This Friday the New York Yankees travel to Kauffman Stadium as they open a three-game series against the Kansas City Royals. There will be many a discussion about the “old days” and how at one time the Royals and Yankees had one of the biggest rivalries in baseball. But in 2018 that is no more and hasn’t been for a very long time.
Back in the late ’70’s/early 80’s the Royals and Yankees hated each other as much as Rob Manfred hates anyone standing still. The two teams battled it out in the American League Championship Series from 1976-1978 and then again in 1980. While the feud was mostly based on competition and the desire to reach the World Series, there was also a real built-in hatred there.
Let’s start with 1976 and the series deciding Game 5. In the Top of the 8th inning, George Brett would come up and put the game into a 6-6 deadlock:
Unfortunately for Kansas City, Chris Chambliss would break the hearts of Royals fans everywhere with this walk-off home run to win the series:
In 1977, the play on the field would get even rougher thanks to one of Hal McRae’s patented slides:
This was from Game 2 of the ALCS and it showed that both teams would do whatever it took to come away victors. That would get ramped up even more during the 1st inning of Game 5:
So at this point it is pretty easy to see that the Royals didn’t like the Yankees and the feeling was mutual from the Yankees. The Yankees would rally for three runs in the Top of the 9th and would seal the deal in the bottom of the inning:
The two teams would meet again in the 1978 ALCS and would split the first two games in Kansas City. For the Yankees to win Game 3, they would have to stop George Brett:
Despite the three home run day for Brett, the Royals would fall short again, losing both Games 3 and 4 as the Yankees would once again punch their ticket to the World Series:
While the Yankees were always the team ending up on top during those three years, the truth was that Kansas City was right there with them in most of those games. The two teams would face off 14 times in the playoffs during that three-year stretch and 6 of the 14 games would be decided by two runs or less. Finally in 1980, the Royals would get their revenge:
While many consider Brett’s homer off Gossage in the ‘Pine Tar Game’ to be the most iconic homer of Brett’s career, he would never hit a bigger shot than the one in Game 3 of the ALCS in 1980. After years of falling just short of New York, sweeping the Yankees in 1980 was the definition of things finally coming back around.
The two teams would continue to battle for American League dominance over the next few seasons but wouldn’t ever meet back up in the playoffs. In fact maybe the most remembered moment of their feud was the aforementioned ‘Pine Tar Game’:
After years of feuding, Billy Martin was still looking for a way to stick it to Brett and the Royals. As most of us are aware, this would eventually backfire on Martin, as the American League President Lee MacPhail would uphold the Royals protest and the home run would stand. The Royals would end up winning the game when they restarted the game almost a month later.
After that? Well, the feud pretty much dissipated. The Yankees would have a long playoff drought and not return to the playoffs until 1995. While it would have been great for the Royals and Yankees to continue this rivalry, the truth is that the two teams were hardly ever relevant at the same time. With the main players in the feud gone and retired, the hatred and animosity trickled away as well.
Now in 2018, it’s just business as usual when these two teams meet up. Many of the players not only know each other but are friends with the other side and there is a different aura when the two clash. If anything the only real vitriol that remains is from us, the fans.
In fact if I am being honest, it is mostly from us older fans. As a kid I was trained to hate the Yankees. It wasn’t because they were a big-market team or because they would sign our players when they hit the free agent market. No, we hated them because they were the team the Royals had to jump over to get to the World Series. We hated the Yankees because of all the times they broke our hearts.
While there is still a vile taste left in the mouth when mentioning the Yankees, for younger fans it is more of a ‘Big Market vs. Small Market’ hatred than anything else. Over the last 20 or so years, there are very few moments of the Yankees personally doing something to the Royals to really make us despise them.
I guess you could be mad at former Yankee Robinson Cano for not picking Billy Butler in the Home Run Derby in 2012 or be mad at Derek Jeter for being Derek Jeter. But actual, legit beef for doing something dastardly to our boys in blue? It just isn’t there.
To be honest, it saddens me that this feud has tapered off. There is nothing quite like a healthy competition between two teams that want to win and will do anything to do it. Call it David vs. Goliath, or to modernize it a bit maybe Thanos vs. the Avengers.
There is nothing quite like a good underdog story and for years the Royals played that tune ‘to a T’. Sometime in the future it will happen again and these two teams will rekindle their venom for each other. But for now, it’s just two teams trying to win a nice game of baseball. It’s compelling, but it just doesn’t have the same bite to it.
Even in the middle of a calamity there appears a glint of hope. For the Kansas City Royals 2018 season, that glint would be the performance of Jorge Soler and more to the point, his ability to draw walks. The problem is, the Royals as a whole just aren’t big fans of a patient eye.
I’m not spilling any major secrets when I say that Kansas City has not been a team to embrace the ability to work a count and take a free base. For years this team has almost looked at patience at the plate with a “well, I guess if we have to” type mentality. The Royals championships teams of the last few years were built on making contact with an emphasis on putting the ball in play.
Over the course of the Royals 50 year history, they have had only six instances of players with 100+ walk seasons, with John Mayberry’s 122 walks back in 1973 being the ultimate peak. In fact, the numbers don’t get much better when discussing walks and the Royals. 2013 was the last time the team wasn’t last in the league in walks and 2010 was the last time they were able to breach the top ten in the American League.
In fact the highest walk total for a Royals player in the last decade was Billy Butler’s 79 back in 2013, which garnered an 11.8% walk rate. The highest walk rate in club history was Mayberry’s 19.1%, which he compiled back in the before-mentioned 1973 campaign. This leads us to what Soler is doing and why it is so special.
So far Soler has 18 walks in his 24 games, putting him 6th in the American league for his total and 11th in actual walk rate. His rate currently sits at 18.2%, which if he was able to maintain it would give him the second highest walk rate among qualified batters in Royals history, just a smidgen above Darrel Porter’s 17.8% back in 1979.
So what Soler is doing so far is something that Royals’ fans haven’t seen in many moons but is something we should see more often, if I’m being frank. I’ve long been a proponent of the ability to produce a walk and tend to believe there is a direct correlation for teams that take more walks to produce more success.
Looking back over the last five years, every year the team that led the league in bases on balls also made an appearance in the playoffs. 2012 was the last year that the team who led all of baseball in walk rate (the Tampa Bay Rays) didn’t make it to the postseason. Before that it was 2006, when the Red Sox led all of baseball but fell short to the Yankees. In most years, the teams that rank near the top of the leader-board in walks are the ones who continue to play into October.
My belief has always been that the value of drawing a walk goes beyond just getting another runner on base. If a batter is taking a number of pitches, that should be driving up the pitcher’s pitch count. The higher that pitch count gets, the earlier a team has to dip into their bullpen. The earlier you get into a team’s bullpen, the more taxed they become. Being a patient hitting team has a very immediate trickle-down effect.
There is also the whole “extra base-runner” thing which is always a positive. Just go back and look at the first inning of the Royals game on Monday. Whit Merrifield gets a hit, followed by a Soler walk and Mike Moustakas getting hit by a pitch to load the bases. Walks by Salvador Perez and Lucas Duda would follow and by the time the inning was done the Royals had put a three spot on the board.
Now if Kansas City was better at hitting with runners in scoring position that score would have been higher, but that isn’t the point here. The point is that the walks doled out led to extra base-runners which led to more scoring opportunities. More opportunities tend to led to more runs, which is the whole name of the game.
I also believe if the Royals were a bit more patient they might not be such a streaky offensive team. Remember last year’s scoreless streak? That might have been avoided (or at least halted a lot sooner) if the team took more walks. Patience is normally less streaky than hitting and if they had taken more walks the Royals might have been able to muster up a couple of more rallies and been able to squeak out a few more “W’s” during some close games.
I’m not saying that if this team walked more that their success would turn around or that what Soler is doing should be done by every player. I highly doubt we will ever see Alcides Escobar or Salvador Perez rack up walk totals like Joey Votto. But a heavier emphasis on patience, especially starting at the minor league level, could go a long way.
So maybe some of Soler’s teammates should take a cue from him and force the opposing pitchers to throw them strikes. It’s not a glamorous part of the game or even one that will gain you admiration from some in the fan base. But a few more walks could lead to a few more runs and at this point, the Royals need to cross the plate more often if they want to win more games this season.
The other day Matthew LaMar wrote about Hunter Dozier and the unwillingness of the Kansas City Royals to give him an opportunity when a spot has become available on the roster. Matthew wrote up a number of reasons why the team might have passed him over and some of them might carry some weight, especially among those in the Royals front office or even their scouting department.
But Dozier is not the first prospect in the Kansas City farm system to be passed over despite not having anyone of actual value holding them back. In fact, over the years the team has found a way to not see what they have with their younger talent. There for a long time, the Royals were infamous for bypassing younger players for older ones with more big league experience.
Justin Huber was one of the first names to pop in my mind when I thought of players not given a chance to perform. Huber was a highly touted prospect in the New York Mets system when they traded him to the Royals before the 2004 trade deadline for…Jose Bautista. Huber was initially a catcher, but after the trade he tore cartilage in his left knee and underwent surgery that would end his career behind the dish. The Royals would move him to first base and eventually shift him to the outfield later in his career.
Huber consistently was slugging in the .450-.475 range for most of his minor league years in New York and during his first season in the Kansas City organization hit .326/.417/.560 over 527 plate appearances. He would get a slight audition with the major league club that year, playing in 25 games while hitting just .218/.271/.256 over 85 plate appearances.
He would end up back in Omaha to start 2006 but would end up only getting 11 plate appearances that year. I specifically remember the team recalling him in May of that year for a series against Minnesota and he would only get one at bat, a pinch-hitting appearance on May 3rd.
At the time the Royals had Doug Mientkiewicz at first base and while he was a good hitter with a great glove, he also was in his age 32 season and was a one year solution at first. In layman’s terms, no one of major value was blocking Huber from getting playing time. Alas it was not to be, as Huber would play eight more games for the Royals in 2007 before being traded to San Diego in March of 2008.
Speaking of first baseman, Kila Ka’aihue is another player who the Royals dragged their feet on. Ka’aihue put up a monster year in 2008, hitting .314/.456/.628 with 37 home runs and 100 RBI’s while splitting time in AA and AAA. The Royals gave him 24 plate appearances that September and he looked to at least be an option in 2009.
Instead, Ka’aihue would spend the entire 2009 season in Omaha, hitting .252/.392/.433 with 17 home runs and 57 RBI’s. Meanwhile, the Royals had a 1B/DH combo of Billy Butler and…Mike Jacobs. Jacobs was awful during his only season in Kansas City, hitting .228/.297/.401 with an OPS+ of 84. He would be released by Kansas City in December of that year.
Ka’aihue would get a bit of a chance in May of the following year, as he was recalled to Kansas City but would still see the majority of his playing time in Omaha. He finished the 2010 season on a bit of a hot streak with 8 home runs and 25 RBI’s.
But we knew what would happen next. Eric Hosmer was on the horizon and with Billy Butler firmly entrenched at DH, that left Ka’aihue without a spot. He would end his Kansas City career with only 326 plate appearances in a four-year span, hitting .216/.309/.375.
Finally, there is the tale of Johnny Giavotella. Giavotella moved quickly through the Kansas City farm system and by the end of 2011 had posted wRC+ seasons of 123, 108, 139 and 118 and was easily the best second base prospect in the organization.
Giavotella was recalled in August of 2011 and two days after would hit his first major league home run off of Max Scherzer. Gio would spend the last two months in Kansas City, hitting .247/.273/.376 with a wRC+ of 72. He would spend 2012 bouncing back and forth between AAA and the majors, compiling 189 plate appearances and a wRC+ of 55.
At the time, “Mistake Free” Chris Getz was the Royals second baseman and while he was decent on defense, he was below average with the bat. The Royals liked Getz’s glove and Giavotella’s defense obviously hurt him in the Royals’ eyes. The fact he hadn’t hit during his short trials probably didn’t help matters either.
By the end of 2014 he was designated for assignment and would end his Royals career getting 465 plate appearances (over four years), hitting .238/.277/.334 and an OPS+ of 67. It always felt like Johnny was never given a prolonged look at the position to truly see what he was capable of and the question was always what would happen if he was just told to go out there and play on a day-to-day basis.
That is the issue with all of these players and what appears could happen to Dozier. None of the names I mentioned above were ever really truly given a chance to get comfortable and play on a consistent basis in Kansas City. The chances they were given were sporadic at best and it was frustrating to watch replacement level veterans filling spots on a number of Royals teams that, to be honest, just weren’t going anywhere.
That is the point of this whole thing. I’m not saying that Ka’aihue, Giavotella or Huber (or even someone like Jose Martinez years later) would have been top shelf offensive stars and would plant themselves in the Royals lineups for years and years. For all we know they would have produced exactly like they did in their short time with the team.
But they should have been given the chance to see what they could do, especially since no one was blocking them. We saw Hosmer and Mike Moustakas struggle for years to reach a level of success in the big leagues and the organization allowed them that time to figure it out on a yearly basis.
The players mentioned weren’t afforded that same chance and because of that we are forever left with questions with what could have been. The Royals have an opportunity over the next couple of years to give a number of players the chance to prove their worth and the time to let them fail and pick themselves back up. Sure, not every prospect is going to succeed and a number of them won’t be keepers. But you never know unless you give them the opportunity.
Not allowing someone like Dozier or even someone like Ryan O’Hearn an opportunity after all the time that has been invested in them feels like a loss of resources. At least find out what these guys can and can’t do; if the Royals want to cut bait after that then they are perfectly within their rights. But don’t leave questions left unanswered.
For the last three years, the Kansas City Royals have teased us with using a floating Designated Hitter in their lineup rather than having one player entrenched into the role on a daily basis. It was originally bandied about back when Billy Butler became a free agent after the 2014 season…and then the team signed Kendrys Morales. It was brought up again last winter…and then the Royals brought Brandon Moss on board to fill the role of full-time DH.
It feels like the Royals are thinking about the idea but just don’t want to commit to it. It’s the equivalent of dipping your toes into the water at the pool without just diving in. While the team has flirted with the idea before running back to what they know, it finally appears this is the season they commit to using the DH for a whole gaggle of players…and it couldn’t make more sense than it does right now.
When Spring Training started last month, the DH wasn’t designated for just one player but it appeared the RF/DH combo of Jorge Bonifacio and Jorge Soler would see most of the at bats there. The team had committed to letting their young players play and getting Bonifacio, Soler and Cheslor Cuthbert at bats seemed to be their main goal. Then they signed Lucas Duda. Then Jon Jay. Finally, they brought back Mike Moustakas. At this point it was hard picturing those younger guys getting the 400 to 500 at bats that management wanted them to rack up.
But then Bonifacio was suspended 80 games for testing positive for a performance enhancing substance. That appeared to open up at bats for the likes of Cuthbert and Soler and made the idea of a floating DH even more enticing. With Bonifacio’s suspension, the Royals are now in a situation where they can use the DH as their own little testing ground.
Cuthbert appears to be the one who would benefit the most from this, as his at bats seemed to go up in smoke once Moustakas was signed. Now, he could slide into the DH role while also occasionally filling in at first base ( Duda’s splits career-wise against righties are .249/.356/.486 while against lefties they are .218/.289/.370) and third base. Michael Saunders also could see some time at DH, as he would add another left-hander to the lineup and give someone a day off.
Speaking of days off, the best reasoning for going to a revolving door at DH would be to give some of the regulars time off and let them rest their legs. No one would benefit more from this than Salvador Perez, who has worn down physically these last few years from all the wear and tear behind the dish. Giving Salvy a few days a month where he doesn’t have to squat a gajillion times but can still keep his bat in the lineup feels like a win-win situation. It would also benefit some of the veterans in the Royals lineup like Alex Gordon, Lucas Duda, Jon Jay or Mike Moustakas. The season is a long one and when you give some of your older players a break during the long, hot days of summer it can only benefit your team.
It also can make it easier when Bonifacio returns from his 80-day suspension. His return would probably (unless there is an injury) push Soler to float around a bit more. As Bonifacio would be working himself into mid-season form, this would also give him the occasional rest, letting him get at bats while resting his legs. Bonifacio won’t be able to just slide back into an every day role, but this would allow him to still get playing time while not pushing him too hard on his return.
This is without even mentioning the possibility of any players being recalled from the minors. What if the Royals decided to add Hunter Dozier or Adalberto Mondesi to the mix, or even someone like Bubba Starling or Ryan O’Hearn? While none of these are guarantees, leaving the DH spot open also leaves open different scenarios that could play out as the season progresses. Not locking just one player into the role allows the team to be creative while also getting a chance to see what they truly have on the roster.
In fact, that flexibility is exactly why more and more teams have ventured away from employing a full-time DH. In 2017, only ten batters had enough plate appearances as the designated hitter to quality for the batting title. Of those ten, only five posted a wRC+ of 100 or more (Ryon Healy straddled that league average with exactly 100), with Nelson Cruz, Corey Dickerson and Edwin Encarnacion being the only notable batters to fill this role while also posting 2.5 fWAR or more. Most teams have realized the freedom they are allowed when they tear away from the shackles of one lone DH and treat it as a revolving door.
So with about two weeks left until Opening Day, it appears the Royals might actually do what they have considered for years. I have long been a proponent of the team employing a floating DH and I’m even more intrigued by it now that it might actually happen. No matter the outcome, if the Royals follow this plan they will benefit from it one way or another. Whether it is a player performing above expectations, or resting some of the regulars, this is a plan that more than anything will allow them to know what they really have with the crop of talent on the roster. It might be scary and it might be the great unknown, but it’s time. It’s time for the Royals to jump into the pool and let the DH be a revolving door.
Sometimes, when I’m half asleep and veering off into unconsciousness, I remember. I remember a time when we relied on hope. It was a simpler time, when players were “mistake free” and reporters were told to “rewind yourself”. It was a time when the thought of a winning season, never mind a full-blown championship, was enough to put a smile on any Kansas City Royals fan’s face. During this period, a phrase was uttered so many times that it became both a mantra and a sarcastic answer to another blow-out loss. That phrase was “Trust the Process”.
I was reminded of this the other day when reading the latest from a former Kansas City scribe, Joe Posnanski. Joe was around for a number of the lean years and remembers them (I’m sure) somewhat fondly. More than that, he remembers Dayton Moore and his beliefs B.C. (Before Championship):
Moore isn’t naive about it; he dutifully answers those questions. But this idea of baseball being bigger than baseball, this is what he really wants to talk about … and it always has been. He has believed from his first day on the job with the Royals that if he could hire great people, acquire talented players who love the game deeply, create an atmosphere where everyone looks forward to coming to the ballpark and appreciates just how lucky they are, that the team unquestionably would win a championship.
People — again, including me — had their doubts.
But that team absolutely did win a championship exactly as Moore planned.
So here we are again. The rebuild has begun. Once again, Moore wants us to believe in “The Process”. But as fans, did we fully buy in before?
The answer is yes…and no. At first we bought all in. The Royals had become a laughingstock and at that point any sign of an actual plan that might come to fruition seemed promising. What wasn’t promising was the farm system. To truly understand, here are the top ten prospects going into 2006 according to Baseball America:
1. Alex Gordon
2. Billy Butler, of/3b
3. Justin Huber, 1b
4. Chris Lubanski, of
5. Jeff Bianchi, ss
6. Luis Cota, rhp
7. Chris McConnell, ss
8. Mitch Maier, of
9. Donnie Murphy, 2b
10. Shane Costa, of
It started out promising…and then just flat-lines (although I will admit to being a Mitch Maier fan). The system was ranked 23rd in all of baseball to start the year and it was obvious that Moore had his work cut out for him when he took the GM job in June of that year. So at first, we trusted; Moore had an idea where he wanted to go and how to go about it. But as time wore on, our faith wavered.
By 2012 the Royals were almost six years into “The Process” and by the end of May it felt like we had been dealt some cruel, mean joke. Do you remember the slogan for that year? “Our Time”. For those of you not following the team back then, you probably can imagine how that slogan went down as the Royals limped to a 72-90 season. At this point, “The Process” had become a joke.
All it took for me was a quick glance at my blog posts in 2012 and I can see where my faith had diminished. In fact, read just about any article I wrote from 2012 to 2013 (which you can check out at bleedingroyalblue.com) and I was no longer aboard the “Process Express”. It took Moore seven full seasons to grasp a winning record and while the Royals were in the pennant race into the last week of 2013, a number of fans weren’t sold yet that Dayton’s mantra was the end-all, be-all answer.
Then 2014 happened. The wild card game, the sweep through the American League playoffs and a seventh game of the World Series. Then the Royals won it all in 2015. At this point, we had forgotten about our lack of faith (I’m sure Dayton found it disturbing) and bowed to GMDM’s greatness. Whether we wanted to admit it or not, “The Process” had worked and reached its final destination.
So here we are in 2018 and we begin to wrap our heads around putting faith back into Moore’s plan. I won’t lie; the first time I heard him utter those two words again I froze. But when I look at the farm system right now, I feel better than I did in 2006. Here are the top ten current prospects according to Baseball America:
While there will probably be a few misses on this list, there is also a chance for some major upside with guys like Lee, Pratto, Matias and Melendez. In fact, by 2021 the Royals lineup could be way better than say, the 2009 Royals:
I can’t help but point out that nobody is thinking the Royals can win anytime soon, but he says that has always been true — and he’s right, most experts thought that the 2014 team would battle for last place, and they won the American League pennant. Most people thought it was a fluke, and the ’15 team won the World Series.
True, but then I point out that those Royals had some big prospects — Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas — that this team lacks. He then says, “Nobody had [five-time All-Star] Salvador Perez on their Top 100 list. Nobody had Lorenzo Cain on their Top 100 list. Nobody had Greg Holland or Kelvin Herrera on their Top 100 list.”
Moore is right about this. While it’s easy to point out the Hosmer’s and Moustakas’ that toiled for “The Best Farm System in Baseball”, it was the off the radar guys that pushed the Royals to the next level. All it takes is for a few players to outperform their expectations and push the team back into contention.
So is it time to “Trust in the Process” again? The better question might be why you should put your trust back in Moore. The truth is a lot of us doubted him and he proved us wrong. While it might be easy to snicker and roll your eyes when he discusses his ‘grand plan’, it did procure us fans some of the greatest moments in Royals history. For that, I will be forever grateful to Dayton Moore.
It doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything he says, and it doesn’t mean we have to like every move he makes; you can still disagree with decisions while being supportive. But it does mean putting a little dab of faith and a nice chunk of hope into the eventual finished product. We might all be crazy for going down this road again…but if it ends with the same payoff, then I am all in.
Less than surprising news came forth on Sunday: The Oakland A’s released DH/1B Billy Butler. This was not a shock, since Butler has struggled in his two years in Oakland and there was no way he was returning to the A’s in 2017. Butler’s numbers in Oakland were pedestrian at best: .258/.325/.394, OPS+ of 99, -0.8 bWAR with 19 homers and 96 RBI’s in 843 trips to the plate with Oakland. At the time of the signing the belief was that it seemed like a weird pairing, as Butler’s fly ball numbers had been on the decline while his ground ball ratio continued to rise. Much like Kauffman Stadium, this seemed to be a bad fit in Oakland’s large ballpark. But Oakland showed the money, so Butler jumped(which I have no issue with). Now that Butler is free to sign where he wants, the question has been ‘What is next for Billy?’ and there seems to be a variety of ways to answer that question.
Let’s start with question of his regression. The numbers on Butler speak of a player who has been on the decline since his age 28 season in Kansas City back in 2014, where most of his power numbers took a dip; extra base hits, ISO, slugging percentage and wRC+ all were down from his career year in 2012 and even his 2013 season. I mentioned the rise in ground balls which started back in 2013, and it is still very high for a guy like Butler, who has no speed and is better suited to spray the ball to the outfield or hit the ball in the air. In reality, his ground ball ratio this year is actually the lowest of his career(42.3%) but that is also with the least amount of plate appearances as well. There has also been in increase this year in his line drives (29.1%) and his hard hit percentage is back up to previous levels (up to 33.3% compared to 30.4% last year). I want to think that this increase is a sign of Butler coming back to his glory year levels, but I also realize we are dealing with a smaller sample size and he has had irregular playing time so far in 2016.
Butler also has to repair his clubhouse reputation, which took a big blow after his scuffle with teammate Danny Valencia last month. The most interesting aspect of the fight was while Valencia has always been known as a malcontent…
Remember, rumor has it Michael Cuddyer had to "put Valencia in his place" every few months in Minnesota.
“Billy is a great-hearted guy. He’s like a 31-year-old kid that can hit, that wakes up and says I’m going to go out and get two hits today. Sadly, whether we win or lose, it wasn’t at the top of the list for Billy, as far as my experiences with him. But he’s a great-hearted guy, he’s just not a team guy. I felt the same with Danny.”
The general consensus from former teammates and reporters has been that Billy cared more about his numbers than how the team did and could be very annoying in the clubhouse. I’ve never heard anyone say he was a bad guy, but it does sound like his act was harder to take when he was struggling. This does coincide with his behavior at times in Kansas City. For one, he was never a big fan of being a full-time DH and he still complained about it his last season there in 2014. He also was still taking issue with his lack of playing time, which he commented on earlier this season:
“I’ve never been in this position before. I’ve played every day of my life from when I was 7 years old, so this is something new. I don’t even know how to exactly prepare for what I’m supposed to do because I’ve never had to do it, so I just try to treat it like I’ve treated everything else, like I’m a starter. I know I can do it in this game. There’s not a lack of confidence in my abilities.”
Butler never really seemed to grasp why he had become a part-time player and that seemed to affect his performance on the field. The bottom line is that Butler has been in a free-fall for a few years now, which has dictated his playing time. For him to continue in the big leagues, that attitude has to change.
So what does Butler’s future look like? By no means does this release mean the end of his career, especially since Butler will be in his age 31 season in 2017. There is still value in Billy and his bat, but a few things have to change. For one, he needs to just be happy to have a major league job. You want a player who is confident and believes he can be a starter, but Butler is at a point in his career where he has to earn a job moving forward. Butler needs to go into Spring Training with the mentality that he will take whatever he can get, even if he feels like he deserves to start. He also needs to grasp that being a positive force in the clubhouse will get him farther and prolong his career. No team wants a bench player who is also a bad seed; that is a good way to find yourself on the unemployment line. In a few words, Butler needs to reinvent himself and I honestly believe the best place for him to be next year is in the National League. In the NL, he will see more pinch-hitting opportunities while getting the occasional start at first base. He would also possibly start at DH in interleague games and can put forth a mindset of approaching the game from a different angle. It’s hard to tell whether or not he would do this, but there is still value in Billy Butler; he just needs to work on being better, both as a hitter and a teammate. He is at a crossroads of his career where his decision this offseason might be the biggest of his life. He needs to decide how important playing professional baseball is to him. I’m still rooting for him to succeed, but he is going to have to be better or his career could be close to wrapping up.
When I initially started this piece, my plan was take a look at Mike Moustakas’ home run history, broken down by month each year. But as I took a deeper look at Moose’s 2015 home run numbers, something jumped off the page at me. After hitting either two or three homers for each of the first four months of the year, he exploded for five home runs in August and seven(7!) in September/October. When you add in the four home runs he has already hit through the first eleven games of this season, I have to ask a question: is Moustakas finally living up to his expected power potential?
While Moustakas was coming up through the Royals minor league system, the expectation was that he had a good chance of producing some great power numbers. Here is a scouting report back in 2009 from MLB.com:
Plus bat speed and a good swing translate to outstanding raw power, though he showed more of it in 2008 than last year. He does have the ability to hit the ball out to all fields.
There was also this about his upside potential:
Middle-of-the-order run producer who is a constant home run threat.
Also, this scouting report of Moose back when he was drafted in 2007:
Moustakas can flat-out hit and has potential to hit for average and power.
He’s a left-handed hitter with serious power. He homered three times in this game.
So there was a prevalent thought even back when he was in high school, that Moustakas could be a major power threat in the middle of Kansas City’s batting order. Even his minor league numbers showed a hitter with plus power, including 36 home runs in 2010 as he split time in AA and AAA.
Some of that power has translated over in the big leagues. Moose connected for 20 homers in 2012 with a slugging percentage of .412 and wrapped up last year with 22 and .470 respectively. In fact, the last two months of 2015 might have been a window into some of the power predicted by scouts before he was even drafted. Not only was there the 12 home runs during that span, but also 17 doubles and a slugging percentage of .562. So there seemed to be a change in philosophy in Moustakas from his approach at the plate early in 2015 and the numbers agree with that. Early in the season, Moose’s Fly Ball % hovered in the 30’s but jumped to the upper 40’s starting in July. His Home Run to Fly Ball % also jumped, from below 10% to 13.5% in August and a whopping 17.9% in September. A big part of his early season success was attributed to a philosophy of hitting the ball to the opposite field, as shown by his Pull % lingering in the mid to upper 30’s. August and September saw those numbers rise into the 40’s, while his opposite field numbers falling down into the 20’s. It definitely appeared on the surface that Moustakas was trying to drive the ball more in the second half of the season, with definite success showing up over the last two months of the season.
It also appears as if Moose’s pitch recognition has improved as well. Last year it became very apparent that teammate Lorenzo Cain had figured out which balls he could drive and which ones he should just go with, leading to his best season to date. I tend to believe a big part of Moustakas’ success late last year and early this year can be attributed to better pitch recognition as well and realizing which pitches to pull and which ones to just go with. So far this year he has avoided rolling the ball over to second base and instead has taken those pitches the opposite way, while pitches that he can scorch(and let’s be honest, most of those are fastballs placed middle to in on him) he has been driving to the deeper portions of right field. Pitch recognition is sometimes a hard facet of the game to grasp, but when a player picks up on it, that normally means a whole new world has been opened to them.
So it is early into 2016 (and everything is a small sample size) but it does appear as if Moose’s approach at the dish is very comparable to how he ended 2015. Moose has opened up the new campaign with 4 home runs in just 11 games and his numbers show they aren’t too far off from the end of last year. Obviously his Pull % is higher(57.5) but the Oppo & Cent % are both close to his last few months of ’15, while his Fly Ball % is on par. There are a few numbers that are inflated by it being so early in the season(Moose’s ISO is up over .300 and his Home Run to Fly Ball ratio is a solid 26.7 over last year’s 11.2%) but some of those numbers will even out as more games are played and he racks up more at bats. With the advanced attention being paid to taking the ball deep though, that could also mean that Moose could approach the 30 home run plateau, which is very rare in Royals history. There have been only ten(10!!!) 30+ home runs seasons in Royals history, with the last player to hit that high water mark being Jermaine Dye(with 33) back in 2000. Billy Butler came close with 29 in 2012, but fell just short of adding his name to a list that includes Chili Davis, Gary Gaetti, Dean Palmer and the Steve Balboni, who holds the season mark with 36 back in 1985. So Moustakas will look to achieve something that is very rare in Royals history, but not completely impossible.
So if Moustakas increases his home run total this year and approaches or passes 30 dingers, is that a plus or a minus for Kansas City? I have to admit I am quite partial to the Moustakas that was flinging the ball all over the field early last year and something about “Oppo-Moose” stirs warm fuzzies in my belly. But I am also aware that Kansas City has longed for a power threat on their team for years now and they might have just produced one. Since this Royals lineup is filled with good, solid bats like Cain, Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon, I tend to believe that having Moose provide more pop might help balance the offense out a bit more. If Mike can hit above .270 while still producing around 30 bombs, then it has to be considered a win/win for the Royals. If he is languishing around .250 or below then the extra homers are not worth it. I think there is a good chance we see a big season this year from Moustakas(as long as he can avoid injury; he did miss Friday’s game due to slight hamstring soreness) and while I don’t believe we will see him topple Balboni’s season best mark, I do think he could get close. It will be interesting to follow Moose’s power numbers this year and see how they progress. Will he trail off or continue to bomb away? We will know soon enough…
We all know the story of the Kansas City Royals and projections the last couple seasons. Before 2014 Kansas City was projected to finish 79-83 by Baseball Prospectus, in a tie for second in the American League Central with the Cleveland Indians. The Royals did ten games better, finishing 89-73, earning a Wild Card berth and ending up one game short of winning the World Series. In 2015, the Royals were projected to finish(once again by Baseball Prospectus) even worse, 72-90, the second worst projected total in the American League. The Royals would easily eclipse this projection, finishing 95-67, winning the American League Central, claiming home field advantage throughout the playoffs and eventually winning the World Series. So with pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training in less than two weeks, once again the Royals are once again projected to finish 79-83, this time by Fangraphs. Last year, Royals fans were in an uproar over this, feeling like the team was being overlooked and not given the respect they earned after the 2014 World Series. Even into the summer, when Kansas City steamrolled past the 72 win mark, fans would make snide remarks and mock BP, questioning the website and the way they came to their results. But the real problem isn’t Baseball Prospectus or Fangraphs; no, the real problem is that fans(and analysts alike) put too much stock in projections and predictions.
Let’s start with the PECOTA projections. I actually had no issue with the Royals being projected so low, as it made sense to me. Most of their projections are taken off of a players’ past performance and the Royals had a number of players who accumulated poor seasons in 2014. A lot of people just remember the playoffs, when Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer looked like beasts and the Royals looked like an unbeatable locomotive. The truth was that Moustakas had an awful 2014, Hosmer’s wasn’t great and they weren’t alone. A good chunk of the Royals lineup did not fare well, so of course the projections would be lower. Even offseason acquisition Kendrys Morales was coming off of a lackluster campaign, one in which he put up worse numbers than the man he was replacing, Billy Butler. PECOTA puts a lot of stock in past performance, so this made sense. Sam Miller of BP wrote a great article about how they came to these results, in which Miller even admits that they need to work on improving the weight of a good bullpen and excellent defense can have on a team winning. The final paragraph speaks volumes about the projections and why they aren’t perfect:
While PECOTA aspires to be perfect, what it really does is this: It projects players, individually; it converts those performances into expected runs, based on how baseball usually works; then it converts those runs into expected wins, based on how baseball usually works. At each step along the way, it gets harder to be perfect, and the Royals demonstrate that challenge well. Some players did better than we expected; some offered incomplete data on which to project them; some were added to the roster at midseason; some found the right fit. None of us is arrogant enough to think that projection systems are magic; baseball is impossible to predict with the sort of precision that avoids situations like 2015 Royals. We all know we can’t outrun the bear.
To sum this up, the projections are based off of projected numbers put up by each player on the team. If you calculate the players who will get injured or the players who will be acquired within the season, these numbers are bound to be off. In fact, as much as I use BP quite frequently during the season(the yearly projection book is normally right beside my desk), I also know that the projections are just that, not a definite. Just look at last year’s projections: only three teams were expected to win over 90 games. Yep, three total for both leagues. Instead, seven teams finished with over 90 wins while three alone were in the National League Central. So it becomes very obvious that BP’s projections are a starting point, not a literal interpretation of how the season will actually unfold.
Predictions are different than projections in that predictions are purely one person’s opinion. Projections you can actually go back and check the numbers and see how you ended up with the finished results. It’s like when you would show your math homework; if your answer is ‘C’, all you have to do is go back and look at ‘A’ and ‘B’ to figure out how you got to your final answer. Predictions are literally just guesses. Granted, these predictions hold more weight when it is a respected baseball analyst, but at the end of the day they are still guesses. I respect the hell out of guys like Ken Rosenthal and Jayson Stark, and both of them are around the game every day and are about as knowledgeable as they come in the game. But…their predictions are still just guesses. So why are fans, most notably Royals fans, getting upset that someone essentially has a different opinion than they do?
This is where I laugh at the fan who gets visibly angry that analyst ‘x’ predicted that the Royals won’t get to the playoffs or that they won’t compete at the level they did the year before. To me, all predictions are guesses and more than anything are done for fun. Most analysts(yes, the Rosenthal’s, Stark’s and Gammon’s of the world) would even tell you their guesses are normally way off. So if we all acknowledge the fact that predictions shouldn’t be taken super serious, why do some fans get all worked up about it? The only logical answer is that they want an analyst(or you or me) to agree with them. There seems to be some underlying issue with people who view something like preseason predictions as the expected result and the end all be all of final answers. They are not. If anything, these last couple seasons have proved that with the way the Royals have gone out there and over-exceeded results. I couldn’t tell you if Kansas City used such “guesses” as bulletin board fodder or not, but I’m sure they were aware and promptly did what every other team did: go out and play the games.
At the end of the day, that is what it all comes down to; actually playing the games. You see, we can estimate what someone like Alex Gordon will do, and we might even be closely accurate, but the players have to go out there and actually play on the field. I am proud to say I absolutely love stats and I freely will admit to being a ‘stat nerd’, but I also realize that these are humans that go out there and play baseball. I say let all the ‘experts’ predict and project that the Royals won’t do this, or won’t do that. Let them say that they don’t hit enough home runs or make too much contact. Because if we have learned anything these last two years, it’s that this Royals team determines their own fate. The unpredictable is almost the norm for this team and that can’t be predicted. So remember that when more projections and predictions pop up soon; the numbers unfortunately can’t measure a player’s heart or will. It can’t predict a five run 8th inning or a mad dash to home with two outs. It can’t measure a team that has an out of this world defense and a cyborg for their closer. Love the numbers, but realize that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
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’!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Coming off of a ten game road trip that saw the Kansas City go 4-6, the Royals returned home this past weekend to take on division rivals the Chicago White Sox. The Royals last played Chicago in the second city to kick off the second half of the season, a series the Royals won. Would the same happen in Kansas City? Would the Royals bounce back from a rough series in Detroit? Would Salvador Perez get a Gatorade sponsorship? And would the Royals need Jedi help in their rotation this past weekend? All these answers lie ahead(well, most of them anyway!).
Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain
Friday night was a spotlight stealing night for Lorenzo Cain, as he would get a double, a triple and an RBI to help pace the Royals to a victory. Big night for Cain, but overall he would put forth a stellar series, going 3 for 7, while also scoring a run, stealing a base and slugging at an .857 clip. It really shouldn’t have been a surprise that Cain would step up this weekend:
Lorenzo Cain is hitting .419 with nine extra base hits in 11 games against the White Sox this year.
Looking at Lorenzo’s numbers this season breaks it down even more how much he has improved the last few years. Strikeouts are down, walks are up, average still sitting above .300 while already setting a career high in triples and home runs. Add in 20 stolen bases and a career high WAR of 5.9 and OPS+ of 133 and you have the making of an all around above average player. I think sometimes we take what guys like Cain and Hosmer do on defense as just daily plays that are the norm. They are the norm, but that does not mean they are ho-hum. Cain has elevated his game so much this year that it’s not hard to see him take the mantle of ‘best player on the Royals’ once Alex Gordon is no longer in Kansas City. Actually that day could come sooner than that, much sooner. The good part is that Cain isn’t eligible for free agency until 2018; the bad part is he could be quite expensive by then. Trust me, it is a good problem to have.
Pitching Performance of the Series: Kris Medlen
With credit going to Edinson Volquez’s great outing on Friday night, I was overjoyed with the performance of Kris Medlen on Sunday afternoon. After Danny Duffy left the game in the fourth inning, Medlen would come in for his first outing since Thursday(although in that contest he would face only one batter and throw only three pitches) and would shut down the White Sox. Medlen would go 3.2 innings, giving up no hits, and no runs while walking 1 and striking out 3. Medlen threw 69% strikes on Sunday and looked like the former ace he was in Atlanta. As much as we would all love to have Medlen in the rotation, we do have to remember he is coming off of Tommy John Surgery and at this point should just be thankful that he is healthy and able to pitch for the team. In a dream world, Medlen would be in the rotation come October, and we are not alone in that thinking:
Ned Yost says he would like to see Kris Medlen make a start before the end of the season. #Royals
I was just happy with how good he looked this weekend. He seemed to have good velocity on his fastball and he seemed to have a good feel for his off-speed pitches. We can’t expect Medlen to pitch like this every outing, but if this is what we see the majority of the time, then the rotation has sunnier day’s in their future.
Thanks For the Hugs, Melky
If you remember early in the season, whenever Melky Cabrera would get on base, he would hug some of his former teammates. Didn’t matter if it was Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar or Salvador Perez, Melky would proceed to embrace his friends. It was not only amusing to watch a grown man act like a child and show his affection, but it also seemed to drive Rex Hudler bonkers(calm down, Rex; the game has changed since you played). But while watching Melky this past weekend I started thinking about how much he loves these guys and I started pondering how much fun he would have if he was still with Kansas City. The thing is, he could have been a Royal again. This past winter, the Royals were on the hunt for a new right fielder to take the place of Nori Aoki. They had tried Torii Hunter but he returned to Minnesota. They had also talked to Melky about coming in, even offering him a contract fairly similar to what he got from Chicago. Chicago eventually won the Melky sweepstakes, but I found it interesting why he chose the White Sox over the Royals:
Cabrera “really wanted to win,” Rick Hahn, White Sox GM recalled. “(He said) ‘But with all due respect are you guys really in a position to win and am I really a difference maker for you?’ ”
So Chicago’s winter moves swayed Melky, or at least he felt like they had a better chance to win. The funny thing is, the Royals offered a deal somewhat similar to what Chicago gave him. I believe it was one less year, and possibly a few million less. But here was my thought this weekend: with the Royals in about the same situation as Chicago, at least when pertaining to their chance of winning, why would he not take a little less money to be around a bunch of guys that he really enjoys playing with? Now, Seattle did offer Cabrera an extra year, so maybe the years weren’t as big a deal but with the Royals offering something in the same ballpark, I just find it odd that he wouldn’t try to come back to Kansas City. I’m sure that White Sox locker room is full of quality guys; I don’t doubt that a bit. But the chance to win a championship and do that with a bunch of guys you think fondly of? I tend to think you can’t beat that. But obviously it was not meant to be, and instead the Royals end up with Alex Rios who looks about the same as the Alex Rios that was sapped of power last year in Texas. We can only imagine how much better this Royals team would have been with Melky roaming right field…
Seriously, Melky's face on the Diamond Vision looked sooo sad. Maybe he should have signed with KC. #Royals#ForeverRoyal
Time to slide on over and review some news and notes from this weekend sweep for Kansas City:
So Yordano Ventura has been an enigma this year. How has the guy who dominated the Giants in Game 6 of the World Series now have issues facing even lower level teams in the American League? Well, we might have finally have gotten a peak into what has been plaguing Yordano:
Yordano Ventura, 2015, opponents hitting: No runners on: .211/.289/.326 Runners on: .356/.394/.589
The entire article is here and it definitely goes into some major detail as to what ails “Ace”. It’s been noticeable that with runners on Ventura has been leaving more pitches out over the middle of the plate. His Babip has also been crazy this year, .309 to last year’s .288. The biggest obstacle Ventura is going to run into is figuring out how to get hitters to quit sitting on his fastball and forcing them to swing at the off-speed stuff. As frustrating as it has been, he is still young and has plenty of time to adjust and return to form. It would just be nice if that could happen before October.
Good news on the Alex Gordon front; he is now taking batting practice:
Just imagine a September lineup with Gordon back in left field and Ben Zobrist at second base. Yep, hard not to get excited about what we could see in October with this team.
Over the years, John Danks has confused Kansas City hitters. Before this year, Danks was 9-0 against Kansas City and had only given up 28 runs in 104 innings against the Royals. So far this season, Danks is 2-2 against the Royals, giving up 10 runs over 23 innings. The Royals haven’t completely solved Danks, but it’s no longer a guarantee that he will put up a ‘W’ whenever throwing against Kansas City like it used to be.
Wade Davis did not pitch in this series as his back continues to give him problems:
Yost says Wade Davis unavailable again w/ stiff back. Could've pitched but with lead in division, don't want to push or risk further injury
If this was last year, Davis would probably be asked to pitch through it and increase the chances of injuring himself even further. Instead, with a big lead in the American League Central, Davis can sit out and heal. Davis, at this point, is more important in October than August.
Saturday night, Greg Holland looked like the “Dirty South” of old. His breaking pitches had proper dive and his fastball was popping, reaching 97 mph on the radar gun. Holland has been hovering around 93 mph most of this year, so seeing the uptick in velocity is a definite plus. It’s been rumored most of this season that Holland had an injury(and he still might), but Kansas City management has to breathe easier knowing Holland seems to be pitching more like his old self as we reach the last few months of the season.
On Sunday, Kendrys Morales would hit his 13th home run of the season, while also driving in RBI’s 79 and 80. This puts him 3rd in the American League in RBI’s and tied for second in doubles. I feel like I can’t stress enough how valuable Morales has been to this Kansas City team. He drives in runs in the middle of the order and as much as most of us loved Billy Butler, he had really quit doing that last year. I don’t even want to imagine where Kansas City would be without Morales’ bat in the middle of this lineup.
Sunday was ‘Star Wars Day at the K’, as the Royals finally dipped their toes into what has become a popular promotion over the years for most other major league teams. There was no way I was going to miss this, since the two things I am most passionate about are baseball and Star Wars. This also led to scenes like this at Kauffman Stadium:
Sure, the in-between skits on the field were hokey and it felt like it would have been nice to have more Star Wars characters floating around all sections of the stadium, but it was still a fun time and I was just happy Kansas City finally took the plunge. Here’s to hoping this becomes a regular promotion for the Royals!
Just returned from #StarWarsDayAtTheK . No pics, unfortunately, but we had a fun time & got to see another win. Plus, Melky hugs. #Royals
Finally, let’s go back to Sunday afternoon’s game. The Royals have runners on second and third with one out and Omar Infante at the plate in a tied game. On an 0-1 count, Infante would flair the ball in between the pitcher and first baseman:
Yes, it wasn’t the farthest hit ball Omar has ever had. But here is the thing; it was a difficult play for the defense to make, which hurt the White Sox chances of making the play. To further that thought, Alex Rios took off at contact. If he doesn’t do that he probably doesn’t score in that situation. It wasn’t the most dramatic hit but was the perfect description of how the Royals season has gone to date. They just find a way to win. At the end of the day, that is all that matters.
Tweets of Royalty
Current odds to win 2015 World Series, from @fangraphs
So with the White Sox in the rear-view mirror, the Royals look ahead to a three game series against Detroit. Last week, the Tigers were able to beat the Royals 2 out of 3 in the ‘Motor City’, and one has wonder if things will be different this time at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals have an 11.5 game lead in the Central, which is just mind blowing if you have watched this team the last few years. This hasn’t been done by a Royals team since 1980, and it conjures up memories of those late 70’s team that were ousted in the playoffs by the Yankees. In some ways this big lead gives them a chance to rest regulars on a consistent basis or guys who are injured(like Wade Davis); you just hope they don’t become complacent before they get to October. We are in uncharted territory but this isn’t a bad thing; in a lot of ways we have earned this as Royals fans since we sat through a lot of awful baseball for all those years. The rewards have now become a regular occurrence; let’s just hope this team is as hungry as they were before the season started.