Sure, there are series’ that are ho-hum and feel like just another day at the office. Then there are ones that are more important, or at least important to the mind. As we speak the Detroit Tigers are in last place in the American League Central, a once strong powerhouse now turned into a tamed kitty. Over the last five years we have seen the Tigers spank the Royals on such a regular basis that most of us got used to the routine. But the last two years have been a different story, as Kansas City has held their own and even taken a number of important games from the Tigers. So to say it felt good this week to see the Royals take two of three from Detroit would be an understatement. To see Kansas City pound the ‘Boys from Motown’ well, that felt great. Two blowouts of a division rival is enough to put the biggest smile on any fans face. So how did we get here? All it took was some solid all around baseball to get to your answer.
Series MVP: Kendrys Morales
There was some tough competition for this honor, as Lorenzo Cain and Ben Zobrist both put up some hefty numbers in these last three games. But Kendrys Morales was an offensive juggernaut against Detroit, going 8 for 14 with 2 home runs, 8 RBI’s, a BAbip of .600 and raised his OPS over 20 points. The first of his two home runs was hit on Tuesday night, in the Royals one loss in this series:
Morales would get another deep blast on Wednesday night, driving in 3 runs that night.
He came just a few feet short of a third home run in this series on Thursday, but had to settle for a double and 4 RBI’s. Morales is currently sitting at 98 RBI’s with four weeks left in the season but I can almost guarantee he won’t reach the all-time leader for RBI’s by a Royals designated hitter. Hal McRae owns that honor, driving in 133 runs back in 1982. Morales has shown this year that he still has some gas left in the tank(I will fess up to being one that thought he had begun his regression) and has been a vital cog in the middle of this Royals batting order. Morales has been hot as of late(.327/.417/.635 over these last two weeks) and hopefully he can continue this hot streak all the way into October.
Pitching Performance of the Series: Yordano Ventura
Most concerns about Yordano Ventura were alleviated with his start on Wednesday night, a start that showcased just how dominate he can be. Ventura went 7 innings, giving up 5 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 11. That is two consecutive starts that ‘Ace’ has struck out 11, a feat only duplicated by a few other Royals:
In fact Ventura has looked more like the pitcher we envisioned he would be this year over his last five starts, stringing together some numbers that can put a smile on even the most pessimistic fan’s face:
In some ways he just made the Tigers hitters look silly:
The most impressive part of his outing was how Ventura was able to mix his curveball and change-up in with his electric fastball. In fact, Ventura used his fastball only 57% of the time, while his curve was used 25% and the change-up 16%. Going back to the end of July and Ventura was using his fastball more(62%) while only using his curve sparingly(14%), even throwing in a few cutter’s. When Yordano has a good feel for his off-speed pitches he can set batters up with his fastball and then get them by throwing something off-speed. He has been able to do that a lot more this past month and if this is the Ventura we see the rest of the season, he easily locks down a spot in the postseason rotation.
Down Goes Detroit! Down Goes Detroit!
The Royals offense is a curious thing. It’s not nearly as bi-polar as in year’s past, but it still has their moments. Then there are games like Wednesday and Thursday, where the Royals bats were so hot that I expected to see smoke rising off of them. Kansas City was able to get Detroit’s starters out of both games early, leaving the Tigers bullpen to try and stop the bleeding. Problem is, the Tigers pen is one of the worst in baseball. The Tigers pen has a -0.3 WAR so far this year(28th in baseball), 2nd highest FIP, 71% LOB percentage(26th in baseball) and an ERA of 4.76, the 2nd highest in baseball and highest in the American League.
So you can see why the Royals eyes got larger and feasted on this atrocity of a bullpen. It should be no surprise why Morales, Cain, Cuthbert, Orlando and Zobrist all contributed with home runs in this series and why the offensive numbers were off the table for these three games. In years past Detroit has been able to get away with a creaky bullpen due to their solid rotation and aggressive hitting. Now that some of those key parts have been traded and the team has had to deal with injuries, that pen becomes a giant bullseye for all teams to target. Knock out the Tigers starters and you have a good chance of picking up a ‘W’.
Plenty of more goodness coming from this series win for the Royals. Brace yourself; time to spill out some news and notes from this first week of September:
- Alex Gordon was activated on Tuesday, which was great news for those of us that worried Gordon would be lost for the rest of the season when he went down back in July. Instead, he made a quick recovery and got a heroes ovation in his first at bat back:
He would get a sac fly in that at bat, helping put Kansas City on the board. Gordon is a big part of this Royals team and having his back is nothing but a plus. It appears he will be batting 6th most of the time this month, but don’t be surprised if we see him hitting leadoff come October:
It’s great to have Alex back but if you want to understand the true depth of this team, check this out:
It’s almost like the Royals didn’t miss a beat. It does appear as if Alex will be rested fairly often, as he has been in the lineup about every other day since Tuesday. I am totally on board with this, as we want him as rested as possible before October rolls around. So yes, I am excited Gordon is back. But I’m not the only one:
- The Royals beefed up their bench on Monday with an acquisition of Jonny Gomes from Atlanta:
Gomes has postseason experience and will mostly see action against left handers, as per his success against them:
He also isn’t too shabby playing at ‘The K’:
If things got bad enough, he could even fill in out of the bullpen:
He also can fight off a pack of wolves:
Good acquisition by Dayton Moore, as Gomes could be a solid bat off the bench in the playoffs. It also appears as if this trade was made because of the uncertainty of Alex Rios’ condition. Speaking of…
- Word trickled out on Tuesday that Rios and Kelvin Herrera both came down with a case of chickenpox:
It’s a little unclear how this affects the team going forward. It looks like both players will be cleared to return in about another week, but chickenpox is much worse if you get it as an adult:
So it will be interesting to see if there is a period where Rios and Herrera play at not quite full speed. The good news is that it appears no one else on the team came down with the illness. It also appears as if we don’t have to worry about Morales and Gomes:
- The September call-ups have begun:
There is a good chance we see quite a bit out of these guys, as manager Ned Yost rests his regulars throughout this month. It also appears this could be all we see of players recalled from the minors:
Some of these players have already become a necessity. All saw action in this series and Cuthbert saw starts in the last two games:
It also helps when you blow the other team out of the water for two straight nights. Just saying.
- Justin Verlander started against the Royals Tuesday and was coming off of his one-hit effort against the Angels last week. But Verlander has a history with Kansas City:
Verlander went 6.2 innings, giving up 7 hits and 4 runs(2 earned) while walking 1 and striking out 4. The Royals didn’t dominate him but you could also say the same about Verlander. Maybe it’s because the two teams play each other so much, but it definitely seems like the Royals are not fooled by Verlander. Verlander might look more like the Verlander of old, but the Royals are not impressed.
- The Royals celebrated their ‘Franchise Four’, which was selected by the fans before the All-Star game this summer. George Brett, Frank White, Bret Saberhagen and Dan Quisenberry were chosen for this honor and it was great to see three of the honorees on the field this week:
All four men hold a special place in my fandom, as they were all prevalent stars when I began watching baseball in the 1980’s. It was also great to see Frank White out there, as he has been at odds with Royals management over the years and has only been at a few games since his firing a few years ago. I had been asked when this voting was going on who my four would be, and this was who I chose. I think there are legitimate arguments for the likes of Willie Wilson, Kevin Appier and Amos Otis, but I think the fans chose the right four. Hopefully we get to see White return next month to throw out a first pitch before a playoff game. Yes, fingers are crossed.
- Finally, Johnny Cueto struggled in his start on Tuesday, the third straight start he has had issues. There was lots of concern about Cueto, but I’m not one of them. If he looked like he was compensating on the mound for an injury, or even had a loss of velocity I would have my worries. But it appears his problems are purely location:
Dave Eiland has already worked with Cueto and they think they have fixed an issue with his arm slot. Remember, three starts is a small sample size and while it is a bit concerning, we are talking about one of the best pitchers of the last four years:
Now, if he struggles again this weekend…
Tweets of Royalty
So 29 games remain in this regular season for the boys in blue and the magic number continues to dwindle:
Most of us have been in a playoff frame of mind for awhile now, but Kansas City not only has to lock down the Central, but also home field advantage in the playoffs. Regulars will be rested during this month, but they also need to keep their eyes on the prize. The White Sox are headed into Kauffman Stadium this weekend to take on the Royals and while they haven’t performed up to expectations this year, they have given the Royals fits throughout the year. Kind of like that gnat that lingers and won’t go away, no matter how often you shoo it away. So by no means will this be an easy series. At this point, every win is another game closer to lowering that magic number. There will also be a battle for the 4th starter spot for the playoffs, which at this point looks to be between Kris Medlen and Danny Duffy. Three games up, hopefully at least two go in the win column. Steady wins the race, as has been the case all year for the Kansas City Royals.