October Dilemma

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The month of October is always a favorite for baseball fans. October is when baseball gets the main stage, showing the rest of the sports world why it is still ‘America’s Pastime’. There is nothing quite like the MLB playoffs and every year that point is driven home with a month of skill, finesse and drama.

But one pervasive question keeps popping up the last few October’s and it is a question that for our sake I hope Major League Baseball is paying attention to. The question that just doesn’t seem to go away (and the one I get asked the most) is ‘why is it a chore to find the playoffs?’

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The easy answer is that Major League Baseball spread their deal around for the postseason to make them the most money. To be honest, for the most part I don’t fault them. At the end of the day, MLB is a business and the primary goal is to make money. MLB did just that back in 2012, as they worked out a deal that would reach over a number of major networks, including ESPN, TBS and FOX. They also made sure that their own channel, MLB Network, would get a few of the games as well.

This is where a number of the complaints start filtering in. Many people do not have access to MLB Network on their cable/satellite packages and therefore miss out on games every October. Besides the whole money aspect of the playoffs, the other main goal for MLB is to have as many eyes as possible on their product. The more people who can watch your games, the more who will spend money at your games, buy the merchandise and eventually bump up the prices of any television deal moving forward.

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Credit: Associated Press

While many don’t have MLB Network, you can say the same for those that don’t get FS1 and even to a smaller degree, TBS. While I understand the plight of those who might not have one or more of these channels, the truth is that if you are a big enough baseball fan you will find a way to watch these games.

For instance, I needed to cut down my satellite bill last year but dreaded the idea of losing MLB Network. Luckily, I was able to work out a deal with the satellite company that knocked my bill noticeably down while keeping the network on my package. Most cable and satellite companies are losing customers at an alarming rate and are willing to work out a deal with their customers if it means they stick around. If you are in this situation, I highly recommend going that route.

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Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

But what if you are someone who has cut the cord? The truth is that more and more people are moving in this direction and it is actually easy to see a world where cable and satellite companies no longer exist, at least in their current incarnation. MLB has worked on improving their streaming outlets these last few seasons and while it’s noticeably better, there is still some room for improvement.

There are a few streaming possibilities out there, most of them listed right here. A number of these outlets have restrictions, but most also have a free trial for five to seven days. In other words, you could spend a week watching the games on something like YouTube TV or Playstation Vue and decide at that point if you want to pay to watch the rest or pass. It’s not a perfect situation, but it is improving for those that are strictly streaming and should continue to get better as time goes on.

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Unfortunately, MLB.TV really should be the better way to go here but it is lacking. They have it setup to where you can watch the entire playoffs for the cost of $24.99, but there a couple of catches. For one, they want you to already have a participating pay TV account. This would mean that whatever you are already paying, you would have to tack on another $25 to watch the playoffs online. That is a rough pill to swallow if you are a big baseball fan but need to watch the playoffs.

The other issue is blackouts. For those that have contemplated getting MLB.TV in the past, the blackouts have long been a thorn in the side of anyone wanting to sign up. Go ask any Royals fan that lives in Iowa about the blackouts despite living sometimes well over 200 miles away. This is obviously a major issue that baseball needs to fix and it surprises me they haven’t considering how much more money they would make simply by lifting the blackout ban.

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Credit: Harry How/Getty Images

So what can Major League Baseball do to make the playoffs more accessible? One solution might be to do a free preview of the channels that air the playoff games for a one or two-week period. The real issue at hand is the divisional series, since there a few occasions where all four games could air on the same day. Give people the preview for a week and it might just be enough to entice them to up their package for a month.

Another solution might be to air the same game on multiple channels. We saw this just last week, as the National League Wild Card Game had the original broadcast on ESPN and an “alternate broadcast” that gave the viewer Statcast information on ESPN2. This could be done for some of the other games, on stations that would be more accessible. This way, your game has a farther reach for a larger chunk of the fanbase.

There is obviously demand in the playoffs and not just by”Seamheads”. From last Friday, baseball held five of the top six spots in the cable ratings, with the Yankees/Red Sox contest on TBS being the most watched. It is very apparent that baseball still brings in dollars and when there is demand, as a business you should try everything possible to meet that.

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The truth is that while MLB is in a bit of a ‘Golden Age’ right now, they don’t have quite the same pull as the NFL does. The NFL is able to get their playoff games on the major networks, like FOX, CBS and NBC. MLB’s deal runs out after the 2021 season and will hopefully be in a position of leverage at that time to do the same.

The playoffs are a magical time of year and in many ways illuminates what is great about this game. It’s unfortunate that some of these smaller issues make it harder to take in all the action. While television ratings and advertising dollars are a large part of baseball’s bigger picture, there honestly should be more thought put into making sure the playoffs are an easy, joyful experience for its fans. Instead, for some it is a constant search just to find when and where they can watch a baseball game.

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Back in Blue: Mike Moustakas Inks New Deal

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Credit: Getty Images

It happened quickly and out of nowhere on Thursday night, catching most of us off guard. By the time the evening was done, Mike Moustakas was once again a Kansas City Royal, inking a one-year deal worth $6.5 million, a possible $2.2 million in incentives and a mutual option for 2019 worth $15 million which includes a $1 million buyout:

The deal is noticeably smaller than if he had accepted the qualifying offer earlier this winter of $17.4 million and was a big step down from what Moustakas and his agent Scott Boras were looking for out on the market. So what does this mean for all parties moving forward? Let’s start with the effects on Moose himself.

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Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

For Moustakas, this will be a chance for him to re-set his market and give teams a better look at what they can get if they sign him. The most important aspect for him will be the removal of the pesky compensation pick that will not be attached to him come November:

A number of teams (most notably San Francisco) passed on Moustakas this winter because of the compensation draft pick attached to signing him and without it he should be able to find a better deal than the one he finally accepted from Kansas City. It also should help him to have another season under his belt, especially one where he stays healthy. There has been some concern about him being injury prone (he missed a large chunk of 2016 and dealt with leg injuries throughout the latter half of the 2017 season) and a season where he stays healthy should go a long way toward calming some of those concerns.

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Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

What should also help him is a much different third base market than what he dealt with this last year. It felt early in the winter that most teams were pretty content with who they had to play the hot corner and the teams that didn’t went out and upgraded in what they probably would have considered a cheaper manner, whether by trade (Giants acquiring Evan Longoria) or free agent signing (Angels signing Zack Cozart to a three-year, $38 million deal). While both Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado will be out on the market this year, that doesn’t always mean a crowded field for third baseman. Both can only sign with one team and Machado has discussed wanting to play shortstop, which could be something he asks for before signing with a team. If Moustakas has a good season in 2018, I can see a team like Atlanta wanting to bring him in. They balked at it this offseason, but the Braves might feel like they are closer to contending before 2019 and adding Moose’s veteran bat to a younger lineup could be an enticing idea for a team who feels like they close (see Hosmer, Eric in San Diego). While the options dried up this winter, it could be a completely different ball game when this season wraps up.

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees
Credit: Sports Illustrated

This should also be a win-win situation for the Royals. They get to bring back a fan favorite, which should appease some of the fans disappointed with the losses of Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain.  They also aren’t locked in to anything long-term, as the deal is for two years at the most. It’s also not taking up much space on the payroll, as the most he will be able to make this year is $8.7 million (if he reaches all his incentives). I’m most curious to see how he performs this year, as I tend to believe he will play with a chip on his shoulder. There had been some grumblings at one point that Moose was angry and frustrated with how few offers he was seeing on the free agent market this winter and with him taking a sized down deal to stay in Kansas City (and more than likely just to play baseball before the regular season starts) you could see where he would be motivated to go out and prove all the naysayers wrong. If that happens, the Royals will be benefiting from his experience as a free agent.

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Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

It also feels like the Royals weren’t confident in some of the younger players they were looking at to play this season. With the signings of Alcides Escobar, Lucas Duda, and Jon Jay, they got a bit older while pushing guys like Adalberto Mondesi, Hunter Dozier and Bubba Starling to the side. The Moose signing tells me they also aren’t confident in Cheslor Cuthbert, who was the odds on favorite to start the year at third base before the Moustakas move was made. It appears that Dayton Moore likes the idea of guys coming up in the middle of the season rather than beginning the year with the big league club, so it might not be as dire for the younger talent as it appears on the surface.

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There is always the chance too that Moustakas could be dealt at the trade deadline to help out a contending team. While this would be upsetting to some, strategy-wise it would be a smart move for a front office that is trying to build back up the farm system and is hoping to get younger over the next couple of seasons. If the Royals would be able to trade Moose for some talent to help out in the future it would show that while some dislike this move from a rebuild standpoint, it would signify part of a deeper game that Moore is playing to place the team in a better spot in the next three to five years.

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Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Most Royals fans have known over the last couple of seasons that a large part of the core group of Royals would be entering free agency together, and all throughout that time I have stressed that in my opinion, Mike Moustakas was the player to keep. I even went on the record this winter as saying that Kansas City should focus on Moustakas, not Hosmer. In other words, I am on board with this reunion and feel like it is a great match for the upcoming 2018 season. I don’t expect Moose to stay past this year and while that might be disheartening to some, this might be a better way to give him a proper send off. While Eric Hosmer was the face of those championship Royals teams, Moustakas always felt like the heart. The Royals might have never gotten to the 2015 World Series if it wasn’t for Moose telling the clubhouse ‘Hey, listen, we’re not done yet! It’s not over yet! Let’s do something!’’’ as the team was down four runs going into the Top of the 8th inning in-game 4 of the ALDS against Houston. Mike Moustakas wears his heart on his sleeve when he is out on the baseball field and that can only be a plus as this Kansas City team wanders into a transition period for the franchise. Most of us had given up hope that Moose was headed back; now, we get one more season to appreciate what he means to this franchise. Let the ‘MOOOOOOOOSE’ chants reign down, Kansas City!

 

Fall Surprises: 2016 Playoff Notes

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Here we are again, on the verge of another World Series. As much as I love Spring and the beginning of the baseball season, October is still the best time to be a fan of the sport. Like most ‘seamheads’, I have been spending the last few weeks enjoying postseason baseball and all the intrigue and drama that surrounds it. Since I’ve been fairly silent this month (mostly due to other responsibilities), I thought I would pass along some of my thoughts from the playoffs so far, as we get ready for one long-standing streak to fall once the Fall Classic is over, as either the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Indians eviscerate a drought that has been going on before even some of our parents were born. So what’s been on my mind this October? All of what is to follow and more…

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays

  • Weeks later and I still have a hard time figuring out how Buck Showalter went the entire American League Wild Card game without bringing in stud closer Zach Britton. Look, I get that most managers like to wait (especially on the road) till the very end of the game to bring in their closer, but when the playoffs are involved, you don’t chance it the way Buck did. There has been a movement for managers to use their closers in a different manner than most are accustomed to; not waiting for a save situation and using your best pitcher in the most high leverage situation possible. Showalter, who I consider to be one of the best managers in the game and one who isn’t shackled to conventional thinking, seemed to fall back into a frame of mind that is actually fairly normal in today’s game and it might have cost his team the chance to advance to the ALDS. The hope is that Showalter’s mistake (and yes, it was a mistake) might shine a light on reliever usage and force managers to use their closers in better situations than just the 9th inning.

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  • On the other end of that spectrum is Terry Francona’s use of Andrew Miller this postseason. Miller, the ALCS MVP, has been used as early as the 5th inning during the playoffs, many times for multiple innings. It might be considered unorthodox by some, but it has done nothing but garner success for Francona and the Indians. One has to wonder if teams will be on the lookout for relievers like Miller, someone with electrifying stuff and the ability to be used for more than just one inning at a time. While the argument could be made that you can’t use your bullpen during the regular season the way most teams do in October (and there is at least some truth to that), it doesn’t mean that you won’t see more managers trash the old, antiquated system and start using some relievers the way Miller is used. While Showalter was the example of what not to do with your closer, Francona is the example that managers around the game should be trying to copy when 2017 rolls around.

USP MLB: ALDS-TORONTO BLUE JAYS AT TEXAS RANGERS S BBA USA TX

  • The Texas Rangers collapse in pitching took me by surprise this month. I figured with the front two of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish and a bullpen that had been racking up a 35 inning plus scoreless streak, this team could be a dangerous one in the playoffs. Instead, Rangers pitching gave up 22 runs in three games and the team from Arlington limped out of the playoffs. While some of the credit should go to Toronto’s offense, the Rangers pitching should get more of the credit for the Blue Jay’s sweep than anything else. One would have to think that Texas will spend the offseason fortifying the rotation and making sure it is stronger headed into the next season.

APTOPIX ALCS Indians Blue Jays Baseball

  • Speaking of the Blue Jays, their exit from the playoffs couldn’t have come in a more appropriate manner. For a baseball fan outside Toronto, this is a hard team to like. While they are not short on talent, over the last few years we have seen the Blue Jays main hitters continuously whine and complain about one thing or another. Front and center has been Jose Bautista, a man who will never be confused with a golden gloves boxer. Bautista claimed that Toronto were victims of “circumstances” in this series and that was why their offense had gone south. Edwin Encarnacion also had to be escorted away from the home plate umpire one game, with Toronto just hopeful he wouldn’t be ejected. While there were a few pitches called strikes against the Blue Jays that might have been balls, that is a fairly common aspect of today’s game and not really something worth blaming their four games to one loss in the ALCS. In fact, Cleveland only scored 12 runs in the five games, with Toronto posting 8 runs. All the way around, it was a low scoring series. The real “circumstances” that Bautista talked about was Cleveland’s pitching  and their dominance against Toronto’s bats. Kluber, Merritt, and Tomlin all silenced the Blue Jays and when you tack on their lockdown bullpen, it was easy to see why Cleveland is headed to the World Series. A big part of Toronto’s issues lie in their leadership and their tendency to make excuses rather than owning up to their own struggles. The Blue Jays temperament just isn’t one of a championship team, and it showed in the ALCS.

MLB: NLDS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Washington Nationals

  • Has there been a more disappointing team in the postseason the last few years than the Washington Nationals? The sky seemed the limit a few years back with their blend of youngsters and veterans and two of the most intriguing players in the game (Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg). Instead, since 2012 the Nationals have lost in the NLDS three times. What very well could have been a dynasty has left this organization with more questions than answers. If you are Washington’s braintrust, what should you think? If you saw a team with Harper, Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner and Tanner Roark, you would have to think at the least they would have made the NLCS at least once. Instead, this team now has to regroup and wonder what the missing piece is. Last year, the belief was getting rid of Matt Williams and hiring Dusty Baker would fill that needed puzzle piece. Is it the manager? Does the team need another bat? Another stud starter? Or do they need a clubhouse veteran to be this team’s glue? It will be an interesting offseason in Washington and one that might define this team’s immediate and long-term future.

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  • There is no better story in the playoffs this year than the Chicago Cubs. You’ve all heard the numbers on the years of futility; their last world championship was 1908, last trip to the World Series was in 1945. Last month I mentioned I was rooting for the Cubs but even if I didn’t have the emotional connection from my youth, I would probably still want to see the Cubbies rack up their first world title of the century. It’s not just the years of bad luck and bad teams, not just the old lovable stadium or long history of the franchise in general. It is a change in the culture in Chicago, brought forth by both Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon. Maddon might be one of the great motivating managers of the last 30 years, if for no reason than how loose he keeps that clubhouse. Add in the mix of exciting youngsters and grizzled veterans and you have a recipe for not only a championship but also possibly a dynasty. I found it ironic that Chicago bounced the Dodgers from the playoffs, since the Cubs should probably thank Los Angeles for putting them in this position in the first place. If not for LA prying Andrew Friedman from the Rays, the Cubs would not have been able to get Maddon to manage this team. Maddon had a clause in his contract that allowed him to “look elsewhere for employment” if Friedman left the organization, which he took advantage of when Andrew left Tampa for Los Angeles. The Cubs swooped in, procured the services of Maddon and as they say, “the rest is history”. There are many a reason to root for Cleveland as well (The Revenge of Willie Mays Hayes?), but more than anything, this Cubs team just feels like a team of destiny. I know there will be Chicago fans who will be waiting for the other shoe to drop but…but what if there is no other shoe?

MLB: SEP 19 Pirates at Dodgers

  • Finally, one has to feel for Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw, easily the best pitcher in baseball, was the victim of Chicago’s clinching win on Saturday night in Game 6 of the NLCS and because of it the narrative will be pushed again that Kershaw is not a “big game” pitcher. The funny thing is while Kershaw has had a couple of clunkers over the years (I’m looking at you, Game 1 of the 2014 NLDS), he hasn’t been nearly as bad as some would have you believe. In his 14 playoff starts, Kershaw has 8 quality starts while he has five starts of giving up 5 runs or more. Just looking at the last two years, Kershaw has thrown 38 playoff innings, compiling a 3.79 ERA while striking out 48 and allowing a .218 batting average over that span. Sure, he isn’t Madison Bumgarner or Curt Schilling in the postseason, but he isn’t worthless in the playoffs either. Even with that being said, this year in particular should not be a determining factor on how Kershaw performs in October. He would return from a back injury that kept him out for over two months on September 9th and would allow 4 earned runs the rest of the year. So obviously Kershaw was putting up Kershaw numbers, but was he 100% healthy? I didn’t feel like he was at all this October and apparently I wasn’t alone:

That comment was from Saturday after the Dodgers loss to the Cubs to wrap up the NLCS. This also tells me that even 80-85% of Kershaw is probably better than most pitchers alive today. So the narrative for him will live on in some minds, but it probably shouldn’t. Clayton Kershaw is still the same pitcher in October that he is the other months of the year; he’s just not perfect like some would expect from him.

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So here we are, just a day away from the World Series. It is also our reminder that at the most, we have only seven games left in this 2016 season before baseball takes a few months off (at least on the field). It has once again been a fun October, even without my Royals in the playoffs. In fact, it has been stress-free without my team to cheer on in the playoffs. No matter the outcome of the World Series, one team will slay a beast of a streak, one that sits at 68 years while the other one sits at 108 years. It should be a fun series, as we should see some stellar pitching and some clutch hitting. I always hope for a seven game series, so we get not only the greatest amount of baseball but also some high drama. We should get both and yes, I do believe this series could go all seven. So my prediction? The Cubs in seven. Sure, they won’t be able to clinch at Wrigley Field, but a win is a win. I look forward to the next week of action and what will ensue. No matter what, we the fans are the true winners. Thank you, baseball.

Outdated and Irrelevant

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Baseball, like any other sport, is a constantly evolving game, one that is a reminder of one’s youth while also parading the youth of today. It is also a game that’s history holds more weight than any other sport, a history that seeps into almost every baseball conversation as the players of today look to stamp their name in the annals of history with the likes of baseball immortals. There is always a former player who will comment on the changes in the game, mostly just fondly remembering the game and how it was in their day. But sometimes a legend steps over the proverbial line in the sand, taking aim at not only the game but individual players who they feel don’t hold up to the standards of yesteday. Goose Gossage went on a tirade on Thursday that will forever change how he is viewed by everyone in and out of baseball, and not in a positive way.

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Let’s start with the interview in question. You can check it out here in all of it’s glory. If you aren’t a fan of salty language you might want to bypass on clicking on the link. Gossage’s main beef was with Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista and more accurately his bat flip in Game 5 of the ALDS:

“Bautista is a f—ing disgrace to the game,” Gossage told ESPN. “He’s embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto. [Yoenis] Cespedes, same thing.” 

If you have read this blog before you will know I am not the biggest Bautista fan in the world. Great player, a needed cog in the middle of that Toronto order, but not a great leader for the younger Blue Jays’ players. But to say he is a disgrace to the game is a bit much. All this because of a bat flip? There is an argument to be made that pitchers are allowed to pump a fist here and there and celebrate after getting a big strikeout. The batter’s equivalent is the bat flip, and none were bigger than at that point in the ALDS. I’m sure that Gossage, as a former pitcher, is of the thinking that a batter should never get to celebrate any big play, no matter the circumstance. It’s even worse when you factor in that he is ’embarrassing to all latin players, whoever played before him’. I’m not going to point a finger and say ‘racist’, but it would have been just as easy to say ‘all players who came before him’. Singling out the latin players wasn’t a smart move on Gossage’s part. Luckily, Bautista took the high road on Goose’s comments:

“He’s a great ambassador for the game,” Bautista told ESPN after being informed of Gossage’s comments. “I don’t agree with him. I’m disappointed that he made those comments, but I’m not going to get into it with him. I would never say anything about him, no matter what he said about me. I have too much good stuff to worry about his comments. Today is my first game [of the spring], getting ready for a new season; hopefully, we will whoop some more ass.”

Kudos to Joey Bats for not taking a shot back. Although, it didn’t stop him from getting a bit cheeky:

Bautista 1, Gossage 0. It does appear as if Gossage speaks for a number of old school players who would prefer players not show excitement or to be exuberant whenever they accomplish something big during a game. This is something that needs to change.

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For the longest time baseball has been so tied to tradition that the fun aspect of the sport is sometimes thrown in the corner and not allowed to be a part of the game. This has caused generations of kids to decide to go play other sports, sports that allow more personality from their players and allow them more freedom. Bryce Harper of the Nationals, the reigning NL MVP, has taken baseball to task for just that, claiming baseball is “a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do. I’m not saying baseball is, you know, boring or anything like that, but it’s the excitement of the young guys who are coming into the game now who have flair.” Harper continued: “If a guy pumps his fist at me on the mound, I’m going to go: ‘Yeah, you got me. Good for you. Hopefully I get you next time.’ That’s what makes the game fun.” In a sport where salaries are larger than anywhere else, it is sad to see young fans gravitate to other sports, when sometimes all it would take is a little leniency in some of the rules. This is especially true for the unwritten rules of baseball, which are mostly nonsensical, out of date and interpreted in different manners from different players. Sometimes it is good to remember that this is a kid’s game, played by adults who get to make a healthy living off of it. Harper is right and old school players like Gossage should want more kids to love baseball the way they do, which means allowing looser rules on celebrations and discarding the majority of baseball’s unwritten rules.

MLB: Florida Marlins at San Francisco Giants
(Credit: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE)

Sorry for the detour; back to Gossage. Goose would go on to complain about the sabermetric community and their affect on baseball:

“It is a joke,” Gossage said. “The game is becoming a freaking joke because of the nerds who are running it. I’ll tell you what has happened, these guys played rotisserie baseball at Harvard or wherever the f— they went, and they thought they figured the f—ing game out. They don’t know s—. A bunch of f—ing nerds running the game. You can’t slide into second base. You can’t take out the f—ing catcher because [Buster] Posey was in the wrong position and they are going to change all the rules. You can’t pitch inside anymore. I’d like to knock some of these f—ers on their ass and see how they would do against pitchers in the old days.”

My first instinct when reading this was to laugh. Yes, that is how serious I took these comments. As someone who loves stats, loves advanced metrics and believes they have just as much of a place on the game as a solid hit and run, I find it comical that Gossage feels he needs to blame “nerds” for ruining the game. Maybe it’s just me, but what advanced metrics gives you is a deeper look at the game, especially when it comes to the true value of a player. What is even more laughable about his comment is that if sabermetrics had been around when he was playing, he would probably be a guy the SABR community would applaud. If you look deeper at his words, it sounds more and more like Goose wished baseball was played more like a game called “Beanball”, where if anyone steps out of line or does something that the opposing player doesn’t like, then you must hurt him. I guess Gossage just wishes the game was more violent. Maybe he would be appeased with gladiator fights in the Roman Colosseum. Honestly, it really shows ignorance on his part to act like more players getting injured and unable to play is the better direction for baseball to go. To say Gossage is out of touch would be an understatement.

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The most discerning part of Gossage’s comments are the fact they come across as bitter. Bitter because of change. Bitter because he doesn’t understand how the game has evolved. Bitter that he isn’t at the forefront of anything anymore. I am as big a proponent of “old school” as there is. I think players should know the history of the game and understand how the game was played before them. If a former player wants to give advice to the current crop of youngsters, I feel like they should listen and take note of the life lessons they are being taught. I honestly believe there is a place in the game for former players and they can help enhance the development process of many a young player in the game of baseball. But there is no place in the game for the ignorance spewed by Rich Gossage. The only thing to learn from what Gossage spit out is what not to do. There is a place for Gossage in this game(especially as a Hall of Famer), but not if this behavior is what he brings to the table. Unfortunately, there is a chance this will be what he is remembered for. Or this:

But I will remember him for this:

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Sorry, Goose. The game will evolve, with or without you. It’s up to you to make a choice whether you want to be a positive or negative part of the past, present and future.

 

 

An October To Remember

Oct 23, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Wade Davis (17) and catcher Salvador Perez (left) celebrate after defeating the Toronto Blue Jays in game six of the ALCS at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-245746 ORIG FILE ID: 20151023_jla_sa7_285.jpg
(Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY)

Last year, the Kansas City Royals made the playoffs for the first time since 1985, a 29 year gap that felt much wider and deeper than that. I started following baseball when I was 7 back in 1984, and instantly became a Royals fan. So I do remember 1985, albeit not the way I would have if I had been a bit older. I remember my mother making me hot cocoa before the games and I remember being ‘out to the moon’ excited when they won that year. I even remember coming home from school sometime the next spring and walking in on my parents watching the Kansas City Royals home video ‘The Thrill of it All’, a look back at the Royals championship run in ’85. Yes, the video was for me and still to this day I watch that video at least once a year. I have stuck with this team for over 30 years now and don’t regret a minute of it. Sure, I hated the losing, but I knew if the Royals ever made it back to postseason play that I would be incredibly appreciative of what I was witnessing. Last year I got to be in attendance for Game 3 of the ALDS(a full recap is here) and it is at the top of all the great baseball events I have witnessed in my life. When the postseason was over last year and the Royals had fallen just short of gaining a World Championship, I told myself that if they returned in the near future I was going to make sure I went. Honestly, who knew when the Royals would make it back to October baseball? Sure, it could be soon but we all thought the same thing back in 1985. So when opportunity knocked this year, I answered the door.

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So when the Royals clinched a playoff berth(and eventually the division) I was already running through plans in my head. We found out early on that you could register for the chance to buy ALDS tickets so I signed up, figuring it was a longshot but you’re not in the race unless you sign up. About a week before the playoffs started I got an e-mail saying I was picked and would have 24 hours the next day to order tickets, but I could only buy two. I ordered my two tickets the next day and I knew at that point I was going to at least one playoff game. Funny how these things work though; The Monday before the playoffs started, we got an e-mail at work saying I had media clearance for the ALCS and World Series. Hey, look at that! I work at a radio station that is a Royals affiliate and we had sent in for media passes a few weeks earlier. So my gameplan had switched a bit, since I knew that if Kansas City advanced to the next round(or even to the World Series), I would be able to go. The next day I found out I media clearance for the ALDS, which was going to give my son a chance to go to his first playoff Game. So the plan was set for us to go to Game 2 of ALDS against Houston.

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Game 2 of the ALDS was on a Friday afternoon and my girlfriend, my son and I made the trek to Kauffman Stadium to be a part of what would hopefully be a Royals win. There was one little catch to this whole thing; since I was media, I would be sitting by myself in the media section down the left field line. After batting practice, my girlfriend and son took the tickets we bought and hung out in the upper deck for the game and I ventured out to the media section. What was witnessed was another comeback win for the Royals, something that became a theme for Kansas City during the playoffs. I had a nice vantage point of the game but here is a another minor catch to being media: as media, you are supposed to be unbiased, so there is no cheering, since you are there to do a job. As a fan of the Royals, this can be hard sometimes, as you are by nature used to cheering on your team. The good news is that my girlfriend and son had a great experience during this game and that made me feel really good. I had my memorable playoff experience last year, it only seemed appropriate for them to have theirs at their first playoff game. It was nice to discuss certain parts of the game with them on the drive home and I left hoping I would be back at Kauffman again before the year was done.

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Luckily, I would be back about a week later for Game 2 of the ALCS, another afternoon game at ‘The K’. I made my way to the stadium a bit early and went and found my seat for the game, getting set up as I would be live-tweeting the game for the radio station. As I’m sitting there getting prepared, Rany Jazayerli(who is the Royals blogger of main importance and co-founder of Baseball Prospectus) would walk up. This blog wouldn’t exist without Rany, as when I started looking at Royals blogs I found Rany’s and instantly felt a kinship. We were both longtime Royals fans that felt disenfranchised with the direction the team seemed to be going in. I would go ahead and introduce myself to him and we ended up talking baseball for about 5 minutes. I’m sure he probably doesn’t even remember it by now, but it showed what a nice guy he was. He took time out of his day just to chat with someone about baseball. The game would get underway a little bit later and outside of a chilly breeze that progressively got worse as the game went on, everything was going smoothly. That is, except the Royals had gotten a hit since the 1st inning, as David Price was shoving, retiring 18 Royals in a row. That is until the 7th inning, when the Blue Jays would let a Ben Zobrist ball drop into right field, opening the floodgates and allowing the Royals to go ahead and eventually win the game. I really felt this was the loudest I had ever heard the crowd at Kauffman and the win put the Royals up 2-0 in the series. It was another classic Royals win, and I was on a baseball high on the drive home. This game might have been the point where I started to think this was a team of destiny, as it really felt as if no lead was safe for any team against Kansas City. This was the point where I started to think I would be back for the World Series.

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I would be correct in my estimation, as the Royals would make a return trip to the World Series. There was a slight issue with work, as there for a few days it looked like I might not be able to get off of work due to personnel problems. Luckily, I found out on Monday that I would be able to go, so I made plans to be there for Game 1 of the 2015 World Series. After dealing with traffic, I made it to the stadium and would once again return to my spot out in left field, although this time I was greeted with a wet seat. I planned ahead though, knowing there was a good chance of rain that day so I had tucked a towel away in my bag, using it to wipe off my seat and my work area. I was once again live-tweeting the game, but little did I know that I would be there for a good 5+ hours. The light rain would stop almost at first pitch and we were underway. I made sure before the game started to take everything in, as it hit me I was actually at a World Series game. I think if you told 8 year old Sean that he would be at a Royals World Series game 30 years later, he probably would have laughed and thought you were full of it. But there I was, getting ready to witness a first for me.

Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri, Game 1 of 2015 Major League Baseball World Series, Kansas City Royals VS New York Mets
Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri, Game 1 of 2015 Major League Baseball World Series, Kansas City Royals VS New York Mets

When Alcides Escobar slid to the plate to start the bottom of the inning, I started laughing, because I knew he was going to swing at the first pitch. Not only did he swing at the first pitch, but he would hit a fly ball that would bounce off Yoenis Cespedes’ glove, as the ball bounced away and Escobar would get an inside the park home run! I was well aware at this point that I had yet to see the Royals lose a playoff game when I was in the building, and I was hoping they wouldn’t start now. I feel blessed that my first World Series game was a classic, a game that was back and forth and would change leads several times. In the 8th inning, the Mets would take the lead but I realized that even if the Royals lost, I was watching a pure classic and couldn’t have been happier about it. Then it happened; Alex Gordon would take Jeurys Familia of the Mets deep, a solo home run to tie the game at 4. If there was a time I was going to be unprofessional and cheer in the media section, it would be after this. I won’t lie; I almost cheered. But I kept my cool, pumping my fist at my side without anyone the wiser. I knew at this point I wasn’t getting home until late that night, plus I had work early in the morning. I didn’t care; this game was pure bliss! In the 14th inning(and at this point the game was 5+ hours long and had stretched past midnight) I noticed on Twitter that no World Series game had gone more than 14 innings. In the back of my head I started to think that I could be viewing history(yet again) if this game still was tied up after 14 innings. Luckily, Eric Hosmer would redeem himself in the bottom of the inning from an earlier error, hitting a sacrifice fly to right to score Escobar and give the Royals the victory in Game 1.

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The weirdest thing happened after this; the crowd started to mill out of the stadium, and I didn’t want to leave. Even though I knew it was late and knew I wasn’t getting much sleep that night, I didn’t want it to end. It meant the world to me that I got to attend a World Series game, not even mentioning the fact that it will go down as a classic. In some way, a part of me wondered if that would be my last visit to Kauffman Stadium this year. I knew I wouldn’t be at Game 2 the next night and there was a part of me that felt this series wouldn’t return to Kansas City. So instead, I wanted to take everything in. The crowd, the atmosphere, the field, the players; I literally took everything in and kept it encapsulated in my mind for future reference. I was kind of worried I might fall asleep on my two hour drive home, but I had nothing to worry about. I was still pumped, replaying the game over in my brain. I arrived home close to 3am and would proceed to accidentally wake up my girlfriend. She asked me if I had just got home, and when I said ‘yes’, she asked why. You see, she had fallen asleep during the 7th inning, before the game got really crazy. I told her it went 14 inning and she asked ‘Seriously??’. She would fall back asleep, and I would as well about 30 minutes later, although my mind was still abuzz. What an October!

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That Sunday night the Royals would wrap up the series in just five games. As I predicted, the series wouldn’t return to Kansas City. I’ve had a little over a week now to really let everything soak in and so much about this past month amazes me. I was very fortunate that I got to be witness to not only three Royals playoff games this Fall, but three games that will be discussed for years to come. I’ve always held the 1985 team on a pedestal, not only because for the longest time they were the only Royals championship team, but because that was so early on in my love for the Kansas City Royals. But for years I have recognized that as much as I loved that ’85 squad, talent wise they weren’t the best team that year. This 2015 squad is going to be remembered for a lot of things, but more than anything I think I will look at them as the most talented Royals team I have ever seen. Just a few years ago I was disappointed with the organization and started to wonder if we as fans were ever going to see a winning season, let alone a championship season. Now we have seen back to back World Series appearances and will be adding yet another flag to the poles in the outfield at Kauffman Stadium. This October meant the world to me and my love of this team; not only was I able to cross items off my bucket list, but I finally get to say my team are the World Champions. The games might be over, but the memories will always remain.

More coverage from this October:

ALDS Coverage: here and Game 4 of the ALDS coverage is here.

ALDS/ALCS Notes: click here

World Series Coverage: World Series here

Wrap up of the 2015 Kansas City Royals Season: Enjoy the link here

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 Fall Classic Formula

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We are now three games deep into the 2015 World Series and I think it is safe to say that what we have gotten so far is one instant classic, with two games that are close early on before one team breaks away in the middle innings. What we have also learned is that there is no shortage of talking points, some worthwhile while others are downright pointless. So what is worth discussing? Without further ado, here are some topics I have found worth my time so far in this last series of the year.

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  • Let’s start with what has been one of the Kansas City Royals weaknesses in 2015, starting pitching. For a team with as many questions within their rotation as a 6 year old walking in on their parents “sharing a moment”, it sure appears as if this has been one of their strong points so far in the World Series. Yordano Ventura’s start aside(and we will get to him in just a moment), the Royals rotation has strung together game scores of 50 & 80. Edinson Volquez ran into a little bit of trouble on Tuesday, but was able to throw 6 solid innings, allowing three runs. It was a solid effort from the Royals most consistent starter this year, all while being unaware of his father passing away earlier in the day. This was followed the next night by quite possibly the best start ever by a Kansas City pitcher in the playoffs:

When Johnny Cueto is on his game, he is a force to be reckoned with. Cueto pitched a complete game 2-hitter, only allowing one run on the way to putting the Royals up two games to none in the series. Cueto has been very inconsistent during his tenure in Kansas City, but this start(and also the ALDS start against Houston) is why the Royals picked him up at the deadline. Cueto won’t be coming back next year but that wasn’t the point of his acquisition. The point was to get a big game pitcher for big games in the playoffs. Hey, he might go out there in his next outing and stink up the joint, but at least he has had two stellar starts for the Royals this postseason, putting them in a better position to reach their goal: a championship. The Mets have a number of young fireballers in their rotation, but so far they have been outpitched by Kansas City’s rotation. That is, except for Ventura…

  • Yordano Ventura did not have a good start in Game 3. He was pulled in the 4th inning, and the big concern was his dip in velocity. What is normally mid to upper 90’s was 92-94 mph most of the night. Obviously when his fastball loses the extra gas he becomes more hittable, but an old friend seemed to show up as well: pitching from the stretch.

It doesn’t sound like anyone has an idea why ‘Ace’ had such a loss in velo, but it seemed to take his confidence with it. The Mets were nailing his fastball, making his other pitches less effective in the process:

So where does this leave the Royals going forward in this series? It leaves them with another question mark in the series, a rather huge one considering he would be on schedule to pitch a Game 7 if they get that far. That begs the question: Are you comfortable with Ventura starting an elimination game for Kansas City with it all on the line?

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  • A lot of press has been given to leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar this postseason, but Ben Zobrist has been just as efficient batting in the second spot in the order. Zobrist has been 4 for 15 so far in the World Series, including three doubles and two runs scored so far. In fact, Zobrist has been accumulating doubles like crazy this postseason:

It has been a productive October so far, as Zobrist has a line of .310/.359/.534 with 9 extra base hits, 6 RBI’s and 6 walks. The argument can be made that Escobar has been the ‘Most Valuable Royal’ so far this month, but Zobrist’s name could also be picked out of the hat. While Cueto’s acquisition has only paid off in spurts, Zobrist’s has been a constant and steady win for Kansas City.

  • Speaking of excellent moves by GM Dayton Moore, Chris Young not only turned in a really good regular season, but he has been as reliable as any other arm for the Royals in October. In 3 games this postseason, Young has thrown 11.2 innings, giving up 3 runs while striking out 15. All of a sudden Young has become a strikeout pitcher, and in Game 1 he would do something he hasn’t done since 2009:

Yep, Chris Young reached 90+ mph 8 times on that night. He has dealt with some shoulder issues in-between that span, but it’s obvious his adrenaline was pumping as he pitched 3 solid, shutout innings in that outing. In fact, Young’s performance in extra innings possibly has been the key Royals pitching performance in this series, outside of maybe Cueto. All of this from a guy who wasn’t offered a major league contract all winter until the Royals offered him one as Spring Training had already begun.

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  • A couple of big achievements for Kansas City this postseason has put Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar in the Royals postseason record book:

Now, you do need to put these numbers in proper context. There is now an extra round of playoffs(two if you count the Wild Card game)which obviously means more games. But they are still big achievements, especially since a number of Royals appeared in consecutive years in the late 70’s. In fact, players like George Brett, Hal McRae and Willie Wilson played in not only those playoff teams in the 70’s, but also in 1980 and 1985. It really goes to show how solid the Royals bats have been these last two years in postseason play.

  • Speaking of those Royals bats, the question was asked before the beginning of the World Series ‘how would a strikeout rotation like the Mets have do against a team that doesn’t hardly strike out?’. Well, the first two games appeared to show the Royals ‘make contact’ offense was superior to the Mets power arms. In fact, Jacob deGrom seemed to really struggle against this Royals offense:

The other question was how would the Royals, the team with the best average against 95+ fastballs this year, do against a a high velocity Mets team? Well, early on the narrative got shifted on Kansas City:

Ah, but the narrative sometime is the narrative for a reason. In the end, the numbers don’t lie. Here is what happened in Game 3:

Early on, it appears both teams have adjusted. The Royals have adjusted and hit better against the fastball while the Mets have adjusted, looking more for pitches they can handle and trying to drive them. This normally makes for a solid series.

  • And finally, there were a lot of questions being asked when Raul A. Mondesi was put on the Royals World Series roster, especially considering he has never appeared in a major league game. Well, you can cross that off the list, as he pinch hit on Friday, striking out as he did something no one has ever done since the beginning of the ‘Live Ball Era’:

It’s a lot of pressure for a young kid, and he does appear to have a bright future in front of him. But if he makes another appearance in this series(besides pinch running) then that means something has gone awfully wrong. I look forward to seeing him soon, but more like 2016 soon.

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Obviously, I want the Royals to come away with their first World Championship in 30 years, but I also like the idea of a nice back and forth World Series that goes at least six games. So far this has looked like a good matchup, one that could see even more surprises. We have already seen one classic game, so don’t be shocked if another one is in our future. All I know for sure is that October has become a month of excitement, stress, and an extreme lack of sleep. In all honesty, I wouldn’t have it any other way. All that is left to do is to ‘Take the Crown’!

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.

 

 

 

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