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.

 

 

Buying High, Selling Low: The Boston/LA Story

This past weekend, a trade of Herschel Walker proportions took place in major league baseball. In one fell swoop, the Boston Red Sox unloaded their excess baggage, and the Los Angeles Dodgers picked it up at the baggage claim, showing baseball that they are serious about buying a World Series…I mean, trying to make the playoffs. So I thought I would take a look at this monumental trade and just what it means for the parties involved.

“I hated Boston too, Adrian…”

Adrian Gonzalez is the key to this trade for the Dodgers. They have coveted him for quite awhile, and finally they were able to bring him back to the California sun and drop him into the middle of their batting order. The pluses of having Gonzalez are many and widespread. For one, he is a California boy, born and raised. Bringing him back to Cali can only be a positive, as he loved his time in San Diego and the attitude there fits him better than the one in Boston. In Boston, the media is constantly scrutinizing everything that is done and everyone lives and die by what the Red Sox are doing. California is more laid back, with the joke always being that Dodgers fans wait until the third inning before they show up. Gonzalez’s attitude is more LA than Boston, so just in this regard it should be a plus. Add in stellar defense, and a potent bat in the middle of the order, and you have a guy who can help a team like the Dodgers go the distance. There really only seems two negatives to getting Gonzalez. One, a few scouts have mentioned that Gonzo’s bat speed seems to be slipping. Now, he is still a guy I would want in the middle of the batting order. But normally if bat speed starts to slip, it will never come back. The other negative is the contract he has. It is massive, and still has 5 years left on it. If he continues to slip offensively, those last few years of the contract could feel like an albatross around their neck. All in all, if Gonzalez is what they wanted, they could have done a hell of a lot worse.

“Beer and Chicken on me if we win.”

Josh Beckett might just seem like an addition to the trade, a contract to heave off for Boston. But in reality, it might be a shroud move by LA. Beckett was never going to get the Boston faithful back in his good graces, as he is now perceived by them as a guy who just wants to pitch every fifth day and not care about the team the rest of the time. Chicken, beer, and video games will do that to a guy. But I also feel Beckett is the type who could be angry about the move, and proceed to pitch like a guy with a chip on his shoulder. Add in his postseason experience, and this could be a coup for LA if they make the playoffs. Beckett still has it in him to be a pitcher who can carry a team on his back in the playoffs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened.

“He found out what Pesky’s Pole really means…”

When it comes to players who this trade benefits the most, Carl Crawford has my pick for ‘best in trade'( by the way, I see him as a labradoodle). Crawford, when healthy, is a game changer, as his speed disrupts pitchers and defenses alike. He also is a solid bat in the lineup, despite what his time in Boston has shown. If ever there was a guy who needed a change of scenario, it would be Crawford. He felt uncomfortable from the time he entered Yawkey Way, and add in a struggling bat and injuries, and you have a recipe for disaster. Even if he would have stayed, Crawford would have had a hard time showing the Boston fans what he can really do. Crawford just had the Tommy John surgery, so he won’t be back till early next season. But once he does come back, he will be part of a loaded outfield in LA. How does this sound: Left Field, Crawford. Center Field, Matt Kemp. Right Field, Andre Ethier. If healthy, very few balls would drop in that outfield, and offensively they could be a juggernaut. Crawford gets a new lease on life with this trade, and I can only imagine he will like the view at Chavez Ravine.

“I would take that same picture if I was a fan…Punto is a fan, right?”

Nick Punto. Well, I like him as a backup infielder. But lets be honest, he’s just along for the ride. He will always be referred to as ‘the other guy in that big trade’. I guess that is better than nothing. He is a good replacement for Jerry Hairston while he is out. But Punto is what Punto is; an afterthought. Have fun in Los Angeles, Nick!

“James Loney, making it look easy.”

Now, time to look at the Boston side of this trade. James Loney has been with the Dodgers the last seven years as their First Baseman. Loney is a good, solid hitter with a great glove, but has never shown the power that most teams want from their first basemen. He is a free agent at the end of the year, so there is a good chance his time in Boston will be short. Still, not a horrible job by Boston on replacing Gonzalez, at least for the rest of the year.

The major part of the trade for Boston was to give them flexibility. Having Gonzalez, Beckett and Crawford on their payroll, (along with Ortiz, etc.) would have made it hard for the Red Sox to rebuild this upcoming offseason, which they drastically need to do. Boston was able to unload $260 Million in contracts, while giving Los Angeles about $12 Million. Not only does this give the Red Sox room to operate this offseason, it also gets rid of three players that the BoSox fans were tired of. It only made sense to restructure and dump what they could, and Boston did that, along with picking up some prospects as well.

The other four players in the trade are either major league ready or very close. Rubby De La Rosa is the gem of the trade, but won’t be ‘officially’ announce until after the season. He is coming back from Tommy John surgery, but was just up in the bigs for the Dodgers and has electric stuff. Jerry Sands is the other ‘player to be named later’ in the deal, and once he is officially acquired he’ll add some depth to their outfield corps and could even compete for a starting job in spring training next year. Ivan DeJesus, Jr. is an infielder that probably won’t start in Boston, but it does give them more depth and has been up and down between AAA and the majors part of the season. Allen Webster is the last player involved and had a less than stellar start the other day for Boston’s AA team, but he still could be in the pitching discussion for next year in Boston. Overall, not a bad haul of players for Boston in this trade.

This trade is a once in a lifetime trade, and one of the likes we won’t see for a very long time. At the end of the day, this trade did what both teams wanted it to do. For the Dodgers, they get veteran players to help their push for a World Series and to help them win now and for years to come. Boston, meanwhile, needed payroll flexibility and to rid them of players that didn’t fit into the Beantown atmosphere. Payroll was shed and younger, cheaper talent was added. This was a win-win trade for these two teams, and a trade that will be scrutinized for years to come. Time will tell just who gained the most from this monster of a deal. Until then, fire up your gaming system and see if you can do what the Dodgers and Red Sox did; make a trade that my ten year old tries to make with his video games.

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