Baseball Thank You’s

League Championship Series - New York Yankees v Houston Astros - Game Two

Thanksgiving is a great time to spend time with family and friends, eat lots of carbs and be thankful for everything in your life. Yes, we should be more thankful on a daily basis, but with the pace of life speeding up more and more, we sometimes forget to stop and smell the roses (so to speak). We probably don’t say it enough, but I am thankful every day that baseball appears to be on an upswing and is still such a large part of my life. I’m not for sure what the ratio would be, but the amount of joy that this great game gives me would appear to be greater than what I am able to give back to it. So for today, let me be thankful for all the glory that is this kid’s game that we adore…

Mike Trout

I am thankful for Mike Trout. Literally everything about him. Trout is that every day working man who goes out there and helps his team almost every game. Defense, hitting, hitting for power, running the bases; Trout brings it to every aspect of his game. We are seeing the best player in modern-day baseball and possibly one of the greatest of all-time when it is all said and done. I am thankful we get to see such a great player in my lifetime.

Almost the same can be said for Clayton Kershaw, only on the pitching side of the game. I’ve seen Maddux, Johnson and Pedro in my time, but Kershaw could be the best of the bunch. I am thankful for his precision, dedication and work ethic that makes Kershaw as great as he is.

I am thankful for the current playoff system. I was initially against the second wild card in the playoffs, but it has added a new, exciting element to the postseason and I feel it is for the better. The last four October’s have been spectacular and it has shown a steady uptick for baseball viewing among the general public.

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Credit: Chicago Tribune

I am thankful for the mass group of players that I love watching all throughout the baseball season.

Ben Zobrist’s versatility and patience.

Andrew McCutchen’s five tools.

Giancarlo Stanton’s unbridled power.

Yasiel Puig’s child-like enthusiasm.

Bryce Harper’s hustle and ‘Hair on Fire’ approach on the field.

Wade Davis’ ‘Vein’s of Ice’.

Jose Altuve’s ability to hit the ball “where they ain’t”.

Baseball not only has a great group of guys that encompass the immense talent in the game, but a group that are positive role models for the game and makes rooting for them even easier.

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I’m also thankful for all the retired players whose accomplishments I’m still in awe of today.

Ted Williams’ love and dedication to hitting.

Willie Mays’ grace.

Bob Gibson’s fire.

Yogi Berra’s understated play on the field…oh, and his sayings.

Tony Gwynn’s knowledge of the strike zone.

Greg Maddux’s precise location.

Edgar Martinez’s understated study of hitting.

Tim Raines’ speed and ability to put himself in a position to score.

Jackie Robinson’s patience, maturity and determination to prove his worth.

Hank Aaron’s power, quiet leadership and calm demeanor.

I could go on and on with some of the greats of the game, but more than anything I am thankful they were able to pave the way for the talent that would follow them.

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Credit: NPR

More than anything, I am thankful for my favorite team of the last 30+ years, the team I fell in love with as a child and the team that always reminds me why I love baseball, the Kansas City Royals.

Thank you George Brett, for the hustle and inability to give up that helped me love this game.

Thank you Bo Jackson, for doing the impossible on a baseball diamond.

Thank you Dan Quisenberry, for your unique delivery, late inning shutdowns and your sense of humor.

Thank you Bret Saberhagen, for being one of the best of your generation.

Thank you Mike Sweeney, for your loyalty.

Thank you Alex Gordon, for quiet leadership and ability to become a Gold Glover at a new position. Oh, and that home run in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series.

Thank you Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. Without you, 2014 and 2015 do not happen.

Thank you Salvador Perez, for your infectious smile and childlike love of the game.

Thank you Denny Matthews and Fred White. You were the voices of my childhood and will always be my favorite baseball announcers. The pictures you drew with your words made listening to a Royals game on the radio an absolute joy.

Thank you Kauffman Stadium, for being so beautiful.

Thank you, 1985.

Thank you, 2015.

Thank you, Kansas City.

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More than anything, thank you baseball. Thank you for loving me back. There will never be another like you. I could go on all day with the things I love about baseball, but more than anything, I love it all. I am thankful that baseball has been a major part of my life since the age of 7. I look forward to the many years ahead we have together. I will always be thankful for you. You’re the best, baseball.

 

 

 

 

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Straddling The Fence

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Being a longtime Kansas City Royals fan can give someone a different perspective of the team than say, someone who has only been around the last couple years. There is a section of the fanbase that sat around during the “Lean Years” so to speak, an era where many a time we would be accepting of an errorless game, or a quality start from the starting pitcher that day. Trust me folks, years ago the bar was set really low. With that being said, this winter the Royals have been fairly quiet on the acquisition front, as we have essentially seen the Jorge Soler trade and the Nate Karns trade with a few minor signings sprinkled in. I’ve actually felt like both trades made sense and were quality deals on GM Dayton Moore’s part. I even liked the Peter O’Brien signing and don’t hate Jonathan Sanchez being brought in on a minor league contract. But something else has been gnawing at me this winter and these trades have reinforced my worries. It appears on the surface like the Royals are neither “going all in” this off-season nor “rebuilding”. In fact, it appears as if Kansas City management is straddling a fence that often isn’t very successful.

KC Royals VS NY Mets, Game 2, 2015 World Series

I feel like I need to be a bit more clear in my estimation, as it could be taken as if I am saying the Royals won’t be in a position to contend in 2017, which I don’t feel at all. In fact, I feel as if Kansas City has a great chance to be in the playoff hunt this year, as we enter the final year of a contending window with the current nucleus in place. That is a big part of my worries right there; after this season, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain will be free agents. Danny Duffy was also set to go out on the market, but luckily he was given a long-term extension while Wade Davis and Jarrod Dyson, two more potential free agents after 2017, were dealt in the trades mentioned above. The front office has known for years that this was the final year of winning with this group and while the initial plan was for the farm system to keep spitting out major league ready talent, that hasn’t turned out to be the case. Knowing that there was not really any help on the horizon down in the minors (although someone like Hunter Dozier could contribute as soon as this year), this felt like the season where the team should be “all in” and put the team in the best position to reach the playoffs. That has not happened and not all of that can fall at the feet of Moore. No, you have to look higher up on the food chain to find the biggest issue facing the front office.

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Back in December, it came out that Royals owner David Glass didn’t want the team to increase the payroll for the 2017 campaign, putting Moore and his associates in the front office in a weird position. Moore over the years has always tried to temper expectations and kept his cards close to the vest, but apparently he really meant it this year when he said that the team wouldn’t be able to take on more payroll:

“We’re simply not in a position to add to our current payroll,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said.

This is why Davis was traded and why Dyson wasn’t far behind; Moore was trying to shuffle the roster by unloading any payroll he can why acquiring players who are younger, cheaper and are under club control for the immediate future. In fact I will go a step further and say Moore has done an admirable job trying to keep the foundation of the team together to make another run while keeping the payroll within Glass’ desired level. Yes, some of this falls at the feet of Moore; he is the one who gave Ian Kennedy his 5 year contract, Omar Infante’s contract that the Royals are still paying for this year and backloaded a number of contracts to make the team’s money situation work in years past. But more than anything this feels like Glass being cheap, which he really hasn’t been these last few years. Why pull back now when more money could be had if the team goes back to the playoffs?

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When I first started understanding the business side of baseball, I learned very quickly that to make money in baseball you have to spend money. There has never been a major league owner that pinched pennies and made a fortune off of it; maybe for one year or some random event but none consistently. Instead, the teams that have made a ton of money did so by spending as well. Now, I am not saying that the only way to make money in baseball is to spend like the Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers; in fact, many of those teams that were high spenders didn’t even profit from playoff teams to really max out their wealth. So I am not saying Glass should just spend willy-nilly and expect profitable results; no, there is a way to spend wisely while not going over any self-imposed budget. The perfect definition of that could very well be those Royals teams that made the playoffs in both 2014 and 2015. Glass spent more money those two years than any other Royals team and he made more money both of those years than ever before because of the team playing into October. I am not saying Glass should give Dayton an open check and tell him to go get what they need; that should probably never be done, period. But a slight bump in the payroll could give this Royals team a chance to improve a few holes in the team’s roster and improve their chances of winning this year. With the Twins and White Sox rebuilding and the Tigers also straddling a fence (they have hinted at dealing some of their veterans this winter but alas none have been dealt), realistically that would leave the Royals and Indians to battle it out for the American League Central in 2017. That could still happen, but one has to wonder how this team will improve based just off of players being healthy and expecting many to improve on their 2016 output.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

The other issue at hand is tied up in Moore’s trades this winter and what they mean for the future of this team. Like I said, I have liked both trades he has made and feel getting Karns and Soler were excellent acquisitions for what Kansas City is trying to do. But…it does appear on the surface that they are trying to win this year while also building a club controlled roster after the expected departures next winter. The team is neither “all in” or “rebuilding” and this is a problem. In the past, team’s who have tried to leverage a situation like this have eventually decided to take either one path or the other once they figured out that taking neither wasn’t working. We don’t have to look far to see what kind of problem this can cause-just look at the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2012, the Phillies finished .500 while employing a roster of veterans like Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Roy Halladay. The team attempted to re-stock in 2013, adding Michael Young and Ben Revere while keeping the older nucleus in tact. The team floundered that year, losing 89 games and it appeared a rebuild was in their future. Instead, they acquired A.J. Burnett right before Spring Training that year, and would rack up another 89 loss season. It wasn’t until after that season that the organization put forward a full-scale rebuild on the franchise. The Phillies learned that straddling that line between rebuild and contending normally doesn’t work out and I’m afraid Kansas City will learn the same lesson.

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Since the idea of drifting between contending and rebuilding sounds counterproductive to me, I am in the camp that the Royals should be going for it this year. This is the last year of the window with Moose, Esky, Hos and Cain, so now would be the time to give this team its greatest opportunity to return to the playoffs. The farm system has very little in the way of help next year and this is an organization that didn’t make it to postseason play for 29 years before 2014; now is the time for one last run. The logic I am using is that if Glass agrees to spend even just an extra $10-$15 million to upgrade a few spots, they would at least be giving this squad the best opportunity to reach October baseball. We have zero idea of what will happen after 2017, and the likelihood that the Royals are even able to bring back more than just one of those four free agents is probably slim and none. The thinking is that if the team puts forth another winning season, the stadium will be packed and Glass will make his money back and then some. Instead, it feels like he is saying “we won a World Series, I think we’ll just stop there”. Even if the team doesn’t make it back to the postseason this year, Glass can go cheap in 2018 with a much younger ballclub, make his money that way and no one will think less of it, since they would be “rebuilding”. This group of players deserve one last shot at etching a legacy in Kansas City but the chances of that happening at the moment don’t look as good as it should be.

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So what does this all mean for the 2017 Kansas City Royals? It means that while this club on the surface still looks like a contender, things could go awry very quickly as well. One does have to wonder, after the soul-crushing death of Yordano Ventura, if the team might go out and pick up a replacement starter for the rotation or if they will attempt to fill his spot with a Matt Strahm or a Mike Minor. Even if another acquisition is looming, I’m not sold that this is the best Royals team that could be pieced together. Could they contend with this squad? Of course. But does this feel like a team that could cause damage in October? Not likely. I could be wrong but it feels like ownership is not giving this team the best chance to bring the World Series back to Kansas City, and that saddens me. It’s easy for me to sit here and say “spend more money”, when it isn’t my own. But if I understand the structure of a major league baseball team that wants to contend, you don’t half-ass the project. It should be all about winning the whole damn thing again this year and instead it feels like someone just waiting to turn the lights out. We have no clue how much of a chance the Royals will have to make the playoffs again after 2017; why not go out with a bang and get the band back together for one last gig? Instead it feels like a farewell tour where we keep asking them to play all the big hits one last time before hitting the road. At this point, Royals ownership should do right by the fans, the front office and even the players who have given their blood, sweat and tears these last 4-5 years. It’s time to push the chips all in and go for broke. Now is not the time to stop halfway and assume that will do the trick. It’s time to go for broke…and trust me Mr. Glass, this won’t make you broke. In fact it could increase your wealth for years to come…

The Battle Over Proper Baseball Etiquette: Royals Lose Series to Striving Blue Jays

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Leading up to this past weekend, the Royals had been building some positive momentum. They were still on top of the American League Central. They still had the best record in the American League. Then there was the two giant acquisitions they made earlier in the week to acquire Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, which you would think puts Kansas City right in line for favorites to be in the World Series. Then the Blue Jays went out and got Troy Tulowitzki. And Ben Revere. And Mark Lowe. And oh yeah, that David Price guy. A lot of the Royals thunder went to Toronto by the end of the week and many felt like this was a series that could be a window into a bigger playoff picture. This was a loaded four game series that was not weak for the heart, so let’s dive in.

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Series MVP: Ben Zobrist

Well, that didn’t take long. In Zobrist’s first games as a Royal he showed why fans like me have been praising his value for so long. Zobrist was 5 for 15 in this series, with 3 home runs, 6 RBI’s, a walk, a double and his slugging percentage went up over 40 points to .480. Zobrist hit two of those home runs on Saturday, one from each side of the plate:

To me that wasn’t even the part of his game that got me super excited. No, what I really loved seeing in this series was Zobrist work a count. I don’t know how many 2-2 or 3-2 counts I saw, but it is nice to see considering how most of the rest of the Royals are free swingers. Zobrist started out the series batting down in the sixth spot in the order, which seemed like a misuse of his on-base talents. Luckily, by the last two games Mike Moustakas was on the bench so Zobrist got a shot at the second hole. He seemed to really enjoy being near the top of the order, as was evidenced by his 4-7 in those two games with all 3 of his home runs and 4 of those 6 RBI’s:

If Zobrist continues to perform like this the Royals won’t miss Alex Gordon as much as expected, with the team feeling most of his loss on defense. I’m already excited to see Zobrist float around defensively; left field one game, right field another, then some time spent spelling Omar Infante at second. It is still early, but if the Royals are unable to re-sign Gordon this offseason, they should definitely take a long look at keeping Zobrist. I have a feeling his bat in this lineup would be a major plus while his glove would be paramount.

TORONTO, CANADA - AUGUST 2: Edinson Volquez #36 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch in the first inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays on August 2, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

Edinson Volquez has been the rock of the Royals starting rotation in 2015. While Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura have been inconsistent, Volquez has picked up the slack. When Jeremy Guthrie has had trouble keeping the ball in the ballpark, Volquez has slowed the other team’s offensive attack. That success continued on Sunday, as Volquez would compile his 10th quality start of the year, throwing 6 innings, giving up 4 hits and 2 runs while walking 3(and hitting a batter; more on that in just a bit) and striking out 4. Volquez did a good job of moving the ball around, in and out and then up and down. He kept the batters off-balance by constantly changing the view and was very adamant about pitching inside. In fact, that leads us to the biggest news story from this series…

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Sunday Afternoon is Alright For Fighting

Here we go again. First there was Oakland. Then there was Chicago. Now Toronto? First, let’s look at what happened. In the first inning Edinson Volquez got a pitch a bit too inside and plunked Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson:

Now, Donaldson has been red hot as of late and had been killing Kansas City during this series. I don’t fault Volquez for pitching him inside and as far as I could tell that wasn’t intentional, although after listening to Volquez postgame there is a chance it was done on purpose(sidenote: there was also a feeling amongst the Royals that Toronto was stealing signs during this series):

At that point the home plate umpire Jim Wolf issued warnings to both teams. Fine by me, nip it in the bud as fast as possible. Then in the 3rd, Volquez came back up and in with an off-speed pitch to Donaldson. No intent there, it was just a pitch that got away. If you know your baseball, you are aware that no pitcher is trying to hit a batter with an off-speed pitch; that is just illogical and defeats the purpose of what you are trying to accomplish. I can understand why Donaldson would be frustrated, but no way he was being thrown at, although that didn’t stop him from throwing a little swag into his walk to first:

Onto the bottom of the 7th inning and Ryan Madson is now in the game for Kansas City. Madson, on the 7th pitch of a 2 strike at bat, would hit Tulowitzki, which many felt thought should have been an automatic ejection. Once again, there was no intent there, as there was no way, that deep into the at bat and with a runner on second, that Madson is intentionally hitting Tulo. It was just a pitch that got away. Donaldson was up next, and on a 2-2 count he would come up and in on Donaldson. Once again, I get why Donaldson would be frustrated, but no way Madson is trying to hit him with two runners on base and the Royals still in a position that they can win the game. Donaldson at this point is irate, flat out screaming at Jim Wolf:

Look, at this point in the game I 100% agree with how Wolf had called the game. Wolf did a great job of figuring out what was intentional and what was just pitches that got away. Wolf even understood why Donaldson was so livid and let him yell at him; I can’t imagine many umpires letting a batter show him up like that, even considering the situation. This brings us to the top of the 8th and with 2 batters out and none out, Aaron Sanchez uncorked a pitch that would get him ejected from the game:

I believe that pitch was intentional on Sanchez’s part. I even understand that Toronto felt like they needed to retaliate. But Wolf was going purely off of intent at this point, and Sanchez’s pitch was intentional and that was why he was ejected. This leads me to a whole other topic that bothered me watching this game; the hitters(more specifically, Donaldson) getting angry about a pitcher throwing inside. I get any balls thrown at or near one’s head; no hitter likes that and I don’t blame them. But Donaldson seemed to have a major issue with the Royals pitching him inside and I am sorry but no hitter owns that plate:

Not only that, but the Blue Jays hitters are notorious for leaning out over the plate. No pitcher wants a guy getting that comfortable at the dish and no hitter should be diving out over the plate and not expect to get plunked:

All I kept thinking watching this was a)If these guys did that to Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale they would probably be in a hospital somewhere and b)this whole thing made Josh Donaldson look like a child. Back in April I felt like the Royals were being babies during that A’s series that got out of control. On Sunday it felt like the Blue Jays were being oversensitive to a normal part of the game. All hitters take note: the plate is not yours and yours alone. A pitcher is allowed to pitch inside, especially if you crowd the plate with all of your body armor. You dive over it, you get nailed. I personally felt like Jim Wolf did a great job in this game and understood what was going on. That being said, there was a part of me that wished someone would have gotten thrown out on the Kansas City side just so this whole mess hadn’t escalated. Even impartial baseball fans like Grant Brisbee felt like Wolf called a good game but might have been better off just throwing Volquez out. I know there was a lot of discussion that this could be an interesting matchup in the playoffs, but I would rather not revisit this. There was more nonsense that went on after this on Twitter, but I’m not even going to discuss that. Here are some more tidbits from Sunday’s melee:

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But wait, there is more! Time for the news and notes from this four game series:

  • I’ve been chronicling Mike Moustakas’ hit total as of late, since he toppled his 2014 total with a few months of baseball remaining. What I haven’t mentioned is his struggles over the last month. In July, Moose hit .188/.271/..306 in 23 games. The power has been there, as he has clobbered 3  home runs while driving in 8, but Moustakas has gotten away from what worked earlier in the season, which was hitting the ball to the opposite field. During July, Moose has pulled the ball 36% of the time, hit to center 37%, and only hit the ball to left 26% of the time. It seems simple to me, but if Moustakas can start taking advantage of the whole field again, I think we could see him start to climb out of his current slump. Moustakas ended up sitting out both Saturday and Sunday; Saturday he pinch hit and was hit by a pitch, which caused him to sit out the next day.
  • If(if) the Royals have to face off with Toronto in the playoffs, it might be best to keep Ryan Madson off that roster. In 4 games this season against Toronto, Madson has thrown 1.2 innings, giving up 9 hits, 7 runs(5 earned) while hitting a batter and striking out 3. Yes, that gives him a glorious 27.00 ERA this year against the Blue Jays. Whatever it is, it appears Toronto has his number.
  • Once again, Mark Buerhle stifled the Royals offense on Saturday. In fact since 2013, Buerhle has held the Royals to 9 runs in 5 games. Buerhle isn’t going to blow anyone away but he hardly walks anyone(4 walks during those 3 years against Kansas City) and knows how to pitch. It goes to show you, kids, it’s all about location, location, location.
  • Hold on to your seat; Wade Davis gave up a home run!!!

Now, Davis also had some back stiffness this weekend. I am going to go ahead and blame it on that:

Hey, credit to Jose Bautista to turn on that high 97 mph heater. But still, it was because of Wade’s back. That is my story and I am sticking to it.

  • For not being a base stealer(like, ever), Kendrys Morales sure knows how to slide:

He also knows how to properly celebrate:

Okay then.

  • Yordano Ventura was breezing along on Saturday before giving up a couple of blasts to Bautista and Donaldson in the 4th inning.  Overall, he allowed five runs on six hits and two walks over seven innings. Ventura seemed to hit a wall in that inning and was forced to fight his way out of it. He seemed to be throwing his off-speed pitches a bit more in this game, but he was still leaving his fastball out over the middle of the plate. Ventura is still young and I’m sure will find his way but right now he is learning it’s not as simple as having a fastball that reaches triple digits. It might not be this season, but he will get there. This is the second straight start I saw improvement and I think it was good that manager Ned Yost kept him in to figure it out. It’s the only way he will learn.
  • Johnny Cueto had a decent outing in his first game as a Royal. Cueto went 6 innings, allowing 7 hits and 3 runs while walking 2 and striking out 7. It doesn’t matter how many times I see him pitch, all I see is Luis Tiant. He even did a butt-wiggle in mid-windup to try and throw the Blue Jays hitters off.
  • Eric Hosmer’s 14 game hitting streak was snapped on Sunday. Hosmer has been red hot most of July, hitting .375/.417/.554 since July 1st. Hopefully we will see more of the same throughout August.
  • Finally, Aaron Brooks, a former Royals dealt in the Zobrist deal, had a great first outing in Oakland:

Congrats, Aaron. Hope this means an extended stay in the majors is in his future.

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Tweets of Royalty

Jul 31, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Home Plate umpire Angel Hernandez (55) calls Kansas City Royals designated hitter Kendrys Morales (25) safe at home plate during the first inning in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-216426 ORIG FILE ID:  20150731_ajw_bt2_047.jpg
Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY

So the Royals are still leading the American League Central after losing 3 of 4 to Toronto, now ahead of Minnesota by 8.5 games. The team will have a much deserved day off on Monday(their first since the All-Star Break) before opening a three game series in Detroit against the Tigers. It will be nice for Kansas City to not have to face David Price or pitch to Yoenis Cespedes during these three games. Hopefully they can win this series before heading home to take on Chicago for three at ‘The K’. Normally, August is when teams that are going to fade start doing just that; at this point I don’t expect to see Kansas City slip too much in the standings. Hopefully there is regular rest during one of the hottest months of the year for their starters and players like Moustakas and Sal Perez can get out of their slumps. It’s a new month but the Royals should have the same game plan; win the whole thing.

 

 

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