Shaking Up The Royals Roster

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A few weeks have passed since the Kansas City Royals wrapped up their 2016 campaign and we’ve all had time to really digest what went wrong with this year’s team. That also means we’ve had sometime to ponder what the Royals front office should do this offseason to move forward and take advantage of the last year with Kansas City’s home-grown core that garnered them a world championship. Once the season wrapped, General Manager Dayton Moore talked to the media and one of main talking points was how the Royals could see a regression with the payroll moving into the 2017 season. This really shouldn’t be a shock to anyone who has followed this team during Moore’s tenure, as he has a tendency to temper expectations and not show his hand. Moore also discussed how the team worked with most of the world championship team intact, hoping to catch lightning in the bottle a second time. That didn’t work, obviously, but it also appears as if Moore might want to shake things up this winter, which I tend to agree with. That might mean one or two of the main core of players being traded this offseason, which I am also in agreement of. So who would I move? Well, I’m glad you asked as I have put a lot of thought into this and think I have a strategy that could put the Royals in a better position financially while also keeping the team a contender in 2017. Tread lightly, folks; I’m about to shake up the Royals roster.

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Let’s start with a move you that already has been hinted at, trading closer Wade Davis. In fact, trade interest has already started to trickle out for one of the premier bullpen arms in baseball. No teams have been linked with Davis yet, but one would have to believe that some of the teams that showed interest before the trade deadline (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, etc.) will probably still be interested this winter. So far during the playoffs this October, we have seen the importance of having a stellar, lock-down pen and Davis would be a great addition to about any pen in baseball. So would the Royals get a package on par with what the Yankees got for either Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller? Probably something close to that, although it might be a tad less considering some of the issues Davis had during this past season. Davis saw his strike out rate and average velocity fall just a tick this year while his walk rate was the highest it has ever been during his time in the bullpen. Davis did miss about five weeks with a strained forearm, which will no doubt be a concern for any team wanting to acquire him this winter. Now, I’m sure someone, somewhere is wondering why the Royals would part with one of the best relievers in the game. For one, Davis will be making $10 million this upcoming season once the Royals pick up his option, which will be a formality. Freeing up that much money will give Kansas City some flexibility and the ability to use that money on multiple players. Second, no matter what anyone tells you, the Royals still had one of the top five bullpens in the American League this past season and Kelvin Herrera showed the team this year that he is more than capable of taking over the closer’s role. Third, there has to be some concern that Davis is starting to regress, especially seeing the struggles that occurred this past season. That doesn’t mean he will be terrible this upcoming season if he is regressing, but Moore has had issues in the past dealing his All-Star closers at their peak value. Moore held on to both Joakim Soria (version 1.0) and Greg Holland longer than he should have and both ended up on the operating table. Davis not only has great value right now, but the team would be able to ditch some payroll while procuring some young talent that could be mainstays in Kansas City past the 2017 season. Moore wanted to focus on rebuilding his pen this winter, and honestly, finding a young power arm on the cheap really isn’t that hard. To make that happen, move number one this offseason should be to deal Wade Davis.

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The next deal I would make would be trading shortstop Alcides Escobar. Escobar is coming off of a frustrating offensive season, putting up a line of .261/.292/.350 with an OPS+ of 70 and 0.3 bWAR. Escobar will be entering his age 30 season and defensively is still a plus defender, which should give him some value out on the market. Any team that would be acquiring Escobar would be picking him up for his defense and whatever offense he can contribute, although his best year at the plate was 2012, where he hit .293/.331/.390 with an OPS+ of 96, the highest of his career. If the Royals can find a trade partner for Esky, the team would be able to shed the $6.5 million he will earn this upcoming season (as long as the Royals pick up the option, which is expected) while hopefully acquiring a younger player. Shortstop will be taken care of in his absence, as Raul Mondesi, Jr. could slide over from second base, take over shortstop while freeing up the Royals to look for a second baseman this winter. Defensively, Mondesi might actually be an improvement at the position. Offensively, Mondesi still has some work to do (as evident by his OPS+ of 36) but it wasn’t like Escobar was producing a ton of offense. If you are in the camp of believing that Mondesi will continue to improve, you can imagine him possibly producing close to the numbers that Escobar put up in 2016. The likelihood of Moore dealing Esky is probably slim, but I am in the camp of dealing him and upgrading second base in 2017.

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I would also trade Jarrod Dyson. Now, this might seem a bit odd, in the sense that Dyson is still fairly cheap ($3.45 million in 2016) and is an important contributor not only on the field but in the clubhouse. Dyson is a major role player for Kansas City and in fact lead the team in fWAR in 2016, at 3.1 with Danny Duffy a close second at 2.8. So why would I trade Dyson? Because they already have a similar player who is younger and cheaper. His name would be Billy Burns, who the Royals acquired from Oakland back in July for Brett Eibner. Burns has comparable speed and offensively appears to be on par with Dyson, if you count his 2016 campaign as an off year. Burns won’t be a free agent until after the 2020 season and earned $513K in his second year in the big leagues. Dyson, meanwhile, will become a free agent after the 2017 season and is pretty close to peak value right now. I really figured he would be traded away back in July, but nothing came to fruition, as the Royals held pat at the deadline. The Royals wouldn’t be freeing up a ton of cash by trading away Dyson, so a trade would be more about what they could get back. I would imagine a good B level prospect could be had in a deal, which would strengthen the depth in the organization. If I had my say, Dyson would become an ex-Royal this winter.

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So would I deal anyone else? More than likely not, but I also believe the Royals should listen for any player, as there is always the chance a team might overpay for a key piece they want to add to their roster. Take for instance three impending free agents after the 2017 season: Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. On first glance it would seem crazy to deal any of these three, as the offense struggled in 2016 and need as many quality bats as possible. But you could make a legitimate argument for any of the three, especially if the haul garners them some big name, major league talent. You could argue that Cain is injury prone, and the likelihood that he would get a long-term contract from the Royals while entering his age 31 season would seem a long-shot. While I believe that Kansas City really missed Moustakas’ bat this season, you could also argue that the Royals have two younger players (Cheslor Cuthbert and Hunter Dozier) who are third baseman that could take over the position at a much cheaper price. While the Royals probably don’t have a first baseman in their system that will be ready for the big leagues by the start of the 2017 season, Hosmer is enticing trade bait in my mind for a couple of reasons. For one, he is still really young (2017 will be his age 27 season) and most teams would be more likely to take a chance on a player his age than one in his 30’s. Two, the national media seems to love this guy, no matter how much they try to hide the truth, which is that he regressed in 2016, into a league average hitter. If the Royals can get a “King’s Ransom” for Hosmer, I think they should take it. To me, he is not the player some consider him and while he might have flashes of greatness, he also has valleys of huge proportions. More than anything, he seems to struggle with change. Take last year; after his red hot start, pitchers changed the way they pitched to Hosmer, throwing less fastballs and giving him a nice diet of off-speed stuff. This started before the All-Star game and from June through the rest of the year we saw a player who produced a below league average OPS+. Ian Kennedy could also be a candidate for a trade this offseason, as the Royals would like to get out from underneath the five year deal they gave him last winter. The Royals though will probably need his innings and stability in the rotation and for the moment that might hold more value to the team than any trade they would be able to swing.

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One of the big reasons this Royals team has been so popular with the fanbase over the last few years has been the ability to give them an emotional connection. This can also be a problem, as it will be that much harder when the front office starts dismantling the core of this team. Baseball is a business and as much as you or I would like to see these players be in Kansas City forever, that just isn’t realistic. The Royals have an opportunity this winter to shake things up, be creative and restructure the roster to make it both a contender next year and build a new core of players to carry the team past 2017. Will that happen? I have my doubts, but if I am being unbiased I know it needs to happen. What the front office needs to ask itself over the next few months is not only what will help the team contend next season, but what is best for the team in the long-term. The best thing for this Royals team is to let the heart fall to the side and let logic take over. Logic says it is time to shake up the team and deal some of their popular players. It will be shunned by some, but it’s the logical thing to do.

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Royals Selling, But Who’s Buying?

Edinson Volquez
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

With the trade deadline a few days away(Monday afternoon at 3pm CT, to be exact), there has been much discussion about what the Kansas City Royals are going to do, especially since it now appears they will be selling rather than buying. It’s hard to imagine the defending World Champions being in this position when the season started but the team has been littered with issues in the starting rotation and more than anything else, a litany of injuries. So who might the Royals ship off before Monday? There are a few candidates for Kansas City to deal and it starts with a key part of the rotation.

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Volquez has had a very up and down 2016 so far, compiling a 4.56 ERA in 124 innings, with an ERA+ of 98, a FIP of 4.11 and a SO/W ratio of 2.00, all numbers below what he racked up last year but above his career marks. The starting pitching market is fairly weak this deadline and a known commodity like Volquez should garner a couple of very solid prospects. Or…maybe more:

Alright, so maybe we should make that 3-4 prospects. The Royals are in a position where they need to re-stock the arms in their minor league system and dealing Eddie would be a good first start for this to happen. There is a bit of immediacy when it comes to starting pitching(last in the American League in innings pitched, WAR, FIP…yes, the list goes on) and if Kansas City can gain a few major league or close to major league ready arms from dealing Volquez than they should go for it. Volquez’s contract runs out after this season(there is a mutual option for 2017) and if Kansas City was really interested, they could look into re-signing Eddie during the off-season if they happen to deal him. There is a very good likelihood that Volquez is dealt before Monday afternoon(I would say probably an 85-90% chance for a trade) and there is a number of contending teams interested in him. So far, San Francisco, Texas and Los Angeles(Dodgers) have all inquired about him while Baltimore, Boston and Miami could also be options(although the Marlins picked up Andrew Cashner on Friday). No matter the team, there is probably a very good chance that Volquez will no longer be a Royal by Tuesday.

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Also on the trading block is Kendrys Morales. Morales’ numbers are down from last year(.246/.315/.431 with an OPS+ of 95 and -0.4 bWAR) but Morales had a great June and is still a viable power threat. Like Volquez, Morales is signed through this season with a mutual option for 2017(Dayton sure does love his mutual options). So if a team was interested in him, he would be just a two month rental. I can’t imagine many National League teams would be interested, as he is almost purely a DH at this point in his career and is a below average defender. This leaves the American League teams as an option and many of them wouldn’t have a set spot for him in the lineup. I could possibly see him as an option off the bench, but that would be an expensive bench player for most teams. One team that might consider Kendrys is the Rangers, as they found out this week that their high-priced DH, Prince Fielder, will be having season-ending neck surgery. Morales is a great fit in that Texas lineup and might see an uptick in offense at Globe Life Park in Arlington. That being said, the chances of the Royals finding a trade partner for Morales is probably in the 20-30% range, so I wouldn’t expect him to be leaving the confines of Kauffman Stadium by the deadline.

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Then there is the wild card of this bunch, Wade Davis. It’s not hard to see why so many teams are interested in Davis, as he has been one of the top(if not the very top) reliever in the game since 2014. Davis hasn’t been as dominating in 2016(1.60 ERA, 280 ERA+, 2.75 FIP, 8.6 Strike Outs per 9) but is still considered an elite closer. The interesting scenario with Wade is that he is under contract until the end of 2017, which means if he was dealt by Kansas City, whichever team acquired him would get him for the 2017 season. Because of this, the Royals are asking for a bigger haul for Davis than New York got from the Cubs for Aroldis Chapman, and rightly so because of the extra year of contract control. Since the Royals are asking for so much, they have also tried to pawn off the contract of Ian Kennedy onto anyone wanting Davis, like the Dodgers. Kennedy’s contract would be a lot for any team to take on, even one has wealthy as Los Angeles. The Royals know at this point they don’t have to deal Wade, as Kansas City is in a position where they could be contenders again in 2017. So the only way Davis is dealt is if a team totally overwhelms Dayton Moore to where he just can’t say no. I would say the chances of him being traded are in the 10-20% area, with Los Angeles, Washington and Cleveland as possible suitors(although I can’t imagine Moore trading Davis to a team within their division, so don’t hold your breathe on that one). I’m not expecting Wade to be dealt, but I also know it is not completely off the table.(Writers note: While working on this piece, it was found out that Davis definitely is NOT going to be traded:

The MRI is planning to be on his right elbow. Try not to think the worst, Royals fans, but with the way this season is going…)

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One name I initially did not plan on talking about in this space was Jarrod Dyson, but I’m now thinking he very well could be gone by Monday afternoon. Why the change of heart?

Let’s see if Burns sounds familiar; speedy guy, slightly above average defensively, doesn’t strike out much, makes contact but sometimes has trouble getting on base. Sounds a lot like Dyson, right? Burns was 5th last year in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, with 26 stolen bases and .334 OBP. He has struggled most of this year and was sent to AAA Omaha after the trade today. But with Burns now in the fold, and Dyson getting more expensive as he approaches free agency after the 2017 season, it appears as if the Royals might have acquired Dyson’s replacement if he was dealt. I don’t know what percentage chance he has of being traded, but it would seem weird to have two backup outfielders with pretty much the exact same talent set. Just saying.

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There is one more Royal that has been heavily mentioned in trade talk, and that is Luke Hochevar. Hochevar looked like almost a lock to be traded away before the deadline, that was until he was placed on the disabled list on Thursday. The news didn’t get better on Friday:

Hochevar and the Royals could not have gotten any worse news. For a guy who was an awful starter, to turn his career around out of the bullpen, AND THEN have Tommy John Surgery, that is some bad luck. To then return from surgery and less than two years later find out you have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, that will defeat anyone’s hopes:

That is a tough break and I don’t even mean that in the sense of Hochevar’s trade value. Sure, the Royals could have traded him and gotten 1-2 good players in return. But it’s even worse to have this surgery and be unsure about one’s future. Moving forward, Hochevar has a long road ahead of him.

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The frame of mind that the Kansas City front office should have right now is of a team that is close to contending but needs to upgrade some pieces for 2017. I am not 100% waving the white flag on this season, but it just doesn’t appear as if the postseason is in the cards for this team. If the Royals are able to swing a few trades, upgrade a few question marks and look ahead toward the future, they will be sitting in a good position next year, the last year for the main core on this Royals roster. I doubt there is a lot of movement by Kansas City but a few tweaks here and there are probable. Major League Baseball extended the trade deadline an extra day this year so that it wouldn’t fall on the weekend. The Royals have an extra day to get creative; the clock is ticking.

 

The 1st Annual Mid-Season Royals Awards

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We are at baseball’s halfway point, as the All-Star break is upon us and everyone is allowed a chance to take a step back, take a deep breath and relax. The Kansas City Royals are in a tie for 3rd place in the American League Central(7 games out)and still very much in a position for a playoff spot. Since we have only 74 games left in this season, let’s take one final look back at the first half of the season and what all the Royals have accomplished. With that, I am proud to announce the 1st Annual Mid-Season Royals Awards here on Bleeding Royal Blue!

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Most Valuable Player

Eric Hosmer-.299/.355/.476, 13 HR, 49 RBI, 116 OPS+, 1.5 bWAR

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY)

Best Pitcher

Danny Duffy-81.2 IP, 3.09 ERA, 145 ERA+, 3.43 FIP, 1.065 WHIP, 5.53 SO/W

MLB: JUN 13 Indians at Royals
(Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire)

Rookie of the Year

Whit Merrifield-.290/.315/.409, 46 games, 18 extra base hits, 89 OPS+, 1.2 bWAR

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY)

Comeback Player of the Year

Ian Kennedy-99.2 IP, 3.97 ERA, 113 ERA+, 1.194 WHIP, 3.12 SO/W, 1.4 WAR

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Best Impersonation of a Batting Practice Pitcher

Chris Young

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Best Salvy Splash

Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas

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Best Surprise Splash

Drew Butera on Salvador Perez

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY)

Best Rookie Splash

Cheslor Cuthbert

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Worst Splash

Drew Butera

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Best Catch

Lorenzo Cain

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Best Catch, Take 2

Alcides Escobar

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Best Walk-Off

May 28th-8-7 Win over the White Sox

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Best Walk-Off, Take 2

May 15-4-2 Win over Atlanta

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Best Hair, Player

Brett Eibner

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Best Hair, Coach

Rusty Kuntz

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Best Hair Flip

Drew Butera

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Best Forehead

Edinson Volquez

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Best Impersonation of a Punching Bag

Yordano Ventura

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In Memoriam

Omar Infante

MLB: New York Mets at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY)

It’s been a good first half. Here’s to even more memories in the second half of the season…and a return trip to October!

 

 

 

In Due Time:A First Half Look At The Royals

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When contemplating on just one word to describe the Kansas City Royals first half of the 2016 season, a number of words flooded my brain: struggle, streaky, battle, fluky and frustration all seemed fitting. But the one word that seems to fit more than any other is ‘adversity’, a word that has fit like a glove since before the season even started. Whether it has been the struggles of the starting rotation or the streaky offense, the Royals have not had the smooth sailing they were witness to for a large chunk of the 2015 season. Probably the biggest roadblock in front of them this season has been the litany of injuries that have occurred.

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The walking wounded actually began back in Spring Training, as Jarrod Dyson, who was in line to see a big increase in playing time in right field, came down with a strained oblique. In May, starters Kris Medlen and Chris Young would both venture to the disabled list, after struggling through their previous few starts. Late in May, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas would collide chasing a foul ball  in Chicago and the news was grim; Gordon would miss a month with a wrist injury while Moustakas would have a torn ACL and was expected to miss the rest of the season. A week after that collision, catcher Salvador Perez would incur a quad contusion after third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert would run into Salvy while chasing a pop fly. Luckily, Perez would sit out for a week but not have to make an appearance on the disabled list. The injury bug would return in June, with outfielder Brett Eibner(after only being recalled a few days earlier) going on the DL on June 1st with a left ankle sprain, returning after two weeks. Lorenzo Cain would make his first DL appearance in two years, pulling up lame and grabbing his hamstring after running out a ground ball just a few weeks ago. To cap it all off, closer Wade Davis, a man who some of us believe is actually a machine, would deal with a forearm strain and land on the DL with Cain just this past week. If you are taking notes at home, that is four Royals All-Stars that have seen time on the DL so far this season and that is just through 88 games. One of the biggest strengths for Kansas City the last two years was their health, as they were able to make two big playoff runs while dealing with very limited injuries to their main nucleus. The pendulum always swings back around and it appears the Royals dance with lady luck has ended on the injury front.

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Speaking of turbulence, the Royals starting pitching has been more than just rocky so far in 2016. Kansas City starting pitching is next to last in innings pitched, 3rd highest in walks per 9, 1st in home runs per 9, 4th highest ERA, highest FIP, and lowest WAR in the American League. The only area where the starting pitching is moderately succeeding is strikeouts per 9, which is the 3rd highest in the league. With these numbers it is easy to see why the Royals have struggled and are currently looking for upgrades on the trade market. Chris Young, who was a vital part of the Royals playoff run last year, has allowed the most home runs in the American League(26 in only 56 innings pitched) and has been banished to the bullpen. Ian Kennedy has been about what was expected from him; at times he has looked phenomenal and has shut down other teams, while others he has been a victim of the long-ball, allowing the second most home runs in the AL( 21). Yordano Ventura has not looked like the ace that he could be capable of, as he has struggled(including inciting a melee in Baltimore) and others he has put together some very quality starts(like just this past Friday). Edinson Volquez hasn’t been as consistent as he was in 2015, yo-yoing from start to start. The one shining light has been the re-emergence of Danny Duffy, who has looked like a pitcher who has figured something out. Duffy started the year in the  bullpen but was moved to the rotation in May and has been splendid ever since. He has thrown 81 innings to this point, striking out over 10 batters per 9, walking less than 2 per 9 and stranding runners at an 83% clip. Duffy’s numbers just jump out on the page: highest K-BB% in a Royals uniform, highest soft hit % of his career, and the fastest average fastball velocity of his career. If the Royals can get some more consistency from Volquez and Ventura, while picking up a cheap arm in a trade, they might be able to stabilize the rotation and improve on numbers that shouldn’t be hard to improve upon.

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While the starting pitching has been a major trouble area, the offense has been very bi-polar. Much like the last few years, the Kansas City offense is a very streaky bunch. As a team they are next to last in runs, last in RBI’s, home runs, walk %, isolated power, and 12th in wRC+. Most other offensive categories the Royals are around the middle of the pack, but the Royals also get their runs in a different manner than most other American League teams. Eric Hosmer has turned in a season worthy of his All-Star starting nod, hitting .299/.355/.476 with 13 home runs and 49 RBI’s. Salvador Perez has seen an increase in power this season and has turned into a serious threat in the middle of the lineup(writers note: he even hit a home run right after I typed this). Paulo Orlando has been a pleasant surprise this year, hitting .324/.347/.417, sacrificing some of the power we saw from him last year for a better on base percentage. Lorenzo Cain struggled in April, but came on like wildfire in May and was putting up good numbers before his injury this month. Kendrys Morales struggled through the first two months of the season, but looked like a completely different hitter in June, a month where he put up video game numbers. Even Mike Moustakas was putting up great power numbers before his injury in May. But the real surprise of the offense has been the call-ups Kansas City has been using to fill the holes for injured players.

MLB: Houston Astros at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY)

The great thing about this Royals team is not only the depth that they have compared to years past, but the amount of production we have seen from players that were not expected to contribute. Whit Merrifield has been a life-changer for Kansas City, posting a line of .291/.313/.407 with 1.4 bWar in just 46 games. Whit was originally supposed to fill the super utility role for Kansas City, but instead ended up taking the second base job from the now released Omar Infante. Cheslor Cuthbert, who saw some time in Kansas City last year, was recalled to take over at third base for Moustakas and struggled a bit the first few weeks of seeing regular playing time. Since May 27(right around the Moose injury), Cuthbert is hitting .293/.331/.471 with 7 home runs, 22 RBI’s and a BAbip of .343. Defensively, he is not quite the glovesman that Moustakas is, but he has proved to be more than capable, with an UZR of 6.2 and making 83% of plays that are considered unlikely(which are considered normally to be made 10-40% of the time). The man who has seen the least amount of time out of this group is Brett Eibner, as he has only played in 18 games. Eibner has been productive in that span, hitting .269/.333/.500 with a BAbip of .343 and a wRC+ of 116. Eibner has 8 extra base hits in his 18 games and is a bat that can supply the power the Royals heavily covet. All three players have stepped in when the Royals have needed them to and have produced in many a tight situation. It wasn’t expected for these three to be heavy contributors, but so far in 2016 they have probably helped this team stay in the pennant race.

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While this Royals team isn’t gliding into a postseason berth like they did last year, they are still very much in contention, even being 7 games out in the American League Central but only 4 1/2 games out of a wild card spot. The hope is that the Royals can stabilize the rotation while hitting a bit more consistently, which should increase their chances of a playoff spot. Injuries have hurt Kansas City so far this year but they haven’t crippled them and that has allowed them to stay in the race. We have seen over the last couple seasons that this is a team that strives on adversity. If that stays true to form, then we should be seeing a stellar second half from our ‘Boys in Blue’.

 

Cain Is Not Able, Heads To DL

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On Tuesday evening, the injury bug hit the Kansas City Royals yet again. This time, it struck All-Star centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, as he pulled up lame running out a ground ball. As most know that follow the Royals, this is not the first time Cain has dealt with a leg injury. In fact, the Royals have spent the last few years trying to get him to kick the habit of lunging at the first base bag when running out grounders and for the most part he has been successful. Unfortunately, this time Cain is dealing with a strained left hamstring and was placed on the disabled list on Wednesday. So what effect will this have on Kansas City?

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Let’s state the obvious first: it is never good to lose a player of Cain’s caliber, let alone the person who is probably the best player on the team. The Royals will obviously miss his stellar defense in center field, but this might turn out to be a nice break for Cain. Cain hasn’t been tearing it up offensively in June, hitting .280/..309/.333 with 6 RBI’s. He’s not hitting poorly, but he’s also not producing the way he was in May; .351/.387/.577 with 6 home runs and 25 RBI’s throughout the second month of the season. It is easy to see where some of the Royals struggles earlier this month can be traced back to Cain, as he has driven in about 20 runs less this month. I feel like I am dogging Cain for the past month, which I’m not; there is no way he would drive in 25 RBI’s every month. But with him batting in the middle of the Kansas City batting order, you would hope he would have contributed a bit more over the span of a full month. Sometimes a player needs to take a step back from the everyday grind of baseball to recharge and get back into a groove. Cain will be allotted that time for the next couple weeks.

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So who will take Cain’s place in his absence? I would have to believe we will see more Jarrod Dyson, as he is a solid fit in center field. Dyson has had a rough June(.229/.357/.257 in only 43 plate appearances) as he has seen his playing time dwindle with Paulo Orlando seeing the majority of playing time in right field due to his hot hitting. Dyson will bring most of the same stellar defense that Cain brings to the table, but offensively he will be a few steps back. There’s also a chance that Brett Eibner, who was recalled again from Omaha once Cain went to the DL, could see some time in center, a position he has played in the minors. Playing Eibner in center field could be interesting, as he is a step back defensively but would add another power bat to the Royals lineup. The Royals tend to put an emphasis on defense the majority of the time, so Eibner would probably see less playing time but it might be a good litmus test to see how he does defensively for a couple of weeks until Cain is back.

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Speaking of Cain coming back, you might be wondering about the timetable for his return. The word is that Cain has a Grade 1+ strained left hamstring, which is defined as follows:

With a grade 1 hamstring strain you may have tightness in back of the thigh but will be able to walk normally. You will be aware of some hamstring discomfort and unable to run at full speed. There will be mild swelling and spasm. Bend your knee against resistance is unlikely to reproduce much pain.

This would be why most didn’t notice a limp after Tuesday night’s game:

This would also explain why they are expecting him to return right after the All-Star break:

In other words, the injury came at an opportune time. With the All-Star break just a few weeks away, that gives the Royals just a tad over two weeks to let Cain rest and get healed without losing him for a long stretch of games. I would also say he will not be playing every single game upon his return, as they will want to monitor the hamstring and make sure not to re-aggravate it. The fact this isn’t Cain’s first leg injury is a concern, but an injury like this would be much more painful during the pennant stretch than it is in late June/early July.

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An injury to an All-Star is never a good deal for any team,  but the Royals should be able to hold the team together during Cain’s absence. Kendrys Morales is on a hot streak offensively and with Alex Gordon back in the fold the Royals offense isn’t as patched together as it was a month ago. If there is a real concern here, it is that Cain has had a myriad of leg injuries throughout his career, most notably back in 2012. You have to hope for the Royals sake that this is just a lone event and not a sign of things to come. Cain has stayed healthy for almost a two-year stretch(his last DL stint was in April of 2014) and the Royals need him healthy if they are going to make a return appearance in the playoffs. The Royals have the depth to wait out this injury and shouldn’t notice a big drop-off in his absence. If you really want a sign as to how the Royals have changed over the last 4-6 years, here it is. The Royals will be without their best player for a few weeks and there isn’t a giant alarm going off. This is progress, folks.

Opportunity Knocks

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(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

This past Sunday, Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon and third baseman Mike Moustakas collided in foul territory chasing after a fly ball. The collision looked nasty for both parties, with it seemingly being worse on Gordon, as he seemed to bang his head on the back of the tarp lined against the stands. Gordon was taken out of the game in the following inning and the news for him dropped on Monday:

The initial diagnosis was that Gordon would miss about 3-4 weeks , which would mean Gordon will probably be back in late June:

Moustakas meanwhile was considered “day to day”(but aren’t we all) by the club with a contusion to his knee. Moose had sat out the entire three game series in Minnesota this week and went in for more tests on Thursday. The news was not positive:

A torn ACL is bad news, as it means Moustakas will be out for the remainder of the 2016 season, a season that saw his power numbers soar. With the Royals losing two All-Stars for a significant amount of time, this means that someone will have to attempt to fill their shoes. It appears for the moment that Cheslor Cuthbert and Brett Eibner will get that opportunity.

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This is not Cuthbert’s first rodeo with the Royals, as he spent a bit of time with Kansas City last year while also working on his second stint so far this year. Last year Cuthbert produced a line of .217/.280/.370 in the big leagues with 1 homer, 8 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 75 in just 19 games. So far this year in 15 games, Cuthbert has a line of .237/.250/.339 1 home run, 3 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 60. Obviously both years have been just a small sample size for Cheslor, but in that time he has shown an ability to get on base and has played slightly above average defense at third base. Cuthbert got off to a hot start down in Omaha this year and while he got off to a quick start his first few games in Kansas City (.286/.310/.464 in his first seven games), he has tapered off just a bit over the last eight games. I don’t believe Cuthbert will produce the kind of power Moustakas was producing early this year, but he does have a little pop in his bat and is more than adequate on defense. Now that Cheslor knows he will probably be seeing regular playing time for the Royals(and I’m sure the occasional Whit Merrifield start sprinkled in there as well), it will be interesting to see if he relaxes a bit and embraces the playing time he will be receiving the rest of this season.

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Credit: Minda Haas Kuhlmann

Then there is Eibner, just recalled earlier today. Eibner has been an intriguing prospect for Kansas City, a former second round draft pick back in 2010. Eibner put together a strong 2015 campaign for the Royals AAA team in Omaha(.303/.364/.514 with 19 homers, 81 RBI’s and 200 total bases) and was looking to do the same early in 2016(.309/.411/.537 with 10 homers, 28 RBI’s and 80 total bases in just 41 games). Now what Eibner brings to the mix is not only a solid bat and solid glove, but also a little bit of speed. Many have felt Eibner should have been given a shot at playing a bit in right field last year in Kansas City and his name was even thrown around a bit this year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get regular playing time on the corners in the outfield while Gordon is out, with some mix of Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson in right,  while Eibner and Merrifield patrol left. You hear a lot about players just wanting a chance to prove themselves and Eibner looks to be getting his now.

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I know many will view Gordon and Moustakas’ injuries as a negative(and trust me, it is) but there is also a positive to them missing time. The positive is that the Royals will now get a chance to view Cuthbert, Eibner and Merrifield on a semi-regular basis and assess just how they help the team moving forward. Obviously how they play will determine how much we see of them this season but if any of them produce on a consistent basis, that might help their spot in the organization in future years. Merrifield’s versatility is a big bonus for this Royals team and probably has the best chance of sticking but both Cuthbert and Eibner could increase their value this year. With Moustakas becoming a free agent after the 2017 season and right field not fully secured, both could work their way into a spot on the team. You hear a lot spoken from teams about “grabbing the brass ring” and “play well to force their hand”, and all three players have a chance to do just that moving forward. They might not be future All-Stars or middle of the lineup producers, but your entire team is not made up of MVP caliber players. Sometimes you just need a steady hand that a manager knows he can rely on.

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Opportunity is a beautiful thing, as it can spread surprise and unlock production in an unlikely way. Losing Gordon for a month and Moose for the rest of the year are big blows to a team that is hoping to contend again this year, but it’s not always the end of the world. The Royals have been a lucky team these last few years as they have not had to deal with very many major injuries to their key players. The true mettle of a team can be measured by how they react to adversity and things are as adverse as they have been in Kansas City in awhile. Eibner, Merrifield and Cuthbert have an opportunity before them that most did not expect when the season began. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if any of them step up and lock themselves into a regular spot on the roster. To be continued…

 

Relying on Speed

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Throughout the 2015 season, there was always speculation on who should be playing right field for the Kansas City Royals. Alex Rios was the incumbent at the position, but his lackluster play throughout the summer(plus the myriad of injuries and illnesses) made one wonder if the Royals would be better off employing a platoon in right of Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando. Rios would actually put together a good September and a solid postseason for Kansas City, so this question seemed rather moot by the end of the season. But that question looks to be finally answered, as manager Ned Yost confirmed at Fanfest that the Royals would likely be employing “some sort of platoon” of Dyson and Orlando to start the 2016 season. So this begs the question: just how productive would a Dyson/Orlando platoon be?

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(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Jarrod Dyson has been an intriguing player for his entire career, mostly because of his speed. Dyson has game-changing speed, the kind that any team would covet, which it appears he was this offseason:

The Royals, over the years, have done a good job of taking advantage of that speed but not misusing Dyson to where his flaws would be more prominent. Offensively, Dyson is slightly below league average throughout his career(career 83 OPS+) while stealing bases at an 86% clip(he has only been caught stealing 23 times in his career out of 169 attempts). Dyson doesn’t accumulate very many extra base hits, as he has only 61 over his 6 year career, mostly doubles and triples. His main issue has been hitting lefties, which has been a major struggle for Dyson. Over his career, Dyson has a line of .211/.288/.249 against left-handers, striking out 21% of the time against them. For the most Kansas City has sheltered him against this struggle, as he has only accumulated 243 plate appearances against lefties in his career. Defensively, Dyson is above average(which is shown by his WAR, 9.6 over his career in limited action), which is a major reason why the Royals are set to go with Dyson getting the majority of the time in right this year. His UZR is well above average, while he has racked up 43 DRS(defensive runs saved) in limited playing time over his career. Dyson doesn’t always take great routes, but he normally makes up for it with his speed. I know there was a prevalent thought by the national media in 2014 that Dyson was a better defender than Lorenzo Cain, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. A lot of Dyson’s flaws are hid by his speed, which helps him get to balls that most players would not, while Cain actually is a more than average efficient defender. Dyson probably won’t provide much pop(and he probably should bat near the bottom of the order)but his speed and defense should make it alright for the Royals to start the year with Dyson getting more than usual playing time. I would even say Dyson could top 50 stolen bases in a year if given the time to do it. But he won’t see all the time in right field…

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Paulo Orlando is entering his age 30 season, coming off a rookie campaign that saw him in the middle of a number of big Royals wins while getting a decent amount of playing time due to Rios and Alex Gordon spending time on the disabled list. Orlando became a fan favorite early on, for his great defense and propensity to hit triples. Over time, his flaws showed the more he played, so much like Dyson, Orlando platooning with Jarrod would help his productivity. Orlando had a line of .249/.269/.444 in 2015 with an OPS+ of 90 and a WAR of 1.0. Paulo has some pop in his bat and was a sprinter in Brazil before beginning his baseball career, so he is also exceptionally fast. He also became a regular defensive replacement late in the season for Rios, as he is another above average defender in the Kansas City outfield. Orlando probably wouldn’t be a good fit for the Royals as a regular, but splitting time with Dyson should help hide some of his flaws while also giving him a chance to add some production for the bottom of the order.

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I know there will be a few Royals fans that will bring up minor leaguers Brett Eibner and Jose Martinez as possible players to see time in right field, but barring a major injury I can’t imagine either will see much time in Kansas City in 2016. Eibner had a good year in Omaha in 2015, putting up a line of .303/.364/.514 with 19 home runs and 81 RBI’s, pretty much a career year for him in the minors. Unfortunately, the Royals see him as a fourth outfielder type who would only really see time in the big leagues because of an injury or if he really tore it up in AAA in 2016.Martinez literally came out of nowhere in 2015 to post a .384/.461/.563 line and win the PCL batting title for Omaha. Martinez had bounced around for quite awhile with the White Sox and Braves farm systems, never getting higher than AA. Martinez is entering his age 27 season and while he did open a bunch of eyes with his batting last season, there are just as many people wondering if it was a fluke or if he is able to repeat that performance. If he shows last year wasn’t the outlier of his career, then it’s possible we could see him up with the Royals at some point. But that is a big ‘if’ coming from a guy Kansas City found in the independent leagues. There is one more possibility for time in right field this year, and that is Travis Snider. I discussed his chances earlier this month, which look very promising. I see Snider getting a decent look this spring and could even force his way onto the Kansas City bench if things go his way this spring. Snider is the most intriguing of this bunch, as he still seems to have some potential in him that could be untapped, especially if hitting coach Dale Sveum gets ahold of him and teaches him the ‘Royal Way’ of putting the ball in play.

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So with all that thrown out there, here is the big question: would a Dyson/Orlando platoon produce more than last year’s right fielder Alex Rios? For this exercise, I decided to use Steamer Projections to compare the expectations from Rios for this year(if he ever signs with a team; I have literally seen nothing this winter connecting him to any team–at all) to Dyson and Orlando. Steamer has Rios with a line of .249/.287/.369 with 6 home runs and 33 RBI’s(in a projected 76 games). Dyson is set at .250/.309/.341 with 3 homers and 31 RBI’s, while Orlando is projected to hit .254/.289/.363 with 4 home runs and 23 RBI’s. Just looking at the numbers, it looks like average and on-base would be close, with the Dyson/Orlando platoon maybe accumulating a better OBP. It probably seems obvious, but Rios has the better slugging percentage, although one wonders if Dyson would get a few more extra base hits with the added playing time. The stats are eerily similar when putting them up against each other, so offensively it would seem to be fairly close to even, with Rios adding a touch more power while  the Dyson/Orlando combo would add more speed. Throw in that Jarrod and Paulo are both better defenders than Rios, and it would appear the Royals might be slightly improved this year in right with the two of them platooning. Oh, and cheaper as well, with Dyson and Orlando combined making just over $2 million this year while Rios cost the Royals $11 million in 2015. Advantage would seem to favor the 2016 Royals at this point.

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But will this scenario play out all year? Probably not. As much as the Dyson/Orlando platoon in right field can suffice for Kansas City to start out the year, it would seem sensible that the team would look to improve the position before the July trade deadline. The team wouldn’t have to go out and get a top of the line right fielder, but an outfielder that could handle the job full-time while providing more offense could be found and probably not at an insane cost for the Royals. This would also open the team up to using Dyson in more pinch running situations while allowing Orlando to be a late inning defensive replacement if the new right fielder wasn’t skilled as such. As long as the Royals are contending I have to believe this is how the situation will play out and it actually is a best case scenario. The fact that the Royals are in a position where they spend a few months this summer finding out the true value of Dyson and Orlando while also knowing they can always go out and pick up another outfielder is a position that Kansas City has been fairly foreign to until the last few seasons. Dyson and Orlando are both valuable pieces of the Kansas City Royals roster, but their true value is as part-timers. I’m sure we will revisit this subject again come July but I lean toward having the same answer. The platoon will work for now, but definitely not the long-term answer for Kansas City.

Minnesota Wrecking Crew: Royals Lose Game(s) and Series To Twins

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We knew this would happen eventually. We knew the Kansas City Royals weren’t going to go the entire year hitting the way they were, dominating they way they were. They went into this series against the Minnesota Twins undefeated and they leave it with their first series loss and one of their regulars on the disabled list. By no means does that mean that skies are gray and there is doom and gloom around the corner. No, all it means is that this team is human and won’t run roughshod over the rest of baseball. In some ways I am glad this happened now, rather than later. The longer this team went out there and dominated the more pressure that would be elevated on this team. Instead, now they can go out there and play like it is just any other day. Trust me, that is a good thing. Now, onto some notes in a series that proves no matter where Minnesota is in the standings, they are a pain in the posterior.

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Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain

This actually seems a bit odd since I’m not for sure there was one player who dominated this series, at least for the Royals. Lorenzo Cain though had another good series, going 5 for 11 in these 3 games, with 1 home run, 5 RBI’s and raising his average to .429 on the year. Cain is currently sitting at a 5 WAR for the year and somehow is BAbip has gone even higher than last year, which was moderately ludicrous. What I find interesting early on this series is how Cain’s ground ball to fly ball rate is actually a bit lower so far, and his line drive percentage is up this year(26 to 37%). It is early, so it’s hard to know how much of that he will sustain, but I actually like the idea of him getting more ground balls at this point. Sure, the line drives are great and much preferred over a lazy fly ball which does nothing for a hitter. But Cain has good speed and there will be lots of times that he is able to beat out a grounder for a base hit than the average third hitter in the lineup. Cain has really taken to the third spot in the order and looks more comfortable there than guys like Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon have looked in that spot over the years. It obviously is agreeing with him in the first two weeks of the season.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

Raise your hand if you thought Volquez would hold the two best starts the Royals have had this year. Ah, not so fast, naitch. Volquez went out on Wednesday night in his second start of the season and threw a “fantastic” game, throwing 7 innings, giving up 5 hits, 3 runs, with 1 walk and striking out 7 in the loss. In fact the only mistake he threw was a 1-2 fastball to Oswaldo Arcia that went over the fence for a 2 run shot and giving the Twins all the runs they needed. Outside of that, his changeup was great, he was keeping the Twins batters off-balance and continued to keep the ball down, a strategy he has been employing since last year in Pittsburgh. Volquez continues to show that if he locates his pitches correctly and keeps the ball down he should have success in Kansas City, with their stellar defense behind him. Oh, and that little worry about his control going into this year? That has almost vanished as he has allowed one sole walk apiece in each start. If he keeps this up he becomes a solid number 3 in his Kansas City rotation.

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Revenge Can Be Overrated

On Monday afternoon the Royals were twice hit by Minnesota pitchers, one that grazed Alex Gordon and then one that hit Royals right fielder Alex Rios on the left hand. Rios found out the next day that he has a fracture on that hand and looks to be out indefinitely. Rios had been swinging the bat good early on this year and the Royals have now been hit 12 times in the team’s first 9 games of the season. This has lead many fans to cry in outrage that the team needs to retaliate. To say that is completely ridiculous might be an understatement; it might be stupendously ridiculous. Look, outside of 1 or 2 hit by pitches in the Chicago series, these hits haven’t been done on purpose. In fact, many of them have lead to longer innings for the Royals and more scoring opportunities. If the other team wants to give the Royals a free base, let them, as long as they aren’t throwing at anyone’s head. To some the answer is to hit their batters, but why? So Kansas City then has to pitch with runners on base, just for “revenge”? Come on, lets all be smarter than that. Hitting the other team back solves nothing. The greatest way for revenge is to score that free base runner and make the Royals lead even bigger. To hit back as some kind of payback, well folks, that just isn’t smart baseball.

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Other notes from this series:

  • Kendrys Morales had a huge home run in game 2 of this series but otherwise was only 3 for 12. This isn’t to disparage his performance, as much as point out that he has yet to have a horrible series this season. I was worried going into this year we were going to see the 2014 Morales, who was awful. Instead we are a lot closer to the 2013 one who was a very solid hitter. I’ll take that.
  • Kyle Gibson pitched another great game against the Royals Wednesday night, which is starting to become second nature. In fact, if Gibson faced Kansas City 20 times a year, he would probably be a Cy Young Award candidate. In 4 career games against the Royals, Gibson has pitched 26 innings, giving up 4 runs, 6 walks while striking out 18. Oh, and he is 4-0 against the Royals. I think it is easy to say that I hope the Royals can skip seeing him in the series against the Twins next week. Although he would be scheduled for Tuesday…
  • With Rios going on the DL, this opened up a roster spot for Terrance Gore to come up to the main roster. For those wondering why Gore and not someone like Brett Eibner, it is actually pretty simple. Gore is already on the 40 man roster, while guys like Eibner and Moises Sierra would have to bump someone off the roster to make room for them. Since manager Ned Yost isn’t a guy who uses his bench much, it makes sense to call up someone who can be used just for pinch running while Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando split the right field duties in Rios’ abscence.
  • Speaking of the bench, only one player remains from the Opening Day roster who hasn’t appeared in a game yet, and that is backup catcher Erik Kratz. Yost has mentioned possibly giving Salvador Perez a day off on Sunday, which is a good thing. Also, by a day off, that means the entire game. Let’s not do the “Oh, it’s the 8th inning so we can put Perez in the game now”. Let the man have a complete day off. Trust me, he has earned it.
  • Mike Moustakas continues to hit to the opposite field and also got a bunt hit the other day when the Twins put the shift on him. It did appear by Thursday that there wasn’t as drastic a shift against Moose, which is a good thing. He was able to rock a double to right center today and if he continues to hit to left it should make it to where teams don’t shift on him as much. Who knew that something as simple as a shift could make Moustakas a better hitter? The real test will be to see if this holds up throughout the next couple of months. Consistency can be a bitch.
  • It was bound to happen eventually; the Royals bullpen gave up a run…or 3. Before Thursday, the pen had thrown 19.1 innings, giving up 7 hits, 3 walks and no runs. None. Zip. Zero. Zilch. That came to a crashing halt in the 8th inning on Thursday as Chris Young would give up 2 that inning, thanks to Kurt Suzuki planting one into the left field seats. This doesn’t really diminish this bullpen as much as prove that they aren’t perfect. Now it is just time for them to start a new streak.
  • Speaking of the pen, I want to point out a huge effort put in by Jason Frasor on Thursday. He came into the game in the 4th inning with the bases loaded. He would precede to get a lineout to third, then induced Kennys Vargas to tap the ball back to the mound, making the 1-2-3 double play. A pressure moment for Frasor and he more than excelled in that situation.

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So the team now sits at 7-2 on the season and in 2nd place in the American League Central. The Royals will return home this weekend for a 3 game series at ‘The K’ against Oakland. Billy Butler will make his return to Kansas City and should receive a heroes welcome on Friday night. I am hoping to attend the Saturday game and take in my first game of the new season, as long as the rain can stay away. The A’s will also be looking to extract some revenge on Kansas City after the heartbreaking loss in the American League Wild Card game last year(or as I like to call it, one of the greatest games I have ever seen). So it should be a fun weekend at Kauffman Stadium and hopefully Kansas City can take 2 out of 3. After that Minnesota comes into town on Monday for another matchup against the Twins. Things are starting to take off, so hold on. A big week next week could push the Royals back into first place. It’s a long season folks, so strap yourself in.

 

 

 

 

 

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