Whit and Charm

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With only two weeks until Opening Day, we are getting closer and closer to finding out just who will be the final survivors for the Kansas City Royals opening 25, since a few spots are still open. The Royals will probably start the season with four bench players and to this point a couple players seem fairly close to locks. One spot is the backup to catcher Salvador Perez and my money is on Drew Butera beating out Tony Cruz for that spot. Another spot is probably Christian Colon’s to have, as he would be the backup infielder assuming Omar Infante starts the year as the primary second baseman. That would leave two spots and there is a good chance Reymond Fuentes will win one of them, as he has had an excellent spring so far, hitting .375 with two home runs, 6 RBI’s and an OPS of 1.191. This would leave one open bench spot to divide between Clint Barmes, Travis Snider and Whit Merrifield.

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Merrifield is the most interesting name of the group this spring, as he has bounced around the Royals minor league system since he was drafted in 2010, and is probably past the point of being referred to as a prospect. But what he has done is gain twenty pounds this offseason as he tried to gain bulk on his frame and give himself a greater opportunity to make the Royals roster. The 27 year old began his college career playing the outfield but over the years has learned to play all four infield positions as well, which he did in 2015 for the Royals AAA team in Omaha( A year ago, he played 57 games at second base, 35 in left field, 15 at third base and 14 at first base). This versatility is what gives him an edge and could punch his ticket for a roster spot to start the year.

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It also doesn’t hurt that he has had a good spring, hitting .389 with an RBI and an OPS of 1.151. The Royals are known to keep a small bench so they can stash more arms in the bullpen, so a player like Merrifield would be invaluable, as he could fill in almost anywhere on the diamond other than behind the dish. He appears to be the kind of player manager Ned Yost loves, a scrapper who does the little things like moving runners over, bunting and stealing a base or two. It’s not a lock that Merrifield will win a roster spot this spring, but it has to be intriguing to Kansas City management to have a player like Merrifield stowed away for future use.

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Super utility players have become all the rage in baseball the last few years and the Royals have employed a few of the bigger name ones over the years. There was Ben Zobrist last year, Emilio Bonifacio in 2013 and before that Willie Bloomquist was plopped into that role in 2009 and 2010. Merrifield might not get the notoriety that those players have, but the Royals don’t need him to have his name up in lights. They just need him to fill whatever role is needed for that day and time. Those seven meals a day he threw down this past winter might give him the major league job he has coveted for years now…and the Royals could be better because of it.

So About That Royals Farm System…

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Last week I was posed the question of whether there was anyone in Kansas City Royals camp that could surprise the team this spring. I discussed a few non-roster invitees, but no prospects and there are a few reasons for that. For one, this team is pretty close to a set roster and will only have a few spots open for competition. The other reason is that there are very few Royals prospects on the verge of breaking into the big leagues. If you look at the top of most prospect lists for Kansas City, you will see Raul Mondesi, Kyle Zimmer and even Bubba Starling taking up space. Starling is probably (at the least) another year away, while Zimmer has to stay healthy first before he can be considered to help Kansas City this year. I do believe we will see Mondesi this year, in fact I wouldn’t be shocked if he is the starting second baseman by August. Defensively he is ready, but his offense is still a work in progress. But after these three? Well, the farm system has taken a hit the last few years, and is currently anywhere from 18 to 23 in most MLB depth lists. Is that a fair position to put the Royals farm system in?

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I believe so, since the team lost a number of top prospects this past summer in the Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist trades. Sean Manaea  went to Oakland for Zobrist and he is now the A’s top prospect. Cody Reed was a part of the Cueto deal and he is currently number two on the Reds prospect charts. This is all without mentioning Brandon Finnegan, the former number one draft choice who was dealt with Reed to Cincinnati last summer. It sounds like a lot of talent dealt, and it was, but think of it this way; without those trades, the Royals probably aren’t world champions, so at the end of the day it was worth it. The other thing to remember is that a number of main talents are in the lower minor leagues for Kansas City, players that have been stockpiled over the last few drafts. Guys like Foster Griffin, Nolan Watson, Ashe Russell, Ryan O’Hearn and Chase Vallot are all players you should store in the back of your mind for future reference, although none will be seeing the major leagues anytime soon. The Royals front office and scouting department has done a nice job over the last few years re-stocking their minor leagues with players who will hopefully be the next wave of talent that rises through the minors together, but they won’t be part of the big picture for a few more years. So who could we see this year in Kansas City?

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There are obvious choices, like Cheslor Cuthbert and Miguel Almonte, players we saw off and on throughout the 2015 campaign. A few other prospects worth mentioning are Matt Strahm and Alec Mills, two pitchers who have steadily risen through Kansas City’s farm system. Strahm is a lefty who could see some time out of the bullpen this year, while Mills is another power arm with a nice array of pitches in his arsenal. Mills finished the year in high A ball, striking out 111 batters while walking only 14. Either guy could be contributing for the Royals out of the bullpen by the end of the year.

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So there are prospects that can contribute this season, but not many. Just looking at the surface, it appears the Royals have neglected the farm. But in reality it is a steady process that will take a few years to fully bloom. This is what happens when you win; you don’t get the higher draft picks that are on the fast track to the big leagues. Instead you accumulate arms and athletes and hope a few over-exceed expectations. The future is bright, but it gleams brighter the deeper you look.

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.

 

 

 

Royals Devil Magic Has Returned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Not Easy Being On the Royals Playoff Roster

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

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Catchers(2): Salvador Perez, Drew Butera

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

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

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

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

DH(1): Kendrys Morales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free As a Bird: Orioles Continue Royals Slide

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It feels like weeks since I have done a review of a Kansas City Royals series and in some ways it has. Life sure has a way of getting in the way of fun, although there is little joy in Mudville right now. That’s right, the Kansas City Royals are on a downward projectory with only a few weeks left in this regular season and the villagers are freaking out. Well, some of them are. I am not. In fact, I say lets get this losing cycle out of the way. The Royals struggled a bit this past weekend in Baltimore, a series that saw the Orioles take two of three from Kansas City. There was some good, some bad and even the downright ugly. Let’s meander over and see what all this series meant for the Royals of Kansas City.

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas, right, celebrates his grand slam with teammates Ben Zobrist (18), Kendrys Morales and Lorenzo Cain (6) in the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Series MVP: Mike Moustakas

On the surface, it wasn’t a blow away series for ‘The Man We Call Moose’. But it’s hard not to give this achievement for one lone game when it is one of the best in franchise history. On Saturday, Moustakas went 3 for 5, hitting 2 home runs and driving in 9, which is a new Royals record:

So what is even better about this? How about the fact that this monster achievement could have entirely been the source of a ‘mechanical adjustment’:

Still not impressed?

Here is the 2nd home run, the one that pushed him to 9 RBI’s in the game:

Overall, Moustakas went 4 for 14 in this series, with a total of 11 RBI’s. Over the last month we have gone from Moustakas going back to his pull-happy days of 2014 before reverting back to the Moose we saw earlier this season, that opposite field hitter we call ‘Oppo-Moose’. It has been a crazy season for Moustakas, one that was more of a struggle than any of us knew. Word got out this weekend about his mother passing away last month, as she had been battling cancer over the last couple of years. It has been something Moustakas has been dealing with for awhile now and I’m sure it weighed heavy over the last month. Hopefully Moose can finish the year strong and possibly even reach a plateau, like that 20 home run mark, since he is only two away.

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(Most Talked About)Pitching Performance of the Series: Johnny Cueto 

The most talked about topic with the Royals nowadays is the performance of Johnny Cueto and why he is struggling so much. It’s pretty obvious that Cueto has hit a bump in the road, which wasn’t helped by his start on Sunday night. Cueto went 6.1 innings, giving up 11 hits and 8 runs(7 earned) while walking 1 and striking out 3. It gets worse when you go back to August 21st, which is five starts ago and when this stretch of confusion sat in for Cueto. In those five starts, Cueto has thrown 26.1 innings, giving up 48 hits and 30 runs(28 earned) while walking 5 and striking out 20. That leaves Cueto with an ERA of 9.57 and opposing hitters have a BAbip of .417. It’s even worse when looking at hitters slash line against him: .390/.411/.675. So what is going on? Oh, there are theories and so far no one theory is the sole answer. The Royals felt like he was tipping his pitches for awhile, or that he wasn’t getting as much movement on his pitches as he normally does:

That was debunked Sunday, as his pitches had good life and there were no noticeable tipping going on. Injured? He says no and has been saying no for weeks. Lost command of his fastball and hung some off-speed pitches? Early on, yes, but not really recently. He has been leaving more pitches up in the strike zone than normal, as normally he would keep the ball down more. There is also this; Rob Neyer recently wrote a piece on Cueto and I found this very telling:

One odd thing about Cueto’s pitching in recent weeks: the range of speeds on his fastball seems to have gotten significantly smaller. Prior to his last seven starts, his fastballs in a game typically ranged from 87 to 96 miles an hour. In his last seven starts, though? Cueto hasn’t thrown a single fastball slower than 91. His two-seam fastball and his change-up are his second and third pitches, and those also have shown less variance lately. Which might suggest that he’s a little too amped up, and is simply overthrowing.

So there is that as well. Funny thing, his strikeout to walk ratio with the Royals is better than when he was with Cincinnati, in fact better than at any other time in his career over a full season. More than anything it appears he has hit a slump where he is leaving the ball up and losing confidence. That has made some of us ask some very poignant questions:

Some Royals fans have suggested he be left off the playoff roster. That isn’t happening. He still has about 4 starts left this season and after that will determine his fate. At worse he comes out of the pen, or becomes the fourth starter. It would be insane to keep Cueto off the playoff roster considering his status in the league over the last five years. I know I have my concerns, but I’m also not majorly worried…yet. It does appear that a wise sage doesn’t agree with my estimate:

It will be interesting to follow. What we do know is that even if this keeps up, the Cueto trade isn’t the worse in Royals history:

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It sure seemed as if Moustakas and Cueto were the only talking points in this series, but they weren’t. A visit to ‘Charm City’ brought some news and notes for these Royals:

  • I mentioned that Moustakas had his one monster game, but Lorenzo Cain put together a good series for the Royals. Cain was 4 for 13, with 2 home runs and 3 RBI’s, with both homers coming on Friday night. Cain is continuing his push in the American League MVP race, one in which he will probably come up short but should end up in the top five. In fact, Cain is hitting .310/.362/.643 so far in September and looks to continue that into October as the Royals push for their first championship since 1985.
  • Royals manager Ned Yost has started using a more logical batting order as of late, moving high OBP hitters like Alex Gordon and Ben Zobrist batting 1-2 while Alcides Escobar has slid back down to 9th in the order:

I’ve been highly critical of Yost over the years, but since last October it’s almost like he has become a wizard and figured out that logical managing is easier than he thought. I love this move and have zero complaints about it. Good job by Neddy. There. I said it.

  • If there is a major concern I have with this club, it is the bullpen. One issue is the lingering physical issues Wade Davis continues to battle:

As if that wasn’t enough, Greg Holland’s velocity has fallen and it can’t get up:

But there’s more! Looking at the bullpen’s numbers over the last month and they are posting a -0.1 WAR and a 4.71 FIP, both ugly numbers. Strikeout and walk rates aren’t too bad but the ERA is around 3.79 in that span, very human for this stellar pen. It gets worse. Over the last two weeks, they are the worst bullpen in the American League, posting a -0.5 WAR, a 5.91 FIP and an ERA of 6.00. Their strikeout rate in this period is the middle of the pack, but the walk rate is the second highest in the league and their HR/9 is only ahead of the Red Sox. This is alarming since this group has been one of the hallmarks of this team the last few years and what was once a guarantee now seems like a question mark. Hopefully the bullpen ship can be righted before October, otherwise more rocky waters could be on the way.

  • Finally, don’t look now but someone has woken up Alex Rios! Rios was 5 for 10 in this series, with 2 doubles, a home run and 3 RBI’s against Baltimore. In fact, since returning from his bout with the chickenpox, Rios has a line of .353/.368/.647 and looks to be positioning himself for a spot on the playoff roster. There have been many discussions about whether or not Rios will be on it, considering you have Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando as better defensive options and Jonny Gomes as a major bench contributor, but if I was asked right now I would say he is on it. He might never have the power he had even three years ago, but if he can hit like he has over the last week than he has a valuable spot on the roster.

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Tweets of Royalty 

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Only twenty games remain in this 2015 regular season for the Royals as their ‘Magic Number’ sits at 11. I think we can all agree this isn’t how we pictured things wrapping up in September, but Kansas City now has some work to do as time does start to run out. The Royals travel to Cleveland for four games this week, a great chance for this team to get back on track and knock off a few wins so some of the panicky Royals fans can calm down and enjoy the next month. Look at it this way; they can either slump now or slump once the playoffs begin. I will take now. It seemed elementary just a month ago but now it might take a little bit of work. If the Royals are going to clinch soon, they are going to have to do it within the division. Honestly, that’s how this should go down. Step 1, get back to basics. Simple as that.

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