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.

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.

 

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-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.

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 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 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: Billy Butler, Pete LaCock and Lee Smith.

Day 2 from Spring Training. 

Let’s get to it.



Cubs Welcome Country Breakfast

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

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

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

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

BUT…then he stole that base.

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

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

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

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

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

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



Pete LaCock’s 1980 AL Champions ring

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

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

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

Meeting Lee Smith

The highlight of the day was meeting Lee Smith. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

-apc.

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

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What if?

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

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

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

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

But still…what if?

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

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

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

Step 1: Pinch run with Terrance Gore.

Step 2: Pinch hit with Jarrod Dyson.

Step 3: Squeeze bunt for a single.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

90 feet, man. It was right there.

-apc.

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

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.

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.

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…

IMG_0980.JPG
…yet they were all three strikes. Our best hitter off the bench was done after three crummy pitches.

Then up comes Jayson Nix in the pitcher’s spot. He’s the last infielder on the team, so you can’t pinch hit for him and he goes quietly flying out to left field.

Escobar struck out to end the inning. Pitiful all around.

Bottom 8

Nori goes out to play right and Cain moves to center, and Herrera comes back out to throw the 8th – which is still a dumb idea – and he promptly gives up two singles to Sandoval and Pence.

Which forces Yost to go to Wade Davis anyway, just with 2 on and none out. Wade struck out the side, but not before the Giants plated 3 insurance runs spearheaded by a Juan Perez double off the centerfield wall. Suddenly the game had been blown wide open. It was 5-0 Giants, which is how the game would end.

What I would’ve done differently:

1. Don’t double switch. Give Herrera the 7th and that’s it.
2a. Pinch hit for Dyson with Billy Butler.
2b. If he gets on, pinch run with Gore.
3. Pinch hit Aoki for Herrera. Sure, Aoki is 0-16 lifetime vs Bungarner, but hitless against MadBum is better than hitless against the whole league (Nix).
5. Finally, execute the double switch. Nori for Dyson (Cain moving to CF, Nori out to RF) and bring in Davis to start the 8th with his spot in 8 spot now occupied by Billy/Gore. That way Davis – who rested yesterday and has a day off tomorrow – could pitch his normal 8th inning and not come in later with runners on base.

The resulting lineup would have been…

Escobar – SS
Gordon – LF
Cain – RF-CF
Hosmer – 1B
Perez – C
Moustakas – 3B
Infante – 2B
Dyson – CF
Butler – PH
– Davis – P
Shields – P
Herrera – P
– Aoki – RF

Instead of this…

Escobar – SS
Gordon – LF
Cain – RF-CF
Hosmer – 1B
Perez – C
Moustakas – 3B
Infante – 2B
Herrera – P
– Davis – P
Dyson – CF
Butler – PH
– Aoki RF
Shields – P
– Nix – 2B

That way you get Aoki’s bat instead of Nix’s. You keep Infante in the game. You give HDH the innings they’re used to throwing. You would also save a bat for later on the off chance you happened to tie it up and things went later.

This is NL Managerial Strategy 101 here. It’s not complicated stuff, yet Ned Yost biffed on it entirely.

Of course, the players probably wouldn’t have come through anyway. The damage had already been done. But this sort of thing is the extra 5% that the manager needs to get right to be considered great. The manager’s job is to put his players in the best position possible to succeed, and Yost didn’t do that at all in Game 5.

Would we still be down 3-2 coming back to KC? Probably. But in a game that looks like a 5-0 blowout on paper actually came down to a handful of little mishaps. Championship baseball is in the details, and Ned Yost hurt his chances for the first time in a while.

-apc.

World Series Primer & Predictions: If baseball is designed to break your heart, why does KC feel like THIS?

IMG_0756

“[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.” – A. Bartlett Giamatti, Take Time for Paradise

And all the division winners shout, “AMEN.”

I have called Kansas City home for 28 years, and I’ve never seen this city so gosh darn happy. Happy and united. Content. Not remotely at odds with one another. The past few weeks have felt like some borderline utopian world. It’s like the whole city has a secret – everybody’s in on it – and we keep nodding to one another as if to say, “I know, man. I know.”

Royals.

I was in line at the register at Target over the weekend and realized I was surrounded. I did a quick 360 degree inventory of the store, and there was a Royals cap in every direction. The lady in front of me had blue and white fingernails. The guy one aisle over was buying one of those giant team magnets that stick to the side of your car. This team has transformed this city. It’s socially acceptable to end conversations with, “Go Royals!”

Maybe I just run in baseball circles, but this city doesn’t seem concerned with any other sport right now. The Chiefs beat the Chargers on the road Sunday. Fun, but that’s not what’s most important. K-State won in Norman. Mizzou beat up on Florida. KU had their Late Night at the Phog at the same time as a Royals game and had one of the lowest turn outs in years. Defending MLS champions, Sporting KC, clinched another playoff spot the other night too.

All of that is well and good, but it’s all back page news around here these days. It’s late October and the Royals have Kansas City’s full attention.

Basically, Bart Giamatti was full of it.

The World Series begins tomorrow night at Kauffman Stadium. It hardly feels real. Just typing that feels like I’ve made a mistake. I’m just certain I’ll wake up from this dream any second now. This isn’t real life.

The Royals haven’t lost a game in the playoffs. They “swept” the Athletics in the Wild Card game, 1-0. They swept the Angels in the ALDS, 3-0. They swept the Orioles in the ALCS, 4-0. No team has ever gone 8-0 in the playoffs before. This team is already historically successful and have out-performed even the most hopeful fans’ expectations.

Let’s do a preseason hypothetical, just for fun. What if we were all contestants on Let’s Make a Deal, and had the following scenario…

“You chose Door 1, and you’ve won an American League Championship! Would you like to keep your championship, or risk it all by choosing behind Door 2?!”

Royals fans everywhere would’ve taken the pennant, right? Why would we ever be greedy? Any success is better than our success in recent (and not so recent) years. The mere fact that the pennant was ours to have would’ve been enough.

Except now it’s not hypothetical…and we’re all getting greeeeeeeedy.

Which is exactly what we should be doing. We want more. Consolation prizes are for suckers. No one cares about the “also rans” or the “honorable mentions.” To quote the great poet Vanilla Ice, “Anything less than the best is a felony.” Kansas City deserves to be greedy – 29 years of futility has earned them that. This fan base has learned to be okay with coming up short. Moral victories are sort of this city’s thing.

Not this time. We want 4 more wins. That’s all it takes. Four more.

I can’t even imagine what this place will be like this time next week. I don’t even want to think about it. I just want to feel it when it gets here. There’s no such thing as heartbreak at this point. We’re past that. But we’ve also earned ourselves more than a moral victory, so let’s keep rolling, okay? Four more.

*********

Now it’s time for some Fall Classic predictions. Let’s get to it.

Prediction 1: James Shields takes a no-hitter into the 4th inning.

This goes for either Game 1 or Game 5. James Shields hasn’t looked sharp thus far in the post season. He’s been very beatable in his three starts so far. For some reason I think I’ll go against the grain this time around. With the strength of his cutter and change up, I think he’ll breeze through the Giants lineup early and avoid any hits until the second time through the order.

He’ll need to be on point, because Madison Bumgarner has been the arguably the best pitcher in the postseason. Hopefully the offense can scratch across a few runs for Shields.

Prediction 2: Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson get lit up for a combined 11 runs in their starts.

Peavy is on for Game 2 in Kansas City and Hudson ought to get the nod for Game 3 in San Francisco. Whether the Royals win Game 1 or not behind James Shields, they ought to be up at least 2-1 after three games with the way they destroy these two guys.

Check out the Royals team batting statistics against Peavy…

peavy

…and against Hudson…

hudson

Billy Butler, Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon all destroy Jake Peavy. The Royals numbers against Huson are slightly less impressive, but Raul Ibanez has SIXTY-SEVEN career at bats against him. Since Ibanez’s role on this team is borderline player-coach, he should be able to prep the rest of the lineup on Hudson. Interesting to note that Ibanez absolutely smokes both of these guys. Which brings me to prediction 3.

Prediction 3: Raul Ibanez gets a hit in the World Series.

UPDATE: Ibanez was left off the World Series 25-man roster, so this prediction is pointless.

Thus far, Ibanez hasn’t even been on the Royals postseason roster. Josh Willingham has taken his potential spot mainly because Willingham doesn’t look straight out of a Just For Men ad.

But Ibanez’s numbers against the Giants pitching is way too good to leave him off the roster. If they want to add him, they’ll have to drop Tim Collins off the 25 man roster, which is doable, but going up against an NL team, relief pitchers will probably be at a premium. Which brings me to my next prediction.

Prediction 4: Danny Duffy logs multiple innings in this series.

Maybe a starter gets knocked out early. Maybe another game goes 18 innings. Maybe Ned Yost mismanages the whole pitchers-batting thing and runs down our bullpen in SF. I don’t know. I just really want to see our statistically best pitcher get into a game somehow.

Prediction 5: Eric Hosmer drops a homer into McCovey Cove. 

This is more hoping than predicting at this point. When I was in SF for my ballpark tour, we saw two HRs hit over our heads. I would love to see a #HOSBOMB land in the bay.

Prediction 6: The Kansas City Royals win the World Series in 6 games.

I’m confident in Shields in Game 1, but I don’t think he’ll be good enough to beat Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner has been lights out this postseason. Ventura has been lights out. Vargas has only given up 4 hits in his 2 postseason starts (3 of them home runs), but I like his odds on the road. Guthrie has an ERA of 2.25 since the beginning of September and was awesome in Game 3 last week. It seems pretty likely that the Royals can come back home with a 3-2 series lead for Game 6 – Ventura vs Peavy, and Ventura takes us home with another gem. Which brings me to my final prediction.

Prediction 7: Yordano Ventura is the World Series MVP.

There it is. I have all the confidence in the world in Yordano. He has given the Royals a reason to celebrate since the beginning of the season. Every day he takes the mound, I feel like something magical is going to happen. It would surprise me if Yost allowed him to throw beyond the 6th inning with the strength of our bullpen, but it won’t matter. He’ll go 2-0 and won’t allow a run.

And once again, the Royals are poppin’ corks in front of their home crowd.

Four more. See you at The K.

-apc.

The Royals are World Series bound! Photos from ALCS Game 4

The Kansas City Royals are American League Champions, and Lorenzo Cain, a.k.a. “My Boi” was named ALCS Most Valuable Player.

There are no words.

Well, there are, or there will be, but now that this series has wrapped up I should probably take some time to catch up on my seminary work. We’ll revisit probably on Monday morning, but for now some photos will have to suffice.

IMG_0586.JPGEntering through Gate D. I started a “Let’s Go Royals!” chant that spread to at least 30 people and lasted at least 12 seconds.

IMG_0596.JPGALCS MVP and Nori squat.

IMG_0600.JPGAlcides Escobar broke up a play at the plate scoring he and Aoki. Jarrod Dyson goes full parade mode and starts chucking handfuls of bubble gum out of the dugout and into the crowd. I saved mine for a postgame celebration.

IMG_0607.JPGIt’s pronounced, “Gor-DAHN.”

IMG_0738.JPGThe dugout went nuts after Gordon’s catch against the wall in left field. Lots of cap tips on this team.

IMG_0740.JPGJason Vargas pitched very well. Ned pulled him for Herrera after 5.1 innings of 2 hit 1 run ball.

IMG_0741.JPGNice work, Vargy.

IMG_0739.JPGDave brought his broom.

IMG_0742.JPGThis has been The Wade Davis Experience. Another day at the office.

IMG_0743.JPGRoyals should’ve capitalized here and didn’t. Billy Butler lead off double (not pictured), Terrance Gore in to pinch run (pictured), Alex Gordon comes up. For a guy who loves to bunt, Ned Yost sure ignored a perfect time to move up Gore to third. If Yost had, Gore would’ve scored on Salvy’s next at bat. An insurance run would’ve been nice, but 2 > 1 too.

IMG_0744.JPGThen this guy showed up. Thinks he can just stand anywhere he wants to because he’s got a big ole camera. my footage was probably better (see above) anyway and my camera fits in my pocket and makes phone calls too.

IMG_0745.JPGGordon celebrates.

IMG_0746.JPGPaul Rudd celebrates. No word yet on whether the party at his mom’s house actually happened.

IMG_0747.JPGRusty Kuntz awesome moment of the night: about 10 minutes into the celebration, Rusty looks over and spots the three ball boys standing in the dugout watching the fun. Rusty walks over and motions for them to join. A security guard objects, but Rusty plays his “don’t you know who I am?” card and the boys light up and rush out on to the field, group-hugging Kuntz on the way. Terrific.

IMG_0748.JPGLorenzo Cain, ALCS MVP.

IMG_0749.JPGHeart melts.

IMG_0750.JPGSalvy traded his Champs cap with a fan for his own giant face.

IMG_0751.JPGBig Game James acknowledges the fans’ “stay in KC!” chant. He seemed appreciative while also thinking, “but Boston is going to offer me $100k over 5 years, so…”

IMG_0752.JPG“Hey man – wanna play Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball on SEGA over at your place later? Ok, see you then.”

IMG_0753.JPGThen Salvador Perez jumped on the dugout and hugged a kid. Salvy initiated.

IMG_0754.JPGSo happy.

IMG_0755.JPGThen he hugged another kid. Salvy did NOT initiate.

IMG_0756.JPGWe were still hanging around well over an hour after the final out…

IMG_0757.JPG…we weren’t the only ones.

IMG_0759.JPGSo long for now, Kauffman. See you Tuesday for Game 1 of the 2014 WORLD SERIES.

-apc.

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?

The Royals are up 2-0 in the ALDS. Thoughts after Games 1&2, and looking toward Game 3.

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The Royals are one win away from the American League Championship Series.

Just let that settle in. A week ago Friday, the Royals were spraying champagne in the visitors’ dugout at US Cellular field celebrating their first playoff berth in 29 years. It marked the end of an exhausting month duking it out with Detroit, Oakland, Seattle and Cleveland for the last remaining playoff spots. We were like Charlie Bucket entering Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory – others may have felt entitled to their playoff spot, but we’re were kinda just happy to be there.

I alluded to this in my post following Tuesday’s Wild Card win, but I’ll say it more explicitly here: I always thought we would lose the Wild Card game. From the beginning of this season, I thought this was a playoff team, but I didn’t think we were most likely to win the Central. And everything in my experience as a Royals fan speaks to the narrative of disappointment. Losing the Wild Card matchup would have been the ultimate disappointment. I expected it.

But they won.

Then they won again on Thursday thanks to incredible outfield defense from Nori Aoki and Lorenzo Cain and a huge 11th-inning home run from Mike Moustakas. Then they won again on Friday thanks to Yordano Ventura completely shutting down the Los Angeles Angels’ star-studded power lineup and another huge 11th inning home run – this one from Eric Hosmer.

One week. It’s been an exhausting one, hasn’t it?

Not sure about you, but I’ve averaged around 4 hours of sleep over this past week. I was at Tuesday’s game that lasted 4 hours and 45 minutes. Didn’t get home until 1AM, and I was so jacked up there was no way I was getting to bed immediately. Thursday night’s 11-inning affair finished up at 12:13PM. Friday’s ended at 12:26PM. Even then, it’s just not possible for me to sleep well (or at all) after such dramatic ballgames.

It isn’t purely sleep deprivation though, is it? It’s been emotionally draining too. This is the first time in MLB postseason history that a team has won three consecutive extra inning games. This is the only time a team to play three straight 11+ inning games too. Only five other teams have won three total extra inning playoff games before this year: 86 Mets, 91 Twins, 96 Yankees, 03 Marlins, 04 Red Sox.

See anything in common in that list?

Oh, just that all of those teams won the World Series. So there’s that.

The Royals have an opportunity to sweep the “best team in the American League” (although that’s open for debate at this point) tonight. They are 1 win away from playing in the American League Championship Series and 5 wins away from the World Series and 9 wins away from being 2014 World Series Champions. THIS IS REAL PEOPLE. IT’S HAPPENING.

It’s been a crazy, exhausting and thrilling week, yes? I don’t know how I can survive the rest of this month. And if I don’t, it’s probably already been worth it.

Vargas & Yordano

When I heard the news that Jason Vargas would be starting Game 1, I was not thrilled. Vargas had a terrible September: a 9.00 ERA in his last 4 starts of the season. I saw his final start in person in Cleveland actually. He doesn’t throw hard, so he has to rely on his pinpoint control, and he did not have it that night. I wanted Danny Duffy instead, but the Royals know their team better than I do. Apparently.

Because Vargas was great. He gave up just two hits in 6 innings. Only problem is both of those hits were home runs – one to Chris Iannetta and one to David Freese. But overall he was extremely effective and got us to the bullpen after 6. (With a little lot of help from the defense.)

And Yordano. Oh, Yordano. The dude is just insane. I’ve never seen him nastier. He was throwing straight fire. 102 with movement just isn’t fair. Before Friday, the most 100+ MPH pitches he’d thrown in one game was 5. Friday night, he threw 12. TWELVE different pitches at or over 100 MPH. He only threw 95 pitches, so that’s 12.6% of his pitches! I tell you what, it’s nice to have a rookie like that. Get him a contract extension ASAP.

Moose & Hosmer

These two were Dayton Moore’s poster boys. The first round picks in 2007 & 2008 were supposed to come in and change the landscape of Royals baseball for years to come. Unfortunately, they’ve mostly stunk. Especially Moose.

Moustakas had a stint in Omaha this summer. The team went on a giant winning stretch while Hosmer was on the disabled list in July/August. I’ve personally lobbied for both of them to be benched at some point this season. Christian Colon has played well in his time in the majors this year, and Danny Valencia did a fine job platooning with Moose before we traded him to Toronto. Billy Butler’s resurgence while Hosmer was out sparked lots of questions whether Hos would get his position back when he returned.

But wouldn’t you know it, the first two games of the ALDS are won off of 11th inning home runs from each of them. They’re the heroes of the ALDS so far.

I’m curious how Friday’s game impacts Moose’s career in the long term. We know he can hit – he does it in Spring Training year after year. He has always put so much pressure on himself to perform that his average slips around .200-.220. But the last few weeks we have seen a different Moose in my opinion. He’s amped up to play. He’s taking the ball to the opposite field regularly to beat the shift. He even pushed a bunt single down the line on Friday. Pure gold.

I have a sense – and we’ll see how this plays out – that Moose is more relaxed than he has ever been in his career after the home run last night. I’m betting that we continue to see a productive Moose throughout the playoffs and into next season. At least, I hope.

Ned & Holland

I’ve already addressed how annoyed I get with the Royals fan base hating Ned Yost. And he’s not flawless, obviously. But I think we just enjoy hating him at this point.

No one seems to be arguing about the lineup since Omar Infante got moved down and Cain moved up. The only situation that seems to get criticized now is the use, or lack thereof, of Greg Holland in the 9th inning in the last three games.

In the Wild Card game, with the Royals losing 7-6, Yost brought in Holland in the 9th at home before the Royals tied the game up in the bottom half. Makes perfect sense because if he doesn’t use him and we don’t score then you’ve neglected your best bullpen arm in the end.

In the last two games, with the game tied, Yost has chosen to go with Jason Frasor and a Tim Collins/Frasor combo. He kept Holland for the 11th inning in both games. Typically, in a tie game on the road, you’d throw your closer in the 9th, get three outs and make sure the game goes to extras. Use your best arms and resort to the lesser arms when/if you have to. No sense in throwing the game away by putting in a lesser pitcher instead.

But here’s the rub with that logic: you’re going to have to throw your worse arm if you want to win anyway. Even if Yost decided to throw Holland in the 9th, then Moose/Hosmer hits their homer in the 11th, he would then turn to Frasor and/or Collins for the bottom of the 11th. You’d rely on the same pitchers, just at different points of the game.

So, hypothetically, if Collins had blown it in the 9th, we’d all be blasting Yost for not bringing in Holland instead. Except, if he does bring in Holland and he’s successful, you’re going to have to trust Collins later anyway. It’s a half foot one way, six inches the other.

It boils down to preference, really. Would you rather save your best guy for when you have a lead or throw him to sustain the tie? The lesser-than-Hollands are going to have to throw at some point anyway.

Personally, I’d much rather see Holland in there in a save situation in the 11th than Tim Collins or Jason Frasor, and I think you would too. Wouldn’t we rather have a shutdown guy ready to go once we took the lead? A lead is a win with Holland out there still. A lead is still somewhat in question when turning to Collins/Frasor.

Note to Yost: keep doing what you’re doing with Holland. Also, proud of you for bringing in Davis in the 7th. And if Herrera is out long term, the answer is either lefty Brandon Finnegan or righty Jason Frasor depending on the matchup.

Looking Forward: Big Game James v. CJ Wilson

I have tickets to the game tonight at Kauffman Stadium (!!!!!!), and who else would you rather have in a potential clinching game than James Shields? Let’s take a look at the career splits vs current rosters…

Shields vs LAA, career: .279/.305/.525

Wilson vs KC, career: .252/.337/.459

The Angels hit Shields very well. Howie Kendrick especially: 14-26 (.538/.556/.855). In fact, it seems like anyone on this team who has faced Shields much has had some success against him.

Albert Pujols is 3-6 vs Shields. Mike Trout is 2-6…with a 3B and a HR. That’s a .333/.333/1.167 split.

Except Josh Hamilton. He stinks versus BGJ. I would not be shocked to see Hamilton get benched today. He is hitless so far in the series, got booed loudly during Game 2 in Los Angeles, and lifetime against Shields he is 3-25 with 11 strikeouts. Collin Cowgill is 0-3 lifetime against Shields, but played 44 games out in LF this season, mostly while Hamilton was out during September. If I were Mike Scioscia, I’d bench Hamilton for Cowgill.

The biggest difference is that Shields (3.21 ERA) hardly walks anyone while Wilson (4.51) walks a lot. Except the Royals this year finished dead last in the majors in walks taken. Patience at the plate (looking at you, Salvy and Lorenzo) will reap it’s benefits against Wilson. Wilson also pitches significantly worse on the road (4-8, 5.31 ERA) than at home (9-2, 3.82 ERA). So that works in our favor as well.

Shields is obviously the better pitcher, especially with Wilson pitching on the road, but I’m more nervous than usual with Shields against the Angels.

*****

Okay that’s enough for now. We’ll pick it back up after they sweep the best team in the American League tonight. But let’s be honest, are they still the best team?

I’m predicting a 6-3 Royals win.

Until then, I’ll be listening to Tech N9ne and J-Lo’s “Waiting for Tonight” on loop. See you at Kauffman. Let’s get weird.

-apc.

The Royals are headed to the ALDS.

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Tell me what the headline should be here. I have no idea how to communicate such an insane experience.

The night was an emotionally draining blur and this morning my voice sounds like Frogman from Little Rascals. It is with zero hesitation that I label last night’s 9-8 come-from-behind 12th-inning walkoff Royals Wild Card victory the greatest game I have ever attended.

People will tell you that they never had a doubt, and that they knew the whole time the Royals had it in the bag. Those individuals should not be trusted. Save for a few strong innings when then Royals held a 3-2 lead, there was absolutely every reason to doubt before and throughout last night’s wild card playoff game. I spent the entire day worrying. I’ve never been so nervous in my life. I posted to Twitter yesterday afternoon that I was more nervous about the game than I ever was proposing to my wife. I joked that I was bringing an extra pair of pants to the game too…just in case.

That was a lie, obviously. And I’d also be lying if I said I never had doubt. And if you tell me you never had doubts when we were down 7-3 in the 8th, i question your grasp of reality.

Let’s begin with the end. Oakland had just taken the lead, 8-7 in the 12th. In the bottom half with 1 out, Eric Hosmer – who went 3-4 with 2 walks – lifted a ball to deep right. Sam Fuld and Jonny Gomes both looked like they might have a play on it against the wall. Instead, they collided in midair and the ball caromed off the wall for a standup triple. Christian Colon chopped a swinging bunt single and Hosmer scored from third to tie the game at 8-8. Colon stole second, and Salvador Perez came to the plate.

Again, zero reason to be confident here. Salvy had already come up twice with runners aboard and had failed badly. He continues to chase terrible pitches low and away. Throw him a slider down and out, and he’ll swing every time. For a guy who spends every day framing the strikezone he sure doesn’t seem to have a clue where it is. In the 8th inning, with the tying run on third base, Salvy had struck out on a pitch that wasn’t anywhere close. He looked awful.

Right on cue, he swung at a pitch a foot off the plate outside, and somehow that ball found it’s way between third base and Josh Donaldson’s diving glove. Colon scored from second, and the game was over.

Here’s a look at both pitches by ESPN Stats & Info…
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And with that swing the Royals won their first playoff game since winning it all in 1985.

The game took 4 hours and 45 minutes, and I’m certain I experienced every emotion possible in that span.

Kauffman was absolutely rocking. it felt like Arrowhead, honestly, and that’s no exaggeration. I’ve never been to a baseball game that loud. Not even close. When James Shields took the mound to start the game, the whole place was standing like a college basketball game. Someday I’ll tell my unborn kids for the 800th time how loud it was and they’ll roll their eyes and go, “yeah, yeah, we know dad.”

It was electric at the beginning and the end. But there were quite a few spots in between that were very very dismal.

The place was silent in the first after Brandon Moss hit a 2-run homer to make it 2-0 Oakland early, but sprang back to life when the Royals immediately responded with a run of their own when Billy Butler singled in Nori Aoki in the first. Then went back to bananas when my boy Lorenzo Cain doubled scoring Mike Moustakas and Hosmer singled scoring Cain.

If there was ever a point to “not have any doubts” this was it. The fans were all up in Jon Lester’s dome. The whole place was chanting, “Leeeeees-ter, Leeeeees-terrr,” and the A’s starter actually looked rattled. Going into the last night, Lester had owned the Royals over his career (1.84 ERA, 88 IP). They faced him three times between July 20 and August 12 in the midst of their crazy hot streak in July/August, and they lost all three games badly.

But the Royals finally got to him last night: 7.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R. Yet somehow he left the game in line for another win due to a suspect managerial move by Ned Yost.

With the Royals leading 3-2, Shields got into some trouble in the 6th. Fuld led off with a single and Donaldson walked. Two on, no outs. Shields had thrown 88 pitches, and has cruised through the previous 5 innings with the only blip being Moss’s HR in the first. In a regular season game, your ace pitcher would have the opportunity to work out of it himself. But in a winner-take-all game, Yost opted to pull Shields for – not Kelvin Herrera or Wade Davis, not Jason Frasor or Brandon Finnegan, not even lefty Danny Duffy – but young rookie starter Yordano Ventura.

I get the move. I do. And if it had worked, we’d all be talking about what a genius Ned was to bring in the young flamethrower. Unfortunately, Moss took a 97 mph fastball over the centerfield fence. They would add two more runs in the frame and make it 7-3, bad guys.

At which point, I gave up. The game was over and Ned Yost was going to get raked over the coals for it. Hope was nowhere to be found, and for the second time, the life had been sucked out of Kauffman Stadium. You could here every word coming from the mouth of every A’s fan. Royals fans could do nothing but watch their season slip away.

The song “Don’t Stop Believing” came on between innings, and it was almost comical how depressing things felt. The only ones singing along in my section were two over-served gentlemen down near the front, and two boys in the seats right in front of us.

Someone said something about things looking grim, to which one of the kids responded, “All we need to do is have everyone hit a home run and we’ll win.” The kid clearly didn’t know his 2014 Royals statistics, because no one hits home runs on this team, but he taught me a little about hope in the midst of despair.

It was the 8th inning when the rally began. Alcides Escobar singled and stole second. Cain singled him home. Cain stole second. Hosmer walked and the A’s pulled Lester for Luke Gregorson. Billy Butler singled and scored Cain, and moved Hosmer to third. Terrance Gore ran for Butler and stole second. A wild pitch by Gregorson advanced both runners. Hosmer’s run made it 7-6. Alex Gordon walked and stole second. Perez and Omar Infante struck out with the tying run and fastest guy in the league just 90 feet away.

The Royals had 7 steals in this game, by the way, tying a postseason record. The biggest of them all game in the 9th. Josh Willingham led off with a single and Jarrod Dyson pinch ran for him. Escobar bunted him to second. Then with Aoki batting, Dyson stole third – the biggest steal of the seven – we were 90 feet away. Aoki hit a sacrifice fly to right and Dyson scored to tie the game and send it to extra innings.

The “90 feet away” motif suddenly became a thing as the Royals put a man on third base in 4 consecutive innings – 8th, 9th, 10th & 11th – plating only Dyson.

A look at the three they didn’t score…

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…none of them scored. The Royals did a masterful job doing 3/4 of the manufacturing, but couldn’t get the guy to advance the last 90 feet on three different occasions.

Meanwhile, while the offense is stranding runners at third, the bullpen was doing it’s thing. Wade Davis pitched a scoreless 8th. Greg Holland pitched a scoreless 9th. And 21-year old rookie Brandon Finnegan threw 2.1 innings striking out 3. Gosh, he looks good. Finny was playing ball at TCU in the College World Series just 4 months ago, he was the Royals top draft pick this year and has been stellar out of the bullpen since the rosters expanded in September. He ka another reason the future is bright beyond 2014 in Kansas City.

Then in the 12th, the A’s did what we couldn’t: they moved a base runner 90 more feet. The runner was Josh Reddick, who walked to lead off the inning. Jed Lowrie bunted him to second and Jason Frasor came into the game and promptly threw a wild pitch. With Reddick at third – 90 feet away – former Royal, Alberto Callaspo, singled to make it 8-7.

This was the worst of the worsts for fans at The K. Inning after inning we had runs sitting right there and couldn’t bring them across. And to see Oakland succeed on it’s first try was really frustrating and positively deflating.

But the bottom of the 12th is history. Hosmer’s big triple, Colon’s infield single and steal, and Perez’s grounder down the line, and the Royals came from behind for the third time in the same game to defeat the Athletics 9-8.

And Kauffman Stadium launched into euphoria.

I high fived so many strangers my hand started hurting. I screamed and screamed and screamed. I ripped a set of blue beads I was wearing around my neck and chucked them 100 feet in the air and I have no idea what came of them.

On a night that I fully expected to be heartbroken, I was. Three times, in fact. But the joy in the end is all that matters. It was chaos.

Bring on the Angels. I don’t care how good they are or how impressive their lineup is or how many games the won in the regular season. None of those things matter in the playoffs.

But they have Mike Trout! And Albert Pujols! And Josh Hamilton! And…shut it. None of that matters.

What does matter in the playoffs? Pitching, defense and speed. And the Royals have all of those things.

I can tell you one thing: no one wants to play the Kansas City Royals. Other teams just don’t matchup for a must-win playoff game.

We’ve completed phase two of five. Phase one was to make the playoffs. Phase two was to advance to the ALDS. Three more phases to go. 11 more wins is all it takes.

See you at The K on Sunday.

-apc.

Game 30: Progressive Field, Cleveland

“So, what team do you play for?”

“The Indians.”

“Here in Cleveland? I didn’t know they still had a team?”

“Yeah, we have uniforms and everything, it’s great.”

Is there a sports movie out there that better resonates with the culture of a franchise than Major League does for the Cleveland Indians?

Rookie of the Year is about the Cubs, sure, but it’s a kid playing baseball and that’s not realistic. Same with Little Big League with the Twins only it’s a kid manager instead. And The Sandlot is about a group of kids, only one of which makes it to the pros and it only shows one play of him stealing home for the Dodgers.

The Kevin Costner Trio – Bull Durham, For Love of the Game and Field of Dreams – don’t chronicle an MLB season either, each for different reasons. Bull Durham is about a minor league team; For Love of the Game centers on one specific game at the end of a season; and Field of Dreams focuses on the 1919 Chicago Black Sox and a corn field in Iowa.

Other films are terrific, but don’t have anything to do with an MLB franchise: A League of Their Own, The Natural, The Rookie, for example. All great films, but only The Rookie has anything to do with the MLB and Dennis Quaid only faces a single batter and throws three pitches.

There’s also Fever Pitch……moving on.

The only two that you might be able to argue are Moneyball and Angels in the Outfield. Both chronicle an entire season with an actual MLB team. Moneyball certainly resonates, but the fact that it is based entirely on a true story and came out well after the events took place makes it less compelling for fans. Angels in the Outfield is fantastic. Danny Glover and a young Joseph-Gordon Levitt headline the against-all-odds-bad-franchise-miraculously-turned-winners plot line. It’s close, but not quite.

And then there is Major League.

Again, the point I’m making is not that Major League is the best movie ever. What I’m saying is no other baseball movie resonates with a team more than the Cleveland Indians.

The 1989 flick features Tom Berenger as washed up catcher Jake Taylor, Charlie Sheen as California penal system product Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn, and Wesley Snipes as speedster Willie Mays Hayes. The clubhouse of misfits is predicted by every major newspaper to finished dead last. Naturally, they beat the Yankees in the last game of the season to finish in first.

The reason it resonates? Obviously there are many.

First, the city of Cleveland is very prominent. The movie is actually shot at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland – the “Mistake by the Lake” as they call it. By contrast, Angels in the Outfield wasn’t even shot in California, but at Camden Yards in Baltimore instead.

The Indians go form being nobodys to the talk of the cities. The movie continually cuts to the people of Cleveland themselves left to comment on the team. The construction workers comment, “Who are these f—ing guys?” and the grounds crew workers comment, “They’re sh—y,” and the face-painted Wahoos in the bleachers are continually called back as a way to remind us why baseball exists at all: it’s for the fans. Major League does a great job incorporating the fans and the city into the script.

Secondly, it’s not true, but it also isn’t inaccurate.

The whole “terrible for over four decades” piece is spot on. The last World Series victory for the Indians was in 1948 – 41 years before the movie came out. They still haven’t won it all since then either giving the Tribe the second longest draught behind the Chicago Cubs.

The whole “our ballpark is crumbling” piece is also spot on. Municipal Stadium was the worst. It was built in the 1930s as a multipurpose prototype. It held over 70,000 fans and was rarely, if ever, full. Even high traffic games of 30,000+ were half empty. It was billed to be Cleveland’s version of Yankee Stadium. Turned out to be cold and breezy right next to Lake Erie. It also had an asbestos roof.

It was so bad that during the 30s and 40s – back when the Indians were still competitive – they would play their weekday games over at tiny League Park, despite it being a much older venue (1891), and would only play at Municipal on weekends.

Tribe fans never knew a time of winning at Municipal Stadium. It was a venue synonymous with losing.

The city of Cleveland recently renovated the old League Park site that had been just sitting there since it closed in 1946. League Park hosted players such as Bob Feller, Satchel Paige and Cy Young. Babe Ruth hit his 500th home run there. The only unassisted triple play in World Series history was turned there.

The dimensions were awkward because the neighbors wouldn’t sell their property: 505 ft to straight away centerfield and 290 ft to right. To eliminate the number of home runs, they installed a 40 foot wall with a 20 foot chain link fence on top. A sixty foot wall. Crazy.

Some pics…
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The whole “going from worst to first” piece isn’t far fetched either. Because by 1995 they were playing in the World Series. They went again in 1997. They won the division 5 of 6 years between 1995 and 2000. Young players like Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga and Albert Belle and old veterans like Edsie Murray, Omar Visquel and Dennis Martinez in those days, and – wait, vets and rooks? That sounds just like Major League! Shoot, Kenny Lofton and Willie Mays Hayes might as well have been the same guy. It was like the movie came true.

But those American League pennants and division championships weren’t played at Municipal. In 1994, the Indians had left their massive and disappointing home for Jacobs Field, and they won right away.

Jacobs, aka “The Jake,” can even be seen as a Major League reference to Jake Taylor. (These days, it’s Progressive Field, aka “The Prog.”)

It’s like the movie was playing out in front of Cleveland’s very eyes. Just at a new and improved ballpark.

The Prog is alright, I guess. There are a couple unique features I liked: the left field wall is 19 feet tall so the ball plays differently out there than normal. For example, yesterday, Alex Gordon picked one up off the wall and gunned down Roberto Perez trying to sloooowly leg out a double. I liked the “Indians” script on top of the video board in left field, and I liked the smaller dimensions of the park. It’s only 320 and 323 to the left and right field corners.

But while the playing surface felt small, the ballpark did not. It didn’t feel as intimate as other parks. I’m not sure there was a foul ball to the upper deck the whole night (there probably were a couple, but not nearly as many as usual). I also wasn’t crazy about the video board itself or the asymmetrical overhang on only the third base line. Made for odd angles from my perspective behind the plate.

Progressive Field is clearly one of the oldest ballparks of the retro renaissance of ballpark design. It feels like the early 1990s…instead of the 1890s which is how “retro” is supposed to feel. It wasn’t bad. Just alight.

As a whole, the city of Cleveland has had some pretty crummy luck as a fan base. The Browns were so bad they packed up and moved to Baltimore (before being reestablished a few years later). They had their hearts ripped out by LeBron James and the Cavaliers a few years back. He’s “coming home” now, but who knows if he can actually bring them a championship. He is the Chosen One, afterall, right? The fans deserve a winner.

The Indians in their late-90s prime came close but never delivered. Tribe fans are a very passionate bunch. They cheer as loud as any group I’ve been around. They also seem close as a community – as a Royals fan, i understand this one; after enduring so much pain together, you can’t help but be close by the end.

They’re also loyal. Two examples of this: first, super-fan John Adams has been sitting out in the outfield bleachers since 1973 banging his drum for the team. Never missed a home game.

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There’s also this dude who’s been showing up dressed as a chicken this year because apparently there was a chicken in the bullpen earlier this year and the Indians won their next bundle of games. Ten, I think. I don’t really get it, he was so jacked up and he was talking so fast I couldn’t even understand him. Something about the lucky chicken being the only hope Cleveland has at this point.

That pic, by the way, was taken and tweeted by Joel Goldberg of Fox Sports Kansas City before last night’s game. That my dad with his hand raised. No idea who that other girl is.

I was there rooting for the opponent, so I was pretty annoyed by the group at times. As I left, I realized had they been playing any other AL team, I would’ve joined right in with their heckling. But they were talking about my boys! Don’t you taunt Hosmer! Get off Gordon’s back! And please please please stop chanting U-S-A when Aoki comes to the plate. (That was about the only thing they ever did that I was 100% not okay with.)

Interestingly, they dish t have anything bad to say about Lorenzo Cain. They probably recognize that he’s THE ABSOLUTE GREATEST.

Game Notes

Super frustrating night for the Royals. Jason Vargas was super bad. So bad that he may be last on the Royals playoff depth chart at this point. It’s between he and Guthrie.

Vargas had very little control, and for a guy who throws an upper 80s fastball, control is pretty dang important. He gave up 4 runs on 4 hits and 3 walks. He threw one pitch into the 5th inning and that one hit Michael Bourn who scored after Brandon Finnegan relieved Vargas.

Indians starter, Trevor Bauer, wasn’t much better, but he got luckier, honestly. The Royals hit him hard for the four innings he pitched, but couldn’t catch a timely break. The Royals outhit the Indians 10-7, but the Indians outscored the Royals 6-4.

The Indians, however. Got a very timely hit off Vargas in the first when Yan Gomes launched one over the centerfield wall in the first inning.

Salvador Perez continues to swing at everything thrown his way. He struck out twice with runners on first and second. Thanks Sal. Infuriating.

Moose hit two opposite field line drives with runners on base. Both were directly at the left fielder. The ball didn’t bounce the Royals way from the beginning.

This is not how I anticipated the Tour ending. In my mind, this game was going to be the grand finale. It was supposed to end with the Royals clenching a playoff spot or moving into first place. Detroit was supposed to lose on Tuesday and the Royals were supposed to finish the sweep on Wednesday. Instead, it will happen today if Seattle loses and KC wins.

Sometimes things just don’t go the way you think they will. To probably over-spiritualize it, you have one plan but God has another. Life isn’t a movie like Major League…even though this Royals season and this crazy Ballpark Tour have at certain points.

More on the Royals later. For now, it’s time to wrap this post – and this series up.

What a thrill it has been. I can now say that I’ve been to all thirty ballparks in the same season.

Now it’s time to get to writing the first draft of my book. I’m going to be taking all 30 teams and writing a chapter on each. Some chapters will focus on my experience at the game, others will focus on the team’s history, others will focus on what’s it’s like to be a fan of each team. I’m going to utilize this series as the notes/framework for the final product. So if you want a sneak peak, go back and read through all of the posts!

Okay. Signing off for now. More to come soon.

Thirty ballparks down. Zero to go.

Up Next: The Royals make the playoffs.

-apc.

The Royals are 79-62. So let’s talk completely in hypotheticals about the final 3 weeks of the season.

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The Royals’ Magic Number is 19.

The Royals went into New York this weekend and made it very clear who the better team is without the offense doing anything to help out. The pitching was lights out – as usual* – it was the defense that was the difference in both wins. Yankees made 4 errors over the weekend and all three Royals runs in their two wins were unearned.

Over three games NY outscored them 6-5, yet KC won the series.

* – Side note: I’m becoming aware of the fact that I’m taking the Royals defense and pitching for granted. Whenever I watch another team play, it’s startling and embarrassing to watch at times. Most Royals fans haven’t experienced that feeling…ever.

On Friday, Big Game James Shields was absolutely dominant going 8.1 innings of shut out ball, with only 3 hits against him. He struck out 6. Michael Pineda was impressive himself even without any pine tar on his neck.

The only run in the game came in the 3rd when Alcides Escobar took second base on a Chase Headley fielding error. Nori Aoki singled him in on the next at bat. Wade Davis got his first career save with an ailing Greg Holland. Royals win 1-0.

As I said in my last Royals-related post, I think Danny Duffy is the ace of the future for this team (okay, along with Yordano Ventura), so it hurts to see him go down with shoulder soreness. He threw one pitch and that was it. He never looked comfortable warming up – he kept shaking out his arm after every toss – and Salvador Perez knew immediately that he wasn’t good to go.

Let’s hope Duffman only misses 1 start. I don’t want to see Guthrie pitching in the playoffs. Shields, Vargas, Duffy and Yordano is the rotation we want.

Liam Hendriks came in and pitched…just not well enough. He went 4 innings and gave up 4 runs (3 earned) on 7 hits. Casey Coleman gave up two more runs. The Yankees won 6-2 on what turned into a throw away game after Duffy left.

The bright side from Saturday: rookie Brandon Finnegan looked terrific in his MLB debut. Six batters up, six batters down. We haven’t seen the end of him.

Then Sunday, Yordano Ventura looked as good as ever: 6 innings, 0 runs, 3 hits. He continues to have short lapses of focus and will occasionally walk some guys. It’s strange – he’ll look totally dominant, and then throw 4 straight balls that aren’t even close. Probably just a product of being young.

The Royals’ offense continued to do next to nothing, 2 runs on 7 hits, but with this pitching staff/bullpen it was all they needed. Crow and Herrera both threw scoreless innings and Davis got his second career save.

They also spoiled Derek Jeter Day at Yankee Stadium, which no one really feels bad about, right?

Which makes the Royals 79-62. The Tigers won Sunday night, so the lead in the AL Central is 2 games. Royals are a .5 game behind Oakland for the top Wild Card spot, and 1.5 games up on the Mariners in the second WC spot.

ESPN has the Royals playoff odds at 83.4%. Fangraphs has them at 76.1%.

So let’s quickly project out the final 3 weeks of the season – 6 series – and see what we need to do. I’m going to lean heavily on the “but what if we stink” side of the convo. Our remaining schedule…

Sept 8-10: @DET
Sept 11-14: BOS
Sept 15-17: CWS
Sept 19-21: DET
Sept 22-24: @CLE
Sept 25-28: @CWS

The two series against the Tigers are the most important. In my mind, if we take 4 of those 6 games, the rest of them hardly matter. That would put us 3.5 games up. But for the sake of this, let’s say we go 2-4 in those games.

Sept 8-10: @DET (1-2)
Sept 11-14: BOS
Sept 15-17: CWS
Sept 19-21: DET (1-2)
Sept 22-24: @CLE
Sept 25-28: @CWS

Now let’s look at the two CWS series. Assuming we hit Chris Sale in both series (9/15 and 9/26 by my count), the only other pitcher our guys could struggle with is Jose Quintana, who we’ll face twice too. Let’s say we lose both Sale games, one against Quintana, and one randomly against Danks/Carroll/Noesi.

Sept 8-10: @DET (1-2)
Sept 11-14: BOS
Sept 15-17: CWS (1-2)
Sept 19-21: DET (1-2)
Sept 22-24: @CLE
Sept 25-28: @CWS (2-2)

The Red Sox series actually worries me. I don’t want any reminders of that Fenway series after the All-Star Break. In that series, we faced Buchholz, De La Rosa and Lester; thankfully, Lester plays for the Athletics now so that offsets the fact that we had to face him twice with Oakland at least somewhat. By my count, we’ll face the other two next weekend in KC. Plus we apparently stink at home in sold out games, which those will be. Let’s say we lose both of those and win one of the other two against “TBA”…

Sept 8-10: @DET (1-2)
Sept 11-14: BOS (1-3)
Sept 15-17: CWS (1-2)
Sept 19-21: DET (1-2)
Sept 22-24: @CLE
Sept 25-28: @CWS (2-2)

At this point, I’ve been super negative on our odds, so let’s say we win 2 of the 3 actual games against the Indians. The fourth game is the make-up from the other day. We are already down and will likely lose that one.

Sept 8-10: @DET (1-2)
Sept 11-14: BOS (1-3)
Sept 15-17: CWS (1-2)
Sept 19-21: DET (1-2)
Sept 22-24: @CLE (2-2)
Sept 25-28: @CWS (2-2)

So, worst case scenario (realistically) puts us at 8-13 the rest of the way, which means we end the season 87-75.

As of this post, Fangraphs lists the following projected wins for the A’s, Tigers and Mariners…

Oakland: 91.7
Detroit: 88.7
Seattle: 88.5

…so in a realistic worst case scenario, we would miss the playoffs by 1.5 games, and the division by 1.6. Highlights the importance of these games against Detroit. Going 3-3 the rest of the way puts us in a great position, but 4-2 against the Tigers all but seals up the division. We’ll look at that in a minute.

All that to say, 10 more wins should do it. That would put us at 89-73 and above the projected finish of both SEA and DET. With the caveat that at least 3 of those wins probably need to be against the Tigers.

Of course, that’s not what I think will happen. I see this being a 91-win team at the end of it. The weekend home series are the scariest based on our recent history in such games. I actually think we will win 2 of 3 in Detroit this week and 3 of 4 in Chicago to end the season. Going .500 over the rest of them would mean 12-9, or a 91-71 season.

The question, for me, is when will we clench?

Our magic number is currently 19, so any combination of Royals wins and Tigers losses that add up to 19 clenches it for us. If we take 2 of 3 this week, that makes the number 15.

If both teams go .500 between meetings (DET 3-3, KC 4-3) that would put our number at 8. If we win 1 of 3 at home against Detroit: 6. If we win 2 of 3: our magic number would be 4.

Which means the clencher will likely happen sometime +/- a day or two around September 26 in Chicago. Coming down to the wire. The season ends on the 28th, so we don’t have much wiggle room.

I’m going to be in Cleveland on the last game if that series on September 24. Watching the Royals win the division in person would be a dream come true, but I think I’ll miss it by a couple days.

But if we win the two series against Detroit, there’s a borderline decent chance I’ll get to see the Royals clench in Cleveland. If the split, it’ll be that weekend in Chicago.

And if we lose the next two series to Detroit………actually, I don’t want to talk about that right now.

-apc.

Photo: John Sleezer, KC Star. Original.

The Royals are 74-59: The Walkoff that Wasn’t (The Bruce Chen Disaster)

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I’d already seen this game once before.

Exactly five years ago, on August 28, 2009, my dad and I were at Busch Stadium in St. Louis watching the Cardinals play the Washington Nationals.

We were sitting out by the left field foul pole – my least favorite spot to sit in any ballpark – but on this night, I wouldn’t’ve wanted to be sitting anywhere else. In the bottom of the 8th, Khalil Greene had hit a solo homer that bounced off the top of the wall right in front of us to tie the ballgame, 2-2.

The Cardinals shortstop, Brendan Ryan, grounded out to short to end the inning, and Jason Motte – then an unproven catcher-turned-relief pitcher – came in to pitch the top half of the 9th. He stranded a 1 out double, and got out of the inning with no harm done.

I glanced up at the scoreboard to see who was leading off for the Cardinals in the final frame. I read the name, and turned to my dad. “Ballgame.”

“What?” He asked, “It’s still tied. Cards need to score here.”

I nodded, “Yep. And look who’s leading off.”

He checked the scoreboard. Up next: Albert Pujols.

Sure enough, three pitches later, we watched the ball jump off Albert’s bat, sail over our heads past Big Mac Land and into the concourse. Walkoff. Cardinals won, 3-2.

That is how last night should have ended at Kauffman Stadium.

The Royals were going for the sweep against Minnesota. They’d managed to steal both of the previous games: Gordon’s walkoff had taken game one on Tueaday, and a six-run 8th inning had fueled them on Wednesday.

The Twins kept scoring runs, but the Royals managed to keep pace. 2-0 Twins. Then 2-2. 4-2 Twins, then 4-4. 5-4 Twins, then 5-5 on Alex Gordon’s 119th career HR – passing Wade Boggs for the most HRs all time by a Nebraska native.

Early on, it felt like Minnesota would eventually manage to keep KC from matching their offense. But as the game went on, things slowly started to feel destined to go the Royals way. Maybe we were just used to dramatic wins at that point.

I was reminded of that night at Busch five years ago the moment Alcides Escobar grounded out to short to end the 8th. He stepped on the bag and I thought, “Wait. I’ve seen this before.” Deja vu, I guess. A flashback or something. Remembering the scenario, I looked down at my lineup and noticed who was due up in the bottom of the 9th…

Alex Gordon.

It was exactly how the 8th had ended in STL. I knew exactly how this would shake down because I’d seen it before. First, Greg Holland would come in and mow ’em down. Then #GordoBomb and we all #GordoHome.

In came Greg Holland. He worked around a 1 out walk to Brian Dozier – Salvador Perez threw out Dozier trying to steal second with ease from his knees for the second out – and as Kurt Suzuki grounded out to end the inning, I even said it aloud: “Ballgame.”

Up came Alex – just two nights removed from his two-run walkoff homer on Tuesday night. Everyone was standing, cheering, hoping. The Twins had brought in Brian Duensing – sounds like a typical, run of the mill, loser. A home run machine, no doubt.

But Alex got under it a bit and flew out to center field.

No matter. Billy Butler will jack one next. The Twins changed pitchers – this time Anthony Swarzak – another loser, guaranteed.

Billy got a good swing on it, but couldn’t get his arms extended and flew out to right field.

No matter. Salvy will jack one instead. But he ripped a single up the middle instead. Which brought up Josh Willingham, who grounded to short to end the inning.

It felt wrong. Like somehow the Twins had managed to sever time and create an alternative universe where the course of events aren’t what then should be. Like LOST, season six. The Royals were supposed to walkoff. Something went awry.

It was like when Marty McFly* and his siblings start disappearing from the Polaroid because George and Lorraine don’t go to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance together. “They’re supposed to go to this. This is where they kiss for the first time.” Sorry, Marty. Not in this new universe.

* – Two consecutive Royals posts with BTTF references. Can’t stop. Won’t stop.

Because in this Universe, Bruce Chen is coming in to pitch the 10th, and Bruce Chen is going to face 10 batters in the inning, and Bruce Chen is going to let six of them score.

The Royals went quietly in the bottom half, and the Twins won 11-5. Weird.

Fans immediately went to Twitter to rip Ned Yost for putting Chen in the game at all, but it’s not Ned’s fault, and it’s not Chen’s fault either. Well, it is Chen’s since he was terrible and gave up all of the runs. But there’s a reason he’s only pitched 3 other times in the past month…he just isn’t very good.

Now I love Bruce, we all do. The fans love him. The players love him. He’s hilarious. He’s always the go-to comedic relief for in between inning gimmicks. There was also that one time a few years back when Will Ferrell was mic’d up in the dugout seats at The K and kept screaming, “C’MON CHEN,” over and over, and that only adds to his loveably goofy persona.

And as much as I love the guy, it pains me to say that he shouldn’t be on this team.

Come to think of it, why is he on this team?

Well, he began the season as a starter. Yost gave him a slot in the rotation over Danny Duffy, who – as I wrote on Wednesday morning – is our best pitcher and ace of the future. When Yordano Ventura missed a couple starts with some elbow soreness, Duffy moved into the rotation and nearly threw a no hitter. So when Ventura came back, they sent Chen to the ‘pen instead of Duffman.

That’s when Chen morphed into the in-case-of-injury spot starter/innings-eater-upper-in-a-blowout guy. But the Royals starters have been strangely healthy all season (Kudos to their training staff) so that part of Chen’s roll is gone. Then as the Triforce emerged – that is, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland – they looked to Aaron Crow and Francisley Bueno to cover the blowouts.

Wade Davis had thrown 24 pitches the two nights before, so he wasn’t available to pitch. Bueno had already pitched earlier in the game, as had Jason Frasor, and Aaron Crow had just been optioned to NW Arkansas for the weekend until rosters expand next week to make space for the Royals newest acquisition, Jayson Nix.

Bruce Chen was the only option Ned Yost had.

Okay, they had Scott Downs too, who just came off the DL, but in a knotted game with no bullpen left, you gotta go with the guy who can eat up more innings.

You can say Ned used his bullpen wrong to that point. But if they’d walked off like they were supposed to, then we wouldn’t have a problem, would we? Hindsight.

So they had no choice but to send out a guy who has zero roll on this team to keep us in a tie ballgame in extra innings. It was what it was, and it wasn’t great.

I’m absolutely not suggesting that GMDM hasn’t put together a solid bullpen. On the contrary, he has proven that it’s his area of expertise. He simply botched the last 24 hours of roster moves in favor of Chen.

And that just can’t happen. Because it’s Bruce Chen.

The question is not, why did Ned send in Chen?” The real question is, “how does a 25-man roster get to the point that the manager has nothing else to do but to feed good ole Bruce to the wolves?” In all honesty, I think all of us – GM Dayton Moore included – just love him too much to actually think of giving him the axe.

Aaron Crow got shipped to NW Arkansas for a week because they favored Bruce Chen? No way. They kept Chen because he was co-hosting the Royals Social event with Joel Goldberg! They’d been talking it up for days – can’t send the guy down the day he’s supposed to do that!

Even after his miserable showing, I still struggle with the thought of DFAing Bruce Chen. Just let him hang around and be apart of the 40-man September roster, right? He’s been here for long enough that he deserves to celebrate a postseason berth with the rest of us.

That’s what I want them to do, but it’s not what they need to do. They need to cut Chen and be done with him. He has no roll on this team anymore.

It’s unfortunate that Bruce had to bear that awful outing. He never should’ve been out there because Moore should have been more thoughtful with the roster situation over between now and expansion next week. This loss is on him for letting Bruce hang around when he needs to be cut.

So on a night that felt destined for a walkoff, this morning you could glance at the box scores and not even realize the game was ever even close. Everything seemed to align perfectly for another unbelievable moment. But the moment came and went giving way to the reality that Bruce Chen might be done with the Royals soon.

Poor Bruce. He was just the victim of reality not going the way it was supposed to go. And now, like Marty McFly in the Polaroid, he’s about to be erased from existence on this team.

-apc.

UPDATE: As of about 30 minutes ago Bruce Chen had been DFA’d. So, I feel like a terrible person, but it’s the right move for a division contending and championship chasing team. All the best to you, Chen.

The Royals are 14-16

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It’s May 5, and the Royals just wrapped up their first home series against the probably-going-to-win-the-division Detroit Tigers. The Royals got swept, and I found myself completely silent on social media because I didn’t have anything nice to say in just 140 characters.

When the game of baseball gets you down, it takes a lot more words than a simple tweet to keep you from spiraling into a deep depression. Comments like, “it’s a long season,” or, “we’ll turn it around,” or, “it’s a matter of time before Hosmer hits a home run,” just don’t feel appropriate when your team just got swept by the team they’re likely going to be chasing now for the rest of the season.

This weekend’s series was awful, sure, and I feel we wasted a major opportunity to make a statement early in the season, but I believe more strongly in the importance of taking a step back and evaluating the entire season on a broader scale. We get so caught up in the minutiae of baseball – lack of power, 0-5 against the Tigers, Moose batting .151, etc. – and forget that baseball is a marathon and anything can happen over the next 5 months.

You can call me overly optimistic if you want. That’s fine. But I continue to think this Royals team can win a lot of games and make the playoffs.

I want to look at each part of our team at this point of the season, give it a grade, and then make a final point about this team and be done with this post.

Starting Pitching

The starting pitching has been borderline phenomenal to this point of the season. Each of our pitchers has gotten shelled at one point – maybe save for Yordano Ventura who has just had one average outing – and that’s going to happen at some point during the season. But even with Bruce Chen’s 5 run inning last week, James Shields’s 12 hit/7 ER performance on Friday, Jeremy Guthrie’s abundance of HRs (7), and Vargas’s adventure on the mound yesterday, we have a team ERA of 3.42 – third best in the AL behind Detroit and Oakland. Our starters also have the second lowest BB/9 in the AL – 2.51, second only to the Yankees.

So the pitching is there. Ventura has been as advertised. Vargas has benefitted greatly from the large confines of Kauffman Stadium and has been arguably worth the contract we are paying him. Guthrie has done fine, save for a few mistakes that ended up in the outfield seats. Bruce Chen has even been alright so far – much better than your normal #5 starter, and Danny Duffy filled in nicely on Saturday throwing 4 scoreless innings.

The pitching is there, and will continue to be there. In fact, we haven’t even seen the best stuff from Shields yet. Last week they would’ve gotten a solid A. This weekend has dropped them a bit in my mind. Grade: B+

Relief Pitching

The Royals had the best bullpen in the American League last year. We all know this. And we also all knew they couldn’t reproduce their insane 2013 campaign.

The first two weeks were rocky, but the past three weeks have looked much better. Wade Davis has looked great in his role. Aaron Crow has been alright – he’s been Ned Yost’s jam guy to this point and has inherited a lot of base runners. Coleman coming back from the DL will help. And Greg Holland is still one of the best in the majors at his job.

The bullpen has given up the least amount of HRs/9 in the majors (0.34) and is second only to the Yankees in K/9 thanks to Davis and Greg Holland.

Early April was rough. The past few weeks have been okay.

I believe in this unit. But they’ve been shaky early, and I can’t give them a grade on 2013 or expectations. Grade: B-

Batting

This has been embarrassing to watch at times.

Mike Moustakas opens the season with an embarrassing hitless streak. Billy Butler is in an unprecedented slump. Hosmer hasn’t hit a home run yet. In fact, the entire Royals team has been in a power slump and have only hit 12 homers as a team. Dead last in the MLB. Jose Abreu of the White Sox has hit 11 by himself. The league average is 27 HRs. Colorado has hit 43. In fact, 5 different Colorado players have hit more HRs than the Royals leader, Moustakas, who has 4: Tulowitski (7), Morneau (6), Gonzalez (6), Blackmon (6), Arenado (5).

Sure, it’s the thin air up there in Denver, but the Giants, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Nationals, Brewers, Marlins, Yankees, Mariners, Cubs and Astros all have at least 4 players with 4+ HRs. That’s 11 different teams – two of them the worst in baseball. Embarrassing.

And what makes it more embarrassing: that’s all Moose has done this season. Four lousy homers. He’s still batting .151. He only has 14 total hits in 93 at bats. Dyson had 13 in less than half the ABs.

Speaking of Dyson, his .289 AVG has been a bright spot lately. I think it was Rusty Kuntz who said Dyson could bunt every time up and bat .300. He’s been bunting a lot. Clearly not quite enough. Kidding.

Infante and Escobar have carried way too much of this offense through April. We need to get Perez, Butler and Moose going. And we have to find some power because this is getting sad. Grade: D

Fielding

In my mind, the Royals have without question the best defense in the American League.

They handed out 2013 Gold Gloves this weekend. Gordon, Escobar and Hosmer all winning, and Lorenzo Cain and Salvy could have won GGs of their own. Escobar has already been brilliant on about a dozen occasions this year.

I wish Aoki had a slightly better arm in RF, but that’s nitpicking.

The only real complaint here: pitcher fielding. Oh my, Danny Duffy. The errors from Duffy the other night were embarrassing – 3 in one inning, single-handedly giving the game away – and brought the Royals pitchers’ error total to 9 this year, by far the most in the majors (Dodgers are second with 6, Padres 5, and no one else has more than 4 E’s). Gotta get some PFP in immediately. Maybe that’s why Shields/Vargas had such poor outings this weekend; they were preoccupied with their fielding practice. Nah.

Best defense in the league has somehow underperformed a bit over the past month thanks to some pitchers botching easy plays. Grade: B+

Management

I don’t gripe about Ned Yost as much as most of the KC fan base does. It’s hard for me to blame the manager for poor decisions when it’s the players who aren’t executing. It’s not his fault Moose is batting .151. It’s not his fault Duffy can’t throw to first base. It’s not his fault the Royals can’t hit the ball father than 320′. One of the hats every manager wears is Team Scapegoat. My guy tells me he’s not as responsible for the underperformance as the fans say he is.

Jonah Keri had a great article on Grantland about Ned Yost’s decision making – specifically with the bullpen – and if it’s cost the Royals so far. I recommend giving it a read.

I believe the difference between a good and bad manager is about 4 wins per season. There have been a few moments where I have questioned his decisions so far, and most of them have been bullpen usage questions that Keri’s article smoothed over a bit for me. I don’t believe Yost had been a good manager over his career, and it’s really easy to point the finger and blame the man in charge, but I don’t think Ned is as much of a buffoon as my peers do.

My biggest frustration with the managing of this team comes in the player decisions Dayton Moore made at the end of free agency. Specifically one decision.

When Omar Infante got hit in the face with a fastball and missed a couple games, the Royals had no immediate backup available and had to roll with Danny Valencia at 2B until they could bring up Johnny Giavotella to save the depth chart.

Escobar got cleated and tweaked his ankle last week on a play at second, and for a moment it looked like he would have to leave the game. He toughed it out though, and it’s a good thing because the Royals do not have a backup SS on their roster.

Nevermind the fact that Emilio Bonefacio is hitting like .850 for the Cubs right now, that’s not the point. The point is that we desperately need infield depth, and we needed it to begin the season. Why we felt the need to give the last roster spot to another bullpen arm is beyond me. We don’t need Francisly Bueno in our pen. We need a utility player on the bench, and an insurance policy in case either Infante or Esky go down.

I get why we signed Danny Valencia – he hits leftys well and Moose is looking more and more like a bust every day – but there is plenty of room on this team for Bonefacio.

And what on earth will we do in an interleague series?! We don’t have enough bats to survive an early exit from a starter.

And I don’t even want to talk about what George Kottaras did yesterday. Cutting him was baffling to me.

Dayton Moore has done a good job turning this team around, but it took a long time for him to do it. He has convinced the ownership to pump money into scouting and build a terrific farm system. I think he has done it the right way. Honestly, I do. I’ve trusted The Process, and our organization is in a much better place because of it.

But we still aren’t winning the way our fan base wants, and it’s player decisions like this which can shift a really good thing in the wrong direction very quickly.

But Aoki was a great pickup this offseason, and Vargas is turning into a good choice too, albeit an expensive one. If Ventura, Duffy and eventually Kyle Zimmer can even remotely live up to expectation, then I’ll be speaking much more glowingly of the management by the end of the year. Grade: C

So where does that leave us? What does my Royals grade card look like on May 5?

Starting Pitching: B+
Relief Pitching: B-
Batting: D
Fielding: B+
Management: C

Which means overall, the Royals have underperformed substantially. And yet, they survived April and are hovering around .500.

It’s a long long season, and there is so much time to improve. I’m comfortable with where the Royals are right now. I don’t think they’ll win the Central, because Detroit is absolutely stacked, but I think they’re in a fine position to make the playoffs still.

And in the playoffs, starting pitching and solid defense rules all, and that is the a Royals best game.

We need to improve, yes. But as bad as our offense has been and as awful as the bullpen was early, and as rocky as the last week has been for our starters, I think we are in a good position.

Let’s take it one series at a time. San Diego next. We can’t allow this weekend’s performance to roll over into a crummy month of May.

The losing steak ends at 4 tonight in SD. Ventura and Guthrie are going against two pitchers with an ERA over 5, and Shields matches up against Andrew Cashner. We can win this series and move on to Seattle.

And I’ll be in Seattle on Friday.

Don’t lose heart, Royals fans. It’s May 5, they’ve had a pretty rough start, and yet they’re only 14-16. I still have hope in this team.

-apc.