Thorn in the Paw: Royals Pounce on Tigers

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After a series sweep of the White Sox, the Royals welcomed the Detroit Tigers to Kauffman Stadium. Last week, Detroit took two of three games from the Royals and overall made Kansas City not look like the team with the biggest divisional lead in the major leagues. The Royals so far this year have been remarkable better at home than on the road(39-20 to 29-26) so the hope was this series would not be a repeat of the one in Detroit. In fact, it was not, as the Royals would take two of three from the Tigers and were it not for a lead blown by the bullpen on Wednesday night, this might have been a sweep for the Royals. It was a banner series, so let’s slide into this set and look at the preceedings.

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Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain

For the second straight series, Lorenzo Cain showed why he is an honest to goodness MVP candidate this year. Cain was 8 for 12 in these three games, getting 3 doubles, a home run that might still be in flight, and 3 RBI’s. His slugging percentage this series was a ridiculous 1. 167 and  almost raised his OPS this series 30 points. I talked about the numbers Cain has put up this season earlier this week and the numbers keep popping up for Cain:

We’ve heard the last few years from manager Ned Yost that Cain showed much more power in batting practice then he would during the game. This year, Cain’s pitch recognition has vastly improved, to where he understands which pitches he can drive and which ones he can’t. It has made a drastic difference in his offensive production and has kept him in the 3rd spot in the batting order this year. You add in his top shelf defense(which is in the top 15 of baseball in defensive runs saved) and you have the biggest driving force in the Royals lineup. Having a bat like Cain’s(and his consistency most of this year) has to make Royals management comfortable, knowing he can lead the team offensively come October.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Johnny Cueto

Amazingly, there are still some fans who don’t understand why the Royals needed Johnny Cueto. On Monday night, he showed why Kansas City was so adament about acquiring him for their postseason run. All Cueto did in his third start as a Royal is pitch a complete game shutout, giving up 4 hits, walking none and striking out 8 on 116 pitches. If this didn’t make him endear himself toward you, nothing will. His game score of 87 was his highest since July 7th against Washington and overall his second best this season:

Still not sold on Cueto? Well, consider this when compared to the rest of the Royals rotation so far in 2015:

Cueto was also introduced to a Royals favorite: the postgame ritual!

While Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura have been up and down, having Cueto makes two solid starters(with Edinson Volquez) that the Royals can count on in October. Cueto won’t do this every start, but the fact he is capable of doing it in a high stakes game late in the season, well that alone makes his acquisition more than worth it.

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Death By Defense  

On Tuesday night, the Royals put on a defensive clinic to remind the Tigers why they are on the top of the American League Central…and why the Tigers aren’t. First there was a great relay throw from Alcides Escobar to nail James McCann at the plate:

Not only a great assist from “Shortstop Jesus” but also not his first:

Trust me, it was beautiful(and I wish I could show it, but MLB has limitations. Come on, MLB!). It was so great that even Neddy approved:

Oh yeah, I approved as well:

Later in the game, Salvador Perez picked Anthony Gose off base:

There would also be a dazzling play by Alcides Escobar later in the game as well. The Tigers would also do something amazing on defense, although not in the good way. A fly ball would get hit to left fielder Tyler Collins later in the game and it would bounce off the palm of his glove and veer to the corner. It was the perfect description of the differences between these two teams. The Royals lead the American League in defensive rankings, while Detroit is in 4th place. But it’s not as close as 1st to 4th place, as the Royals have a 51, the Tigers 10.9. That is a rather huge gap. Within the division, Chicago is last in the league while Cleveland sits in 11th place and Minnesota 9th, all in the negative rankings. Sure, the Royals have had a good offensive season and the bullpen is about as good as they get. But the defense sets them apart from everyone else in the division and is why the Royals are at the top with everyone else looking up.

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Oh, but there is more! With that said here are the news and notes portion of this series:

  • One of the most asked questions this season has been “how long will the Royals go with Omar Infante at 2B?”. It’s easy to see why this question continues to get asked:

Yet, we have seen a llllloooooooooooootttt of Omar this season:

But Ned has confidence:

Oh, speaking of big hits:

I think it’s safe to say his defense is what is keeping him in the lineup. In fact, defensively he has having his best season since 2012(5 DRS and a UZR of 4.3). Sure, he doesn’t take walks and any punch he used to have seems to have gone by the wayside. But don’t fret; when(if?) Alex Gordon comes back in September, I have a feeling we will be seeing more of Ben Zobrist at second base. Oh, and Infante did get a day off this week; on Tuesday, Zobrist started in his place and made an error. I don’t think that proves Infante is the better option; that is more of a sign that the universe likes to mess with our heads.

  • Wade Davis did not see any action during these three games:

I’m sure some will point to not having Davis available on Wednesday cost the Royals the game(Yost went with Volquez into the 8th inning and the Royals would end up losing the lead and the game), but it is a good thing that Kansas City can be cautious with Wade. I made the comment last series and will say it again; I would rather have a healthy Davis in October than use him injured and lose him for longer than just a week.

  • What a weird start for Yordano Ventura on Tuesday. Ventura would go 6 innings, only giving up 2 hits and no runs. Looks good, right? But Ventura also walked 6 and struck out 8. Rare, huh?

Ventura was able to get out of a couple of dicey situations, which is improvement. He has had issues pitching with runners on base this season, but on Tuesday he kept a calm head and dealt his way out of it. Sure, the 6 walks is a scary number; but I will take the improvement and hope that continues over the next couple of starts.

  • Over the years the Royals have had issues dealing with Anibal Sanchez. Not anymore:

I don’t have answers for why the Royals seem to handle the best pitchers in the league better than the lesser known pitchers, but I will take it. It is a vast improvement over where the Royals were just a few years ago.

  • Salvador Perez had to leave Tuesday’s game in the 6th inning due to a wrist injury:

Perez hasn’t played since the injury and is still being evaluated. You lose a little bit offensively with Drew Butera behind the plate, but not a bunch on defense. There were some fans angry with Butera on Wednesday night but he is a solid defensive catcher, in fact he is a well above average fielder over his career. This injury might just be a good sign; all that rest that Perez has needed the last few years might be caught up on.

  • Eric Hosmer continues to dazzle. Hosmer had a slash line of .333/.333/.750 in this series and is hitting .366/.414/.545 since the beginning of July. I can’t tell you if Hosmer has finally figured it out or not(he has been a streaky hitter throughout his career), but I will say the power he has shown in this span has made me think that he actually could contend for an MVP award at some point in his career, and I haven’t thought that in a long time.

  • Finally, the Royals streak of 111 games won when leading after 7 innings is over:

The Royals were only 4 wins away from the record, held by the 1998-99 New York Yankees. Damn Yankees!

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Tweets of Royalty

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Johnny Cueto, left, is hugged by catcher Salvador Perez, right, following a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Monday, Aug. 10, 2015. The Royals defeated the Tigers 4-0. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner) ORG XMIT: OTKOW
(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

So the Royals still have a double digit lead in the American League Central as they welcome the Los Angeles Angels to town for a four games series this weekend. Interesting note, out of the teams currently holding leads in either a division or the wild card, the Angels are the last one of those teams the Royals will face this season(outside of a make-up game late in September against the Cubs). A question was posed to me the other day, asking if there should be any worry that the Royals would get too complacent with this big a lead. I said there is always the chance, but these players seem to be pretty driven. The other good thing is that Kansas City can rest a guy like Wade Davis and let him heal better than if they were fighting for a playoff spot. There are pluses and minuses to having this big a lead, but as of right now I don’t see anyone slacking off on the field. That is a good thing, since we are only about six weeks away from the regular season wrapping and what appears to be another ‘Blue October’ for the Royals!

 

 

 

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Putting Out the Fire: Royals Take Out Tigers

eDETROIT, MI - MAY 08:  Alex Gordon #4 of the Kansas City Royals waits on deck during the fifth inning while playing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on May 8, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Over the last couple seasons, whenever the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers get together to slug it out, it feels like a big time event. It’s not just because the two teams have been the driving force in the American League Central. No, it’s also because these two teams feel much more evenly matched as more and more time goes by. Plus, lets be honest here; whenever you play a team 18-20 times a year, you know more about their flaws than sometimes even your own. So yes, we are just a few weeks into May, but having the Royals and Tigers lock up felt like a big event this weekend, one that brought forth 3 really good games in Motown.

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Series MVP: Alex Gordon

As has become the norm in May, Alex Gordon has started heating up the last few weeks. Gordon is a notorious slow starter and add in the offseason wrist surgery and he was bound to get a slow beginning to his 2015 season. Luckily for the Royals, he has started hitting and he came up big for the Royals in the rubber game on Sunday night. But he also came away with a big single in Friday night’s game:

This would tie the game for Kansas City in the 7th inning and it would stay that way until the bottom of the 9th. The Royals would unfortunately lose that game but not because of Gordon, who had a stellar night on Friday, going 3 for 4. In fact Gordon was 4 for 9 in this series, driving in 2 runs and scoring the winning run on Sunday night in extra innings. In fact, Gordon got on base that inning thanks to a hit by pitch, his 2nd in the series. He also received 2 free passes in this series from Tigers pitchers and was basically on base more than he was not. This series raised both his On Base Percentage and his slugging over 20 points, which is a big boost. It was tough to pick an MVP for this series, since as a group the offense had a good one and numerous players were considered, but Gordon felt like he was a notch above everyone else while in Detroit and was a vital cog in the team’s run scoring efforts.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Jeremy Guthrie

This was about a welcome surprise as anything else this season. It’s been chronicled many times(seriously, just go back and read about every series wrap-up, where I mention how ineffective Guthrie has been this year) so it was nice to see Guthrie go out and shutdown the Tigers on Saturday afternoon. He threw 7.1 innings of 8 hit, 2 run ball, only allowing 1 walk and 3 strikeouts. Yes folks, that was Guthrie’s first quality start of the season and a lot of it was the ability to keep the Detroit batters off-balance. Guthrie compiled 19 fly balls and 8 ground balls, which is about the norm for him, although compared to his last outing against Detroit he had more fly balls than line drives by a healthy margin. Guthrie is never going to blow anyone away, but if he can perform something close to this on a fairly regular basis, he will have earned his spot in the rotation and help the Royals in a time when the starting pitching has been struggling.

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Mother Nature and the Royals Bullpen 

Sunday night the Royals were put into a peculiar situation. Kansas City was tied with the Tigers going into the bottom of the 9th inning and they had already announced that Luke Hochevar was coming into the game for the Royals. Instead the tarps came out and the game was halted do to the storm that was passing through. The delay went for almost 90 minutes and left Kansas City with a decision to make; let Hochevar still pitch or bring in anothe reliever. Hochevar had just been activated this past week, as it would have been his third game back after being out for the last year due to Tommy John Surgery. He had pitched the day before against the Tigers, but had thrown only 3 pitches, thus negating any worry about using him 2 days in a row. The Royals erred on the side of caution, instead bringing Jason Frasor in once the delay had been lifted. More than anything the team doesn’t want to take the chance of re-injuring Hochevar, so for the time being they will be extremely cautious with him. It was a smart choice, but it also left Kansas City with one less reliever. Because he was announced as coming into the game before the rain delay was announced, it was official and left the Royals with one less reliever once the game resumed.

Considering how much the bullpen has been used as of late, this was not a scenario the Royals really wanted to be stuck with. Luckily, Kansas City would score a run in the top of the 10th and brought Greg Holland in the bottom of the inning to close it out. That brings up another point…

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Notes, notes and more notes from a stellar May matchup:

  • If you have a weak heart, Sunday night’s game might not have been for you. The bases were loaded by Detroit in both the bottom of the 9th and 10th and were unable to score any runs. Jason Frasor and Greg Holland wiggled out of these jams and came out spotless. It wasn’t fun to watch though. One wonders if the weather played a part in it, as Frasor walked 2 and Holland 3. Their pace wasn’t very good either. Those last couple innings were the epitome of ugly baseball and after bringing it up I think I will now purge it from my memory.
  • Omar Infante tried to make a ridiculous behind the back flip to first base on a ground ball in the 3rd inning Sunday and cost the Royals a run. I’ve watched it over and over and still can’t figure out what he was thinking.

Look, Chris Young is tall…but he isn’t that tall!

  • Speaking of Young, another great outing for him against Detroit. 6 innings, 3 hits, and 1 unearned run while walking none and striking out 3. For now he has Jason Vargas’ spot in the rotation while he is on the disabled list, but there has to be some talk of giving Young a more permanent spot if the rest of the rotation doesn’t start shaping up.
  • Mike Moustakas missed the series, as he was put on the bereavement list. I have not heard what it was for(I have been asked multiple times this past weekend) but I do know his mother has been sick the last few years. Hope everything goes well with whatever the issue was. Moustakas should be back on Monday.
  • The Royals did make a flurry of roster moves before Friday’s game:

  • Drew Butera made his Royals debut on Saturday, starting in the place of Salvador Perez. In fact, Butera(son of former big leaguer Sal Butera)played the entire game, which means a complete day off for Perez. Why am I making a big deal of this? Because even if the backup catcher starts a game in Salvy’s place, it is almost inevitable that he ends up in the game before it is all said and done.

I personally like Butera; good game caller, and works well with the pitching staff. His only downfall is he can’t hit worth a lick.

  • I know there was some uproar in Friday’s night game because Yohan Pino was brought in to pitch the 9th instead of Greg Holland. I more than anyone hate the idea that manager’s have where you can’t bring in your closer unless it is a save situation. I believe more in you bring in your best pitcher when the situation is more dire. But I also realize most managers think this way and that isn’t going to change anytime soon, so a pass here for Ned Yost. I also didn’t have issue with it since Pino to that point had not allowed a run in over 10 innings of work and Holland had just come off the disabled list earlier in the week. It wasn’t like Yost had brought in a reliever that had been stinking the place up as of late(see: 2014 Crow, Aaron). It was a move that just didn’t pan out, as Detroit would get on base and score the winning run off Pino.
  • Alex Gordon might have been my MVP of the series, but another good series for Eric Hosmer. Hosmer was 4 for 14 with 2 RBI’s. The biggest thing is he continues to hit the ball to the opposite field, a sign that he is locked in and seeing the ball good.
  • It was also a good series for the returning Alcides Escobar. He went 4 for 15, including his first ever leadoff home run on Saturday to start the Royals rally against notorious “Royals Killer” Anibal Sanchez.
  • Kelvin Herrera started serving his suspension during this series and should be back this week against the Rangers.
  • Speaking of suspensions, Yordano Ventura returned from his on Friday, and continued to underwhelm. Ventura went 6 innings, giving up 8 hits and 4 runs with 3 walks and 4 strikeouts. Between Ventura and Danny Duffy, James Shields presence is surely being missed by these youngsters.

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Tweets of Royalty

 

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So now the Royals lead the American League Central by 1.5 games over the Tigers, with the Royals headed to Arlington to take on the Rangers. Four against Texas this week and then 3 at home against the New York Yankees this weekend should make for an interesting week. More than anything, the Royals need the rotation to stabilize this week, and Danny Duffy is the first up for that task on Monday. If the pitching doesn’t work, I suggest touching Adrian Beltre’s head; it seems to distract him. A positive week should go a long way toward extending their lead in the central; a bad week might push them behind Detroit. Think positive and we will be discussing the first place Royals for another week.

2013 Predictions That Will Probably Be Wrong By June

openind day 13Spring Training has started and before you know the 2013 baseball season will be underway. Spring might be the best time for most teams, as everyone is filled with hope and think their team could be THE team. Yes, even some Houston Astros fans. Or not. Hope springs eternal and Spring gives team eternal hope, even when they maybe should be more realistic. With the season only six weeks away, I will go ahead and try to guess how the season will unfold. Just remember when June rolls around to not point out my bad predictions(or bad guesses, however you want to word it) and realize that very few so called “experts” can predict what will happen. That’s part of what makes baseball so great. So without further ado, here are my division predictions for 2013.

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AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

1.Tampa Bay

2.Toronto

3. New York

4. Baltimore

5. Boston

This might be the hardest division to handicap. I literally could rotate most of these teams in any slot and wouldn’t really argue too much with the results. Tampa almost seems like the safe bet, since Joe Maddon and company always find a way to win and probably have the best rotation in the American League. I like what Toronto has done this offseason, especially with how their rotation will shape up. Dickey, Morrow, Buerhle, Johnson and Romero? If everyone stays healthy, that could be a lethal round of arms. The Blue Jays could also turn out like the Marlins did last year, so they might be interesting to follow. I hate putting the Yankees in third place, especially since they did nothing major this offseason and in fact lost talent, but they still have some good arms, and they are the Yankees. Unfortunately. Baltimore will slip, as no team can keep up the amount of luck this team had last year(especially in extra innings), but they still won’t be a bad team. Buck Showalter is too good of a manager for that. Boston is at the bottom of my list, but I do think they will be better than they were last year. Farrell will do fine in his first year in Beantown, but this team still doesn’t have the firepower they have had in the past. All in all, this division will be a fun one to watch, and might have the most depth of the bunch.

Royals-Walk-Off-Celebration-436x350AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

1. Detroit

2. Cleveland

3. Chicago

4. Kansas City

5. Minnesota

This pains me more than you will ever know. Let’s start at the top, with the Tigers. Detroit won the Central late last year, after Chicago held the top start for a good chunk of 2012. Not only did the Tigers get to the World Series, they have IMPROVED since last year. Detroit now gets Anibal Sanchez for a full season, Victor Martinez returns from injury and they added Torii Hunter to the team, which will help them offensively, defensively and in the clubhouse. No reason to think the Motor City will be giving up the reigns on the division anytime soon. I’m going ahead and taking Cleveland second, although you should be able to flip flop them and Chicago in all honesty. I really like the moves that the Indians have made this offseason and the biggest acquisition has to be manager Terry Francona. Francona alone makes that team better in 2013 and when you add in Swisher, Bourn, Stubbs, and Bauer, and the offense looks tons better than they did last year. The real question with Cleveland will be their pitching and whether or not they can get Ubaldo Jimenez back to being the guy who made NL batters look dumb. Chicago ran out of gas late last year, but they have a lot of quality young arms and somehow GM Kenny Williams always makes it work. It’s easy to say they will fall a bit this year, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they don’t. I’ve got Kansas City sitting in fourth place and I will go into more detail obviously when the season gets closer. To shorten up my thoughts, the Royals have a lot of ‘ifs’ going into this year and they are counting on a lot of things that didn’t work in 2012 to work in 2013. That is really expecting some major changes, when not as much has changed with this team as they have people thinking. Just saying, you might want to hold off on purchasing those playoff tickets, my Royal Blue brethren. Minnesota takes up the bottom of the league, but I have to believe they will be better than they were last year. If the Twins play this year like they did last year, I think Ron Gardenhire might blow a gasket and up and quit before the season is over. A part of me is leery to count out the Twinkies. They are THAT team, the one who never truly goes away. Just ask the Royals about that. I know everyone thinks the Central is the worse division in baseball, and they might be right. But it is already way better than it was this time last year.

2013 al westAMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

1. Los Angeles

2. Texas

3. Oakland

4. Seattle

5. Houston

Another good division, with a number of teams that could contend for a playoff spot. It is also a division with one extra team this year, as the Astros move over to the American League and join the West. Granted, they were kind of held at gunpoint to move and really didn’t want to, but they are there now and a number of NL Central teams are a lot sadder because of it. Let’s start at the top with the Angels. I’ve got them in first, and will freely admit that it is partially because they are my second favorite team. Year two of the Pujols Project should help the team way more than last year, and they’ve even added that Hamilton guy to take some of the load off of Albert’s back. Oh yeah, and there is that Trout guy as well. I’ve heard he’s pretty good. Texas is slotted in second, but they just as easily could get first. One wonders if their early exit out of the playoffs will motivate them or let it linger as the season begins. Even though the Rangers have lost some key players(Hamilton, Young, etc.) I love the young talent that is shooting up the pipeline for the Rangers and think they will be just as lethal as they were before. Oakland is in third, but it is hard to bet against Bob Melvin and company. This team has no stars, and yet had over 90 wins last year. They still have the good pitching that guided them to the playoffs last year and an offense that buys into what Melvin and Billy Beane are selling. If the team makes a push at the traded deadline they could once again win the West in 2013. The Mariners are booked for fourth place and I want to like this team more. I think they have a some really good young talent, but I totally don’t know what they are thinking with the offseason acquisitions. I mean, does the team really need 253 outfielders/first basemen/designated hitters? They do realize that those three areas only cover 5 spots in the order, right? It just doesn’t make much sense. Lastly, the Astros will take up the cellar of the West. This team is completely rebuilding, and as much as they should be credited for it, it will make for a very, very long season in Houston. Good luck, Astros fans. You are going to need it.

NL-East-Batting-Practice-featuredNATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

1. Washington

2. Atlanta

3. New York

4. Philadelphia

5. Miami

The top of this division will probably have a couple of the best teams in the league. They also might have a couple of the worst. Washington looks to once again see October baseball this year, as they have both Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper for a full season. This is just a really, really good team with lots of great talent and depth. Yes, depth will win you games, especially come postseason. Atlanta looks at a possible second place finish, although anyone who thinks they win the division might not be too far off. Great pitching, great offense, great defense and this team will probably be a wild card team when it is all said and done. The Upton boys will get a full season playing together and even with the loss of Chipper Jones might not slow down Atlanta as much as originally thought. I’ve got the Mets in third place, as this team seems on the verge of some really good seasons. It is a young bunch, but one with some great up and comers. I think they will be way better than anyone gives them credit for. Philadelphia takes up fourth place, and I am aware the team still has Halladay and Lee. But they also have a group of aging veterans(Utley, Rollins, Howard) and players who are bloated and overpaid(Delmon Young, Yuniesky Betancourt). Phillies fans, a lull is in your future. Embrace it. As much doom and gloom as the Phillies seem to be, the Marlins are in worse shape. Another rebuilding year. A rookie manager. A bunch of new, young faces. Don’t embrace this, Marlins fans. You deserve better.

pittsbNATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

1. Cincinnati

2. St. Louis

3. Pittsburgh

4. Milwaukee

5. Chicago

The National League Central hosts one less team this year. Unfortunately for the other five teams, they won’t have the Astros to feast on anymore. Let’s start with the Reds, who sit atop the perch of this division. Dusty Baker’s team was right on the verge of getting to the NLCS this past fall, but those pesky Giants took that dream away from them. It was kind of San Francisco’s thing this past year. Back to the Reds. They are basically bringing back the same team, and with it probably the NL Central title. If I had to find something that worried me, it would be the switch of Aroldis Chapman to the rotation. I don’t get it, but we’ll see how it goes. The Cardinals will make it interesting for Cincy, but the loss of Chris Carpenter for the year could cause the Cards to go out and pick up another starter, although using someone like Shelby Miller might do just as good a job. I totally think this is the year Pittsburgh FINALLY gets a winning season, even if it is just a few games over .500. The baseball Gods have to be looking out for those faithful fans that have stuck by that team for so long. With Andrew McCutchen leading the charge, I see good things in the Pirates future. Milwaukee takes up fourth, as it seems the team just doesn’t have the pitching to keep it in the hunt. Rounding out the division is the Cubs. Now, I completely think Chicago will be better this year, especially with the great offseason they had acquiring pitching. But the team is still fairly young and will go through some growing pains. Stay strong, Cubs fans. Your time is coming soon.

San Francisco Giants v Colorado RockiesNATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

1. San Francisco

2. Los Angeles

3. Arizona

4. San Diego

5. Colorado

What a hot mess this division could turn out to be? Almost any of the last four teams could collapse and make for a rough season for their ballclubs. Or they could go on a hot streak and give San Francisco a run for their money. The Giants are not only the defending World Champions, but with their team basically kept in tact, could be a favorite for another world title. Their pitching alone should have the other teams in their league worried. The Dodgers have the chance of giving their rivals a run for their money, but it could go the other way. A lot of money spent does not guarantee one a playoff spot. Ask the Red Sox about that. There is a part of me that can’t wait until Zack Greinke implodes in LA, but how soon that happens is anyone’s guess. There is a good chance it won’t be this year. The Dodgers could be interesting to follow, just to see how the team chemistry is in that clubhouse. Also in the conversation is Arizona, but they also had a major upheaval. The team got rid of their best player, and got rid of any players who don’t live by manager Kirk Gibson’s hard nosed style. This will either be a team who is fun to watch, or one that has to scrap to score runs. San Diego will get a reprieve again from last place, mainly because Bud Black is really good at his managing job. I hope the Padres are paying attention, since that guy deserves a more competitive team. Last once again looks like it will be Colorado. Some changes have been made, and one is curious to see how first year manager Walt Weiss does. I have to believe that if Troy Tulowitzki is healthy, this could be a much better team. But like all things in this game, that is a big if.

So there you go, my predictions for 2013. I’m sure I will be forced to eat my words within a few months and you’ll want to point out where I was wrong. You’re right; I should have just gone with a Cubs/Red Sox World Series! I’m sure Major League baseball and the Fox Network would just love that. Now….LET’S PLAY BALL!

The Royals Have 99 Problems & Their Right Fielder is Just One

Jeff-Francoeur
Does Frenchy think he knows the strike zone better?

This past week has been crazy if you are a Kansas City Royals fan. The Royals pulled the trigger on a big trade, trading 2012 Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year Wil Myers(and more) for Tampa Bay’s James Shields, Wade Davis and a player to be named later. This has posted two different reactions from Royals fans. One is the fan who doesn’t like the trade and feel the Royals gave up too much. The other is that the team had to do something and now they are in contention for the American League Central title. I know us Royals fans are dying for a winning team, but am I the only one that feels that thinking this makes the Royals contenders is putting the cart before the horse? The Royals still have problems and a bunch of ‘ifs’ that would fill up Kauffmann Stadium.

Jeff-Francoeur-shines-as-Kansas-City-Royals-defeat-Toronto-Blue-Jays-3-2-MLB-Update-74835

The obvious problem is Right Field, the position that Wil Myers was planning on taking over in 2013. This now falls back to the guy who has held that spot the past few years, Jeff Francoeur. The problem is that Frenchy stunk up the place in 2012, putting numbers up that are atrocious for a guy batting in the 5th spot most of the year. The numbers are so bad that I’m not even going to put them in here, as they will stink up my article. Just trust me, this guy was quite possibly the worst player in baseball in 2012. For the Royals to be contenders in 2013 they need Francoeur to bounce back. If Jeff can even put up numbers close to what he put up in 2011 then the Royals could be in the conversation this upcoming year. If they are closer to 2012, then we are in trouble. Right now the backup outfielders look to be anyone from David Lough, who had a decent showing in the bigs the last month of the year, and two outfielders picked up off the heap this winter, Xavier Nady and Willy Taveras. Until Francoeur shows everyone that he can perform better than last year(and not blame it on Billy Butler) Right Field will be a problem in Kansas City.

getz

Another problem area is second base. Right now it looks to be a battle between Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella, who neither have really placed a permanent flag on the position. Getz probably had his best year in the big leagues in 2012, as a changed stance seemed to help his batting while displaying solid defense. He still has no power, and is probably still better suited to being a backup, but he has shown improvement. Everyone knows I really like Giavotella, but here is the honest truth that stares us in the face: he has yet to show he DESERVES to be in this spot. Gio has nothing else to prove at AAA, so this very well could be his last chance. He needs to show the team he deserves to be in the lineup or we will be seeing him in a different uniform. Kansas City actually might be best served to acquire someone else to backup, so the team has some insurance. Hopefully someone(Gio) will just step up and take the spot, but neither choices are guaranteed.

hosmerA giant ‘if’ going into 2013 is whether or not Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas can get around their sophomore slumps. Hosmer looked lost most of 2012, never really getting into a groove and not looking like a future MVP, like some had predicted(man, who would have done that??). Moustakas had a really good first half, and overall improved his defense by leaps and bounds, but Moose also slumped badly in the second half. In Moose’s case, I wonder just how much his lingering knee issues affected him in the second half. Both will get two new hitting coaches to work with, and hopefully, turn them around. Both guys have always hit, so it seems inevitable that they will return to past glory. But nothing is assured, and it seems odd to me that Royals management is acting like it is. We don’t know which version of these two we will get in 2013, but if it is anything like 2012, Kansas City can kiss those playoff chances goodbye.

Kansas-City-Royals-starting-pitcher-Danny-Duffy-injured-with-torn-elbow-ligament-MLB-News-154160

As if these weren’t big enough if’s, there is at least one more. Sure, the Royals have upgraded their starting pitching and there is no way it is not better than it was last year. But look at their top three starting pitchers, or the ones the Royals would need to use if they did happen to reach the playoffs: James Shields, Ervin Santana, and Jeremy Guthrie. Yep, sure doesn’t strike a lot of fear in batters once you get past Shields. Now, there is a possibility that Santana will bounce back from his awful year this year, especially if the last couple months are proof. But his velocity has also dipped for the last three years and he seems like an injury waiting to happen. Santana is definitely not a sure thing. I feel more confident with Guthrie, but he is a pitch to contact pitcher, which means the ball will be in play a lot. That also means that batters will get some good swings on him, and he will have the occasional bad start. Hey, that’s fine, it happens. But if the Royals are to be taken seriously as contenders, they need everyone to step it up. If Guthrie pitches like he did for Kansas City in 2012, then it should be okay. If not, we can hope Danny Duffy returns from Tommy John surgery and shows the promise we saw last year before the injury. This starting three does not feel like a playoff team’s rotation. That should worry not only you, but every Royals fan who is getting their hopes up.

perezmooseSo acquiring James Shields doesn’t assure the Royals a playoff spot in 2013. I didn’t even mention how the Royals need to stay healthy, as Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain both spent more time than they should have on the disabled list in 2012. The Royals are going to have to have a lot of things that didn’t go right in 2012 go right in 2013, that is for sure. I know we are all excited that we could have a playoff game in Kansas City, but I think the American League Central will be better in 2013, and the Tigers just re-signed Anibal Sanchez. This team definitely seems like it will be better than this year’s bunch, I can almost guarantee it. But they still feel like a .500 or just under team. All I am saying is lets be realistic about this. Let’s not think that we need to print off playoff tickets before the team even reports to Spring Training. 2012 should have showed the overly optimistic that there is a reason the games are played.

Dayton Moore, Saying all the Wrong Things

I just need to vent real quick. Earlier today, the Kansas City Royals claimed pitcher Chris Volstad off waivers from the Chicago Cubs. Volstad didn’t have a great year last year, but my gut tells me the Royals signed him more because of his potential, which is fine. This signing is okay as long as he is used next year as either a reliever or an emergency starter. If he starts over 15 games next year…well, if that happens there is a good chance the Royals are in trouble. But it wasn’t the Volstad signing that bothered me. It was the comments GM Dayton Moore made after the signing. So lets pick apart what Dayton is saying and why it is so distressing.

“We know who we are and how we have to build this team,” general manager Dayton Moore said, “and how we have to build our rotation. We’re going to be as aggressive as we can, but we know who we are and how we need to do it.”

 

This is Dayton alluding to the Royals being a small market team and how they can’t spend as thrifty as the big dogs in baseball. It’s true, but it almost reads like we as fans shouldn’t expect much this offseason. As in “no big catch on our fishing line”. I totally think this is Dayton preparing us for them to not sign a Zack Greinke or Anibal Sanchez. I can understand this to a degree, but I would rather have a GM who is confident and doesn’t use a team’s limitations as an excuse.
Luke Hochevar, Version 2.0

“His career, obviously, hasn’t gone to script,” Moore said. “He’s had a lot of ups and downs, but he’s still very young. Our scouts have seen him, and his stuff is still good. He just hasn’t had a lot of success but, hopefully, we can get him back on track.”

 

Of course Moore is talking about Volstad here. I have no issue with the Royals signing guys like this. It is a necessary evil in baseball, just in general. But doesn’t that read the same as if he was talking about Luke Hochevar? Shouldn’t you be fixing the first Hochevar you have first before taking on another Hochevar? and do the Royals get a discount for having two Hochevar’s on their roster? BOGO anyone?
“We’ve got to look internally,” he said. “We’ve got to look through trades. We’ve got to look, certainly, through free agency…we might be able to pick off a player or two, but we’re not going to build our team through free agency. It won’t work.”
I actually agree with Moore here. I think the teams needs to really look for trades this offseason rather than on the free agent market. I’ve written before that Tampa Bay would be a good partner. But as a small market team, you need to have an open mind and keep all options available. The Royals won’t be able to go out and sign a major name, but they can still make a splash in the free agent pool if David Glass is sincere about spending the dough.
“We’re not going to jump out there and be crazy on things,” Moore said. “We’re going to be aggressive and try to create as much depth and competition as we can. We know it’s going to continue to be a work in progress with everything we do in building a rotation.”
Depth is good. Bring as many pitchers to camp to compete as you can. Just don’t break the bank on lesser talent players. Spend money accordingly. Although, if there is a pitcher out there that you can get at a good price, the Royals should pounce. What if Greinke or Shawn Marcum would take a hometown discount? You can be crazy without anyone checking you into the nuthouse.

“He’s healthy and still young,” Moore said. “He broke into the major leagues when he was very young. He’s had some success, but it’s mostly been down lately.

“That being said, you get guys when they’re on the downturn. You don’t get them when they’re on the upturn.”

 

Alright, this is where I have a problem. Look at that last line. I’m sorry, that is just stupid thinking. You CAN get players on an upturn. You’ll have to either pay the money or trade talent for them, but like I have said ad nauseum, to get talent you must trade talent. If all you acquire are guys who are at the downturn of their careers, then that will be all you have; players at the downturn of their careers. Yes, some will pan out and improve. But the chances of that happening are slim and none. I’m sorry, but making such a ridiculous comment is insane and makes me think the sooner Dayton is fired, the better. I get that the Royals are not going to be a financial monster. But neither is Oakland’s Billy Beane and look what he does year after year. Dayton just seems like he can’t be creative or isn’t even willing to try. Maybe it’s just me, but I think having some of these “upturn” players would help Kansas City. It’s like Moore is working inside of his little itty bitty box and isn’t willing to venture outside of it.
How many cool points does Dayton get here for the shades?

So what do we take away from Dayton Moore’s comments today? Well, it seems like Moore is willing to live and die by his constraints. I really hope this doesn’t mean the Royals don’t sign two solid, established starters. I hope this doesn’t mean that they won’t re-sign Jeremy Guthrie. I hope this doesn’t mean that February rolls around and the pitchers competing for a starting gig are a bunch of Volstad’s. More than anything, I hope that this doesn’t mean that they are putting all their eggs into the “well, Duffy and Paulino will be back soon” basket. Sure, they should return in 2013. But you have to look at them as if they will not contribute to the Royals next year. Anything you get from them is a bonus. If they are counting on those two to return, plus Chen, Hochevar and Volstad to improve plus whatever lot of castoffs they acquire this winter, then we are in trouble. Dayton Moore has had over six years to build a rotation that is acceptable at the least. Instead, the Royals rotation looks like the island of misfit toys. At this point,  I would take King Moonracer in the Royals rotation.

More Random Notes

A few weeks ago I did a random notes article to go over a few topics around baseball. With a lot of different things going on or being debated, I thought it would be a good time to do another random notes column. So here are a few things buzzing around my skull at the moment.

A-Rod, struggling in the playoffs. Again. Not a surprise.

We are firmly entrenched into the League Championship Series, and the Yankees are just a step away from elimination. The bad part for the Bronx Bombers is their offense has gone M.I.A. and it’s not just a few batters. At this point we expect A-Rod to slump, but when Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson join suit, it’s hard to think this team is long for the LCS. Sure, facing Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez and Fister isn’t an easy task, but the Yankees are making them look even better than normal. Verlander in fact didn’t have his A-game stuff, yet only gave up 3 hits over 8.1 innings last night. A lot of this has been dumped onto Rodriguez, but let’s be honest. A-Rod is 37; he is not able to catch up to fastballs the way he used to. He is in the twilight of his career, so you can’t expect him to be the guy who was polishing up his Hall of Fame plaque in his early 20’s. Either way, the Yankees are one loss away from being gone from the playoffs, and one wonders if there will be a major overhaul with this team come the winter. I can’t lie; I’ve gotten joy out of the Yankees losing in such epic fashion. In some ways, baseball needs the Yankees, as a lot of baseball fans like myself watch to see them lose. There is something to be said to having the evil empire in the playoffs and then for them to fall on their face.

Field Boss??

So the Colorado Rockies are seriously considering hiring Jason Giambi as their manager? I think my jaw dropped a bit when I first heard this news, as it just didn’t seem fathomable. I know baseball has been thinking outside the box as of late and hiring managers like Mike Matheny and Robin Ventura, guys who had no managerial experience before their hire. Luckily for both of those teams, those hires have worked out for them. I don’t know either way if Giambi would be a good manager, and a part of me thinks he would, even if it took years before he settled into the gig. But for a franchise that needs a major reboot, taking a chance on someone like Giambi could set them back even farther. It does appear that Giambi has been a good father figure for the younger players in Colorado, and has their respect. But being a mentor in the clubhouse and actually helming the team are two completely different things. I really hope the Rockies organization does their homework here, and if they hire Jason, they hire him because they honestly feel he is the man for the job. If not, it could blowup in their face. This organization can’t afford another major fall back. This decision has to be the right one, all the way around.

Beantown’s new Boss?

Word came out this past week that Tony Pena is being considered for the Boston Red Sox managerial opening. Now, this can be taken a few different ways. One, Pena has been a coach for the New York Yankees for a number of years now, and it has to be a good baseball learning experience to work under Joe Girardi, who IS  a good manager, even if you hate the Yankees. Two, I don’t think it is possible that he can be worse than Bobby Valentine. Valentine was the oil to the Red Sox water, and there was no way that relationship wasn’t going to end badly. Now, when it comes to Pena, i am biased. Pena was once the Kansas City Royals manager, and for awhile he did a really great job. He was able to get the 2003 Royals to buy into what he was selling and that team is the only Royals team in 18 years to come away with a winning season. Pena did a great job working with that bunch, but the next year it came apart. The Royals lost 104 games in 2004, and after the starting the year 8-25 in 2005, Pena resigned. Pena showed that under pressure, he just couldn’t handle it. You would hope that he learned something from that, but if not, Boston is not the job for him. Boston is a pressure cooker and if he got the job, it would be constant pressure from not only the fans, but the media as well. Pena should know that, as he is a former Red Sox player. Maybe Pena has changed and could steer this team back to respectability. Or maybe nothing has changed and Boston could continue to flounder. It might be wiser for the Boston brass to look deeper into Brad Ausmus and Tim Wallach as managerial candidates.

The Kansas City Royals have one major need this offseason, and that would be starting pitching. The two main targets this offseason are Anibal Sanchez and Kyle Lohse. Sanchez is currently helping lead the Detroit Tigers into the World Series and so far has been spectacular in the postseason. Sanchez would probably fill in as a solid number 2 or 3 starter on most pitching staffs, but in Kansas City there is a good chance he would a number one. Well, we might never find out, as Sanchez has bumped his value this postseason and might have priced himself out of the Royals price range. To be honest, if it meant signing him for way over value, I don’t think I want the Royals to do that. It’s one thing to pay a bit extra, especially since a lot of players don’t want to go to Kansas City since the franchise has lost so much over the years. But paying extra to a pitcher, especially in a long term deal, could be disastrous. We’ll see if Sanchez is still in Kansas City’s price range, but my first thought is that he is already looking for greener pastures.

Kyle Lohse is in close to the same boat as Sanchez, at least when it comes to money. Word floated out this week that Lohse would probably net a contract this offseason in the $60-75 million dollar range. Now, I don’t hate Lohse the way others do. There are a lot(and I mean A LOT) of Royals fans who detest Lohse and want nothing to do with him. I don’t. He seems to be a different pitcher than he was earlier in his career for the Twins and Reds. In fact, Lohse pulled off his best season in the majors this season, going 16-3, a 2.86 ERA, a WHIP of 1.090 and a WAR of 3.9. Lohse has turned into a ground ball pitcher and with the Royals defense and large ballpark, he would be a nice fit. But there are problems. One, who knows if him playing in the American League again would bring back some of his old tendencies. The National League is much easier on pitchers and going from getting a break when facing the pitcher in the lineup to facing lineups loaded from 1 thru 9 on the order could be a rough task. Second, Lohse is 34, I would be very, very leery to give a guy his age a long term deal, and I’m pretty sure that is what his agent, Scott Boras, will be asking for. Lohse is someone that would be a good deal at 2 years for $10-12 million a year. Anything over that seems to be a major reach, which once again could price the Royals out of the market. The Royals actually have a decent relationship with Boras(he also represents Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer) but I highly doubt he would give the team a discount in this regard. I as much as anyone want David Glass to spend more money on this team, but you also have to be smart about it. Paying extra for a guy who has a shady past probably isn’t the wisest of investments.

I hope everyone is enjoying the playoffs this month. As baseball fans we’ve gotten lucky, as it has been nonstop excitement pretty much from the start. We are not too far away from the World Series(in fact, I think it is a week away)and I really hope we get another seven game series this year. Just remember, we only have a few weeks left, and then no baseball till February. Enjoy it now, folks. We only get this kind of suspense once a year.

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