Houston, You Have a Problem: Royals Extract Revenge, Beat Astros

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If you think back to about a month ago, the Royals visited the Astros in Houston and that series could very well have been the worst series for Kansas City so far in 2015. Houston swept the Royals with many stating that the Astros were now the best team in the American League. A month later, Houston travels to Kauffman Stadium to play three against the Royals, but the results were not the same. Not only did the Royals take this series two games to one, they also trumped Houston in the pitching acquisition market, picking up Johnny Cueto from Cincinnati for the stretch run while Houston had picked up Scott Kazmir from Oakland earlier in the week. But this series wasn’t just trades, sunshine and lollipops. Oh no, there was also games played with action involved. So what else stood out this past weekend? Read on and hopefully we can delve into all that is Royal.

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Series MVP: Alcides Escobar    

This wasn’t the easiest category for this series, as the offense was shut down on Friday night against Kazmir and didn’t do much more on Saturday. Luckily, Alcides Escobar had another good series and even came away with a game winning hit on Saturday. Escobar went 4 for 13 this series, but the big thing was his single to right on Saturday night scoring Paulo Orlando for the winning run:

This also lead to another postgame dousing:

Escobar didn’t scorch the ball for his big hit but was able to poke it into the outfield, away from the constantly shifting Houston defense. No one hitter stood out this series, but a guy who gets on base once every three times and gets a game winning knock is as good a choice as any for most valuable.

Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura throws in the first inning of a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, July 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)
(AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

Pitching Performance of the Series: Yordano Ventura

On Tuesday, Yordano Ventura was sent down to AAA Omaha to make room for Jason Vargas who was returning from a stint on the disabled list. By the next day Vargas was scheduled for Tommy John surgery and Ventura was told to stay put. Ventura had looked awful on Monday against the Pirates but Sunday against the Astros he looked like the ‘Ace’ we saw most of last year. Ventura went out on a hot and muggy Sunday and threw 7 innings, giving up 6 hits and 1 run while walking none and striking out 5. Ventura ended up with a game score of 66, tied for the third best he has had this year and it was well deserved. Ventura did a good job of locating his fastball away from the middle of the plate and had a good feel on the off-speed pitch. I’m not going to sit here and tell you he is fixed or that he won’t have another bad start this year. No, but what I will tell you is that it appeared he got the message from management that he needed to up his game and he did just that to wrap up a series win for the boys in blue.

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More stuff and things happened in a wild three game set at Kauffman Stadium this weekend. Let’s go diving into the news and notes:

  • Dusty Coleman was sent down before this series and infielder Cheslor Cuthbert was recalled for his second stint with the main team. It seemed a bit of an odd move in the sense that Cuthbert has only played about 3 games in his career at second base and has never played shortstop:

The thought was that if something happened to Escobar, Infante would shift over to shortstop and Cuthbert would roll to second base. That seems like a dicey proposition but everything else seems to be working this season, so why wouldn’t this?

  • Manager Ned Yost gave some of his starters a day off this weekend. Lorenzo Cain had Saturday off while both Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas had Sunday off. This was a smart move by Yost, as we are in the dog days of summer and the Royals need these guys to be as sharp as possible late in the season. I don’t always hand out compliments to Yost, but for this he deserves it.
  • Hold onto your seat: Alex Gordon is already throwing:

Want more good news? He wouldn’t tell Ned about it:

Want even more good news? Gordon plans on taking batting practice later this week. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Gordon will be back sooner than expected, but he seems to be working at a pace that would hint toward that happening. Just saying.

  • The Royals employed an all right-handed lineup on Sunday against their ace, Dallas Keuchel:

Keuchel gave up a season high in hits with 10 against the Royals and was also hit hard early by Kansas City:

This continues the Royals success this year against other team’s aces:

Chalk another one up for the good guys.

  • There has to be a little bit of concern as of late with Salvador Perez’s hitting. Over the last two weeks Perez has a line of .154/.209/.231 and over the last month he is hitting .186/.220/.360. I don’t know which is more impressive in that span; only 18 strikeouts or the 3 walks. Yost has been giving Salvy regular rest, so this just seems more like someone who is not very selective at the plate. Fixing Salvy’s offense could become a major project soon if it doesn’t improve.
  • The Mike Moustakas watch is now over. Moustakas has reached his hit total from 2014:

I am a big fan of Moose’s turnaround. The guy has put in the work and the results are apparent on the field. I know Albert Pujols is having a nice return to form but I would vote Moustakas as the Comeback Player of the Year.

  • Carlos Correa is already really good. Like ridiculously good. I’m afraid of how good he will be with some more maturity.
  • Danny Duffy continues his turnaround since returning from the disabled list. On Saturday Duffy threw 6 innings, giving up 3 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 3. His game score of 64 was tied for the second best score he has accomplished this season. If Duffy continues to sparkle, and Yordano can pitch more like he did on Sunday, then the Royals rotation is starting to look more formidable than it looked even just a week ago.
  • Oh, and the Royals picked up that Johnny Cueto guy. I wrote a few words about it here. It’s worth your time.

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Tweets of Royalty

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If you noticed a little bit more of a hop in my step, it would be because of all the great things happening right now for the Royals. Kansas City takes another series, have a big lead in the American League Central, have the best record in the American League and now have Johnny Cueto to lead the rotation. Can things get better? I’m not going to sit here and tell you no. The Royals have the Cleveland Indians next, a team that’s pitching scares me but continue to under-perform.  After those three games the Royals will travel to Toronto for four against the Blue Jays and then three in Detroit. It’s not the easiest schedule but as long as the Royals win these series they remain the team to beat in the American League. So bring everyone else on; so far it appears this team can take it.

 

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Dealer Dayton: Royals Land Zobrist, Prepare for October

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Just two days ago it felt like the Royals struck gold by picking up Johnny Cueto to help an ailing rotation. It was known even then that Royals GM Dayton Moore might not be done, as the team was looking for an outfielder/infielder to help cover Alex Gordon being injured and Omar Infante struggling. It was also well known that Kansas City was eyeing Oakland every-man Ben Zobrist. Zobrist is one of the most versatile players in the game and can play all over the infield and outfield and has over the last 6 years accumulated the fourth best WAR in all of baseball(38.1):

Dayton has seemed to turn into Kenny Rogers(the singer/fried chicken entrepreneur, not the left-handed pitcher), as he has pushed all of his chips in, acquiring Zobrist for two more pitchers, Aaron Brooks and one of the top Royals prospects, Sean Manaea. Like the Cueto trade lets digest this move and see how GMDM did.

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Let’s start with the prize for Kansas City at the bottom of the Cracker Jack box, Ben Zobrist. Zobrist was coveted by numerous teams(the Nationals seemed to be right there with the Royals for his services) and it’s easy to see why. Zobrist is the odd utility player who plays every day, so he is an everyday player just at different positions. Not only that, but he plays good defense in every spot he is thrown at and has an above average dWAR every year since 2009(although for this year he is sitting at -0.9). Zobrist has been one of the most valuable players in all of baseball during this span, getting MVP votes in 2009 and 2011-2012. To the average baseball fan Zobrist doesn’t scream ‘star’ nor does it appear as if he is the catch that many of us laud him for. But his value stretches past the versatility and defense. Zobrist has an OPS+ average of 123 in that span and offensively brings a mix of decent power and patience at the plate that is highly valued within the game. In fact Zobrist might be the oddball of this Kansas City lineup, as he has been averaging 74 walks and 51 extra base hits per season. Initially Zobrist will get the majority of the time in left field until Alex Gordon comes back, but also expect to see him play at second base and right field before the year is done:

He can also play some shortstop or third base if something would happen to Alcides Escobar or Mike Moustakas:

Zobrist has added a glove, a bat and depth that is immeasurable to this Kansas City team. It should be fun watching him play these next couple months as the Royals work toward reaching the playoffs.

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Now, onto the arms that are going to Oakland. First, Aaron Brooks is a right handed pitcher who has had a few stints in the big leagues the last two years. Okay, by that I mean he has appeared in 4 big league games. He is probably best remembered for an awful start in Toronto last year, where he only finished 2/3 of an inning, giving up 5 hits, 3 walks and 7 runs. Yes, that explains his 43.88 ERA in 2014. That being said, Brooks has been a solid starter for AAA Omaha this year. So far he has started 17 games, posting a 3.71 ERA in 106 innings and a WHIP of 1.303. Brooks was not a top prospect for the Royals and really his main use was depth, although if Brooks was starting games for Kansas City that means something drastically had gone wrong. It looks like Brooks is going to get a shot immediately for Oakland:

Brooks is an arm that Oakland GM Billy Beane likes and that the Royals really didn’t need. Hopefully the kid has some success for the A’s and is given some time to prove whether or not he belongs in the majors.

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Now to the key piece of the trade for the A’s, Sean Manaea. Manaea was one of the top prospects in the Kansas City farm system, up there with the likes of Raul Mondesi and Kyle Zimmer. Manaea is known for his mid-90’s fastball and a nasty slider but also has had some control issues in the minors. So far this year in 7 starts, Manaea has 3.1 walks per 9 innings…but also 11.1 strikeouts per 9! Obviously he has electric stuff and if he can get over his control issues would probably be a top arm in a major league rotation. The other issue is his health, which has been a problem early on in his career. Before he was drafted he had hip surgery for a torn labrum, which hurt his draft position and why the Royals were able to snatch him at the 34th slot in the 2013 draft. Manaea also didn’t make his first start this year until late June due to an abdominal injury. There is no way of knowing if the injuries are random or something that will follow him for the rest of his career, but it is something to take note of. It hurts a bit that Kansas City gave Manaea up in this trade, but Kansas City still has Zimmer, Miguel Almonte and Christian Binford, plus the new arms that were drafted in this past June’s draft. The Royals were going to have to give up someone for Zobrist and Manaea was probably a better choice than some of the other options. You must trade value to get value.

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So who won the trade? I think both teams can claim a victory on this, especially considering the two teams are at different places this season. The Royals get a quality bat and defender who can play multiple positions and fill in wherever needed. I would prefer Zobrist’s bat near the top of the order because of his high On-Base Percentage, but it looks like that won’t be happening:

So Zobrist helps fill a hole in Kansas City’s lineup that they needed. Brooks and Manaea will help Oakland now and in the future. Brooks looks to be getting a shot in the rotation this year while Manaea will be part of the future(as long as he isn’t traded; Beane likes to do that). The A’s are already looking toward the future while Kansas City has their sights on October. You have to give it to Dayton Moore; in just a few days he has acquired the top pitcher and bat on the market and have made the Royals the favorites in the American League come the playoffs. All that and Moore did not give up one piece of the main roster, keeping it intact for the rest of the season. The games still have to be played and there is still a lot of baseball to be played. But right now, we Royals fans can start dreaming of another ‘Blue October’. Even if a world championship doesn’t happen, there can be no blame laid on the doorsteps of the front office. Dayton and company have done what is needed to put the Royals in the best position to bring the World Series trophy back to Kansas City. Now it is up to the players to win the whole damn thing.

 

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