A Season in Doubt

Credit: Kansas City Star

Up until Monday, things had been going fairly smooth for major league teams as they had opened up Spring Training 2.0 (or Summer Camp. Let’s be honest here: Summer Camp brings a grin to my face) and started getting ready for the 2020 campaign. In fact, there has been some great nuggets of info coming out for the Royals.

For instance, Josh Staumont is regularly hitting over 100 MPH on the radar. Sure, that’s not a big shock but it’s good to see the time up didn’t make it to where he would have to rev back up again.

Seuly Matias put on a power display the other day that made all his injury woes and slumps look like old news:

But there was also some troubling news from Royals camp over the 4th of July weekend:

Salvy appears to be asymptomatic. In case you are wondering, here is some of the criteria Perez would have to meet to get back into camp:

So while the news on Salvy wasn’t great or awful, the news filtering out on Monday for other major league camps was sobering:

and…

So teams are having issues getting their results back, which makes it hard to feel safe moving forward with any kind of team activity. In fact, we should probably point out that without accurate and timely testing, the idea of getting through a 60 game season feels like wishful thinking. It appears Nationals GM Mike Rizzo agrees with that sentiment:

At this point it is only fair to point out that I have been skeptical of having any sort of MLB season go off without any problems. Considering how as a country we have given up on dealing with this virus and have decided to play a dangerous game of chicken, it has felt like baseball (or any other sport for that matter) would be hard to pull off without seeing a start and stop at some point.

Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

In some ways, the idea of fitting in any semblance of a major league season has seemed foolhardy at best and irresponsible at worst. I as much as anyone misses baseball, but when Covid-19 cases are rising across our country over the last few weeks, it feels weird to think that any sport thinking “THIS” is the time to get going seems selfish. In fact it has been annoying to see baseball fans clamor for guys to ‘shut up and go play’ for the simple task of amusing us. If you can not see the dangers at hand for many of these players and how it could be an unsafe environment, then you aren’t really paying attention.

But baseball owners want to make at least some money this season. Players want to play, but is it worth it? We have already seen many stars opt out for this season, guys like David Price, Ryan ZimmermanIan Desmond, and most recently Nick Markakis. Notice something similar in these players? Yes, they are all veterans:

It only makes sense that players who are in a good financial situation would weigh the risk and rewards of this season and decide sitting it out isn’t the worst thing in the world. In that same regard, it is easy to see how younger players who want to earn a big league job or at the least make an impression on the people in power in their organization would rate the reward a bit higher. In some ways, they don’t have the same options that a major league veteran would have.

Credit: Kyle Rivas/UPI

So what will it take before baseball shuts this all down? I tend to believe it will take more than it should if we are being honest. It might take a major outbreak, where the players testing positive reach double digits. It might take testing results interfering in actual games getting played. Or it might even take someone, whether it be a player, coach, umpire or even clubhouse attendant getting deathly ill to pull the plug. More than anything, it feels like it will take too long to make a decision that should be easy to make.

I guess that is my biggest concern: is it worth it to even attempt a season? If Covid cases across the country were slanting down and real effort was being put into keeping everyone safe, then having a season wouldn’t feel like a stretch. But I can’t sit here and confidently say things are being taken care of as they should when it comes to the health of everyone this could affect. Instead, it feels like a business opening too soon and causing unnecessary risk for the sake of $$$.

There is something to be said here about our need of entertainment during this global pandemic. Just like how players have to weigh the risk and reward to do this, I wish more fans would think about whether having baseball is really necessary for their entertainment. As a culture, many latch onto sports to fill some sort of need for competition, to give them a connection to people. That being said, there is a point where that need goes overboard and reality becomes an afterthought.

The reality is this virus is dangerous. The reality is that baseball is entertainment. As much as we all love the game, for me 60 games isn’t worth endangering lives and causing health issues for not only players, but also their families. I don’t think MLB is going to be able to pull off this season and I definitely don’t think we are going to see 60 games. The reality is that baseball comes in way behind containing the virus at this point. It’s too bad people in higher positions within the game don’t see that at the moment.

 

Rooting Problems

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For the first time in 3 years I have no idea of who to root for when the Major League Baseball playoff’s start in a few weeks. As a Kansas City Royals fan, this is the first year since 2013 that our “Boys in Blue” haven’t been a part of the postseason and during that span I appear to have forgotten how to pick a team to cheer for come October. Since I need to figure out the team I am pulling for, I figured I would break down each team that will probably end up in postseason play and see which one I should be cheering for. Yes, this seems like a perfect scientific approach to this issue…said no one ever. I have no idea where this will lead me, folks; I guess we are going to find out together.

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Boston Red Sox

Boston is an interesting start to this experiment. For one, I really appreciate the fact that a big part of this team’s core was built from within, as up and comers like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are homegrown talent. It’s hard to dislike second baseman Dustin Pedroia and I can appreciate this team’s offensive approach. But the team’s pitching could be an issue, although the starters have held their own this year for the most part. The bullpen doesn’t seem as strong and we all know how important the pen is during the postseason. But more than anything, I am tired of the David Ortiz narrative that has been spewed this season. I am officially sick of the adulation and instantly shut my ears down once he is being discussed. With the expectation being that the Ortiz talk will only intensify as the team progresses, I can’t condone cheering for this team. I won’t put myself through that kind of mental hell. So Boston probably won’t be my team.

Chance of Cheering: 25%

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Cleveland Indians

The Indians have some big positives going on. For one, the starting pitching has been a force all year for them, although they are now down a Danny Salazar and a Carlos Carrasco, which might not bode well for them(sounds like more Trevor Bauer to me). I have always felt Terry Francona is one of the better managers in the game and knew it was a matter of time till he got this team on the same page. In some ways, this team reminds of those late 90’s Indians teams that were a young bunch of players blossoming at the same time. But…they are in the Royals division and despite the fact I don’t hate them like I hate the White Sox, I just can’t, in good conscious, root for a team in the same division as “my team”. There’s also that whole bad luck thing with Cleveland over the years. So the Indians are a no-go, no matter how many positives there are on this team. I. Just. Can’t.

Chance of Cheering: 15%

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Texas Rangers

The Rangers are the best team in the American League and it is easy to see how they have gotten here. For one, they have an electric offense, built around Adrian Beltre and Ian Desmond and have a great bunch of complimentary players. Hey, they get votes from me just for having Roughned Odor on their roster; anyone who punches Jose Bautista in the face is a friend in my eyes. They have also gotten a good season out of Cole Hamels, but the pitching is a bit worrisome. Starters are in the bottom fifth of the league while their relievers are in the bottom third, with neither posting the greatest of numbers. But I kind of like this team, and they have never won a World Series before, which makes them a bit more intriguing. I’m not completely ready to buy in, but my interest is piqued with Texas.

Chance of Cheering: 55%

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Toronto Blue Jays

No. Just no. Look, I have no issue with Blue Jays fans. I love Canada. But…all I can think of is Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista complaining about pitchers throwing inside, while wearing enough body armor that they could be considered part of King Arthur’s ‘Knights of the Round Table’. Or Bautista throwing Ryan Goins under the bus in last year’s playoffs. Or really anything Bautista says. Look, I’m sure there are reasons to root for this team. I just don’t see any of them and instead might be rooting against them. Sorry, Toronto.

Chance of Cheering: 0%

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Baltimore Orioles
Credit: Tommy Gilligan (USA TODAY)

Baltimore Orioles

Alright, now we have the first team that I feel like I can really get behind. I’m not the biggest fan of teams known for their propensity for slugging the ball, but watching a player of Manny Machado’s caliber can change a man’s mind. Add in the likes of Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo and you have an offense that could rival Boston’s if given the chance. Baltimore’s starting pitching isn’t going to blow anyone away, but their bullpen is a different story. The pen is lead by Zach Britton, who has had a phenomenal season and could get a number of first place votes for the American League Cy Young award. Not many expected the Orioles to be where they are today, and for that I could easily see myself cheering for them.

Chance of Cheering: 75%

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Washington Nationals

Washington is another team I can see myself rooting for. I like their young core of players like Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon and enjoy watching guys like Stephen Strasburg (who hopefully will be healthy soon) and Max Scherzer in their element. This Nationals team seems like a perfect fit to make a deep run in the playoffs this year and should be a serious World Series contender. Will Daniel Murphy put on a playoff tear like he did last year for New York? Will Scherzer dominate like he does in the regular season? Will Jayson Werth cuss in a postgame interview again? The Nationals could be a fun team to follow this October and would be a good choice to cheer on.

Chance of Cheering: 80%

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Diego Padres
(Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers are an interesting team, as they are a weird hybrid of talent and dysfunction, and I’m not just talking about Yasiel Puig. Is this the year the Dodgers get over the hump and return to the World Series? Is this the year Clayton Kershaw dominates in the postseason? Hey, it could happen to worse teams. I would love to see Kershaw strap the rest of the team on his back as he leads them to the ‘Fall Classic’. This is a very talented team but definitely one that has their flaws. I could see me rooting for them, but a few other teams would have to fall to the waste-side for that to happen.

Chance of Cheering: 50%

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San Francisco Giants

We’ve all made the joke; The Giants have won the World Series the last 3 even years, so of course they will be accepting the trophy again this year, right? Hey, I might be inclined to tell you this team is different and could have some big obstacles in front of them if/when they reach October. But the other part of me knows that this is a team that has ‘been there and done that’ and should never be counted out. They still have Buster Posey. They still have Madison Bumgarner. They still have future HOF manager Bruce Bochy. So yeah, the odds might be stacked against this team, but they seem to like it that way. Sound familiar, Royals fans? Add in the quirkiness of Hunter Pence and Johnny Cueto and I can’t say I won’t root for them. They just don’t feel like my first choice, that is all.

Chance of Cheering: 65%

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New York Mets

Yep, these guys are back. In many a way, they feel a lot like last year’s team; great pitching, weaker hitting. I am not opposed to watching the Mets young fireballers throw shade in the postseason, in fact that seems like it would be fun. I would LOVE to see Bartolo Colon hit a walk-off home run to win Game 7 of the World Series, because “Big Sexy” is capable of anything. There really isn’t much with this team that I dislike, but there really isn’t a ton that compels me either. In other words, the Mets probably aren’t my ‘October Team’. Plus, I still hold it against Mr. Met for almost knocking me over at Kauffman Stadium at the All-Star Game in 2012. But that is another story for another time…

Chance of Cheering: 55%

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St. Louis Cardinals

As a self-respecting Kansas City Royals fan, I can in no way, shape or form, root for the Cardinals. It is against everything I stand for and everything I believe in. Plus, every ounce of my body hates them. Sorry, this ain’t happening!

Chance of Cheering: -1000%

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Chicago Cubs

…and we have our winner! Sure, a few of you would assume I am cheering for the Cubs since they are the odds on favorites to win the World Series. Nope, that’s not it. Hey, could it be wanting the team who hasn’t won the whole thing in over 100 years to finally come out on top? Nope, try again. It’s not even because one of my favorite players (Ben Zobrist) plays on this team, or my fondness for Joe Maddon. All these reasons, while solid, aren’t the real reason that I will be rooting for the Cubs this October. No, the real reason is simpler than all of that. As a kid, I loved baseball. By the age of ten, I was fully engulfed in baseball fever. It became the obsession it still is today. Back in those days, we didn’t always get to watch my favorite team, the Royals, as they only aired them maybe once or twice a week, at best. But what team was on almost every single afternoon, and especially when I came home from school? The Chicago Cubs. The Cubs were shown on WGN on a daily basis and in my thirst for baseball I would sit and watch an insane amount of games…or at least watch them until I decided to go outside and actually play baseball! So because of this, I still have a deep affinity for the Cubbies. They are a part of my youth, and I will always hold them in a higher regard than a lot of teams because of it. Yes, I want the curse to be broken and I want all those Cubs fans to have some of the joy that us Royals fans got to wrap ourselves around these last few seasons. They have earned it. Because of this, I’m rooting for the Cubs to break through and get their third world championship. You can think it’s me jumping on a bandwagon, but it’s me acknowledging that this franchise was a big part of my love of baseball over the years. I’m just looking to give some of that back.

Chance of Cheering: 100%

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So there you go; I guess I should have seen where this was going but it was still a fun little experiment. It will be weird this October to not see the Royals in the playoffs, but it will be a lot less stressful. Here’s to hoping your team is one of the teams I mentioned  and that they have a deep run in the postseason. It’s a month of excitement, great performances and unbelievable results. It is the best reason to love baseball…and it is almost upon us!

 

 

 

No Love From Oakland: Royals Sweep A’s

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As the Royals headed to Oakland this past weekend there was a ton of speculation about just what might happen as these two teams clashed for the first time since April. Most remember that tension filled series a few months back, as what started as a rematch of a great wild card game from 2014 turned into a heated and bitter battle that saw fielders injured and batters getting thrown at. If you forgot or were in a coma back in April, here is my summary. So with all this said, there was hope that all the drama had vanished and these two teams would just focus on the game being played. The A’s came into the series on a bit of a winning streak and the Royals were just the team with the best record in the American League. So what unfolded? Just a fun three game series that sure didn’t bring the dull.

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Series MVP: Kendrys Morales 

I was wrong. When Royals General Manager Dayton Moore signed Kendrys Morales this past offseason, there was a lot of worry that the Royals had gotten rid of one regressing DH(Billy Butler) for another regressing DH(Morales). Morales was coming off of a disaster of a season, as he didn’t even sign with a team until a few months into the season and just never seemed to get his feet out from underneath him. Morales had a line last year of .207/.285/.347, an OPS+ of 83 and a WAR of -0.3. I was one of those worried that Kansas City got a player on the decline and locked him up for multiple years(he is signed through 2016 with a mutual option for 2017). Instead, Morales has been one of the(if not the most) consistent hitter for the Royals this season and has solidified the middle of the order for Kansas City. This series was no different, as Morales was 4 for 11 against Oakland this series, 1 home run, 3 RBI, and 2 walks and had a number of key hits for them this series. His clutch percentage this season is 0.6 compared to last year’s -0.5 and is close to his best seasons of 0.8 back in 2010 and 2013. Morales even got some time at 1B in this series, as Hosmer was the DH on Sunday, thanks to sprained finger on his left hand. Even when others in the middle of the batting order have been slumping, Morales has been the rock of this team. There is still another half of the season to go but at this point you would have to say that this has been a plus signing for Moore and shows sometimes a player will play above his peripherals. A great signing that continues to pay off for Kansas City.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez     

Speaking of great signings this past offseason, it is safe to say that Edinson Volquez is also in the plus section of that category. Volquez continued to marvel on Friday night, throwing 7 innings, giving up 3 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 3. It was also a milestone game for ‘Easy Eddie’, as it was his 200th career start and he achieved his 1,000 career strikeout. It was Volquez’s best game in over a month, as he had a game score of 69, his best since May 17th against the Yankees. At this point it appears that when Volquez keeps his walks down(2 or less) he seems to shine. When he walks 3 or more, he seems to struggle a bit more. One would assume more baserunners mean more trouble, and the walks have always been Volquez’s big issue throughout his career. The positive is that with some of the Royals younger pitchers struggling this season(Ventura, Duffy) Volquez has been a steadying force in the rotation and has kept his team in games while eating innings in almost every start. In fact so far this season he is averaging 6 innings a start, well above the rest of the Royals rotation. As we get deeper into the season, the need for a starter like Volquez is a must and will help keep the team atop the American League hierarchy. Now, if only the Royals could get some of his consistency to rub off on the rest of the rotation…

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas, right, scores beneath Oakland Athletics catcher Stephen Vogt in the sixth inning of a baseball game Sunday, June 28, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

‘C’ is For Clutch

Let’s venture back to the 6th inning in Sunday’s game. Jesse Chavez was still on the mound for Oakland as they led the game 2-0 and he would give up a leadoff double to Mike Moustakas followed by a single to right from Kendrys Morales. Chavez would get Eric Hosmer to fly out to center field, with neither runner advancing. This would bring Salvador Perez to the plate and he would hit a chopper to third base. Max Muncy fielded the ball cleanly but with Moustakas chugging it home, Muncy would throw the ball high to catcher Steven Vogt, allowing Moose to score and also allowing Morales to get to third base while Perez would safely advance to second. Chavez would then intentionally walk Alex Gordon, loading the bases and making it possible for a force out at any base. Alex Rios would follow by hitting a fly ball to center field, a sacrifice fly and a productive out, to score Morales and tie the game, while Perez advanced to third. To cap off  the Royals rally, All-Star hopeful Omar Infante would line a single to right, scoring Perez and putting the Royals in front for good. The Royals have been about as clutch as humanly possible this season, leading the American League at 3.06 clutch percentage. In fact, the Royals are one of only 4 teams in the league hitting above average in those situations. There is a lot to be said for a team that steps up when necessary, but when you are doing it as often as Kansas City it also means you have the best record in the American League. Can you imagine just how much higher this stat would be if the Royals took a walk even occasionally?

Kansas City Royals' Eric Hosmer flings his bat after hitting a two-run single off Oakland Athletics' Jesse Hahn futinh the third inning of a baseball game Friday, June 26, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

There was much more that went on in Oakland. Here is just a few items of note:

  • Most of us were wondering if there would be some retaliation from the A’s in this series from their last encounter in Kansas City, but it appeared revenge was not on the menu. There was some concern after Franklin Morales hit Steven Vogt on the wrist Friday night, but no one took it as a purpose pitch. Speaking of Vogt, I felt for the guy this weekend. Between the hit by pitch and a couple other instances of balls hitting him while he was behind the dish he was the definition of the walking wounded.
  • I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but the gap between the Royals and A’s defense was very present in this series. I’ve mentioned this before when comparing the Royals to other defenses, but I feel it can’t be stressed enough. While the Royals are near the top of the league in Defensive Runs Saved and UZR, the A’s are near the bottom. If you want to point to some of the struggles Oakland is having, looking at a UZR of -23.9 for a starting point. I hate picking on Marcus Semien, but his problems are very apparent. Semien was basically a second baseman and third baseman before this year, so in some ways Oakland should have seen some of this coming when they shifted him to shortstop. The A’s are always good at moving players around the diamond and getting as much as they can out of what they have. Sometimes though the focus on offense hurts them on the defensive side of the coin.
  • Chris Young bounced back from his rough start last weekend against Boston to hurl a 6 inning, 1 run outing. Young is currently sitting at 69 innings so far this season, and one wonders how deep the Kansas City coaching staff will let him continue to start this year before he is shuffled back to the bullpen. Royals manager Ned Yost has mentioned he has an innings limit in mind; I have to believe he probably isn’t too far off from that total.
  • Omar Infante continues to hit, as he has now gotten a hit in 12 of his last 13 games. The current top vote-getter in the American League at 2B, Infante is hitting .360 over the last 2 weeks, with 5 doubles, 6 RBI’s and a BAbip of .419. The Royals are still looking at possible second base trade possibilities before the deadline, but for now Infante is earning his keep in the lineup.
  • Wade Davis came close to losing his streak of innings pitched without allowing a home run. Marcus Semien hit a ball off the wall in left center Sunday afternoon that was a little too close to the top. I did a little digging, and the last time Davis gave up a dinger was on August 24, 2013 to Ian Desmond of the Nationals at Kauffman Stadium. I don’t know if we will see this streak fall this year but it really puts in perspective just how impressive Davis’ performance these past couple years is.
  • Salvador Perez’s reached a milestone with his home run Sunday afternoon:

Congratulations to Salvy on this achievement, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to gain control of the ball afterwards:

Although I think Salvy might know who has it:

I’m going to die laughing if a guy named Mike Stone actually has the ball. If not, Mike Stone is getting unjustly blamed for being a jerk.

  • Speaking of milestones(not #mikestones), Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie piled up his 1,000th career strikeout on Sunday. A nice achievement for a guy who is not a strikeout pitcher. The Royals were able to procure this ball though, so Mike Stone can’t be blamed for keeping another ball with significance.
  • And finally, Mike Moustakas continues to put himself in the front of the comeback player of the year category:

Not only are those numbers highly impressive, but Moustakas is also currently sitting at 85 hits for the season. In 140 games last year he got 97 hits.

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Tweets of Royalty

 

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With only three games remaining on the road trip, the Royals are 5-1 so far with Houston on the track for the next series. The Astros could be a fun series, since they have played above expectations this year with a nice core of younger players. The Royals are surely going to try and stretch out their 5.5 game lead in the American League Central before Minnesota ventures into Kansas City this upcoming Thursday for a 4 game series. Right now this Royals team is looking unstoppable, but we have all seen what happens once you assume it is easy sailing. Hopefully Hosmer, Cain and Escobar can all get healed up this week and the Royals can take two more series. The All-Star game is around the corner and should give this team a much needed break. At this point, the positives far outweigh the negatives as we approach the halfway point of the season. Revel in this, Royals fans; we are truly seeing one of the best teams in Kansas City in years. If that doesn’t bring a smile to your face, then you must be a Cardinals fan…

 

 

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