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.