Hype, Man

Aaron Judge
Credit: Sports Illustrated

As a “seamhead”, it is in our disposition to love everything that is great about this game we adore, baseball. Whether it be the history of the game, the classic stadiums, the evolution of strategy or the uprising of analytics, I love it all. But with that said, I have a confession to make. This won’t go over well and for some it will be heresy. I would apologize beforehand, but I feel justified in what I am about to confess. It isn’t the popular opinion but here we go: I am not enamored with Aaron Judge. Yeah, I know, he hits the ball high and far and is a statue of a man. I am aware that his numbers say he is a force to be reckoned with and he deserves the praise. The problem is the praise is just too much. Waaaaaay too much. The media are obsessed with a guy who has put up half a season of All-Star numbers and they are ready to anoint him the second coming of every great power hitter. But it is too much, too soon and the baseball analysts and talking heads need to stop.

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Look, the numbers ARE impressive. It’s hard to see a wRC+ of 184 and not be overwhelmed, since it is a stat that is league and park adjusted. That number gives him more validity than any home run number or slugging stat out there. Playing in Yankee Stadium makes those numbers a bit skewed, as it is a park that leans more toward the hitter. Some of the numbers make me think he is going to come down to earth soon; a high BABIP normally means you are getting a bit lucky on balls put in play, so that .398 will probably slope down a bit soon. But it is obvious the power is real and he has become a better hitter, as shown by the 16.6% walk rate or the 24.9% O-Swing percentage, which is pitches he has swung at outside the zone. The improvement shows in his numbers and he should be a player that is talked about. But there is talk, and then there is focusing on one player like they are head and shoulders above every other player. The latter has been going on quite regularly lately, especially on ESPN.

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Last week I tuned into Baseball Tonight the afternoon before the All-Star Game, hoping to get some analysis on the game and a few interviews with players. I knew Judge would be talked about, as he should since he had won the Home Run Derby the night before. Over the next 45 minutes, I witnessed ESPN talk about nothing but Judge…seriously. They had an interview with him. Showed highlights of the derby. Talked to other players about Judge. After 45 minutes, I stopped my recording and deleted it. I couldn’t even make it through the entire hour. There was no talk about the pitching matchup that night, no discussion about the lineups, no conversation about Zack Cozart’s donkey. It was all Judge and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. As much as Baseball Tonight has been my go to since the 1990’s, it has deteriorated over the years and after the bloodshed in Bristol earlier this summer, I should have seen this coming. There is a reason I hardly ever watch ESPN anymore and my default channel on my TV is MLB Network. At least the network tries to cover a wide spectrum of topics around the sport and only slightly hints at their “East Coast Bias”; ESPN has completely embraced their bias.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

If there was ever a major reason for the over exuberant coverage of Judge, the answer is right there-he plays for the Yankees. New York has long wanted a young slugger to be placed on the pedestal, to follow in the footsteps of Ruth and Mantle. Even more, New York has wanted that one player they can zoom in on ever since Derek Jeter retired. If you remember, the coverage of Jeter that final season was nauseating and I didn’t even hate the guy. But by the end of that season, I didn’t want to hear Jeter’s name for a very, very long time. While New York is the biggest market in the sport, there are 28 other teams with players just as worthy of your attention as the one’s in the ‘Big Apple’. I could list a whole slew of young players to discuss; everyone from Machado to Correa, Bellinger to Betts, Arenado to Goldschmidt. I even heard analysts saying Judge should be the face of the game, which just seems preposterous when Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw are still playing (never mind the fact that you shouldn’t have just “one” face of the game). He is a great young player and worthy of headlines; just not all the headlines.

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One comparison that has not been mentioned for Judge that actually is very comparable is Mark McGwire, or more specifically, their rookie seasons. Let’s size up Judge and McGwire’s rookie campaigns:

Judge- .311/.432/.649, 184 wRC+, 5.2 fWAR

McGwire- .289/.370/.618, 157 wRC+, 5.1 fWAR

So I didn’t go the HR/RBI route since Judge is has only 391 plate appearances with two plus months left of action and McGwire ended up with 641 when it was all said and done. Factoring that extra 250+ PA, average and slugging feel like they are fairly close, while Judge already has McGwire beat with WAR; Judge is a better defender in RF than McGwire was at first base. While the numbers skew toward Judge right now, one has to wonder if the extra couple months will bring Judge back down closer to where McGwire ended up. In all honesty, Judge to me feels like this generation’s McGwire if he can stay healthy. He will hit a bunch of home runs, he’ll get his walks (especially if pitchers start pitching around him) and he’ll produce runs. It’s not a bad thing and McGwire was one of the elite sluggers in the game for a lengthy period of time. It goes to show you that as much as many protest and say they love a well-rounded player, many still dig the long ball.

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At the end of the day, it would be wise for the baseball media on the east coast to remember there are fans all over the country that would prefer a well-rounded analysis of the game, not just what is happening in ‘The Bronx’. Judge is a good player who has the potential to be a mainstay in the spotlight for years to come and making comparisons to baseball legends will only put undue pressure on the kid. Take it down a notch, New York, and let him just go out and play. Even Jesus Christ doesn’t get as much press as a star Yankee gets. The home runs are great, but let’s wait to see how the league adjusts to him and how he handles that. That is the true telltale sign of how good a baseball player really is. Besides, Mike Trout is back from the disabled list; maybe you should remember how consistently great he is before trying to dethrone him with Judge.

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My 2017 MLB Predictions

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Ah, yes…Opening Day is upon us as we embark on a new Major League Baseball season. For the majority of teams, this is a time of hope and optimism. For a few, there is more of a glance to the future than the present. As baseball fans, every year we throw out our predictions, hoping by mid-season they aren’t a big colossal mass of hilarity. I don’t take my predictions super-serious, but I’m always hopeful that I am at least within the vicinity of reality. So without further ado, my predictions for the upcoming season.

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American League East

  1. Boston Red Sox
  2. Toronto Blue Jays
  3. Tampa Bay Rays
  4. New York Yankees
  5. Baltimore Orioles

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American League Central

  1. Cleveland Indians
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. Minnesota Twins
  5. Chicago White Sox

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American League West

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. Los Angeles Angels
  5. Oakland A’s

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National League East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets
  3. Miami Marlins
  4. Philadelphia Phillies
  5. Atlanta Braves

MLB: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals

National League Central

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. St. Louis Cardinals
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates
  4. Cincinnati Reds
  5. Milwaukee Brewers

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Milwaukee Brewers

National League West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. San Francisco Giants
  3. Colorado Rockies
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks
  5. San Diego Padres

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Awards

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American League MVP: Carlos Correa, Houston

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American League Cy Young: Marcus Stroman, Toronto

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American League Rookie of the Year: Andrew Benintendi, Boston

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National League MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona

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National League Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles

Angels Dodgers Spring Baseball

National League Rookie of the Year: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles

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Playoff Teams 

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American League

Division Winners: Boston, Cleveland, Houston

Wild Cards: Toronto, Kansas City

American League Champions: Toronto

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National League

Division Winners: Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles

Wild Cards: New York, San Francisco

National League Champions: Washington

USP MLB: ALDS-TEXAS RANGERS AT TORONTO BLUE JAYS S BBA CAN ON

Am I super confident about my picks? Nope. Baseball is a funny thing, largely because of the length of the season. There are so many twists and turns that there is no way to truly predict how it will all shake down. What I can say with confidence is that another fun, memorable season is getting ready to start and I can’t wait. The best part about baseball is the storyline that it revolves around. I can’t wait to see how this whole thing unfolds. Last October, we had a great Cleveland/Chicago World Series; what do the baseball God’s have in store for us this year? Truly, only time will tell.

 

Guesstimate: My 2016 MLB Predictions

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Here we are: we are in the section of Spring Training where you can see the upcoming regular season on the horizon, but it is still far enough away that you just wish you could fast forward to games that actually count. Luckily, this also means we are close enough to camps heading north that we have a decent idea of how most team’s rosters will look. Every year I take my stab at how I think the season unfold, mostly with comical results. Here is my 2014 and 2015 predictions if you are looking for a good laugh(although I did guess fairly well on the playoff teams in 2014). I do want to reiterate one nugget of information that I’ve been preaching about the last few years: predictions are just guesses. This is just simply a fun little exercise I do before the season starts for me to look back on in October and see how far off I was. It is purely fun and that is how it should be taken. So here we go; my guesstimation of the 2016 season!

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American League East

  1. Toronto Blue Jays
  2. Boston Red Sox
  3. New York Yankees
  4. Tampa Bay Rays
  5. Baltimore Orioles

Last year I felt like no one AL East team stood out from the rest and any one of those teams could step up and win the division. There is still a feeling of an openness, but with a little more division in the way of talent. The Blue Jays look to be the team to beat, as they are returning a large portion of their division winning team and have a top-notch offense to carry their team. While Boston returns most of their roster that struggled in 2015, there is a belief that there is no way they are as bad this year…especially now that Hanley Ramirez is not in the outfield and they have David Price anchoring the rotation. The Yankees could make a run again, as they have one of the deepest bullpens in baseball. My main issue with them is the aging stars(Beltran, Sabathia, A-Rod, etc.) holding back the rest of the team. Tampa has some great pitching but what will they be able to do offensively? Then there is Baltimore. I want to root for the Orioles to surprise everyone this year, but I’m not for sure it will happen. Sure, Chris Davis is back(which I think is good) but not much has been added to the roster. Pedro Alvarez and Mark Trumbo might add some needed pop, but what will Baltimore lose if/when either plays on defense? Yovanni Gallardo will give the team innings, but how efficient will he be? As you can see, there seems to be more questions than answers with Baltimore, and that scares me.

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American League Central

  1. Kansas City Royals
  2. Minnesota Twins
  3. Cleveland Indians
  4. Detroit Tigers
  5. Chicago White Sox

This is always my hardest division to pick, as I am a lifelong Royals fan. Saying that, the last two years I have not picked the Royals to get to the playoffs and both years they made it to the World Series. So why pick them now? In all honesty, I really believe they have the most talent of any team in the division, thus my pick to sit on top of the AL Central. Behind them I see a cat fight for second between the Twins and Indians. I’ve gone back and forth on who should be where, but alas I went with Minny in second and Cleveland third, as I really like(fear?) the talent accumulated in the ‘Twin Cities’. Detroit and Chicago bring up the back of this division in my mind, as Detroit still feels really old to me(even with the acquisitions of  Upton and Zimmermann) and despite Chicago overhauling their offense, they still don’t feel like a playoff caliber team. The interesting part here is that I could easily see a scenario where this division could be a dog fight, with five teams within 5-8 games of each other. Right now though, until someone knocks off the Royals, they have to be the favorites.

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American League West

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. Los Angeles Angels
  5. Oakland A’s

The West should be a fun division this year, if for no other reason than to see if it is competitive or if the Astros and Rangers dominate the division. Houston has to be the favorite this year, as they not only will try to build off their playoff run in ’15, but also will have Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers(once he returns from injury) from day one of the season. I really like what the Rangers management has done with this team and tend to believe they will be a serious contender this year, especially if Yu Darvish is able to return to his old form. Jerry DiPoto has done an admirable job trying to fix the Mariners roster, but it feels like an uphill battle for the team this year, with success more likely in the future. What can you say about the Angels and A’s? I would probably have the Angels in last if not for Mike Trout and his ability to carry this team on his back. But Angel’s management is a mess  and only slightly worse than their farm system. The A’s seem to just be biding time until their next wave of prospects can start infiltrating the major league roster. Oakland might not be as bad as they were last year, but I can’t see them being serious contenders in 2016.

MLB: New York Mets at Cincinnati Reds
(Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY)

National League East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets
  3. Miami Marlins
  4. Atlanta Braves
  5. Philadelphia Phillies

Last year was supposed to be the Nationals’ year, as many(myself included) figured they would end up in the World Series. Instead, a late season collapse left them on the outside looking in and costing Matt Williams his job. Now Washington has retooled their roster while adding known players’ manager Dusty Baker to the fold. While Baker is about as old school as they come, players love him and I tend to think he will make a big difference in that locker room this year while losing some of the team’s tension. The Mets will be right on their tail and look to repeat as National League Champions this year. The Mets pitching will take them far, but the offense will be the real deciding factor in New York. Miami has added a new manager(Don Mattingly) and a new hitting coach(Barry Bonds) to shake up a young and talented Miami team. One has to be curious as to how lethal the Marlins could be if they can get a full season out of Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton. Atlanta stocked up on prospects this winter and are left with Freddie Freeman and a cast of other players for the Braves this year. They might not make much noise this season, but the Braves are looking good in the next couple of years. The Phillies? Well, they won’t be very good but a few steps were taken to improve on a dreadful 2015. So there is that.

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National League Central

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates
  3. St. Louis Cardinals
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Cincinnati Reds

2015 saw the NL Central send three teams to the playoffs. I have to believe that won’t happen two years in a row, which might leave the Cardinals missing the playoffs this year. The Cubs are the early on favorites not only to win the Central, but also to win the World Series. One has to think Chicago will grow on their stellar 2015 and are looking to win their first world championships since 1908. The Pirates will look to be hot on the Cubs heels and it’s hard to argue with the success this team has had the last couple of seasons. My guess is that Pittsburgh will join Chicago in the playoffs comes October. That would leave the Cardinals on the outside looking in, as they lost more than they gained this past offseason and are betting on a number of veterans like Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina to bounce back this year and stay healthy for the Cardinals to be real contenders. That being said, I find it hard to count St. Louis out. The Brewers won’t be horrible but they won’t be great and the Reds from the outside look to have a few good pieces but are multiple players away from being contenders.

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National League West

  1. San Francisco Giants
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks
  4. San Diego Padres
  5. Colorado Rockies

The West could be a lot of fun this summer and I could envision a scenario where the top three teams in the league could be shuffled in any order. My pick is for the Giants to come out on top, as they bolstered their starting pitching with the acquisitions of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija and adding Denard Span to help the defense. Throw in their main nucleus of Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt and Madison Bumgarner, and give them a future Hall of Fame manager(Bruce Bochy), and you have the makings of a division title. Oh, and the Giants win in even years; there is that too. The Dodgers look to be in the discussion as they have Kenta Maeda replace Zack Greinke in the rotation while their best pick up this winter being manager Dave Roberts. The Dodgers will be in the running but chemistry is a big part of their story yet again this year. Arizona went out this offseason and made some good transactions(Greinke) and some head-scratchers(Jean Segura??). How far the Diamondbacks go this year will be determined by how the younger talents like AJ Pollock and Patrick Corbin perform. At this point San Diego and Colorado are afterthoughts. Neither seem to have much direction nor a captain to steer them away from rocky weather. It could be a long season for fans of both.

Awards 

MLB: New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles
(Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY)

American League

MVP: Manny Machado

Cy Young: Chris Archer

Rookie of the Year: Byron Buxton

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National League

MVP: Giancarlo Stanton

Cy Young: Jacob deGrom

Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager

Playoff Teams

Luke Gregerson
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

American League

Toronto, Kansas City, Houston, Texas, Minnesota

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National League

Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, New York

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So there are my guesses on the upcoming 2016 campaign. I look forward to revisiting this come October and laughing about how far off I was. One of the great things about baseball is every spring we make our predictions on how we think things will evolve, yet we rarely guess correctly. I love the fact that they play six months of games to determine who plays in the final month and what happens in April doesn’t always dictate what occurs in October. The season is a grind and much like a good book it will have a ton of twists and turns to question just where your team ends up. There is a reason they play the games; what would be the fun of the season being decided by guesses? The drama of baseball is what keeps bringing us back and keeps us on our toes. I love this damn game and can’t wait to see how this season unfolds. I can promise you this; you won’t see it coming. Play ball!

The Votes Are In: My 2015 Award Winners

April 13, 2015: Toronto Blue Jays Third base Josh Donaldson (20) [7086] bats during the Tampa Bay Rays 2-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre in Toronto, ON
April 13, 2015
One of the great honors of being a member of the IBWAA is that come September we vote on the season awards, just like the BBWAA. Last year I filled out my first ballot and I learned a few things. One, never turn in your ballot until sometime in the final week. I turned mine in about two weeks early and was kicking myself within a week. Yep, one’s mind can change. Second, there is no way not to take this serious. None. I look at stats all year long, and even still I’m not for sure it compared to the number crunching I did the last two years before turning in my winners. With that said, I was very pleased with the end results and feel confident throwing out how I voted for the year-end awards. So without further ado, here are my picks for the 2015 Major League Baseball season awards.

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American League MVP: Mike Trout

I know the consensus was this award should go to Toronto’s Josh Donaldson, and I won’t tell you that is the wrong vote. No, Donaldson is just as deserving as Trout and either vote is a solid vote. That being said, I give Trout the edge for a few reasons. Let’s start with the main stats that everyone loves: They tied for homers, Donaldson had about 30 more RBI’s, Donaldson edged Trout in batting average, while Trout had the advantage in On-Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage(in fact Trout led the league in slugging). Now to the meaty stats: Trout over Donaldson in OPS+, 176 to 155. bWAR has Trout over Donaldson, 9.4 to 8.8. fWAR has Trout slightly edging out Donaldson, 9.0 to 8.7. Donaldson does have the edge defensively by quite a large margin, but not enough that I would give the win to him. All that is a compelling argument for Mike Trout, as most of the numbers are in his favor. But here is where the scale is tipped for me…Trout spent part of the year dealing with nagging injuries, as is evident if you look at his numbers month by month. Trout not only came back to raise those numbers, he also practically put the entire Angels team on his shoulders in September, keeping them in the pennant race into the final week. In fact Trout’s line in September looks like video game numbers: .315/.430/.648 with 8 homers and 16 RBI’s. Yes, Josh Donaldson was on a playoff team, but if you take him out of Toronto’s stellar lineup you still have a team that could probably win the American League East. Take Trout out of the Angels lineup and that team is out of the race before September. At the end of the day, Trout was more valuable to his team than Donaldson, thus he is my winner for AL MVP.

My top 3: 1-Trout, 2-Donaldson, 3-Cain

IBWAA Winner: Josh Donaldson

BBWAA Winner: Josh Donaldson

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National League MVP: Bryce Harper

Very rarely does a player have a season where he is sooooo dominate that they should be a no doubt MVP, where an unanimous vote seems like the logical way to go. But this year in the National League, Bryce Harper was ‘The Man’ and there really is no debate. Harper, in his age 22 season, led the National League in so many categories that I almost thought he led the league in saves and wins. Harper was the front man in runs, home runs, On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, OPS, OPS+ and both fWAR and bWAR. Harper had the type of season we all expected when he was selected by the Nationals as the #1 Draft Pick in 2010. The funny part is he still has room to improve, which is frightening if you are an opposing pitcher. Harper led this Nationals team to the brink of the playoffs this year and outside of the stupidity of Jonathan Papelbon, he would have about as perfect a season as a player can have. The one stat that blows my mind more than any is his OPS+, a staggering 195(remember, 100 is average). His season is the 71st best in baseball history, which seems great but not out of this world stupendous. If you take out all the players in the ‘Dead-Ball Era’, Harper’s season is the 50th best of all-time. I decided to go a step further, going off of seasons since 1950. Taking that into affect, Harper had the 24th best season by a batter in the last 65 years! What this amounts up to is a without a doubt MVP and possibly the beginning of a career we could be discussing in detail within the next 5-8 years.

My Top 3: 1-Harper, 2-Goldschmidt, 3-Votto

IBWAA Winner: Bryce Harper

BBWAA Winner: Bryce Harper

Minnesota Twins v Toronto Blue Jays
(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

American League Cy Young: David Price

There was a number of awards this year that felt like a tight race and this would be another one, as David Price and Dallas Keuchel both seemed like worthy winners. At the end of the day, I chose Price and the more you digest the numbers you can see why he has started to grow a resume that puts him as one of the top elite starters in baseball. Price only lead the league in ERA(2.45) and pitchers WAR, but it was all the other numbers together that make his case. Price is no lower than 6th in Innings Pitched, Wins, K/9, BB/9, HR/9, Left On Base %, ERA(1st), FIP(2nd in the league), xFIP, and fWAR(1st with 6.4, Keuchel is 3rd with 6.1). Price did all of these while switching teams in July, as he was traded to Toronto and helped them clinch a playoff spot while driving them to the ALCS. I wouldn’t disparage a vote for Keuchel, but at the end of the day it felt like this was Price’s award to win so my vote went to him in a highly contested race.

My Top 3: 1-Price, 2-Keuchel, 3-Sale

IBWAA Winner: Dallas Keuchel

BBWAA Winner: Dallas Keuchel

AP BREWERS CUBS BASEBALL S BBN USA IL
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

National League Cy Young: Jake Arrieta

It was a magical season in 2015 for the Chicago Cubs and a big part of that was because of Jake Arrieta. This was another close vote, as Zack Greinke of the Dodgers also put forth a Cy Young caliber season and a vote for him also made sense. I went back and forth on this award more than once, but finally settled on Arrieta for his work down the stretch. Arrieta led the National League in Wins, Games Started, Complete Games, Shutouts, H/9, HR/9, while finishing 2nd in pitchers WAR, Innings pitched, FIP, xFIP and ERA, and 3rd in Left on Base %. What Arrieta did the last couple months of the season really set him apart from both Greinke and Kershaw, as Arrieta made sure whenever he pitched that the Cubs more than had a chance to win that day. From August through the end of the season, Arrieta was 11-0 with an ERA of 0.41(allowing only 4 ER in 88.1 innings), including a no-hitter and 2 shutouts. While the Cubs were fighting for their playoff lives, Arrieta stepped up and made this a season to remember. Greinke and Kershaw both had amazing seasons, but Arrieta was out of this world when it counted the most.

My Top 3: 1-Arrieta, 2-Greinke, 3-Kershaw

IBWAA Winner: Jake Arrieta

BBWAA Winner: Jake Arrieta

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American League Rookie of the Year: Francisco Lindor

2015 was a banner year for rookie shortstops in the American League, as both Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor would get called up mid-season and were sparkplugs for their team’s as they tried to lock up a postseason berth. Correa’s team would advance, while Lindor’s Indians came up just short, which I’m sure to some would give Correa the edge. But what on the surface seems like a blow away win for Correa as ROY, I give the nod to Lindor and it isn’t as close as you think. I know a lot of press has been given to Correa’s offense, as they should. Correa reminds me of Alex Rodriguez early in his career, as he combines power and speed and appears to only grow from here. But if you want the whole package, Lindor is your man. While Correa led with the power numbers, Lindor led in batting average(.313 to .279), and On-Base Percentage(.353 to .345), while categories like wOBA and wRC+ were close enough that it could be a scratch. What pushed Lindor over the edge for me was his WAR, and more specifically, dWAR. Lindor led Correa this past season in bWAR(4.6 to 4.1) and fWAR(4.6 to 3.3) but defensively Lindor was a top notch defender while Correa was closer to average. This defensive edge gave Lindor the nod in my eyes as their dWAR wasn’t really close at all(1.7 to 0.6) and Lindor led Correa defensively in 2015, 14.9 to Correa’s -1.6. A vote for Correa isn’t a bad vote, but in my eyes the battle of rookie shortstops in the American League was fronted by Lindor in this rookie campaign.

My Top 3: 1-Lindor, 2-Correa, 3-Sano

IBWAA Winner: Carlos Correa

BBWAA Winner: Carlos Correa

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National League Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant

It wasn’t just the home runs that won Kris Bryant this award. Okay, the home runs helped, but Bryant, as much as he is known for his power, is also a hitter with a good eye and a knack for learning from his mistakes. So in his rookie campaign it’s no shock that Bryant stood head and shoulders above his peers. Bryant led all NL rookies with 26 homers(tied with Joc Pederson), but also led in On-Base Percentage and fWAR while being second in wRC+. Maybe the most surprising item from Bryant this year was the amount of positions Bryant played, as manager Joe Maddon bounced him around the diamond. His main position was 3B, but he also saw time at 1B, and all three outfield positions. For a guy who had only briefly experimented with the outfield, Bryant held his own and even held up a slightly above average dWAR. There are parts of Bryant’s game that still need work; he did lead the league in strikeouts, with 199. But that can be worked on and more than likely will be in Spring Training. Overall it was a positive rookie season for this young slugger and he looks like he will be one of the cornerstones of this Cubs team for a number of years, as rookies Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber also saw time in Chicago this season. Be scared, National League pitchers. Be very afraid.

My Top 3: 1-Bryant, 2-Duffy, 3-Kang

IBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant

BBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant

jmp 010 Twins last game
(Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)

American League Manager of the Year: Paul Molitor

The Manager of the Year awards have gotten some flak this offseason as being an award just about “who’s team improved the most from the previous year”. It’s hard to argue with some of that reasoning, as Ned Yost and John Gibbons are nowhere on this list while their teams were the elite of the American League. I can say I based my ballot off of what manager did the most with the least, which lead me to the Minnesota Twins Paul Molitor. In Molitor’s first season he did what no one(and I do mean no one) thought would happen; over .500 record, contending for a playoff spot into the final week of the season and 2nd place in the American League Central. Credit goes to Jeff Banister of the Rangers for dealing with early season injuriesand guiding his team to the American League West title. Kudos to AJ Hinch of the Astros for bringing this young Houston team to the playoffs and one game away from the ALCS. But I figured both teams would be better this year and had even mentioned Houston being a sleeper pick back in early April:

The ‘surprise’ team of the American League could very well be Houston, as they’ve got a nice mix of veterans and youngsters that could be better sooner rather than later.

But Minnesota? Nope. Look, I have praised the Twins young prospects for the last few years, knowing they are lurking in the background. But the thought was 2016 would be the first year you would see Minnesota start contending again. Instead, Molitor was able to mesh all the young talent they have with veterans like Torii Hunter and Brian Dozier to keep this team in contention all through the season. Oh, and this was also Molitor’s first season managing in the majors. What Banister and Hinch did was great work; what Molitor did was borderline ‘miracle worker’. That is why I chose Paul Molitor for American League Manager of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Molitor, 2-Banister, 3-Hinch

IBWAA Winner: Jeff Banister

BBWAA Winner: Jeff Banister

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National League Manager of the Year: Terry Collins

People love Joe Maddon and what he did for the Cubs this year, and he deserves the praise he will get for getting Chicago to the playoffs. I love Maddon as much as the next guy, but figured he would turn that Cubs team around. Which is why my pick for NL Manager of the Year is Terry Collins. The hope when the season started was that the Mets would compete with the Nationals during the season and maybe make the playoffs as a wild card. Instead, the Nationals blew a tire down the stretch and the Mets sauntered in to grab the NL East. In July the Mets were contending, but didn’t look like they would be winning the division. The offense was struggling, but the rotation had brought some young arms to help and Matt Harvey looked like the Harvey of old. Yoenis Cespedes was acquired before the trade deadline and the Mets were soon off to the races. Collins did a great job this year managing Harvey(and his agent), and the youngsters while also getting veterans enough playing time to appease them. New York had an interesting mix of players this year and Collins dealt with it like a pro. Credit goes to Maddon and Clint Hurdle on great years for their teams, but it didn’t feel like they had to juggle as much as Collins.

My Top 3: 1-Collins, 2-Maddon, 3-Hurdle

IBWAA Winner: Joe Maddon

BBWAA Winner: Joe Maddon

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American League Reliever of the Year: Wade Davis

Yes, the Yankees duo of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller had great years, as did Zach Britton of Baltimore and Cody Allen of Cleveland. But to me, there is no more dominate reliever in the game right now than Wade Davis. All Davis did this year was put up back to back seasons of 1.00 or below ERA’s while flat out dominating the competition. For relievers in the American League, Davis was 6th in fWAR(2.0), 7th in HR/9(he gave up one this year, to Jose Bautista), led in Left On Base %(92.2), 1st in ERA(0.94), 7th in FIP(2.29), averaged over 10 K/9, and had a ridiculous ERA+ of 444(100 is league average). Davis also closed some games this year, as he had mostly been the setup guy for the Royals in 2014. Greg Holland dealt with some injuries this year, and in September when it was announced Holland was done for the year and would be requiring Tommy John Surgery, Davis slid into the closer role, a role that felt already like it belonged to him. Trust me, you can make the argument for any of the relievers I mentioned above but none of them make a batter feel defeated before he even steps to the plate like Wade Davis.

My Top 3: 1-Davis, 2-Betances, 3-Allen

IBWAA Winner: Andrew Miller

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The Enquirer/Jeff Swinger

National League Reliever of the Year: Aroldis Chapman

Did you read what I wrote above about Wade Davis? The same pretty much goes for Aroldis Chapman of Cincinnati. Chapman is one of those relievers who is practically unhittable and continued his dominance in 2015. Chapman led the ‘Senior Circuit’ for relievers in K/9(an astounding 15.74), ERA(1.63), fWAR(2.5), 4th in LOB%(88.5), 2nd in FIP(1.94), 4th in xFIP(2.49) and an ERA+ of 244. Chapman had some solid competition this year in Trevor Rosenthal of St. Louis and Sergio Romo of San Francisco, but alas neither had the dominance of Chapman. The interesting part is that Cincinnati is a team that probably won’t be contending in the near future and Chapman’s value has never been higher. It’s a possibility that when the 2016 awards are handed out a year from now, Chapman will be with a different team. The possibility of Aroldis Chapman on a contender makes for a interesting scenario come playoff time.

My Top 3: 1-Chapman, 2-Rosenthal, 3-Romo

IBWAA Winner: Mark Melancon

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So those are my picks this year. Go ahead, debate them or even agree and with some of these races the debate could rage on till the end of time. What I can say is that I feel confident with my votes and really felt like I crunched a bunch of numbers to get to these decisions. Be ready though; once award season is over, that means the Hot Stove season starts to pick up. Who knows, we could have a 2016 award winner switching teams this offseason. That is one of the great things about baseball; all it could take is a switch in teams to ignite a player to greatness. Although I have the feeling I will be talking about Mike Trout again next year…and Bryce Harper as well. Yep, baseball is great my friend!

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, What a Feeling: Your 2015 World Champions, the Kansas City Royals!

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The Kansas City Royals have waited 30 years to say they are World Champions. Whenever anyone around Kansas City talks about the Royals, it is inevitable that the 1985 Royals, the only other Kansas City team to win the World Series, are brought up. In some ways I’m sure it felt like big shoes to fill, living up to the legend of a team that made a lot of us(myself included) Royals fans. Now though is another champion for future teams to live up to. In what was possibly the most dramatic 5 game World Series in history, Kansas City can now call themselves ‘World Champs’!

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There are so many stories to tell here, and all deserve your time and praise, but let’s start with the beginning of the season. This was a team that felt like they had unfinished business, left with the bad taste in their mouth from being beat by the Giants the year before in the World Series. This was a team that was on a mission to finish what they fell just short of in 2014. Not only is it a difficult path to make back to back World Series in this day and age, but they were doing it without some big components from the year before. Billy Butler was gone. James Shields-gone. Nori Aoki jumped ship to the world champs. In their place was Kendrys Morales, Edinson Volquez and Alex Rios, two of which were coming off of disappointing seasons. In fact, guys like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer were also coming off of less than stellar campaigns, which is why the PECOTA projections had Kansas City at 72 wins. In fact, I was a bit skeptical of their chances, expecting them to be in the hunt while falling just short. It wasn’t that I didn’t want my team to ‘Take the Crown’; I just wasn’t for sure that a majority of the lineup was going to improve on their 2014 numbers. Luckily, I was wrong.

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What happened during the regular season would seem like a fairy tale written up by a Royals fan before the season began, while bordering on fan fiction(somehow Salvador Perez and his perfume would fit in here). The team got off to a hot start, took control of the American League Central and held it for 3/4 of the season. In fact, if it wasn’t for the surging Minnesota Twins stepping up near the beginning of the summer, the Royals might have lead the division all season long. There was so many highlights to the regular season, like Mike Moustakas’ offensive turnaround, as he learned to hit to the opposite field, forcing opposing teams to quit putting the shift on him and play him straight up. There was the monster comeback season by Morales, toppling 100 RBI’s while adding power to the middle of the order. There was another phenomenal season by Wade Davis and Volquez turned out to be a solid replacement for Shields. Lorenzo Cain really blossomed this year, putting together a MVP caliber season after dealing with injuries almost every year before. The team almost single-handedly took over the All-Star Game, with 4 Kansas City starters in the game and 8 total players representing the Royals. Hell, we Royals fans almost voted Omar Infante into the game, and most of us agree he was awful this year! Then in July, the Royals front office stepped up, acquiring Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist to further elevate their chances of capturing a world championship. Zobrist was a huge acquisition, as he filled in for left fielder Alex Gordon while he was out with a groin strain, then slid over to second base, taking over for the black hole of offense known as Infante. Cueto had very mixed results, sometimes looking like the ace he was in Cincinnati, other times looking like a back of the rotation arm who had to be perfect to succeed. Either way, Royals management did their part by giving the team the pieces to win, leaving it all up to the players to take it home. In fact, the Royals steamrolled through the competition most of this year, putting up the best record in the American League and garnering them home field advantage throughout the playoffs. This team was on a mission from day one and accomplished the first part of it; making the playoffs. Now it was time to do the hard part: advance to the World Series.

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In the American League Division Series, the Royals would play the Houston Astros, a young team that gave Kansas City trouble during the regular season. This series pretty much dictated the Royals fate and what we should have expected from this Royals team. Royals would lose Game 1, but then would mount one of their famous comebacks late in Game 2 to pull out a victory. Game 3 went to Houston, as Dallas Keuchel shutdown the Royals offense, and at this point it was ‘do or die’ for Kansas City. In Game 4, Houston took a four run lead into the Top of the 8th, which seemed like a death kneel for this Royals team. The Royals ‘kept the line moving’ in this inning, with a bit of help from Carlos Correa, and would not only storm back, but would end up taking the lead, taking the game and forcing a Game 5.

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Game 4 of the ALDS might be the greatest summary of what this Kansas City Royals team did this entire postseason. When their backs were against the wall, they didn’t give up. The picked and picked, battling  pitchers while finding a way to get on base and keep a rally going. The word ‘relentless’ has been used at great lengths these past few weeks, but I also think you can use the word ‘stubborn’. This Royals team just would not quit, which was night and day from what we saw just a few years earlier. Once you get in the playoffs you are playing nothing but great teams, and the Royals frustrated every last one of them. The philosophy of ‘putting the ball in play, forcing the defense to make the play’ really has worked for this team, and I’m not for sure it can be duplicated. You would think Game 4 of the ALDS was a standalone game, one that was the outlier of the group, but it isn’t. The Royals entire postseason was some variation of that Monday afternoon in Houston, where even myself doubted this team would come back and win. Game 5 was almost a non-contest, once Johnny Cueto got past the Luis Valbuena home run. It was smooth sailing after that blast for Cueto, as the Royals punched their ticket to the ALCS.

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Before we move on to the ALCS, I want to point out something here. I have long criticized Ned Yost and his managing style. Before last September, he seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. There was concern that the same mistakes he made in Milwaukee would be repeated in Kansas City, costing the Royals any semblance of glory. But sometimes people surprise you and change their ways, and Yost did just that. Starting in late September 2014, Yost started listening more to his coaching staff and venture outside of the box some more. It was very slight at first(letting Kelvin Herrera pitch more than an inning at a time), but by the playoffs he made almost every logical move a manager could make. That continued this year and to be honest, a lot of it was just letting the players go out and play. Trust them. The players stepped up this year and deserve a lot of the credit, but Yost’s more laid back managing style was a welcome plus. I’m still not a big Yost fan, but I will give the man credit when I feel he deserves it. Quite a bit of the Royals success this year can be tied into Yost relaxing his style and allowing himself to not be confined to an old way of thinking that had held him back in the past.

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 28: Alcides Escobar #2 of the Kansas City Royals and Alex Rios #15 of the Kansas City Royals celebrate with Kendrys Morales #25 of the Kansas City Royals after scoring runs in the fifth inning against the New York Mets in Game Two of the 2015 World Series at Kauffman Stadium on October 28, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

This would lead to the ALCS, the match-up that almost everyone wanted, Royals vs. Blue Jays. These two teams had some issues this past August and despite the fact that no one expected any extra fireworks this series(I mean, it is the postseason; no one wants to lose time in October over something stupid), some of the bad feelings were still lingering. Game 1 went to Kansas City, thanks to another solid postseason start from Edinson Volquez and some timely hitting. Game 2 was the perfect definition of #RoyalsDevil Magic, as Kansas City looked lost for 6 innings against David Price, to the point Price had retired 18 straight batters before heading to the 7th inning. Then it happened; Zobrist hit a fly ball to right field that fell in between Ryan Goins and Jose Bautista in what looked like a miscommunication. What followed was the Royals doing what they do, or what they call ‘keep the line moving’. By the end of the inning the Royals had taken the lead and put a seed of doubt into the Blue Jays’ minds on their ability to stop this Kansas City team. Game 3 went to Toronto, as the two teams ventured north of the border, which was  followed by a Royals offensive slaughter of the Blue Jays in Game 4. The Royals could have clinched the series with a win in Toronto for Game 5, but Marco Estrada shut down Kansas City, which meant the series would return to Kauffman Stadium, with the Royals only needing one win to head to the World Series.

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I think when we really dissect this postseason for the Royals, what we will find is a number of games that will go down in Kansas City history as some of the most memorable games in team history. Obviously Game 4 of the ALDS ranks high on the list, but the argument can also be made for a couple of the World Series games and for Game 2 of the ALCS. But without a doubt, Game 6 of the ALCS will be on that list, as it turned into another classic nail-biter that left Royals fans on the edge of their seats. The Royals would take the lead early on thanks to a Ben Zobrist and Mike Moustakas hitting solo home runs, and would hold the lead until the Top of the 8th. Jose Bautista would club his second home run of the game, a 2 run shot, that would tie the game at 3 and had sucked a lot of air out of the ballpark. There would be a slight rain delay before starting the bottom of the inning(could it have been building to the drama that was to happen?) but it didn’t slow down the Royals. Lorenzo Cain led off the inning with a walk, then Eric Hosmer would stride to the plate, yet another clutch situation for him in a postseason filled with clutch hits for the Gold Glove first baseman. Hosmer would line a single down the right field line, which meant no matter what Cain was getting to third. But the Royals scouts had noticed earlier in the series that Bautista would always throw the ball into second base with runners on first, while third base coach Mike Jirschele had also noticed it was normally done in a lackadaisical manner. The Blue Jays were not prepared for Cain to be racing home on the play, as Troy Tulowitzki was caught a bit off-guard when after receiving the ball from Bautista, he turned around to notice Cain was headed home. Cain was in safely, giving the Royals the lead and giving Kansas City another memorable moment this postseason.

Cain’s play was even more impressive when you realize he was tracked at nearly 21 mph by Statcast on his trip around the bases. The almost unstoppable Wade Davis would come in to pitch the top of the 9th, and despite the allowing the tying and go-ahead runs to get on base to start the inning, Davis would shut down the Blue Jays, getting probabley future AL MVP Josh Donaldson to ground out to end the game and give Kansas City back to back World Series appearances for the first time in team history.

The Royals were now only four wins away from a World Championship, their first in 30 years.

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So the stage was set for the Royals returning to the World Series, this time to face the New York Mets. It was interesting to notice the narrative thrown out by the media during this series, as it focused on New York, making their first World Series appearance since 2000, trying to bring the trophy back to the ‘Empire State’. Should it have been the narrative? Probably not, as it should have been the Royals trying to do what they couldn’t do last year and win their first Championship since 1985. But because New York is considered the center of the sports world(or even just the center of most things in this country, whether you are talking about entertainment or sports), the focus was bound to be on the Mets. I wasn’t overly bothered by it, because once again it made the Royals the underdog, a role that this team cherishes. This series would get off to a hot start, as I think it safe to say Game 1 will go down as a World Series classic. There are so many little tidbits from this game that I loved, and maybe it was because it was my first ever World Series game to be in attendance for, but here is just a snippet of what all happened in this game:

  • The game started out with the news leaking on Twitter about Edinson Volquez’s father had passed away earlier in the day, unbeknownst to Eddie. The crowd, in support, chanted “Eddie” numerous times throughout the contest.
  • Alcides Escobar would hit the first inside the park home run in World Series history since George “Mule” Haas of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1929. Escobar’s hit was on the first pitch of the bottom of the 1st inning.
  • The Mets would take a 4-3 lead in the Top of the 8th thanks to an Eric Hosmer error, allowing Juan Lagares to score from second. It was an odd sight, since the Royals had been almost spotless defensively during the playoffs this year before that, and since Hosmer is normally so sure-handed.
  • The Royals would tie the game back up in the bottom of the 9th with an Alex Gordon homer off of Jeurys Familia, the Mets closer. This was a monster of a shot that Statcast had at 438 ft, off of a 97 mph sinker:
  • Chris Young, who was scheduled to start in Game 4 of the series, would come in and throw 3 shutout innings, stifling the Mets. This might have been the biggest pitching outing of the series, outside of Johnny Cueto’s Game 2 start.
  • The game was won in the bottom of the 14th by Kansas City. I was live tweeting the game for work, and might have foreshadowed the win as I sent this out in the middle of the 14th:

Bottom of the 14th would start with Escobar reaching on an error by David Wright(which I had wanted to tweet out ‘costly error?’ but since I was on the work account I figured I shouldn’t), followed by a Zobrist single and a Cain intentional walk. This led to the bases loaded with no outs and Hosmer at the plate, hoping to redeem himself for his error back in the 8th. Hosmer would lift a fairly deep fly ball to right field, scoring Escobar and giving the Royals a Game 1 victory. This game was the third World Series game to go 14 innings and undoubtedly will go down as a classic. In a lot of ways, this game set the tone for the rest of the series.

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Game 2 would see Johnny Cueto put up the best game score for a Royals pitcher in a playoff game in history, as the Royals would go up 2-0 in the series with a 7-1 victory. The two teams would travel to New York for three games, and the Mets would take Game 3, 9-3 as Royals starter Yordano Ventura saw a loss in velocity and the Royals never seemed to find their footing in this game. Game 4 would be another close one that the Royals took, 5-3 and gave Kansas City a 3-1 lead in the series, needing only one more win to be world champions. This would lead to yet another classic Royals comeback in Game 5.

Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer celebrates with his teammates after scoring during the ninth inning of Game 5 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the New York Mets Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

For 8 innings in Game 5, it looked as if the Royals number might be up, as Matt Harvey was dominating Kansas City, looking as sharp as I have seen him all season(in what starts I have seen him in). Harvey would come out for the Top of 9th, which seemed fine since he had been handcuffing the Royals all night long. He would allow a leadoff walk to Cain, who would then steal second base. Eric Hosmer, who to this point had been hitting about .111 in the series, came up big again with a double off the left field wall, scoring Cain and cutting the Mets lead to 2-1. Familia would come in for New York and he would get Moustakas to ground out, moving Hosmer to third. So with one out and the Royals down by one, Salvador Perez would hit a slow chopper to David Wright at third. Wright would glance back at Hosmer, who was just a little bit of the way down the line at third, then toss to first. Hosmer, in what would be equal parts genius and stupid, took off for home once Wright slinged it over, causing Lucas Duda to hurry a throw home. The throw would be wide of catcher Travis D’arnaud, as Hosmer slid into home safely.

Now, I know the broadcasters said it was good baserunning by Hosmer, but like I said, it was just as much a lucky play. Probably nine times out of ten, that throw is accurate and Hosmer would have been out by a mile. Royals scouts had told the team to run on Duda and D’arnaud as much as possible, and it seemed Kansas City picked an opportune time to take advantage of that knowledge. But as most everything this postseason, the play went the Royals way and the game was now knotted up at two. It would stay this way until the 12th inning, as Jarrod Dyson was on third and Christian Colon, former #1 Draft Pick for the Royals, making his lone postseason at bat and he would deliver big:

The Royals would tack on four more runs and then would hand the ball over to the best relief pitcher in baseball the last two years, Wade Davis:

For the first time since 1985, the Kansas City Royals are World Champions! For everything that the city of Kansas City, the organization and even us fans have endured, this was the sweetest victory that one could imagine. Demons were purged, losses have faded and now here they stand, the best team in baseball in 2015.

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When the 2015 season started, 30 teams all wanted one thing, to call themselves the World Champions. Only one team gets that distinction, and this year it is the Kansas City Royals. For years this team has heard about the ghosts of Royals past: George Brett, Willie Wilson, Dane Iorg, Jim Sundberg, Bret Saberhagen, Darryl Motley and so many more. Those ghosts will no longer haunt this team, as they have accomplished their only goal this season: win the World Series. It has been a crazy ride all season long, one that could make this team the greatest Royals team of all-time(they have competition with those late 70’s teams that faced the Yankees in the playoffs) and will hopefully not leave ghosts of their own for future generations. What this team did was the equivalent of slaying the dragon, or blowing up the Death Star. What this team did was put the focus back on an organization that for years was one to duplicate throughout the 70’s and 80’s. Celebrate this victory, Kansas City. Your Royals are the World Champions!

A Royal Comeback

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A great man once said “It ain’t over till it’s over”. Nope, I’m not talking about Lenny Kravitz, although he turned that saying into a nice little soft rock hit in the 90’s. Mr. Yogi Berra made that saying famous but the Kansas City Royals are trying to make it a mantra. The Royals have a history in the playoffs of coming back from the jaws of defeat to live another day. Go back to one of my favorite games of all-time, Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, the whole reason I even know who Dane Iorg is. Then there is the most famous Royal comeback, the Wild Card game from 2014, a game that no Royal fan will ever forget. After today, you can go ahead and add Game 4 of the 2015 ALDS to that list.

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Headed to the bottom of the 7th inning, the Royals were down by a lone run, 3-2 with Kelvin Herrera was on the mound. Herrera would walk George Springer to lead off the inning, leading to Ryan Madson being brought in to face Carlos Correa. What followed felt like a horror movie or one of those nightmares you have that you can’t wake up from. Correa would hit a 2-run bomb, which would be followed by a solo home run from new Royals nemesis Colby Rasmus and the Astros lead now sat at 6-2.   At this point the Royals had gotten 6 hits and 2 walks but was only able to muster 2 runs off of a Salvador Perez home run. So to say it did not look good going to the Top of the 8th would be an understatement. I thought it was over. I really did.

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What followed would be the perfect example of why you should never give up on this team. I should probably point out here that the highest Win Probability percentage Houston had was 98.4%, which was when Carlos Gomez singled in the bottom of the 7th with the Astros up 6-2. If you would like to see the full graph of the Astros Win Probability click here. Trust me, it is a fun little look into how quickly things fell apart for Houston. Now, back to the game. Over the last few years there is a fun little saying some of us have on Twitter called “#deathbysingles’, or basically what happens from time to time when the Royals start an offensive attack, which doesn’t always include extra base hits. The Royals have also started calling it ‘going on down the line’, or a way to keep the rally going. It focuses way more on every single plate appearance rather than looking 2-3 batters ahead. Focus on your at bat and try to keep the base runners moving.

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What followed can only be explained as #RoyalsDevilMagic, a term coined last year when the Royals would find a way, anyway, to win a ballgame. I felt we saw some of that same magic on Friday in Game 2. Rios(Tips?), Escobar & Zobrist would lead off the attack with singles. Cain would follow with another single to knock in a run, 6-3. The Astros win probability was now down to 70.7%. Eric Hosmer would follow with a key hit to right field to make it 6-4. Before this at bat, Hosmer had been 1 for 15 in the series and it just felt like he needed something(anything?) to get his bat going and to help what had been an issue for this team with runners in scoring position. Houston’s win probability now down to 55.6%. Kendrys Morales would then hit a chopper up the middle(aided by glancing off Tony Sipp’s glove) that looked like a fairly easy play for Carlos Correa. Instead, the ball takes a weird hop(with a little help from Correa taking his eye off the ball. It appeared as if he was already looking at second base) and two runs would score, tying the game at 6. This would be a costly error for the Astros, knocking their win probability down to 24.4%. Funny thing is that the next two at bats felt like the most important at bats in the game. Mike Moustakas would strike out, but not before making it tough on Sipp, an at bat that saw him foul off pitch after pitch. Following that, Houston closer Luke Gregerson would come in to try and stop the bleeding. Houston’s win probability had jumped up to 35.3%.

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Gregerson is very familiar to the Royals. He pitched for the A’s last year in the infamous Wild Card game and would let the Royals back into that game, allowing a couple of inherited runners to score. In this game he would come in and face backup catcher Drew Butera. Butera had entered the game an inning earlier after Perez was hit by a pitch. Butera is known for his glove…and for how poor of a hitter he is. But he would have the at bat of the game, pushing Gregerson to a 10 pitch walk, one in which Butera was down 0-2 to begin the plate appearance. Houston’s win probability was back down to 31.7%. This loaded the bases again for Alex Gordon, a man who has been struggling since his return from injury last month. Gordon would hit a grounder that almost got past second baseman Jose Altuve, as Altuve dove for the ball then flipped to first for the second out of the inning. Hosmer would score though and the Royals would have the lead, 7-6. The Astros now had a 23.6% chance of winning. Rios would then walk(second time he had been on base in this inning) followed by an Escobar strike out to end the inning:

Houston now had a 29.2% chance of victory, down 67.7% from when the inning started. The Houston crowd had been silenced by the Royals offense. Astros fans now understood ‘Death By Singles’.

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Now all that stood in Houston’s way of tying the game up was one Wade Davis. Yes, the nearly unhittable and unflappable Wade Davis. Davis was in for a six out save, the first of his career. Just another 1-2-3 inning for Davis, one in which the Astros chance of winning had dropped to 15.5%. The knockout punch was dealt in the top of the inning, as Hosmer would strike again, dealing a death blow with a 2-run homer. The Astros now sat at a 3.3% win expectancy, or next to nil. Davis would close it out in the bottom of the 9th, tying up the series and sealing a Game 5 in Kansas City…

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…and there you go. One of the greatest comebacks in Royals history leads to another do or die game on Wednesday. I have no clue what will unfold for Game 5, but it probably can’t top Game 4. I didn’t even mention Mike Moustakas’ words at the end of the 7th inning, probably an “Animal House” style speech:

Or how Salvador Perez feels after the double dose of a foul ball tip and hit by pitch combo within the span of an inning:

Okay, here is all the fallout from this game:

What a great game. This Royals team is worth all those years I sat through bad baseball, hoping that next year would be “the year”. In fact, I don’t think I have comedown from this game yet:

This team is for real. Watch out Houston; this Royals team might have just found their swagger.

 

 

 

Houston, You Have a Problem: Royals Extract Revenge, Beat Astros

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If you think back to about a month ago, the Royals visited the Astros in Houston and that series could very well have been the worst series for Kansas City so far in 2015. Houston swept the Royals with many stating that the Astros were now the best team in the American League. A month later, Houston travels to Kauffman Stadium to play three against the Royals, but the results were not the same. Not only did the Royals take this series two games to one, they also trumped Houston in the pitching acquisition market, picking up Johnny Cueto from Cincinnati for the stretch run while Houston had picked up Scott Kazmir from Oakland earlier in the week. But this series wasn’t just trades, sunshine and lollipops. Oh no, there was also games played with action involved. So what else stood out this past weekend? Read on and hopefully we can delve into all that is Royal.

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Series MVP: Alcides Escobar    

This wasn’t the easiest category for this series, as the offense was shut down on Friday night against Kazmir and didn’t do much more on Saturday. Luckily, Alcides Escobar had another good series and even came away with a game winning hit on Saturday. Escobar went 4 for 13 this series, but the big thing was his single to right on Saturday night scoring Paulo Orlando for the winning run:

This also lead to another postgame dousing:

Escobar didn’t scorch the ball for his big hit but was able to poke it into the outfield, away from the constantly shifting Houston defense. No one hitter stood out this series, but a guy who gets on base once every three times and gets a game winning knock is as good a choice as any for most valuable.

Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura throws in the first inning of a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, July 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)
(AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

Pitching Performance of the Series: Yordano Ventura

On Tuesday, Yordano Ventura was sent down to AAA Omaha to make room for Jason Vargas who was returning from a stint on the disabled list. By the next day Vargas was scheduled for Tommy John surgery and Ventura was told to stay put. Ventura had looked awful on Monday against the Pirates but Sunday against the Astros he looked like the ‘Ace’ we saw most of last year. Ventura went out on a hot and muggy Sunday and threw 7 innings, giving up 6 hits and 1 run while walking none and striking out 5. Ventura ended up with a game score of 66, tied for the third best he has had this year and it was well deserved. Ventura did a good job of locating his fastball away from the middle of the plate and had a good feel on the off-speed pitch. I’m not going to sit here and tell you he is fixed or that he won’t have another bad start this year. No, but what I will tell you is that it appeared he got the message from management that he needed to up his game and he did just that to wrap up a series win for the boys in blue.

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More stuff and things happened in a wild three game set at Kauffman Stadium this weekend. Let’s go diving into the news and notes:

  • Dusty Coleman was sent down before this series and infielder Cheslor Cuthbert was recalled for his second stint with the main team. It seemed a bit of an odd move in the sense that Cuthbert has only played about 3 games in his career at second base and has never played shortstop:

The thought was that if something happened to Escobar, Infante would shift over to shortstop and Cuthbert would roll to second base. That seems like a dicey proposition but everything else seems to be working this season, so why wouldn’t this?

  • Manager Ned Yost gave some of his starters a day off this weekend. Lorenzo Cain had Saturday off while both Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas had Sunday off. This was a smart move by Yost, as we are in the dog days of summer and the Royals need these guys to be as sharp as possible late in the season. I don’t always hand out compliments to Yost, but for this he deserves it.
  • Hold onto your seat: Alex Gordon is already throwing:

Want more good news? He wouldn’t tell Ned about it:

Want even more good news? Gordon plans on taking batting practice later this week. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Gordon will be back sooner than expected, but he seems to be working at a pace that would hint toward that happening. Just saying.

  • The Royals employed an all right-handed lineup on Sunday against their ace, Dallas Keuchel:

Keuchel gave up a season high in hits with 10 against the Royals and was also hit hard early by Kansas City:

This continues the Royals success this year against other team’s aces:

Chalk another one up for the good guys.

  • There has to be a little bit of concern as of late with Salvador Perez’s hitting. Over the last two weeks Perez has a line of .154/.209/.231 and over the last month he is hitting .186/.220/.360. I don’t know which is more impressive in that span; only 18 strikeouts or the 3 walks. Yost has been giving Salvy regular rest, so this just seems more like someone who is not very selective at the plate. Fixing Salvy’s offense could become a major project soon if it doesn’t improve.
  • The Mike Moustakas watch is now over. Moustakas has reached his hit total from 2014:

I am a big fan of Moose’s turnaround. The guy has put in the work and the results are apparent on the field. I know Albert Pujols is having a nice return to form but I would vote Moustakas as the Comeback Player of the Year.

  • Carlos Correa is already really good. Like ridiculously good. I’m afraid of how good he will be with some more maturity.
  • Danny Duffy continues his turnaround since returning from the disabled list. On Saturday Duffy threw 6 innings, giving up 3 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 3. His game score of 64 was tied for the second best score he has accomplished this season. If Duffy continues to sparkle, and Yordano can pitch more like he did on Sunday, then the Royals rotation is starting to look more formidable than it looked even just a week ago.
  • Oh, and the Royals picked up that Johnny Cueto guy. I wrote a few words about it here. It’s worth your time.

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Tweets of Royalty

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If you noticed a little bit more of a hop in my step, it would be because of all the great things happening right now for the Royals. Kansas City takes another series, have a big lead in the American League Central, have the best record in the American League and now have Johnny Cueto to lead the rotation. Can things get better? I’m not going to sit here and tell you no. The Royals have the Cleveland Indians next, a team that’s pitching scares me but continue to under-perform.  After those three games the Royals will travel to Toronto for four against the Blue Jays and then three in Detroit. It’s not the easiest schedule but as long as the Royals win these series they remain the team to beat in the American League. So bring everyone else on; so far it appears this team can take it.

 

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