Owning the Royals

Last week it was announced that longtime Minnesota Twins stalwart Joe Mauer would be retiring after 15 seasons in the big leagues. When it became official, a small smirk spread across my face but not for the reasons you think. 

No, I don’t hate Joe Mauer; in fact it’s quite the opposite. I have immense respect for Mauer and everything he did in baseball. The smirk wasn’t even about Twins fans, as I have no issues with them either. I even feel their pain when it comes to Joe, since this is probably going to be eerily similar to what happens next year involving Alex Gordon.

Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

No, I smirked because when I picture Mauer, I picture him getting another hit off of a Kansas City pitcher. I know it isn’t the truth, but it feels like he got a hit off of the Royals every time he came to the plate against them. So no, he isn’t hitting 1.000 off of Kansas City for his entire career, but it felt like it. 

It felt like it because Mauer owned the Royals. He was that guy who came up to the plate and in my brain I instantly thought ‘he’s going to get a hit right here’; more times than not he did. Lifetime against the Royals, Joe hit .319/.401/.442 with an OPS+ of 104.

Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

But this got me to wondering what other players have owned Royals pitching over the years. I’m sure most of us can rattle off a few player’s names that always appeared to do damage against Kansas City, but will the numbers actually agree with our initial perceptions? 
  

I decided to set a baseline. I went with batters with 180 or more plate appearances against the Royals, since that would show a more consistent level of sustained success. While it might not be everyone’s first choice for determining success, I started with batting average:

Credit: Baseball-Reference.com

Based on our criteria, Dustin Pedroia has the highest batting average against the Royals for batters with 180 plate appearances or more. Out of active players, Mike Trout is 9th, Jacoby Ellsbury is 10th (yes, he is technically still active), Adrian Beltre 19th and Erick Aybar 20th. A few other notables include Michael Brantley, Francisco Lindor and Ian Kinsler.

How about the most hits against Kansas City pitching?

Baseball-Reference.com

While Hall of Famer Rod Carew leads the pack here, it’s interesting to see Victor Martinez right behind, trailing by only 11 hits. It makes more sense when you remember that Martinez played almost his entire career in the American League Central, playing for Cleveland or Detroit for 15 of his 16 seasons. 

Mauer sits in third here, followed by two Paul’s, Molitor and Konerko. When I started down this path, Konerko was one of the names that instantly popped in my head, so no real surprise here.

Credit: Associated Press

  Let’s move on to home runs:

Baseball-Reference.com

Alex Rodriguez is a surprising winner in this category, hitting 50 career bombs against Royals pitching. Not surprising is Jim Thome in second with 49 and the dreaded Paul Konerko in third with 45 homers. For active players, Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Santana are tied with 27 long-shots, although one has moved on to the National League and the other has begun the downside of his illustrious career. 

In a bit of a shock, Grady Sizemore hit 25 career home runs off of Kansas City while posting an OPS+ of 131. Maybe it’s just slipping my mind but I don’t remember Sizemore being that much of a thorn in the Royals side.

Credit: Ron Vesely

Time now for the most total bases:

Baseball-Reference.com

‘Royal Killer’ Paul Konerko compiled the most total bases against Kansas City at 418. He is followed by Cal Ripken Jr. with 410 and then A-Rod with 378. With Martinez and Mauer retiring, the highest total on this list for an active player is Cabrera with 322, followed then by notorious villain Ian Kinsler with 263.    

That leads us to the highest tOPS+ all-time against the Royals:

Baseball-Reference.com

And the winner is….Gerald Laird? Okay, I figured at some point we would run across a name that came out of left field and we just got it. He is followed by a couple other odd names in Chris Singleton and Craig Monroe.

Diving deeper down the list, the highest active player is Dustin Pedroia at 147, and a few more notches down you get Erick Aybar at 145 and Carlos Santana at 144. With tOPS+ being an adjusted stat and not a cumulative one, it makes sense it would be the one with players that wouldn’t just pop into your head. But considering we are basing this off of more than 180 plate appearances, it is still impressive at what Laird, Singleton and Monroe did against the Royals over the years.


Credit: AP Photo/Genevieve Ross

Finally, a look at the total offensive contribution with Runs Created:

Baseball-Reference.com

A-Rod had the most Runs Created all-time against Kansas City with 170.9, followed by Jim Thome and Frank Thomas. Mauer is fifth with 145.4 and Konerko right behind him with 144.7. To find an active hitter you have to travel all the way down to 18th on the list, where Miguel Cabrera sits with  118.9.

In fact the next active player that currently resides in the AL Central (and that doesn’t mean current free agents, like Michael Brantley) is Jason Kipnis at 81 with 72.8. It looks like there will have to be a new crop of players to replace the guys like Mauer and Martinez who have been pouncing on Kansas City pitching for years. 


Credit: Brian Davidson/Getty Images 

So what did this experiment teach us? For one, it shows us that we don’t need numbers to know that Mauer, Konerko, Martinez, etc., were abusing the Royals all these years. The eye test didn’t betray us in this regard.  

It has also showed us what the unbalanced schedule has done to skew the numbers on this list. While it’s understandable why MLB has moved away from the balanced schedule, you do wonder if some of these numbers would be different if each team didn’t play the other teams in their division 19 times each year.  

Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The perfect example is the total hits against the Royals. Would Victor Martinez only be 11 hits behind Rod Carew if they had the balanced schedule? Probably not. Could you imagine if Carew, after all those years with the Twins and Angels (who were in the American League West with Kansas City at the time) had played the Royals 19 times a season? It’s all a matter of preference, but the shift in the schedule does make one wonder what might have been.

What it does probably tell us is that the Royals having a lot of bad pitching over the last 20 years probably helped some of these numbers as well. It also tells me I won’t miss watching Joe Mauer spray hits into the outfield against Kansas City. Joe is a true baseball treasure, but he also owned a portion of the Royals, whether David Glass was aware of it or not.

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Whitley’s World

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Almost from the moment he made his major league debut in 2016, Whit Merrifield  became a fan favorite. Maybe it was the extra hustle, maybe it was the long journey it took him to get to the big leagues. There was the dazzling defense, the clutch hits and even the boyish grin. Most importantly though was Whit’s production: .283/.323/.392 slash line and 1.6 bWAR. He got off to a fast start with Kansas City before hitting a bump in the road, finishing with an OPS+ of 90. It was believed most of the offseason that Merrifield would take over the second base position for the 2017 season, but in the end Raul Mondesi won the job and Whit was optioned to AAA. He was only in the minors for nine games this year before being recalled and since then he has been nothing short of amazing, producing at a higher level.

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Over 100 games, Merrifield is hitting .293/.330/.473 with an OPS+ of 109 and 3.4 bWAR. He has already toppled his number for Total Bases from last year (186 to 122) and his power numbers have seen the biggest increase. Whit’s home run total of 14 easily beats his total from last year (2) and his 17 combined this year (between the majors and AAA) is an increase over his combined totals last year (10 total between the big leagues and minors). But it’s not just the home runs; Merrifield has seen in increase in his doubles and triples, and his slugging percentage and wOBA have seen an uptick as well. Whit has increased his body mass over the last two offseasons, which has been a big part of the increase in his power numbers. Maybe the most surprising revelation last winter was that he had bumped his meal intake to seven meals a day, increasing his muscle mass. To me, this read as a guy who was 27 years old coming into the 2016 season, knew he was going to have to improve to not only make it to the majors, but to stay as well. Whit has done just that and put himself with some impressive company.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Kansas City Royals

When comparing Merrifield to other second baseman, he is right there among the top at the position in the American League. Whit is 3rd in WAR and slugging percentage, 6th in wRC+, ISO and doubles, 5th in wOBA, 4th in OPS and first in triples. These numbers have put him right there with the Cano’s, Pedroia’s and Altuve’s of the world, which is very select company in the league. In fact, most of his numbers have either been on par or better than Ian Kinsler, Brian Dozier and Rougned Odor, all mainstays in the second base conversation. Whit has put himself in this discussion with his production, but it does beg a question: Is he better left at second base, or would he better served to go back to being a utility guy?

Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals

I ask this question because that has always been the plan for Merrifield, but the Royals need at second has been stronger. For right now, Whit is a good fit where he is at. But for the long run (and the longevity of his career) he might very well be better suited for the utility role. While some Royals fans have thrown out the idea of him being comparable to former Royal Ben Zobrist, I’m not as sure that Merrifield is quite that good. During the peak of his career, Zobrist was putting up solid 5.0 fWAR seasons. While Merrifield isn’t too far off this year with his 3.4 bWAR, offensively Whit isn’t quite the player Zobrist was. Ben had more power than Whit but where the big difference is notable is in walks. During his prime years, Zobrist would regularly post a 11-15% walk rate. In his two years in the majors Whit has posted a 5.7% and a 4.7% walk rate. In fact, the highest walk rate of Whit’s career, both minor and majors, was a 11. 6% in 190 plate appearances back in 2014. While both players can fill in admirably at numerous positions, Zobrist was a more complete offensive player while Merrifield is probably more comparable to a Willie Bloomquist or Sean Rodriguez. There is nothing wrong with that and in fact there might be more value in him moving around position to position in the future. Right now the Royals don’t have a second baseman to take his place, but if and when they do, Merrifield’s role on the team would probably adjust back to that utility role.

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There is no idea what the future is going to hold for Whit Merrifield, but it is safe to say that he is probably in the majors for good. The scrappy infielder who moved himself up the Royals farm system has entrenched himself into the Royals starting lineup and endeared himself to Royals fans everywhere. It will be interesting to see what he does this offseason to improve on his game and one can only hope he ups his meal total to nine a day (I’m joking…I think). Whit is proof that hard work and dedication do pay off. We all hope he is able to maintain his current pace and continue to excel when given another challenge. While you won’t see him batting in the middle of the order, he might just be the glue that keeps this entire team flowing. I tend to believe at some point Merrifield will come back to earth…but I’m also not going to count him out either. Perseverance be Whit’s name!

Selection Tuesday: Which Royals Are All-Star Worthy

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On Tuesday, Major League Baseball will announce the All-Star team rosters and it appears that the litany of Kansas City Royals players on the roster will not be as hefty as they were in 2015. With that being said, manager Ned Yost will once again be at the helm of the American League All-Star team and will have a say in some of the participants of the team. There will be Royal blue in San Diego on July 12, but how much? Let’s go ahead and look at my predictions for the Royals and who will be joining Yost at Petco Park next week.

All-Star Locks

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Salvador Perez

Salvy, a fan favorite not only in Kansas City but all around Major League Baseball, was leading the AL catcher position last we checked so the likelihood of him going is about 99.999999%. Normally Perez gets to the All-Star game on his charming positivity and his stellar defense behind the dish. But this year you can add a lethal bat to the mix; .281/.315/.490, 12 home runs, 37 RBI’s, 110 wRC+ and 2.1 WAR. I remember back in 2012 when former Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa was being interviewed the day before the All-Star game and was asked about Perez, who was in his first full major league season. LaRussa had compared Sal to Cardinals elite receiver Yadier Molina, which at the time was the highest of compliments. At this stage, it feels like Salvy has overtaken Molina and is the standard-bearer for catchers, at least in the American League. This won’t be a shock and will be well deserved when Perez starts next week in San Diego.

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Eric Hosmer

Hosmer has been battling the first base position out with the Tigers Miguel Cabrera for the starting nod and deservedly so. Hosmer has produced like a star so far in 2016, hitting .303/.361/.490 with 13 home runs, 49 RBI’s, 127 wRC+ and a 0.4 WAR(with his defensive metrics dragging this number down). Hosmer has looked the part this year of offensive force rather than just potential,  and at this point is probably more worthy of starting the game than Cabrera. Hosmer is a lock either way to be on the roster, it’s just a matter of whether he is voted in or heads to San Diego as a reserve.

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Wade Davis

I’m sure there will be someone out there, somewhere, who will say Wade doesn’t deserve to go to San Diego next week because he “isn’t quite as dominant” as he has been the last two years. That is pretty much the equivalent of Mike Trout’s numbers falling a smidge but still being an MVP candidate. Davis has thrown 29 innings so far this year, and while his numbers don’t pop out at you like in the past(K rate is down, walk rate is up) he is still producing. Wade has an ERA of 1.23, FIP of 2.69, and is still stranding 87% of his runners on base. He is easily one of the top five relievers in the game and deserves to be an All-Star. No way Ned doesn’t make that happen, if he isn’t voted there by the players. Wade will be an All-Star, period.

All-Star Probables

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Lorenzo Cain

This will be a complicated pick, but one that should happen. Cain is currently on the disabled list, which means he would be unable to play in the All-Star game, but he can always be picked as a reserve and then have someone else take his spot; not like that has never happened before in All-Star’s past. Cain is hitting .290/.336/.416 with 8 home runs, 39 RBI’s, 1.9 WAR with 9 defensive runs saved. Sure, Cain is not tearing it up offensively the way he did in 2015(April was not kind to Lorenzo), but he is still considered one of the elite center fielders in the game and that’s what this game is for: the best of the best. It will interesting to see if Cain gets a spot, as it would be another honor that he could use when negotiating a new contract with Kansas City after the 2017 season. I feel he is worthy, but he might end up being a borderline selection by the players and coaches.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY)

Kelvin Herrera

To me this is an easy pick but Herrera could be cast aside for another Royals reliever this year(more on that in just a bit). Herrera has put up dominating numbers this: 11.41 strikeouts per 9, 1.63 walks per 9, 87% left on base percentage, 1.40 ERA, 2.01 FIP and 1.3 WAR, all over 38 innings of work. Herrera added a slider to his repertoire late in 2015 and it has made him even more unhittable than he was before. The Royals aren’t the defending World Champions without Herrera and he has continued to be the bridge to Wade Davis this year to help lock down the late innings for the Royals. Herrera is an All-Star; now we will see if he actually gets the honor or is passed over for a bullpen brother.

All-Star Longshots

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Luke Hochevar

Yep, bet you probably didn’t see this coming. Above, I mentioned Herrera could get passed over for another Royals reliever and of course I was talking about Hochevar. Hoch, a man who I once despised, has been one of the most reliable Royals relievers this year and the numbers back that up: 10.16 strikeouts per 9, 2.03 walks per 9, 79% left on base percentage, 2.90 ERA and 0.4 WAR over 31 innings. Sure, these aren’t eye-popping numbers like Davis or Herrera, but they are more than solid and worthy of the adulation. Now, if Hoch gets picked it will be by manager Ned Yost, who will want to reward Luke for his hard work out of the pen and the fact he doesn’t get a lot of the recognition that his bullpen mates get. Yost has asked Hochevar to perform in a lot of high-leverage situations this year and for the most part he has been highly effective in that role. If he is rewarded with the honor, it will show just how loyal a man like Yost is and a nice nod for a guy who turned his career around after being a failure in the rotation.

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Whit Merrifield

Okay, okay, I know; Whit has played in only 40 games for Kansas City and more than likely has no business even being in this discussion. But…those 40 games have been stellar with steady production from a guy who is supposed to just be an afterthought after the season started. Instead, Merrifield has posted a line of .308/.328/.426 with 26 runs scored, 15 RBI’s, a .385 BAbip, 100 wRC+ and 1.3 WAR…all in 40 games! Merrifield is 8th in WAR for second baseman in the American League and while Robinson Cano, Jose Altuve and Ian Kinsler are all worthy of roster spots this year, the story of Whitley Merrifield would make a great story. It’s not going to happen and for the most part, it shouldn’t. But it’s hard not to root for this guy and everything he has accomplished in about six weeks. To see him gaining an All-Star nod would be about as warm and fuzzy as one can imagine. Think of watching ‘Toy Story’ while cuddling with a bunch of puppies and you will be close…not quite, but close. So Merrifield isn’t going to San Diego, but I felt like I should at least mention him. Rock on, Whitley.

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The Royals aren’t going to send as many players to San Diego as they did last year in Cincinnati(no bus needed this year. Sorry, Rex) but I would expect a healthy dose of Kansas City blue at the festivities next week. For years Royals fans would hem and haw about who actually deserved to get Kansas City’s lone spot at the game, and there were even years were no one was really worthy(hello, Mark Redman!). The Royals will have enough players going this year to where you should probably pay attention to the game to see if any of the players end up playing pivotal roles. Just don’t take the game too seriously; it is an exhibition game after all. An exhibition game where Salvy could throw a runner out, Hosmer could hit a home run and Wade could record the final out. Sure, there is a good chance none of that happens, but you never quite know.

 

 

In the Eye of the Tigers: Royals Split Series With Division Foe Detroit

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May came in with a flurry on Friday and it also meant the Detroit Tigers were in Kansas City for a 4 game series against the Royals. I can’t even remember the last time a series in May(May!!) brought this much excitement, as many believe the American League Central could come down to these two teams in September. Not only was this a big series early on, but the fans of Kansas City showed up at ‘The K ‘ as if the division was on the line. In fact attendance has been spectacular so far in 2015, as even night games in the middle of the week are showing good attendance numbers. But the games still have to be played and this series had a little bit of everything in it. As a longtime Royals fan, it was nice to have this kind of excitement and the ‘October Buzz’ floating around this early in the series. So what all went down? Venture on for an in depth look at October feelings in May.

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Series MVP: Eric Hosmer

It wasn’t a blow away series for the Royals offense this past weekend, but it was a very productive one for Eric Hosmer. Hosmer went 5 for 16 this weekend, accumulating 3 extra base hits, including his 3rd home run of the season. It was probably his best series of the year, as he stockpiled 10 total bases, and slugged at a .625 clip with 2 RBI’s. Maybe the most impressive stat on Hosmer this series was a BAbip of .444. To me, having Hosmer excel in a big series(even in May) is what the Royals need and hopefully he continue his consistency as of late. He still sometimes swings at pitches that he shouldn’t even be acknowledging, but his approach at the plate has improved and the numbers show that so far. My favorite stat of his so far this year are his numbers in high leverage situations. The last few years Hosmer has struggled in clutch situations, but so far in 2015 he has looked like a different batter when it really matters. He is only hitting .176 but he has an OBP of . 364(thanks to 5 walks in the clutch) and a slugging percentage of .588. He has 2 of his 3 home runs in these tight spots, driving in 6. The numbers show a batter who has been a little bit ‘all or nothing’ in these spots(mainly homers and walks), but overall we might be seeing a batter start to really show the potential we have been salivating over for the last 5 years. I will take these numbers from Hosmer every time Detroit and Kansas City clash; at this point lowering his strikeouts would be about the only complaint I really have with Hos.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Danny Duffy

I’ve been a little down on Duffy so far this season. He hasn’t pitched horribly, mind you. But he has looked more like the Duffy who had high pitch counts and wasn’t very efficient than the Duffman we saw in 2014, the one who felt like a legitimate top of the rotation starter. On Thursday night he looked like last year’s Duffy and it was glorious. Duffy threw 7 innings, giving up 7 hits and 1 run while walking 2 and striking out 7, all in 101 pitches. In the biggest series to this point in the season, Danny Duffy went out there and was very gnar.  I think we all hope at this point that this is  the Duffy we will see the majority of the time going forward. The Royals rotation definitely needs it and I still believe that Duffy is the key to this season. The rotation has had question marks as of late and Duffy’s start was one of 3 really great starts in this series. More on that in just a moment.

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When Kelvin Met Miggy 

Friday night had one of those epic moments that make you love being a baseball fan. There is nothing quite like a fastball pitcher battling it out with the greatest hitter of this generation(I’m assuming no one is going to argue with me on that point?). In the 8th inning on Friday, with the Royals up 4-1 over Detroit, Kelvin Herrera would walk Ian Kinsler, bringing Miguel Cabrera up to the plate with the bases loaded. I can’t do this at bat justice, as it was easily one of the best things I have seen so far in 2015, but Craig Brown of Royals Authority did a great piece on the 10 pitch battle, really going in-depth and breaking down the at bat. Good stuff. At the end of the day, Herrera would get the better of Miggy and send him back to the dugout. Herrera was shaky that inning, but in the end he kept things in line and left Kansas City with the lead. Just an amazing at bat, and one you should watch if you have not already seen it. The look on Cabrera’s face at the end is worth another view, even if you have seen it.

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Now, onto more newsworthy notes of this epic battle between the 1st and 2nd place teams in the American League Central:

  • I mentioned earlier that Danny Duffy’s start wasn’t the only great start of this series, and in fact there were 2 other great candidates for the pitching performance of this series. On Friday, Chris Young got his first start as a Royal, filling in as Edinson Volquez and Yordano Ventura were both serving their suspensions. He only went 5 innings, gave up 0 hits, 0 runs, walking 3 and striking out 9. Just a phenomenal start for a guy who is basically the 6th starter for the Royals(in other words, the guy you use to ‘break glass in case of emergency’). Sure, the no-hit thing is great, but 9 strikeouts?? From a guy who only throws in the high 80’s? Just awesome. Then on Saturday night, Volquez returned from his suspension and pitched a classic pitchers duel against Detroit’s David Price. Just another quality start for Eddie, going 6 innings, giving up 5 hits and 2 runs while walking 3 and striking out 4. The walks were a bit up for Volquez but he was able to get out of some tight spots. This weekend showed that when the rotation wants to it can be a plus for the team. Now they just need Guthrie and Vargas to pick up some slack.
  • Alcides Escobar was placed on the 7 day disabled list at the beginning of this series, but Christian Colon has looked like a very competent replacement. Colon is riding an 8 game hitting streak at the moment, going 4 for 13 this series and playing some sparkling defense as well.
  • Lorenzo Cain dropped his appeal of his 2 game suspension on Sunday, meaning he will return to action on Wednesday night against Cleveland.
  • Yohan Pino continues to excel out of the bullpen for the Royals. In 10.2 innings, Pino has given up only 7 hits, 0 runs, no walks and 8 strikeouts. This from a guy who was basically signed to be insurance down in Omaha. There is unfortunately a roster crunch if closer Greg Holland comes back this week and it looks like Pino might be the one who gets sent down. Even if so, I have a feeling we will be seeing him again this season.

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Tweets of Royalty

 

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So the Royals split this series with the Tigers and the Royals will travel to Detroit this upcoming weekend for 3 games in the Motor City. I know I should be happy with a split, but after those first 2 games of the series I was really hoping for a series win. The Royals have Cleveland up next, as the Indians are in for 3 at Kauffman Stadium and one can only hope this series goes like the one in Cleveland last week. The Royals will get Cain back from suspension on Wednesday and Yordano Ventura should be back on Friday. May has always been a tough month for the Royals and hopefully they are able to not endure the cesspool that has been May the last two years. If it does, Dale Sveum should start looking for work. The Royals now sit in 2nd place in the Central, just 1/2 a game out of first. A solid week could return them to first as they battle within their own division. Contending baseball is fun folks. This is what Kansas City Royals baseball is in 2015.

 

…Or Maybe It Is Over

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Just a few days ago it was hard not to think the Kansas City Royals could not only take the series with the Detroit Tigers this weekend at Kauffman Stadium, but take on the world. The Royals inexplicably won a game on Monday night that they probably shouldn’t have and that had become the Royals mantra this year; fight back and win the unattainable. Royals Hall of Fame broadcaster Denny Matthews had even mentioned numerous times this year that these things only happen when you are destined to win, when luck is on your side. With all that said, it appears the Royals luck might have just ran out, as they have lost two heart breakers this weekend against Detroit.

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Friday night the Royals went out, a full house at ‘The K’, thunderstix and optimism in tow, and essentially crapped the bed. Jason Vargas had possibly his worst outing as a Royal, the offense was abysmal and the Tigers showed why they are a mainstay in the playoffs. I’m not sure there was anything positive to take away from Friday night’s game, other than after being on the roster for almost three weeks manager Ned Yost remembered Johnny Giavotella was on his bench, as Gio would take over second base late in the game. In fact, Yost emptied the bench, giving his regulars some rest or to feed them milk and cookies, I’m not for sure. Either way, Friday night should have been a night to drink away any memories of the game and let it die out in a field somewhere, never to be seen or heard from ever again.

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Saturday felt like the definition of a ‘must-win’ game as any would feel. If the Royals didn’t come away with a victory on Saturday they might as well concede the division to the Tigers. Things started out hopeful, as James Shields was dealing and looked to be on the top of his game. But the little voice in the back of my head went off in the bottom of the first inning. After a leadoff double from Alcides Escobar, Nori Aoki(who has been the Royals hottest hitter, just 13 for his last 16 plate appearances coming into the contest) stepped up to the dish and proceeded to put down a sacrifice bunt. Yep, the Royals have a runner in scoring position, a guy with speed that could score on a hit to the outfield and instead Aoki chose to bunt him over and give the Tigers a free out. After the game Yost would say Aoki did this on his own, but this still falls on Neddy. As manager you need to stress(especially to guys like Escobar and Aoki who do like to bunt) that in that situation go ahead and swing away. This looked even worse as Josh Willingham and Alex Gordon would follow with strike outs and Escobar would be stranded at third base.

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This was compounded in the third inning when Aoki would step back up to the plate with runners on first and second(two speedy runners in Jarrod Dyson and Escobar, mind you) and would lay down a sacrifice AGAIN! We would find out later this sacrifice was called for from the dugout and shows yet again that Yost has a hard time thinking outside of his outdated box. Once again, a hit to the outfield will get the runner home from second, but more importantly you are taking the bat out of the hands of the hottest hitter in baseball this week! Once again the Royals would not score a run as Willingham would continue his craptacular day at the plate with another strikeout against the Tigers Max Scherzer. I don’t understand using the sacrifice bunt this early in the game. I get that the Royals aren’t an offensive juggernaut and have trouble at times scoring runs. But to take the bat out of the hands of a batter and give up an out seems ludicrous, especially when the percentages say you have a better chance of scoring by letting the guy hit rather than pushing the runners up. So there was two big opportunities Kansas City had to score early on in the game that was flushed away because of poor tactical decisions. I know for years smarter baseball men than me have advocated the sacrifice bunt, but in today’s game it seems to be more effective late in the game when you need just one run to either tie or put your team ahead. In my eyes, a sacrifice bunt early on is the equivalent of a rally killer.

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The sixth inning was possibly a major turning point in this game and one that will haunt Royals fans for years to come. With one out and runners on second and third, Omar Infante would hit a light liner to Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler, who would then try to double off Eric Hosmer at second base. Only the ball would sail past shortstop Eugenio Suarez. Seeing this at third base was Salvador Perez, who was walking back to the base before taking off once he saw the ball go past Suarez. It seemed as if the Royals had taken a lead in the game but the only problem was Perez never stepped back on the bag, which he needed to do to score from third. Detroit’s bench noticed this, as Tigers Manager Brad Ausmus would come out and question the call. This is where things got kooky. The Tigers would appeal the call, as Scherzer would throw over to third base, where the umpire called Perez safe. But if you were watching at home, you didn’t see this. Great camera work, FOX, as they wouldn’t show this footage till much later in the game. After a conference by the umpires, Ausmus would ask for a review, which the umps would walk over to do. The only issue was the play was non-reviewable, as tag up plays are not part of the replay process. The umpires were told that as well while talking to the replay officials from New York. Meanwhile, the replay was shown at the stadium, clearly showing that Perez never stepped back on third base before trotting home. The umpires would huddle again and then declare Perez out. The main argument in all of this wasn’t that the wrong call was made; Perez never touched the base, therefore he should be out. The issue was more how this was handled by the officials. Why call Perez safe when the Tigers appealed? It seemed as if they thought he was out as well but wanted to get the play reviewed to make sure. Hopefully the call wasn’t influenced by the replay showed on CrownVision or by Royals first base coach Rusty Kuntz making a comment to one of the officials that Perez never touched the bag. The call was correct; the execution could have used some work.

Billy Butler, Raul Ibanez

This leads us to the ninth inning. The Royals are down 3-2 with runners on base, 2 outs. Josh Willingham, who struggled mightily on this day, was scheduled to bat, but Yost decided to go to his bench. With Joe Nathan on the hill for Detroit, it would seem to make sense to go with the guy who was 6 for 14 career against Nathan, not the batter who was 1 for 11 against him. It seemed to be wise to go with the guy hitting .264 instead of the one slumming it at a .190 clip. Nope, Neddy went Raul Ibanez over Billy Butler, despite the fact Butler’s numbers all the way around are better than the guy who had batted twice the entire month of September. You can imagine how this turned out, as Ibanez grounded out to end the game. After the game Yost would say he was looking for a “professional at bat”, which he why he chose Ibanez. I get the thinking, but I think you would get the same from Butler, despite his latest struggles. In my mind you go with the guy who gives you the best chance to win; Ibanez should never be that choice. This was just another bad call for the manager who seems to be wilting under the pressure of a pennant race. Yes, we knew of this before now. Now we are seeing it with our own eyes, like Milwaukee before us.

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With only 8 games left in the regular season(and the Cleveland make-up game that will finish on Monday) the Royals still have a solid chance of reaching the postseason. But at this point a division title looks out of the question, as Detroit has owned Kansas City and only has Minnesota and Chicago left on their schedule. The Royals are left with a series against Cleveland that will be no walk in the park and the final 4 in Chicago. The Royals will have Oakland and Seattle to contend with for the two Wild Card spots, as Oakland has 3 against the Angels and 4 against the Rangers, while Seattle has 4 against Toronto and 3 against the Angels. It is too soon to say it is over but if the Royals catatonic offense doesn’t wake up and the defense continues to stumble, then the Royals are going to have a hard time picking up wins within the next week. Add in Yost’s questionable tactical decisions and you have a recipe for disaster for the last week of the season. This current series against Detroit was supposed to be an opportunity for the Royals to lay claim to the American League Central and show the baseball world that they deserved the respect they covet. Instead we are left wondering if there is enough gas in the tank to even get them to the postseason. At this point Kansas City needs to decide; are they contenders or pretenders?

Just Another Boring Walk-Off Grand Slam

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So I’ve been sitting around for the last few hours, pondering what I witnessed today.  I journeyed to my home away from home, The K, to take in the final home game of the 2013 season for the Kansas City Royals.  I spent a lot of the season bitching and complaining about Royals management, but come September, I(like most Royals fans) got swept up in the realization that they were actually playoff contenders. I always try to go to the final home game of the season, since I know it will be months before I get to go to another baseball game. Little did I know what I was walking into today…

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As we sat down to watch the game, nothing really seemed out of the ordinary. In fact, it seemed like every other game in this series between the Royals and their opponents, the Texas Rangers. Great pitching from both sides, great defense, and little offense. My son wanted to see Royals catcher Salvador Perez throw someone out; he threw out two guys. We got to see Justin Maxwell(who will be brought up again) make a sprawled out dive in right field early in the game. Alex Gordon showed(once again) why anyone who runs on his arm is stupid, catching Alex Rios for an easy out at third to kill a Texas rally. When it went into extra innings scoreless, it was a foregone conclusion that we could be there awhile.

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Top of the tenth rolled around, and Tim Collins held the Rangers in check. To the bottom of the tenth we went, and the Royals, who to that point had only mustered together two total hits on the day, were looking to start a rally. Eric Hosmer led off the inning and slapped the ball to left field, sliding into the bag at second for a double. With Billy Butler coming up next, the Rangers brought in reliever and former Kansas City All-Star closer Joakim Soria, who would proceed to intentionally walk Butler. This led to a chorus of boos, as most of us wanted to see what Billy could do against his former teammate. Chris Getz would run for Butler, in a move that puzzled me, both because Butler wouldn’t have been the go ahead run(thus taking out one of your key hitters for a runner who might never matter), and because if you wanted anyone to pinch run, Jarrod Dyson should always be at the top of your list. Salvador Perez would hit a liner to shortstop, tying up Elvis Andrus who couldn’t get Getz out at second(who I will give credit to here; knowing that the first baseman was not holding him at first, Getz took a more sizeable lead than he normally would. If not for that lead, Andrus would have gotten him out). The bases were now loaded with no outs for Mike Moustakas. Moose would hit a weak pop up to third, making one out. George Kottaras(or he we haven’t seen in about two weeks) would come up, pinch hitting for Lorenzo Cain. Kottaras would hit a ball to second, with Ian Kinsler getting the force out at home. The bases remain loaded for Maxwell with two outs, who had an interesting day to that point. I mentioned the great catch, but he also had struck out earlier in the game, throwing his helmet and bat down in disgust. The umpire had pointed it out and made a gesture that he wasn’t pleased with Maxwell’s actions. One wonders if lady luck had been shining on us since he hadn’t been ejected from the game. Maxwell would work the count full, before….before…well, just watch this:

 

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=espn:9710648&startTime=00:30

Just WOW! Not just a walk-off, folks. A WALK-OFF GRAND SLAM!  This Royals team has found time and time again new ways to win and help this team stay in contention. Kansas City showed once again they aren’t dead yet, even if they are 3.5 games out of the wild card with only seven games remaining. That blast to left, off of Soria of all people, will be ingrained in my brain for years to come. You couldn’t have asked for a more dramatic win.

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So what did I take away from one of the most exciting Royals games I have ever seen? For one, this is a TEAM.  For them to get to this point, the Royals can’t just rely on one player to lift them up, they need all 25 guys. That is a sign of a true winner. Go ahead, check playoff pasts. The teams that play like a team tend to go further into October. I’m not saying destiny is on Kansas City’s side(I haven’t completely lost my mind!), but I think there is something to say for how this team wins in spit of their flaws. I also saw a group of guys that really enjoy not only themselves, but each other. We hope in a few years these guys will want to stay and won’t wander off through free agency. The argument can be made that they like each other and who doesn’t want to play a kids game with your best friends? But more than anything else, I saw a team who wants to win. I saw a fanbase that wants to win. Both played their parts yesterday and made for one of the most exciting times I’ve ever had at the ballpark. So exciting that you can’t tell who is more excited, myself or my son:

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Seven games are left in the regular season. Logic tells me that will be it, but the little boy in me wants a playoff game. In a week, we’ll know if destiny is on the 2013 Kansas City Royals side.

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