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!

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Back In Blue

MLB: OCT 20 ALCS - Game 4 - Royals at Blue Jays
(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)

I love the Winter Meetings. I have since I was a kid. There is nothing quite like the insanity of four days of trades, signings and now rumors of where a number of baseball players could be inhabiting for the upcoming season. All has been quiet on the Kansas City Royals front(well, except for a few minor moves) but it was inevitable it wouldn’t stay that way forever. So when news broke Monday morning that a few moves were very close, I figured it was time to take a peak at the two new-old signings.

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The first was the re-signing of right handed starter Chris Young. Young was a great signing this past year for Royals GM Dayton Moore, as he would take a flyer on the 6′ 10″ righty during Spring Training. Most of us felt like Young would be a solid pick-up, if for no reason other than the fact that he is a notorious flyball pitcher, which works well in Kauffman Stadium. Young was even better than advertised, starting 18 games while throwing out of the pen for 16 more, with a 3.06 ERA over 123 innings, an ERA+ of 135 and an FIP of 4.52. His GB/FB rate was on pace with what he has done over his career and was solid in whatever role manager Ned Yost had for him.That flexibility turned out to be a Godsend for Kansas City, as Young excelled in every role he was given, but none bigger than Game 1 of the World Series. The Royals needed someone to come out of the pen, and despite the fact that Young was the expected starter for Game 4, was called upon to eat some innings that night. All he did was pitch 3 no-hit innings, walking 1 and striking out 4. He was just what the Royals needed and ended up getting the victory after Eric Hosmer’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 14th.

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The Royals inked Young to a new 2 year, $11.5 million deal(with a 3rd year as a mutual option; yes, Dayton loves his mutual options!) with the deal paying Young $4.25 million in 2016 and 5.75 million in 2017. Young can also earn bonuses based on games on the roster, which sounds like a sweet deal for someone as consistent as Young. Considering what all Young did for Kansas City this year, it’s not hard to see why the Royals wanted to bring him back:

“Chris Young is special,” Moore said from his suite in the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. “He’s an unbelievable competitor. You can make the case that he’s the MVP of our pitching staff. And we’re very proud that he’s returning to Kansas City.”

I really like this signing, as Young can fill multiple roles for this team and is a great competitor. Part of what makes Young so great is the fact that he doesn’t have to worry about  a loss of  velocity, as he already doesn’t throw very hard and works more on location and deception than anything else. It appears Young will start the year in the rotation, so it will be interesting to see if the Royals go after another starter, as a name like Scott Kazmir has been mentioned so far as a possible acquisition.

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The other signing for Kansas City was the return of former All-Star closer Joakim Soria. Now, this deal hasn’t been 100% finalized yet(Soria still has to take his physical) but the word is that Soria would come in on a 3 year, $25 million dollar contract(with a fourth year mutual option). There apparently is some language in the deal they are working on where Soria would have incentives for starting; I wouldn’t look too deep into that, as it seems like a moot point. In other words, he won’t be starting unless the rest of the rotation falls victim to chicken pox(oh, wait…). One positive for Kansas City is the fact that most of the Royals management is familiar with Soria and know what he is capable of performing for the team out of the bullpen. In fact, manager Ned Yost sounds as if he is anxiously awaiting Soria’s return to Kansas City:

“Just loved his professionalism,” manager Ned Yost said. “Loved his makeup and his composure. Loved his ability to field his position, control the running game, execute pitches. A lot like Chris Young. He’s just a professional performer when he steps on the mound and still very, very productive. Would love to have him.”

Last year Soria split time between Detroit and Pittsburgh and performed admirably in whatever role was chosen for him. It appears at this point that he will be a setup guy for Wade Davis, so I can easily see him pitching the 8th while sliding Kelvin Herrera back to the 7th inning. Soria’s numbers looked good last year, accumulating an 2.53 ERA over 67.2 innings, with an ERA+ of 156 and an FIP of 3.71. Soria also had 24 saves(if you like that sort of thing) in 2015, the most he has had in a season since his days in Kansas City. The most impressive number from Soria this past season was an increased velocity out of his fastball. In 2015 he had an average fastball speed of 92.1 mph, his highest average speed throughout his entire career. It would appear on the surface as if his arm is fine and possibly in the best shape it has been in years.
Joakim Soria
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

But I have my concerns. Soria has had two Tommy John surgeries so there will always be a concern that another arm injury could finish him off. Also, it will be hard to insure Soria because of those surgeries, which doesn’t seem like a big deal but if you look at a situation like Jason Vargas, where the Royals will get most of his 2016 contract covered if he sits out the entire year,  you could see the importance of being able to insure a pitcher’s arm. There has long been talk about how the Royals waited too long to try and deal Soria, and then lost him for his final Kansas City season to that 2nd Tommy John surgery. But his health isn’t the only problem I have with the Soria signing.

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The other aspect of this signing I have issue with is the size of the contract, both dollars and years. For one, averaging over $8 million a year(and knowing Dayton the deal will be smaller for the first year and gradually increase) just seems like too much for any reliever to me, unless you are Mariano Rivera or Dan Quisenberry. I know it is what the market is dictating right now, but I don’t agree with it. Finding hard throwing arms to fill your bullpen is fairly easy at this point and also fairly cheap. So to spend that money on a setup guy just seems almost comical. Throw in that the deal is 3 years and it goes from bad to worse. No offense to Joakim; I love the guy and I’m already looking forward to hearing ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ blare when he comes into a game at Kauffman Stadium. But for a guy with his injury history and where he is at in his career, 3 years just feels like too much. Once again, I feel the Royals could have gotten a solid reliever cheaper and probably even younger and they could have done the same job Soria will do for Kansas City. I’m glad Soria is returning to where he started, but sometimes that same magic doesn’t return just because you do.

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But the best returning news came Monday afternoon thanks to an interview with skipper Ned Yost:

Seriously, best. news. ever. Sure, part of it is the glorious hair that Kuntz rocks. I’m sure even part of it is his name that people still butcher. But the main part is that Kuntz is a big part of that Royals coaching staff. He is the one who works with shifting the outfielders and moving them around based on which hitter is at the plate. He also works with the team on baserunning and was a big part of a big play in the ALCS against Toronto, as he picked up on something David Price had been doing and took advantage of it. Kuntz is a vital part of the Royals success and I’m glad they convinced him to return for at least one more year. Watch out ladies, the ‘Kuntz is Loose’!
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…and so goes day one of the Winter Meetings! There are still a few days left, so plenty of time for Dayton Moore to continue his holiday shopping for the Royals. It will be interesting to see if a couple of the main outfielders on the market start to sign if the other dominoes(ie. Alex Gordon) fall after that happens. All that can be said at this point is the dull period of the offseason is probably over; time to turn the ‘Hot Stove’ up to 11!

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!

 

 

 

 

 

An October To Remember

Oct 23, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Wade Davis (17) and catcher Salvador Perez (left) celebrate after defeating the Toronto Blue Jays in game six of the ALCS at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-245746 ORIG FILE ID: 20151023_jla_sa7_285.jpg
(Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY)

Last year, the Kansas City Royals made the playoffs for the first time since 1985, a 29 year gap that felt much wider and deeper than that. I started following baseball when I was 7 back in 1984, and instantly became a Royals fan. So I do remember 1985, albeit not the way I would have if I had been a bit older. I remember my mother making me hot cocoa before the games and I remember being ‘out to the moon’ excited when they won that year. I even remember coming home from school sometime the next spring and walking in on my parents watching the Kansas City Royals home video ‘The Thrill of it All’, a look back at the Royals championship run in ’85. Yes, the video was for me and still to this day I watch that video at least once a year. I have stuck with this team for over 30 years now and don’t regret a minute of it. Sure, I hated the losing, but I knew if the Royals ever made it back to postseason play that I would be incredibly appreciative of what I was witnessing. Last year I got to be in attendance for Game 3 of the ALDS(a full recap is here) and it is at the top of all the great baseball events I have witnessed in my life. When the postseason was over last year and the Royals had fallen just short of gaining a World Championship, I told myself that if they returned in the near future I was going to make sure I went. Honestly, who knew when the Royals would make it back to October baseball? Sure, it could be soon but we all thought the same thing back in 1985. So when opportunity knocked this year, I answered the door.

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So when the Royals clinched a playoff berth(and eventually the division) I was already running through plans in my head. We found out early on that you could register for the chance to buy ALDS tickets so I signed up, figuring it was a longshot but you’re not in the race unless you sign up. About a week before the playoffs started I got an e-mail saying I was picked and would have 24 hours the next day to order tickets, but I could only buy two. I ordered my two tickets the next day and I knew at that point I was going to at least one playoff game. Funny how these things work though; The Monday before the playoffs started, we got an e-mail at work saying I had media clearance for the ALCS and World Series. Hey, look at that! I work at a radio station that is a Royals affiliate and we had sent in for media passes a few weeks earlier. So my gameplan had switched a bit, since I knew that if Kansas City advanced to the next round(or even to the World Series), I would be able to go. The next day I found out I media clearance for the ALDS, which was going to give my son a chance to go to his first playoff Game. So the plan was set for us to go to Game 2 of ALDS against Houston.

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Game 2 of the ALDS was on a Friday afternoon and my girlfriend, my son and I made the trek to Kauffman Stadium to be a part of what would hopefully be a Royals win. There was one little catch to this whole thing; since I was media, I would be sitting by myself in the media section down the left field line. After batting practice, my girlfriend and son took the tickets we bought and hung out in the upper deck for the game and I ventured out to the media section. What was witnessed was another comeback win for the Royals, something that became a theme for Kansas City during the playoffs. I had a nice vantage point of the game but here is a another minor catch to being media: as media, you are supposed to be unbiased, so there is no cheering, since you are there to do a job. As a fan of the Royals, this can be hard sometimes, as you are by nature used to cheering on your team. The good news is that my girlfriend and son had a great experience during this game and that made me feel really good. I had my memorable playoff experience last year, it only seemed appropriate for them to have theirs at their first playoff game. It was nice to discuss certain parts of the game with them on the drive home and I left hoping I would be back at Kauffman again before the year was done.

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Luckily, I would be back about a week later for Game 2 of the ALCS, another afternoon game at ‘The K’. I made my way to the stadium a bit early and went and found my seat for the game, getting set up as I would be live-tweeting the game for the radio station. As I’m sitting there getting prepared, Rany Jazayerli(who is the Royals blogger of main importance and co-founder of Baseball Prospectus) would walk up. This blog wouldn’t exist without Rany, as when I started looking at Royals blogs I found Rany’s and instantly felt a kinship. We were both longtime Royals fans that felt disenfranchised with the direction the team seemed to be going in. I would go ahead and introduce myself to him and we ended up talking baseball for about 5 minutes. I’m sure he probably doesn’t even remember it by now, but it showed what a nice guy he was. He took time out of his day just to chat with someone about baseball. The game would get underway a little bit later and outside of a chilly breeze that progressively got worse as the game went on, everything was going smoothly. That is, except the Royals had gotten a hit since the 1st inning, as David Price was shoving, retiring 18 Royals in a row. That is until the 7th inning, when the Blue Jays would let a Ben Zobrist ball drop into right field, opening the floodgates and allowing the Royals to go ahead and eventually win the game. I really felt this was the loudest I had ever heard the crowd at Kauffman and the win put the Royals up 2-0 in the series. It was another classic Royals win, and I was on a baseball high on the drive home. This game might have been the point where I started to think this was a team of destiny, as it really felt as if no lead was safe for any team against Kansas City. This was the point where I started to think I would be back for the World Series.

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I would be correct in my estimation, as the Royals would make a return trip to the World Series. There was a slight issue with work, as there for a few days it looked like I might not be able to get off of work due to personnel problems. Luckily, I found out on Monday that I would be able to go, so I made plans to be there for Game 1 of the 2015 World Series. After dealing with traffic, I made it to the stadium and would once again return to my spot out in left field, although this time I was greeted with a wet seat. I planned ahead though, knowing there was a good chance of rain that day so I had tucked a towel away in my bag, using it to wipe off my seat and my work area. I was once again live-tweeting the game, but little did I know that I would be there for a good 5+ hours. The light rain would stop almost at first pitch and we were underway. I made sure before the game started to take everything in, as it hit me I was actually at a World Series game. I think if you told 8 year old Sean that he would be at a Royals World Series game 30 years later, he probably would have laughed and thought you were full of it. But there I was, getting ready to witness a first for me.

Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri, Game 1 of 2015 Major League Baseball World Series, Kansas City Royals VS New York Mets
Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri, Game 1 of 2015 Major League Baseball World Series, Kansas City Royals VS New York Mets

When Alcides Escobar slid to the plate to start the bottom of the inning, I started laughing, because I knew he was going to swing at the first pitch. Not only did he swing at the first pitch, but he would hit a fly ball that would bounce off Yoenis Cespedes’ glove, as the ball bounced away and Escobar would get an inside the park home run! I was well aware at this point that I had yet to see the Royals lose a playoff game when I was in the building, and I was hoping they wouldn’t start now. I feel blessed that my first World Series game was a classic, a game that was back and forth and would change leads several times. In the 8th inning, the Mets would take the lead but I realized that even if the Royals lost, I was watching a pure classic and couldn’t have been happier about it. Then it happened; Alex Gordon would take Jeurys Familia of the Mets deep, a solo home run to tie the game at 4. If there was a time I was going to be unprofessional and cheer in the media section, it would be after this. I won’t lie; I almost cheered. But I kept my cool, pumping my fist at my side without anyone the wiser. I knew at this point I wasn’t getting home until late that night, plus I had work early in the morning. I didn’t care; this game was pure bliss! In the 14th inning(and at this point the game was 5+ hours long and had stretched past midnight) I noticed on Twitter that no World Series game had gone more than 14 innings. In the back of my head I started to think that I could be viewing history(yet again) if this game still was tied up after 14 innings. Luckily, Eric Hosmer would redeem himself in the bottom of the inning from an earlier error, hitting a sacrifice fly to right to score Escobar and give the Royals the victory in Game 1.

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The weirdest thing happened after this; the crowd started to mill out of the stadium, and I didn’t want to leave. Even though I knew it was late and knew I wasn’t getting much sleep that night, I didn’t want it to end. It meant the world to me that I got to attend a World Series game, not even mentioning the fact that it will go down as a classic. In some way, a part of me wondered if that would be my last visit to Kauffman Stadium this year. I knew I wouldn’t be at Game 2 the next night and there was a part of me that felt this series wouldn’t return to Kansas City. So instead, I wanted to take everything in. The crowd, the atmosphere, the field, the players; I literally took everything in and kept it encapsulated in my mind for future reference. I was kind of worried I might fall asleep on my two hour drive home, but I had nothing to worry about. I was still pumped, replaying the game over in my brain. I arrived home close to 3am and would proceed to accidentally wake up my girlfriend. She asked me if I had just got home, and when I said ‘yes’, she asked why. You see, she had fallen asleep during the 7th inning, before the game got really crazy. I told her it went 14 inning and she asked ‘Seriously??’. She would fall back asleep, and I would as well about 30 minutes later, although my mind was still abuzz. What an October!

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That Sunday night the Royals would wrap up the series in just five games. As I predicted, the series wouldn’t return to Kansas City. I’ve had a little over a week now to really let everything soak in and so much about this past month amazes me. I was very fortunate that I got to be witness to not only three Royals playoff games this Fall, but three games that will be discussed for years to come. I’ve always held the 1985 team on a pedestal, not only because for the longest time they were the only Royals championship team, but because that was so early on in my love for the Kansas City Royals. But for years I have recognized that as much as I loved that ’85 squad, talent wise they weren’t the best team that year. This 2015 squad is going to be remembered for a lot of things, but more than anything I think I will look at them as the most talented Royals team I have ever seen. Just a few years ago I was disappointed with the organization and started to wonder if we as fans were ever going to see a winning season, let alone a championship season. Now we have seen back to back World Series appearances and will be adding yet another flag to the poles in the outfield at Kauffman Stadium. This October meant the world to me and my love of this team; not only was I able to cross items off my bucket list, but I finally get to say my team are the World Champions. The games might be over, but the memories will always remain.

More coverage from this October:

ALDS Coverage: here and Game 4 of the ALDS coverage is here.

ALDS/ALCS Notes: click here

World Series Coverage: World Series here

Wrap up of the 2015 Kansas City Royals Season: Enjoy the link here

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!

The Comeback Kids

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I know, I know; the Kansas City Royals have been knee deep in the postseason and I’ve been M.I.A. from my little corner of the web. Sorry, my bad. Last year I decided that if Kansas City got to the playoffs I was going to enjoy it and not analyze how the games were transpiring. I decided to do the same this year, as us Royals fans enjoy this tidal wave of success that most are not used to. Since we last talked, the Royals have played three games, winning them all, including the ‘do or die’ Game 5 of the ALDS against Houston. Now the Royals are up 2 games to 1 against Toronto in the ALCS as the teams get ready to play north of the border. Since I have the time, let’s look at what has been going on the last week in the land of the ‘Comeback Kids’.

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Let’s start with a few notes from Game 5 of the ALDS:

  • What a game Johnny Cueto threw last Wednesday?! I know there were a pocket of fans that felt like the Royals had messed up by acquiring Cueto, which I didn’t agree with even if this outing hadn’t happened. The Cueto trade signified that the Royals front office was going for a championship; they had done their part, acquiring Cueto and Zobrist, now it was up to the players to take it home. But if that wasn’t enough for you, his start in Game 5 showed why the Royals picked him up in the first place. All he did was go 8 innings, allowing 2 hits and 2 runs while walking none and striking out 8. This put him in some nice company:

In fact, Cueto had everything going on Wednesday:

The biggest part of his success can be traced to location, location, location:

I don’t know if we are going to see another start like that from Cueto this postseason, but if we do it will probably mean a ‘W’ for the Royals. Cueto was acquired to be the ace; looks like he found the right time to throw like one.

  • Game 5 also saw a couple of clutch hits for the two Alex’s, Gordon and Rios. Gordon has struggled since his return from injury last month while Rios has struggled most of this season. Both have had moments where they contributed this postseason and Gordon has had a number of crucial extra base hits over the last few games, including his big double in Saturday’s win over the Jays. In fact, he even celebrated after the hit, a rarity for him:

Having Gordon and Rios batting 8-9 in the order makes it even harder on opposing pitchers if they start getting hot. It also means if one guy fails, another can pick them up. That seems to be an ongoing strategy by the Royals throughout this 2015 season.

  • Speaking of hitting strategies, I’ve noticed over the last couple games that Kansas City is adjusting their approach at the plate late in the game. Early on they seem to be swinging early and often. But once the late innings hit, they seem to take more pitches. Even while down 0-2 or 1-2, their confidence level seems to be sky high and will be more patient than normal, taking pitches that seem to be too close to take. Trust me, I love the approach and the results, and it has helped lead to some big rallies for the team. It seems odd, but as long as it’s working I say keep doing what they are doing.
  • Edinson Volquez was great on Friday in Game 1 of the ALCS but he did seem to follow a pattern from his previous start against Houston. Volquez looked nasty for the first 5 innings, keeping the ball down, using a combination of his sinker and fastball, while mixing in a change-up from time to time. He had late movement on his pitches and was locating the ball on both corners, although not as much inside as most suspected. Come the 6th, Volquez changed it up (I’m assuming since it was the Jays third time through the order) and started relying heavily on his fastball. Volquez would allow a couple of baserunners but finished off Troy Tulowitzki with a strikeout to end the inning. Volquez would throw over 30 pitches in that inning and I was shocked manager Ned Yost didn’t go to the pen, especially after the walk by Jose Bautista. I’m all for having confidence in your pitcher, but this didn’t seem like the time to let Volquez work through it. Luckily it turned out gold, as no runners scored and Volquez came out unscathed. I don’t recommend doing that again, but Ned Yost has almost been flawless with his decision making since the playoffs last year. It’s hard to argue with it when it works.
  • Can anyone explain how clutch this team is? Sure, part of it is the combo of putting the ball in play a lot while hardly ever striking out(which kind of goes hand in hand). But if I was to point to one main difference between the 2014 Royals team and this team, it would be the offense and their ability to produce when it is needed most. We can all agree that last year’s playoffs(and possibly more specifically the Wild Card game) gave the younger players on this Royals team the confidence they were lacking. But it has been a welcome surprise to see how much they have elevated their plate appearances this October. Exhibit A is obviously Game 4 of the ALDS in Houston, but you can probably add Game 2 of the ALCS this year to the list. David Price had shut this team down for 6 innings(only allowing one hit, a leadoff single by Alcides Escobar), retiring 18 batters in a row before Ben Zobrist lead-off the bottom of the 7th with a single that dropped between Ryan Goins and Jose Bautista. This led to a 5 run inning for Kansas City and eventually a win. This team does not sweat it if they are down late in the game. I’ve started making the joke that the game doesn’t even begin until the 7th inning, which is only mildly tongue in cheek. The reality is that the Royals are not a team to sleep on late in the game; if anything opposing teams need to tighten the belt when it comes down to the bullpens. Otherwise, you could be looking up at another Royals comeback.
  • Finally, let’s hop back to that Zobrist single that dropped between Bautista and Goins. After the game, reporters asked Bautista about the play and who exactly was to blame. Let’s just say that it sure appeared as if someone covered their behind:

To say I was shocked when I saw that would be an understatement. I’ve never thought of Bautista as a bad apple in the clubhouse but this sure has changed my mind. As a veteran, Bautista should not only be there for the younger players but also cover for them even if he feels they are at fault. Bautista didn’t even need to take blame for what happened; all he had to do was talk about how loud the crowd was(and as someone that was in the stadium, it was LOUD) and how he could see how someone could think they heard someone call him off. No matter what, you protect the younger player and don’t allow him to take all the blame. Instead, Bautista threw Goins under the bus. Bautista felt like he didn’t throw Goins under, so I reached out to a former big leaguer to see where he fell on this whole situation:

To me, even if Bautista didn’t mean to let the blame fall on Goins, he did just that by flat denying he had any part in the dropped ball. He can feel like it was Goins fault, and it’s very possible it is. But Goins needs to know Bautista has his back; instead, you have to think there is a lack of trust between the two. But hey, Bautista bought him some new swag, so you know, everything is cool.

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The Royals dropped Game 3 in Toronto, so Kansas City still leads 2 games to 1 as we get set for Game 4 this afternoon. Chris Young will be throwing for the Royals against knuckleballer R. A. Dickey for Toronto. Logic would say that Young, an extreme flyball pitcher in an extreme hitter’s park would be a recipe for disaster. But the postseason is made for logic to fall to the wayside, so why should we start using logic now? Enjoy the ride, folks. The Royals are in the playoffs and that is really all that matters. All they need is another 6 wins…

The Battle Over Proper Baseball Etiquette: Royals Lose Series to Striving Blue Jays

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Leading up to this past weekend, the Royals had been building some positive momentum. They were still on top of the American League Central. They still had the best record in the American League. Then there was the two giant acquisitions they made earlier in the week to acquire Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, which you would think puts Kansas City right in line for favorites to be in the World Series. Then the Blue Jays went out and got Troy Tulowitzki. And Ben Revere. And Mark Lowe. And oh yeah, that David Price guy. A lot of the Royals thunder went to Toronto by the end of the week and many felt like this was a series that could be a window into a bigger playoff picture. This was a loaded four game series that was not weak for the heart, so let’s dive in.

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Series MVP: Ben Zobrist

Well, that didn’t take long. In Zobrist’s first games as a Royal he showed why fans like me have been praising his value for so long. Zobrist was 5 for 15 in this series, with 3 home runs, 6 RBI’s, a walk, a double and his slugging percentage went up over 40 points to .480. Zobrist hit two of those home runs on Saturday, one from each side of the plate:

To me that wasn’t even the part of his game that got me super excited. No, what I really loved seeing in this series was Zobrist work a count. I don’t know how many 2-2 or 3-2 counts I saw, but it is nice to see considering how most of the rest of the Royals are free swingers. Zobrist started out the series batting down in the sixth spot in the order, which seemed like a misuse of his on-base talents. Luckily, by the last two games Mike Moustakas was on the bench so Zobrist got a shot at the second hole. He seemed to really enjoy being near the top of the order, as was evidenced by his 4-7 in those two games with all 3 of his home runs and 4 of those 6 RBI’s:

If Zobrist continues to perform like this the Royals won’t miss Alex Gordon as much as expected, with the team feeling most of his loss on defense. I’m already excited to see Zobrist float around defensively; left field one game, right field another, then some time spent spelling Omar Infante at second. It is still early, but if the Royals are unable to re-sign Gordon this offseason, they should definitely take a long look at keeping Zobrist. I have a feeling his bat in this lineup would be a major plus while his glove would be paramount.

TORONTO, CANADA - AUGUST 2: Edinson Volquez #36 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch in the first inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays on August 2, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

Edinson Volquez has been the rock of the Royals starting rotation in 2015. While Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura have been inconsistent, Volquez has picked up the slack. When Jeremy Guthrie has had trouble keeping the ball in the ballpark, Volquez has slowed the other team’s offensive attack. That success continued on Sunday, as Volquez would compile his 10th quality start of the year, throwing 6 innings, giving up 4 hits and 2 runs while walking 3(and hitting a batter; more on that in just a bit) and striking out 4. Volquez did a good job of moving the ball around, in and out and then up and down. He kept the batters off-balance by constantly changing the view and was very adamant about pitching inside. In fact, that leads us to the biggest news story from this series…

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Sunday Afternoon is Alright For Fighting

Here we go again. First there was Oakland. Then there was Chicago. Now Toronto? First, let’s look at what happened. In the first inning Edinson Volquez got a pitch a bit too inside and plunked Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson:

Now, Donaldson has been red hot as of late and had been killing Kansas City during this series. I don’t fault Volquez for pitching him inside and as far as I could tell that wasn’t intentional, although after listening to Volquez postgame there is a chance it was done on purpose(sidenote: there was also a feeling amongst the Royals that Toronto was stealing signs during this series):

At that point the home plate umpire Jim Wolf issued warnings to both teams. Fine by me, nip it in the bud as fast as possible. Then in the 3rd, Volquez came back up and in with an off-speed pitch to Donaldson. No intent there, it was just a pitch that got away. If you know your baseball, you are aware that no pitcher is trying to hit a batter with an off-speed pitch; that is just illogical and defeats the purpose of what you are trying to accomplish. I can understand why Donaldson would be frustrated, but no way he was being thrown at, although that didn’t stop him from throwing a little swag into his walk to first:

Onto the bottom of the 7th inning and Ryan Madson is now in the game for Kansas City. Madson, on the 7th pitch of a 2 strike at bat, would hit Tulowitzki, which many felt thought should have been an automatic ejection. Once again, there was no intent there, as there was no way, that deep into the at bat and with a runner on second, that Madson is intentionally hitting Tulo. It was just a pitch that got away. Donaldson was up next, and on a 2-2 count he would come up and in on Donaldson. Once again, I get why Donaldson would be frustrated, but no way Madson is trying to hit him with two runners on base and the Royals still in a position that they can win the game. Donaldson at this point is irate, flat out screaming at Jim Wolf:

Look, at this point in the game I 100% agree with how Wolf had called the game. Wolf did a great job of figuring out what was intentional and what was just pitches that got away. Wolf even understood why Donaldson was so livid and let him yell at him; I can’t imagine many umpires letting a batter show him up like that, even considering the situation. This brings us to the top of the 8th and with 2 batters out and none out, Aaron Sanchez uncorked a pitch that would get him ejected from the game:

I believe that pitch was intentional on Sanchez’s part. I even understand that Toronto felt like they needed to retaliate. But Wolf was going purely off of intent at this point, and Sanchez’s pitch was intentional and that was why he was ejected. This leads me to a whole other topic that bothered me watching this game; the hitters(more specifically, Donaldson) getting angry about a pitcher throwing inside. I get any balls thrown at or near one’s head; no hitter likes that and I don’t blame them. But Donaldson seemed to have a major issue with the Royals pitching him inside and I am sorry but no hitter owns that plate:

Not only that, but the Blue Jays hitters are notorious for leaning out over the plate. No pitcher wants a guy getting that comfortable at the dish and no hitter should be diving out over the plate and not expect to get plunked:

All I kept thinking watching this was a)If these guys did that to Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale they would probably be in a hospital somewhere and b)this whole thing made Josh Donaldson look like a child. Back in April I felt like the Royals were being babies during that A’s series that got out of control. On Sunday it felt like the Blue Jays were being oversensitive to a normal part of the game. All hitters take note: the plate is not yours and yours alone. A pitcher is allowed to pitch inside, especially if you crowd the plate with all of your body armor. You dive over it, you get nailed. I personally felt like Jim Wolf did a great job in this game and understood what was going on. That being said, there was a part of me that wished someone would have gotten thrown out on the Kansas City side just so this whole mess hadn’t escalated. Even impartial baseball fans like Grant Brisbee felt like Wolf called a good game but might have been better off just throwing Volquez out. I know there was a lot of discussion that this could be an interesting matchup in the playoffs, but I would rather not revisit this. There was more nonsense that went on after this on Twitter, but I’m not even going to discuss that. Here are some more tidbits from Sunday’s melee:

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But wait, there is more! Time for the news and notes from this four game series:

  • I’ve been chronicling Mike Moustakas’ hit total as of late, since he toppled his 2014 total with a few months of baseball remaining. What I haven’t mentioned is his struggles over the last month. In July, Moose hit .188/.271/..306 in 23 games. The power has been there, as he has clobbered 3  home runs while driving in 8, but Moustakas has gotten away from what worked earlier in the season, which was hitting the ball to the opposite field. During July, Moose has pulled the ball 36% of the time, hit to center 37%, and only hit the ball to left 26% of the time. It seems simple to me, but if Moustakas can start taking advantage of the whole field again, I think we could see him start to climb out of his current slump. Moustakas ended up sitting out both Saturday and Sunday; Saturday he pinch hit and was hit by a pitch, which caused him to sit out the next day.
  • If(if) the Royals have to face off with Toronto in the playoffs, it might be best to keep Ryan Madson off that roster. In 4 games this season against Toronto, Madson has thrown 1.2 innings, giving up 9 hits, 7 runs(5 earned) while hitting a batter and striking out 3. Yes, that gives him a glorious 27.00 ERA this year against the Blue Jays. Whatever it is, it appears Toronto has his number.
  • Once again, Mark Buerhle stifled the Royals offense on Saturday. In fact since 2013, Buerhle has held the Royals to 9 runs in 5 games. Buerhle isn’t going to blow anyone away but he hardly walks anyone(4 walks during those 3 years against Kansas City) and knows how to pitch. It goes to show you, kids, it’s all about location, location, location.
  • Hold on to your seat; Wade Davis gave up a home run!!!

Now, Davis also had some back stiffness this weekend. I am going to go ahead and blame it on that:

Hey, credit to Jose Bautista to turn on that high 97 mph heater. But still, it was because of Wade’s back. That is my story and I am sticking to it.

  • For not being a base stealer(like, ever), Kendrys Morales sure knows how to slide:

He also knows how to properly celebrate:

Okay then.

  • Yordano Ventura was breezing along on Saturday before giving up a couple of blasts to Bautista and Donaldson in the 4th inning.  Overall, he allowed five runs on six hits and two walks over seven innings. Ventura seemed to hit a wall in that inning and was forced to fight his way out of it. He seemed to be throwing his off-speed pitches a bit more in this game, but he was still leaving his fastball out over the middle of the plate. Ventura is still young and I’m sure will find his way but right now he is learning it’s not as simple as having a fastball that reaches triple digits. It might not be this season, but he will get there. This is the second straight start I saw improvement and I think it was good that manager Ned Yost kept him in to figure it out. It’s the only way he will learn.
  • Johnny Cueto had a decent outing in his first game as a Royal. Cueto went 6 innings, allowing 7 hits and 3 runs while walking 2 and striking out 7. It doesn’t matter how many times I see him pitch, all I see is Luis Tiant. He even did a butt-wiggle in mid-windup to try and throw the Blue Jays hitters off.
  • Eric Hosmer’s 14 game hitting streak was snapped on Sunday. Hosmer has been red hot most of July, hitting .375/.417/.554 since July 1st. Hopefully we will see more of the same throughout August.
  • Finally, Aaron Brooks, a former Royals dealt in the Zobrist deal, had a great first outing in Oakland:

Congrats, Aaron. Hope this means an extended stay in the majors is in his future.

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Tweets of Royalty

Jul 31, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Home Plate umpire Angel Hernandez (55) calls Kansas City Royals designated hitter Kendrys Morales (25) safe at home plate during the first inning in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-216426 ORIG FILE ID:  20150731_ajw_bt2_047.jpg
Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY

So the Royals are still leading the American League Central after losing 3 of 4 to Toronto, now ahead of Minnesota by 8.5 games. The team will have a much deserved day off on Monday(their first since the All-Star Break) before opening a three game series in Detroit against the Tigers. It will be nice for Kansas City to not have to face David Price or pitch to Yoenis Cespedes during these three games. Hopefully they can win this series before heading home to take on Chicago for three at ‘The K’. Normally, August is when teams that are going to fade start doing just that; at this point I don’t expect to see Kansas City slip too much in the standings. Hopefully there is regular rest during one of the hottest months of the year for their starters and players like Moustakas and Sal Perez can get out of their slumps. It’s a new month but the Royals should have the same game plan; win the whole thing.

 

 

Sinking the Jolly Roger: Royals Make Pirates Walk the Plank

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I am not the biggest fan of interleague play. I get why it is interesting but after close to twenty years, it just feels played out to me. I’m sure for some it still has its appeal, just not for me. All that being said, I was excited for this three game series. The Royals would be going up against one of the best teams in the National League, a team that I’ve often referred to as ‘The National League Royals’. There are many similarities between the two teams, so it was almost a guarantee this series would be a fun one. Luckily for us, it was not only an exciting three games but it also went to the Royals as they won it, two games to one. Time now to see just how everything went down in these three games that were all sold out at ‘The K’.

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Series MVP: Eric Hosmer  

I believe it is safe now to say that Eric Hosmer has hit a hot streak. Hosmer might be one of the streakiest players on this Royals team(Alex Gordon is also pretty streaky) and it is always nice when the pendulum swings around to the hot side of the streak. Hosmer went 6 for 10 in these three games, with 1 double, 1 triple, 1 home run and 2 RBI’s. Oh, he also walked once and had a BAbip of .740! His average has jumped back over .300 for the first time since June 19th, and has raised his slugging percentage almost 20 points in the second half of the season. The best part of this is that Hosmer is driving the ball and doing so in critical situations. Right now, Hosmer’s wRC+(weighted runs created, which is league and park adjusted) is 126; the highest it has ever been since his recall to the majors is 120 back in 2013. If Hosmer can keep this up for the next few weeks(and I would say longer, but hey, remember, he is streaky!), he could help push this Royals team higher up on the food chain at an important time of the season, as the Royals will be playing Houston, Cleveland, Toronto and Detroit over the next few weeks. As if this wasn’t enough, Hos also hit an absolute bomb on Wednesday night, just a massive shot to right field:

That home run was also important for its significance:

I don’t think I will ever tell you that how Hosmer goes, so go the Royals. What I can tell you is that this offense is better when Hosmer becomes a force in the middle of this lineup. Right now, he is front and center when it comes to Royals producing for this team.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

What was the best signing for Dayton Moore this past offseason? I won’t fault anyone who says Kendrys Morales and at some point we might all say Kris Medlen(more on him in a bit), but as of right now I would have to say Volquez has been the best. Looks like I am not the only one:

‘Easy Eddie’ put forth another solid effort on Wednesday, pitching into the 8th inning, going 7. 2 innings, giving up 8 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 8. Volquez figured out early that Pittsburgh was having a hard time hitting his slider and he took advantage of that factor. It’s scary to think how bad this rotation’s numbers would be if you threw out Volquez’s stats. He has been vital for this team, saving the bullpen with an effort that garnered him a 66 game score, one of his better scores of the year. Volquez still has his days where he struggles with his control, but the majority of the time he is on his game and would have to be a lock for a starting spot when/if the Royals reach the playoffs. I might not always agree with Dayton’s offensive signings, but pitching-wise he has been a pitching prophet these last two years.

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There is so much more information to digest about this series. Let’s wander over to the news and notes sections of these three games against Pittsburgh:

  • Kris Medlen was activated by the Royals on Monday:

Medlen was almost immediately thrown into action later that night, as he would relieve Yordano Ventura. Medlen went 3.1 innings, giving up 4 hits and 4 runs(including a home run) while walking none and striking out 4. Just looking at the line you wouldn’t be too impressed. But the bigger story is Medlen was able to return from a second Tommy John surgery with good velocity and his home run to Travis Ishikawa continued the struggle he had this year during his rehab starts when facing lefties. I thought for the most part Medlen looked good and was consistently throwing strikes. As of now Medlen will be the long man in the pen, but there is always a chance we will see him in the rotation in due time. Luckily, Medlen is just happy to be on the team:

  • Speaking of Ventura, he continued his inconsistency this season on Monday with one of his worst outings of the year. Ventura went only 4 innings, giving up 10 hits and 6 runs while walking 1 and striking out 7. The biggest issue is that hitters are now sitting on Ventura’s fastball and practically ignoring his off-speed pitches, which is leading to hitters teeing off against him. This also explains some of his numbers:

Even Ventura realized how awful his outing was:

The Royals would send Yordano down to AAA when they activated Jason Vargas before Tuesday’s game. But Ventura didn’t even get out of town…

  • Vargas started Tuesday’s game(which I was in attendance for) and left in the 2nd inning, walking toward the dugout almost instantly after throwing a pitch to Pittsburgh’s Brent Morel. It was pretty obvious that something was majorly wrong after seeing his reaction from the pitch and Kansas City’s worst thoughts were validated on Wednesday:

There is a good chance that Vargas will not only miss the rest of this season, but also all of next season. If he does miss the 2016 season, there is one silver lining to this whole mess:

This also pushes up the need for another starting pitcher for the Royals, with names like Cueto, Gallardo and Price being bandied around. My guess is we see a lower level starter than that, more on the level of a Mike Leake or Aaron Harang. The one definite is that the Royals will need more pitching and need it soon.

  • The one positive of Vargas’ injury is that it gave Joe Blanton a chance to shine on Tuesday night. Blanton came in after Vargas left and threw like a man who knew he could be a roster casualty at any moment. Blanton went 3.2 innings, giving up 2 hits and no runs while while walking none and striking out 5. Not only did Blanton strike out 5, but he struck out the first 4 batters he faced! I think at this point in the season we can’t expect Blanton to throw like this every outing, but he has value and showed it on Tuesday. I think if he can moderate his lows a bit more he has a spot on this team and could stick around through the rest of the season.
  • Alex Rios continues to hit! Rios went 4 for 11 in this series with 2 extra base hits and a big hit on Tuesday night that helped the Royals rally and win. I don’t think Rios will ever blow us away, but a guy who is hitting .339 for July with an .388 OBP works for me. At this point, little victories are just that, victories. He also did this on Monday:

  •   Jarrod Dyson came up big twice in this series. First, there was the 2 run single in the 8th inning on Tuesday that helped Kansas City get on the board and eventually win. Then there was his huge bunt in the 7th inning on Wednesday to score Omar Infante:

I am not the biggest fan of the bunt, but when done correctly I am all for it and think it can be a huge weapon. Dyson bunting is a huge weapon within itself and it was done to perfection on Wednesday. One thing that manager Ned Yost has done this season compared to early last year is his ability to put a player in a situation that plays to his strength and letting him help the ballclub with this positive aspect of their game. Both situations were almost tailor made for Dyson and shows that a player just needs to be put in a situation where he can succeed.

  • One of the funnest parts of a Royals victory is the post-game celebration:

Don’t worry; Salvy always gets his man!

  • Finally, I have to say what a great crop of players Pittsburgh has. We got to see Gerrit Cole pitch a great game, Andrew McCutchen showed why he is one of the top players in the game and Starling Marte threw Eric Hosmer out at second base as Hos was trying to stretch a single into a double. I know it is still a ways away, but a Pirates/Royals World Series would be a lot of fun and would be great for these two organizations that have seen so much bad baseball over the last 20+ seasons.

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Tweets of Royalty 

Kansas City Royals' Salvador Perez (13) dunks Mike Moustakas (8) after their baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates Wednesday, July 22, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. The Royals won 5-1. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Another series down, another series won by the boys in blue. Ever since late September it has felt like we are watching a dream sequence of this Royals team and I am going to wake up and find out it was all a dream. That is how good they have played and how night and day it is to a lot of last year. The Royals now have a funky next couple of days. First, they will play a make-up game on Thursday against the Cardinals, then Houston rides into Kansas City for three games at Kauffman Stadium. Houston has acquired Scott Kazmir from Oakland and the Royals have had some problems against him this year, so I’m sure not looking forward to seeing him and Dallas Keuchel throw against Kansas City. Hopefully the Royals can show Houston the same hospitality that the Astros showed the Royals earlier this year in Houston. Now is not the time to pump the brakes on the train; let’s keep the win train rolling right through the weekend!

 

Second City Showdown: Royals Win Series from White Sox

Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain, right, celebrates with teammate Eric Hosmer after hitting a solo home run during the 13th inning of a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox, Saturday, July 18, 2015, in Chicago. The Royals won 7-6. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

With the All-Star break in the rear-view mirror, it was time for the first place Kansas City Royals to return to action on the field. The Royals were the best team in the first half of the season, and it begged the question: would Kansas City continue their winning ways, or would they stumble in the second half? If the opening series was any indication, we should all be preparing to buy tickets for games being played in October. Hey, who’s buying the confetti for the parade? Let’s go ahead and look at the first series of the second half between the Royals and the Chicago White Sox, a series that saw Kansas City win, 3 games to 1.

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Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain

I would like to thank Lorenzo Cain for making this an easy pick that took no thought on my part. There was no bigger offensive force for the Royals in these four games than Mr. Cain. Lorenzo went 7 for 17 in this series, with 2 home runs, 3 RBI’s, 4 total extra base hits, 2 walks and the game winning hit in Saturday’s 13 inning affair:

There has been a lot of talk of late that Cain should be in the conversation for MVP this season and it is hard to argue with that, especially when you look at his numbers:

As much as he is worthy of the talk, it is not what he is focused on at the moment:

Within the last month Cain has raised his average 20 points, his slugging percentage 57 points and overall has elevated his game this year, as I noted on Friday:

He also did this at the All-Star game this past week:

Last year’s playoffs were Cain’s coming out party. 2015 so far has been Cain letting everyone know he is a force to be reckoned with. He is for real, folks, and still has room to grow. There is still a ceiling for Cain to reach. Think about that for a minute.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Danny Duffy

To this point in the season we have all been waiting for Danny Duffy to ‘step up’. The question has been ‘who is the real Danny Duffy?’ and ‘was last year a fluke?’. Well, it looks like last year’s version of Duffy showed up on Sunday, as he pitched his best game of the year when the Royals needed him the most. Duffy went 8+ innings(he pitched to one batter in the 9th inning), giving up 6 hits and 1 run while while walking 1 and striking out 4. In fact, the best part of Duffy’s performance was his ability to get ahead in the count and let his defense take care of the outs. Duffy produced 16 ground balls and 8 fly balls, helping produce a season best game score of 69. In fact, Duffy had a number of firsts in this game, including the first time he has ever pitched into the 8th inning. I think you can even make the case that it was the best start of his career, rivaling his start last year against Baltimore:

It’s been obvious that the Royals need the rotation to perform better for them to be a force in the playoffs(if they reach them). Having Danny Duffy perform like he has since his return from the disabled list(31 innings in 5 starts, 2.27 ERA and an opponents batting average of .259) would help the Royals in a huge way and make it to where they won’t need to go out and acquire another arm for the stretch drive.

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They Call Him ‘Shortstop Jesus’

A big part of the Royals success these last two seasons has been the stellar defense that Kansas City puts on the field on a daily basis. A big part of that improvement was when the Royals traded Zack Greinke to Milwaukee and got back two top notch defensemen in Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar. I have been a Escobar supporter pretty much since day one and this series was no different, as Escobar showed why he is one of the top defensive shortstops in baseball:

 

 

 

I really hope this is the year Escobar wins a Gold Glove, but I know there is some healthy competition in the likes of JJ Hardy and Erick Aybar. The national recognition can only help his case at this point.

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 17:  Alcides Escobar #2 of the Kansas City Royals yells for throw to second base as Adam Eaton #1 of the Chicago White Sox is safe during the seventh inning on July 17, 2015 at U.S. Cellular Field  in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

There was more that went on in this series. Let’s take a look at some news and notes from a busy three days in Chicago:

  • It was great to see all the Royal love earlier in the week for the All-Star game. Watching Escobar get a hit, Wade Davis pitch a scoreless frame and Lorenzo Cain make his case for game MVP really gave me the warm and fuzzies. I wasn’t even bothered by Mike Moustakas striking out against Aroldis Chapman. Hey, he fouled off a 102 MPH pitch; that almost feels like a moral victory. Hey, it was even great to see Rusty Kuntz get a little bit of camera time. Let’s hope moving forward that the All-Star game is a regular thing for the Royal blue.
  • To start off the second half, the Royals are the Las Vegas favorites to win the World Series:

I can’t even fathom the last time this Kansas City team was the favorite to win it all. They still have to go out and win the games, but right now it is looking good that we could be seeing another ‘Blue October’.

  • John Lamb was called up on Friday to be the 26th man in the doubleheader:

Considering where Lamb was just a year ago, this is a great thing to see. Lamb has had a good year down in AAA and with the way the Royals rotation has been performing as of late, it wouldn’t be a horrible idea to give him a start or two. I’m not saying Lamb is the answer, but he couldn’t be worse than some of the others Kansas City has been trotting out to the mound as of late.

  • There has been a lot of talk of late about what the Royals should do before the trade deadline, and even more talk about big names like Johnny Cueto and David Price. I like both guys, but for two months I’m not for sure they are worth what the organization would be giving up. I would prefer Kansas City go after a lower level starter, like Mike Leake of Cincinnati and also go after another outfielder to make up for the loss of Alex Gordon(and Alex Rios’ sub-par play). Cameron Maybin of Atlanta and Gerardo Parra of Milwaukee are both good fits for the Royals, as they are great defensive outfielders that aren’t horrible hitters. I would really love to get Ben Zobrist, but that seems like a bit of a long shot for this club. What is definite is that it doesn’t always take a true no. 1 starter to get you through the playoffs:

  • Since it has become a regular thing now, Mike Moustakas is just two hits away from reaching his 2014 total for hits. Moose currently sits at 95 and he accumulated 97 hits all of last year. There are a number of good candidates for Comeback Player of the Year (I see you, Albert) but to me Moustakas has improved the most from last year. Look where he was at a year ago and where he is now, and it is literally like night and day.
  • I’ve given Alex Rios a lot of grief this year(and most of it deserved) but he did put together a good series to kick off the second half. For these four games, Rios hit .385/.500/.692 with a home run, a double and 3 walks. With Gordon out, the Royals really need to get some production from Rios and this weekend was a nice re-start for him to show he deserves to have his name written into the lineup every day.
CHICAGO, IL - JULY 17:  Greg Holland #56 of the Kansas City Royals (L) is congratulated by Drew Butera #9 after a win over the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on July 17, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Royals defeated the White Sox 4-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Tweets of Royalty

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Another series win for the Royals means they extend their lead in the American League Central as the Pittsburgh Pirates come to town to play three. I’m looking forward to this series, as I am a fan of a number of Pittsburgh players(McCutchen, Marte) and have long considered Pittsburgh to be a lot like the Royals in the way they play. It also is a big week for the Royals, as they play three teams who have a good shot at making the playoffs(Pittsburgh, St. Louis for one game, then Houston). It should be a fun time at ‘The K’ this week and I will be in attendance at one of the games this week. If the offense can keep rolling, we could be seeing a fun weekend in Kansas City. All in all, this series against Chicago kicked off the second half the right way and hopefully this Royals train keeps on rolling.

 

 

 

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