The American League (Second) Wild Card Shuffle

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A few seasons back, Major League Baseball decided to spice things up and added a second Wild Card spot to the playoffs. In November of 2011, MLB announced they would be adding this second wild card, with the top two Wild Card teams playing each other in a one game playoff to determine who would go on to the division series and who would go home. In a lot ways this second Wild Card was added to hopefully add to the excitement of pennant chases, much like the electric last day of the 2011 season(do you remember how awesome that day was? If not, go ahead and revisit it!)

Now that I just gave you the equivalent of a sugar rush, let’s get to the real meat and potatoes of this; the second Wild Card spot is up for grabs in the American League this year with four teams battling for the spot with only a game separating these teams. No one team in this group stand out amongst each other with each team holding equal positives and negatives to their run for a playoff spot. Obviously around these parts we are cheering for the Royals to make the playoffs. With that said, lets look at what each team will bring to this ‘Wild Card Shuffle’.

Kansas City Royals-Currently holding 2nd Wild Card spot, 34.0% chance of reaching playoffs(BaseballProspectus.com/odds/)

Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins

The Royals have seen a big increase in their chances of making the playoffs over the past week, in fact almost a 18% increase in that span. As most Royals fans can attest to, this has been a very topsy turvy season already, as the Royals went on a 10 game winning streak in June, took over first place of the American League Central from Detroit. Kansas City followed that by going on a losing streak and even straddling .500 before the All Star break. The Royals currently have a 4 game winning streak and are 7-3 over their last ten games. Outside of back to back series coming up with Oakland and San Francisco, the Royals will then play 12 straight games(outside of a lone game against the Yankees) against teams under .500, followed by 3 games to wrap up August against Cleveland, who are currently at .500. If the Royals are going to make a run, now would seem to be the best time to do it.

Positives: One of the best defenses in baseball, great bullpen, solid rotation

Negatives: Inconsistent offense, poor plate discipline, iffy manager  

Toronto Blue Jays-1/2 game out of the 2nd Wild Card spot, 25.8% chance of reaching playoffs

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A week ago, the Blue Jays looked golden; in that span their chance of making the playoffs has fallen 34.3% and have basically let the other teams around them back into the boat. The Blue Jays could still be the team to beat in this position, but it’s going to take a bit to widen the gap. Toronto is almost the polar opposite to the Royals schedule-wise over the next month; the Blue Jays have Detroit, Milwaukee, Seattle, New York and the once surging Rays to contend with in August. The Blue Jays have been hit by the injury bug as of late, and they should be getting a few of their offensive pieces(Encarnacion, Lind) back soon. The Jays have a young pitching staff and still need some help in the bullpen, but if they piece things together they are a real threat to the Royals for that spot.

Positives: Great offense, young pitching, aggressive GM

Negatives: injuries, thin bullpen, rough schedule

Seattle Mariners-1/2 game out of the 2nd Wild Card spot, 23.0% chance of reaching playoffs

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Seattle is an interesting ball club to say the least. You have to wonder where the Mariners would be in the standings if their offense was just league average. Instead, they have a weak offense, in fact one so weak that it makes the Royals look like ‘Murderers Row’.  But Seattle’s GM Jack Zduriencik has already been working to fix that, adding Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia before the trade deadline and very well could be adding more. Jack Z’s job is probably on the line, so he could very well be proactive over the next month. Add in a stellar pitching staff that is better than Kansas City’s  and you have a team that the Royals should be worried about. The Mariners still play a number of playoff contenders to play this season, including 15 of their last 18 against teams vying for a playoff spot. Seattle very well could be the Royals biggest obstacle in front of them when it comes to grasping a playoff spot.

Positives: Fantastic pitching, a GM with his job on the line,excellent at run prevention

Negatives: weak offense, rough schedule 

New York Yankees-1/2 game out of the 2nd Wild Card spot, 34.5% chance of reaching the playoffs

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The fact that the Yankees are still in this conversation is a minor miracle. Their starting rotation has been decimated, they have been hit with a number of injuries and unless Derek Jeter is truly a God(as has been hinted at by almost every major media outlet this season), the Yankees shouldn’t even be in this position. But…here they are. Actually, out of these four teams, the Yankees have the best percentage chance of making the playoffs. Getting players back from injury will help, but they also need to add to their weakened rotation. Unfortunately for them, the likes of Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano just won’t work. The Yankees are known for stocking up this time of year, so don’t be shocked to see another pitcher head to the Bronx before the month is up. If that happens, their odds will improve, although they still have 24 games left against teams trying to reach October(and that isn’t even counting games against Cleveland and Tampa Bay, who are on the fringe). I would like to see the odds are stacked against them, but I have counted New York out before and they’ve proven me wrong. Don’t be surprised if they are still in this spot come late September.

Positives: Improving offense, excellent bullpen, deep pockets

Negatives: Pieced together rotation, tough schedule, old shortstop

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You probably noticed I didn’t add Cleveland to this list. The Indians are currently 4 games out of the Wild Card spot, so technically they are still in it, but they would have a tougher road to go and more teams to climb over(same for Tampa Bay). Sure, it could happen. If anything, we have learned over the years that it’s not over until a spot is locked up. This might be the most interesting race to follow over the next seven weeks and one that could fluxuate quite a bit between now and then. Obviously us Royals fans are hoping that 29 years of playoff-less baseball ends this year, but there are no guarantees. Any of these four teams could grasp that last spot and play either the Angels or A’s for the one game playoff. None of these teams stand out above another, but the team that can play the most consistent over the rest of the season will probably be the team there at the end. At the very least it will be a fun seven weeks to cheer on your team if you are in Kansas City, Toronto, New York or Seattle. It will also be stomach churning at times. All this for October baseball. You gotta love it!

 

Come to Beautiful Kansas City. We Have Fountains.

Waterfalls and fountains at the Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri copy

It’s hard to remember, but years ago, the Kansas City Royals were a constant in the playoffs. Most of what they built on the field was through the farm system, but there were some shrewd moves made by the front office at the time as well as some key free agent signings.  The bottom line was players wanted to come to Kansas City. Now, unless you are wanting to resurrect your career, or if you are a chubby infielder with “soft hands”, it’s hard to get players to WANT to come play for the Royals. It’s been asked and debated; do the Royals have to overpay to bring talent to Kansas City?

melkyOnce Dayton Moore took over as General Manager of the Royals, the team moved to sign better players and would pay them extra to come to Kansas City. The problem was that Dayton was signing level B and sometimes C or D free agents and practically giving them the keys to the city. Gil Meche was the first of these signings and if it wasn’t for former Manager Trey Hillman misusing him, the team would have gotten their money’s worth of that deal. Since then we have been abused with the ultimate clubhouse cancer Jose Guillen and Jason “Rewind Yourself” Kendall. It is almost like Moore felt like players of that level was the best they could do. I guess that is part of the problem here. When you believe that, everyone else will believe that as well.

Kansas City Royals Photo DayNow, to be fair, some of Dayton’s signings have worked. Bruce Chen was picked up off the trash heap and up until 2012, seemed to be playing above himself. Chen was signed at a low cost, but high value with both his play on the field and his jokes in the clubhouse. Unfortunately, he was then given a two year contract that has seemed to be one of many albatrosses around the Royals financial neck. Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur were two former Atlanta Braves that seemed to be on the downside of their once promising careers. A move to Kansas City in 2011 seemed to be a godsend as both players played above their past performances and helped solidified both the lineup and the outfield. Francoeur would sign an extension that seemed questionable at the time and horrific in the present, while Melky would be traded to San Francisco, have the best first half of his career, win the All Star Game MVP, then get busted for PED use. These two signings worked wonders for 2011, but looked awful by May of this past year. The Royals are a team that should constantly be looking to rebuild players who just need a new environment, but need to be selective about these signings as well.

jacksonSo this leads us to this offseason, where everyone and their mother is aware that the Royals want(and desperately need) pitching. We’ve heard over and over that the Royals will have to overpay or give a player extra years to get them to come pitch in Kansas City, but is that true? I know some scoff at this, but I believe it is. The Royals have a really good nucleus of young talent, with Perez, Escobar, Moustakas and Hosmer added to lineup mainstays like Gordon and Butler. The thinking is that if the Royals could just get some pitching, this team could make a run at the playoffs. There have been a number of pitching talents on the free agent market this winter, and some have signed for very cheap money. Brandon McCarthy just signed a two year deal with Arizona for $15.5 million. The Royals easily could have afforded just under $8 million a year, especially considering that they will be paying Ervin Santana $12 million for in 2013. Edwin Jackson is still on the market as is Shawn Marcum. Both could garner a one or two year deal for right around that same amount of money. Instead, the Royals seem content shopping top prospect Wil Myers in a deal for a top starter. That is all fine and good if they are able to pull in a David Price or any other top of the rotation starter. But the names being floated around aren’t of that ilk. All we hear are the Shields’, Dickey’s and Lester’s of the world. All are fine pitchers and better than anything the Royals have now, but are they worth losing the next six years of Myers? Um, no.

Jeremy+Guthrie+Kansas+City+Royals+v+Boston+Boqgv2aeQVLlSo why aren’t these pitchers coming to Kansas City? Well, I do believe part of it is Dayton Moore hasn’t really pushed for them. Ryan Dempster’s name has been tossed around, and the team offered him more than the Red Sox have. But he also wanted a third year on the deal, while Kansas City has only been willing to go two. I agree with them only wanting to give him two, as he is in his mid 30’s and had a hard time adjusting to the American League this year. But I have to believe part of why he won’t come to Kansas City is because this team just doesn’t win. Seventeen of the last eighteen seasons have been losing seasons in KC, and with the management in charge now, it would appear we are gearing up for season eighteen of nineteen. Most players want to win, but can be swayed away from winning if it means more money. If you aren’t getting the top dollar, you don’t want to sign with a perennial loser unless you think they have turned a corner. The Royals took a side road in 2012 and their road map didn’t seem to ever steer them onto the right highway. Players notice that and the losing atmosphere does not endear players to want to sign with the Royals.

MAG0522JUBILATION.IMGSo yes, the Royals do have to overpay to get major name free agents to play in Kansas City. Or at least they will until they put together another winning season. Having management value the wrong players will hurt as well, but until those members are gone( [cough] Dayton) we are stuck with a team that can’t even compete with the Baltimore’s and Brewer’s of the world. One day this awful cycle will be undone and the Royals will be a winning franchise again. Let’s hope this happens sooner than later.

Wednesday Notes-10/31/12

With the baseball season officially over, a lot of baseball fans are left with a giant hole in our lives. But don’t fret, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Headed our way soon will be the Hot Stove season, where teams wheel and deal to improve their teams odds in 2013. Until then, some notes to tide you over on Halloween.

No longer on borrowed time!

I hope no one blinked during the World Series; if you did, you missed it. Four games is all it took for the San Francisco Giants to make quick work of the Detroit Tigers. Coming off two thrilling comebacks in both the LDS and LCS, the Giants roared into the Fall Classic and finished off their miracle season.  It’s really pretty simple how they did it. They out-pitched the Tigers, out-hit them, and just flat out out-played them. I don’t know if the layoff hurt the Tigers, or if the Giants were just the better team. Actually, I think it’s the latter. As a Royals fan, I watched the Royals play the Tigers close to twenty times this past season, and I was never overly impressed with Detroit. Sure, they have Verlander and Cabrera, and Doug Fister(you just got Fisted!) had a good second half for Detroit out of the rotation. But their defense was awful all year, and the offense was really streaky. Sure, Detroit had a good season. But at the end of the day, the Tigers didn’t really grasp the AL Central till late in the season, they were pushed hard in the Oakland series and faced a struggling Yankees team in the ALCS. I probably could have named three other National League teams that could have beat the Tigers. I’m not trying to disparage Detroit, just saying that they never seemed like a World Series team to me. Big congratulations go out to the Giants and great to see a bunch of players who are confident and quirky. Bruce Bochy has taken this team of weirdos and molded them into a championship team. If I was GM Brian Sabean, I don’t change the nucleus of this team. This is a team that could be back in this spot next year.

A1 Defense.

Last night the Gold Glove awards were announced, and Kansas City Royals star Left Fielder Alex Gordon came away with his second consecutive award for defensive excellence. To be honest, I couldn’t care less about this award. Sure, I totally think Gordon deserved to win. But anymore, this award is not voted for defense as much as for offensive AND defensive excellence. Sure, voters can say it isn’t, but offense is taken into consideration way more than they should. Look at someone like Brendan Ryan of the Mariners. Ryan barely hits over .200 most years, but keeps his job because of his sparkling defense. Yes, his defense is that good. The truth is Ryan will never win this award because he just doesn’t hit enough. I just wish MLB would just be honest and admit this award is not for just defense alone. Hit good and play solid defense and you too could win a Gold Glove.

No Gold Glove, but M-V-P?

Soon the other awards throughout Major League Baseball will be announced, including American League MVP. Yes, that debate will heat up again. Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers ended up being the first Triple Crown winner in baseball since 1967 while Angels Center Fielder Mike Trout put up ridiculous numbers for a rookie. This debate has mostly split two sides of baseball, the old guard and the new guard. If you are someone who loves stats of all kind, including defensive, then Trout is your probably your man. If you look at getting your team to the playoffs and making baseball history, Cabrera is your guy. I’m still split, as I do understand what Cabrera has done this year and how special that is. But I also think Trout is about as special as they get, and his numbers stand out even more when you consider he was in AAA for the first month of the year. Defensively, Trout stomps Miggy, and Trout’s WAR is 3.8 higher than Cabrera’s. Yes, it is a lot of numbers to digest and it’s hard to argue with either choice. But if I had to put my money on it, Cabrera comes out the winner. But a part of me really believes the award should belong to Trout. Either way, we the fans win.

Still standing.

Finally, it is a bad kept secret that the Kansas City Royals are looking to upgrade their starting rotation this offseason, even if Dayton Moore seems to not be(or not able to) bumping up the payroll. If the Royals are looking to veer outside the box when looking, Brandon McCarthy might be an interesting option. McCarthy had a good season with Oakland in 2012, even if injuries limited him to only 18 starts. His ERA was 3.24 with a WAR of 2.0 and a strikeout to walk ratio of almost 3 to 1. His last two seasons in Oakland have been his best in the majors and he won’t be turning 30 until July. The price for Brandon might not be as high as well, since he is coming off of a major head injury(and last I checked, brain surgery was considered major). McCarthy was hit in the head from a line drive late in the season and had progressed enough from the surgery that Oakland was ready to activate him if they had advanced to the ALCS. He’s also had shoulder issues over the years, but McCarthy might be a risk worth taking. Maybe a smaller contract loaded with incentives? Sounds like the kind of deal Dayton Moore would love. If Moore is serious about getting creative this offseason, then McCarthy might be a good option. He can’t be any worse than some of the options we have now(paging Hochevar, Luke).

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