Smiles & Hugs: Melky is Back in KC

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Credit: Chicago Tribune

There is nothing quite like late July in Major League Baseball; pennant races, visits to Cooperstown and the trade deadline. It’s long been believed that the Kansas City Royals would be buying at the trade deadline and last week Royals GM Dayton Moore swung a deal with San Diego for three pitchers to help both the rotation and bullpen. Earlier in the weekend, it was known that Moore was also on the hunt for a bat to beef up the lineup:

This was on Friday and the idea of a reunion with Melky seemed to make the most sense. Luckily, Moore agreed:

So the Royals have now added an additional bat for the lineup. The question has already been asked so let’s immediately address it: Where does Melky fit in?

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Indians

The answer is ‘everywhere’. The most apparent fit would be left field, as Alex Gordon has struggled most of the season. The numbers seem to preach that as well:

Gordon-.201/.294/.296, 0.4 fWAR

Cabrera-.295/.336/.436, 0.8 fWAR

Since Melky would be a possible fit at DH against lefties, I decided to break down those splits as well:

Gordon- .186/.336/.209, 59 wRC+

Cabrera- .296/.327/.500, 118 wRC+

Moss-.318/.412/.591, 166 wRC+

In years past there have been some heavy splits for Moss against lefties, but so far in 2017 he is handling them very well. It would appear that Gordon would be the odd man out in this scenario, but while I expect to see Gordon’s playing time cut, he will probably still see a good  number of starts as well as being a defensive replacement late in the game. If you look up above at the fWAR numbers, Melky and Alex aren’t too far off and that is mostly because of defense. Alex has been an above average defender in 2017 while Melky continues to be below average. What I would expect to see is Melky floating around, playing left field one day, right field another, and DH every now and then too. Manager Ned Yost will probably mix and match according to who is on the mound that day and who is struggling/needs rest. Melky being a switch hitter helps in this equation, as he can fit in whether there is a righty or a lefty on the mound. While Melky isn’t exactly tearing up the league offensively, he is an improvement over what Kansas City has had most of this year and while not displacing just one player, will be a fairly regular in the Royals lineup, most likely in the two-hole.

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Credit: The Sporting News

While his bat will improve the lineup, maybe the biggest addition with Melky is his presence in the clubhouse. During his previous stint in Kansas City, he was beloved by the likes of Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez and Melky has still been known to give a hug to Hosmer whenever he reaches first base when he has been on the opposing team. In fact, it surprised me a bit that Melky didn’t try to return to the Royals before the 2015 season when he was a free agent. This is what I wrote back in August 2015 about it:

But while watching Melky this past weekend I started thinking about how much he loves these guys and I started pondering how much fun he would have if he was still with Kansas City. The thing is, he could have been a Royal again. This past winter, the Royals were on the hunt for a new right fielder to take the place of Nori Aoki. They had tried Torii Hunter but he returned to Minnesota. They had also talked to Melky about coming in, even offering him a contract fairly similar to what he got from Chicago. Chicago eventually won the Melky sweepstakes, but I found it interesting why he chose the White Sox over the Royals:

 Cabrera “really wanted to win,” Rick Hahn, White Sox GM recalled. “(He said) ‘But with all due respect are you guys really in a position to win and am I really a difference maker for you?’ ”

So Chicago’s winter moves swayed Melky, or at least he felt like they had a better chance to win. The funny thing is, the Royals offered a deal somewhat similar to what Chicago gave him. I believe it was one less year, and possibly a few million less. But here was my thought this weekend: with the Royals in about the same situation as Chicago, at least when pertaining to their chance of winning, why would he not take a little less money to be around a bunch of guys that he really enjoys playing with? Now, Seattle did offer Cabrera an extra year, so maybe the years weren’t as big a deal but with the Royals offering something in the same ballpark, I just find it odd that he wouldn’t try to come back to Kansas City. I’m sure that White Sox locker room is full of quality guys; I don’t doubt that a bit. But the chance to win a championship and do that with a bunch of guys you think fondly of? I tend to think you can’t beat that. But obviously it was not meant to be, and instead the Royals end up with Alex Rios who looks about the same as the Alex Rios that was sapped of power last year in Texas. We can only imagine how much better this Royals team would have been with Melky roaming right field…

So Melky is now going to get that chance to play with his friends and I can only imagine good things come from that. There is no statistic to quantify clubhouse chemistry, but it is well-known that Kansas City has a great group of guys that most have enjoyed playing with whenever they come play for the Royals. I have to believe the addition of Melky has put a bunch of smiles on the faces of the veterans who were with Kansas City back in 2011.

Chicago White Sox Workout
Credit: Sports Illustrated

Adding Melky to the Royals equation was a smart move, but there is always the other side of  a deal and in this one it involved two young pitchers. A.J. Puckett was the Royals first pick for Kansas City back in the 2016 draft (in the second round) and has been pitching this year in the Royals High A affiliate in Wilmington. Baseball America had Puckett ranked as the number 5 prospect in the Royals farm system before the 2017 season but he has struggled a bit so far in this campaign: 3.90 ERA over 108 innings, allowing 107 hits and a 1.412 WHIP. The original belief was that Puckett would go as far as his breaking ball takes him and at his ceiling would probably be a #3 starter in the big leagues. That being said, consistency has been his enemy this year:

Scoles does a great job analyzing the Royals farm system for Baseball Prospectus Kansas City and is someone who has been keeping an eye on Puckett. Davis is a 23-year-old lefty who hasn’t been listed on any of the Royals top prospect list but has done a good job against lefties this season at Class A Lexington: .216/.289/.352 batting line in 97 plate appearances this year. His overall numbers are a bit pedestrian: 4.82 ERA, with a 1.389 WHIP and a nice 3.78 strike out to walk ratio. Obviously Puckett is the bigger piece of this deal and while it always hurts to give up a solid pitching arm, this feels like a low regret type deal for the Royals in the long haul.

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So the Royals pick up another piece on their latest run to the playoffs and if anything the front office and ownership has shown they will step up when needed:

So in the last week Kansas City has acquired a rotation arm, two bullpen arms and a solid bat for the lineup….and it appears that Kansas City isn’t quite done yet:

The MLB trade deadline is set for 3pm Central on Monday, more than enough time for ‘Dealer Dayton’ to grab another arm. If the last week has been any indication we should expect another surprise within the next 24 hours. It feels good to know that no matter the end outcome, Royals management is giving this team everything it needs to play October baseball. The band is back together and getting ready to spin their greatest hits over the final two months of the season…and maybe the encore come October.

 

 

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Happy Trails, Omar

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Sometimes things just don’t work out. That’s a good way to describe the Kansas City Royals parting ways with second baseman Omar Infante on Wednesday. This wasn’t a shocking move in the fact that it happened; the timing was the only thing that caught most off-guard. Infante had been relegated to third-string second baseman thanks to the hot start that Whit Merrifield has gotten off to and the fact that Omar had struggled on both offense AND defense this year. The Royals still owe Infante another $17.75 million, which includes a buyout of his 2018 option and the fact that Kansas City was willing to eat the rest of his contract shows you the albatross that Infante had become to the Kansas City roster. But at the end of the day, this was the best choice for everyone involved.

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Not everything was all downtrodden when it comes to the Royals signing of Infante. The Royals signed Infante before the 2014 season to a 4 year, $30.25 million deal with a team option for 2018 and at the time it felt like a good signing. The Royals had struggled at second base for years and before Infante, Kansas City was saddled with my favorite punching bag, Chris Getz. Infante was coming off of a solid 2013 campaign in Detroit, where he put up a line of .318/.345/.450 with an OPS+ of 115 and a bWAR of 2.5. Sure, he was entering his age 32 season with the feeling of regression lurking in the shadows, but all he really had to do was give the Royals an upgrade at offense and solid defense and they would be happy. Unfortunately, the momentum started to shift from almost the very beginning.

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In Infante’s six game in a Royals uniform, he took a fastball to the jaw courtesy of Heath Bell. To say he hasn’t been the same since would be an understatement:

 

For Infante’s almost 2.5 years in Kansas City, he hit .238/.269/.328 with an OPS+ of 62 and a bWAR of -0.2. Infante did put up above average defensive numbers for the first two years of his deal but even that took a dip this year, falling below replacement level. For the longest time, Infante’s litany of injuries (jaw, shoulder, elbow) were blamed for his struggles, but that seemed to be rectified this past offseason, as Infante had surgery in November to remove bone chips from his right elbow. The belief was now that Omar was healthy, we would see the guy who had performed so well in 2013. Instead, he struggled even more this year, most notably on defense. The move to his right to backhand a grounder was a normal task in the past; this year he struggled on a consistent basis making that move. It appeared his range had continued to decline and there was very little zip on the ball whenever he would make the throw to first. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I saw Omar throw the ball over the top; every throw I saw from him this year was sidearm. The injuries had seemed to take a toll on his body and the guy who was once a solid defensive second baseman had now become a liability on the field. Infante would bumble a ball in Cleveland a few weeks ago and that would be the last time he would start a game in a Kansas City uniform. Infante was regulated to the bench moving forward, as utility man Merrifield would see the majority of starts moving forward. Christian Colon would be recalled last week and even he was getting multiple starts at second base instead of Infante. It was obvious the end was near.

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There were a couple Omar highlights that I will probably remember for awhile. There was the home run in Game 2 of the 2014 World Series:

 

Oh Hunter Strickland, you insidious gas can! There was also Infante’s walk-off against the Angels in June 2014(a game I was actually in attendance for):

 

But there is one highlight that will be hard to ever forget. Last year in Cleveland, Infante and Alcides Escobar pulled off a highlight reel play that still is fun to watch today:

 

Yep, that was in the 9th inning of a one run game. That’s as big time as it gets! Sure, there aren’t a ton of Omar highlights during his time in Kansas City, but these won’t fade from my memory anytime soon.

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So what should be the game plan for the Royals at second base moving forward? At the current moment, Whit Merrifield seems to be acclimating himself to major league baseball quite well, so I would assume he would continue to see the majority of playing time there. Christian Colon will also figure into their plans, getting a few starts a week at the position:

There has been an interesting rumor floating around over the last couple days:

Now, I’m not 100% sold this will happen. For one, Reyes hasn’t played much second base in his career, just a few games back in 2004. That would be a minor hurdle. The bigger hurdle to jump would be the character issue. Reyes is coming off of a domestic abuse issue and will probably be highly scrutinized for the immediate future. Royals GM Dayton Moore has made it a priority to bring in players who are great clubhouse guys, players who will fit in with the family environment in Kansas City. Moore has occasionally veered off the path(Jose Guillen immediately comes to mind, even Alex Rios wasn’t considered a high character guy) but this just feels like too much media coverage just to fill a slight hole. The plus to it would be that Merrifield could go back to being the utility guy that is probably better suited for him and Reyes would be a major offensive upgrade over Infante. The Royals also wouldn’t have to pay him much, as the Rockies are on the hook for the remainder of Reye’s 2016 salary. But my gut tells me this won’t happen; if I’m wrong there could be a whole batch of issues for us to discuss then. For now, the Royals will just go with Merrifield and Colon and see if someone becomes available that could strengthen the team down the stretch drive.

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No matter how much flak we have given Omar these last couple seasons, I still don’t consider this a bad signing. Sure, I didn’t love that it was a four year deal, but unfortunately that is what a small market team like the Royals has to do since they can’t offer a player more money. No one saw Infante’s regression being so steep, so fast. The good news is we are in the middle of June, with three and a half months left in the season. This could have been so much worse if Infante was still holding up a roster spot into August, taking up space while rarely being used. Infante seemed like a nice enough guy, but it just didn’t work out between him and the Royals. The Royals can now move forward and Omar can see if he is able to latch on to a new team for the rest of the season. That being said, there is one more thing you can do; Vote Omar. Yes, the All-Star balloting is still going on and Infante is listed at second base. Go ahead and go to Royals.com and #VoteOmar. I know, he doesn’t deserve it, but it will burn the chaps of all the people who take All-Star voting seriously. You at least owe us this, Omar. Happy trails.

The 2016 Kansas City Royals: Top of the Mountain

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Last year in my Kansas City Royals preview I asked this question after they came one game away from winning the World Series: “So now what?”. We got our answer, which was the Royals returning to the Series and winning the whole damn thing in just five games. The Royals last year had one goal on their mind and they were going to do everything in their power to reach that goal of being world champions. This Royals team didn’t listen to critics, analysts or even numbers when it came to reaching the top of the mountain. Now that the Royals have reached the pinnacle of the sport, the question now becomes ‘Can they repeat?’…and the answer might surprise you.

New York Mets v Kansas City Royals
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

I’m going to break down the Royals into segments, starting here with the starting rotation. In 2015, the rotation put up decent numbers but wasn’t the most reliable group of moundsmen in baseball. As a team, the Royals were 22nd in starters WAR, 24th in IP, 15th in LOB%, 9th in ERA, and 10th in FIP. The rotation was fronted by Edinson Volquez, who duplicated his WAR from 2014 in Pittsburgh and was the most reliable starter manager Ned Yost had. In fact, looking at his numbers, Volquez was very close to replicating his bounce back 2014 season and that is meant in the most positive of ways. Yordano Ventura was initially looked at as the ‘Ace’ last year but efficiency and maturity became an issue. Ventura still put up decent numbers(8.6 K/9, 3.57 FIP and 102 ERA+ over 163 innings) but there is hope that he can put up stellar numbers in this, his third big league season. New acquisition Ian Kennedy was acquired for one reason-eat innings. Kennedy had another poor season last year in San Diego(4.51 FIP, 85 ERA+) but he did strike out 9.3 batters per 9 innings and there is hope that with Kansas City’s defense and above average outfield defense his numbers will improve this year. Chris Young is returning for his second season in Kansas City and was a strong veteran presence in the Royals rotation last year. Young was exactly what the Royals needed, posting a a WHIP of 1.086, and an ERA+ of 135 over 123 innings. Young split time last year between the rotation and bullpen and will look to do the same this year. Rounding out the starting five is Kris Medlen, who returned last year at midseason from Tommy John Surgery. Medlen only threw 58 innings last year, but more is expected from him this year with hope he will return to something resembling his 2012-2013 form. Medlen was acquired more for this year than last, so what he truly can do post surgery is likely to be seen this year. The Royals have some depth this year in case of injury and struggles, with Mike Minor being a possibility after June. They also have Danny Duffy and Dillon Gee stowed away in the bullpen for now(and more than likely they will break the glass for emergency at some point this year), with a few guys in the minors a possibility as well. Kyle Zimmer’s name has been long rumored as contributing this year, and time will tell if he is physically and mentally ready for the big time. A guy like Miguel Almonte is also an outside shot, but there is probably a greater chance he sees time out of the bullpen this year.

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Speaking of the bullpen, the Royals are returning a large part of the core of a pen that has been a force in baseball for a number of years. Last year the Royals were 5th in baseball in relievers WAR, 17th in K/9, 1st in LOB%, 2nd in ERA, and 10th in FIP. Wad Davis returns for his third year in the bullpen for Kansas City, following two of the greatest seasons a relievers has ever tallied. Over the last two seasons, Davis has accumulated 139 innings, striking out 187 batters while posting an ERA of 0.97, an FIP of 172, and an ERA+ of 418(league average is 100). The one thing that will be different is that this will be his first full year as the Royals closer which means there will be a new bridge to Wade in the 8th inning. That bridge looks to be former Royals closer Joakim Soria, returning to Kansas City after stints in Texas, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Last year Soria racked up the most appearances of his career while posting his lowest ERA and highest ERA+ since 2010. Kelvin Herrera will also return to help setup and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Luke Hochevar used as well in that position. Gee and Duffy will be the longmen out of the pen, with both occasionally starting while Chien-Ming Wang resurrected his career this spring and will also be used out of the bullpen. The great thing about the Royals is that there are more arms ready to go in the minors, as guys like Scott Alexander, Brian Duensing, Matt Strahm, Alec Mills and Brian Flynn could all see action this year. Even starters like Almonte and Zimmer could be used in relief at some point. This is the deepest part of the Royals team and is so good that it makes the Royals starters only have to go 5-6 innings a start if necessary to hand it over to the biggest strength the Royals have.

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One thing that has to be mentioned here is that the Royals pitching numbers(both starters and relievers) wouldn’t be so good if not for the Royals incredible defense. Last year the Royals had the highest defensive rating in baseball, the 2nd most defensive runs saved,  and the highest UZR. If you want to know the real reason the Royals have excelled these last two years, it’s because of the bullpen and the defense. The Royals currently employ three returning Gold Glove winners from 2015(Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez) while also having Alex Gordon patrolling left(a four time Gold Glove winner) and Lorenzo Cain in center, two of the best defensive players at their positions. Throw in above average defenders all around the diamond(Mike Moustakas at third, Omar Infante at second) and a right field platoon of above average outfielders(Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando) and you have a team with above average defense at every position. This team was specifically built this way and has given the Royals an unfair advantage for a number of years. I would expect more of the same from the Royals ‘D’ in 2016.

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That leaves us with the offense, which took a big leap forward in 2015. Kansas City is returning 8 of the 9 starters in their lineup this year so they are hoping for similar output as they saw last year from a number of players who elevated their game. Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales and Lorenzo Cain all improved on their 2014 offensive seasons which helped the Royals offense be a bit more potent last year. The team ranked 5th in offensive WAR, 5th in stolen bases, 7th in runs scored, 1st in lowest strikeout %, 11th in BABIP, 11th in OBP, and 10th in wRC+. The Royals are infamously known as a team that doesn’t walk or hit many home runs, which shows up in the totals; they had the worst walk % in baseball, 24th in home runs but 11th in sluggening percentage. Kansas City is smart to play to their strengths offensively, which they did to a ‘t’ last year  but there are a few areas they can improve on. Alcides Escobar struggled for a good portion of 2015, but could see a jump in his age 29 season, as he has shown a pattern of improving on offense in even years. Last year, both Omar Infante and Alex Rios ended the year with negative Wins Above Replacement, and the Royals are hoping to improve at both positions this year. Infante is back, and for almost the first time as a Royal, is healthy. Infante won’t walk much and probably won’t produce like he did for Detroit in 2013, but an improvement would help his cause and not make the Royals search for a second baseman come July. Rios is gone, and in his place is the platoon of Dyson and Orlando, who both had positive offensive WAR in 2015. I’m not so sure the Royals will replicate their offensive numbers of a year ago(and I could see a scenario where Moustakas and Morales specifically take a slight slide down)but overall this should be a team who produces enough offensively to help the starting pitching while also putting extra pressure on opposing teams late in the game, which has become their specialty. It’s a cliche saying, but for the Royals it really is all about the little things.

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Kansas City’s coaching staff returns for another season and that includes the skipper, Ned Yost. Over the years I have been less than enamored with Yost and in some ways that hasn’t changed. What has changed is that since late in the 2014 season, Yost has learned to trust his players and just allow them to go out and play ball. In a lot of ways this has lead to the Royals success and I give major props to Ned for staying out of his own way and only making major in-play decisions when necessary. He’s also put more stock in what his coaches pass along to him, which tends to lean toward a team with more on-field success. Yost will never be my favorite, but these ballplayers have embraced him and as long as they have his trust, his voice will be heard. Hard to argue with the direction he has steered this Royals team in the last two years, so I am hoping for more of the same this year.

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So what is on tap for the Royals this year, or at least in my estimation? I lean toward another successful year, one in which the chance of postseason play is a very high possibility. It’s hard in today’s baseball landscape to win back to back World Series’, but I don’t doubt this team, not in the least. This is a team that has had the percentages and odds against them for two seasons now and they keep coming out on top. I figure nothing much changes this year, in that regard. You can bet against the Royals and say the numbers are against them; I won’t be the one betting against Kansas City. No, I think more success is just around the corner, as the Royals plan their next big comeback. Kansas City, Kansas City here they come…again!

   

Relying on Speed

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Throughout the 2015 season, there was always speculation on who should be playing right field for the Kansas City Royals. Alex Rios was the incumbent at the position, but his lackluster play throughout the summer(plus the myriad of injuries and illnesses) made one wonder if the Royals would be better off employing a platoon in right of Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando. Rios would actually put together a good September and a solid postseason for Kansas City, so this question seemed rather moot by the end of the season. But that question looks to be finally answered, as manager Ned Yost confirmed at Fanfest that the Royals would likely be employing “some sort of platoon” of Dyson and Orlando to start the 2016 season. So this begs the question: just how productive would a Dyson/Orlando platoon be?

World Series Royals Giants Baseball
(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Jarrod Dyson has been an intriguing player for his entire career, mostly because of his speed. Dyson has game-changing speed, the kind that any team would covet, which it appears he was this offseason:

The Royals, over the years, have done a good job of taking advantage of that speed but not misusing Dyson to where his flaws would be more prominent. Offensively, Dyson is slightly below league average throughout his career(career 83 OPS+) while stealing bases at an 86% clip(he has only been caught stealing 23 times in his career out of 169 attempts). Dyson doesn’t accumulate very many extra base hits, as he has only 61 over his 6 year career, mostly doubles and triples. His main issue has been hitting lefties, which has been a major struggle for Dyson. Over his career, Dyson has a line of .211/.288/.249 against left-handers, striking out 21% of the time against them. For the most Kansas City has sheltered him against this struggle, as he has only accumulated 243 plate appearances against lefties in his career. Defensively, Dyson is above average(which is shown by his WAR, 9.6 over his career in limited action), which is a major reason why the Royals are set to go with Dyson getting the majority of the time in right this year. His UZR is well above average, while he has racked up 43 DRS(defensive runs saved) in limited playing time over his career. Dyson doesn’t always take great routes, but he normally makes up for it with his speed. I know there was a prevalent thought by the national media in 2014 that Dyson was a better defender than Lorenzo Cain, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. A lot of Dyson’s flaws are hid by his speed, which helps him get to balls that most players would not, while Cain actually is a more than average efficient defender. Dyson probably won’t provide much pop(and he probably should bat near the bottom of the order)but his speed and defense should make it alright for the Royals to start the year with Dyson getting more than usual playing time. I would even say Dyson could top 50 stolen bases in a year if given the time to do it. But he won’t see all the time in right field…

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Paulo Orlando is entering his age 30 season, coming off a rookie campaign that saw him in the middle of a number of big Royals wins while getting a decent amount of playing time due to Rios and Alex Gordon spending time on the disabled list. Orlando became a fan favorite early on, for his great defense and propensity to hit triples. Over time, his flaws showed the more he played, so much like Dyson, Orlando platooning with Jarrod would help his productivity. Orlando had a line of .249/.269/.444 in 2015 with an OPS+ of 90 and a WAR of 1.0. Paulo has some pop in his bat and was a sprinter in Brazil before beginning his baseball career, so he is also exceptionally fast. He also became a regular defensive replacement late in the season for Rios, as he is another above average defender in the Kansas City outfield. Orlando probably wouldn’t be a good fit for the Royals as a regular, but splitting time with Dyson should help hide some of his flaws while also giving him a chance to add some production for the bottom of the order.

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I know there will be a few Royals fans that will bring up minor leaguers Brett Eibner and Jose Martinez as possible players to see time in right field, but barring a major injury I can’t imagine either will see much time in Kansas City in 2016. Eibner had a good year in Omaha in 2015, putting up a line of .303/.364/.514 with 19 home runs and 81 RBI’s, pretty much a career year for him in the minors. Unfortunately, the Royals see him as a fourth outfielder type who would only really see time in the big leagues because of an injury or if he really tore it up in AAA in 2016.Martinez literally came out of nowhere in 2015 to post a .384/.461/.563 line and win the PCL batting title for Omaha. Martinez had bounced around for quite awhile with the White Sox and Braves farm systems, never getting higher than AA. Martinez is entering his age 27 season and while he did open a bunch of eyes with his batting last season, there are just as many people wondering if it was a fluke or if he is able to repeat that performance. If he shows last year wasn’t the outlier of his career, then it’s possible we could see him up with the Royals at some point. But that is a big ‘if’ coming from a guy Kansas City found in the independent leagues. There is one more possibility for time in right field this year, and that is Travis Snider. I discussed his chances earlier this month, which look very promising. I see Snider getting a decent look this spring and could even force his way onto the Kansas City bench if things go his way this spring. Snider is the most intriguing of this bunch, as he still seems to have some potential in him that could be untapped, especially if hitting coach Dale Sveum gets ahold of him and teaches him the ‘Royal Way’ of putting the ball in play.

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So with all that thrown out there, here is the big question: would a Dyson/Orlando platoon produce more than last year’s right fielder Alex Rios? For this exercise, I decided to use Steamer Projections to compare the expectations from Rios for this year(if he ever signs with a team; I have literally seen nothing this winter connecting him to any team–at all) to Dyson and Orlando. Steamer has Rios with a line of .249/.287/.369 with 6 home runs and 33 RBI’s(in a projected 76 games). Dyson is set at .250/.309/.341 with 3 homers and 31 RBI’s, while Orlando is projected to hit .254/.289/.363 with 4 home runs and 23 RBI’s. Just looking at the numbers, it looks like average and on-base would be close, with the Dyson/Orlando platoon maybe accumulating a better OBP. It probably seems obvious, but Rios has the better slugging percentage, although one wonders if Dyson would get a few more extra base hits with the added playing time. The stats are eerily similar when putting them up against each other, so offensively it would seem to be fairly close to even, with Rios adding a touch more power while  the Dyson/Orlando combo would add more speed. Throw in that Jarrod and Paulo are both better defenders than Rios, and it would appear the Royals might be slightly improved this year in right with the two of them platooning. Oh, and cheaper as well, with Dyson and Orlando combined making just over $2 million this year while Rios cost the Royals $11 million in 2015. Advantage would seem to favor the 2016 Royals at this point.

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But will this scenario play out all year? Probably not. As much as the Dyson/Orlando platoon in right field can suffice for Kansas City to start out the year, it would seem sensible that the team would look to improve the position before the July trade deadline. The team wouldn’t have to go out and get a top of the line right fielder, but an outfielder that could handle the job full-time while providing more offense could be found and probably not at an insane cost for the Royals. This would also open the team up to using Dyson in more pinch running situations while allowing Orlando to be a late inning defensive replacement if the new right fielder wasn’t skilled as such. As long as the Royals are contending I have to believe this is how the situation will play out and it actually is a best case scenario. The fact that the Royals are in a position where they spend a few months this summer finding out the true value of Dyson and Orlando while also knowing they can always go out and pick up another outfielder is a position that Kansas City has been fairly foreign to until the last few seasons. Dyson and Orlando are both valuable pieces of the Kansas City Royals roster, but their true value is as part-timers. I’m sure we will revisit this subject again come July but I lean toward having the same answer. The platoon will work for now, but definitely not the long-term answer for Kansas City.

Oh, What a Feeling: Your 2015 World Champions, the Kansas City Royals!

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The Kansas City Royals have waited 30 years to say they are World Champions. Whenever anyone around Kansas City talks about the Royals, it is inevitable that the 1985 Royals, the only other Kansas City team to win the World Series, are brought up. In some ways I’m sure it felt like big shoes to fill, living up to the legend of a team that made a lot of us(myself included) Royals fans. Now though is another champion for future teams to live up to. In what was possibly the most dramatic 5 game World Series in history, Kansas City can now call themselves ‘World Champs’!

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There are so many stories to tell here, and all deserve your time and praise, but let’s start with the beginning of the season. This was a team that felt like they had unfinished business, left with the bad taste in their mouth from being beat by the Giants the year before in the World Series. This was a team that was on a mission to finish what they fell just short of in 2014. Not only is it a difficult path to make back to back World Series in this day and age, but they were doing it without some big components from the year before. Billy Butler was gone. James Shields-gone. Nori Aoki jumped ship to the world champs. In their place was Kendrys Morales, Edinson Volquez and Alex Rios, two of which were coming off of disappointing seasons. In fact, guys like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer were also coming off of less than stellar campaigns, which is why the PECOTA projections had Kansas City at 72 wins. In fact, I was a bit skeptical of their chances, expecting them to be in the hunt while falling just short. It wasn’t that I didn’t want my team to ‘Take the Crown’; I just wasn’t for sure that a majority of the lineup was going to improve on their 2014 numbers. Luckily, I was wrong.

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What happened during the regular season would seem like a fairy tale written up by a Royals fan before the season began, while bordering on fan fiction(somehow Salvador Perez and his perfume would fit in here). The team got off to a hot start, took control of the American League Central and held it for 3/4 of the season. In fact, if it wasn’t for the surging Minnesota Twins stepping up near the beginning of the summer, the Royals might have lead the division all season long. There was so many highlights to the regular season, like Mike Moustakas’ offensive turnaround, as he learned to hit to the opposite field, forcing opposing teams to quit putting the shift on him and play him straight up. There was the monster comeback season by Morales, toppling 100 RBI’s while adding power to the middle of the order. There was another phenomenal season by Wade Davis and Volquez turned out to be a solid replacement for Shields. Lorenzo Cain really blossomed this year, putting together a MVP caliber season after dealing with injuries almost every year before. The team almost single-handedly took over the All-Star Game, with 4 Kansas City starters in the game and 8 total players representing the Royals. Hell, we Royals fans almost voted Omar Infante into the game, and most of us agree he was awful this year! Then in July, the Royals front office stepped up, acquiring Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist to further elevate their chances of capturing a world championship. Zobrist was a huge acquisition, as he filled in for left fielder Alex Gordon while he was out with a groin strain, then slid over to second base, taking over for the black hole of offense known as Infante. Cueto had very mixed results, sometimes looking like the ace he was in Cincinnati, other times looking like a back of the rotation arm who had to be perfect to succeed. Either way, Royals management did their part by giving the team the pieces to win, leaving it all up to the players to take it home. In fact, the Royals steamrolled through the competition most of this year, putting up the best record in the American League and garnering them home field advantage throughout the playoffs. This team was on a mission from day one and accomplished the first part of it; making the playoffs. Now it was time to do the hard part: advance to the World Series.

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In the American League Division Series, the Royals would play the Houston Astros, a young team that gave Kansas City trouble during the regular season. This series pretty much dictated the Royals fate and what we should have expected from this Royals team. Royals would lose Game 1, but then would mount one of their famous comebacks late in Game 2 to pull out a victory. Game 3 went to Houston, as Dallas Keuchel shutdown the Royals offense, and at this point it was ‘do or die’ for Kansas City. In Game 4, Houston took a four run lead into the Top of the 8th, which seemed like a death kneel for this Royals team. The Royals ‘kept the line moving’ in this inning, with a bit of help from Carlos Correa, and would not only storm back, but would end up taking the lead, taking the game and forcing a Game 5.

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Game 4 of the ALDS might be the greatest summary of what this Kansas City Royals team did this entire postseason. When their backs were against the wall, they didn’t give up. The picked and picked, battling  pitchers while finding a way to get on base and keep a rally going. The word ‘relentless’ has been used at great lengths these past few weeks, but I also think you can use the word ‘stubborn’. This Royals team just would not quit, which was night and day from what we saw just a few years earlier. Once you get in the playoffs you are playing nothing but great teams, and the Royals frustrated every last one of them. The philosophy of ‘putting the ball in play, forcing the defense to make the play’ really has worked for this team, and I’m not for sure it can be duplicated. You would think Game 4 of the ALDS was a standalone game, one that was the outlier of the group, but it isn’t. The Royals entire postseason was some variation of that Monday afternoon in Houston, where even myself doubted this team would come back and win. Game 5 was almost a non-contest, once Johnny Cueto got past the Luis Valbuena home run. It was smooth sailing after that blast for Cueto, as the Royals punched their ticket to the ALCS.

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Before we move on to the ALCS, I want to point out something here. I have long criticized Ned Yost and his managing style. Before last September, he seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. There was concern that the same mistakes he made in Milwaukee would be repeated in Kansas City, costing the Royals any semblance of glory. But sometimes people surprise you and change their ways, and Yost did just that. Starting in late September 2014, Yost started listening more to his coaching staff and venture outside of the box some more. It was very slight at first(letting Kelvin Herrera pitch more than an inning at a time), but by the playoffs he made almost every logical move a manager could make. That continued this year and to be honest, a lot of it was just letting the players go out and play. Trust them. The players stepped up this year and deserve a lot of the credit, but Yost’s more laid back managing style was a welcome plus. I’m still not a big Yost fan, but I will give the man credit when I feel he deserves it. Quite a bit of the Royals success this year can be tied into Yost relaxing his style and allowing himself to not be confined to an old way of thinking that had held him back in the past.

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 28: Alcides Escobar #2 of the Kansas City Royals and Alex Rios #15 of the Kansas City Royals celebrate with Kendrys Morales #25 of the Kansas City Royals after scoring runs in the fifth inning against the New York Mets in Game Two of the 2015 World Series at Kauffman Stadium on October 28, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

This would lead to the ALCS, the match-up that almost everyone wanted, Royals vs. Blue Jays. These two teams had some issues this past August and despite the fact that no one expected any extra fireworks this series(I mean, it is the postseason; no one wants to lose time in October over something stupid), some of the bad feelings were still lingering. Game 1 went to Kansas City, thanks to another solid postseason start from Edinson Volquez and some timely hitting. Game 2 was the perfect definition of #RoyalsDevil Magic, as Kansas City looked lost for 6 innings against David Price, to the point Price had retired 18 straight batters before heading to the 7th inning. Then it happened; Zobrist hit a fly ball to right field that fell in between Ryan Goins and Jose Bautista in what looked like a miscommunication. What followed was the Royals doing what they do, or what they call ‘keep the line moving’. By the end of the inning the Royals had taken the lead and put a seed of doubt into the Blue Jays’ minds on their ability to stop this Kansas City team. Game 3 went to Toronto, as the two teams ventured north of the border, which was  followed by a Royals offensive slaughter of the Blue Jays in Game 4. The Royals could have clinched the series with a win in Toronto for Game 5, but Marco Estrada shut down Kansas City, which meant the series would return to Kauffman Stadium, with the Royals only needing one win to head to the World Series.

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I think when we really dissect this postseason for the Royals, what we will find is a number of games that will go down in Kansas City history as some of the most memorable games in team history. Obviously Game 4 of the ALDS ranks high on the list, but the argument can also be made for a couple of the World Series games and for Game 2 of the ALCS. But without a doubt, Game 6 of the ALCS will be on that list, as it turned into another classic nail-biter that left Royals fans on the edge of their seats. The Royals would take the lead early on thanks to a Ben Zobrist and Mike Moustakas hitting solo home runs, and would hold the lead until the Top of the 8th. Jose Bautista would club his second home run of the game, a 2 run shot, that would tie the game at 3 and had sucked a lot of air out of the ballpark. There would be a slight rain delay before starting the bottom of the inning(could it have been building to the drama that was to happen?) but it didn’t slow down the Royals. Lorenzo Cain led off the inning with a walk, then Eric Hosmer would stride to the plate, yet another clutch situation for him in a postseason filled with clutch hits for the Gold Glove first baseman. Hosmer would line a single down the right field line, which meant no matter what Cain was getting to third. But the Royals scouts had noticed earlier in the series that Bautista would always throw the ball into second base with runners on first, while third base coach Mike Jirschele had also noticed it was normally done in a lackadaisical manner. The Blue Jays were not prepared for Cain to be racing home on the play, as Troy Tulowitzki was caught a bit off-guard when after receiving the ball from Bautista, he turned around to notice Cain was headed home. Cain was in safely, giving the Royals the lead and giving Kansas City another memorable moment this postseason.

Cain’s play was even more impressive when you realize he was tracked at nearly 21 mph by Statcast on his trip around the bases. The almost unstoppable Wade Davis would come in to pitch the top of the 9th, and despite the allowing the tying and go-ahead runs to get on base to start the inning, Davis would shut down the Blue Jays, getting probabley future AL MVP Josh Donaldson to ground out to end the game and give Kansas City back to back World Series appearances for the first time in team history.

The Royals were now only four wins away from a World Championship, their first in 30 years.

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So the stage was set for the Royals returning to the World Series, this time to face the New York Mets. It was interesting to notice the narrative thrown out by the media during this series, as it focused on New York, making their first World Series appearance since 2000, trying to bring the trophy back to the ‘Empire State’. Should it have been the narrative? Probably not, as it should have been the Royals trying to do what they couldn’t do last year and win their first Championship since 1985. But because New York is considered the center of the sports world(or even just the center of most things in this country, whether you are talking about entertainment or sports), the focus was bound to be on the Mets. I wasn’t overly bothered by it, because once again it made the Royals the underdog, a role that this team cherishes. This series would get off to a hot start, as I think it safe to say Game 1 will go down as a World Series classic. There are so many little tidbits from this game that I loved, and maybe it was because it was my first ever World Series game to be in attendance for, but here is just a snippet of what all happened in this game:

  • The game started out with the news leaking on Twitter about Edinson Volquez’s father had passed away earlier in the day, unbeknownst to Eddie. The crowd, in support, chanted “Eddie” numerous times throughout the contest.
  • Alcides Escobar would hit the first inside the park home run in World Series history since George “Mule” Haas of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1929. Escobar’s hit was on the first pitch of the bottom of the 1st inning.
  • The Mets would take a 4-3 lead in the Top of the 8th thanks to an Eric Hosmer error, allowing Juan Lagares to score from second. It was an odd sight, since the Royals had been almost spotless defensively during the playoffs this year before that, and since Hosmer is normally so sure-handed.
  • The Royals would tie the game back up in the bottom of the 9th with an Alex Gordon homer off of Jeurys Familia, the Mets closer. This was a monster of a shot that Statcast had at 438 ft, off of a 97 mph sinker:
  • Chris Young, who was scheduled to start in Game 4 of the series, would come in and throw 3 shutout innings, stifling the Mets. This might have been the biggest pitching outing of the series, outside of Johnny Cueto’s Game 2 start.
  • The game was won in the bottom of the 14th by Kansas City. I was live tweeting the game for work, and might have foreshadowed the win as I sent this out in the middle of the 14th:

Bottom of the 14th would start with Escobar reaching on an error by David Wright(which I had wanted to tweet out ‘costly error?’ but since I was on the work account I figured I shouldn’t), followed by a Zobrist single and a Cain intentional walk. This led to the bases loaded with no outs and Hosmer at the plate, hoping to redeem himself for his error back in the 8th. Hosmer would lift a fairly deep fly ball to right field, scoring Escobar and giving the Royals a Game 1 victory. This game was the third World Series game to go 14 innings and undoubtedly will go down as a classic. In a lot of ways, this game set the tone for the rest of the series.

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Game 2 would see Johnny Cueto put up the best game score for a Royals pitcher in a playoff game in history, as the Royals would go up 2-0 in the series with a 7-1 victory. The two teams would travel to New York for three games, and the Mets would take Game 3, 9-3 as Royals starter Yordano Ventura saw a loss in velocity and the Royals never seemed to find their footing in this game. Game 4 would be another close one that the Royals took, 5-3 and gave Kansas City a 3-1 lead in the series, needing only one more win to be world champions. This would lead to yet another classic Royals comeback in Game 5.

Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer celebrates with his teammates after scoring during the ninth inning of Game 5 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the New York Mets Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

For 8 innings in Game 5, it looked as if the Royals number might be up, as Matt Harvey was dominating Kansas City, looking as sharp as I have seen him all season(in what starts I have seen him in). Harvey would come out for the Top of 9th, which seemed fine since he had been handcuffing the Royals all night long. He would allow a leadoff walk to Cain, who would then steal second base. Eric Hosmer, who to this point had been hitting about .111 in the series, came up big again with a double off the left field wall, scoring Cain and cutting the Mets lead to 2-1. Familia would come in for New York and he would get Moustakas to ground out, moving Hosmer to third. So with one out and the Royals down by one, Salvador Perez would hit a slow chopper to David Wright at third. Wright would glance back at Hosmer, who was just a little bit of the way down the line at third, then toss to first. Hosmer, in what would be equal parts genius and stupid, took off for home once Wright slinged it over, causing Lucas Duda to hurry a throw home. The throw would be wide of catcher Travis D’arnaud, as Hosmer slid into home safely.

Now, I know the broadcasters said it was good baserunning by Hosmer, but like I said, it was just as much a lucky play. Probably nine times out of ten, that throw is accurate and Hosmer would have been out by a mile. Royals scouts had told the team to run on Duda and D’arnaud as much as possible, and it seemed Kansas City picked an opportune time to take advantage of that knowledge. But as most everything this postseason, the play went the Royals way and the game was now knotted up at two. It would stay this way until the 12th inning, as Jarrod Dyson was on third and Christian Colon, former #1 Draft Pick for the Royals, making his lone postseason at bat and he would deliver big:

The Royals would tack on four more runs and then would hand the ball over to the best relief pitcher in baseball the last two years, Wade Davis:

For the first time since 1985, the Kansas City Royals are World Champions! For everything that the city of Kansas City, the organization and even us fans have endured, this was the sweetest victory that one could imagine. Demons were purged, losses have faded and now here they stand, the best team in baseball in 2015.

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When the 2015 season started, 30 teams all wanted one thing, to call themselves the World Champions. Only one team gets that distinction, and this year it is the Kansas City Royals. For years this team has heard about the ghosts of Royals past: George Brett, Willie Wilson, Dane Iorg, Jim Sundberg, Bret Saberhagen, Darryl Motley and so many more. Those ghosts will no longer haunt this team, as they have accomplished their only goal this season: win the World Series. It has been a crazy ride all season long, one that could make this team the greatest Royals team of all-time(they have competition with those late 70’s teams that faced the Yankees in the playoffs) and will hopefully not leave ghosts of their own for future generations. What this team did was the equivalent of slaying the dragon, or blowing up the Death Star. What this team did was put the focus back on an organization that for years was one to duplicate throughout the 70’s and 80’s. Celebrate this victory, Kansas City. Your Royals are the World Champions!

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.

 

 

 

It’s Not Easy Being On the Royals Playoff Roster

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It’s that time of year, where the leaves turn colors, the hoodies are dragged out of the closet and, if you are lucky, your favorite baseball team can start thinking about the playoffs. This also means that as a fan you can start piecing together how you think your team’s playoff roster will look. As a Kansas City Royals fan, we never knew this was a ‘thing’, since up until last year we never had to worry about the Royals playing October baseball. But with Kansas City’s magic number currently sitting at ‘3’, it is pretty safe to say they will be playing past October 4th and hopefully deeper into the postseason. With that said, I was asked over the weekend what I thought the Royals playoff roster would look like. So here is my guess, although to be honest it looked a bit different than on Friday.

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Catchers(2): Salvador Perez, Drew Butera

Infielders(5): Eric Hosmer, Ben Zobrist, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Christian Colon

Obviously, this was fairly easy, since you have the four starting infielders and a backup. Originally I felt like Omar Infante would get picked over Colon, despite the fact that Colon is more versatile whereas Infante is solely a second baseman. Then Omar came up with an oblique injury on Friday, which could sideline him for close to a month if not longer. As most also know, Zobrist can also play the outfield so he could almost be counted as an infielder and an outfielder if necessary.

Outfielders(5): Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Rios, Jarrod Dyson, Jonny Gomes

There was some debate just a week ago that Rios could be on the outside looking in for a roster spot due to his poor performance most of this year. Then he went out last week, continuing his hot hitting since his return from the chickenpox(which is not a minor league team in the Frontier League) and pretty much sewed up a spot for the playoffs. In my mind this pushed Paulo Orlando off the team, as I think the Royals will want Jonny Gomes’ bat for pinch hitting late in the game or against a tough lefthander. I had an argument with someone over Gomes being on the team, as I am of the belief that he was acquired for the sole purpose of being used in the playoffs while this other person who will not be named believes he won’t because the Royals aren’t using him much. I guess we will see, but in the playoffs I can’t see the reasoning behind six outfielders, or having Orlando on the team for solely defensive purposes. But, there might be a spot for him otherwise, which I will get to later.

DH(1): Kendrys Morales

Starting Pitchers(4): Johnny Cueto, Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Kris Medlen

This seems pretty self-explanatory, especially once Danny Duffy was sent to the bullpen. I still laugh when thinking about some of the Royals fans believing that Cueto might not be on this roster if he continued to under-perform. The wild card in this group is Yordano Ventura; if he pitches like he has over the last 4-6 weeks then he will be a solid number two. If he reverts back to his form from earlier this year there could be an issue. I also think Medlen could be a major player, which seems a bit inconceivable considering where he was at when the season started(starting the climb back from Tommy John Surgery). This isn’t the most solid group but if they can go 5-6 innings every game in the playoffs, hopefully the bullpen can do the rest.

Relievers(8): Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson, Franklin Morales, Danny Duffy, Luke Hochevar, Chris Young, Greg Holland

Speaking of, the bullpen is still a strong suit for this Kansas City team but not quite the monster it was last year. Greg Holland has fallen from grace and it was announced earlier today that Wade Davis is the closer going forward while Holland’s role on the team is to be determined. It also came to light that Holland has been dealing with an elbow issue since the All-Star break and isn’t reliable enough to close games for Kansas City. I’m not shocked to learn Holland was hurt, as I have suspected it most of this year, but this puts a giant question mark into the playoff roster. Can Holland be relied on to perform in any close game, even if that means coming in as early as the 6th inning? Or is he past the point of being trusted in such a situation and be completely left off the roster? I really don’t have an answer to this, but I also know manager Ned Yost is a loyal person and might keep Holland around for that reason only. The other options would be to leave him off while adding Paulo Orlando to the team, trusting that a 7-man bullpen is good enough in the ALDS, or you add young pitcher Miguel Almonte to the pen. Almonte has been a mixed bag so far in September and probably isn’t ready for the big stage, but he does have electric stuff and if used in the proper situation could be a viable option. IF Holland is left off the roster, Orlando very well could be the one given the nod.

July 03, 2015: Kansas City Royals Manager Ned Yost relieves Kansas City Royals' starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie (11) in the seventh inning during a Major League Baseball  game between the Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. The Royals won in ten innings, 3-2.

The other roster question for the bullpen is whether to go with Chris Young or Jeremy Guthrie as the long reliever. I know there some Royals fan snickering right now for even mentioning Guthrie, but hear me out. Over the weekend I felt like it could be Guthrie, since he was given the starting nod once Duffy was shuffled to the pen and because Chris Young hasn’t been used much over the last couple months. In fact, in August Young didn’t throw more than an inning in any outing, and only appeared in five games during the entire month. Young does have a 2 and a 3 inning outing so far in September, but I would imagine his arm isn’t stretched out like it normally would be. Plus, I couldn’t imagine Young, an extreme fly ball pitcher, to see any action in Toronto, New York, or even Arlington or Houston’s ballparks. Those ballparks are pretty much all hitter’s parks, or in other words a nightmare for a guy who gives up lots of fly balls. So the only action Young would see would probably be at Kauffman Stadium and that cuts down how often you could use him. But then Guthrie looked atrocious on Tuesday night against Seattle and pretty much assured that he would be left off of any and all playoff rosters. Great guy, but Guthrie has had an awful season that isn’t getting better. So Young gets the nod over Guthrie, but hopefully there won’t be much of a need for him come October.

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So there you go, my guess as to what the Royals first round playoff roster will look like. Like I said, there could be a few slight changes to this and with a week and a half left in the season there is the possibility someone else could get hurt or there could be a need for a bit more depth in an area I hadn’t thought of. At the end of the day it is great to even be able to have this conversation, no matter how much bickering goes on about which player stays or goes. With September being a rough month, I think I speak for lots of Royals fans by saying “let’s just start the playoffs already”. Trust me, it will be here soon enough, as we get to engulf ourselves in another ‘Blue October’.

Alex Rios Has Awoken!

Kansas City Royals’ Alex Rios hits a double off Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Gavin Floyd during the seventh inning of a baseball game, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

2015 has not been the season that either the Kansas City Royals or Alex Rios were counting on when Rios signed a 1 year, $11 mill dollar contract on December 19th of last year. The Royals might not have expected 2012 Alex Rios(where he hit .304./.334/.516 with 25 home runs, 91 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 126) but was hoping for a bit more production than the Texas Rangers got from Rios in 2014(4 homers and 54 RBI’s with a 97 OPS+). Instead, Rios was hit by a pitch the first week of the season and hadn’t rebounded from it since. That is until Rios came down with a case of the chickenpox(yes, that is still a thing) and has been lighting the ball up since his return on September 8th. In fact, Rios has probably gone from a man just on the outside looking in for a spot on the ALDS roster to the very probable starting right fielder when that game gets underway on October 8th.

Apr 6, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals right fielder Alex Rios (15) connects for a two run home run in the seventh inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
(Denny Medley-USA TODAY)

As late as one week ago it appeared that Rios wasn’t going to be on the Royals Division Series roster, as he had been struggling all year and the team had the likes of Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson, both better defensively than Rios, and Jonny Gomes, a solid bat off the bench that kills lefties. Royals manager Ned Yost was continuing to play Rios every day, for a couple of reasons. For one, he had just gotten back from his bout with the ‘pox’ a week earlier and deserved at least a chance to get back into a rhythm. The second reason is in that same vein, as the team was hoping Rios would hit a hot streak and take off, earning himself a spot on the roster, as the Royals would love to go with the hot hand(funny choice of words there) headed into October. There is also that bit about the Royals paying him a decent amount of money; we can act like that isn’t a reason but I would be shocked if it wasn’t. Now, to say Rios has been hot in the last two weeks might just be an understatement.

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Since Rios’ return on September 8th, he has a line of .366/.386/.610 for an OPS of 996 and a BAbip of .394. The part of this that illicited a ‘Wow’ out of me was his slugging, a robust .610 in that span. Over the last few years, Rios lack of power has been a major concern since throughout his career he has shown he can accumulate a decent amount of extra base hits which is what the Royals were hoping for when he was signed. Problem is that Rios has dealt with hand and wrist issues over the last few years which seem to have sapped his power. Rios dealt with an ankle and thumb injury last year with the Rangers, then seemed to be battling a re-occurrence of that thumb inury in Spring Training earlier this year. Then there was the fractured hand he received thanks to a wild rookie on the Minnesota Twins that halted his good start to the season during the second week of April. Hands and wrists are very important to batters, as that is where a lot of the power a hitter shows comes from. Rios can probably blame the regression of his career on these injuries, as they seemed to have sapped most of his power he showed even as recent as 2012.

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But you wouldn’t know that his power numbers have dipped these last couple seasons if you have watched him in September. Like I said, his slugging this month is .610, as he has 4 doubles, 2 homers and 5 RBI’s. Throw in a couple walks, a stolen base and 8 runs and you are looking at a man who might have realized his chance of getting to the playoffs might be slipping through his own fingers. What is really great about these numbers is how far they have jumped in just a few short weeks. Rios’ slugging percentage is up 30 points while his OPS is up over 40 points. Even his on-base percentage is up 10 points while he has doubled his home run total,  all this in just a few weeks. Breaking it down even farther, just within the last week Rios is hitting .375/.400/.583 with 3 of those extra base hits during that span. I have to believe that Rios has leapfrogged Orlando for a spot on the Royals playoff roster, a spot that would break a streak you don’t want to be a part of in baseball.

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If Rios makes the Royals Division Series roster, he will have broken a streak that no player wants to be a part of; he has played the most games of anyone active in baseball right now without playing in a playoff game. Rios’ streak of 1679 games over 12 seasons is the most in baseball at the moment, with the next man also looking to break his streak this season, 1392 games by Jose Bautista of Toronto. If Rios plays in just one playoff game he will fall off this list, as the next two players look to disappear off this list as well(Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion). Chase Headley follows them 1109 games, but that could fall as well with the Yankees possibly making the Wild Card game. If that happens, Adam Lind of Milwaukee would become the active player without a playoff appearance with over 1100 games by that point. As much as there are some great names on this all-time list(Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and George Sisler just to name a few), as a player you want no part of this. That is yet another incentive for Rios to keep up his hot hitting.

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There is no guarantee that Rios will 100% be on the playoff roster, but with only two weeks remaining in the season it looks like a good bet that he will be and start in right field for game 1 of the ALDS. The Royals really haven’t gotten what they expected from Rios this season(and I wouldn’t expect him back in 2016) but he has gotten hot at the right time. There are a lot of choices for the motivation, whether it be being left off the roster, wanting to break his streak of avoiding October baseball or even the threat of shingles, but what can be said is the Royals need Rios to hit like he has lately to help them next month. Many players have come out of nowhere to become October darlings, guys like Mark Lemke. I wouldn’t have any problem with Rios’ name being added to that list, even if it means negating what the previous five months have shown us about his production. At this point, it appears Alex Rios is awake and making pitchers pay for it. Let’s hope this Rios sticks around for another month.

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