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

World Series Game 5: A Quick Postgame Rant

I need to rant about Ned Yost’s performance tonight, but there are two things I need to address before I do so.

First, I have been a Ned Yost defender all year long. I don’t join in with the #Yosted banter because it’s mostly just hypercritical fans who like to gripe. I think Ned does a great job managing a clubhouse and getting the best out of his players. He understands the longview of the baseball season. He maintains his emotions and has proven now that he can motivate a team through 162 games and beyond. I think that has way more to do with managing than any strategic decision a manager ever makes or doesn’t make.

And I’m not alone. Dayton Moore agrees. Or maybe I agree with him. Back in 2006 when he was hired as general manager of the Royals, he had 5 points for what he wanted out of a manager. They are…

1. Communicate with the front office.
2. Earn the players respect.
3. Keep players focused for 162 games.
4. Keep players motivated for 162 games.
5. Keep politics out of the clubhouse.

…no strategy needed. Just facilitate a healthy and happy clubhouse for a whole season. That’s 95% of managing in my opinion, and it’s not easily done. It takes the right kind of individual to manage 25 or 40 grown men with grown egos. And let’s be honest, if any of us did 95% of our job well, we’d be pretty highly valued in our careers.

But Ned Yost isn’t valued in baseball. In the 2014 postseason, Yost has faced Bob Melvin, Mike Scioscia, Buck Showalter and now Bruce Bochy. All of those men are loved by their fans, city and by baseball. Ned Yost – a “dunce” according to the Wall Street Journal before the ALCS – has beaten them all. Even Bochy early in this series.

The issue with Ned? The extra 5% of his job is the most public. And he’s admittedly not the greatest at that portion of the game.

Yet I have continued to defend his managing, because I believe strongly in the other 95%, and have the ability to overlook the various “miscues” he has had this year. Even with those, Yost gets an unfair wrap because no one ever applauds the manager when they make the right choice. We only criticize when the manager makes a mistake.

We praise the ballplayers, but we point fingers at the manager. It’s a tough job and I don’t envy anyone in that position.

Which brings me to my second pre-rant point: whether Ned Yost makes the right or wrong choice, it is still the players’ job to produce on the field and at the plate. Managers only have so much control over the outcome of a game. Ned said it himself after he brought in Ventura in the Wild Card game – a decision that he now claims to have learned a lot from – just because it doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean it was the wrong move.

So before I take off here, I want us to all understand those two points. I have defended Yost because managing a ball club is much more than strategy, and the players ultimately dictate the success or failure of a team and its manager.

That said, I’m about to go off on Ned Yost’s managing in Game 5 of the World Series.

Bottom 4

The grumbling began in the bottom of the 4th, and the questioning began in the top of the 5th inning.

The Giants had already scratched 2 runs across. The first came in the 2nd inning when Hunter Pence led off with a single and went to second after Brandon Belt took what the Royals’ defense was giving him by beating the shift, dropping down a bunt single. Both runners advanced when Travis Ishikawa flew our to Jarrod Dyson – rough night – in deep centerfield. Both runners advanced, and Pence scored on a Brandon Crawford groundout to make it 1-0.

The second run came in the 4th off of three singles that managed to find daylight. Pablo Sandoval singled to left. Then Escobar alligator armed a groundball in the hole off the bat of Ishikawa. Then Crawford blooped one toward centerfield – Dyson, coming in hard, couldn’t get there in time and had to play it on a bounce. He didn’t field it cleanly allowing Sandoval to score from second.

Which is what started the grumbling. Fans were frustrated that Dyson was in centerfield instead if Lorenzo Cain, as if Cain could’ve made the catch and prevented the run from scoring. Which simply isn’t true. Centerfield is massive at AT&T Park, and if Dyson couldn’t make that catch, then Cain couldn’t either. Statistically, Dyson is actually the better outfielder, which is just hard to wrap our minds around since we have seen so much flashy brilliance from Lorenzo this fall. But it’s true.

However, Cain probably wouldn’t have bungled it off his mitt, so perhaps Dyson did allow a run. So be it. Ned went with his best defense and it let him down.

Top 5

The Royals had only gotten two hits at this point – one from Lorenzo and one from Salvador Perez – both singles. With one out, Omar Infante smacked a double to center, and the Royals seemed to be in business. Except up next came Dyson and Shields.

Some would’ve rather seen Josh Willingham, Nori Aoki or Billy Butler here instead of Dyson. A pinch hitter wouldn’t have gotten much to hit with the pitcher spot coming up next, and first base open. Pinch hitting for Dyson would’ve made a lot of sense, followed by the other one hitting for Shields next. You don’t get many chances off of Bumgarner, so it’s important to be aggressive when you have any slight ray of light.

Instead, Ned stuck with Dyson and Shields who both struck out to end the inning and the “threat.” Felt like a missed opportunity.

Bottom 5

Of course, right on cue, Ned turns out to have seemingly made the right call. With runners on 1st and 2nd and two out, Hunter Pence hit a shot to the gap in right-center. Lorenzo Cain, as we have come to expect, made great catch running back and to his right saving two runs and ending the threat.

It was a catch that Aoki or Willingham would never have made in the same position. Point, Ned.

Not only that, but Shields lasted another inning, saving the bullpen and keeping the Royals in the game.

At this point, thanks to Cain’s catch and Shields’ quality start, the “dunce” was done just fine.

Bottom 7

This is where the wheels really came off. The inning began with a double switch: Kelvin Herrera came into pitch, occupying the #7 spot in the lineup instead of Omar Infante, and now batting in the pitcher’s spot and taking over at second base would be Jayson Nix.

First of all, it’s baffling to me that Nix is even on this team over utilityman, Christian Colon. Nix still hasn’t tallied a hit since joining the Royals on August 30. He’s now 0-10 as a Royal. Meanwhile, Christian Colon is just as good defensively, faster on the bases, and hits the ball much better. Unless Colon’s finger wasn’t 100% following his injury, Nix has no business even being on this roster.

But here we are, and he is. And he was suddenly lined up to bat 2nd in the 8th inning. In Game 5. Of the World Series.

My biggest issue with the move isn’t Nix as much as it is the timing of the move by Yost. For some reason, Ned felt it was of the utmost importance for Herrera to throw multiple innings down 2-0, otherwise he would’ve just let Herrera takeover the #9 spot for Shields instead of pulling the double switch. If Ned had waited an inning to pull the trigger, he could’ve sent Herrera out for the 7th, pinch hit Billy for him in the 8th, and then brought in Wade Davis to start the 8th and done the double switch then.

Top 8

Instead, Yost sent Billy Butler out to pinch hit for Dyson and lead off the 8th inning. Billy saw 3 pitches, none of which were strikes…

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

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

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

Bottom 8

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

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

What I would’ve done differently:

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

The resulting lineup would have been…

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

Instead of this…

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

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

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

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

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

-apc.

The Royals are 80-66. Thoughts from second place.

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Unfortunately, things are playing out exactly as I predicted in my worst-case scenario to make the playoffs post from last week. The Royals were 79-62, and they’ve since gone 1-4 in three games against the Tigers and two games against the Red Sox. I thought they’d take 1 of 3 in Detroit, which they did, and I was very uncomfortable entering this weekend. But I never expected them to look this bad. With the exception of James Shields’ start on Wednesday, this team seems to have lost their identity entirely.

Yesterday was tough. Not only did the Royals lose, but the Tigers and Mariners both won too which toppled us out of the AL Central lead and into a tie with Seattle for the final playoff spot. And Seattle won the season series against us, so we’d have to go there to play a one game playoff to see who got to go play Oakland in the WC matchup…assuming the A’s don’t continue their own miserable collapse.

All that to say, the Royals fell 0.5 game behind the Tigers yesterday (1 full game if we assume we’re going to lose the game we’re already losing 4-2 that we finish in Cleveland next week). We’re in second place for the first time in 31 days. It’s been a month since we were chasing the Tigers. We’ve caught them twice already – once in June and once in August – and we’re going to have to catch them a third time if we want to avoid the miserable One Game Wild Card Experience.

Lately – actually, the entire season – I’ve found myself playing the role of a stabilizer in conversations I’ve had with other Royals fans in person and on social media. This fan base is so negative, and for good reason. We are fully prepared to have our hearts broken again. I’ve found myself being the one to say things like, “It’s a long long season, and there is so much time to improve,” and, “I still believe this team can win 85-90 games again this year,” and, “It’s amazing to think that the best is yet to come.” You can say that I’ve been overly positive to this point, and that’s possible, but ultimately my goal has been to insert reality into an emotionally scarred and emotionally driven set of fans. And those are all realistic statements, I think.

But last night, for really first time this season, the reality has me very nervous.

The season isn’t long anymore. There are only 16 games left and the magic number is 17. And this team will surely win 85-90 games, but will that be good enough to beat out Oakland and Seattle? And I’m suddenly uncertain as to whether the best is not yet to come. Could it’s already be behind us?

So that’s where I’m coming from this morning. That said, here are a few quick thoughts on the 80-66 Kansas City Royals.

The next 16 games will go 1 of 2 ways.

Last night felt like one giant exhale. This team has been fighting to maintain their spot in first place and has slowly been getting tense. They don’t look comfortable. They look stiff at the plate and they’re playing uncharacteristically awful defense.

After the final pitch last night, it felt like that tenseness left them. Alex Gordon looked relaxed – albeit frustrated – in his post game interview. Yost mentioned that he may need to adjust the lineup, perhaps allowing a bit of flexibility into his managing. In my mind, this team was able to exhale in a way they haven’t been able to before. They’re not holding tightly to first place anymore. They’re in a different place – specifically, second.

In my mind, that exhaling has two possible outcomes over the next 16 games. That exhale may have meant they’ve given up. They fell out of first and they’re done. A couple days ago, Hosmer mentioned, “We can’t fold. We’ve come too far to fold.” Fans responded, “Well, that is exactly what a folder would say.” It’s possible that the movement from first to second place means they’ve admitted the gig is up and they’re going to fold.

Or, the exhale allows them to loosen up and play the game the way they’ve played it for 146 (and a half) games to this point. Have they been too fearful of staying ahead of Detroit that they’ve been a detriment to themselves? Maybe they’ll be able to make some adjustments – mental adjustments and lineup adjustments – that can propel them forward over the last 16 (or more) games.

I get the feeling that it will be the latter. The question will be whether they tighten back up again once they regain the lead and potentially make the playoffs. Don’t play like you have a lead. Play your style of baseball one game at a time. Loosen up, boys.

Yost might adjust the lineup.

I’m so tired of Lorenzo Cain batting at the bottom of the lineup. Sure, he’s my favorite player on this team. We should probably all know this by now. If not, there you have it.

But it’s just insanity. LoCain has led the team in batting average all season. He has the second highest OPS behind Alex Gordon. On the other hand, Omar Infante is dead last among the 9 daily position players in OPS. As I posted to Twitter yesterday, why would you want a guy batting .254/.290/.344 in the 2 slot while there’s a guy batting .299/.335/.410 in the 8 slot? Beyond that, Infante will get around 100 more at bats than Cain over this whole season – why wouldn’t you want the better of the two hitters (and better base stealer) to get the most ABs?

So at minimum, Lorenzo needs to move up and Infante need to move down. If it were me, I’d just swap their spots in the lineup.

The other thing that I wouldn’t mind seeing is Billy Butler back at first base for a game or two. File that under “Things I Never Thought I’d Say in My Lifetime.” Some people have blasted Hosmer’s defense lately and have begged Yost to put Billy back out there because they think he’s the better defender. That’s absurd. Billy wouldn’t have made those near-diving stops that Hosmer couldn’t quite make either.

I’d like to get Billy back out on defense because – as odd as it seems – something was unlocked in him when he started playing both sides of the ball. Billy Butler the First Baseman batted .284/.344/.468 between July 21 and August 31 while Hosmer was injured. Before he moved to 1B, he batted .269/.320/.348, and since Hosmer has returned, Billy has hit .059/.059/.118. Something happens in Billy Butler offensively when he enters the game on both sides of the ball.

So I wonder…can we either let Hosmer DH or have him come in off the bench late in the game as a pinch hitter and for defensive purposes? Even though he jacked one last night, it’s not like he’s a must-have in the lineup at this point. Especially considering how well the Royals played without him in July/August.

If I was making a lineup, this is what it would look like…

Aoki RF*
Cain CF
Gordon LF*
Butler 1B
Hosmer DH*/Willingham DH
Perez C
Moustakas 3B*
Infante 2B
Escobar SS

The * denotes a left-handed batter. It maintains the L-R-L-R lineup, and puts them in a better position overall.

The question mark here is how Josh Willingham fits into the picture. If he’s healthy, which apparently he’s not 100% right now, I’d start him in the DH spot over Hosmer and maybe flip flop a couple guys to maintain the L-R-L-R. Maybe Billy jumps back to DH occasionally, but he’s proven to be a much better hitter as a first baseman.

It’s complicated and layered and obviously dependent on pitching matchups and health, but I’d love to see this used as a base lineup.

Finnegan, Frasor and Holland.

If there’s a brightside to the game from last night, it’s that Greg Holland threw an inning and struck out the side. His velocity was down a few MPH – hovering around 93-95 rather than 95-97 – but his slider was gorgeous. I get the vibe that the training staff didn’t want him to fully uncork his fastball. At least I hope that’s what the deal was.

Regardless, it was great to see Dirty Greg in the game.

Another positive development over this not-so-great stretch of games is that two of the “other” half of the bullpen – the non-Trifecta guys – have emerged as being able to hold things down in a close game: Jason Frasor and Brandon Finnegan.

Finnegan has now pitched to 8 batters and has retired all of them. Three of them strikeouts. He made his debut against the Yankees in the Bronx and was stellar. Some of the names he has faced and retired: Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran, David Ortiz, Yoenis Cespedes, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Texiera, and Martin Prado. Also John Ryan Murphy. (Who?) Finnegan can suddenly be a very valuable lefty in this bullpen.

Jason Frasor has established himself as a better-than-Crow option. Especially with Holland’s lingering shoulder issues, moving back Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis to the 8th and 9th innings and slotting in Frasor in the 7th feels very comfortable to me.

A few weeks ago, I was getting really nervous about the rest of the bullpen. Today, not so much. Bueno is good enough. Crow is good enough. As long as we don’t see Scott Downs, I’m feeling good about things.

Please, please, please, can we have some plate discipline?

This team’s lack of plate discipline is infuriating. I understand that we are putting the ball in play, which is better than striking out, but the Royals are dead last in the MLB in walks and it’s not even close: 335 in 5474 plate appearances. That’s 6.1%. Compare that to the Athletics’ 9.2%. It’s just maddening how this team can’t be patient at the plate.

Gordon leads the team with 58 walks, but even that is sort a skewed figure because teams are pitching around Gordon to pitch to the rest of the team. Gordon has 13 walks since August 24. Why? Because Billy Butler (or Salvy) is coming up next and he’s batting .156 over that same stretch. Why pitch to Gordon when Butler is an automatic out?

Next on the list: Nori Aoki (39) and Billy (38) which ranks them 105th and 112th in the league in walks. Then Moustakas (31). The rest of the everyday players haven’t cracked 30. Which simply isn’t acceptable.

Surprisingly, Salvador Perez is the worst of the bunch. He swings at everything. Everything. A few days ago, he saw 12 total pitches for the whole game. That in itself is startling. But he swung at 10 of them, and only 1 of them was a ball.

But it’s a team wide issue. Last night, the Royals 1 through 6 hitters saw a total of 15 pitches between the 5th and 6th innings. Allen Webster (who?), on his third trip through the lineup, only had to throw 15 pitches against Aoki, Infante, Gordon, Butler, Hosmer and Perez. They only saw 50 pitches between the 5th and 9th innings! That’s over half the game!

Somehow, there needs to be a way for them to balance their put-the-ball-in-play-and-don’t-strikeout philosophy with a be-patient-up-there-for-a-change philosophy. They’re making it too easy on opposing pitchers, especially ones like Allen Webster who we should absolutely light up. Also, considering our bullpen advantage, wouldn’t we want to get the games to the bullpen faster for both teams? No wonder Detroit’s bullpen has found success against the Royals. We haven’t had to face them as much and when we do, they don’t have to throw as many pitches to get out of the innings.

All that to say. Take some pitches. I’m looking at you, Sal.

Skipping Guthrie’s next start? Yes, please.

I was looking ahead at our remaining schedule last night after the game. We have one off day on September 18. Conveniently, the 19th would be Jeremy Guthrie’s next start following tonight. At this point, he is without a question our worst starter (assuming Duffy returns on Tuesday), so I propose that the Royals skip his next start and move right on to Vargas on the 19th instead.

The second benefit of doing this is that it would line up Vargas and Shields to throw in a tiebreaker or Wild Card matchup if necessary. If the Royals don’t skip Guthrie, then he would be lined up for Game 163 if necessary. Which is absolutely not okay. If the royals season comes down to one game, Guthrie is not who we want on the mound.

**********

That’s all I’ve got for today. Let’s go get some runs for Guthrie tonight and turn this slump around.

-apc.

Photo cred: Peter G. Aiken, USA TODAY Sports

The Royals are 79-64: Stop Blaming Ned Yost.

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What’s with y’all hating on Ned Yost?

It’s as if some of us aren’t even aware there’s a 40-man roster full of options available to be the object of our blame. It’s all #Yosted, all the time.

Maybe somewhere in the Tony-Tony- Buddy-Trey era, we all grew accustomed to miserable managers in Kansas City. Maybe my Royals fandom has blinded me to reality. Or maybe I’m just a dummy when it comes to managing in baseball.

But from where I’m sitting, the Royals are in first place, and Ned Yost is doing a fine job managing this team.

The more I interact with fans in person and online – both locally and across the nation – the more I realize there are certain “fans” out there who – no matter the year, the record, or the men in the dugout – will always, always, hate the manager.

If you aren’t tracking with the type of “fan” I’m talking about, you might want to check the mirror.

Reminds me of that brilliant Michael Caine line from Dark Knight after he tells the ominous story involving Burma, a bandit and a ruby the size of a tangerine:

“Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

When Jeremy Guthrie got lit up for I-forget-how-many runs in 2.2 innings on Monday, there was a segment of fans who immediately jumped on Twitter to blame Ned Yost for leaving him in too long. They ignore the errors by Hosmer and the lazy throw by Infante and the unfortunate BABIP* luck the Tigers had rolling that game and they hunt for something to blame the manager about. And I’m sorry, too long!? Since when is 8 outs too long? Besides, if Hosmer and Infante make those plays, it’s possible the Royals were out of the third with no damage. Why is it far fetched to believe that Guthrie could still work his way out of it?

* – BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) measures the percentage of in-play balls are hits vs outs. It’s partially a “how lucky did they get with their contact” metric.

No. The blame is on Guthrie and Hosmer and kind of Infante. Not Ned Yost.

Also, God forbid we give credit to the Tigers when it is due.

Then last night, when Jarrod Dyson got picked off second base for the 2nd out in the 9th, that same segment of the fanbase decided to hop right back on the #Yosted Express. Which I flat out don’t understand based on the inning I saw.*

* – I should mention that the 9th was the only inning I saw. I know nothing of the Rajai Davis HR or the J.D. Martinez HR. I don’t even know how we got the two runs we did. We had our youth ministry kickoff event yesterday so I was busy having a shaving cream fight with a bunch of teenagers. Sometimes life serving Jesus really isn’t as difficult as we make it out to be.

The score was Tigers 4, Royals 2. With no outs, Nori Aoki and Infante had nearly identical hits off Tigers closer Joe Nathan: slappers to the shortstop that they both beat out for infield singles. Infante, representing the tying run, was pulled for speedster Terrance Gore with Alex Gordon coming to the plate. A smart move from Yost.

Alex got up 2-0, then hit an ultra high foul ball a country mile barely out of play. It was the best pitch Alex saw probably. The next pitch, Nathan missed his spot – catcher was lined up low and inside, but his pitch was 18 inches to the right, accidentally painting the outside corner instead. Alex took it for a called strike. Then, since he had accidentally thrown the perfect set up pitch, he went back to what he was trying to do originally and threw a nasty breaking ball down and inside. Gordon struck out.

Which meant Salvador Perez was coming up with 1 out. Suddenly the double play is possible, but Yost still likes Salvy’s odds to hit in two runs. But Salvy – who has embarrassingly bad plate discipline these days – chased a breaking ball low and outside. Take a pitch for a change, Perez.

That’s when Yost decided it might be best to get some speed on second instead of Aoki, so he sends Dyson out there to run for him.

I love this move for three reasons:

  1. If the Royals do manage to score, it’s better to have Dyson in the outfield over Aoki for defense. Any good manager would make that switch anyway, why not benefit from Dyson’s wheels in the short term too?
  2. If Dyson and Gore can steal or start a hit-and-run, it eliminates the double play and keeps the game alive.
  3. Joe Nathan is already a complete train wreck out there mentally. Adding Dyson to the mix can only jack with his head more. A closer should never care about baserunners. His job is to mow down hitters, but Nathan was clearly wetting his pants out there worrying about Dyson. Besides, Yost is all about getting in guys’ domes.

Nathan was clearly worried about Dyson. I’m not sure he paid any attention to Salvy at all, which is an added bonus for him at the plate. If Nathan stays worried about Dyson taking third base, then Salvy can just sit back and wait on a fastball. Any breaking ball would only add to Dyson’s chances to steal. I wonder if he had thrown home if Salvy would’ve had the green light when Dyson and Gore took off. A rattled pitcher is not an effective one, and Nathan was noticeably so.

It’s a situation where the entire ballpark knows two things: he’s going, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. All it takes is the right jump and Jarrod’s speed will take him the rest of the way, no problem.

Then the unbelievable happened: Dyson bailed him out. Nathan pulled a slow inside move and Dyson bit on it, breaking for third, immediately realizing his mistake.

In baseball circles, we call that a TOOTBLAN: Thrown-Out-On-The-Bases-Like-A-Nincompoop.

In a 4-2 game with the tying run on first and winning run at the plate, Jarrod Dyson got picked off of second base, and I wish I could say he hasn’t become somewhat of a liability on the bases, but he has. He’s a weapon, for sure, and I love it when they pull the trigger on him – he just doesn’t seem to come with a safety.

You can argue that Yost shouldn’t trust Dyson with such a task based on his recent history, and in retrospect it’s really easy to make that declaration. If you want to rip a managerial decision, fine. But don’t wait until after it fails to point the finger.

How about this nugget: in the last 8 years, 46 baserunners have tried to steal on Joe Nathan, and only 2 of them were caught stealing. No pickoffs either. (Thanks, Rany.) That’s a 95.6% success rate. Suddenly it seems like a no brainer to run, and if Salvy grounds into a double play there to end the game or if Gore goes first to third on a single and can’t score, and we lose 4-3, we’ll all be throwing around the flip side of this convo wondering why Yost didn’t steal against Nathan when it’s so common!

As I tweeted the moment Dyson got picked off, no one ought to be blaming Ned Yost for that pickoff. The fault is Dyson’s alone. From my perspective, Ned played it exactly right in the 9th, and Dyson crapped the bed.

Sal struck out on another ball a foot low and outside to end the game. Just like that the threat was over.

And wouldn’t you know it, but the world is all over Ned Yost again for getting cute trying to do more than was necessary to get runs across.

To which I have to ask…have you seen the 2014 Royals?! Their offense is atrocious, yet they are one of the most efficient teams in baseball when it comes to getting baserunners across. It’s different every game – sometimes it’s a stolen base, or a hit-and-run, infield hits galore or a sacrifice – but somehow they have managed to manufacture runs when they’re needed.

The Royals are where they are right now because of moved exactly like the one last night.

The manager can only do so much. It’s up to the players to execute, and Jarrod Dyson failed to execute his role last night.

Has Ned Yost made mistakes? Absolutely. He’s fortunate to have the Triforce at his disposal because I don’t think he knows what he’s doing with anyone not named Herrera, Davis or Holland. Crow instead of Frazor. Scott Downs over anybody with at least one functional arm. There are times when he starts Raul Ibanez over Billy Butler and Josh Willlingham in the DH spot.

When he makes a legitimately bonehead move, I’m happy to pounce on him with the rest of you. I’m not above dropping a #Yosted when the situation calls for it. He makes mistakes; all managers do.

But when the Royals make the playoffs and Ned Yost wins AL Manager of the Year (which he will if they do), I don’t want to hear people saying he doesn’t deserve it. If you’re in that camp, I feel sorry for you.

Maybe a trip to the playoffs is just what we all need to remind us that it’s entirely possible for a Royals manager to be capable of leading this team to success.

And if that happens, I’m sure there will still be some ready to burn Kauffman to the ground at the next hiccup – when we lose in the ALDS/ALCS, likely – because these are “fans” who are more in love with hating the manager than in love with the Royals themselves.

Blame Ned all you want, but he deserves much better. And so do the 2014 Kansas City Royals.

-apc.

Photo came from the fellas over at Kings of Kauffman. Couldn’t find the original source, but I’m betting it’s The Star.

The Royals are 73-58. Some thoughts on last night’s unbelievable game.

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Unbelievable game last night. Just unbelievable.

For 8 innings, the Royals could do absolutely nothing agains Ricky Nolasco and the Twins. Three singles through eight innings. The pitiful, underachieving offense seemed back.

Danny Duffy had left the game angrily after 6.2 innings of 4 hit, 1 run baseball, and could be seen shouting into his jersey in the dugout. Another gem spun by Duffman only to get zero run support. Again.

And then, just like that, the game was completely different.

Alcides Escobar, number-two-hitter-extraordinaire, led off with a weak pop fly that fell in for a single. Then Alex Gordon – an actual MVP candidate these days – took a 0-1 slider over the right field fence.

Royals walkoff, 2-1. They remain 1.5 games up on Detroit in the AL Central. Their magic number is 31.

Lots of takeaways from the game last night. Here are a few…

Alex Gordon is an absolute star.

We have a legitimate MVP candidate in left field. Mike Trout is his only competition – and he’ll probably win it still – but it needs to be stated that Kansas City has one of the best in the league playing in front of them day after day.

And I don’t think we even realize it. We are so used to snoozefest warm bodies filling in the lineup I think we miss the reality in front of our eyes. We are so used to seeing Ken Harvey and Neifi Perez and Dee Brown out there that it’s almost hard to notice that there’s a star out in LF.

Number 4 will join 5, 10 and 20 above the Royals Hall of Fame soon enough, and I think last night just woke up this fan base to the reality that Alex Gordon is a star.

Danny Duffy is the Royals ace of the future.

At the beginning of the season, we were all obsessed with Yordano “Ace” Ventura. And I still kinda am. He’s the sexy pick for the future Royals ace.

Last night’s game showed me that while Yordano Days are going to be just as exciting in the future, the true #1 on this team is eventually going to be Danny Duffy.

Duffy’s year has reminded me a lot of Zack Greinke’s 2009 Cy Young campaign. Gem after gem after gem, and absolutely no run support from the offense. They’re similar guys too. Emotional guys. Both stepped away from the game for a time. They even kinda look alike.

On August 24 of Greinke’s 2009 campaign, he had a 2.44 ERA with a record of just 11-14.

On August 27 of Danny’s 2014 season, he has a 2.47 ERA, yet is just 8-11.

We’ve spent a lot of this season worrying about how we’ll ever manage to survive after James Shields is gone this winter. With Duffy, we’ll be just fine.

The Royals defense remains insane.

Escobar might have made the new best play of the season. Ball in the hole. He picked it to his right, leapt in the air and threw hard across his body to first.

And Billy “suddenly playing both sides of baseball well” Butler made the pick look easy at first. Billy also had a great grab on a pop up in foul territory up against the stands. He made the catch, and then tripped and rolled over a sliding Christian Colon. Great play, albeit kinda awkward still.

Growing up, I was always a defense-first player. I was a pitcher and a shortstop and had zero power. I’ve never hit a homerun in my life, but I’ve thrown a lot of strikeouts and fielded a lot of grounders and turned a bunch of double plays. Those are what get me excited because I know what it feels like.

So to see this team field the best defense in the AL for the second consecutive year is a dream. I love it, and it remained insanely awesome last night.

Denny Matthews is Marty McFly.

How did he do that?! If you haven’t heard his call after Gordon’s walkoff jack, here’s the link: http://ow.ly/ALdXo.

“If this is your year – and a lot of signs for the Royals point in that direction – then these are the games that you win.”

Sure enough, right on queue, Gordon does his thing and makes Denny look like Nostradamus.

Nostra-Denny.

It’s like he has Marty McFly’s Sports Almanac from Back to the Future II. It’s sometimes like he knows what’s going to happen. If Denny picks the Cubs to win the a World Series next year, then something is up.

I truly love listening to Denny Matthews talk about baseball. He’s a genius. Few people know more about the game than Denny does. He has brilliant insights, and I’m amazed by his intelligence.

Denny Matthews is also George McFly.

This is maybe a stretch trying to make the BTTF connection, but as brilliant as Denny Matthews is, his calls are exceptionally boring.

Denny’s call on Gordon’s homerun was as bland as they come.

I mean, c’mon, Denny. One of the most exciting moments in the last 28 years of Royals history. Arguably the biggest moment since 1985. Yet somehow he acts like it was the most pedestrian event ever. Zero emotion. No passion. Completely straight faced and flat.

This has always bugged me about Denny. He doesn’t get me to feel anything at all. Toss in some drama, please! I get that he’s a no-flares announcer, but I want to be able connect with his call as a fan – not a know-it-all emotionless robot.

Again, I love listening to Denny talk baseball. Brilliant. I’m just asking for a little energy. Any energy, actually.

Finally, some thoughts about Ned Yost’s post game comments about the fans.

Woke up this morning excited to read the local headlines and national articles on the Royals’ night, but was so disappointed when I saw Ned’s postgame comments about the fans.

The media has painted Yost as “ripping” and “dumping on” the fans. He wished there were more people there to celebrate with the team. He talked about how he thought there would be more people. It was packed Monday against the Yankees, and he remembers how it was in Atlanta in 1991 when they were in a pennant race. He thought it would be bigger.

I have no issue with his plea to the fans to get out to The K. He just wants to share in the fun.

But you can’t compare our fans to other franchises’. It’s not fair and we take it personally.

The Royals have done the fans no favors over the past 28 years. We are a wounded group, and we have every right to take it personally when you talk even remotely bad about us.

I don’t think it was Ned’s intention, but when he says he “remembers how it was in Atlanta,” Royals fans hear, “Braves fans are better than us.” And yes, it was packed out there on Monday, sure, but there were arguably more Yankees fans than Royals fans. So we also hear that “Yankees fans are better fans than us too.”

Yet this is the same team that had “Let’s go, Royals!” chants going in Colorado and Texas last week! It hurts to hear that we aren’t the best fans.

But at the end of it, we are simply a fan base that doesn’t know what to do with first place baseball in August. We have plans on weeknights. We have lives. We have normally moved on to the Chiefs and the new school year by now. We don’t naturally program Royals Baseball into our lives at this point of the year.

So I guess my two thoughts about Ned’s comments are…First, we take it personally when we’re compared to other fans. Second, it’s because we’ve spent the last 28 years living in a miserable narrative.

All that to say, these are exciting times. If we maintain first place, the attendance will slowly creep up. This Labor Day weekend will be huge. Games against Detroit will sell out. And the closer we get to the postseason, the more people will show up. But a Tuesday night against the Twins isn’t going to change how we’ve grown to experience this team.

Last night was incredible. And it’s only late August. Things are only going to get more exciting. It’s amazing to think that the best is yet to come. For the first time in my life, Royals Baseball is back in KC, and I’m still learning how to orient myself to this new lifestyle.

Go Royals.

-apc.