Beauty Behind the Madness – The Weeknd

As far as seasons go, winter is the worst. It’s cold. It’s grey. It’s dry and uncomfortable. It’s depressing. The best day winter has to offer is Christmas, and since winter begins on December 22, that means the season peaks on Day 3. From there, things trend downward with three major upticks in excitement: New Years Eve, Superbowl Sunday and…

…the Grammys.

And so for the second year in a row, in anticipation of one of the seasons most (only) fun days, I’ll be reviewing the albums up for Album of the Year. Here are this year’s nominees:

  • Beauty Behind the Madness – The Weeknd
  • 1989 – Taylor Swift
  • To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
  • Traveller – Chris Stapleton
  • Sound & Color – Alabama Shakes

The obvious heavy hitters are Taylor and Kendrick. There won’t be a dark horse like Beck this year. It’s a two horse race in 2016.

Noticeably absent: D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, which I think is better than all 5 of the albums listed here. It was nominated for Best R&B Album, and the track “Really Love” is up for Best R&B Song and Record of the Year. I thought for sure it would get a Best Album nom, but alas, it did not. Which sucks. Still, pretty good showing for a guy who’s been on the DL for 14 years.

I also hoped Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special, would make the list, but it seems it couldn’t escape the shadow of its own single, “Uptown Funk,” which is up for Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. The album did get a nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album, but it’s only going to win if they change the category to Best Non-Taylor Swift Pop Vocal Album.

Those are my only gripes. Nothing against the 5 albums here, I was just rooting for those guys.

As with last year, I need to throw out this disclaimer: I am not a musician and don’t really have any level of musical understanding beyond being a consumer. So this is purely my take. If you’re interested in reading my past music posts, feel free to hit up my Grammys blog homepage.

***

The Weeknd is just one dude. His name is Abel Tesfaye, and he’s from Toronto. Apparently the name comes from “the weekend” when he decided to drop out of high school and run away from home at age 17. But “The Weekend” was already taken as a band name, so he dropped the third “e” and moved along with it anyway. Beauty Behind the Madness is Tesfaye’s third studio album in four years.

Let’s start with what I do like about this album.

If you’re a Michael Jackson fan – and let’s be honest, odds are you probably are – then you’re going to love sound The Weeknd. Tesfaye sings almost exclusively in that same angsty falsetto range MJ is known for. It’s not as groovy as Off the Wall or Thriller, but it’s not as poppy and clean as Dangerous or Invincible. If it sounds like an MJ album, it’s definitely Bad – songs like “Liberian Girl” and “Dirty Diana” and “Smooth Criminal.” (But not “The Way You Make Me Feel” because that song’s an overplayed up-tempo stinker.)

The high-range vocals provide a great contrast to the percussion, strings and bass-heavy instrumentation. It’s dark and damp. At times BBTM goes the route of a jazzy slow jam.

Okay now on to what I’m not a fan of.

The content is mostly about party culture, drugs and sex – but rarely the exciting side of that culture. It’s mostly shadow. Darkness. Sadness. There’s a sense of depression or hurt. It feels lonely in places. Again, angsty. Emotionally charged. I suppose the content isn’t really my jam, but the resulting sound is really compelling throughout. I guess you could say it’s hollow both stylistically and lyrically.

Even the up-tempo songs aren’t upbeat content-wise. “Can’t Feel My Face” is probably the happiest sounding track on the album, but, “I know she’ll be the death of me, at least we’ll both be numb,” sure doesn’t inspire much joy.

There are a few solid features on the album: Ed Sheeran brings his acoustic guitar to “Dark Times.” Lana Del Rey’s creepy little nightmarish voice comes in on “Prisoner.” Track three (which I like to refer to as the “power placement” on an album) is the Kanye West produced “Tell Your Friends,” which sounds straight off of Yeezus. The whole album kinda feels like a scene out of Nightmare Before Christmas…only rated R. Or maybe Sin City or something. It would be almost entirely black and white. It’s got a very Tim Burton/Danny Elfman ominous feel to it.

Here’s something I wish I’d never found out: the The Weeknd was involved in the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack (which Danny Elfman was also involved, coincidentally), which makes the album take on a totally different feel than it did the first time I listened through it. I’ve said this before, but I don’t really listen to lyrics much. My mind gets wrapped up in the groove of music and not necessarily the subject matter, but when I found out the 50 Shades bit, it suddenly connected the dots between style and content and now I can’t escape it.

It’s good. His voice is incredible and the shadowy tone gets under my skin a bit and I find myself actually grooving quite a bit. If it hadn’t been for that last bit of info, I probably would’ve dug it more overall. Which is too bad, because I really liked the sound the first time through.

It won’t win Album of the Year. It’s firmly in the second tier of nominees. But if you’re Jesse Pinkman or Christian Grey (or Chandler Jones), this could be your depressing winter hot jam. If you want a similar sound, but a happier album, go listen to Justin Beiber’s Purpose. Or, I suppose, Bad.

Top Tracks: Losers, ShamelessReal Life, Can’t Feel My Face

-apc.

Back to The Grammys Main Page.

My Imaginary 2016 Hall of Fame Ballot

The 2016 Hall of Fame inductees will be announced tomorrow.

Once again, it’s an overloaded ballot. Once again, there are too many deserving names to choose from. Once again, that means there are players who won’t get the votes they deserve due to the miserable 10-player max rule and the 10-year max rules. It’s dumb, and we all know it. But alas, rules are rules until the BBWAA decide to change them.

Last year, the writers voted four men into the Hall: John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson in their first year of eligibility, and Craig Biggio in his third year on the ballot. All deserving.

There are 32 names on this year’s ballot. They are…

* – denotes 1st year on ballot

The 2016 ballot is highlighted by Ken Griffey Jr., who has a legitimate shot at being the first ever player to receive 100% of the vote. In the past, there have been old fogies on the BBWAA voting who don’t believe any player should ever receive 100% of the vote, but there has been a purge of old writers being replaced with young ones, and for the first time ever it could actually happen.

Tom Seaver holds the record with 98.84%. I’d be shocked if Griffey didn’t break that record. I don’t think he’ll get 100% because he’s such a lock someone will choose to cast a vote for a peripheral player (Alan Trammell, for example) because he’s been on the ballot longer and he needs a vote more. Again, stupid system. Griffey deserves 100% AND Alan Trammell deserves 75%. But neither are likely to happen, and it’s all because of these dumb rules.

If you were born in the 1980s, then Griffey is probably one of your favorite baseball players. I’m no exception. He’s in my Top 5. That sweet sweet swing. That smile. That backwards cap. That 1993 home run derby shot off the warehouse in Baltimore. That mad dash to score the winning run of the 1995 ALDS. The Kid. We just can’t help ourselves. Here is all the data one needs to vote for KGJ…

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Too. Beautiful. Just. Can’t. Stop. Watching.

After getting 69.9% of the votes in 2015, Mike Piazza looks like a lock in his 4th year on the ballot. Jeff Bagwell (55.7%) and Tim Raines (55.0%) are looking to close the gap as well, but it’s going to be close. Raines, the greatest victim of the 10-year rule, is likely to get pushed to his final year of eligibility, which really really sucks.

An interesting note on Raines from Mike Petriello I read today on Twitter: “I wish you could quantify things like, ‘Tim Raines is hurt in HOF voting b/c the team he’s associated with is dead.’ Probably not zero.” The Expos not existing anymore is likely devastating to Rock’s case. Plus, his best case is found in stats like on-base percentage and stolen bases, which simply aren’t valued the way home runs or strikeouts are.

If you want to be convinced of Tim Raines’s belonging in the Hall of Fame, just follow Ace of MLB Stats (@TheAceofSpaeder) for a moment…

Just a sampling. Was there a better ballplayer in all of baseball between 1980 and 1990 than Rock Raines? One could make an argument that he was it. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves for so many reasons. I think he gets in, but he may have to wait until his final year on the ballot to do it.

I made my case for Schilling and Mussina in last year’s post, and I feel even stronger about their inclusion in 2016. I still don’t understand why John Smoltz was such a lock in 2015 while these two weren’t. I think Schilling is the best of the three (even if he is a right wing bigot who continues to shove his foot in his mouth on Twitter and on ESPN). I still don’t think they make it in 2016, but they’ll be closer and will get in eventually.

I’ve come around on Edgar Martinez. Despite my hatred of the DH, the guy was a truly great hitter, and actually played around 600 games (4829.1 innings) at corner infield. He was a plus defender at 3rd base and average at 1st. Compare that to David Ortiz, the second greatest DH of all time, who has been a minus defender in only 2157 innings at first base in his career. Plus, if I’m going to vote for Rock Raines for being one of the greatest stolen base weapons, then I need to give Edgar his due for his offense.

Griffey. Piazza. Bagwell. Raines. Schilling. Mussina. Martinez. That’s 7 names already, and I haven’t even mentioned steroids. Or relief pitchers, for that matter.

Bonds and Clemens are two of the greatest baseball players ever. Period. I’ve said this so many times before, but here it is again: both men’s bodies of work in their first 10 years alone was enough for them to be worth of the HOF, which is way before they were linked to any illegal substances. Ignore those stats if you have to. They belong.

So that leaves one spot and….I don’t know, maybe 8 or 9 deserving names? Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner could all be considered as elite relievers – a position which hasn’t gotten much love outside of crossover guys like Smoltz and Dennis Eckersley. Larry Walker was a beast. So were Jim Edmonds and Fred McGriff. Alan Trammell (in his final year) deserves a look. Mark McGwire (also in this final year) and Sammy Sosa saved baseball in 1998 thanks to some human growth hormone.

If I’m going to cast my final vote for anyone, I guess I’d just pick my favorite name among the remaining contenders. It’s not the most objective way of voting, but these things are about 90% subjective anyway, so what the heck. Plus, since this ballot is imaginary, it doesn’t matter at all, so I’ll use my last vote on the guy who needs it the most before his name disappears: Lee Smith.

Why Smith? Mostly because I love the guy. Because of the memories. Plus, he’s about to drop off the ballot (next year will be his last), and I have a feeling that with the introduction of more relievers, his stock will decline sharply. Voters will go for Hoffman and Wagner over the elder Smith since they’ve since surpassed his record setting numbers. And they’re probably right to do so. Once voters know what to do about relievers, I think they’ll discover that all three guys were deserving all along, but Lee Smith simply wasn’t pitching in the right era.

So my votes this year would look like this…

  • Ken Griffey Jr. 
  • Barry Bonds
  • Roger Clemens
  • Tim Raines
  • Curt Schilling
  • Mike Mussina
  • Mike Piazza
  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Edgar Martinez
  • Lee Smith

I’m really rooting for Junior to get 100% and Raines to slide in, but I have a feeling both will come up just short. We’ll find out tomorrow.

-apc.

Photo cred: Getty Images accessed here: Yahoo Sports.

Independence Day: Resurgence – A scene-by-scene trailer breakdown of the best movie coming out in 2016.

“We always knew they would come back.”

There are literally dozens of us who consider Independence Day our favorite movie of all time. I confess this for myself with no reservation whatsoever. Empire Strikes Back is good. Back to the Future is better. But Independence Day…well, that’s just the pinnacle of cinematic achievements, if you ask me. It can’t be topped.

Independence Day has everything anyone could ever want out of a movie. Will Smith as the rugged, hilariously glib yet sensitive fighter pilot, Captain Steven Hiller. Jeff Goldblum as the tech savvy MIT dropout who cracks the alien code embedded in Earth’s satellites, David Levinson. His ex-wife happens to be the top assistant to the President of the United States, and say what you will about Daniel Day Lewis and the All State Guy’s performances, I’m sure we can all agree that the greatest POTUS ever cast was, without a doubt, Bill Pullman in ID4.

But wait! Don’t forget about Randy Quaid! YES! Uncle Eddie stars as the drunken crop duster who claims to have abducted by aliens. And he’s the first to tell everybody that he knows exactly what’s going to happen when those creatures make it into our atmosphere: “They’re going to kill us all!”

And oh, they try. And they’re wildly successful those buggers. They take out a dozen or so major cities – New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, most major European cities. The Americans unsuccessfully try to “nuke the bastards” over Houston, so that city goes to crap too. But just when everything seems lost, Jeff Goldblum saves the day by giving the alien technology a computer virus – “a cold” – long enough for Randy Quaid and others to fly in there and “take em down…do your…stuff.”

Queue the dramatic presidential speech before the attack – only the third most dramatic moment in United States history following only Al Michael’s call of the USA hockey team defeating the Soviet Union in the 1980 winter Olympics, and – also from Miracle (my 4th favorite movie) – Herb Brooks’s pre-game locker room speech about tonight being “your time.” Pullman works a few dozen make shift “fighter pilots” into a victorious reverie before they all fly off to attack the giant saucer hovering above Las Vegas.

And wouldn’t you know it, but Goldblum’s crazy harebrained idea works. Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum pilot an undercover alien spacecraft into the mothership. They upload the virus. They get stuck. They smoke celebratory “fat lady sings” cigars after the mission turns into a suicide mission. They deploy the nuke with a 30 second timer. They somehow manage to escape the mothership, and – just before the alien craft explodes in a Death Star II white orb – Goldblum regretfully does an Elvis impersonation.

Meanwhile, Randy Quaid and President Bill Pullman are engaging in close-range maneuvers with the local craft over Vegas. Everyone uses up their missiles except Quaid, who has to fly his craft straight into the ship’s mega-weapon in order for it to go off. It does. And the entire ship goes down.

They spread the word, and soon there are Randy Quaids in every nation taking out hostile alien crafts around the world.

Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum land in the desert. They’re somehow still smoking the same cigars, because somehow traveling between Earth and space is 15-20 minute process.

But that was 20 years ago. That was the War of 1996, as they’re calling it. It lasted just two days, but cost millions of lives. This is 2016, and the buggers have finally come back, just like we all knew they would.

***

About a year ago I remember hearing through the grapevine that they were making a sequel. I probably danced a jig of some sort in the moment, but then promptly forgot about it until Sunday afternoon when they released the trailer for “Independence Day: Resurgence” during a mid-afternoon Cleveland Browns football game. As all major movie releases do.

I had a mild freak out as it aired. I hopped on YouTube and watched the trailer again. And again. Things escalated quickly, one thing led to another, and I changed my Twitter avatar to a screen shot of Jeff Goldblum in an astronaut suit.

The trailer looks awesome. It’s embedded at the top if you want to take a look. Or it’s on YouTube here.

In a simultaneously executed marketing maneuver, a website was launched with the chronology of events that’s taken place in the world since 1996. The website is Warof1996.com if you’d like to be fully up to date.

Essentially, there are 6 major bits of information we need to know about the earth in 2016…

  1. Twenty Years of World Peace – Earth has experienced 20 years of World Peace essentially, since the enemy is no longer each other, but is now a different species entirely.
  2. Earth Space Defense – Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is appointed as head over the Earth Space Defense program (ESD).
  3. Technology – The earthlings learn to utilize the alien technology, creating things like “smart phones, bladeless fans, drones and airport security scanners.”
  4. RIP Will Smith – Tragically, we learn that Will Smith’s character, Steven Hiller, has died. Apparently while they were trying to harness the alien’s weapons there was some malfunction and he ‘sploded. Sounds like they just didn’t have Willie in the budget.
  5. Moon Base – There’s a base on the moon that is fully operational (and, perhaps, based on one of the images on the website, bases being built or planned for Mars and one of Saturn’s moons). I can’t find anything on the site that denies the fact that this Moon Security Base is actually called the Death Star and is also a mega-weapon of some sort. It’s a working title, for now.
  6. Aliens in the Congo – Okay this is the final and probably most important bit of info: when all the Randy Quaids were able to take down the alien ships, one of them went down in Central Africa, in the Congo, and had survivors! According to the interactive site, it took them 10 years to neutralize that group, but based on the trailer I just watched, it seems to me this is where everything new begins.

There’s more than that, but it’s the nuts and bolts. I encourage you to take a gander at the site yourself. Again, warof1996.com.

None of that is a spoiler alert, by the way. All of that is stuff they want you to know. It’s not like this Star Wars: Episode VII secrecy business. ID4 is freely giving you the storyline between July 4, 1996, and July 4, 2016.

The world is united, but, again, we always knew they would come back.

***

Can we talk about the trailer? I’d like to talk about the trailer. Let’s take it scene by scene…

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It opens with a convoy headed, presumably, into the Congo where the aliens survived in some capacity for a decade after their initial invasion. Some woman has found something that only Jeff Goldblum would understand…

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..creepy alien skeletal structures? They’re present, but is this what they’ve found? It’s not stated that they’re out in the Congo, but the terrain certainly would suggest it and those structures look a lot like these from the @IndependenceDay twitter handle advertising the interactive site:

My best guess: ever since they finally took out the surviving aliens, archeologists and anthropologists and scientists have been going ape trying to learn about the species. And they’ve found something, but it isn’t just these creepy remains that they found, but something much larger.

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Enter Goldblum to raucous applause in theaters across the globe: “Oh my God.”

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What is THAT?! Is it some sort of civilization? Are those ruins from the alien ship coming down back in 1996? What is it they are looking at from that bluff? Is it Mos Eisley? Hard to say, but whatever they found out there is likely some sort of signal that the aliens are returning, or, at minimum, not entirely dead.

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Wait…Gale?! What are you doing here? It seems Liam Hemsworth is taking over the Will Smith role for the sequel. Here’s what I want to know – was it Will Smith’s decision to not come back, or was it Team ID4? On the one hand, Will probably doesn’t look as cool in dog tags in 2016, but c’mon, the guy just put out Focus where he plays the quintessentially smooth broseph. The Fresh Prince still gots it.

Anyway. Liam seems to be the new cool kid in town. Moving on..

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Hemsworth flies one of these bad boys. They appear to be a hybrid fighter jet/alien craft. Kinda disappointing. They look more like a Nerf dart/football product than they do a plane or ship, but whatever.

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Obligatory moon shadow shot.

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Then it appears some men are playing laser tag. This suggests that unlike the original, there is actually going to be some individual battles between aliens and humans and not just between flying vessels. Hand to hand combat even. I’m assuming the gun this gentleman is holding is one of the updated technologies humans have managed to harness from the aliens. During this shot, there’s a gravely voice talking about how the aliens haunt his dreams, which ends by saying, “They’re coming back.” But who is talking?

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Gasp. It’s Pullman! He’s hardly recognizable with his grey beard and receding hairline, but it’s him, and he’s as intense with his monologues as ever. In the original, the alien enters into the mind of Bill Pullman and takes him as a hostage or something. I was never totally clear how that worked. Anyway, after the fact, the President reveals that he saw it’s thoughts and saw what they planned to do. If Bill is saying that the aliens haunt his dreams, you wonder if the former POTUS is able to communicate or at least have some level of vision into their world and existence. It seems as though Pullman is the one who is first aware that they’re coming back.

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And look there – it’s another familiar face! It’s Julius Levinson! The actor is Judd Hirsch, and he play’s Jeff Goldblum’s dad. The outspoken Jewish man is probably the most underrated character in the original. He has some of the greatest one-liners in ID4, and it’s encouraging to see that he’s making a return performance. But what is he looking at?

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Ah. Of course. I tell you what, if Independence Day was able to win an Oscar for Best Visual Effects back in 1996, imagine what it’ll be able to accomplish in 2016?! I have high expectations, and this shot is a beautiful start.

Thus completes the set up. Now we enter into the sequence of characters we don’t know yet…

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First up. This has to be Will Smith’s son, right? I mean, he’s the only black guy in the original, so it’s the only explanation. I’m assuming this is adult-Buckwheat until I hear otherwise. But what will his role be? It appear Liam is already filling the fighter pilot role. Perhaps this kid has some other purpose? He looks pretty fierce.

Next up…these three…

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No idea. But I’m sure their plot line can’t be more riveting than the tertiary characters in the original. Randy Quaid’s three kids – the Responsibly Oldest Miguel, the Sickly Middle Child and the Angsty Crop Top Daughter from Mrs. Doubtfire – their roles are so vital to the story! I can’t wait to see what deeply moving parts these folks have.

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Woah. Carnage. 

I’ve only spent about 12 total hours in D.C., but that’s clearly the nation’s capitol. You can see the Capitol, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial in a line on the right. That smoke is where the  White House sits, but it was blown up in the first movie, so this has to be a flashback or something – what it looked like out the window of a plane nearby when it was smoldering after the aliens moved on to Baltimore or whatever major city came next on their annihilation tour. Will there be flashbacks in Resurgence? Hmmmm.

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It’s Hemsworth and Goldblum running on the moon while missiles or meteorites or something explode behind them. One of the two astronauts gets launched…not sure which one though. Things are starting to look like Armageddon.

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The money shot. This appears to be inside some command center. On the War of 1996 website it says that the moon base is commanded from Bejing, China, but we just saw Goldblum on the moon, so my guess is this is inside the moon base. But since space travel only takes a cigar’s-length, it’s possible he could make the trek off-planet during the film.

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She has to be the new President, right? The guys next to her start shooting through an open door moments later and she just stands there. Highly protected individual. Gotta be some politician or world leader.

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Then there’s this scene with some woman chasing down a trio of helicopters. Sure reminds me of the scene when the First Lady’s chopper gets taken out by the White House explosion. As in the original, it seems that the battle is happening on two fronts simultaneously: Earthside and in space.

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Okay, I think I’ve got it – Not Jaden Smith follows in his father’s footsteps and becomes a fighter pilot too. Duh. While Gale follows Jeff Goldblum into space to do…whatever he’s doing up there.

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Okay now it REALLY looks like Armageddon. What is that guy doing there?! He’s going to sabotage the whole mission by trying to revert to a secondary protocol against Bruce Willis’s orders! No! The drill has to keep going! Get more water on it to cool it down! It’ll work!

Then there’s a smattering of dramatic looking faces and some explosions that I can’t really make sense of, but the final moments are very clear:

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The title screen followed by one more Goldblum one-liner…

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“That is definitely…bigger than the last one.”

The aliens are coming back, and this time it’s more dire than 1996. Ahhhhhh!

Kinda makes you forget Star Wars is coming out this Friday, doesn’t it? Will it be as good as the original? Impossible. Without Will Smith it’s bound to lose some of what it had. Liam Hemsworth doesn’t provide the level of humor and whit Will Smith brought – but perhaps the other kid will be the humor while Liam is just the eye candy. Who knows.

That said…we’ve already gotten to see Jeff Goldblum in a spacesuit, so it’s got a lot going for it as it is, and as long as he’s the main character of this operation it’s bound to be a true treasure.

It’s too early for more theories than I’ve already mentioned. Thankfully, we have over 6 months to continue to surf the fan sites and dig into ID4 Reddit and what not to keep up with the overwhelming buzz a movie like this generates. Try to keep yourselves under control.

See you at the theater at midnight on June 24, 2016 – exactly 20 years after the first one was released.

This is going to be so fun.

-apc.

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.