A Royal Thank You

Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

It is the norm this time of year to take a step back, reflect and ponder all that we are thankful for. When it comes to baseball that becomes even more prominent at this time, as the season has wrapped up and the yearly awards have been handed out to their (normally) deserving parties.

So with that said, I figured I would go ahead and toss out what I am thankful for this holiday season:

Credit: AP Photo/Colin E. Braley

I am thankful the Royals didn’t have the worst record in baseball. Yes, it was a rough year, but there was also a glint of hope in the final two months.

It’s hard not to be thankful for Whit Merrifield defying the odds. No one pictured Whit being a regular major leaguer, let along becoming the best player on the Royals roster. Whitley has worked himself into a five win player, and I’m impressed by that every day.

I’m thankful for still having a reason to cheer for Danny Duffy. It would have been easy to consider him a lost cause after some of the issues he incurred in 2017. Instead, Duffy is still the guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, giving to help others and working through his flaws. His character is a big reason why a lot of us still root for his success.

How about Brad Keller’s rookie season? One of the brightest spots in this past 2018 campaign was the performance of Keller, who was just expected to be part of the back-end of the bullpen. Instead he turned his success as a reliever into a shot at the starting rotation and then never left. His rise this season has given more hope for 2019.

Credit: 
Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I’m thankful Salvador Perez is still smiling. It would be easy for a player like Salvy to not smile as much, considering the Royals first half and all of his friends leaving for greener pastures. Instead, he still has that childlike aura whenever he steps onto the field. Hopefully that smile never fades from his face.

I am thankful that former Royals Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Joakim Soria, Erik Kratz and a host more got to enjoy October baseball this year. The legacy of those 2014-2015 teams live on with the players who helped get Kansas City a world championship.

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Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Speaking of former Royals, I’m thankful Kansas City was unable to bring Eric Hosmer back to the fold. While he is dearly loved by the fanbase, a contract even close to what San Diego paid him could have very well crippled the Royals future and made it harder to contend. Instead, the payroll should start seeing a slide downward soon, giving Kansas City the flexibility they will need.

Since we are talking about first baseman, I’m thankful for Ryan O’Hearn’s surprising ascent to the majors. No one expected him to get recalled, yet he went out and hit .262/.353/.597 in 44 games and gave himself the frontrunner’s spot at the first base position this spring. As someone watching him rise through the Kansas City system, it was a welcome surprise.

I’m also thankful to see Hunter Dozier healthy and getting an opportunity in 2018. It appeared that Dozier got more comfortable as the season progressed and he even put together a very solid August, hitting .280/.321/.467. Dozier will have some competition at third base this spring, but the opportunities will continue. 

How have I gotten this deep into what I’m thankful for and not mentioned Adalberto Mondesi? The kid was finally given the keys to shortstop and made the most of it his last two months. He hit .280/.316/.533 for August and September with 11 home runs, 21 total extra base hits and 24 stolen bases. The strike outs are still a concern, but 2019 will still be just his age 23 season and his ceiling appears to be even higher. Need a simple reason to visit the ballpark in 2019? That reason is Mondesi.

Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

 I’m thankful for Jakob Junis’ slider. That pitch is a beast.

I’m thankful for the performance of Jorge Lopez in Minnesota and giving us a glimpse of what he can do for Kansas City in the future. Actually, let’s give a nod for how Heath Fillmyer pitched as well. For the Royals to take some big steps forward next year, they are going to need some of the young pitching to step up.

Credit: 
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

I will always be thankful for Alex Gordon’s glove. It is still as golden as it was seven years ago and shows there is still some value in the player. Cherish 2019, cause that very well could be the swan song for Alex.

Looking ahead, it’s good to see GM Dayton Moore replenish the farm system this past year. Between multiple deals of veterans being shipped off for young talent, overseas signings and the draft, the lower minors appear to be Kansas City’s hope for the future. Maybe the most important item of interest to watch next year will be the development of players like Brady Singer, Seuly Matias and Nick Pratto. The Royals have some players with high upside that still have room to grow.

I’m thankful that Moore didn’t sign Luke Heimlich. Although as time moves on, it appears I probably should thank ownership for Heimlich not being signed. Let’s hope that whole circus is over with.

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Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY Sports

I’m thankful for Brett Phillips’ arm. And his personality. And that laugh. Actually, Phillips is just an easy guy to root for. Hopefully his play on the field shines as much as his demeanor.

Here’s to seeing what Jorge Soler can do in 2019. If last year was a tease, than an injury-free Soler could be a lot of fun next summer. But he has to stay healthy, which hasn’t been easy up to this point.

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Ed Zurga/Getty Images

I’m thankful Jason Adam got to procure a lifelong dream in 2018. Sometimes dreams do come true.

Staying within the baseball world, I’m thankful we still have personalities in the game like Bartolo Colon. “Big Sexy” is good for the game and the game needs players like him. I mean that in every way possible.

I’m thankful for all the young talent in the game right now. Never before has this much younger talent been such a focal point of baseball. Hopefully that continues well into the future.

Credit: MLB.com

October is still the funnest time of the year and I am thankful we even got a couple of Game 163’s! I’ve been wanting chaos for years and we finally got it this October.

I’m thankful Pitching Ninja is allowed to do his thing on Twitter. It’s a better world with him in it.

and finally, I’m thankful that my passion for the game hasn’t waned over all these years. I often tell people that my first love is baseball and outside of the strike, it has never left my side. I get so much joy from a child’s game and continuing to follow it has forced me to expand my world and my mind. I am better for loving baseball and hopefully baseball is better for letting us play a small part in it.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Now it’s your turn. What are you thankful for during this time of year?  

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Lifting the Blueprint

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Credit: Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Milwaukee Brewers have been on quite a tear these last few weeks and it’s been hard not to get caught up in all the fun. They can hit, they can run, they like to flash the leather and they can pitch. For us Royals fans, this team looks oddly familiar.

Sure, there are the familiar faces littering the roster. It’s easy to get wrapped up in watching Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and even Erik Kratz (Erik Kratz!!) have postseason success. Throw in Joakim Soria, Jeremy Jeffress and even Manny Pina and at times it feels more like a Kansas City reunion than an October playoff run.

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But maybe more than all of that is Milwaukee’s focus on their bullpen. The Brewers have had no qualms in October with pulling their starting pitching early and letting the pen take over the game. Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell has figured out how to utilize his relievers and configure them to help achieve the wins needed to parlay that into a trip to the World Series.

Hold on. That sounds really familiar. What other team rode one of the best bullpens in baseball all the way to the World Series? Yes, it would be the Royals. In fact, many within the game believe Kansas City’s use of high power arms in the back-end of the game was a precursor to about every single postseason team that has followed. The latest to steal the Royals formula are the Brewers and so far, so good.

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But that begs an interesting question: If the Royals are the template, has Milwaukee improved on the original? Watching the Brewers roll out Josh Hader and Jeffress and Soria and Corey Knebel has really sparked a question of the two bullpens and just how comparable they really are. So lets figure out which is the better pen…

For this project I had to make a decision on which year would I go off of for the Kansas City. After some studying it appears we are going with the group from 2014, which was slightly better according to fWAR. This would also coincide with the Royals first appearance in the postseason this decade, as it is for Milwaukee.

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Credit: Associated Press

Let’s start with some base numbers to start things off: Milwaukee relievers threw 614 innings this season, compiling an ERA of 3.47, an xFIP of 3.47 while striking out 10.38 batters per 9 innings. Meanwhile, the Royals pen only through 464 innings back in 2014, posting an ERA of 3.30, an xFIP of 3.54, while striking out 8.65 batters per 9. If we are talking WAR, the ‘Brew Crew’ had 7.1 while Kansas City only had 5.1 wins above replacement.

Going by the early numbers, it is already apparent the drastic shift in bullpen usage over the last couple of seasons. Milwaukee relievers threw 150 more innings this season than the Royals did in the 2014 campaign. Even going off of the 2015 Royals pen, the Brewers still tossed 75 more innings than the world championship squad. So in just four short years, there has been a noticeable difference in how pitchers are being used in the regular season, a change that is probably slightly attributed to how the Kansas City relievers were utilized in those two Octobers.

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Credit: Getty Images

With that said, the early numbers paint a picture of the Milwaukee pen being slightly better, as they had a slightly better xFIP, slightly higher K’s per 9 and a 2 win bump in WAR. But one can make the argument that the increase in WAR could be due to the massive difference in innings pitched, since WAR is an accumulative stat. The more innings you pitch, the more chances you have to increase your wins above replacement.

The strike outs are also interesting here, since most tend to go more off of K rate rather than per 9. The Brewers strike out rate this year was 27.6% (best in the National League), while the ’14 Royals put up a 23% rate. Considering the increase in strike outs across the league over the last couple seasons and how more batters work on elevating the ball while hitting for more power, it shouldn’t be too surprising to see how these numbers panned out.

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Credit: Getty Images

But how do the strike outs compare to the walks allowed? Going off of Walk %, the Brewers had a higher percentage, 9.5% compared to 8.8% by the Royals. When it comes to K-BB%, Milwaukee shines again as they posted a 18.1% while Kansas City had a 14.3%. Once again, part of this could be chalked up to the increase in strike outs. But it does appear on the surface that the Brewers are a pen built on more strike out relievers than the Royals.

That is backed up simply by looking at how many of the relievers on these two teams had a strike out rate over league average. League average in 2018 is 22.3% and Milwaukee had seven relievers with a rate higher than that. In 2014, the league average was 20.4%, and the Royals had only three relievers over that threshold. If we are talking the highest strike out rate, Josh Hader had 46.7% this year while Wade Davis had 39.1%. In fact, Hader and Corey Knebel both had a higher rate of punching out batters than Wade Davis did back in 2014.

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So the numbers appear to skew a bit closer to Milwaukee’s side at this point, but we are not quite done breaking down the numbers. When it comes to WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched), the two teams are almost identical, as Milwaukee has a 1.25 and Kansas City pulled in a 1.24. This means the two teams were almost uniform in how many base runners they were allowing per innings pitched, which would essentially phase out the innings difference.

They were also similar when it came to Batting Average on Balls in Play, as the Royals posted a .293 batting average, while Milwaukee’s was .297. While a part of me wondered if the Brewers relievers were throwing slightly harder (based off the higher use of power arms in bullpens now compared to then and Milwaukee’s higher strike out rate), the truth is that the two teams had an almost identical average fastball velocity. Back in 2014, the Royals relievers averaged 93.5 mph while the Brewers this year averaged 93.9 mph.

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Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

In fact even if you tossed in fastball usage, the Royals relievers actually threw their fastball more on average than Milwaukee. The Royals relievers back in 2014 threw a fastball 63.2% of the time while the Brewers only threw it 61.8% this year.

I wondered if maybe Milwaukee was throwing more breaking balls than Kansas City did, but once again it was pretty close. The Royals used a slider 18.5% of the time and a curveball 7%. On the other side of the coin, Milwaukee used a slider 17.2% this year and a curve 10% of the time. While each team used a different breaking ball more often, the numbers are close enough to where they could probably meet in the middle.

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Credit: Jamie Squire / Getty Images

If we really want to break things down, you start factoring win probability into the equation. In a very unsurprising development, these two teams were once again are ‘neck and neck’ in WPA; the Royals posted 8.09 win probability in ’14 while the Brewers had 8.06. In a bit of a shock though, the two teams RE24 showed a big gap. Milwaukee posted an impressive 59.96 RE24 this year while the Royals had 31.10. Since run expectancy is another accumulative statistic, I do wonder here if the extra innings compiled by the Brewers relievers played a factor in the almost 29 point difference. If so, you wonder how closer the two teams would be if they had thrown the same number of innings.

There was one final factor I wanted to venture into and that was the defensive aspect of this conversation. It was very well known that the 2014 Royals squad had a great defense and there was no way the pitching didn’t benefit from that defense. With that said, this Milwaukee team has also put up a solid defensive campaign, with Cain and Moustakas obviously being the two comparable links.

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If we are going by defensive runs saved, it is no contest: the Brewers had 112 DRS while the Royals put up only 34. But there is also Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF), which measures a player’s defensive value relative to league average. If we are comparing each team’s DEF, the Royals win easily over Milwaukee, 65.5 compared to 29.9. I’m always a bit hesitant when using defensive metrics but the one thing you can take from these numbers is that both bullpens benefited from the glovework done out on the field while they were in the game.

So which pen is better? It appears to be a very close race and I almost feel skeptical in picking a winner. But if I absolutely had to, I would probably say Milwaukee’s is slightly better, with a few more weapons at their disposal. The one thing we can agree on is that we wouldn’t even be having this discussion if not for how Dayton Moore built his teams to weigh so heavily on the shoulders of the relievers. That template has become a staple all around baseball and not just by the Brewers.

It will also be curious to see where Milwaukee ends up. The Royals bullpen got them all the way to Game 7 of the World Series in 2014, and then a world championship the following year. Will the Brewers ride their pen to the World Series or will the high usage of their relievers be their downfall? It is a question we will know the answer to soon enough.

Deja Vu All Over Again: Royals Take 2 of 3 Games, Win Series Over Indians

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The last few weeks have had a deep focus on the Kansas City Royals goal of winning the American League Central, as the team has faced off with almost exclusively all central division opponents. In fact, the Royals have been real chummy as of late with both the Tigers and Indians, as they faced them both last week, and face both this week as well. Interestingly enough, the Royals took both series against the Indians, just finishing off Cleveland winning 2 out of their 3 game series, much like Kansas City did last week in Cleveland. Some things were different though, and what better way to start than with the straw that stirred the drink in these last 3 games.

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Series MVP: Eric Hosmer

Eric Hosmer has obviously hit a hot spell, as this is the second straight series that I have given him the title of ‘Series MVP’. I mentioned last week how Eric has improved in many areas of his game, most notably at the plate. Hosmer was 5 for 12 in this series, with 2 home runs and 8 driven in. In all he had 4 extra base hits this series(add in a double and a triple) and his home run in game 1 of this series was huuuuuge:

It seems minor to mention this, but a lot of Hosmer’s success as of late seems to be connected with his approach at the plate and the lack of movement while in the batters box. Last year you saw him take a big stride as the pitch approached and saw his body have a lot of movement in the process. This year, a more simplified approach has been taken as he takes a short step forward in the box before unloading and attacking the pitch. I honestly believe this has made him a better hitter, one who’s head isn’t flying off the ball and a body that isn’t flailing everywhere. It has definitely kept him locked in this past week as he just punished the ball as of late. If you go back and read the last Detroit series post, I mentioned how Hosmer has been coming up big this year in high leverage situations. Case in point: he not only had the home run showed above, but also this triple late in the game:

So could Eric finally be reaching the potential that we have all discussed for years now? I’m not ready to completely say yes to this, as I want to see how he handles his first slump of the season, as he seems to mentally struggle when that happens. But if he can keep his swing consistent, then we might just be seeing the Hosmer I was starting to believe we were never going to see.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Jason Vargas

The biggest worry for this Royals team early in the season has been the back end of the rotation. Hell, it should probably just be the rotation in general. The two biggest worries have been Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie. Luckily, Mr. Vargas finally came through with a solid outing on Tuesday night, his second quality start of the year. Vargas was roughed up a bit in the first inning, giving up 2 runs, but after that he was a rock. His final line had him throwing 6 innings, giving up 2 hits and 2 runs, while walking 2 and striking out 5. Ten of Vargas’ 18 outs were from fly balls and he kept his pitch count around 80. Vargas won’t blow hitters away but if he can locate his pitches(which has been his big issue so far) and not allow many base runners, he can be a consistent force in the back of the rotation. Unfortunately, Vargas has gone on the disabled list with a strained flexor muscle and looks to be missing 2 to 3 starts. Normally that is a precursor for Tommy John surgery, but it appears that there is no damage to the ligament and a little rest and then some light tossing should do the trick. For now, Vargas’ spot in the rotation will be taken by Chris Young, who will start on Sunday against Detroit.

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Now onto a few more thoughts as the Royals stay their ground with Detroit in the American League Central:

  • Coming off of his best start of the year, Danny Duffy struggled mightily on Wednesday night. In fact it was easily his worst start of the year, as he only got 3 outs, giving up 6 hits and 4 runs while hitting 2 batters and striking out no one. Duffy didn’t really have control of any of his pitches, as his location was way off and his slider was the cause of the 2 hit batsman. All the way around it was an ugly start from a pitcher who the Royals really need to step up and be a stabilizing force at the top of the rotation. Hopefully Duffy can bounce back when he starts on Monday in Texas.
  • Speaking of rough outings this week, Edinson Volquez would fit that criteria on Thursday afternoon. Most of this season Volquez has kept his walk totals down, which has always been a bit of a hindrance for him throughout his career. On Thursday, Volquez went only 3 innings, giving up 2 hits, and 3 runs with 6 walks and 2 strikeouts. It was hard not to worry that the ‘old’ Volquez had reared his ugly head but it turns out there was a reason for Volquez’s loss of control in the 3rd inning:

Yep, that baby exploded in the 3rd and caused Volquez to fall of the rails. Apparently this happens about twice a year for him and it’s always in               the same spot, on the knuckle’s inside, right below the fingernail. Neither Volquez or manager Ned Yost are worried he will miss his next start,               even if that means pitching through a hardened blister. That is good news, as Volquez has probably been the most consistent pitcher the Royals             have had this year.

  • Backup catcher Erik Kratz went on the disabled list this week with a left foot ailment(I know, I would have figured it was splinters in his rear end, from sitting on the bench so much) and the Royals went and acquired backup catcher Drew Butera (he of the famous catching Butera family)from the Angels. I like the move, if for no reason other than the fact that Butera is a good defensive catcher who works well with pitchers. He’s not going to hit a lick, but he can provide Salvador Perez  day off…I know, crazy talk, right?
  • Alex Gordon continues to swing a good stick, as he went 3 for 11 in this series, mainly from the leadoff spot. He has been filling in there for Alcides Escobar, as he recovers from getting hit in the head in Cleveland last week. Gordon was also hit by a pitch on Thursday, the 7th time this year he has been hit.
  • Closer Greg Holland returned from the disabled list this week, sending Yohan Pino down to Omaha. The Royals bullpen also saw the return of Luke Hochevar in Thursday’s game, throwing an inning of work, giving up no hits and striking out 2. If the key part of this pen stays healthy, it could be scary good. Holland, Davis, Herrera, Madson and Hochevar by themselves is a frightening thought for opposing teams. As much weight as we’ve put into the rotation needing to go deeper into games, the same argument could be made that as long as the starters go 5 innings, the bullpen can pick up the rest of the heavy lifting. Scary thought, folks.

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Tweets of Royalty    

 

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So another series win for the Royals and that will lead into a big weekend in Detroit, as Kansas City takes on the Tigers for 3 games. Methinks this will be a fun series that will have the feel of a pennant race, as it should. Yordano Ventura should return on Friday night, off suspension, and Sunday night the game will be on ESPN, which most of us longtime Royals fans know doesn’t happen very often(are the Red Sox/Yankees not playing this weekend?). A series win in Detroit would be huge, especially since the Royals will continue their road trip to Texas for 4 games next week. You have to love this feeling, that of a Royals team that is contending and is near the top of the division. In all honesty, that is all I’ve ever really wanted. The Royals and Tigers games should be considered a big deal, as it has become a big rivalry the last 2 years. Now lets take 2 of 3 and leave Detroit in first place!

 

Misguided Anger: Royals Win Series Against A’s, Put Target on Their Own Back

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When this series started out I had some feel good vibes. Billy Butler was back in town, we would be reminded of the great Wild Card game last year against the A’s and more than anything we were going to see two good teams lock horns. Instead, those vibes left the building early on and by the end of the series I wanted to forget the last 3 days even happened. We will get to the insanity in a moment, but I’d like to bring back a few good feelings first.

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Series MVP: Eric Hosmer

A part of me didn’t want to pick anyone, just for the fact that no one really stood out. Friday was a good night for the offense, with 3 batters getting 3 hits apiece, but Saturday the bats were virtually silent and Sunday it took 3/4 of the game to get much going. Yes, the Royals offense this weekend looked more like the 2014 edition of the Royals. That being said, Eric Hosmer had a good series, going 6 for 10, with an RBI, and 2 walks, including a big base on balls in Sunday’s contest that helped fuel the rally in the bottom of the 8th inning. The only downside to his 6 hits was that they were all singles and continues to not really drive the ball much. Hey, I’m glad the guy is starting to find some holes and get on base(both good things), but as a cleanup hitter a few extra base hits would go a long way toward getting his power numbers to get in a upward projectory. All in all a good series for Hos and hopefully one he can grow on with Minnesota coming into town.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Yohan Pino

I would have loved to give this nod to one of the starting pitchers in this series. Unfortunately, all 3 were way off from giving the Royals quality starts. One pitcher that did excel over the weekend was Yohan Pino, who was recalled from AAA Omaha on Saturday to take the roster spot of closer Greg Holland, who would go on the 15-Day DL. Pino would almost immediately be called upon, as he would replace Yordano Ventura in the 4th inning after his implosion set off a number of bad decisions. All Pino would do in his Royals debut is go 4. 2 innings, giving up only 3 hits while walking none and striking out 3. The Royals needed someone to come in and right the ship and Pino did just that. I don’t know how long we will see Pino up with the big league club, but for now he has earned the right for at least a few more outings. Good to see there was at least some good news on the pitching side of things during these 3 games.

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There Goes Any Good Feelings I Had This Weekend

I guess it’s time to address the elephant in the room. If anything is going to be remembered from this past weekend, it is the bad blood that boiled over between the Royals and A’s. It all started Friday night as a ball glanced off Kelvin Herrera’s foot and was picked up by Mike Moustakas. Moose would attempt to get Brett Lawrie out at second base, which caused Lawrie to start his slide into second late, catching Alcides Escobar and injuring him. Some feel it was a dirty slide; I tend to agree with Ned Yost on this(Yes, I know. You don’t hear those words from me very often). Let’s let Neddy explain:

The worse thing Lawrie did there was to come in with his spikes up. Once again, I didn’t then nor now feel like there was any bad intentions on Lawrie’s part, nor do I feel like any of it was malicious:

So this led to Saturday night, where most baseball fans felt like Lawrie was probably going to be hit at some point, even if I’m not even 100% for sure he deserved it. In his first plate appearance Yordano Ventura did throw a pitch that was up and in a bit. Honestly, that was good enough for me. Message sent and hopefully we can all just move on from the stupidity of what was an aggressive slide that ended up injuring someone. Instead, after Josh Reddick rocked a Ventura pitch into the right field bleachers, Lawrie would step up to the plate and would get hit by a 100 mph pitch in the elbow. Ventura, obviously upset that his night was soon coming to an end, decided that was the right time for “revenge”. As I sat in the outfield at Kauffman Stadium, listening to the other Royals fans cheer their heads off, all I could keep thinking was that this whole thing was stupid. Fine, stick up for your guy, but if you are going to pay Lawrie back, do it in the first at bat. Otherwise, choosing to do it after giving up a home run makes you look immature and letting your emotions decide your decisions. Obviously, I felt like the weird fan in the crowd who felt like Lawrie didn’t even do anything majorly wrong, or at least not to put up with this circus. By the way, Lawrie did a good job after he got hit of just walking to first base and staying there while the benches and bullpens emptied. It did seem as if at that time he kept the cooler head. Ventura was ejected(rightfully so) and the game moved on. My serious hope was that we were done with all the shenanigans and Sunday’s game would be a contest just about baseball.

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Unfortunately, Sunday’s game wouldn’t be any better. In the bottom of the first inning, A’s pitcher Scott Kazmir hit Lorenzo Cain in the foot with a pitch. This led to the Royals bench chirping at Kazmir while the umpires dished out warnings to both teams. I’ve actually heard people say they think Kazmir hit Cain intentionally. Really?

As far as I am concerned, Kazmir went a bit more inside than he wanted and caught Cain’s foot. It happens. There was no reason to eject Kazmir, as it wasn’t done on purpose and a pitcher should still be allowed to pitch inside. Manager Ned Yost and pitching coach Dave Eiland were both ejected, which led to a nice argument between Yost and the umpires, including Yost throwing out his gum(nice touch). Trust me, I like that this team will stick up for each other and have each other’s back, but you have to distinguish between an intentional pitch and a pitch that just got away. Things seemed to be dying down when in the 8th inning Kelvin Herrera would come in, getting a bit inside with his first pitch to Lawrie. On his next pitch, Herrera would throw one behind Lawrie’s back at 100 mph. Amazingly stupid. There was no reason for it and at that point I just couldn’t defend what my team was doing. Herrera would also point to his head, which Lawrie took as he would get one in the head the next time(which is even worse than everything else that happened in this series):

Lawrie did lose his cool after this, and even started arguing with fans near the A’s dugout. Just horribly stupid. This whole thing could have been avoided if everyone would have just focused on playing the game rather than getting into a some macho feud with no actual intention. I call a spade a spade on this one, and the Royals were in the wrong. I get being upset that they have been hit 14 times in the first 12 games of the season, but I look at that as a gift. Other than maybe a couple against Chicago the first series of the season, the rest of the hit by pitches have not been intentional. In fact, these have all been free baserunners for the Royals, many of which helped keep rallies going and helped Kansas City score runs. Yes, it’s not fun to get hit that much, but take the free base and make them pay for doing that. The proper revenge in any of these scenarios is to go out there and get Lawrie out. That is the best revenge.

By the way, welcome back, Billy Butler…

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Onto other thoughts from this series(and I am done discussing this feud until the Royals visit Oakland in June):

  • My favorite part of the weekend was Billy Butler getting his American League Championship ring. A lot has been said about Billy the last few years but even at the end he didn’t want to leave. There is something to be said for him wanting to stay in Kansas City.
  • One of the nice things that probably went unnoticed this past weekend was how we started seeing a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to Omar Infante and Alex Gordon and their offensive woes. Infante went 4 for 8 in the series with 2 RBI’s and has pushed his average up to .250. Unfortunately, he also left Sunday’s game with a groin strain so we will see how much action he sees against the Twins. Gordon went 3 for 8, including a 2 hit game on Saturday night. Gordon is still a bit behind because of his wrist surgery this offseason but it is just a matter of time until he starts getting hot.
  • As mentioned earlier in the pitching performance section, the Royals starting pitchers did not have a good weekend. Jeremy Guthrie looked like a batting practice pitcher on Friday, Ventura had control issues on Saturday and Danny Duffy looked very unfocused this afternoon. The offense and bullpen won’t be able to pick this team up every time the rotation falters, so there is a need to see some quality starts as we get closer to May.
  • Closer Greg Holland going on the disabled list is never a good thing, but if there is a preferred time for it to happen, it would be now. The team has plenty of depth, and with Luke Hochevar probably coming back in May it could get even deeper. Hopefully Holland will only be down for a bit and is able to get back to action soon.
  • Erik Kratz not only got into a game, but he appeared in 2 games this week! Kratz got the start on Sunday, but as always, was replaced by Perez late in the game. I know Kratz looked like a guy who hadn’t appeared in a game in 3 weeks…because he hadn’t! Plus, if you don’t allow Perez to get a full day of rest, they are going to be back in the situation they were in late in the seasonlast year, that of Salvy looking tired and his offense suffering. Kratz is not such a bad defender or hitter that a few extra innings of him will cost the Royals any games.
  • Anyone else think Salvy’s hit down the third base line on Friday night was eerily similar to his game winning hit in the Wild Card Game?

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Out of all of this mess is has probably been forgotten that the Royals won the series, 2 games to 1. The Royals are sitting at 9-3, a game behind Detroit in the American League Central. The Twins are coming to Kauffman Stadium to kick off a 3 game series on Monday and hopefully the results are different than last week’s trip to Minnesota. Oh, and Kyle Gibson is pitching for Minnesota on Monday, which is not good. Let’s hope the Royals keep their excitement for this series while holding back any deep thoughts of revenge or retribution. Oh, and I’m looking forward to saying ‘Plouffe’ this week. I can neither say nor deny whether or not that Trevor’s name is my ‘safe word’. So onward and upward we go, to a land where we only discuss the baseball played on the field, not the extracurricular activities. Hey, a guy can dream!

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

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

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Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain

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

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

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

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Revenge Can Be Overrated

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

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Other notes from this series:

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Broken Halo: Royals Sweep Angels

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Series two of the season is in the rearview mirror and it seemed pretty close to a carbon copy of the opening series against the White Sox, as the Royals won all three games, sweeping the Angels. In fact, the series also continued the Royals dominance over Los Angeles, as it probably felt like a reminder to the Angels of last years American League Divisional Series which Kansas City also swept. With that said, lets take a deeper look into the Royals first jaunt to the west coast this year.

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Series MVP: Salvador Perez

Like the last series it once again could have gone to a few players, as the offense is just really clicking right now. An admiral nod to Kendrys Morales who has continued to hit, adding a home run against his former team and is up to 4 RBI’s on the season and an OPS+ of 215. A healthy nod as well to both Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas who continued to get on base while Moose hit a massive home run on Saturday night. But to me the real MVP goes to Salvador Perez, who just continues to hit. Salvy hit two more home runs against the Angels while driving in 4 and hitting at a .385 clip and slugging .846 in the series. His 5 hits were big hits and his offensive struggles late last season seem like a distant memory at this point. To add to his offense Salvy has also not allowed a stolen base on the season and guided the Royals to a couple of good pitching performances over the weekend. I don’t know whether or not Perez enjoys hitting near the bottom of the order(as he has so far this season) but offensively it sure seems to be agreeing with him.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: The Royals Bullpen

There was nothing wrong with the Royals starters in this series(although I worried about Jeremy Guthrie early on) but the fact we are sitting here a week in and the bullpen hasn’t allowed a run is special. So far in 2015 the Royals bullpen has pitched 16.1 innings and has given up 6 hits, 3 walks, no runs with 17 strikeouts. In fact their K/9 is just under 10 at 9.37. Look, we all know this bullpen is a force to be reckoned with. But they have faced a couple of good offensive teams in the White Sox and the Angels and have shut them down. Chris Young and Jason Frasor got some work in on Sunday and both continued the work that stalwarts like Wade Davis and Greg Holland have been doing since last year. It’s still early but I am of the belief this pen might be even deeper than last year’s squad.

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What Was That?

If you watched Sunday’s game you saw a bit of a fracas break out between Angels star Mike Trout and the Royals starter Yordano Ventura. It appeared that earlier in the inning Trout had lined one up the middle, breezing by Ventura’s head and caused Yordano to stare down Trout while he jogged to first base. When Trout scored later in the inning Ventura was backing Perez behind the plate and Trout had a few words directed towards Yordano. This caused Perez to grab Ventura and escort him away from home plate. This caused the benches to empty although nothing happened besides Mike Moustakas and Johnny Giavotella exchanging brownie recipes. So what did Ventura take umbrance with? Who knows if it was the ball coming close to his dome or just the fact Trout got a hit, but it appeared it had more to do with the heat of the moment than anything. In fact I felt it was almost like Ventura not liking that someone got a hit off of him. Yes, it appears dumb but Ventura is young and does seem to get worked up during game action. Personally I didn’t feel like Trout did anything wrong, although he probably could have just kept quiet when he scored and not escalate anything. Chalk it up to adrenaline pumping and possibly even a bit of the Angels being upset a the Royals dominance against them. Hopefully Ventura will remember to stay calm the next time these two teams face off.

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Other notes from this series:

  • Speaking of Ventura, he came out of the game with 2 outs in the 6th with a leg cramp. So if you are scoring at home that is 2 games and 2 times he left a game due to a cramp of some sorts. Obviously Ventura needs to stay hydrated and maybe eat some bananas, because most fans quit breathing everytime he has to leave a game due to a physical issue.
  • I mentioned Morales’ great hitting so far in the season and so far Alex Rios has hit as well. Rios got 4 more hits in the Angels series and had a slash line of .308/.385/.692 over these three games. The only thing we aren’t seeing much of his Rios driving the ball but it is early on and hopefully we will see some extra base hits from him in the Minnesota series.
  • On the other part of the spectrum is Alex Gordon and Omar Infante. Infante showed a bit of life in this series with 3 hits and a line of .250/.250/.333 with 2 RBI’s but is still hitting under .200. Gordon has looked like a man who had wrist surgery in the offseason, which he did. Gordon was MIA offensively in this series, going 0 for 7. Like I’ve said, it’s early so I’m not worried about either guy. But at some point it would be nice to see both add to the offensive carnage we have seen so far from Kansas City in 2015.
  • Speaking of Gordon, manager Ned Yost has been resting him on day games after night games to help him bounce back from missing the early part of spring training recuperating from that wrist surgery. That has given backup outfielder Paulo Orlando the chance for two starts and the Brazilian has thanked them by hitting 3 triples for the first 3 hits of his big league career(a major league record). Orlando is a great story as he has been in the minor leagues for 9 years and finally made the big league roster at the age of 29 this year. It’s not for sure how long he will stick with the team but so far he is making the case for keeping him on the roster and giving the team an extra bat off the bench. Congrats to him, as it has been a great story so far.
  • We are 6 games in and Jarrod Dyson has still not appeared in a game. Weird. I expect this sort of stuff out of Erik Kratz, who also hasn’t appeared in a game, not Dyson. I hope this changes soon.
  • Finally, the Royals have been hit by a pitch 10 times so far this. 10 times!!! To say this seems a bit ridiculous would be an understatement. I don’t think any of it is intentional, but it has gotten old. I guess at the end of the day if the other team is willing to give them a free base, the Royals should just take it.

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So the Royals are now 6-0 and will take their unbeaten ways to Minnesota to take on the division dweller Twins. So far Minnesota has struggled scoring in 2015 and hopefully the arms of Danny Duffy, Edinson Volquez and Jason Vargas can keep that theme going. The Royals are currently keeping pace with the Tigers at the top of the Central but it would be nice to see them step ahead and leave Detroit looking up at our boys in blue. Just three in Minnesota and then the Royals will return home to Kansas City to face Oakland. It’s early but this Royals team looks a lot like the team we saw in October last year, and that is a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

Royals’ Spring Hopefuls

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One of the great things about Spring Training every year is that it’s the beginning for younger players to show what they can do. It’s also a proving ground for wily veterans to work with a clean slate and start anew. Every year there is a surprise(Arizona) player(or players) that the big league club didn’t have penciled in as a part of the major league team that leaves them with no other choice than to bring them up north to begin the season. There is no guarantee that any of the players I am going to bring up here will be with the team on Opening Day against Chicago but they are all interesting cases that are with the Kansas City Royals this spring for a variety of reasons. Some you will have heard of, others this will be the first time. But what they all have in common is they want to be in Kansas City to start the year.

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1) Christian Binford

If you follow this blog even mildly you know this isn’t the first time I have mentioned Binford. In fact last year I mentioned he was a prospect to keep an eye on and the Royals had even considered him to be a September call-up out of the pen. This spring is his first in Royals camp but he comes in as the Royals 2014 Minor League Pitcher of the Year and has a good shot of getting the call to the big leagues at some point this year. Binford isn’t going to break any radar guns but he throws strikes(and has a great walk ratio) and great command. The Royals had tried him in the bullpen late in the season at Omaha with less than spectacular results but that doesn’t tarnish his abilities or how the organization views him. Binford compiled 8 starts in AA last year before the experiment in Omaha, and it is a good bet he starts this year back in Northwest Arkansas. But honestly, probably not for long and there is a chance if the Royals need a starter at some point later in the summer Binford could be the one who gets the call. In fact Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland has liked what he has seen from Binford this spring, as he wonders if some of the tinkering with his delivery would add a few miles an hour to his fastball:

“What I’ve seen, I like,” Eiland said. “He’s a strike thrower. He’s got movement. He’s much more downhill, better angle now, once we moved his hands a little bit.”

Binford won’t ever be a top of the rotation starter but could very well fill out the back end of the rotation sooner than later. Binford’s ability to throw strikes and pitch to contact should be a plus with Kansas City’s defense. So don’t be surprised if you hear Binford’s name again before this season is over.

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2) Bubba Starling

Let me clarify here–Bubba Starling will not be on the Royals 25 man roster on Opening Day. That is not why Starling is in camp this spring. He is in camp to get a feel for what goes on at big league camps and learn from the Royals coaches and players. It at least sounds like he is getting adjusted, as Starling started hitting the ball finally in a game, as he struck out his first five plate appearances this spring. The Royals are still holding out hope for the 2011 first round pick, as he is still only 22 years old. Starling’s struggles have been well documented and there is some concern that he might never reach the majors, at least with the numbers he has compiled so far in his minor league career. The hope is that rubbing elbows this spring with the likes of George Brett, Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer will light something under him and will at least bump his career in an upward trajectory. No matter what, the experience of being at big league camp this spring has to be viewed as a positive for ‘The Man They Call Bubba’.

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3) Ryan Madson

Madson is an interesting case for the Royals. On one hand, he is a former closer for the Phillies who has a lethal change-up. On the other hand, he hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2011 and last pitched in a regular season game back in 2013 for the Angels in A ball. Finally, on the other other hand(yep, he has three hands; deal with it), Madson is fighting for a spot in what is already a jammed pack bullpen. Even if the Royals decide to go with 8 pitchers out of the pen to start the season, Madson might be on the outside looking in. The best chance for Madson this season might be to get some velocity back in Omaha and wait for a bullpen arm to get injured. There is some positive to Madson’s story so far this spring, according to the Kansas City Star:

“Madson lacked accuracy with his four-seam fastball, but scouts still clocked the pitch at 91-92 mph, a tick below the 94-mph heater he unleashed with regularity for the Phillies through 2011. His changeup fooled his adversaries, even if they were of the lower-level variety. Manager Ned Yost referred to the offspeed pitch as “a real weapon.”

Hopefully the Royals are able to retain him and keep him stowed away until he is needed. He could be an interesting add to a bullpen late in the season, if the team is making a playoff push. Nothing like another solid arm for an already elite bullpen, if you ask me.

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4) Francisco Pena

I find Pena to be an interesting case. For one, he is the son of former Royals skipper Tony Pena. Two, Pena has been in the minors since 2007 and has cleverly avoided the “prospect” term for the majority of that time. In fact you almost wondered when the Royals acquired him before the 2014 season if they did it because a)of who his dad is or b)they thought his brother, Tony Jr.(former Royals SS) had changed his name or c)they just needed some depth at the catchers position. C seems to be the most likely answer but little did we know that Pena would put together a solid offensive season last year in Omaha, compiling 27 home runs, a.515 slugging percentage and an OPS of .795. Hey, not ‘blow you out of the water’ numbers, but impressive for a guy who had hit a combined 40 home runs the previous 7 minor league seasons. At this moment it appears that Salvador Perez’s personal caddy, Erik Kratz, will be the Royals backup catcher, but if something were to happen to Kratz while sitting on the bench(or getting Perez a cup of water), Pena could see some action in the big leagues. There is also the possibility that Perez will break down like an old Buick due to all the innings manager Ned Yost makes him catch, but I hate the idea that this thought even creeps into my brain. Instead know that Pena is an outside shot to make the big league club but a possibility to warm the bench later in the season.

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5) Franklin Morales

Morales might have the best chance of this group to make the Royals this spring, if for no other reason than because of an injury. Royals left handed reliever Tim Collins has ligament damage in his left elbow and very likely could have Tommy John surgery and miss the 2015 season. That would leave Kansas City with a decision to make in their bullpen, including whether the team should go with another lefty to take Collins’ place in the pen. If they go the route of adding another lefty, Morales very well could be the answer. Morales has flipped back and forth between being a starter or a reliever the last few years with Boston and Colorado, so he is familiar in either role. But the Royals specifically signed him to work out of the pen and that is his best shot at a job for the team. Last year Morales pitched well against left-handed batters, with his splits showing a noticeable difference. In fact if the team wanted to use him as a LOOGY(a left-handed specialist who would primarily pitch to left-handed batters) I think he would be quite successful in that role. A lot of factors will determine whether or not he goes north with the team in April, such as whether or not Luke Hochevar is ready or whether the Royals plan on carrying an 8 man bullpen or not. The other factor is whether or not the team wants to keep Brandon Finnegan as a reliever or if he gets sent to the minors to begin the process of starting again. Either way, a good spring from Morales would go a long way to deciding his fate. A good spring makes the Royals decision harder. A bad spring and Morales is either in Omaha or on the unemployment line, although not for long; I mean, he is left-handed.

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A few weeks still remain in Spring Training, so things could unwind even more before the team heads back to Kansas City to start the season. There’s a good possibility we see a few of the names mentioned here at the least or maybe even most of them. It’s one of the great things about baseball; you never know how a season will unfold. All we know at this point is most of these players are fighting for a spot and want to be with the team the first week of April at Kauffman Stadium. It’s been said before and will be said again; hope springs eternal.

 

Buy or Sell, There is No Standing Pat

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Hey, have you heard the trade deadline is this week? If you have, you know that the Kansas City Royals have been connected to many a rumor, as they fly around like texts from Billy Butler this time of year. This is just a smattering of names rumored to have Dayton Moore’s interest right now: Alex Rios, Marlon Byrd, Antonia Bastardo, Chris Denorfia, Andrew Miller, Jonny Gomes, Dayan Viciedo, Ben Zobrist, and even a hint of Ryan Howard(although I don’t think there is must interest on KC’s part as much as Philadelphia wanting to dump him on someone). It’s apparent the Royals are going to have to pick up another bat if they are serious about contending for a playoff spot. If they aren’t serious(and seriously, what team will really admit that?) then they need to be sellers. But the reports that are leaking out make one wonder if much of anything is going to happen.

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Let’s begin with the trade that went down today. Earlier, the Royals traded Danny Valencia to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for two players who have been playing in AAA, Erik Kratz and Liam Hendriks. By no means is this a “blow the doors off the barn” type of trade, but it does upgrade a few minor things for Kansas City. Kratz will take over the backup catcher spot for Brett Hayes(who was Designated for Assignment to make room for him) and will add a bit more offense to that spot. The move also allows the Royals to carry a backup infielder again, as Christian Colon will be recalled from Omaha. Yep, the Royals have been playing without a true backup infielder for a few weeks now. To make matters worse, it’s not the first time that has happened this year. Roster management isn’t exactly Dayton’s strength. The move also shows that the team has faith that Mike Moustakas has gotten past his struggles of earlier this year(and last year). I’m not 100% convinced Moustakas will ever be anything more than a guy who hits .250, slams around 20 homeruns and plays good defense. But that is another topic for another time. If anything, this move tightens up the bench, which is a must for any team who wants to go deep into the playoffs. Or is this a precursor to a bigger move?

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Unless this is all just a major smokescreen, it looks like there might not be a bigger move. Alex Rios of Texas was discussed for quite awhile; it now looks like his salary is an issue and would hold Kansas City back from acquiring him. Marlon Byrd? He looks like a no-go as well, as he has a no-trade clause and won’t waive it unless the team acquiring him picks up his 2016 option. The Royals are pretty set on acquiring a right handed bat(which I feel is a bit short-sighted; if there is a quality bat out there, you go after it, no matter what side of the plate it is) and the options are limited. The scary part is up in the article talking about the Royals bowing out of the Rios talks. It’s been mentioned a few times that salary is a key factor in a move not being made, as in “the Royals don’t want to take on more salary so they will hold off on a deal until August.” This blows my mind. We’ve heard for years by management that “2014 is the season” and “we are all in”. If that was true, you pick up the extra month of salary and give your team the best option of winning. It seems odd that money is now the issue, since Royals owner David Glass has stated he is “obsessed with winning”. If you are obsessed with it, you go all out to make it happen. You are not obsessed with it if you have a limit. This also opens up the other issue; even if the purse strings were opened, is this team a “real” contender?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Tampa Bay Rays

As of this writing, the Royals are 5 games behind the Tigers in the American League Central standings and only 2 games out of the second wild card spot. Technically, they are contenders. But…that second wild card is a bit of an illusion. Sure, it is a reachable goal. But is it worth it to trade off part of your future(a prospect) for a few months of mild improvement(a right handed bat)? I am about as torn on this as I humanly could be. On one hand, the Royals haven’t been to the playoffs in 29 years. We are all dying to get there and there might not be a better chance for a few years. On the other hand, this team just doesn’t scream playoff contender  to me, and hasn’t most of the year. This is a wildly inconsistent offensive team and I doubt even acquiring any of the names mentioned earlier will stabilize this bunch. So with that said, is it worth it for this team to go out, pick up players, get the second wild card spot, play one playoff game on the road, lose, then turn around and lose James Shields and Billy Butler at the end of the season? That is the million dollar question.

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I’m not trying to be a downer, but the realist in me knows we wouldn’t be having this conversation if that second wild card didn’t exist. If the old playoff system was intact, the Royals would be sellers, pick up a nice haul for Shields and start preparing for 2015. Unofficially, that second wild card is a version of beer goggles to some teams that would normally be sellers. That is why there isn’t much out there talent-wise and why a team like Tampa Bay, who once was in the cellar in the American League East, now believes they can get to the playoffs(they are currently only 4 games out of the wild card) and probably won’t be trading David Price or anyone else for that matter. But…that second wild card DOES exist and teams who normally wouldn’t be in play ARE in play. This includes the Royals and is why as much as part of me would like to see what they could get for Big Game James, I know they have to go for it.

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But are they? It doesn’t feel like they are. My dad would say they are “half-assing” it. What team, especially one with the offensive holes this Royals team have, thinks that the likes of Raul Ibanez, Erik Kratz, and Jason Frasor shows that they are “all in”? I’m not saying go out and kill the farm system to make this team better, but this team needs more than a 42 year old outfielder, a backup catcher, and a middle reliever to get them to “the promised land”. I have to believe this team will take a step back in 2015, so if they are going for it they can’t just wait until August to make a move, when players have to slip through waivers just to make something happen. No, the time to go for the kill is now(actually the real perfect time would have been when they were still in first place) and instead it feels like no matter what move is made, it will feel like a letdown.

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After 8+ years of the current Royals regime, it feels wrong that a simple thing like a few $100,000 will be the difference between an upgrade and the status quo. Sure, it’s not my money, but winning means more butts in the seats at “The K” and more filled seats mean more dollars. It’s a simple equation that ownership refuses to learn and in the long run it will cost them. For some, the Royals hovering around .500 is good enough for them and will satisfy their needs. But for some of us, we want more. We want what we had in the 70’s and 80’s. We want consistent winning, consistent contending and management that “gets it”. Instead, we get a GM who values the wrong things and an owner who thinks you should run a baseball team like it is Wal Mart. Folks, we deserve better. We deserve to see October baseball. I’m not sold we will see it this year. What I do know is right now is not the time to straddle the fence on what to do with this team. It’s quite simple; as Yoda would say ” Buy or Sell, there is no standing pat.”

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