It’s Not Easy Being On the Royals Playoff Roster

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It’s that time of year, where the leaves turn colors, the hoodies are dragged out of the closet and, if you are lucky, your favorite baseball team can start thinking about the playoffs. This also means that as a fan you can start piecing together how you think your team’s playoff roster will look. As a Kansas City Royals fan, we never knew this was a ‘thing’, since up until last year we never had to worry about the Royals playing October baseball. But with Kansas City’s magic number currently sitting at ‘3’, it is pretty safe to say they will be playing past October 4th and hopefully deeper into the postseason. With that said, I was asked over the weekend what I thought the Royals playoff roster would look like. So here is my guess, although to be honest it looked a bit different than on Friday.

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Catchers(2): Salvador Perez, Drew Butera

Infielders(5): Eric Hosmer, Ben Zobrist, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Christian Colon

Obviously, this was fairly easy, since you have the four starting infielders and a backup. Originally I felt like Omar Infante would get picked over Colon, despite the fact that Colon is more versatile whereas Infante is solely a second baseman. Then Omar came up with an oblique injury on Friday, which could sideline him for close to a month if not longer. As most also know, Zobrist can also play the outfield so he could almost be counted as an infielder and an outfielder if necessary.

Outfielders(5): Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Rios, Jarrod Dyson, Jonny Gomes

There was some debate just a week ago that Rios could be on the outside looking in for a roster spot due to his poor performance most of this year. Then he went out last week, continuing his hot hitting since his return from the chickenpox(which is not a minor league team in the Frontier League) and pretty much sewed up a spot for the playoffs. In my mind this pushed Paulo Orlando off the team, as I think the Royals will want Jonny Gomes’ bat for pinch hitting late in the game or against a tough lefthander. I had an argument with someone over Gomes being on the team, as I am of the belief that he was acquired for the sole purpose of being used in the playoffs while this other person who will not be named believes he won’t because the Royals aren’t using him much. I guess we will see, but in the playoffs I can’t see the reasoning behind six outfielders, or having Orlando on the team for solely defensive purposes. But, there might be a spot for him otherwise, which I will get to later.

DH(1): Kendrys Morales

Starting Pitchers(4): Johnny Cueto, Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Kris Medlen

This seems pretty self-explanatory, especially once Danny Duffy was sent to the bullpen. I still laugh when thinking about some of the Royals fans believing that Cueto might not be on this roster if he continued to under-perform. The wild card in this group is Yordano Ventura; if he pitches like he has over the last 4-6 weeks then he will be a solid number two. If he reverts back to his form from earlier this year there could be an issue. I also think Medlen could be a major player, which seems a bit inconceivable considering where he was at when the season started(starting the climb back from Tommy John Surgery). This isn’t the most solid group but if they can go 5-6 innings every game in the playoffs, hopefully the bullpen can do the rest.

Relievers(8): Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson, Franklin Morales, Danny Duffy, Luke Hochevar, Chris Young, Greg Holland

Speaking of, the bullpen is still a strong suit for this Kansas City team but not quite the monster it was last year. Greg Holland has fallen from grace and it was announced earlier today that Wade Davis is the closer going forward while Holland’s role on the team is to be determined. It also came to light that Holland has been dealing with an elbow issue since the All-Star break and isn’t reliable enough to close games for Kansas City. I’m not shocked to learn Holland was hurt, as I have suspected it most of this year, but this puts a giant question mark into the playoff roster. Can Holland be relied on to perform in any close game, even if that means coming in as early as the 6th inning? Or is he past the point of being trusted in such a situation and be completely left off the roster? I really don’t have an answer to this, but I also know manager Ned Yost is a loyal person and might keep Holland around for that reason only. The other options would be to leave him off while adding Paulo Orlando to the team, trusting that a 7-man bullpen is good enough in the ALDS, or you add young pitcher Miguel Almonte to the pen. Almonte has been a mixed bag so far in September and probably isn’t ready for the big stage, but he does have electric stuff and if used in the proper situation could be a viable option. IF Holland is left off the roster, Orlando very well could be the one given the nod.

July 03, 2015: Kansas City Royals Manager Ned Yost relieves Kansas City Royals' starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie (11) in the seventh inning during a Major League Baseball  game between the Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. The Royals won in ten innings, 3-2.

The other roster question for the bullpen is whether to go with Chris Young or Jeremy Guthrie as the long reliever. I know there some Royals fan snickering right now for even mentioning Guthrie, but hear me out. Over the weekend I felt like it could be Guthrie, since he was given the starting nod once Duffy was shuffled to the pen and because Chris Young hasn’t been used much over the last couple months. In fact, in August Young didn’t throw more than an inning in any outing, and only appeared in five games during the entire month. Young does have a 2 and a 3 inning outing so far in September, but I would imagine his arm isn’t stretched out like it normally would be. Plus, I couldn’t imagine Young, an extreme fly ball pitcher, to see any action in Toronto, New York, or even Arlington or Houston’s ballparks. Those ballparks are pretty much all hitter’s parks, or in other words a nightmare for a guy who gives up lots of fly balls. So the only action Young would see would probably be at Kauffman Stadium and that cuts down how often you could use him. But then Guthrie looked atrocious on Tuesday night against Seattle and pretty much assured that he would be left off of any and all playoff rosters. Great guy, but Guthrie has had an awful season that isn’t getting better. So Young gets the nod over Guthrie, but hopefully there won’t be much of a need for him come October.

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So there you go, my guess as to what the Royals first round playoff roster will look like. Like I said, there could be a few slight changes to this and with a week and a half left in the season there is the possibility someone else could get hurt or there could be a need for a bit more depth in an area I hadn’t thought of. At the end of the day it is great to even be able to have this conversation, no matter how much bickering goes on about which player stays or goes. With September being a rough month, I think I speak for lots of Royals fans by saying “let’s just start the playoffs already”. Trust me, it will be here soon enough, as we get to engulf ourselves in another ‘Blue October’.

Dirty South Is No Longer Dirty

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Go back to October of last year. The Royals are one out away from wrapping up the ALCS and making their first trip to the World Series since 1985. The Royals have their closer on the hill to finish Baltimore, a job that Greg Holland has done countless times over the previous three seasons. I can’t get the image out of my head, as Mike Moustakas throws the ball over to first baseman Eric Hosmer and the celebration has begun for Kansas City, including Holland and catcher Salvador Perez embracing in-between the mound and home plate. It was simple back then; Holland comes in and closes the door on another Royals win. Despite the fact that it has been less than a year since that happened, it seems miles away from where Holland is at right now. In fact, the question is being asked: Can the Royals afford to keep Holland as their closer as the playoffs loom?

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It all started during Spring Training. Scouts talked about how the Royals bullpen arms looked a bit haggard after playing deep into October and more specifically that Greg Holland looked tired. There was some concern back then, but it appeared to be nothing to concern ourselves about once the season started. Early on Holland seemed fine, although his velocity was down a hair. Instead of consistently hitting 96 mph, Holland was only cranking it up to 93 mph with the occasional 94-96 sprinkled in. Then on April 18th, he was placed on the disabled list for a ‘right pectoral strain’. Holland would sit out until May 6, which saw his activation and return to the team.

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Despite the fact that Holland was back and swore he was healthy, something didn’t feel right. The numbers showed it as well. Throughout May, Holland was only striking out 7 per 9 while averaging over 8 walks per 9 innings. He was still stranding runners at a proficient rate(over 80% of the time) but it did appear that location was an issue, as was a dip in velocity. In May, this wasn’t a major issue. Holland had missed most of the first month of the season so it was understood it might take a bit to get his legs underneath him. That’s fine, as the Royals were winning and Wade Davis and the rest of the bullpen could pull some of the extra weight.

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June, July and August saw his strikeouts go back up to a normal rate and walks would go down to about 4 per 9 innings. Holland has always been a bit of a tightrope walker, so in some ways these months it was par for the course. The only difference was the velocity. What was once a consistent 96 mph for Holland had now become a 93 and sometimes closer to 91. His other pitches seemed to be on par velocity-wise, although his curveball has seen a dip as well. What has always been great about Holland was the fastball was a way to set up the slider, which is normally his “go to” pitch. Problem is that with his fastball velocity now diminishing, it makes the disparity between the two pitches a little bit less. It also appeared during these months that Holland wasn’t comfortable on the mound, as his wind-up and arm slot didn’t seem consistent. My worries from earlier in the year started coming back in August, as it had been awhile since Holland had looked right and I still wasn’t convinced he wasn’t hurt.

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Let’s go back to August 13th. The Royals are playing the Angels and are holding the lead as Holland comes in to lock down the game. Twenty nine pitches later and the lead is gone, as Holland had given up 4 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks. It was the first game Holland had pitched in four days and the next day Royals manager Ned Yost talked about how Holland was a pitcher who needed more regular work and the team would try to use him more regularly. A couple of interesting points came out of this. First, here is a comment from pitching coach Dave Eiland about the concerns with Holland:

“Everything hasn’t really fallen into place the way he’s wanted to,” Eiland said. “But he’s fine. I have absolutely zero concerns about him. I mean, there’s things I address with him all the time, just like the other 12 guys I have, that we’ve got to stay on top of. There were some things I saw last night, but I’m not going to publicly say what they are.”

But it wasn’t just the issues that we will not speak of. No, there was also this from Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star about what rival scouts had seen in Holland during this period:

A survey of rival evaluators revealed a diagnosis that is both simple but troubling. With his fastball velocity reduced, Holland can no longer overpower batters at the plate. He has also struggled to throw strikes with his breaking ball, a reality that is common knowledge among his opponents. So he has become more prone to walks, while hitters can square up his fastball.

It makes sense, as his fastball makes his off-speed pitches more important. But when he isn’t able to get them over for strikes, then Holland has to either fall back on the fastball or keep trying his breaking ball. It is a lose-lose situation.
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The consistent work, which is what the Royals had claimed was the biggest issue with Holland this year, was not held up like we were told. Holland would pitch about every 2-3 days during August, but near the end of the month Holland had what Yost referred to as a “cranky arm” and had four days between appearances, August 22 to August 27. On the 27th, Holland came into the game in the 9th inning, with the Royals up 5-1. Holland gave up 2 runs in his inning of work and it was what many have said; velocity was down on the fastball and he couldn’t locate the breaking ball. Luckily he was able to get out of the jam and preserve the win for the Royals. The ‘consistent work’ theory does have legs to it as Holland would come in the next night against Tampa Bay and throw up a bunch of goose eggs. In fact, if you look throughout August, if Holland pitched back to back days, or within a day of his last outing he seemed sharper and his pitches had more break. He even had a few outings during this month where the fastball was back up around 95-96 mph. It didn’t stay, but it was there for awhile. When there were longer stretches between outings, Holland not only had lower velocity on the fastball, but his breaking ball couldn’t find the strike zone.
Aug 14, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals catcher Drew Butera (9) talks to relief pitcher Greg Holland (56) in the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Kauffman Stadium. Kansas City won the game 4-1. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
(John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports)

So far in September, Holland has been a ghost. His first game this month wasn’t until September 8th, nine days between appearances. He didn’t give up a hit or a walk, but the velocity was back down again. He would look a little bit better the next night against the Twins, as he would toss another inning in a loss. The Royals have decided within the last month to only bring Holland in whenever the game is close or he has  a save situation, which seems like a recipe for disaster. If consistent work helps him be sharper and gives his pitches more bite, you get him in every few days. Doing this saves you from an outing like Tuesday night in Cleveland. Holland came in to preserve a 2-0 lead against the Indians, Holland’s first appearance in five days. Early on it was obvious he did not have his stellar stuff. In fact, Holland didn’t even have that 91-93 mph fastball he has been using most of this year:

It was as bad as you would think. Luckily, Holland got out of the jam:

Late last week, Mike Petriello of MLB.com looked at Holland’s velocity AND spin rate. Take a look for yourself:

Okay, you might be asking “what does spin rate cover and how does that affect a pitcher’s pitches”? Good question! Here’s Petriello from a piece on Holland:

We know that high spin for a fastball correlates with swinging strikes, so that spin rate decline is just as alarming as the velo drop. As you’d expect, the decline we’re seeing has led to fewer missed bats. Through Aug. 14, which is the last peak on those graphs, Holland’s strikeout percentage was 27.3. Since then, it’s down to 20.0 percent.

It also has been noticed that Holland isn’t using that fastball as much as before, instead trying to rely on his slider:

Through Aug. 14: 48.5 percent fastballs, 44.9 percent sliders
Since Aug. 15: 38.2 percent fastballs, 57.3 percent sliders

The problem is, his slider has now seen a velocity drop as well, down to 83.18 mph in September(it was in the 85 mph range for most of this year). So even if the 87 mph fastball isn’t the norm going forward, it does appear that Holland is dealing with more than just a “cranky arm”. My theory that he has been hurt most of this year just took a giant leap forward this week.

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So where do the Royals go from here? It’s obvious that Holland isn’t as reliable as in years past, but I’m not 100% sure you take him out of the closer’s role. I know that sounds crazy, so hear me out. Wade Davis is the Royals best reliever. I think we can all agree on that. If you are like me, you believe that being “the closer” is just a name for the guy who wraps up the game. I am of the belief that you want your best reliever to pitch in the highest leverage situation, whether that be in the 7th, 8th or 9th inning. With that said, in those situations I want Davis on the mound, not Holland. If that means the 9th inning, so be it. Unfortunately, most managers don’t think that way and we can count Yost among that group. But the coaching staff is aware of Holland’s troubles and it seems they are at least monitoring the situation going forward:

“If it gets to be an issue, we’ll evaluate it,” Yost said. “It hasn’t become an issue yet. People want to get nervous because he’s throwing 90 or 91 mph. That’s fine. But right now, it really hasn’t become an issue. If it does, we’ll evaluate it.”

That seems like the team is willing to play with fire, at least until postseason. Come October we could have a different story:

“We’re not going to jeopardize anything once the playoffs starts,” Yost said. “We’re going to make sure (Holland is) 100-percent ready to nail it down. And when you talk to him, he’s like ‘I got this.’”

No pitcher will tell you different(well, maybe Matt Harvey) but it does appear as if the Royals are trying to be loyal to Holland while also acknowledging a move might have to be made. Relievers on average have a short shelf life and closers seem to only stay in that role for a couple years at a time, on average. I am still of the belief that Greg Holland is hurt and while the Royals have tried coaxing him and his arm all throughout this season to get him to the playoffs, at this rate Holland might just be another arm down in the pen come October. Some of us Royals fans have referred to Holland over the years as “Dirty South” due to the filthiness of his pitches and the way they drop out of the strike zone. As of right now, there is nothing filthy or dirty about Holland’s pitching repertoire and that doesn’t seem to be changing. If that is case, I’m not for sure I want to see Holland pitching in October and I hate the thought of that.

 

 

Free As a Bird: Orioles Continue Royals Slide

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It feels like weeks since I have done a review of a Kansas City Royals series and in some ways it has. Life sure has a way of getting in the way of fun, although there is little joy in Mudville right now. That’s right, the Kansas City Royals are on a downward projectory with only a few weeks left in this regular season and the villagers are freaking out. Well, some of them are. I am not. In fact, I say lets get this losing cycle out of the way. The Royals struggled a bit this past weekend in Baltimore, a series that saw the Orioles take two of three from Kansas City. There was some good, some bad and even the downright ugly. Let’s meander over and see what all this series meant for the Royals of Kansas City.

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas, right, celebrates his grand slam with teammates Ben Zobrist (18), Kendrys Morales and Lorenzo Cain (6) in the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Series MVP: Mike Moustakas

On the surface, it wasn’t a blow away series for ‘The Man We Call Moose’. But it’s hard not to give this achievement for one lone game when it is one of the best in franchise history. On Saturday, Moustakas went 3 for 5, hitting 2 home runs and driving in 9, which is a new Royals record:

So what is even better about this? How about the fact that this monster achievement could have entirely been the source of a ‘mechanical adjustment’:

Still not impressed?

Here is the 2nd home run, the one that pushed him to 9 RBI’s in the game:

Overall, Moustakas went 4 for 14 in this series, with a total of 11 RBI’s. Over the last month we have gone from Moustakas going back to his pull-happy days of 2014 before reverting back to the Moose we saw earlier this season, that opposite field hitter we call ‘Oppo-Moose’. It has been a crazy season for Moustakas, one that was more of a struggle than any of us knew. Word got out this weekend about his mother passing away last month, as she had been battling cancer over the last couple of years. It has been something Moustakas has been dealing with for awhile now and I’m sure it weighed heavy over the last month. Hopefully Moose can finish the year strong and possibly even reach a plateau, like that 20 home run mark, since he is only two away.

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(Most Talked About)Pitching Performance of the Series: Johnny Cueto 

The most talked about topic with the Royals nowadays is the performance of Johnny Cueto and why he is struggling so much. It’s pretty obvious that Cueto has hit a bump in the road, which wasn’t helped by his start on Sunday night. Cueto went 6.1 innings, giving up 11 hits and 8 runs(7 earned) while walking 1 and striking out 3. It gets worse when you go back to August 21st, which is five starts ago and when this stretch of confusion sat in for Cueto. In those five starts, Cueto has thrown 26.1 innings, giving up 48 hits and 30 runs(28 earned) while walking 5 and striking out 20. That leaves Cueto with an ERA of 9.57 and opposing hitters have a BAbip of .417. It’s even worse when looking at hitters slash line against him: .390/.411/.675. So what is going on? Oh, there are theories and so far no one theory is the sole answer. The Royals felt like he was tipping his pitches for awhile, or that he wasn’t getting as much movement on his pitches as he normally does:

That was debunked Sunday, as his pitches had good life and there were no noticeable tipping going on. Injured? He says no and has been saying no for weeks. Lost command of his fastball and hung some off-speed pitches? Early on, yes, but not really recently. He has been leaving more pitches up in the strike zone than normal, as normally he would keep the ball down more. There is also this; Rob Neyer recently wrote a piece on Cueto and I found this very telling:

One odd thing about Cueto’s pitching in recent weeks: the range of speeds on his fastball seems to have gotten significantly smaller. Prior to his last seven starts, his fastballs in a game typically ranged from 87 to 96 miles an hour. In his last seven starts, though? Cueto hasn’t thrown a single fastball slower than 91. His two-seam fastball and his change-up are his second and third pitches, and those also have shown less variance lately. Which might suggest that he’s a little too amped up, and is simply overthrowing.

So there is that as well. Funny thing, his strikeout to walk ratio with the Royals is better than when he was with Cincinnati, in fact better than at any other time in his career over a full season. More than anything it appears he has hit a slump where he is leaving the ball up and losing confidence. That has made some of us ask some very poignant questions:

Some Royals fans have suggested he be left off the playoff roster. That isn’t happening. He still has about 4 starts left this season and after that will determine his fate. At worse he comes out of the pen, or becomes the fourth starter. It would be insane to keep Cueto off the playoff roster considering his status in the league over the last five years. I know I have my concerns, but I’m also not majorly worried…yet. It does appear that a wise sage doesn’t agree with my estimate:

It will be interesting to follow. What we do know is that even if this keeps up, the Cueto trade isn’t the worse in Royals history:

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It sure seemed as if Moustakas and Cueto were the only talking points in this series, but they weren’t. A visit to ‘Charm City’ brought some news and notes for these Royals:

  • I mentioned that Moustakas had his one monster game, but Lorenzo Cain put together a good series for the Royals. Cain was 4 for 13, with 2 home runs and 3 RBI’s, with both homers coming on Friday night. Cain is continuing his push in the American League MVP race, one in which he will probably come up short but should end up in the top five. In fact, Cain is hitting .310/.362/.643 so far in September and looks to continue that into October as the Royals push for their first championship since 1985.
  • Royals manager Ned Yost has started using a more logical batting order as of late, moving high OBP hitters like Alex Gordon and Ben Zobrist batting 1-2 while Alcides Escobar has slid back down to 9th in the order:

I’ve been highly critical of Yost over the years, but since last October it’s almost like he has become a wizard and figured out that logical managing is easier than he thought. I love this move and have zero complaints about it. Good job by Neddy. There. I said it.

  • If there is a major concern I have with this club, it is the bullpen. One issue is the lingering physical issues Wade Davis continues to battle:

As if that wasn’t enough, Greg Holland’s velocity has fallen and it can’t get up:

But there’s more! Looking at the bullpen’s numbers over the last month and they are posting a -0.1 WAR and a 4.71 FIP, both ugly numbers. Strikeout and walk rates aren’t too bad but the ERA is around 3.79 in that span, very human for this stellar pen. It gets worse. Over the last two weeks, they are the worst bullpen in the American League, posting a -0.5 WAR, a 5.91 FIP and an ERA of 6.00. Their strikeout rate in this period is the middle of the pack, but the walk rate is the second highest in the league and their HR/9 is only ahead of the Red Sox. This is alarming since this group has been one of the hallmarks of this team the last few years and what was once a guarantee now seems like a question mark. Hopefully the bullpen ship can be righted before October, otherwise more rocky waters could be on the way.

  • Finally, don’t look now but someone has woken up Alex Rios! Rios was 5 for 10 in this series, with 2 doubles, a home run and 3 RBI’s against Baltimore. In fact, since returning from his bout with the chickenpox, Rios has a line of .353/.368/.647 and looks to be positioning himself for a spot on the playoff roster. There have been many discussions about whether or not Rios will be on it, considering you have Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando as better defensive options and Jonny Gomes as a major bench contributor, but if I was asked right now I would say he is on it. He might never have the power he had even three years ago, but if he can hit like he has over the last week than he has a valuable spot on the roster.

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Tweets of Royalty 

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Only twenty games remain in this 2015 regular season for the Royals as their ‘Magic Number’ sits at 11. I think we can all agree this isn’t how we pictured things wrapping up in September, but Kansas City now has some work to do as time does start to run out. The Royals travel to Cleveland for four games this week, a great chance for this team to get back on track and knock off a few wins so some of the panicky Royals fans can calm down and enjoy the next month. Look at it this way; they can either slump now or slump once the playoffs begin. I will take now. It seemed elementary just a month ago but now it might take a little bit of work. If the Royals are going to clinch soon, they are going to have to do it within the division. Honestly, that’s how this should go down. Step 1, get back to basics. Simple as that.

Ray of Sunshine: Royals Beat Tampa Bay

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In the old days, you would play all the teams in your designated league the same amount of times. It didn’t matter whether you were a Central division team or an East team, you play each other the same amount of times as the teams within your own division. That was changed a few years ago and teams now play the teams within your division the majority of the time. That means a team like the Kansas City Royals only play the teams in the “other” division twice per year(one at home, one on the road). So this series with the Tampa Bay Rays wrapped up the two teams time together this year, as the Royals won the previous series at Kauffman Stadium. That series saw the Royals sweep Tampa Bay; this one saw the Royals take two of three. This put the Royals at 80 wins with 32 games remaining and leads to a number of varying topics coming out of this series at ‘The Trop’.

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Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain  

This section felt like it could be a toss-up, with both Kendrys Morales and Mike Moustakas getting heavy consideration. But the more consistent hitter in this series was Lorenzo Cain, who went 3 for 9 with 2 runs, 2 RBI’s, 4 walks and 2 stolen bases. Cain did what he has done for most of this year, which is basically a little bit of everything. I decided to take a deeper look into just how good Cain has been and I have had a hard time finding something that Cain has done worse this year than last. Walk percentage? Up. Strikeout percentage? Down. Slugging and On Base percentage are both up as is his wRC+ and WAR. He is hitting the ball harder and hitting the ball more consistently to all fields than ever before in his career. Literally the only thing that is down from last year is Cain’s BAbip, which is at .357 from last year’s .380. But the argument there can even be made that this is due almost entirely to his increased home run numbers. There has been a lot of discussion about what the Royals will do once Alex Gordon is activated and just how the lineup will shake out. I’m pretty sure that no matter the changes in the batting order, Cain will remain in the third spot, his home for this entire 2015 campaign. It’s even conceivable at this point that Cain will end up in the top five of the voting for the American League MVP race, as he should:

It has been a marquee season for a player who at one time we just worried he wouldn’t be able to stay healthy, let along put up numbers that would put him into consideration for the highest honor in the league.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

When the season wraps up, I am going to go back and check just how many times Volquez got this honor, since it seems to happen quite frequently. Volquez spun another good game on Friday night, going 6.2 innings, giving up 6 hits and 2 runs(1 earned) while walking 2 and striking out 5. It was another quality start for ‘Easy Eddie’ and gave him a game score of 59. At this point Volquez is probably in line to be the #2 or #3 starter in the rotation in the playoffs and has earned that right this year. I’ve asked the question before ‘which Dayton Moore signing has been more important this offseason, Kendrys Morales or Volquez?’ and as great of an impact as Morales has had on the Royals lineup(and it has been a big impact), I tend to lean toward Volquez. Earlier in the season(before the Johnny Cueto trade), Volquez was the only consistent starter in the rotation as Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy and Jeremy Guthrie all struggled. Volquez has been the stopper for this rotation, a guy who holds the other team in check and allows his team to win, thwarting off any threats or long losing streaks. Without Volquez being a steady force in the rotation, I’m not sure the Royals sit here right before September with the biggest division lead in the league. Without Volquez, this very well could be a much tighter race that what lingers in front of them.

Tampa Bay Rays catcher Rene Rivera, second from right, tags out batter Kansas City Royals' Kendrys Morales (25) after tagging out Royals' Ben Zobrist, right, to complete a double play during the eighth inning of a baseball game Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015, in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Rays won 3-2. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
                      (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

TOOTBLAN or Foul Ball?

Sure, the Royals won this series. But most of what has been discussed has been a pivotal play in Sunday’s game that Kansas City lost. The Royals are down in the Top of the 8th inning, 3-2, with runners on 1st and 3rd and 1 out. Morales hits a little chopper down the first base line and then…

On first instinct I felt that was a TOOTBLAN(Thrown Out On The Basepaths Like A Nincompoop) on Morales’ part and one of the worst plays I have seen this year. But the more I watch the play I tend to think even though it is bad, there were a number of issues that should be pointed out. First off, the ball appeared to be foul once James Loney grabbed it. In fact I am assuming that is why Morales didn’t run. There was also no definite call from the home plate umpire, who had the best view of that ball. The first base ump called the ball fair, which I believe is what the home plate ump went off of. I should probably point out here that the play is non-reviewable, which is a bigger conundrum for Kansas City. Saying all that, some blame falls on Morales. He had to have seen the first base umpire call the ball fair, which meant he should have run. Even if he didn’t see it, you should assume it is fair unless otherwise called. I get he thought it was foul and in the postgame manager Ned Yost said “we don’t run out foul balls”. That is fine, except in a scenario like that you run and ask questions later. That major flaw is on Morales as he should have ran no matter what. It looks really bad when a rally is snuffed out while you are just standing at home plate, an easy out for the catcher to make. This might not be a TOOTBLAN at the end of the day, but it is still bad fundamental baseball, which is a shock since the Royals don’t make many fundamental errors. This probably cost the Royals at least a chance of tying up the game and maybe even costing them a victory. Hopefully it is remembered and next time the batter runs to first, foul or not.

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas hits a RBI-double off Tampa Bay Rays starter Jake Odorizzi during the fourth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)
                (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

It was an exciting three games at Tropicana Field and much more went on than just what is above this line. For more on the Royals and Rays series, read on:

  • The Rays played a tribute video to former Ray and current Royal Ben Zobrist before Friday night’s game. It was a great gesture to a guy who played many years in Tampa and had become just as synonomous to the team as Evan Longoria. The Rays even acknowledged his greatness with some sabermetric love:

It also appears as if Zobrist will be taking over for Omar Infante once Alex Gordon is activated from the disabled list:

One can only hope that Kansas City has made a great impression on Zobrist and makes his decision this offseason a little bit easier. It would help though if Zobrist doesn’t make any enemies:

Don’t cross the Kuntz!

  • A lot of pub has gone Kendrys Morales way as of late due to his ability to drive in runs with 2 outs in an inning:

There is also his ability to hit a home run in the catwalk at ‘The Trop’:

You always hear how each stadium has their own set of quirky rules. Wrigley Field has the ivy, Houston has Tal’s Hill(for now), and Tropicana has those catwalks. Luckily the call went Kansas City’s way and Morales came away with a homer. Folks, that stadium is ugly. Let’s hope they get a new one before MLB decides to ship them up to Montreal.

  • The Royals bullpen as of late feels like the walking wounded. Wade Davis had back issues, Greg Holland has been dealing with a cranky elbow(I have to feel that has been going on most of this season) and now Ryan Madson has a dead arm:

This was to be expected. Madson hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2011 and has thrown 51 innings so far this year. Hopefully a little rest will help keep him healthy and available for the playoffs. Now if only the Royals could find a cure for Jeremy Guthrie’s “Longball-itis”.

  • Speaking of Guthrie, he held a little bit of a friendly competition with the Tampa Bay ballboy this weekend:

I often feel like Major League Baseball isn’t always the best at promoting their players and why they are so great. Guthrie might be relegated to long reliever status and might not appear in very many games going forward, but he still managed to have fun and put a smile on that kid’s face. THIS is the stuff you promote about your game. THIS is just one of many examples about what is so great about this game and it’s players.

  • Yet another good series for Mike Moustakas this weekend, as he compiled another accomplishment to his long list of new career hights this season:

Moose has also shown that he can be a tough out when he needs to be:

A lot of praise this season will go to Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer, but Mike Moustakas has put together a season he should be proud of. Lets hope he finishes strong and shows that early season surge was not a fluke.

  • Danny Duffy had some good and some bad in his outing this past Sunday. On the positive, Duffy figured out early that the umpire was calling the low strike and took advantage of it, striking out six in his 5 innings of work. Craig Brown of Royals Authority went into greater detail about Duffy’s outing, and like him I still cringe at Duffy’s pitch count. Duffy threw 99 pitches in those 5 innings when the Royals probably would have preferred he go 6 or 7 innings. The difference in this start was not balls thrown by Duffy but the foul balls. Duffy had 22 pitches fouled off in this game and overall this season batters have fouled off 19% of pitches he throws. I think we all would like to see a more efficient Danny Duffy, but for that to happen he has to limit his pitch count to go deeper into the game. Because of this there is a good chance he could be pitching out of the bullpen come October rather than as a starter. At this point, it would appear Kris Medlen could be taking Duffy’s spot in the rotation come playoff time.
  • Finally, it appears the Platinum Glove Award winner will be returning this week:

Gordon looks like he didn’t miss a beat while playing in AAA Omaha:

The big question now is where will Gordon bat in the lineup upon his return? The 6th spot where he was hitting earlier in the year is now inhabited by Mike Moustakas, who has been hitting lights out as of late. Honestly, the best idea is to bat him leadoff, sending Alcides Escobar down in the lineup, especially considering his hitting throughout August:

Batting Gordon and Zobrist at the top of the lineup makes the most sense, since those are your two best OBP hitters. If the Royals really want to maximize their offense, placing Gordon near the top of the lineup would be the wisest move. I guess we will find out Tuesday what Ned Yost has in mind when it comes to lineup construction going forward.

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Tweets of Royalty

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We now venture into the final month of the regular season and the Royals still have a few items to check off their ‘Want List’:

The beginning of that journey begins on Tuesday, as the Tigers stroll into town for three games at ‘The K’, followed by three against the White Sox. Tuesday night’s game could be fun, as Johnny Cueto faces off against Justin Verlander, who will be making his first start since he almost no-hit the Angels. Tuesday should also be fun, as it looks to be the return of Alex Gordon. The Royals are in the driver’s seat as the playoffs loom and it is the pole position we have all yearned to be in this spot for the last 30 years. Buckle up, kiddos; we are getting ready to go on a fantastic ride.

 

 

Singed Wings: Royals Take 3 of 4 From Angels

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Sometimes a little competition is nice. With the Royals soundly dominating the American League Central and with the regular season winding down to about six weeks left, it seemed as good a time as any to have the Los Angeles Angels stroll into town. The Angels are currently in second place in the American League West and are in the conversation for one of the wild card spots in the league. Plus, the Angels have the best player in baseball, that wily veteran Mike Trout. So on paper this looked like a good matchup with the possibility of some very good baseball…and very good baseball is what we got.

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 14: Eric Hosmer #35 of the Kansas City Royals runs to first hatter hitting a two-run home run against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the sixth inning at Kauffman Stadium on August 14, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Eric Hosmer
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Series MVP: Eric Hosmer

Eric Hosmer has been on fire. I don’t know what magic potion he took during the All-Star break, but since coming back he has been a dominant force. In these four games, Hosmer went 6 for 15, with 2 home runs, 6 RBI’s, a double, 4 walks and my adulation. First, there was this single plating a run on Thursday:

There was also this blast on Thursday night; just listen to the sound of the ball off the bat!

Hosmer is hitting right now like most of us felt he would when he first got the call to the big leagues. Since the start of the second half, he has a line of .397/.457/.655, driving in 26 runs in 31 games and has raised his wRC+ to 142(16th best in MLB). He has also driven in a run in 10 consecutive games:

There are so many things to gush about right now when it comes to Hosmer that I almost don’t know where to start. His patience at the plate, quiet hands, driving the ball and understanding the situation of the game have all been elevated in the last month and has turned him from a solid bat and glove at first base to a middle of the order basher. In fact, he is just punishing the ball right now:

I had mentioned 4 years ago how I felt Hosmer could one day be an MVP candidate in the very near future. He seemed to have taken the long way there, but he might have finally arrived at his expected destination. He also has great hair:

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Johnny Cueto

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Cueto has taken this category for two straight series. The funny thing is the Royals got quality starts out of all four of their starters this series and their game scores reflected that. Cueto’s line was most impressive: 8 innings, 8 hits and 1 run while hitting a batter and striking out 4. This lead to a game score of 66, which was just one point higher than Yordano Ventura’s on Sunday. This start was another example of why the Royals acquired Cueto; they needed a starter at the top of the rotation who can shut down an offense and give the bullpen a rest from time to time. Cueto accomplished all of those things on Saturday and with his last two starts has shown what he is capable come October.

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Walk-Off Wonders 

Up until July 3rd, the Royals had not gotten a walk-off win all year. Since then, they have piled up a number of memorable walk-off’s, none more memorable than Sunday night’s victory. One reason why it will probably stay etched in my brain for awhile is the fact that after the 1st inning the Royals didn’t get another hit until the 10th inning(33 batters in that span). Even in the bottom of the 9th inning, where the Royals rallied to tie the game on an Alex Rios sac fly, the Royals cobbled together three walks(more on that in a bit) but no hits. So finally the Royals broke through in the bottom of the 10th, as Ben Zobrist singled to right. That was followed a few batters later by a walk to Eric Hosmer(who had 3 walks in this game!) before Kendrys Morales ended the proceedings:

I almost wanted to yell at the players to Leave.Morales.Alone. He just has a bad history of celebrating walk-offs(no, I will not post that video here). These two teams dueled for 10 innings, turning the final game of this series into a nice pitchers duel for the most part. Even more, a chance for Morales to get the recognition he deserves for a great season so far:

Outside of maybe Zobrist or Hosmer, there is no one else on that team I would rather have up in that situation. Morales had a chance in the 9th to win, but hit a dribbler in front of the plate. An inning later, he redeemed himself and put another memory into what has been a magical season for these Kansas City Royals.

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This four game set was chalked full of nice little tidbits. Let’s dive into the rest of what happened over the weekend in Kansas City:

  • After the Royals bullpen lost the game on Wednesday night against Detroit, the pen would lose another the next night against the Angels. Greg Holland, making his first appearance in five days, looked less than sharp and gave up 4 runs while not even getting a batter out:

Now, Holland has not looked like his normal dominating self for most of this season. But as of late his velocity has been on the incline and his arm slot has seemed a bit more consistent. There was a belief amongst the Royals coaches that part of the problem was Holland needs regular work to be consistent:

So the thinking is to pitch Holland more often, save situation or not. This was put to the test immediately:

There was a lot of talk this past weekend about the Royals bullpen and how it might be cracking. I’m not totally for sure I buy into that, if for no other reason than the fact that Holland hasn’t been his normal self all season. Add in that no team is going to hold a “perfect” pen and you have a few days where the bullpen under-performed. It happens.  Like Greg Holland, lets move on and not worry about this until it becomes a weekly thing.

  • Salvador Perez returned to the lineup on Saturday and proceeded to hit a home run in his first at bat back:

He would also get the first ejection of his career on Sunday:

His ejection might have actually been a godsend, as Drew Butera would come in and draw a walk in the 9th inning that helped prolong the inning and allow the Royals to tie up the score. I’m glad Salvy is back, but I also felt like the rest was good for him.

  • The Royals have been doing something recently that we are not accustomed to them doing:

I am a big proponent of walks, since it does two things; it puts a runner on base and it also drives up the pitch count of the pitcher(and leave the pitcher more likely to make a mistake). I have long wanted this team to walk more, but for the most part had given up any hope of this becoming an arsenal in their offensive game. It does appear in some non-connected way that Ben Zobrist is rubbing off onto his new teammates:

I don’t want to give Zobrist all the credit, but he has lead the charge. It would be wise for this team to continue this philosophy, since it plays well in the postseason.

  • I mentioned earlier about the great starts by the rotation this series, as all four starters achieved quality starts. Guthrie and Duffy went 6 innings apiece while Ventura would go 7 innings, to go with Cueto’s eight. It has been nice to see both Duffy and Ventura improve from start to start, as they are a key part of this team when it comes to the playoffs. Cueto has been a nice influence on Ventura, as Ventura’s only real concern at this point is working on his location. These guys might not have quality starts every outing, but if they can compile numbers close to what they did this weekend they will help this team win more often than not.
  • Mike Sweeney was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame on Saturday and there really couldn’t be a more deserving player to be given this honor:

Unfortunately for Sweeney he played on some awful Royals teams, so he didn’t get to experience postseason play until after he left Kansas City. There is no one who was more deserving of getting to experience the Royals return to the playoffs than Sweeney. He bleeds Royal blue, folks. Here is clips from his Hall of Fame ceremony:

  • Jarrod Dyson celebrated his 31st birthday on Saturday the best way possible. Dyson went 3 for 4, drove in 3 runs and stole 2 bases. Dyson probably will never be a fulltime starter, but as a 4th outfielder and injury replacement he is perfect. If he could only hit lefties…

  • Speaking of Dyson, there has been a push as of late to replace right fielder Alex Rios with a Dyson/Paulo Orlando platoon, especially once the playoffs come around:

Trust me, there is a reason that a number of us prefer this scenario:

I don’t know if it is the thumb and/or wrist injury, or just the normal regression of a player his age, but Rios is at a point in his career where he has zero power and his defense is average at best. Dyson and Orlando are both much superior defenders and offensively they won’t be a major upgrade, but they tend to get on base more than Rios. I say make the move before October; we will see if that happens or if Yost rides Rios through the rest of the regular season.

  • Finally, the Royals added depth to their pitching staff in AAA:

I doubt either makes a serious impact with the big league club, but you can never have enough depth. Plus, they could eat some innings in September, letting some of the other pitchers get some rest. Chamberlain in particular could see some serious time out of the pen, if necessary.

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Tweets of Royalty 

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Only 45 games are left in the season and at this point it feels like the Royals will spend September loading up and getting all their ducks in a row for the playoffs. This week the Royals will have two games against Cincinnati, then wrap up the week with a four game series with Boston. The offense, defense and pitching all clicked for Kansas City this past weekend and they will need that to continue this week. Sure, the Reds and Red Sox are out of the race, but both teams can still cause problems. I really like of late that Ned Yost has been resting his starters on a regular basis, even if he always seems to rest Lorenzo Cain when I go to a game! There is a game plan in place and it looks to be unfolding as expected. It’s been a magical season in Kansas City this summer, but there is still some leg-work left to do before another ‘Blue October’!

 

 

 

South Side Sweep: Royals Take the Broom to the White Sox

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Coming off of a ten game road trip that saw the Kansas City go 4-6, the Royals returned home this past weekend to take on division rivals the Chicago White Sox. The Royals last played Chicago in the second city to kick off the second half of the season, a series the Royals won. Would the same happen in Kansas City? Would the Royals bounce back from a rough series in Detroit? Would Salvador Perez get a Gatorade sponsorship? And would the Royals need Jedi help in their rotation this past weekend? All these answers lie ahead(well, most of them anyway!).

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Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain 

Friday night was a spotlight stealing night for Lorenzo Cain, as he would get a double, a triple and an RBI to help pace the Royals to a victory. Big night for Cain, but overall he would put forth a stellar series, going 3 for 7, while also scoring a run, stealing a base and slugging at an .857 clip. It really shouldn’t have been a surprise that Cain would step up this weekend:

I’m also pretty sure he saw some fastballs against Jeff Samardzija, who you could probably call Cain’s nemesis:

Looking at Lorenzo’s numbers this season breaks it down even more how much he has improved the last few years. Strikeouts are down, walks are up, average still sitting above .300 while already setting a career high in triples and home runs. Add in 20 stolen bases and a career high WAR of 5.9 and OPS+ of 133 and you have the making of an all around above average player. I think sometimes we take what guys like Cain and Hosmer do on defense as just daily plays that are the norm. They are the norm, but that does not mean they are ho-hum. Cain has elevated his game so much this year that it’s not hard to see him take the mantle of ‘best player on the Royals’ once Alex Gordon is no longer in Kansas City. Actually that day could come sooner than that, much sooner. The good part is that Cain isn’t eligible for free agency until 2018; the bad part is he could be quite expensive by then. Trust me, it is a good problem to have.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Kris Medlen

With credit going to Edinson Volquez’s great outing on Friday night, I was overjoyed with the performance of Kris Medlen on Sunday afternoon. After Danny Duffy left the game in the fourth inning, Medlen would come in for his first outing since Thursday(although in that contest he would face only one batter and throw only three pitches) and would shut down the White Sox. Medlen would go 3.2 innings, giving up no hits, and no runs while walking 1 and striking out 3. Medlen threw 69% strikes on Sunday and looked like the former ace he was in Atlanta. As much as we would all love to have Medlen in the rotation, we do have to remember he is coming off of Tommy John Surgery and at this point should just be thankful that he is healthy and able to pitch for the team. In a dream world, Medlen would be in the rotation come October, and we are not alone in that thinking:

I was just happy with how good he looked this weekend. He seemed to have good velocity on his fastball and he seemed to have a good feel for his off-speed pitches. We can’t expect Medlen to pitch like this every outing, but if this is what we see the majority of the time, then the rotation has sunnier day’s in their future.

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Thanks For the Hugs, Melky 

If you remember early in the season, whenever Melky Cabrera would get on base, he would hug some of his former teammates. Didn’t matter if it was Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar or Salvador Perez, Melky would proceed to embrace his friends. It was not only amusing to watch a grown man act like a child and show his affection, but it also seemed to drive Rex Hudler bonkers(calm down, Rex; the game has changed since you played). But while watching Melky this past weekend I started thinking about how much he loves these guys and I started pondering how much fun he would have if he was still with Kansas City. The thing is, he could have been a Royal again. This past winter, the Royals were on the hunt for a new right fielder to take the place of Nori Aoki. They had tried Torii Hunter but he returned to Minnesota. They had also talked to Melky about coming in, even offering him a contract fairly similar to what he got from Chicago. Chicago eventually won the Melky sweepstakes, but I found it interesting why he chose the White Sox over the Royals:

 Cabrera “really wanted to win,” Rick Hahn, White Sox GM recalled. “(He said) ‘But with all due respect are you guys really in a position to win and am I really a difference maker for you?’ ”

So Chicago’s winter moves swayed Melky, or at least he felt like they had a better chance to win. The funny thing is, the Royals offered a deal somewhat similar to what Chicago gave him. I believe it was one less year, and possibly a few million less. But here was my thought this weekend: with the Royals in about the same situation as Chicago, at least when pertaining to their chance of winning, why would he not take a little less money to be around a bunch of guys that he really enjoys playing with? Now, Seattle did offer Cabrera an extra year, so maybe the years weren’t as big a deal but with the Royals offering something in the same ballpark, I just find it odd that he wouldn’t try to come back to Kansas City. I’m sure that White Sox locker room is full of quality guys; I don’t doubt that a bit. But the chance to win a championship and do that with a bunch of guys you think fondly of? I tend to think you can’t beat that. But obviously it was not meant to be, and instead the Royals end up with Alex Rios who looks about the same as the Alex Rios that was sapped of power last year in Texas. We can only imagine how much better this Royals team would have been with Melky roaming right field…

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Time to slide on over and review some news and notes from this weekend sweep for Kansas City:

  • So Yordano Ventura has been an enigma this year. How has the guy who dominated the Giants in Game 6 of the World Series now have issues facing even lower level teams in the American League? Well, we might have finally have gotten a peak into what has been plaguing Yordano:

The entire article is here and it definitely goes into some major detail as to what ails “Ace”. It’s been noticeable that with runners on Ventura has been leaving more pitches out over the middle of the plate. His Babip has also been crazy this year, .309 to last year’s .288. The biggest obstacle Ventura is going to run into is figuring out how to get hitters to quit sitting on his fastball and forcing them to swing at the off-speed stuff. As frustrating as it has been, he is still young and has plenty of time to adjust and return to form. It would just be nice if that could happen before October.

  • Good news on the Alex Gordon front; he is now taking batting practice:

Just imagine a September lineup with Gordon back in left field and Ben Zobrist at second base. Yep, hard not to get excited about what we could see in October with this team.

  • Over the years, John Danks has confused Kansas City hitters. Before this year, Danks was 9-0 against Kansas City and had only given up 28 runs in 104 innings against the Royals. So far this season, Danks is 2-2 against the Royals, giving up 10 runs over 23 innings. The Royals haven’t completely solved Danks, but it’s no longer a guarantee that he will put up a ‘W’ whenever throwing against Kansas City like it used to be.
  • Wade Davis did not pitch in this series as his back continues to give him problems:

If this was last year, Davis would probably be asked to pitch through it and increase the chances of injuring himself even further. Instead, with a big lead in the American League Central, Davis can sit out and heal. Davis, at this point, is more important in October than August.

  • Saturday night, Greg Holland looked like the “Dirty South” of old. His breaking pitches  had proper dive and his fastball was popping, reaching 97 mph on the radar gun. Holland has been hovering around 93 mph most of this year, so seeing the uptick in velocity is a definite plus. It’s been rumored most of this season that Holland had an injury(and he still might), but Kansas City management has to breathe easier knowing Holland seems to be pitching more like his old self as we reach the last few months of the season.
  • On Sunday, Kendrys Morales would hit his 13th home run of the season, while also driving in RBI’s 79 and 80. This puts him 3rd in the American League in RBI’s and tied for second in doubles. I feel like I can’t stress enough how valuable Morales has been to this Kansas City team. He drives in runs in the middle of the order and as much as most of us loved Billy Butler, he had really quit doing that last year. I don’t even want to imagine where Kansas City would be without Morales’ bat in the middle of this lineup.
  • Sunday was ‘Star Wars Day at the K’, as the Royals finally dipped their toes into what has become a popular promotion over the years for most other major league teams. There was no way I was going to miss this, since the two things I am most passionate about are baseball and Star Wars. This also led to scenes like this at Kauffman Stadium:

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Sure, the in-between skits on the field were hokey and it felt like it would have been nice to have more Star Wars characters floating around all sections of the stadium, but it was still a fun time and I was just happy Kansas City finally took the plunge. Here’s to hoping this becomes a regular promotion for the Royals!

  • Finally, let’s go back to Sunday afternoon’s game. The Royals have runners on second and third with one out and Omar Infante at the plate in a tied game. On an 0-1 count, Infante would flair the ball in between the pitcher and first baseman:

Yes, it wasn’t the farthest hit ball Omar has ever had. But here is the thing; it was a difficult play for the defense to make, which hurt the White Sox chances of making the play. To further that thought, Alex Rios took off at contact. If he doesn’t do that he probably doesn’t score in that situation. It wasn’t the most dramatic hit but was the perfect description of how the Royals season has gone to date. They just find a way to win. At the end of the day, that is all that matters.

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Tweets of Royalty

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So with the White Sox in the rear-view mirror, the Royals look ahead to a three game series against Detroit. Last week, the Tigers were able to beat the Royals 2 out of 3 in the ‘Motor City’, and one has wonder if things will be different this time at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals have an 11.5 game lead in the Central, which is just mind blowing if you have watched this team the last few years. This hasn’t been done by a Royals team since 1980, and it conjures up memories of those late 70’s team that were ousted in the playoffs by the Yankees. In some ways this big lead gives them a chance to rest regulars on a consistent basis or guys who are injured(like Wade Davis); you just hope they don’t become complacent before they get to October. We are in uncharted territory but this isn’t a bad thing; in a lot of ways we have earned this as Royals fans since we sat through a lot of awful baseball for all those years. The rewards have now become a regular occurrence; let’s just hope this team is as hungry as they were before the season started.

 

 

Grade Two Sweep: Royals Pummel Rays, Lose Gordon

Kansas City Royals' Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando (16) celebrate after Orlando hit a walk-off grand slam during the ninth inning of the first game in a baseball doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday, July 7, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. The Royals won 9-5. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Sometimes there are series where it appears nothing much of importance happens and you are left wondering if you are even going to remember anything from those games a week later. Then there are series like this, which was packed full of excitement and concern. It was mentioned to me at one point this week that this would go down as possibly the most emotional series of the year, and when it is all said and done it very well could be a pivotal series that decides whether or not this team makes it to October or falls short of the prize. It’s surprising I have said all of that and yet the Royals swept the Rays, taking all four games and extending their lead in the American League Central. We have a lot of ground to cover so let’s get to it.

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Series MVP: Alcides Escobar

No disrespect for Lorenzo Cain, who packed quite a punch in the last two games of this series, but Alcides Escobar set the table for this offense to come alive this series and score a plethora of runs. Escobar was 9 for 18 this series, knocking in 3 runs on a bases clearing double and produced a .667 BAbip. Escobar pretty much owns Rays starter Chris Archer, as he went 4 for 4 against the All-Star on Wednesday night, 7 for 9 career. Escobar is not your typical leadoff hitter, as he hardly ever walks and tends to swing at the first pitch quite often. I am a big believer in working the count, taking walks and getting on base in whatever manner possible. When Alcides is on his game, he gets on base and that is all that matters. Sometimes he even bunts and ends up with a double:

I am a big Escobar supporter and this series showed a lot of reasons why he will be starting at the All-Star game next week. Escobar is one of those great acquisitions by Dayton Moore that is appreciated more when you watch him everyday. I guess we can thank Milwaukee for letting Kansas City take him off their hands:

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

In all honesty, there wasn’t one pitching performance that really stood out in this series, as the offense was really the hero for these four games. That being said, Volquez had the best game score out of the bunch, a solid 55 after his outing on Tuesday. Volquez went 5 innings, giving up 5 hits and 1 run while walking 3 and striking out 5. The only real blemish on there is the 3 walks, which are Volquez’s weakness. The good thing is the starters in this series all got through 5 innings and let the bullpen guide them the rest of the way. The Royals did see the return of Yordano Ventura on Thursday, as he coasted through the first 4 innings before struggling in the 5th, as he had a hard time finding the strike zone. I talked about this after the weekend, but getting Danny Duffy, Ventura, Jason Vargas and Kris Medlen will go a long way toward solidifying the rotation and might make it to where the Royals won’t need to go out and acquire another starter. That is the hope, since the Royals now have an All-Star sized hole in the outfield for the next two months…

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Gordon Out For Eight Weeks 

The most talked about subject from this series is the injury to All-Star left fielder Alex Gordon. Gordon went down during Wednesday night’s game and it did not look pretty:

The initial thought was a knee injury(if you watch the video, Gordon’s knee looks like it buckles right before he falls) but it turned out to be a groan strain:

The good news is Gordon won’t need surgery and should be able to start rehabbing in 2-3 weeks. Gordon is a work-out nut, which would make one think he could be back closer to 6-7 weeks than the expected 8. But groin strains are risky business:

No matter what, that leaves a hole in the Royals outfield. For now Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando will split time in left field, but neither should be starting too much, and with Alex Rios struggling as well, there is a need for another outfielder:

There is also a couple of other issues. For one, this doesn’t even factor in how important Gordon is to the fabric of this team:

The plus to that is it looks as if Gordon will still be around:

The other factor is Gordon’s contract situation. Gordon has an option on his contract at the end of this year that he can opt out of. I have no idea whether or not this injury will hamper his value on the open market. For the most part that will be determined on how he performs when he returns from the injury. If he plays fine, his value will remain as high as it was before Wednesday. If not, teams could be less likely to want to roll out a multi-year contract for “A1”. His time away will make one thing very obvious for this Kansas City Royals team:

 

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There was soooo much more this series that was notable. Now onto an emotionally charged news and notes:

  • There was a lot of roster shuffling to start off this series. Paulo Orlando was recalled from Omaha on Monday, which forced the Royals to DFA Jason Frasor. Frasor had been a solid arm in the pen for the Royals since his acquisition last year but he was low man on the totem pole and had an issue earlier this year with allowing base runners. Frasor was a total class act about being let go:

The Royals also put Mike Moustakas back on the bereavement list and recalled Cheslor Cuthbert from AAA. I’ve been following Cuthbert’s progress in the minors the last few years, even when the team had experimented with playing him at second and first base, and loved seeing him getting the call up to the big club:

By the way, Cuthbert went 5 for 15 in his first 4 games in the big leagues, including his first career triple on Thursday afternoon to drive in a couple of runs. Then there was the insane amount of moves on Thursday:

I expect some more moves before the Royals return from the All-Star break. It will be interesting to see how this team looks over the next couple of weeks.

  • Monday’s game was rained out. It was not safe in Kansas City:

https://twitter.com/staypuft/status/618189295342325760

There was also all the “mucho rain” in the Royals dugout:

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😂😂😂😂😂😂

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The game was rescheduled and played as part of a “day-night” doubleheader on Tuesday.

  • The reserves for the All-Star game were announced on Monday night, and Royals relievers Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera made it six Royals going to the All-Star game next week. Third baseman Mike Moustakas is part of the final vote, and as of this writing is leading the balloting. If he wins it, that will make it seven Royals going to Cincinnati next week.

  • Paulo Orlando might never have a greater experience than his walk-off grand slam in game one of the doubleheader on Tuesday:

The walk-off reminded me of the one Justin Maxwell hit a few years ago and was the third consecutive walk-off win for the Royals. Orlando’s slash line isn’t the most impressive in the world but he did a solid job of filling in for Alex Rios earlier this season and plays above average defense. With Gordon on the shelf, having Orlando around is a definite plus for this team.

  • Speaking of backup outfielders, Jarrod Dyson will start seeing some increased playing time, and so far he has excelled with it. First, there was this little inside the park home run on Wednesday night:

Then there was his impersonation of Willie Mays on Thursday:

He would also throw out a runner at home on Wednesday and 4 for 11 in the entire series. Right now Dyson is riding a hot streak and the Royals will need that going forward.

  • I mentioned earlier that Lorenzo Cain had a good series, despite only playing the last two games. Cain was 4 for 7, hitting 2 home runs while driving in 5 runs. I doubt anyone at this point is questioning whether or not he deserves to be in Cincinnati next week.
  • How deep is the Royals bullpen? Normally the Royals go Herrera-Davis-Holland late in the game. On Thursday, they went Madson-Hochevar-Herrera with the same results. This pen is insanely good:

 

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Tweets of Royalty

 

Kansas City Royals' Paulo Orlando, right, celebrates with teammates after hitting a walk-off grand slam during the ninth inning of the first game in a baseball doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday, July 7, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. The Royals won 9-5. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

So the offense has come back to life, and hopefully they can keep things going as the one more series before heading to the All-Star break. The Royals invite the Toronto Blue Jays into town for three games, and with only those games left it is assured the Royals will head into the break in first place in the American League Central, currently 5 games ahead of the Minnesota Twins. The Blue Jays are 3-7 in their last 10 games but they possibly have the most talent in the American League East and offensively can be a juggernaut. The Royals will throw Duffy, Young and Volquez over the next three games and then there is a chance Vargas and Medlen could be added to the team after the break. It’s a fun time to be a Kansas City Royals fan, but the injury to Alex Gordon looms over the entire team at this point and we will know soon enough if they can overcome this latest obstacle thrown in their way. I’m not going to enjoy two months of no Gordon, but I like the idea of knowing what this team’s mettle is truly made of and just how valuable Gordon is to their success. No success is truly great without some major obstacle to overcome. We are now going to see what this Royals team is truly made of.

 

 

 

 

 

Show Me Win: Royals Defeat State Rival Cardinals

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A couple times a year, the venom comes out in me. It’s a very specific time and it happens for a very specific reason. It happens because the Kansas City Royals play their state rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. Look, I respect the Cardinals organization and think they do a top notch job with their scouting and development throughout their minor league system. It’s obvious by the way the team churns out player after player that they know what they are doing. No, my distaste for this team is purely on their fanbase. You know, the ones that one time about 20 years ago were appointed “the best fans in baseball” by The Sporting News, a company based in St. Louis. The thing is, even though many of the fans there are fine, great humans and very respectful(Hi Ryan!), there have many I have met that are far from it. Every fanbase has them(I know some Royals fans that I wish I didn’t know), but there seems to be more of a sense of entitlement from St. Louis fans. So it brightens my day a little bit more when the Royals beat the Cardinals. Yes, I get a bit more joy from it then I should. Luckily, we saw 2 wins from Kansas City in this series, even if one of them was a rain shortened affair. So how did it come about? Just read on…

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Series MVP: Kendrys Morales

I will admit it; I didn’t like the Royals signing Morales. I felt his 2014 was the beginning of his regression, not the fact that he had missed Spring Training and didn’t play until June. Sure, we are only 2 months into the season but so far Morales has made me look like a big dummy. All he has done so far in 2015 is lead the league in RBI’s, be near the top in doubles, put up an OPS+ of 135 and a WAR of 1.1(which is all offense at this point since he hasn’t played in the field yet). This series he started out with a bang, as he would club a 3 run homer in the 1st inning:

Morales would follow that up in the 3rd inning with another blast to right field:

So if you are keeping count at home, that is 5 runs for Morales, 0 for the Cardinals. Yep, that was all the offense the Royals would need that night, as they would go on to shutout the team with the best record in the National League. Morales would end up 4 for 9 against the Cardinals over the weekend, scoring 3 runs while raising his slugging percentage by 45 points. I’ve recently thought about who in this lineup would be missed the most if they ended up M.I.A. and if it isn’t Mike Moustakas(who the Royals did miss in the Texas series) then it would be Morales. Hopefully he keeps it up and he can continue making the case for American League comeback player of the year, which is seems like he is on track for.

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Pitching Performance of Series: Chris Young

When Young signed with the Royals in March, it seemed like the rotation was already set and Young would be the odd man out. The team explained early on that Young would be on the Opening Day roster, even if that meant he started the year as a long reliever. I was personally fine with this, as every team needs extra pitching at some point in the season and Young was coming off being named the ‘Comeback Player of the Year’ for Seattle. Young got his first start of the year on May 1 and since then he has probably been the Royals best starter. On Friday, Young continued his high level of performance with another stellar outing against the Cardinals. Young got 6 innings of work in, giving up 6 hits, and no runs while walking 2 and striking out 2. His ERA lowered to 0.78…and 0.40 in his 4 starts!

In my eyes Young deserves to stay in the rotation until he proves otherwise. With Danny Duffy scuffling and Jason Vargas on the disabled list, it is an easy answer; Young stays put. But I have a feeling at some point a harder decision will need to be made…and if Young is still worthy, he should still be holding onto a spot in the rotation.

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#ShortstopJesus

If you watch Alcides Escobar every day, from time to time you utter the phrase “I can’t believe he just did that”. It’s almost been a crime that Escobar has barely warranted attention to being nominated for a Gold Glove award(which he was last year), let along the fact that he still hasn’t won one. On Friday night Escobar showed why many of us refer to him as “Shortstop Jesus”:

Just amazing! Maybe it’s because the Royals had Yuniesky Betancourt for years at shortstop, but I feel like we should be thankful every day that we get to watch the golden defense of Escobar. Funny thing is, that wasn’t the only great play he would make in this series:

 

I talk very glowingly of Alex Gordon in left field, but I am almost as impressed with Escobar on a daily basis at shortstop. The Royals are lucky to have him locked in for awhile and to be a steady force in the infield. His offense might not always be perfect, but I have zero complaints about the defense. He is purely of another world.

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Now onto a few notes from this I-70 Series:

  • Danny Duffy was originally scheduled to start on Sunday but was pushed back due to shoulder stiffness:

I’m playing a bit of ‘Devil’s Advocate’ here but I would almost bet money he doesn’t start on Tuesday. My gut tells me Vargas will come back and Duffy will take his spot on the DL. I’m not saying Duffy isn’t injured, but it would give the Royals a reason to send him down to AAA(on a rehab assignment) while also not using any of his options. It isn’t the worse idea, with the way Duffy has been pitching as of late.

  • Rain shortened Saturday’s game, as the Royals ended up with a 6 inning win by the score of 3-2, thanks in large part to a 2 run Alex Gordon home run. I know some Cardinal fans felt jipped, but I ask this question: who were the Cardinals going to score off of-Herrera, Davis, or Holland? I will wait for your answer…
  • After Friday’s night game, the Royals had the best record in baseball:

I don’t know about anyone else, but this was about as good a feeling as a baseball fan can get. To go from laughingstock of the sport to best record in baseball in just a few short years? Yep, it feels pretty darn good!

May 22, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals second basemen Omar Infante (14) attempts a throw to first over St. Louis Cardinals base runner Peter Bourjos (8) during the seventh inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Tweets of Royalty

 

Kansas City Royals' Alex Gordon, right, celebrates with Kendrys Morales after Gordon hit a two-run home run during the second inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

A small part of me(fairly small) really badly wanted a sweep, but there will be no complaints from me with a series win over the Cardinals. If anything it is some good mojo headed into New York to take on the Yankees for 3 this week. This road trip should be fun, as there is the games in New York and then 3 in Chicago against the Cubs. Hopefully the starting pitching can continue their streak of good starts and the offense can look past Sunday’s game against St. Louis. We are almost in June and talking best record in baseball; it’s hard not to feel like someone should pinch me. A 4-2 road trip is optimal but 3-3 would probably keep Kansas City’s lead in the Central. So for another week, the eyes of baseball are on the Royals. As much as it is weird, it is nice as well. A guy could get used to this kind of attention!

 

 

 

Short But Sweep: Royals Vanquish Reds

May 19, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Cincinnati Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco (39) steps back from a close pitch in the eighth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals won 3-0.  Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

This week began interleague play for the Kansas City Royals, as they would welcome the Cincinnati Reds into town for a short 2 game series at ‘The K’. I’m not the biggest fan of interleague games(I like having the two leagues only meet up at the All-Star Game and the World Series) but at the same time it is always interesting to see teams come into town that we probably only see maybe once every three years. So would the Royals welcome their competitors from the National League nicely…or would Kansas City show them why they are in first place in the American League Central? I think it would be safe to say the Reds received the latter.

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Series MVP: Mike Moustakas

To say Mike Moustakas enjoyed feasting on Cincinnati pitching would probably be an understatement. Moose was only 6 for 8 this series, including back to back 3 hit games. Toss in 2 doubles, 2 RBI’s and a slugging percentage of 1.000 and you have a nice way to kick off interleague play. Just consider where we were at last year at this time: Moustakas was getting sent down to AAA as he was struggling mightily and there was nothing about his swing and his approach that was good. One year later we are talking about consecutive 3 hit games and the numbers are jumping off the page at just how good he has been:

It’s hard at this point not to get excited about what Moustakas is doing at the plate and in the field(where he is in 7th place in defensive WAR with .86). Through 37 games he is over half way to his hits and runs total, has a slash line of .342/.396/.503 and an OPS+ of 147. In fact the only numbers that seem down from last year is that he has been caught stealing twice this year after not getting caught at all in 2014…and since he is not a base stealer those numbers mean absolutely nothing. The 2015 version of Mike Moustakas(Moose 2.0?) is an all around complete hitter that has solidified the number 2 spot in the order and continually has been getting on base. It’s amazing how something as simple as learning to hit the ball to the opposite field would open up his game and make him an offensive force. Now we are only nearing the end of May, so there is still a number of months left in the season, but he has already surpassed my expectations of Moustakas being a ‘.250 hitter at best’. Another few weeks of this play and he will most definitely have punched his ticket to head to Cincinnati in July for the All Star Game.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Yordano Ventura

Yordano Ventura came into this year with a ton of hype and the mantle of being the Royals ace of the rotation. Unfortunately he has gone through some growing pains this year(trademark: Thicke, Alan) and outside of a few starts where he left early due to cramps he has mainly underperformed. Luckily, the Ventura we saw quite a bit of last year showed up on Tuesday night and threw a gem of a game. Ventura went 7 innings, allowing 4 hits and no runs while walking none and striking out 6. He threw 61% of strikes and for the most part let his infield do most of the dirty work, as he induced 14 ground balls. The best part was seeing no walks and Ventura didn’t nibble around the strike zone as much as he has his last few starts. This seemed like the guy we saw in Game 6 of the World Series and someone who could lead this pitching staff. I’m sure we will see a few more bad starts from Yordano before the year is up, but if he can limit the damage and pitch more like he has this week, it will help solidify the rotation and leave one less worry for the team on the mound.

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The Catch

I am a self professed disciple of Alex Gordon. I believe him to be one of the greatest defensive players that anyone my age has ever seen. There is a reason he has won 4 Gold Glove Awards, 3 Fielding Bible Awards, one Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award in MLB and last year won the American League Platinum Glove Award. As someone who heavily values defense, I almost feel like the offense Gordon adds each year is almost extra to what he contributes with his glove, arm and mind(trust me, his mind is a big part of why he is so good). We already got one phenomenal catch this year from him in Chicago. On Wednesday night, he added another one to the highlight reel:

And now in motion:

Not only was that an amazing catch, but it also goes to show the lengths Gordon will go to just to get an out. The funny part is that ‘the catch’ was appreciated last night on many levels:

The only bad thing to the greatness of ‘A1’ is that if he doesn’t pick up the option on his contract after the season then he could venture off to some other team this offseason. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a world where Alex Gordon isn’t a Kansas City Royal. Just the thought along makes me queasy. I am not ready to have him take his skills elsewhere.

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It wasn’t just the brooms that were brought out in force. Time to look at some other news of note for this series:

  • Tack up 3 solid starts in a row for Jeremy Guthrie, all much needed. On Wednesday, Guthrie threw 6 innings giving up 5 hits, and no runs while walking 2 and striking out 3. Guthrie ran into some trouble early on in the 1st inning but after that seemed to calm down and held Cincy scoreless. These last 3 starts has lowered his ERA by almost 2 runs as he has allowed 4 earned runs in 18.1 innings. After his awful start to the season he has righted the ship and seems to be pitching more to his career performanace. With others in the rotation struggling, the Royals need Guthrie to at least be a solid turn once every 5 days.
  • There has been some discussion about Alcides Escobar maybe not being the right fit at the top of the lineup. Actually, Craig Brown of http://www.royalsauthority.com had a column last week talking about how Escobar doesn’t take enough pitches and hardly walks, which neither is a good approach at the dish if you are the leadoff hitter. I agree with Brown for the majority of this argument and his reasoning is solid. The issue is that the Royals really don’t have a typical leadoff hitter, other than possibly Alex Gordon, and you can see the argument for keeping him in the middle of the lineup. With that said, the Royals are winning with this lineup despite Escobar’s .331 OBP, which is almost purely from hits as he has only 5 walks on the season. I get where Craig is coming from on this, but I can’t imagine a change will happen anytime soon.
  • After Tuesday’s shutout of the Reds, the Royals had accomplished something that hadn’t been done by a Royals team in a very long time:

Unfortunately, they weren’t able to make it 3 shutouts in a row, as Ryan Madson gave up a run on Wednesday night. Still an impressive feat, nonetheless.

  • Closer Greg Holland was not available on Tuesday night:

It is always nice to have a healthy Holland. The thing is, without him available, they still have guys like Madson, Luke Hochevar and Jason Frasor who can do some of the heavy lifting, and Wade Davis is as good as any closer in the big leagues today(and goes to show you how out of date it is the way managers use their best pitchers in the bullpen nowadays). To have these other options has to be frightening to other teams and will be even more important later in the season.

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Tweets of Royalty 

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So with the Reds out of the way, this leads to a major matchup for the Memorial Day Weekend. It’s the best record in the American League against the best record in the National League, as the Cardinals come to Kauffman Stadium to take on the Royals. For years Cardinals fans come in swarms to Kansas City and the crowd ends up looking like a sea of read. Well, I have a feeling that won’t happen this time, as it should be a sea of blue this weekend. It also means this dormant rivalry, that really hasn’t meant anything for years now actually has some more punch behind it. I would love a series win for the Royals, sending the Cardinals back to St. Louis with their tail in between their legs. If anything it would quiet the ‘best fans in baseball'(and most of us are really tired of hearing Cardinals’  fans flapping their gums) without even having to bring up 1985. The more I think about it, a sweep at ‘the K’ would be beautiful. Hey, it’s lofty expectations but just imagine that warm and fuzzy feeling we would get from that, Royals fans? Yep, it would feel good. Very good.

Putting Out the Fire: Royals Take Out Tigers

eDETROIT, MI - MAY 08:  Alex Gordon #4 of the Kansas City Royals waits on deck during the fifth inning while playing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on May 8, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Over the last couple seasons, whenever the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers get together to slug it out, it feels like a big time event. It’s not just because the two teams have been the driving force in the American League Central. No, it’s also because these two teams feel much more evenly matched as more and more time goes by. Plus, lets be honest here; whenever you play a team 18-20 times a year, you know more about their flaws than sometimes even your own. So yes, we are just a few weeks into May, but having the Royals and Tigers lock up felt like a big event this weekend, one that brought forth 3 really good games in Motown.

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Series MVP: Alex Gordon

As has become the norm in May, Alex Gordon has started heating up the last few weeks. Gordon is a notorious slow starter and add in the offseason wrist surgery and he was bound to get a slow beginning to his 2015 season. Luckily for the Royals, he has started hitting and he came up big for the Royals in the rubber game on Sunday night. But he also came away with a big single in Friday night’s game:

This would tie the game for Kansas City in the 7th inning and it would stay that way until the bottom of the 9th. The Royals would unfortunately lose that game but not because of Gordon, who had a stellar night on Friday, going 3 for 4. In fact Gordon was 4 for 9 in this series, driving in 2 runs and scoring the winning run on Sunday night in extra innings. In fact, Gordon got on base that inning thanks to a hit by pitch, his 2nd in the series. He also received 2 free passes in this series from Tigers pitchers and was basically on base more than he was not. This series raised both his On Base Percentage and his slugging over 20 points, which is a big boost. It was tough to pick an MVP for this series, since as a group the offense had a good one and numerous players were considered, but Gordon felt like he was a notch above everyone else while in Detroit and was a vital cog in the team’s run scoring efforts.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Jeremy Guthrie

This was about a welcome surprise as anything else this season. It’s been chronicled many times(seriously, just go back and read about every series wrap-up, where I mention how ineffective Guthrie has been this year) so it was nice to see Guthrie go out and shutdown the Tigers on Saturday afternoon. He threw 7.1 innings of 8 hit, 2 run ball, only allowing 1 walk and 3 strikeouts. Yes folks, that was Guthrie’s first quality start of the season and a lot of it was the ability to keep the Detroit batters off-balance. Guthrie compiled 19 fly balls and 8 ground balls, which is about the norm for him, although compared to his last outing against Detroit he had more fly balls than line drives by a healthy margin. Guthrie is never going to blow anyone away, but if he can perform something close to this on a fairly regular basis, he will have earned his spot in the rotation and help the Royals in a time when the starting pitching has been struggling.

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Mother Nature and the Royals Bullpen 

Sunday night the Royals were put into a peculiar situation. Kansas City was tied with the Tigers going into the bottom of the 9th inning and they had already announced that Luke Hochevar was coming into the game for the Royals. Instead the tarps came out and the game was halted do to the storm that was passing through. The delay went for almost 90 minutes and left Kansas City with a decision to make; let Hochevar still pitch or bring in anothe reliever. Hochevar had just been activated this past week, as it would have been his third game back after being out for the last year due to Tommy John Surgery. He had pitched the day before against the Tigers, but had thrown only 3 pitches, thus negating any worry about using him 2 days in a row. The Royals erred on the side of caution, instead bringing Jason Frasor in once the delay had been lifted. More than anything the team doesn’t want to take the chance of re-injuring Hochevar, so for the time being they will be extremely cautious with him. It was a smart choice, but it also left Kansas City with one less reliever. Because he was announced as coming into the game before the rain delay was announced, it was official and left the Royals with one less reliever once the game resumed.

Considering how much the bullpen has been used as of late, this was not a scenario the Royals really wanted to be stuck with. Luckily, Kansas City would score a run in the top of the 10th and brought Greg Holland in the bottom of the inning to close it out. That brings up another point…

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Notes, notes and more notes from a stellar May matchup:

  • If you have a weak heart, Sunday night’s game might not have been for you. The bases were loaded by Detroit in both the bottom of the 9th and 10th and were unable to score any runs. Jason Frasor and Greg Holland wiggled out of these jams and came out spotless. It wasn’t fun to watch though. One wonders if the weather played a part in it, as Frasor walked 2 and Holland 3. Their pace wasn’t very good either. Those last couple innings were the epitome of ugly baseball and after bringing it up I think I will now purge it from my memory.
  • Omar Infante tried to make a ridiculous behind the back flip to first base on a ground ball in the 3rd inning Sunday and cost the Royals a run. I’ve watched it over and over and still can’t figure out what he was thinking.

Look, Chris Young is tall…but he isn’t that tall!

  • Speaking of Young, another great outing for him against Detroit. 6 innings, 3 hits, and 1 unearned run while walking none and striking out 3. For now he has Jason Vargas’ spot in the rotation while he is on the disabled list, but there has to be some talk of giving Young a more permanent spot if the rest of the rotation doesn’t start shaping up.
  • Mike Moustakas missed the series, as he was put on the bereavement list. I have not heard what it was for(I have been asked multiple times this past weekend) but I do know his mother has been sick the last few years. Hope everything goes well with whatever the issue was. Moustakas should be back on Monday.
  • The Royals did make a flurry of roster moves before Friday’s game:

  • Drew Butera made his Royals debut on Saturday, starting in the place of Salvador Perez. In fact, Butera(son of former big leaguer Sal Butera)played the entire game, which means a complete day off for Perez. Why am I making a big deal of this? Because even if the backup catcher starts a game in Salvy’s place, it is almost inevitable that he ends up in the game before it is all said and done.

I personally like Butera; good game caller, and works well with the pitching staff. His only downfall is he can’t hit worth a lick.

  • I know there was some uproar in Friday’s night game because Yohan Pino was brought in to pitch the 9th instead of Greg Holland. I more than anyone hate the idea that manager’s have where you can’t bring in your closer unless it is a save situation. I believe more in you bring in your best pitcher when the situation is more dire. But I also realize most managers think this way and that isn’t going to change anytime soon, so a pass here for Ned Yost. I also didn’t have issue with it since Pino to that point had not allowed a run in over 10 innings of work and Holland had just come off the disabled list earlier in the week. It wasn’t like Yost had brought in a reliever that had been stinking the place up as of late(see: 2014 Crow, Aaron). It was a move that just didn’t pan out, as Detroit would get on base and score the winning run off Pino.
  • Alex Gordon might have been my MVP of the series, but another good series for Eric Hosmer. Hosmer was 4 for 14 with 2 RBI’s. The biggest thing is he continues to hit the ball to the opposite field, a sign that he is locked in and seeing the ball good.
  • It was also a good series for the returning Alcides Escobar. He went 4 for 15, including his first ever leadoff home run on Saturday to start the Royals rally against notorious “Royals Killer” Anibal Sanchez.
  • Kelvin Herrera started serving his suspension during this series and should be back this week against the Rangers.
  • Speaking of suspensions, Yordano Ventura returned from his on Friday, and continued to underwhelm. Ventura went 6 innings, giving up 8 hits and 4 runs with 3 walks and 4 strikeouts. Between Ventura and Danny Duffy, James Shields presence is surely being missed by these youngsters.

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Tweets of Royalty

 

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So now the Royals lead the American League Central by 1.5 games over the Tigers, with the Royals headed to Arlington to take on the Rangers. Four against Texas this week and then 3 at home against the New York Yankees this weekend should make for an interesting week. More than anything, the Royals need the rotation to stabilize this week, and Danny Duffy is the first up for that task on Monday. If the pitching doesn’t work, I suggest touching Adrian Beltre’s head; it seems to distract him. A positive week should go a long way toward extending their lead in the central; a bad week might push them behind Detroit. Think positive and we will be discussing the first place Royals for another week.

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