Alex Rios Has Awoken!

Kansas City Royals’ Alex Rios hits a double off Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Gavin Floyd during the seventh inning of a baseball game, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

2015 has not been the season that either the Kansas City Royals or Alex Rios were counting on when Rios signed a 1 year, $11 mill dollar contract on December 19th of last year. The Royals might not have expected 2012 Alex Rios(where he hit .304./.334/.516 with 25 home runs, 91 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 126) but was hoping for a bit more production than the Texas Rangers got from Rios in 2014(4 homers and 54 RBI’s with a 97 OPS+). Instead, Rios was hit by a pitch the first week of the season and hadn’t rebounded from it since. That is until Rios came down with a case of the chickenpox(yes, that is still a thing) and has been lighting the ball up since his return on September 8th. In fact, Rios has probably gone from a man just on the outside looking in for a spot on the ALDS roster to the very probable starting right fielder when that game gets underway on October 8th.

Apr 6, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals right fielder Alex Rios (15) connects for a two run home run in the seventh inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
(Denny Medley-USA TODAY)

As late as one week ago it appeared that Rios wasn’t going to be on the Royals Division Series roster, as he had been struggling all year and the team had the likes of Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson, both better defensively than Rios, and Jonny Gomes, a solid bat off the bench that kills lefties. Royals manager Ned Yost was continuing to play Rios every day, for a couple of reasons. For one, he had just gotten back from his bout with the ‘pox’ a week earlier and deserved at least a chance to get back into a rhythm. The second reason is in that same vein, as the team was hoping Rios would hit a hot streak and take off, earning himself a spot on the roster, as the Royals would love to go with the hot hand(funny choice of words there) headed into October. There is also that bit about the Royals paying him a decent amount of money; we can act like that isn’t a reason but I would be shocked if it wasn’t. Now, to say Rios has been hot in the last two weeks might just be an understatement.

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Since Rios’ return on September 8th, he has a line of .366/.386/.610 for an OPS of 996 and a BAbip of .394. The part of this that illicited a ‘Wow’ out of me was his slugging, a robust .610 in that span. Over the last few years, Rios lack of power has been a major concern since throughout his career he has shown he can accumulate a decent amount of extra base hits which is what the Royals were hoping for when he was signed. Problem is that Rios has dealt with hand and wrist issues over the last few years which seem to have sapped his power. Rios dealt with an ankle and thumb injury last year with the Rangers, then seemed to be battling a re-occurrence of that thumb inury in Spring Training earlier this year. Then there was the fractured hand he received thanks to a wild rookie on the Minnesota Twins that halted his good start to the season during the second week of April. Hands and wrists are very important to batters, as that is where a lot of the power a hitter shows comes from. Rios can probably blame the regression of his career on these injuries, as they seemed to have sapped most of his power he showed even as recent as 2012.

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But you wouldn’t know that his power numbers have dipped these last couple seasons if you have watched him in September. Like I said, his slugging this month is .610, as he has 4 doubles, 2 homers and 5 RBI’s. Throw in a couple walks, a stolen base and 8 runs and you are looking at a man who might have realized his chance of getting to the playoffs might be slipping through his own fingers. What is really great about these numbers is how far they have jumped in just a few short weeks. Rios’ slugging percentage is up 30 points while his OPS is up over 40 points. Even his on-base percentage is up 10 points while he has doubled his home run total,  all this in just a few weeks. Breaking it down even farther, just within the last week Rios is hitting .375/.400/.583 with 3 of those extra base hits during that span. I have to believe that Rios has leapfrogged Orlando for a spot on the Royals playoff roster, a spot that would break a streak you don’t want to be a part of in baseball.

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If Rios makes the Royals Division Series roster, he will have broken a streak that no player wants to be a part of; he has played the most games of anyone active in baseball right now without playing in a playoff game. Rios’ streak of 1679 games over 12 seasons is the most in baseball at the moment, with the next man also looking to break his streak this season, 1392 games by Jose Bautista of Toronto. If Rios plays in just one playoff game he will fall off this list, as the next two players look to disappear off this list as well(Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion). Chase Headley follows them 1109 games, but that could fall as well with the Yankees possibly making the Wild Card game. If that happens, Adam Lind of Milwaukee would become the active player without a playoff appearance with over 1100 games by that point. As much as there are some great names on this all-time list(Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and George Sisler just to name a few), as a player you want no part of this. That is yet another incentive for Rios to keep up his hot hitting.

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There is no guarantee that Rios will 100% be on the playoff roster, but with only two weeks remaining in the season it looks like a good bet that he will be and start in right field for game 1 of the ALDS. The Royals really haven’t gotten what they expected from Rios this season(and I wouldn’t expect him back in 2016) but he has gotten hot at the right time. There are a lot of choices for the motivation, whether it be being left off the roster, wanting to break his streak of avoiding October baseball or even the threat of shingles, but what can be said is the Royals need Rios to hit like he has lately to help them next month. Many players have come out of nowhere to become October darlings, guys like Mark Lemke. I wouldn’t have any problem with Rios’ name being added to that list, even if it means negating what the previous five months have shown us about his production. At this point, it appears Alex Rios is awake and making pitchers pay for it. Let’s hope this Rios sticks around for another month.

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A Bronx Beating: Royals Take 2 of 3 from Yankees

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As most of you know, the Royals and Yankees used to be a very heated rivalry. Back in the day, the Royals hated the Yankees and the Yankees hated the Royals. There is a variety of reasons to not like the Yankees(I’ll remember at some point to compile a list) but I am one of the old school Royals fans who remembers this feud and despite this rivalry being very one-sided the last couple decades, I still hold on to my dislike for the Bronx Bombers. So to start this weekend with these two teams clashing, my feelings are already heightened. Add in that both teams came into the series in first place in their division, well…lets just say it had some added fuel. Would that fuel start a fire? Or would it just stink up the joint? Let’s dive in.

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Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain

Before the season started I made the comment that I was most intrigued this year to see if Lorenzo Cain’s development would continue and 6 weeks into the season I have to believe that is a big ‘YES’! Cain’s impressive offensive output continued this weekend, as he would go 4 for 11, with a big 5 RBI game on Friday night and 3 runs scored this weekend:

Tack on a few more shoestring catches and a running grab near the wall and you have yourself a guy who continues to excel. It did appear throughout the weekend that anytime there was runners on base, Cain was in the middle of the action:

I made the comment earlier this spring that I didn’t know if Cain could hold up his .380 BAbip from last year, but so far he is sitting at .377, which is pretty darn close. I love the idea of having a number 3 hitter in the order who has speed, which is one more weapon to worry about if you are fielder and Cain hits the ball to you. We are still about 2 months away from the All-Star game in Cincy, but it would appear that Cain has quite the argument for being on manager Ned Yost’s squad.

 

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez 

The fact that I had three options for this spot is good news and the performances of Chris Young and Joe Blanton will be mentioned in just a bit. The starling start of Edinson Volquez though was a masterpiece and one of his best outings so far this year. Chalk up another quality start for Volquez as he would go 7 innings on Sunday, giving up 3 hits, no runs and 1 hit batter while striking out 5. This lowered his ERA to 2.74 and was much better than his last two starts. Volquez had great stuff today, mixing up a solid 2-seam fastball with some great off-speed stuff. This kept the Yankees offense off-balance and kept them off the basepaths. It seems that when Volquez keeps the ball down like he did Sunday he is fine. When he gets the ball up in the zone is when he normally finds trouble. These would also seem to be some words of wisdom for Danny Duffy as well, as he has struggled with that same issue so far in 2015.

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The Moose is Loose

On Friday night, Mike Moustakas almost put himself into the Kansas City record books as he ended up just a home run shy of the Royals first batter to hit for the cycle since 1990. Who accomplished that feat? None other than old #5:

 

So history was on the line when Moustakas came up to the dish in the 7th inning, and we were all hoping for a ‘Moose Bomb’. Well, hoping, since most of the time the percentages say the chances of completing the cycle is not very good, let alone finishing one off with a home run. Moose would not get his dinger to finish the cycle, but he came about as close as a batter could without actually accomplishing the feat. Moustakas lofted a fly ball to left field, and the ball bounced off the left field wall, missing a cycle by a mere 4 feet. I initially thought there was no way he would finish the milestone, but as that ball traveled down the left field line I couldn’t help feeling like Moustakas just might do it. Alas, he came up just short, getting his second double of the night and finishing the evening going 4 for 5 with an RBI and 3 runs scored. It’s not quite a cycle, but it’s still a pretty good night.

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Now onto the news and notes from another series win for the Royals of Kansas City:

  • Danny Duffy went out Saturday night and performed better than he had the last 2 starts(he did go 5 innings in this outing) but still wasn’t the Duffy we saw throughout most of 2014. The improvement was he had a much better control over his off-speed pitches and didn’t seem to be missing the strike zone by much(he still walked 4 Yankees in the game, though). The bad news is he still allowed 4 hits, 4 free passes and left a fastball over the middle of the plate for Chase Headley to hit into the Royals bullpen in left field. It does appear as if Duffy’s leash might be shortening a bit:

Duffy still has options, so if Jason Vargas is able to come off the disabled list this week then Danny could be the casualty. I’ve mentioned it before, and I will again: maybe Duffy should give old pal James Shields a call. At this point it couldn’t hurt.

  • On the other side of the spectrum is the performance on Friday night of Chris Young. At this point it is just another ho-hum start for him, as he went 5.2 innings, giving up 4 hits and 1 run while walking 2 and striking out another 2. It’s his third straight stellar start and with the way Duffy is throwing it’s hard NOT to keep Young in the rotation when Vargas comes back. In my eyes, he has earned a spot in the rotation.
  • I’ve mentioned it a few times, but it really needs to be stressed just how good of a season Kendrys Morales is having this year. Morales is leading the league in doubles and RBI’s, and his BAbip has risen over 100 points. He has been a pleasant surprise for Kansas City and has calmed any worries I had when the signing occurred. There is still a lot of baseball to be played, but so far this signing has been a major positive for GM Dayton Moore.
  • Watching the Yankees this weekend really made me appreciate this Royals defense. Not only is this New York team older, it also seemed to have some issues throwing the ball. Teams like the Yankees and Indians really make a person really understand just how stellar this Royals defense really is:

  • Eric Hosmer’s 12 game hitting streak was broken up on Saturday against New York’s CC Sabathia. Someone asked me the other day about how Hosmer has been hitting and I pointed out how quiet his body is at the plate this year. It feels like night and day watching him this year compared to last.
  • What a Royals debut for Joe Blanton? Blanton came into Saturday’s game, taking over for Duffy and it was hard to tell that he hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2013. Joe threw 4 innings, giving up 5 hits and 1 run while walking none and striking out 2. He wasn’t dominant but he helped give the rest of the bullpen a break and showed that he has more value than just “a guy who is security in AAA in case the team needs another starter for a start or two”. Blanton looks to be taking over the long reliever spot that Chris Young held earlier this year.
  • Sunday was one of my favorite games of the year, the Salute to the Negro Leagues. I was unable to attend the game(I had a graduation to attend) but while watching the game later in the day I noticed the Yankees wore their usual threads. I am a big fan of the history of the game and the Negro Leagues have always been one of my favorite things to read and study about. I’m not one to tell the Yankees what they should or should not do, but it just felt wrong that they didn’t participate in this great event and have actually never worn any kind of throwback jersey’s ever. By the way, if you have not already you definitely need to go and check out the Negro League Museum in Kansas City(I love it!) and their website.
  • Speaking of, the Yankees look to be doing right by the Negro League Museum and will be donating other items to help the museum bring some money. Thank you, New York.

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Tweets of Royalty

 

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So now the first place Royals(!!!) will take Monday off while waiting to open their interleague schedule in 2015 and take on the Cincinnati Reds in a two game series on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. One does wonder if the Kansas City scouts will be taking an extra look at Johnny Cueto on Tuesday, as he could be a possible mid-season acquisition if the Royals are in the market for a starting pitcher. This series will also set up a nice rivalry weekend, as the Cardinals will come in for three. Let’s hope for a change than the last few times the Cardinals have been in Kansas City; I would rather see a sea of blue in the stands than a sea of red. A sweep of Cincy would go a long ways toward building momentum against St. Louis and keeping a little bit of distance between the Tigers and Royals. No matter what, it should make for a fun week at ‘The K’ this week, so make sure you head out if you can!

 

Moose’s Struggles, Part Deux

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Early on in the movie “Groundhog Day”, Bill Murray starts to realize that he is living the same day over and over again. Murray goes through different stages of realization, everything from anger, sadness and depression to hope and glee. Right now myself and most other Royals fans feel like we are living the same day over and over again; in this day, instead of a little furry creature popping out of the ground and telling us how much winter we have left, we get Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas continuing his struggling ways. His stats pretty much speak for themselves:

Year                      Age            Tm            Lg   G   PA   AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+  TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB Pos Awards
2011                       22           KCR            AL  89  365  338  26  89 18  1  5  30  2  0  22  51 .263 .309 .367 .675   86 124   5   1  2  2   0          5
2012                       23           KCR            AL 149  614  563  69 136 34  1 20  73  5  2  39 124 .242 .296 .412 .708   91 232   4   7  0  5   4         *5
2013                       24           KCR            AL 136  514  472  42 110 26  0 12  42  2  4  32  83 .233 .287 .364 .651   77 172  13   5  1  4   1         *5
2014                       25           KCR            AL  40  139  125   9  19  7  1  4  17  0  0  12  26 .152 .223 .320 .543   47  40   3

How did one of the Royals top prospects go from a sure thing to questioning whether or not he is even a true major leaguer?

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In 2012 Moustakas looked like a future All-Star. During the first half of that season Moose had put everything together. His hitting was solid, his defense was surprisingly above average and he looked like a player who had put everything together. There was very serious discussion that he could make the All-Star team that season. Then Moustakas came down with a knee injury in the second half of the year and his numbers went in the tank. Going into 2013 it seemed that all of his struggles late in 2012 were purely from the injury and that he would be back as a key part of the Royals offense. Except that didn’t happen. Moustakas struggled pretty much the entire 2013 campaign and never looked like a guy who was locked in or confident. There were little spurts where he seemed to be coming out of his slump, but there never seemed to be a sustained stretch where Moose looked like the player he was in 2012.

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Earlier this spring it appeared as if we would see a different Mike Moustakas this season. Moustakas had gone to the Venezuelan Winter League with Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol, working on restructuring his swing. The early reports from Surprise, AZ were very positive. Even I was almost convinced that Moustakas’ approach at the plate had improved. The truth was it had changed this spring; his stance had changed at the plate and his swing was much shorter and more compact. It seemed that if he brought that approach with him into the season he would bounce back.

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That approach was brought into the season, but a hitless first 21 at bats led him to falling back into old habits and straying from his short and compact swing. The one item that has stayed consistent is his new-found ability to work the count and see more pitches. Moustakas’ walk rate is up, 8.6% from a steady number around 6% the last couple seasons. The rest of the numbers are down and quite ugly. Whatever confidence Moose had coming into this season has evaporated and he looks just as lost as he did last year. It has gotten to a point to where the Royals have floated the idea of sending Moustakas down to AAA Omaha and have started giving backup third baseman Danny Valencia a few starts this week. It’s obvious the leash on Moose has gotten shorter and to be honest it should be. No matter how good his defense is(right now his dWar  is at 0.2, just a shade over average) it isn’t enough to compensate for how bad his bat has been. So the question needs to be asked: should Mike Moustakas be sent down to the minors?

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In my opinion, yes. I am rooting for Moustakas to come out of this slump as much as anyone, but the honest truth is he is hurting the team more right now than helping. It’s one thing to say it’s early in the season and a small sample size. It’s another when he is over 100 at bat’s and it’s creeping up on June. Moose has been in the bigs now for close to three years now and can’t be coddled forever. We’ve heard a lot the last few years that we need to be patient with the youngsters on Kansas City’s roster, but they aren’t youngsters anymore. His confidence is shot, his swing is a mess and nothing is really changing. It’s time to make a move.

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Is a trade a possibility? Personally, I don’t think it is. The Royals seem to believe that Moustakas can bounce back from this and prove his worth. That tells me that at least for the rest of the season they won’t part ways with him. There is a very outside chance it could happen, if the right player came along. Guys like Matt Dominguez, Chase Headley or Pablo Sandoval come to mind as third baseman that they could trade Moose for. The only issue is that Moustakas’ value is so low that it would probably take more than just him to get any of those players. There is a greater chance that the team sends him down to Omaha for part of the summer and call him back up if he gets on a hot streak.

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It seems pretty apparent that the Royals are going to have to make a decision and make it soon. Moustakas’ continuing struggles are hurting a team that is already having offensive issues, even if you take him out of the picture. We are to a point in his career where you either pull your weight or the team finds someone that can produce. Loyalty is a great thing to have of your employees but it can also be a character flaw. The Royals have been loyal to Moose and have given him every opportunity to show what he can do. Unfortunately what he has shown the last few seasons is a guy who loses confidence easily and struggles with major league pitching. He might not be a AAAA player, but he is playing like one. At this point trying anything new(anything at all) would be an improvement. Maybe he should take note from “Groundhog Day”:

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It’s time Moose. It’s time to let Punxsutawney Phil take the wheel. Can’t be any worse than what you are doing now.

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