him.

Well, that’s not true. You probably would on this team with how good our defenders are. The exception is Alex Rios in RF. Rios is bad at defense. His hitting seems to be coming around finally. But Zobrist is better at both offense and defense.

At second base, Infante is slightly better, and the Royals seem to think he’s got good chemistry with Alcides Escobar up the middle. But how many times have we seen him fail to turn a double play? His shoulder is still pretty lame, and he doesn’t appear to have any zip on his 6-4-3 turns. We’ve lost multiple games this season purely because Omar’s arm isn’t strong enough to finish a double play. But the Royals are probably right, Omar’s defense is still better.

But on the offensive side, Infante is miserable. He’s currently hitting .219/.234/.311. He’s picked it up over the past week hitting triples in back to back games which is obviously not sustainable. But he’s nothing compared to Ben Zobrist: .286/.374/.468.

So when Gordon returns to LF in a week or so, does Zobrist move to RF or 2B?

To me, the answer seems pretty obvious: Infante should sit.

However, there are a few probable postseason pitchers who Infante has hit well over his career: Scott Kazmir (.407/.467/.778, 30 PAs), R.A. Dickey (.472/.474/.694, 38 PAs) and C.J. Wilson (.389/.389/.500, 18 PAs) haven’t fared so well versus Infante. Another option the Royals have – which is probably what they’ll end up doing – is to move Zobrist back and forth between RF and 2B based on pitcher matchups. That sounds a bit against Ned Yost‘s typical managing style – he’s much more prone to put guys in specified roles and keep them there – but I think that’s what will eventually happen.

Meanwhile, Jarrod Dyson is better defensively than both Zobrist and Rios combined. In a close game, Zobrist needs to remain at second and Dyson needs to be in for Rios in RF.

For some reason, when Zobrist first came over from Oakland, Yost would regularly bring in Dyson to pinch run for him in the 7th inning. This is not a smart move. In a close game, Zobrist’s bat is crucial in the lineup. Rios’s, on the other hand, is not. If the Royals are leading in a close game, Dyson should come in for Rios and Zobrist should move to 2B.

Here’s what I think our lineup will be…

Escobar SS
Zobrist 2B
Cain CF
Hosmer 1B
Morales DH
Gordon LF
Moustakas 3B
Perez C
Rios RF

You can make an argument that Gordon should lead off, and I’d listen. Boy, would I listen. But c’mon, that’s not happening at this point. Esky is your leadoff hitter, for better or for worse.

And I see the back to back lefties too, and Ned loves stacking his lineups L-R-L-R.

Shoot. Now that I look at it, with Rios at the bottom, you could even start Dyson, pinch hit Rios at some point and move Infante in to 2B and Zobrist to RF late. Gah! It’s wonderful. So many options.

Which points to why Zobrist is so valuable: he creates options with his versatility. He’s even a switch hitter! But the ability to move him around and bring whoever you want off the bench to pinch hit makes him way more valuable than any of his stats claim.

***

That’s plenty for now. Good to be back in the swing of things. Again, sorry about the extended silence, you guys. It won’t happen again.

-apc.

Photo cred: foxsports.com.

The Royals are 9-3: the Oakland fiasco, and a tale from my days as a pitcher.

It only happened once.

I was 18 years old. It was the summer following my senior year and one of my teammates had been hit hard in the back by the opposing pitcher. As my friend trotted down to first, this jerk of a pitcher decided to give my friend a head nod and blow him a kiss. What a punk. I don’t remember all the details about the game, but I remember losing and our whole team fuming. We went to Buffalo Wild Wings after pretty much every game, and that night we talked about what had transpired.

I was our team’s starting pitcher. My teammates, without much consent from me, elected that I plunk the kid the next time I faced him. I needed to respond on behalf of our mate. I agreed to the terms, but inside I was pretty apprehensive. Besides, I was way more worked up about avenging our loss with a win than I was about that kissyface pitcher.

Somehow, by the time we played them again, not only did my whole team know it was coming, but so did the other team and a decent number of our “fans.” There was a murmur in the crowd as the kid came to bat the first time. I still wasn’t certain whether I was going to go through with it.

He was leading off the inning. My catcher, Jim, dropped one finger and slapped his left thigh – fastball, inside. I turned the ball around in my glove as my index and ring finger found the seams. I nodded to Jim, wound up and delivered the pitch.

I hit him in the neck.

That was the only time I ever hit someone on purpose.

*********

The Royals and the Athletics don’t like each other much right now. A series that was supposed to feature the celebratory homecoming of Billy Butler turned out to be as heated as a mid-April series can possibly be. The benches cleared in all three games, and according to most national media outlets, a new rivalry was born.

It all started with a reckless slide from Brett Lawrie on Friday night injuring Alcides Escobar. The slide looked questionable to say the least.

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First of all, Lawrie would’ve been safe if he’d just gone straight to the bag, but he clearly goes far to the inside with his spikes up high. A major no-no. Lawrie’s left foot catches Escobar in the ankle and his right knee knocks into Escobar’s knee. Lawrie claims he was not intending to hurt Escober. I probably believe him. But he did. And it happened because he made a reckless and stupid decision. The Royals went on to win, 6-4.

On Saturday, the Royals teammates wanted to stand up for their fallen teammate by retaliating. Not only that, I think the Royals wanted to retaliate on a whole string of HBP injustice that had come their way. Throwing at Lawrie wouldn’t be a message simply to him, it would be a message to the entire league. We won’t just roll over for you. We’re here to fight back.

Surprisingly, Yordano Ventura chose not to throw at Lawrie the first time he faced him. Instead, he got him to ground out. It may have just been due to the game situation that he decided to not give him the pass to first base, but I was still happy about this turn of events. Despite the pressure to respond, Ventura might end up taking the high road, refusing to engage in such extracurricular shenanigans. Good for him.

Except then Yordano had somewhat of a meltdown. He gave up 5 runs in the 4th capped by a 3-run homer off the bat of Josh Reddic.k. Up next: Brett Lawrie. And with the game suddenly somewhat out of reach, it felt like it was going to happen. Sure enough, with his frustration mounting, Ventura threw a 99 mph fastball at Lawrie, plunking him hard on the elbow. Ventura was immediately ejected, and that was the only excitement the night had for us at The K. The Royals went quietly as the Athletics went on to win the game, 5-0.

*********

I remember my dugout going bananas. The opposing coach came out to argue with the umpire that I be thrown out of the game. Kissyface rolled around on the ground for a moment, but wanting to look strong, he pulled himself up, rubbed his neck and started walking to first base. He tried to convince one of his coaches that he was fine as he walked. I’m sure he probably was, it’s not like my fastball was anything to behold.

Jim trotted out to me on the mound and handed me the baseball. He took off his catchers mask and told me something encouraging, but I don’t remember what. He patted my fanny and jogged back behind the plate. I turned around and stood on the mound staring away from the action and out toward the scoreboard trying to act unaware of the commotion behind me. I refused to engage more of the drama – not because I was above it, but because I knew I was guilty.

I was ashamed. The mound can be a pretty lonely place.

*********

The Royals thought everything was square. Lawrie had taken out Escobar with an ugly slide. Ventura had responded by doinking him good. All done. Put a bow on it.

Apparently, Oakland thought differently.

Because Sunday, in the opening frame, Scott Kazmir hit Lorenzo Cain in the leg.

Both benches were warned – which seems to note that the umpires thought everything was square too…if they hadn’t, Kazmir would’ve been tossed a la Yordano. Royals pitching coach, Dave Eiland hollered out at Kazmir from the dugout which got Eiland ejected. Ned Yost then went out to ask what had happened, and he got ejected. Play continued without the two Royals coaches, but Scott Kazmir was not ejected.

Danny Duffy, the Royals starter, didn’t seem rattled by the whole ordeal. He made short work of the Athletics in the 2nd inning, and it seemed that the Royals would just let the A’s have the last word and get back to winning baseball games. Who cares who retaliated last and whether or not teams are square? You win the game, and it doesn’t matter. Winning is the final blow, the last word, the ultimate silencer.

Which is why it was surprising Kazmir chose to hit Cain in the first place. Sure, the Royals retaliated to Lawrie’s initial gaffe, and if that didn’t make things square, surely Oakland coming away with the victory on Saturday was enough for both teams to move on and get back to baseball, right? Winning should’ve silenced it, even if the A’s felt Yordano’s retaliation was uncalled for.

Apparently that wasn’t the case, and Kazmir opened up a whole new can of worms.

In the 8th inning, with the Royals trailing 2-1, Kelvin Herrera decided the team needed to retaliate a second time. With Lawrie batting again, Herrera threw his first pitch way inside but it didn’t hit Lawrie. The second pitch didn’t either, but it didn’t matter. A 100 mph fastball, launched about 12 feet wide of the mark flew behind Lawrie’s back. Herrera was ejected. Headed into the dugout, Herrera pointed at Lawrie’s head. The HBP wasn’t successfully delivered, but the message certainly was. Benches cleared. Bullpens emptied. Acting manager and Royals bench coach, Don Wakamatsu, was ejected (twice?), and Alcides Escobar was ejected. Franklin Morales came in to finish the inning, getting Lawrie to pop up.

But from where I was sitting, the Royals looked really bad. Really really bad. They looked immature and whiney. Childish even. America’s Darling October Underdogs were suddenly looking like a bunch of cry babies shouting, “but he started it!” Being a good team will get you a lot of haters. It’s a natural thing. It makes sense. You beat a bunch of teams and suddenly you have a target on you. How a team responds to that hatred speaks volumes. I didn’t like that Herrera threw behind Lawrie. Not at all. It looked like a last ditch effort since the game was slipping away.

I was proud of Danny Duffy and the rest of the team for burying their emotions and getting back to playing the game. Don’t worry about Kazmir’s hit early, just play the game and get the last word by winning. But as the game went later, and the Royals were still down, I guess Herrera felt they needed to get their knocks in somehow. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I struggled to 100% back this team’s actions today. It was conflicting.

*********

I remember the whole ordeal being pretty embarrassing and confusing.

I never really wanted to hit the kid, but I felt like if I didn’t then I’d be letting my team down. I didn’t feel like we needed to retaliate beyond letting the scoreboard do the talking, but I’d done the deed anyway. I had always been taught that “two wrongs don’t make a right” and to “turn the other cheek” and all that business. I felt like I had betrayed my moral philosophy, and now everyone was mad at me pointing fingers. Worse: I was pointing the finger at myself.

I didn’t get tossed. The umpire walked out to the mound and told me to get things under control or else I might be next time. Which was a relief, sure, but now I had a runner on first base with nobody out. Fantastic. Not only did it make things worse relationally, it put our team in a worse position to win the game, and everyone and Herm Edwards knows that winning the game is the point. Putting him on base felt completely nonsensical to me, but my teammates seemed to think I had performed admirably.

And now he was over on first base clapping his hands and begging me to throw over. I was in a worse position because I’d chosen to retaliate. Why would I do that to myself?! Instead of just trying to get him out, I had allowed the situation to escalate. I had a chance to respond by striking the kid out. Instead, he was threatening to steal second base.

My teammates seemed pleased – I had stood up for my teammate and held true to the code of baseball which embraces such a response – but then why did I feel so crummy about it? It was conflicting to say the least.

*********

The ending of Sunday’s game was huge for the 2015 Royals. 

Following Herrera’s ejection, there were two different outcomes. Either the Royals don’t score and the Athletics take the series in front of an angry home crowd and we all come off looking like a bunch of punks. Or, we wind up winning the game, take the series, and the Athletics can revisit their frustration when we see them next in June.

Those two messages are drastically different. You don’t want to be known as a bunch of hotheads. You want to be known as a bunch of winners.

Thankfully, the Royals managed to respond in bottom of the 8th. Paulo Orlando walked. Moose moved him up with a ground out. Lorenzo Cain doubled, scoring Orlando. Cain stole third. Hosmer walked. Then Kendrys Morales hit a monster double to straight away center, scoring both Cain and Hosmer. The Royals went on to win 4-2.

Hitting players with pitches, to me, is rarely necessary. I understand that baseball has an unwritten code of retaliation. Pitchers are going to stand up for their hitters after they get plunked. It’s as old as baseball itself. But that doesn’t mean it’s always the right move. And I’m not sure the Royals didn’t come off as immature hotheads this weekend.

However, this has become a problem across the American League. Two of the Royals starting 9 are now injured due to questionable play on the part of their opponents. Along with Escobar, Alex Rios got hit in the hand (1 of the 14 Royals hit batsmen this young season) and is now on the 15-day DL. At a certain point, the Royals must send a message to the rest of the league stating that they refuse to allow teams to do things like that without repercussions. I think Ventura sent that message. After Sunday’s game, Brett Lawrie told CSN’s Joe Stiglich, “I can’t even get in the box and do my job without thinking, ‘he could miss with one up and in.'” This is a good thing. Other teams need to be aware that playing dirty against the Royals won’t be tolerated. We can’t let opponents pick off our players one by one. We must stay healthy if we’re going to succeed again this year.

That said, winning cures all sorrows, and if a team wants to get chippy with the Royals, fine. Because as long as Kansas City can hoist the “W” on the Hall of Fame, a different message is sent: it’s not that we don’t like you, we’re just better than you.

My take on this weekend’s happenings is this: even though I don’t like how Yordano Ventura went about it, I do think it’s important for us to declare to the league that if you mess with us, there may be a Yordano fastball headed at you soon. I think the HBP epidemic had hurt us enough that we needed to make that point clear. But…it could’ve and should’ve ended at that. I get that Kazmir started it back up again, but Herrera’s decision to throw at Lawrie was not remotely necessary. It was immature. The game was close and winning was still a possibility. The Royals would’ve looked much better having ended the conversation by just winning.

That last paragraph probably makes it seem like I’m flip flopping here, but I do think standing up for your players is important too. I just think 9 times out of 10 you can stand up by winning. Who cares what Oakland has to say, as long as they didn’t win?

They’re a good baseball team. They’re having fun, and other teams don’t like it. Well, the rest of the American League is going to have to get used to the Royals fun loving ways because it’s how they play the game. It might seem a bit off putting to some, but it’s genuine joy, and none of it has been mean spirited in the past. These guys are a family – it’s not about rubbing it in, it’s about celebrating their successes.

That late rally may have saved way more than we even know. Instead of ending frustrated, complaining about the opposing team, we ended with Lorenzo smiling and looking forward to the next series against the Minnesota Twins.

I think ultimately, the Royals had an opportunity to respond by winning. Don’t get caught up in the drama of retaliation. Retaliate by beating them. I felt like both times Oakland initiated – first with Lawrie’s slide, then with Kazmir’s pitch – we had an opportunity to respond by letting the game dictate the narrative. Then we got down 5-0 and Yordano snapped. Then we were down 2-1 and Herrera snapped.

But ultimately, we won the series, and got the last word. Unfortunately I think a lot of drama and heaped on hatred could’ve been avoided had we just stuck to playing to win. I get that the A’s were the initiators, but winning is the ultimate silencer.

We’re good. We know it. Let it speak for itself.

*********

Looking back, I’m not proud of what I did as an 18 year old. I gave in to the pressure from my teammates and intentionally threw a baseball at another person. That’s not cool, and I regret doing it to this day. I came off looking like a punk kid trying to pick a fight.

We went on to win the game. In fact, the kid tried to steal second base on the next pitch and Jim threw him out by a wide margin. And after that happened, I knew I’d made the wrong decision. Let the game send the messages for you – especially if you’re the better team. On the drive to Buffalo Wild Wings that night I remember thinking that it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d hit the kid or not after what ended up happening. We would’ve sent the same message anyway.

We had the last word – not because I hit the kid – because we won.

-apc.

Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images, accessed here

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…

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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.

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: 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.

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

gordon

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.

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

“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.

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?

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“[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.

ALCS Game 3 Primer: Jarrod Dyson’s comments/confidence, why Jeremy Guthrie, and revisiting predictions.

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Yesterday was a long and dreary day. I spent most of it preparing for a tailgate I was mostly certain wasn’t going to happen. Sam Hartle from KSHB-TV had this to say about the feeling:

And while it’s close, the issue is that in that scenario, a weather cancellation causes joy. In yesterday’s case, the weather caused sadness. To me, it felt more like all of Kansas City was waiting to hear back from the doctor’s lab concerning some blood work.

Anyway. That was yesterday. And this is today. And there will be Royals baseball today. And tomorrow. But probably not Thursday.

Because, like Jarrod Dyson, I’m certain this series isn’t going back to Baltimore.

When the game got cancelled last night, my wife and I decided to grab dinner out in Waldo instead. From our table I could see three different TVs, and two of them had a headline concerning Dyson’s recent comments. PTI was debating it. ESPN was highlighting it. The Royals are everywhere, man.

If you don’t know, Dyson was interviewed over the weekend and made the not-so-outlandish claim that this series wouldn’t be going back to Camden Yards in Baltimore. The media, probably grappling for some sort of controversy surrounding the Royals, are milking the comment for every ounce of drama they can.

Can we all agree that this is dumb to make a big deal out of? It is. For two reasons.

First – realistically speaking – it makes a lot of sense: Royals are up 2-0 and need to win 2 of 3 at home. Two of the games are against the Orioles 3rd and 4th best pitchers, and the other one James Shields is starting for KC (this could all change if Ned Yost decides to throw Shields in Game 4 after the rainout). You gotta like the Royals’ odds to win two of those three. They’ll be favored in all three.

Secondly, and this is the bigger point – WHAT IS DYSON SUPPOSED TO SAY?!? When Andy McCullough asks Dyson if he thinks the series is going back to Baltimore, isn’t it just natural to express confidence in your team and say no?! As if Dyson is going to respond with, “Well, Andy, I’m not too sold that we can win two games at home, so chances are we’ll be back east for games six and seven…”

No way! Dyson answered like anybody else would: with confidence in his team to get the job done over the next few days.

Speaking of confidence, it’s remarkable that we are all so confident in Jeremy Guthrie going into Game 3. It was about two months ago that most of us were calling for a Shields/Ventura/Duffy/Vargas rotation with Guthrie in the bullpen or simply left off the postseason roster. Instead, we are giving him the ball in the ALCS without many – if any – qualms about it.

To quote Timon, the lovable meerkat from The Lion King, “…and everybody’s okay with this? DID I MISS SOMETHING?!”

What you may have missed is that the Royals sent Duffy to the pen instead because he apparently has some mechanicals issues in his windup and gets to jacked up on adrenaline in big games. You may have also missed a terrible September by Jason Vargas in which he went 1-3 and posted a 6.57 ERA. You may have also missed that Guthrie looked like a different pitcher in September too: 3-1 record with a 2.40 ERA. More on “why Guthrie?” from Fangraphs here.

Guthrie will be pitching against his former team, whom he has pitched well against in the past. The Orioles hit more HRs than anybody, and Guthrie gives up a lot of HRs…but he’s never given one up to the O’s. Interesting to note that Vargas started Game 1 of the ALDS against his former team too. Maybe Ole Ned likes his odds against former squads.

With the rainout last night, it’s possible that Yost could move Shields up to Game 4 if he wanted. It would also free up Shields to be available in the bullpen in case this series went 7 games. Personally, I’d let Vargas pitch tomorrow anyway – especially if we win tonight – to get him some confidence moving forward, and to keep this preferred ordering moving forward into the World Series.

All that to say, I’ve got a lot of confidence in Jeremy tonight. And a lot of confidence in the Royals taking care of business at home this week.

Okay last thing: let’s check in on my so-called “wacky” ALCS predictions.

Prediction1: Steve Pearce has a miserable ALCS.

Pearce is 0-9 in the ALCS so far.

Prediction 2: Kelvin Herrera gives up a singer to Adam Jones in Game 1.

I’d like to expand this to the whole series. In both games so far, Herrera has been in to face Jones, and has bested him each time. Let’s hope that continues. This is a key matchup, and I hope KC keeps winning it.

Prediction 3: Eric Hosmer regresses. Alex Gordon goes off.

This was certainly correct in Game 1. And certainly incorrect in Game 2. Gordon hit a HR and made a huge defensive play in Game 1. He went 0-4 with 4 Ks in Game 2.

Prediction 4: Christian Colon will be a hero.

Not yet, but there are more games to play.

Prediction 5: Royals advance in 5.

Looking pretty accurate so far. Let’s get it done at home over the next three days. See you at The K tonight.

-apc.

Image: Getty Images. Accessed here.

A Few Wacky ALCS Predictions

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The ALCS is upon us, and judging by the image above, I think we’ve all had way too long to prepare for this series.

Personally, I’ve been prepared since Sunday night. I refused to leave the Kauffman Stadium parking lot following our sweep of the Angels. The crowd erupted and so did the sky as it poured down rain and flashed lightning. It was like the whole universe was celebrating with us in the parking lot. There was no where to go (not that the traffic would’ve allowed it anyway) because there was no where else anyone would rather be.

At one point, in my raucous celebrating, I high fived a stranger and we accidentally hit elbows before we hit hands. I owe some poor guy out there an apology: Sir, if your forearm aches as badly as mine has over the last four days, I’m truly sorry. Although, gotta ask yourself, was it worth it?

We’ve gone four days now without Royals baseball, and the coverage both locally and nationally has been exhaustive. The national media has latched on to the Royals’ speed and how the Orioles are going to keep them from running wild. They’ve compared our lineups, our bullpens, our starters and our benches. They’ve started discussing whether the Royals will make a run at resigning James Shields for 2015 and beyond.

They’ve also finally noticed that Lorenzo Cain exists, which is a little disappointing to me because I loved him first. Sigh. This is probably how people who listen to Alt Nation on SiriusXM feel about music all the time.

Also, Lorenzo: congrats on Baby Cameron. I don’t even care that you gave him a nod-to-self middle name in “Loe.” I hope he and Nash Holland grow up to be best buds someday.

At this point, all the deep analysis that can be done has been done. We’ve exhausted our story lines. Now it’s time to play the games and laugh when a fielding error or wild pitch or swinging bunt determines the outcome of the game instead of an Orioles home run or a Royals stolen base. At a certain point, baseball is unpredictable. (Don’t believe me? Just check my postseason predictions. Triple woof.)

So how about some not-really-grounded-on-anything ALCS predictions that are probably a little bit wacky, but that could happen nonetheless, to get us revved up for Game 1 tonight in Baltimore? Some are wackier than others. Here we go.

Prediction 1: Steve Pearce has a miserable series at the plate for the O’s.

First of all, who is this guy? Pearce has gone from a nobody to arguably the Orioles MVP in 2014. Before this year, Pearce had never posted a WAR higher than 0.5 in his 7 year career. In fact, in three of those years he posted a negative WAR.

This year? He leads the team with a 6.0 WAR.

Which is just goofy, because again, who is this guy? And it’s fair that we don’t know who he is in KC because the Royals have never faced him this year. He played in 102 games, and none of them were against Kansas City. Lifetime against the Royals pitching staff: 6 plate appearances against Vargas (1-5, 1B, BB), 0-1 vs Wade Davis and 0-1 vs Jason Frasor. Frasor is the only one who faced him this year and that was back on July 1 when Frasor was with the Rangers.

From what I can tell, Pearce waits for his pitch, and if he doesn’t get it he either walks or strikes out. He likes the ball up in the zone. So as long as we can keep the ball down and get ahead in the count, Pearce is going to have a long series.

Prediction 2: Adam Jones homers off of Kelvin Herrera tonight.

Seems preposterous to think that anyone from the Royals bullpen would give up a home run at this point. They’ve been locked in all year. But here’s how I think it will go down.

Jones has great numbers against Shields: .304/.319/.522. He’s seen him a lot too since they used to be AL East rivals when James was with the Rays. My prediction: Ned Yost pulls Shields in the 7th and brings in Herrera to pitch the righty Jones. It’s the right move too: Jones is 1-6 with 2 Ks against Herrera and the 7th belongs to him anyway.

But Yost has to get yelled at for something, and this will be it. Hope I’m wrong.

Prediction 3: Eric Hosmer comes back to Earth while Alex Gordon leaves it.

Hosmer can’t sustain this kind of postseason success at the plate. Just no way. Alex Gordon got a giddy up off his huge triple in Game 3 of the Division Series. I’m predicting Hosmer regresses significantly while Gordon blasts off. Just feels right.

They both have terrific numbers against the entire pitching staff. Especially Wei-Yin Chen. This isn’t based on anything at all. Just a hunch. Feels like Gordon’s time.

Prediction 4: Christian Colon plays the hero at some point this series.

I’m not high on Omar Infante. He feels like a peripheral character on this team. While everyone else is having the time of their lives, Infante seems to just be…around. He has a weak arm at second base and will probably need shoulder surgery in the offseason.

Mike Moustakas, while swinging a hot bat, is slower than everyone not named Billy Butler. His defense is solid, his arm is good, but when we need speed on the bases late in a game, I don’t want him representing the tying run on first or second base.

Enter Christian Colon as a defensive, offensive or speed replacement. If a game goes long – which Royals postseason games tend to do, apparently – then Colon will end up taking one of those two spots in the field. He gives this team flexibility in all aspects of the game. I think he’ll find his way up to the plate or on the base paths in a key situation late in a game. Again, just feels right.

Prediction 5: Kansas City wins the ALCS in 5 games.

I trust James Shields and Yordano Ventura on the road. I trust Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie at home. And I obviously trust Shields at home too in Game 5.

Chris Tillman and Bud Norris are both quality pitchers who already have good starts this postseason. Chen is fine, but gave up 5 runs on 7 hits in 3.2 innings in his start last week. This game is going to get to Game 5 with the Royals up 3-1. Big Game James takes us the rest of the way and our boys get to celebrate in front of their own fans again on Wednesday.

What’s the word on champagne sales in Kansas City these days? Has to be through the roof, right?

-apc.

I should note: that glorious image at the top popped up on my twitter feed this morning here. Jeremy, hope you don’t mind I borrowed your pic. Also, if that image is any indication of your character, let’s be friends, okay?