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Bleeding Royal Blue

Inside the mind of a Kansas City Royals fan

Month

October 2015

The Comeback Kids

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I know, I know; the Kansas City Royals have been knee deep in the postseason and I’ve been M.I.A. from my little corner of the web. Sorry, my bad. Last year I decided that if Kansas City got to the playoffs I was going to enjoy it and not analyze how the games were transpiring. I decided to do the same this year, as us Royals fans enjoy this tidal wave of success that most are not used to. Since we last talked, the Royals have played three games, winning them all, including the ‘do or die’ Game 5 of the ALDS against Houston. Now the Royals are up 2 games to 1 against Toronto in the ALCS as the teams get ready to play north of the border. Since I have the time, let’s look at what has been going on the last week in the land of the ‘Comeback Kids’.

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Let’s start with a few notes from Game 5 of the ALDS:

  • What a game Johnny Cueto threw last Wednesday?! I know there were a pocket of fans that felt like the Royals had messed up by acquiring Cueto, which I didn’t agree with even if this outing hadn’t happened. The Cueto trade signified that the Royals front office was going for a championship; they had done their part, acquiring Cueto and Zobrist, now it was up to the players to take it home. But if that wasn’t enough for you, his start in Game 5 showed why the Royals picked him up in the first place. All he did was go 8 innings, allowing 2 hits and 2 runs while walking none and striking out 8. This put him in some nice company:

In fact, Cueto had everything going on Wednesday:

The biggest part of his success can be traced to location, location, location:

I don’t know if we are going to see another start like that from Cueto this postseason, but if we do it will probably mean a ‘W’ for the Royals. Cueto was acquired to be the ace; looks like he found the right time to throw like one.

  • Game 5 also saw a couple of clutch hits for the two Alex’s, Gordon and Rios. Gordon has struggled since his return from injury last month while Rios has struggled most of this season. Both have had moments where they contributed this postseason and Gordon has had a number of crucial extra base hits over the last few games, including his big double in Saturday’s win over the Jays. In fact, he even celebrated after the hit, a rarity for him:

Having Gordon and Rios batting 8-9 in the order makes it even harder on opposing pitchers if they start getting hot. It also means if one guy fails, another can pick them up. That seems to be an ongoing strategy by the Royals throughout this 2015 season.

  • Speaking of hitting strategies, I’ve noticed over the last couple games that Kansas City is adjusting their approach at the plate late in the game. Early on they seem to be swinging early and often. But once the late innings hit, they seem to take more pitches. Even while down 0-2 or 1-2, their confidence level seems to be sky high and will be more patient than normal, taking pitches that seem to be too close to take. Trust me, I love the approach and the results, and it has helped lead to some big rallies for the team. It seems odd, but as long as it’s working I say keep doing what they are doing.
  • Edinson Volquez was great on Friday in Game 1 of the ALCS but he did seem to follow a pattern from his previous start against Houston. Volquez looked nasty for the first 5 innings, keeping the ball down, using a combination of his sinker and fastball, while mixing in a change-up from time to time. He had late movement on his pitches and was locating the ball on both corners, although not as much inside as most suspected. Come the 6th, Volquez changed it up (I’m assuming since it was the Jays third time through the order) and started relying heavily on his fastball. Volquez would allow a couple of baserunners but finished off Troy Tulowitzki with a strikeout to end the inning. Volquez would throw over 30 pitches in that inning and I was shocked manager Ned Yost didn’t go to the pen, especially after the walk by Jose Bautista. I’m all for having confidence in your pitcher, but this didn’t seem like the time to let Volquez work through it. Luckily it turned out gold, as no runners scored and Volquez came out unscathed. I don’t recommend doing that again, but Ned Yost has almost been flawless with his decision making since the playoffs last year. It’s hard to argue with it when it works.
  • Can anyone explain how clutch this team is? Sure, part of it is the combo of putting the ball in play a lot while hardly ever striking out(which kind of goes hand in hand). But if I was to point to one main difference between the 2014 Royals team and this team, it would be the offense and their ability to produce when it is needed most. We can all agree that last year’s playoffs(and possibly more specifically the Wild Card game) gave the younger players on this Royals team the confidence they were lacking. But it has been a welcome surprise to see how much they have elevated their plate appearances this October. Exhibit A is obviously Game 4 of the ALDS in Houston, but you can probably add Game 2 of the ALCS this year to the list. David Price had shut this team down for 6 innings(only allowing one hit, a leadoff single by Alcides Escobar), retiring 18 batters in a row before Ben Zobrist lead-off the bottom of the 7th with a single that dropped between Ryan Goins and Jose Bautista. This led to a 5 run inning for Kansas City and eventually a win. This team does not sweat it if they are down late in the game. I’ve started making the joke that the game doesn’t even begin until the 7th inning, which is only mildly tongue in cheek. The reality is that the Royals are not a team to sleep on late in the game; if anything opposing teams need to tighten the belt when it comes down to the bullpens. Otherwise, you could be looking up at another Royals comeback.
  • Finally, let’s hop back to that Zobrist single that dropped between Bautista and Goins. After the game, reporters asked Bautista about the play and who exactly was to blame. Let’s just say that it sure appeared as if someone covered their behind:

To say I was shocked when I saw that would be an understatement. I’ve never thought of Bautista as a bad apple in the clubhouse but this sure has changed my mind. As a veteran, Bautista should not only be there for the younger players but also cover for them even if he feels they are at fault. Bautista didn’t even need to take blame for what happened; all he had to do was talk about how loud the crowd was(and as someone that was in the stadium, it was LOUD) and how he could see how someone could think they heard someone call him off. No matter what, you protect the younger player and don’t allow him to take all the blame. Instead, Bautista threw Goins under the bus. Bautista felt like he didn’t throw Goins under, so I reached out to a former big leaguer to see where he fell on this whole situation:

To me, even if Bautista didn’t mean to let the blame fall on Goins, he did just that by flat denying he had any part in the dropped ball. He can feel like it was Goins fault, and it’s very possible it is. But Goins needs to know Bautista has his back; instead, you have to think there is a lack of trust between the two. But hey, Bautista bought him some new swag, so you know, everything is cool.

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The Royals dropped Game 3 in Toronto, so Kansas City still leads 2 games to 1 as we get set for Game 4 this afternoon. Chris Young will be throwing for the Royals against knuckleballer R. A. Dickey for Toronto. Logic would say that Young, an extreme flyball pitcher in an extreme hitter’s park would be a recipe for disaster. But the postseason is made for logic to fall to the wayside, so why should we start using logic now? Enjoy the ride, folks. The Royals are in the playoffs and that is really all that matters. All they need is another 6 wins…

A Royal Comeback

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A great man once said “It ain’t over till it’s over”. Nope, I’m not talking about Lenny Kravitz, although he turned that saying into a nice little soft rock hit in the 90’s. Mr. Yogi Berra made that saying famous but the Kansas City Royals are trying to make it a mantra. The Royals have a history in the playoffs of coming back from the jaws of defeat to live another day. Go back to one of my favorite games of all-time, Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, the whole reason I even know who Dane Iorg is. Then there is the most famous Royal comeback, the Wild Card game from 2014, a game that no Royal fan will ever forget. After today, you can go ahead and add Game 4 of the 2015 ALDS to that list.

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Headed to the bottom of the 7th inning, the Royals were down by a lone run, 3-2 with Kelvin Herrera was on the mound. Herrera would walk George Springer to lead off the inning, leading to Ryan Madson being brought in to face Carlos Correa. What followed felt like a horror movie or one of those nightmares you have that you can’t wake up from. Correa would hit a 2-run bomb, which would be followed by a solo home run from new Royals nemesis Colby Rasmus and the Astros lead now sat at 6-2.   At this point the Royals had gotten 6 hits and 2 walks but was only able to muster 2 runs off of a Salvador Perez home run. So to say it did not look good going to the Top of the 8th would be an understatement. I thought it was over. I really did.

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What followed would be the perfect example of why you should never give up on this team. I should probably point out here that the highest Win Probability percentage Houston had was 98.4%, which was when Carlos Gomez singled in the bottom of the 7th with the Astros up 6-2. If you would like to see the full graph of the Astros Win Probability click here. Trust me, it is a fun little look into how quickly things fell apart for Houston. Now, back to the game. Over the last few years there is a fun little saying some of us have on Twitter called “#deathbysingles’, or basically what happens from time to time when the Royals start an offensive attack, which doesn’t always include extra base hits. The Royals have also started calling it ‘going on down the line’, or a way to keep the rally going. It focuses way more on every single plate appearance rather than looking 2-3 batters ahead. Focus on your at bat and try to keep the base runners moving.

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What followed can only be explained as #RoyalsDevilMagic, a term coined last year when the Royals would find a way, anyway, to win a ballgame. I felt we saw some of that same magic on Friday in Game 2. Rios(Tips?), Escobar & Zobrist would lead off the attack with singles. Cain would follow with another single to knock in a run, 6-3. The Astros win probability was now down to 70.7%. Eric Hosmer would follow with a key hit to right field to make it 6-4. Before this at bat, Hosmer had been 1 for 15 in the series and it just felt like he needed something(anything?) to get his bat going and to help what had been an issue for this team with runners in scoring position. Houston’s win probability now down to 55.6%. Kendrys Morales would then hit a chopper up the middle(aided by glancing off Tony Sipp’s glove) that looked like a fairly easy play for Carlos Correa. Instead, the ball takes a weird hop(with a little help from Correa taking his eye off the ball. It appeared as if he was already looking at second base) and two runs would score, tying the game at 6. This would be a costly error for the Astros, knocking their win probability down to 24.4%. Funny thing is that the next two at bats felt like the most important at bats in the game. Mike Moustakas would strike out, but not before making it tough on Sipp, an at bat that saw him foul off pitch after pitch. Following that, Houston closer Luke Gregerson would come in to try and stop the bleeding. Houston’s win probability had jumped up to 35.3%.

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Gregerson is very familiar to the Royals. He pitched for the A’s last year in the infamous Wild Card game and would let the Royals back into that game, allowing a couple of inherited runners to score. In this game he would come in and face backup catcher Drew Butera. Butera had entered the game an inning earlier after Perez was hit by a pitch. Butera is known for his glove…and for how poor of a hitter he is. But he would have the at bat of the game, pushing Gregerson to a 10 pitch walk, one in which Butera was down 0-2 to begin the plate appearance. Houston’s win probability was back down to 31.7%. This loaded the bases again for Alex Gordon, a man who has been struggling since his return from injury last month. Gordon would hit a grounder that almost got past second baseman Jose Altuve, as Altuve dove for the ball then flipped to first for the second out of the inning. Hosmer would score though and the Royals would have the lead, 7-6. The Astros now had a 23.6% chance of winning. Rios would then walk(second time he had been on base in this inning) followed by an Escobar strike out to end the inning:

Houston now had a 29.2% chance of victory, down 67.7% from when the inning started. The Houston crowd had been silenced by the Royals offense. Astros fans now understood ‘Death By Singles’.

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Now all that stood in Houston’s way of tying the game up was one Wade Davis. Yes, the nearly unhittable and unflappable Wade Davis. Davis was in for a six out save, the first of his career. Just another 1-2-3 inning for Davis, one in which the Astros chance of winning had dropped to 15.5%. The knockout punch was dealt in the top of the inning, as Hosmer would strike again, dealing a death blow with a 2-run homer. The Astros now sat at a 3.3% win expectancy, or next to nil. Davis would close it out in the bottom of the 9th, tying up the series and sealing a Game 5 in Kansas City…

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…and there you go. One of the greatest comebacks in Royals history leads to another do or die game on Wednesday. I have no clue what will unfold for Game 5, but it probably can’t top Game 4. I didn’t even mention Mike Moustakas’ words at the end of the 7th inning, probably an “Animal House” style speech:

Or how Salvador Perez feels after the double dose of a foul ball tip and hit by pitch combo within the span of an inning:

Okay, here is all the fallout from this game:

What a great game. This Royals team is worth all those years I sat through bad baseball, hoping that next year would be “the year”. In fact, I don’t think I have comedown from this game yet:

This team is for real. Watch out Houston; this Royals team might have just found their swagger.

 

 

 

Royals Devil Magic Has Returned

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 09:  Salvador Perez #13 and Tim Collins of the Kansas City Royals celebrate after defeating the Houston Astros in game two of the American League Division Series at Kauffman Stadium on October 9, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri.  The Royals defeated the Astros with a score of 5 to 4.  (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

I’m going to let everyone in on a little secret that most of us longtime Kansas City Royals fans don’t tell anyone: we still sometimes expect things to go wrong. Yep, it’s not healthy and the last 15 months have helped tone down some of that thinking, but it still pops up now and then. To be honest, you can’t blame us. Before last year, the Royals hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1985 and had only one winning season between 1995-2012. Trust me, we have watched so much bad baseball in that span that it’s hard to just push it out of one’s head. So when the Royals were down 4-2 to start the 4th inning, there was a linger of doubt in my mind that they could bounce back. The rational part of my brain said “hey, it’s only two runs” but the irrational side said “please don’t let them go to Houston down two games to none and then have to face Dallas Keuchel”. Luckily, that did not happen, as the Royals pulled out a 5-4 win in Game 2 of the ALDS in dramatic fashion. But it wasn’t just that they averted defeat, oh no. No, the Royals of 2014 showed up and returned some ‘Royals Devil Magic’.

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Let’s start with what I felt was a bit of a turning point. In the 5th inning it appeared the Royals changed their philosophy at the plate. Earlier in the game they appeared to be swinging at Scott Kazmir’s pitches early in the count, a strategy that had mixed results. But in the 5th it felt like a light bulb went off in their heads and they realized that home plate Umpire Angel Hernandez wasn’t calling a consistent strike zone and to play that to their advantage. So the Royals started taking more pitches, driving Kazmir’s pitch count up and  forcing him to throw strikes. This would pay off in spades come the 6th inning.

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Lorenzo Cain would start things off the festivities in the 6th with a 1 out double. Houston would pull Kazmir at this point and bring in lefty specialist Oliver Perez to face Eric Hosmer. The first two pitches Hosmer would flail at and it put him down 0-2 in the count. To say Hosmer did not look good on those two swings would be an understatement. Perez’s slider seemed to have Hosmer’s number, until pitch three, a pitch that Hosmer had no business actually making contact with. In fact, even Hosmer was unsure of what he hit:

What happened though was a little bloop to left center that would drive in Cain and put the Royals down by only one run, 4-3.

This hit was huge. I had even sent a text out when it happened and said that exact thing, as I felt it was a game-changer and looked to remind the Royals they were still in this ballgame. It also set up an array of events that was very reminiscent of 2014, as Kendrys Morales would hit against the Houston shift and poke the ball to right field, followed by a walk to Mike Moustakas to load the bases. Josh Fields was in the game at this point for the Astros and would walk Salvador Perez on four pitches, bringing in the tying run. Seriously, Perez not only hit a solo home run earlier in the game, but also took not only this walk, but pushed another at bat earlier to a 3-2 count before striking out. If you follow the Royals in any manner, you know that Salvy very seldom walks and most of the time is swinging early and often. I don’t know if this is a new way of thinking for him or just a rare occurrence. What I do know is the game was tied now and the Royals confidence was soaring. I want to add a personal note here: from my vantage point in the stadium, the 6th inning made everyone stop and pay attention to what was developing. By the end of the inning no one was milling around to get food or drinks. No, from what I could see everyone had stopped what they were doing and was watching the Royals comeback. There are very few times I have seen this at a ballgame but it was a great sight to see everyone glued into the action.

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Moving to the 7th inning(after a great top half of the inning thrown by Kelvin Herrera) and Alcides Escobar would leadoff the inning with a triple, a ball hit over the outfielder’s heads. The Astros notoriously play shallow in the outfield and it helped Esky in this case. Another interesting tidbit from this play: both Astros outfielders on that play(Jake Marisnick and George Springer) said after the game that neither could hear the other talking to each other as they scrambled for the ball at the fence. Yes, the Kansas City crowd was that loud!

This would bring Ben Zobrist to the plate and he would plate a single to left and bring in Escobar and give the Royals the lead:

A couple of tidbits here. First, that was the first lead the Royals would take in the series. Second, this was another aggressive at bat for Kansas City and I tend to think that is what the Royals need to do the rest of the playoffs. By nature this is an aggressive team that likes to use their speed and ability to put the ball in play to mess with other team’s defenses. In fact, very little of that aggressive attack was used in September, a month where the Royals struggled. Hopefully the Royals build off of this game and start employing a more aggressive attitude.

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One final pivotal play. In the Top of the 9th and Wade Davis would issue a walk to pinch hitter Preston Tucker. Carlos Gomez would pinch run, and before even throwing another pitch would attempt a pick-off at first. The ump would call Gomez safe on a close throw, but the Royals would ask for a review of the play. The call would be reversed and Kansas City would go from one out and tying run on base to two outs and no one on.

A really big play for the Royals and Davis would get Jose Altuve out next to wrap up the win and the series was now tied at one game apiece headed to Houston.

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So will the offense that showed up Friday afternoon stick around for the next couple games in Houston? There really is no way to tell but that game really felt like a momentum shift for this ballclub as they get set to face Keuchel in Game 3 on Sunday. The last time Kansas City faced Keuchel was in Kansas City back in July the Royals employed an all right-handed lineup against him and the Royals would win by a score of 5-1. Yes, Keuchel is going to be a tough challenge but he is not unbeatable. If the Royals can be aggressive at the plate and on the bases(and if Edinson Volquez can hold the Astros in check) then the Royals could be looking at another ‘W’ in the series. There has never been a greater time to step on the throttle and show the world what you are made of. If Kansas City plays like they did on Friday then it could be an early offseason for Houston. I might never completely rid myself of worrying about Kansas City collapsing late in the game, but I have never believed so much in a team like I have this one. The bad times might not ever completely go away, but the good times are the games I will hold onto forever.

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