As a longtime Kansas City Royals fan, there has always been a small part of me that worried I would never see my team in the World Series ever again. Sure, I got to see them in 1985, but I was 8 at the time and there are only so many memories of that time that lingers. This latest Royals playoff run has been exciting beyond belief but there was always that question; “Could they really make it back to the World Series?” We no longer have to ask that anymore, as the Royals finished off the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series, sweeping them in 4 games. The Royals are now headed to the World Series for the 3rd time in franchise history. I’ve been fairly quiet in this space during the last few weeks, not for lack of attention but more that I have been “enjoying the ride”. I don’t know for sure how objective I can be at this point, but I here are a few thoughts as we all get ready to cheer our Royals in the World Series next week.
Pitching and Defense Wins Championships
There is a reason you hear this adage over and over every October; because it is the truth. Very few teams slug their way to a championship. If you want to go deep into the playoffs, build your team around pitching and defense. You can probably add timely hitting and a deep bullpen/bench to this, as there is always a good chance you will be playing in close games in the most important month of the year. I mentioned recently how this is a team tailored for the playoffs and within 8 games this month(yes, I’m counting the Wild Card game that was held on September 30th) they seem to be proving that theory correct. They haven’t been winning with their bats(although those timely hits have been big so far this postseason) as much as with their defense and pitching. Just off the top of your head, how many key defensive grabs can you name within the last few weeks? Just thinking about it and I get up to 15 before even having to pause and think. Insane. Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar are just a few guys who have multiple plays that come to mind and I’m sure I am forgetting even more. Combine this with solid starting pitching and the best trio of relievers in the game(Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland) and you have a team that has to be frustrating for opponents in these tight situations. We all saw glimpses of the team’s strengths during the season, but it really feels like the Royals embraced these strengths late in the year and that has propelled the recent spat of postseason wins. As much as some of us(myself included) disagreed with how this team was built, it has gotten them to the World Series. Obviously, Dayton Moore understood the basis of what makes a championship team; we just should have believed more in the 1980’s style of baseball he was preaching.
Are Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas Fixed?
If you listen to the ‘talking heads’ this postseason you would think that Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have elevated their game and are starting to (finally)live up to their potential when they were drafted years ago. I will say this: both have looked way more focused in October. Moose has been driving the ball with a bit more authority(and not just on soft stuff) and Hosmer’s swing has looked the closest to his rookie year swing than at any time during the last 3 years. In fact, the national media has heavily focused themselves on Hosmer and that pesky word “potential” . If you didn’t know any better, you would think Hosmer was the straw that stirs the Royals drink, not the true leader, Alex Gordon. But are they fixed? That might be going a bit far. I have had exasperated this issue in the past and a small sample size hasn’t really changed my mind on this yet. For the Royals sake you hope they have turned the corner and they will start to shine like we have all wanted them to do since 2011. If they can transfer over their success into 2015 then we could be talking about them being cornerstones for the franchise. This will be a subject to revisit again come May of next year.
Danny Duffy: M.I.A.
One of the more peculiar topics of discussion this month has been the status of pitcher Danny Duffy. Late in the regular season Duffy had a one pitch outing at Yankee Stadium(due to shoulder concerns) and an outing in Chicago where his mechanics were a mess. So is Duffy hurt? Why has he only being pitching from the stretch? For a guy who was probably the most consistent starter for the Royals this year, a year where he showed just how effective(and efficient) he could really be, it seemed odd to see Duffy basically on the outside looking in. You have to feel for a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve and is possibly the most fan-friendly Royal in recent memory. All this success and he is a last resort out of the pen? Luckily the Royals haven’t really needed Duffy during the playoffs, but you wonder how far their concerns go. Obviously he doesn’t feel comfortable pitching from the windup, which will have to be addressed in the spring. But with a World Series in the Royals near future you hope Danny Duffy is allowed to contribute on the field and put an exclamation point on what has been a breakthrough season for the young lefty.
Neddy and Dayton Prove Numbers Wrong
News Bulletin: I am not a fan of Royals GM Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost. I have railed and have even asked for their dismissals, numerous times. I even said that Yost would never “take the Royals to the promised land”. Obviously, I was wrong about that. Go ahead and give Ned a point there. But the question has been posed to me as of late: has my mind changed about these two since the Royals are headed to the World Series? When it comes to Ned, the answer is no. I still believe he is a poor tactical manager, which makes him the same as about half the managers in the big leagues right now. I also believe his mood affects this team and how they play. When he is loose, they play loose. When he stressed and tight, they play that way. More than anything, I believe the Royals could do better when it comes to the manager position. That being said, he has had an almost flawless postseason so far. Outside of the 6th inning in the Wild Card game(and possibly him not pulling his starters fast enough in Game 1 & 2 of the ALCS), Ned has pushed the right buttons and every decision has come up gold. Honestly, if the man isn’t trying to play the lotto right now then I don’t know when he should. I probably won’t ever be a fan of Yost’s style(the bunting alone drives me mad), but I can give him credit when he has earned it.
Dayton will get a bit more credit from me. I was one of the many who questioned the James Shields trade, as I felt the Royals gave up too much and essentially hated giving up 6 years of Wil Myers for 2 of Shields. But late in August, I started really re-thinking this. Wade Davis was the best reliever in baseball this season and Shields intangibles helped more than I could have ever imagined. Do Duffy and Yordano Ventura grow as much as they did this year if not for Shields guidance? Does the mentality in the clubhouse change without Big Game James leading the way? There is no way to measure his influence on this team but it is obvious that trading for him wasn’t the mistake some of us thought it was. Dayton was the one who focused on defense and pitching, realizing he needed speed for the outfield with the amount of ground they have to cover. He put together a monster of a bullpen and stuck with struggling youngsters that most teams would have jettisoned by now. More than anything else, Dayton put together the team that broke the 29 year drought and got the Royals back to the playoffs. It took him 8 years(and most front offices wouldn’t have lasted that long) but he did it. Kudos to GMDM. It’s not the team most of us would have assembled, but it is the team that is getting ready for the World Series.
This is just a few of the thoughts rolling through my head. I haven’t been able to make much sense of the wild playoff run Kansas City is having, but I can tell you how happy it has made me. A team that most of us wrote off in May has risen like a Phoenix in October and is only 4 wins away from a World Series title. It seems almost appropriate that the Royals have yet to lose this postseason; we die hard Royals fans have seen enough losing to last us a lifetime. The best thing is that when damning the logic, you realize just how fun it has been. This ride has one more stop and hopefully when it is all said and done a second World Series title will make its way to Kauffman Stadium. Dreams can come true, and we are just few more ‘W’s’ away from that parade I’ve been planning for months to become a reality. Only this time I’m 100% serious.