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.

Game 29: Comerica Park, Detroit

Disclaimer: I’m not going to sit here and act like I’m thrilled about last night’s outcome. The Royals desperately needed the Tigers to complete the 9th inning collapse. It was exciting, but the White Sox couldn’t finish the job.

Having said that, let’s see how good of a job I can do reporting on the Tigers and Comerica Park.

The Detroit Tigers have been around since 1894 as a part of the Western League. The rest of the teams in that league have either dissolved or moved to another city. The Milwaukee Brewers became the St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles; the Kansas City Blues became the Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins; the Grand Rapids Rustlers moved to Cleveland and eventually became the Indians; the Souix City Cornhuskers became the St. Paul Saints became the Chicago White Sox; the rest of the league was dropped in 1901 when the American League was created.

But the Detroit Tigers remain. They joined the American League that year, and in 1912, they built their home for the next 87 years: Tiger Stadium.

Tiger Stadium was located in the Corktown neighborhood just a couple miles west of downtown, and was demolished in 1999 and replaced by Comerica Park. The demolition of one of baseball’s iconic ballparks was a very sad day for the city of Detroit and baseball fans around the country.

Tiger Stadium used to stand with Wrigley Field (1914), Fenway Park (1912), Ebbets Field (1913), Comiskey Park (1910), Shibe Park (1909), Forbes Field (1909) and Griffith Stadium (1911) as parks built during the glory days of ballparks. Obviously Fenway and Wrigley still stand today. Forbes, Griffith, Shibe and Ebbets were done away with decades ago. Comiskey is a heartbreaker because it certainly would still be standing if it had only waited a few more years to see what Baltimore did at Camden Yards. Instead they’re stuck with The Cell – aptly named, really.

The Tigers were the last of the bunch to tear down their historic park, but they’re the only ones of the demolished group to survive to the retro-ballpark movement. They don’t have any excuses.

The old park site is still a green field at the corner of Trumbull Street and Michigan Avenue. We* stopped by and walked out on to the old infield. I toed the rubber where Bob Gibson pitched in the World Series of his historic 1968 season when he recorded a 1.12 ERA. He allowed 49 runs all season in over 300 innings.

* – By the way, I should mention that I invited my parents to join me for these last 4 games. That’s what I mean when I say “we.”

After a dominating Game 1 performance, Gibson lost his next two starts as the Tigers defeated the Cardinals for their third of their four championships. They haven’t won since leaving, despite winning the American League in 2006 and 2012, and the division the last three years (and potentially four if they can hold off the all-but-guaranteed-to-win-it-all Royals). I’m guessing we’ll be talking about some sort of Curse of Tiger Stadium about 50 years from now.

Here are a couple shots of what it looks like today. The first and last are what it used to look like.
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Notice the gate entrances in the old pics and the outfield flag pole.

Actually, with the way Detroit is headed, it might be way sooner than 50 years. No city has been hit harder by the down turn in the US economy than Detroit. The population has plummeted in recent years: $1.8M in 1950; $1M by 1990; $900K in 2009…and less than 700K today. Downtown is old and crumbling, the automotive industry is in a tailspin – just this morning an employee at our hotel told me that the Cadillac is separating from GM and leaving Detroit for New York. Another 700 Detroiters out of jobs and likely out of town. Hard times in Motown.

At least the baseball team gives them something to cheer about these days. Back-to-back and reigning AL MVP, Miguel Cabrera first and foremost, and a pitching staff featuring three Cy Young winners: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and newly acquired David Price.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Comerica is a beautiful park with lots of nods to the ballparks of the past. The massive flag pole in center was originally in play when the ballpark was first built, just like Tiger Stadium. Unlike most ballparks, they have a dirt path between home plate and the pitching rubber, a nod to a time when grounds keeping wasn’t as advanced and the amount of travel of pitchers and catchers would wear a track into the grass.

The brick beyond the 424′ centerfield wall is a nice touch. It features the names of past Tiger greats such as Ty Cobb, Al Kaline, Hank Greenberg, Willie Horton, Hal Newhouser, and Charlie Gehringer face the field of play. Behind the wall are statues of these same players doing what they did best. Naturally, Ty Cobb is shown sliding spikes up.

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In the book, this chapter might end up being about Ty Cobb. We’ll see.

The craziest thing that happened at the game last night: two fans in our section got hit in the head by foul balls. One was sitting right next to us in our row. In the second inning, a ball off the bat of Semien popped over our heads just nipping the edge of the upper deck and caroming straight down at us. The guy didn’t take cover in time and it hit him just above the eye, splitting his brow, requiring a few stitches.

Then again in the 8th, with Rajai Davis batting, a ball came up over our heads bounced off the face of the third deck and came rocketing back off toward home plate and hit a woman in the same spot as our neighbor. She left with out any blood, but a noticeable black eye.

The fans are surprisingly close to the action at baseball games when you think about it, but in all the games I’ve been to in my life, I’ve never seen anything like that.

In more positive news, two other foul balls came our way and landed a few rows below us. Two different men caught them and handed it to young boys nearby. Bravo, gents. Well played.

I’ve never gotten a foul ball by the way. I’ve been to around 50 ball games this year, and haven’t even been involved in a scrum for one. I’ve had players and coaches toss me a ball, but I’ve never pulled an actual gameplay ball.

On to the game notes, because that’s what’s most exciting here.

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Game Notes:

This game was a lot of scoreboard watching, which might explain how multiple people weren’t paying attention and got hit by foul balls. Going into the game, the Tigers sat in first place in the AL Central. One game up on the Royals. A loss would allow the Royals to potentially move into first if they won.

They also sat with the same record as the wild card leading Athletics who played later and three games up on the Mariners who are fighting for the last wild card spot.

This game was a pitchers duel for the first 6 innings. Scott Carroll battled the Tigers potent lineup through 6 innings giving up the first run of the game off a Davis single to start the 7th, and a throwing error by the catcher as Davis tried to steal third.

The Royals, meanwhile, were winning big. The game finished 7-1, but the were up for the majority of the game, so Tigers fans knew this was a necessary win.

Things got away from the White Sox when they pulled Carroll after he let the leadoff man on in the 7th. Belisario came in and got the lead runner at second on an attempted sacrifice bunt, but an error by Semien on probably an inning-ending doubleplay groundball to third allowed the inning to continue. The Tigers would score two runs and take a 3-0 lead.

But the real drama came in the 9th. David Price had a 4-hit shutout going and Tigers manager, Brad Ausmus, sent him out to complete the game. Adam Eaton singled softly up the middle and the Sox’ rally was on.

Ausmus came out to talk to Price. With Joe “Every Save’s an Adventure” Nathan warm in the bullpen, it looked like Price was done and Ramirez-Abreu-Garcia, all righties, would face the righty Nathan instead.

Except the fans didn’t want it. The Tigers’ bullpen has been absolutely terrible all season, and the fans wanted Price to get the CG SO. They hollered and yelled and booed at the idea of trusting the anyone in the bullpen with this game, let alone Nathan. This is the same Joe Nathan who flipped of the fans a few months back. There’s some emotional strain in the relationship, it seems.

Ausmus, whether influenced by the fans or of his own accord, opted to stick with Price.

It was the wrong choice. Price gave up two more runs and the game was tied. Let’s be honest though, Ausmus faced a lose-lose situation. Nathan probably wouldn’t have done any better. Speaks volumes to how little the Tigers think of their miserable bullpen. I mean, there’s nobody out there better than a tired David Price? No one is better fresh than Price is after 8 innings? I really don’t know if there is.

Finally, Nathan came in and got Suarez to fly out to center with the bases loaded to end the rally.

The White Sox brought in Jake Petricka to face the Tigers in the bottom of the 9th. Due up: Kinsler-Hunter-Cabrera. It wasn’t shocking what happened next. Kinsler singled. Hunter walked. Cabrera singled and Kinsler scored. Game over.

The Tigers rely almost exclusively on starting pitching and power hitting to win ballgames, and this game was no different. The Tigers maintained their 1 game lead in the Central. Their magic number is 2 to make the playoffs and 5 clench the Central with 5 games left.

Also, just for the record…

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Twenty-nine down. One to go.

Final stop: Cleveland Indians.

-apc.

Photo cred for the last two here and here. All others are mine.

The Florida-Lake Erie Tour

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It’s the grand finale.  The home stretch. It’s the final countdown.

This six-game stretch marks the final six games of Ballpark Tour 2014. I can’t believe this crazy experience is almost over. This has been one of the most insane experiences of my life, and I’m really excited to take these posts, stories and experiences and compile them into a book to share with you all!

First up are the two Florida teams – the Rays and Marlins – on Wednesday and Thursday night.

Then the following Sunday, I’m flying up to Pittsburgh, renting a car and circumventing Lake Erie over the next four days. Pirates, Blue Jays, Tigers and Indians. Here are the projected matchups…

  • 9/17 – New York Yankees @ Tampa Bay (McCarthy vs Karns/Cobb)
  • 9/18 – Washington @ Miami (Fister vs Hand)
  • 9/21 – Milwaukee @ Pittsburgh (Peralta vs Worley)
  • 9/22 – Seattle @ Toronto (Paxton vs Happ)
  • 9/23 – Chicago White Sox @ Detroit (??? vs Price)
  • 9/24 – Kansas City @ Cleveland (Guthrie vs Salazar)

September baseball is awesome, and it’s going to be so cool to be in these ballparks in the midst of some intense playoff races. The Florida games aren’t nearly as thrilling as the games up north – The Yankees are a fringe Wild Card team, but barring a giant push they’re basically out of it, and the Rays (my preseason pick to win the division) are toast. I was most excited to get to see Giancarlo Stanton in Miami, but he got hit in the face with a fastball on Friday night in Milwaukee and is done for the season. He was a legitimate MVP candidate on a team that had a lot of hope moving into next year. Hopefully it doesn’t effect him long term – absolutely devastating to see happen.

But the Lake Erie games – oh man. While the Cardinals seem to have the NL Central all locked up, the Pirates and Brewers are both in the hunt for Wild Card spots so that Pittsburgh game will be intense – the Peralta/Worley matchup is a good one too. Toronto is a fringe Wild Card team too but they’ve been on a tear lately. They’re playing Seattle who is right in the thick of the race along with the Royals, Tigers and Athletics. (As a Royals fan, it should be real easy to root for the Jays to beat the M’s.)

Less easy to do: root for the Tigers in any capacity. This might be the first time I blatantly root against the home team when my favorite teams aren’t the visitors. Who knows? Maybe the Royals will sweep the Tigers over the weekend and completely change the narrative. Anything can happen in a week in this game.

Kind of a strange pitcher carousel happening: during the offseason the Tigers traded Doug Fister to the Nationals whom I’ll see pitch against the Marlins on Thursday. The Nationals traded Nate Karns to the Rays during the offseason, who I’ll see Wednesday (although they may throw Cobb instead). Then this season at the trade deadline the Tigers traded for David Price from the Rays, and I’ll see him pitch on Tuesday in Detroit.

To recap: Fister DET to DC; Karns DC to TB; Price TB to DET.

I end my tour in Cleveland, where I get to see my Royals one more time! I’m hoping the Royals will adjust the pitching rotation which would make Vargas start instead of Guthrie, but regardless, this is going to be a blast. In a perfect world, the Royals would clench a playoff spot while we’re in Cleveland and we can celebrate there. I’ll be the one hoisting Lorenzo Cain up on my shoulders after he steals home to win the game. Probably dreaming. It’s looking like it’ll come down to the final series in Chicago instead. Phooey.

Then I drive the two hours back to Pittsburgh and fly back to KC. Tour over.

Keep an eye out for post game blogs next weekend. It’s going to be near impossible to balance the Tour with the Royals season. Thankfuily, it all collides for Game 30 in Cleveland. Oh man it’s going to be nuts.

Thanks for following along everyone. Stay tuned for writing updates over the offseason! Aaaahhhh!!

-apc.

Photo cred: Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail.

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 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.