Rebuilding a Franchise

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Hi, my name is Sean and I am addicted to ‘Out of the Park Baseball’. What is that, you might be asking? Here is the tagline they use on their website:

Out of the Park Baseball is the best baseball management game ever created. Can you guide your favorite baseball team to glory? Win the World Series and build a dynasty?

In other words, OOTP Baseball is the “World’s most realistic sports simulation game”. There are a number of different options of how you can you play this game: you can be the manager, the General Manager, you can play a real league, a fictional league, or an international league…and that is just the tip of the iceberg. If you have ever wanted to know how you would do managing and/or running a major league team, this is the game for you. The thing is, once you get into it, it’s hard to stop. Last year I started a Kansas City Royals franchise, beginning with the 2016 season. That wasn’t a banner season for my team, as they struggled with injuries and a bit of regression, finishing the year 76-86. So going into 2017, I had the majority of the same roster with a number of minor tweaks. Much like the real life Royals, I knew after the season I was going to have a hard time re-signing a large chunk of the core group, but was hopeful they could get off to a good start and put myself in a good position after the season. Unfortunately, that did not happen.

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Instead, I got off to a horrible start. My team went 4-14 in April and while the offense was struggling (once again, sound familiar?) the pitching is what was really hurting me. My starters ERA was over 5.00, relievers were close to 5.00. I knew I would be wheeling and dealing, but wasn’t for sure when I would start the fire sale. I had made a few minor trades in May: I dealt Jason Vargas to the A’s and Alcides Escobar to Arizona, picking up Ryan Madson and Mitch Haniger. Nothing ground shaking but slight adjustments. But on May 24th, with my team 12-26 and 12.5 games out of first place in the American League Central, the fire sale begun. Within a matter of days, I had dealt Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Kendrys Morales, Kris Medlen, Jason Frasor and Jarrod Dyson.  In return, I went out and made my team younger (and coincidentally, cheaper). For those players I was able to acquire Cody Bellinger, Aaron Sanchez, Randall Grichuk, Blake Snell and Lucas Giolito. In one fell swoop I had improved my rotation while also re-stocking my lineup with enough young talent to keep a low payroll for at least a couple of years. I also recalled a number of young prospects to fill out the team, as Kyle Zimmer, Bubba Starling and Ryan O’Hearn all became regulars on my team. I figured if I was going young, might as well go all the way. I accepted that my team would be bad for at least the remainder of the 2017 season, but I would reap the benefits in the future. My goal was to let these players play and let them get the experience they needed. So how is that working out?

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My team, as expected, is still bad. My record on June 5th (when the final deal went through) sat at 15-33; since then I am 12-16. It’s still under .500, but there has been a slight uptick. The youngsters are struggling at times, but at other times they are excelling. The starting pitchers will have a good outing followed by a bad one, while the hitters will go through a stretch where you see improvement while struggling just a few games later. I understand it is a process and don’t expect a huge improvement instantly. Speaking of, my pitching numbers have slightly picked up since all the trades were made and between that and the defense, there have been less blowouts and more close games, which have been split when it comes to success rate. Instant gratification won’t be found here, but I feel better about my team’s future and feel I did the proper moves to help my team in the future. That is where the connection to the real life Royals comes in.

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This whole article has been building to this one big question: how does this game I play reflect on what is going on in real life this season for the Kansas City Royals? Very simply, the Royals are playing themselves out of contention this year and pushing themselves in the direction of a seller rather than a buyer at the trade deadline. Do I think Kansas City can go out, deal their valuable parts the way I did and get about the same return? Probably not. Mine is a game on a computer that has different values than a real GM and also is missing out on the human element. I was able to acquire top-notch prospects like Bellinger and Giolito; the Royals could only hope to pick up prospects of that ilk. But what they can do is get what they can and decide if what is being offered for the likes of Hosmer, Cain, etc. is better or less than the draft pick they may (or may not) get the following year. It is a tough line to straddle and I don’t envy the position that Dayton Moore is in. I struggled with my game on whether I wanted to throw up the white flag or move on. Eventually, I gave in and decided to start the rebuild now. In my estimation, that was a better route for my team; what is the better direction for the Royals in real life?

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Here is the honest truth: this time next year, the Royals will look completely different from where they currently stand. Royals fans need to brace for the fact that there is a good chance the team isn’t able to keep Cain, or Hosmer, or Moustakas or Escobar…and that’s not a bad thing. While rebuilding is scary, it is also a reality in today’s game, unless you are a team with endless money. In my eyes, if this Royals team is still slumbering around by late June, then they are probably better dealing off what they can and start moving in whatever the next direction is for this team. Avoiding the inevitable only makes for more suffering and bigger heartbreak. It might appear on the surface that it is easier to tear down a team on a computer simulated game; in reality, it is not as hard to do in real life, with focus, determination and a clear, precise direction. The first question Moore needs to ask himself (and he probably already has) should be ‘where do we want to be ‘x’ years down the road?’, which should be followed by ‘how do we get to that point?’. Start there and begin to move forward. We are getting closer and closer to just pulling off the band-aid and dealing with the pain.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Our Defense is Better Than Your Defense: Royals Roll Over Twins, Take Back First Place

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When last we checked in on our Central Division heroes, they were wrapping up a series with the Rangers thanks to the power of one Salvador Perez(or should we start calling him ‘The One’?). So expectations weren’t too high headed into Minnesota, as Kansas City had been floundering offensively and the hope more than anything was to not fall back any farther in the division. But what wonders do amaze, as the Royals came into town, showed a little bit of offense that we had been missing, a whole lot of defense that we have gotten used to and some very solid pitching. This formula apparently gains you a series sweep and a 2 game lead in the American League Central. Niiiiiiice! So lets journey up north and dissect a fun 3 games.

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Series MVP: Salvador Perez

When you’re hot, you’re hot. Perez continues his stealth hitting at the dish with a 5 for 11 series against Minnesota, including a home run on Tuesday that was a no-doubter:

Just perfect(outside of Physioc on commentary) and even Sal knew that was gone. Salvy would also take a walk in this series(color me shocked!) and raised his slugging percentage almost 20 points. Maybe the funnest stat from this series was Perez’s BAbip of . 500 in this series. In a lot of ways Salvy is the heart of this team and he adds so much to this team not only on the field but in the clubhouse. He also makes sure his pitchers have plenty of baseballs:

When Perez is cold he has even worse plate discipline than normal and seems to swing at every pitch thrown his way. But when he is hot it feels like no one can get him out. Lucky for the Royals he is on the hot side of that spectrum right now and is help an offense that has been lackluster over the last few weeks.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Chris Young

During some of the Royals series’ there isn’t one starter who performs good enough to get this honor. Then there are times when all 3 outings are deserving, like this week. I’ll discuss Jason Vargas’ outing on Monday and ‘Easy’ Ed Volquez’s start on Wednesday later, but the man of the hour was the almost flawless outing of Chris Young on Tuesday. Young would throw into the 7th inning on that night, finally leaving after allowing his first hit of the game to Trevor Plouffe. Yep, on the same night of the Giants Chris Heston throwing a no-no against the Mets, Young held the Twins hitless for over six innings. Chris would go 6.1 innings, allowing 1 hit and no runs while walking 3 and striking out 2. Another great outing for Young and he continues to make it hard on the Royals when it comes to what to do with their rotation, especially once Danny Duffy is ready to return off the disabled list. I’ve even heard mention that Young deserves an All-Star spot this year; look, I know we are voting for as many Royals as possible this year but this might be just a tad far-fetched(just a bit; I’ve been pleasantly surprised at Young’s results so far this year). What I can tell you is that until Young struggles on a regular basis, he will be a part of this rotation. The Royals don’t expect him to perform like this all year, so they are already thinking ahead to ‘Plan C’. For now though, lets just enjoy the ride.

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Sparkling ‘D’, As Always  

The Royals defense has almost become a thing of legend these last two years. On a weekly basis, we could sit here and sift through highlight reels of the Royals making sensational play after play. This week there were a number of phenomenal plays, like Alex Gordon’s great catch on Tuesday:

There is a reason that man won the Platinum Glove Award last year for the American League. Not to be outdone, Alcides Escobar put on quite the display on Wednesday:

 

Oh, there was also this play on Monday:

Finally, #ShortstopJesus made one more phenomenal play on Tuesday:

If you want an idea why Kansas City continues to stay at the top of the division while Cleveland bounces back and forth, all you have to do is look at the two teams defense’s. The Royals have 42 defensive Runs saved, Cleveland has -12. The Royals UZR is is 30.2, the Indians is -11.8. I’m not trying to pick on the Indians as much as point out how two teams that I have often felt are very similar seem to play the game in two completely different ways. One wonders if we would be discussing a Cleveland/Kansas City pennant race if the Indians defense improved even to just league average.

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And the Best Throw of the Series Goes to…

Look, baseball has a very long season. Loooooooong. There is going to be times you lose your cool as a player and vent on the field. It happens to the best of them. On Wednesday night, Torii Hunter of Minnesota lost his cool, big time:

Well, if I knew it was going to be that kind of party, I would have brought some one dollar bills! I know there was some snarkiness coming from Royals twitter this week about Hunter, but at the end of the day this stuff happens. It’s not like Hunter represents the organization like this on a weekly basis. The man lost his cool, was aggravated and then vented. Probably won’t be the last time that ever happens in his career either. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this. Plus, he had great form on that jersey throw. I’m not so sure the Royals right fielder could have pulled that off. I just hope Hunter realizes he might have gotten Royals manager Ned Yost excited:

Oh, Neddy!

 

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Onto the news and notes section of this series held in the Twin Cities:

  • I mentioned earlier how the rotation put up some quality starts during this series. On Monday, Jason Vargas put together his best start of the season(according to his game score and my eyeballs) by going 6 innings, giving up 5 hits and no runs while not allowing a walk and striking out 2. Young followed with his superb outing and then Edinson Volquez sparkled as well, going 7 innings, giving up 6 hits and 1 run while while walking 3 and striking out 6(and compiling the same game score as Vargas this week, a 64)on Wednesday. Two months into the season it is obvious the rotation is the weak link on this team, but when they pitch like this it gives one hope that they might be turning a corner.
  • I’m starting to think Jason Frasor is the bullpen version of Jeremy Guthrie. Over his last 8 outings he has not allowed an earned run, but good lord has he allowed baserunners! Over those 8 innings, Frasor has given up 10 hits and 7 walks while striking out 2. He also might be the poster boy for anyone against pace of play in the game, as Frasor feels like the pitching version of Mike Hargrove’s ‘human rain delay’ routine. Bottom line though, he has  a big zero in the runs column, and at the end of the day that is all that matters. I just wish he wouldn’t walk the tightrope every outing.
  • Raise your hand if you thought halfway through June that Mike Moustakas would still be hitting regularly to the opposite field? Not so fast, Neddy. You can’t blame any of us for feeling this wouldn’t be a regular thing. But now that it is, I have become giddy:

Moustakas has rejuvenated his career and it makes one ask the question we asked when Moose and Eric Hosmer first came up; if you can only keep one of them when free agency hits, who do you keep?

  • It’s safe to say that Alex Rios might have some lingering effects from his hand injury earlier in the season. In the 9 games since his return, Rios is hitting .129/.182/.161 and has a BAbip of .167. If you remember, Rios had a lingering hand issue last year that sapped his power while he was playing for the Rangers and even that injury has not completely healed. In those 9 games he also has only one extra base hit, a double on June 7th. The Royals need a healthy Rios to produce but hand injuries have a tendency to take longer healing. I hope the Royals have Paulo Orlando on speed dial.
  • Speaking of slumping hitters, the Royals fanbase has been wondering just how long manager Ned Yost will stick with Omar Infante at second base with his lackluster play this season. I decided to look at just the past month(May 10th through June 10th) and the numbers are frightening. Infante has a slash line of .174/.179/.217 and his BAbip is .200. Even worse, he has only 3 extra base hits in this span and WALKED ONLY ONCE!! Look, I firmly believe that if you aren’t producing, the very least you can do is get on base in some capacity, either by walking or stepping into a pitch and taking one for the team. Infante is doing none of that and his defense, while not bad, hasn’t been as sparkling as it should be. Christian Colon has only started twice in this span and Infante has only sat out a game once. At the very least, Infante should be sitting a few days a week if this is what he can do at this point. There’s also this little nugget of information:

Don’t feel sad enough yet? Omar still has two years left on his contract. Ugh.

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Tweets of Royalty

 

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The sweep puts Kansas City in a prime position this weekend, 2 games ahead of Minnesota in the American League Central as the Royals head to St. Louis. It should be another heated weekend as the best record in the AL meets the best record in the NL. Hopefully Kansas City can ride this hot streak through the weekend and into next week’s matchup against Milwaukee. Best case scenario? Win the series against the Cardinals and extend their lead in the division. Worst case? Lose series to St. Louis and let Minnesota and Detroit catch up to them. Either way, it’s nice to be back on top.

 

Royals Take Over Wrigley: Royals Split Series with Cubs

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Wrigley Field is a very special ballpark. It’s one of the last standing parks where stadiums were built to have their own personality and give their team a bit of a home field advantage. Since the Chicago Cubs are in the National League, the Kansas City Royals only visit Wrigley once every 6 years. This year, a number of Royals fans made the trek to the ‘Windy City’ to take in their Royals playing the Cubs and to visit their iconic ballpark. The Royals were also looking to bounce back from a rough series in New York and were looking to gain some ground in the American League Central. One of those items were kind of accomplished, one was not. Onto a look back at a special 2 game set.

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Series MVP: Alex Gordon

If there is one thing you can say about Alex Gordon, it is that he is a streaky hitter. The last few weeks Gordon has occasionally added production, but nothing consistent to make him really stand out. That changed in this series, as Gordon would go 4 for 8, including a 3 hit game on Sunday(with a walk). Gordon seemed to be in on all the action this weekend, starting with his home run on Friday, and then knocking in the first run of the game on Sunday in the 7th inning:

It normally goes without saying as well that Gordon contributed defensively, throwing out Dexter Fowler at home(thanks to a nice play from Salvador Perez) in the bottom of the 11th inning on Sunday. It appears as if Alex might be hitting a hot streak right now, and if that is so it’s not the worst idea in the world to move him up in the order. Alcides Escobar has been struggling a bit at the top of the order and Gordon has a history of performing well in the leadoff spot. With the Royals runs per game dipping in May, it might not be a horrible idea to shake things up.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Yordano Ventura

A large chunk of the success on this season hinders on the performance of young starters Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura. Duffy currently is inhabiting the disabled list, while Ventura seems to have found his groove. Ventura had his second best game score of the season on Sunday against Chicago, going 7 innings giving up 4 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 6. Ventura did all that in less than ideal weather conditions and if not for his lone walk in the 7th inning, one wonders if he would have left the game without giving up a run. One also wonders how Chris Coghlan was able to hit Ventura, since no one else on the Cubs had a clue. The best part of the game for Ventura is that he has gone 7 innings in 4 straight starts while keeping his walk total down. Starts like these make it easier to see why he is the ace of this staff and why baseball in general is so high on this young flamethrower.

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I’m Going for a Walk… 

Walks can kill a pitcher. I mean, they are called ‘free passes’ for a reason. This was none more evident than on Sunday, as walks given up by Royals pitchers in both the 7th and 11th innings would come back and bite them in the arse. In the 7th, Ventura would walk Cubs catcher Miguel Montero, and following a wild pitch and single to center by Coghlan, the Cubs would spoil Ace’s shutout, tying the game up at 1. With the score still tied in the 11th inning, Royals reliever Ryan Madson would walk the only two batters he faced, Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant, which would lead to his exit and Jason Frasor to come in. Frasor would intentionally walk Starlin Castro after Fowler would be thrown out at home plate, but then David Ross would get the game winning hit falling in between Gordon and Escobar in left field(which was almost caught over the shoulder by Escobar).

The 2 walks by Madson killed the Royals and goes to show you just can’t allow the other team to have extra base runners on the base paths. The Royals are normally applauded for their defense and stingy bullpen. The pen loses that credit when the walks start flowing. It also goes to show why some of us(myself included) put such a heavy emphasis on having the offense take bases on balls.

Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar can't make the catch on a single by Chicago Cubs' David Ross during the 11th inning of a baseball game, Sunday, May 31, 2015, in Chicago. The Cubs won 2-1. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Now, lets proceed to look at some news and notes from this shortened series:

  • Alex Rios was activated from the disabled list on Saturday and would return to the lineup on Sunday:

Rios has been out since the third series of the season in Minnesota. Rios was hitting well before getting hit on the hand, so hopefully he can return to that form on his return.

  • Rios being activated meant that someone had to be sent down and Paulo Orlando unfortunately drew that card. Orlando had been playing good, despite him slumping at the plate a bit as of late(.174 over the last 2 weeks):

Personally, I would prefer one less reliever on the roster and have the extra outfielder. In fact, Orlando has been much more valuable to manager Ned Yost this year than Jarrod Dyson has. I have a feeling we will see Orlando again soon, possibly even within the next month.

  • Mother Nature won again on Saturday, as the contest between the 2 teams was rained out. I don’t know what it is, but it appears the last 3 times the Royals were scheduled for a nationally broadcasted game, they have been hit hard by the rain bug. The Royals will travel back to Chicago and make up the missed game on September 28.
  • Danny Duffy threw a couple of bullpen sessions this weekend:

Nothing major to report, other than the stiffness in his shoulder was still there. I tend to think he will make a couple of rehab starts in Omaha before he returns to the main roster. Also, the beard is gone. A city mourns.

  •  Alex Gordon chalked up another achievement on Sunday:

I’ve said it a million times, but if Gordon walks after this season that will be a giant hole to fill within this team. I would love for the team to work out an extension sooner rather than later.

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Tweets of Royalty 

 

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Unfortunately, the loss on Sunday pushed the Royals back to 2nd place in the American League Central, half a game behind Minnesota. Yep, the Twins are in first. Baseball truly is a crazy sport and it goes to show that anything can happen, no matter how many different ways you crunch the numbers(and that is coming from a stat guy!). The Royals will take Monday off (Sal Rest) and will return to action against Cleveland in Kansas City. This home stretch with Cleveland and Texas coming into town is big and the Royals need to go at least 4-2 during this stretch. The offense seems to be slumping and one wonders if maybe a shuffle of the lineup would do the ballclub some good. Jeremy Guthrie goes for Kansas City on Tuesday(looking to avenge his awful start on Memorial Day) and the Royals will go up against Corey Kluber on Wednesday. I think we can officially say this team is in the midst of a slump, which is fine considering it’s really the first one they’ve had this year. Let’s just not make it a sustained slump, okay guys?

 

 

 

 

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.

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

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

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Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain

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

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

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

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Revenge Can Be Overrated

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

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Other notes from this series:

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Broken Halo: Royals Sweep Angels

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

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Series MVP: Salvador Perez

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

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Pitching Performance of the Series: The Royals Bullpen

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

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What Was That?

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

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Other notes from this series:

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

The 2015 Kansas City Royals: So Now What?

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If you are a fan of the Kansas City Royals, this time of year is normally spent pondering whether or not this is the year the Royals break through the glass ceiling and reach the playoffs. So many years went by wondering ‘is this the year?’ that it started to feel like it was never going to happen. The jokes about Ewing Kauffman selling his soul to get the Royals a championship back in 1985 started to feel like they were actually true and explained the playoff drought this franchise held for 29 years. But this is all a distant memory, as the Royals are not only coming off of their first playoff appearance since that ’85 season but also came one long bomb away from a World Series title. It was a magical October for the entire city of Kansas City and made believers out of the most jaded of us(What, me?). So this is uncharted territory for us headed into this 2015 season and has thrown up a giant question mark going into Opening Day. The question has to be asked; so now what?

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Let’s start with the changes, as there are a few differences with this roster than the one who guided the Royals through the playoffs. Two big cogs of last years team are gone: James Shields and Billy Butler. You can also add Nori Aoki to that list, along with Josh Willingham and Raul Ibanez off the bench. Shields was not only the leader of the Royals rotation the last two years but he also brought confidence and guidance to youngsters like Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura, helping them turn a corner in 2014. Yes, intangibles! Butler had been with the organization since he was drafted in 2004 and was a fan favorite. Butler’s numbers weren’t quite on par in 2014 with his earlier years but was still a solid bat in the middle of the order. Aoki struggled to begin his Royals career but saved it by finishing hot the last 6 weeks of the season and giving us many a memory. To replace them on the roster the Royals signed Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios this offseason, 3 players with questionable pasts who are being counted on to make solid contributions this year. Volquez is the only one of the three coming off of a solid year for Pittsburgh, but he is not the replacement for Shields; instead that honor goes to a true “Ace”.

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Young “Ace” Ventura becomes the Royals new #1 starter and will take the mound at Kauffman Stadium on Opening Day. It’s hard to argue with this, as Ventura showed the world he was for real during the playoffs, most notably a superb outing in game 6 of the World Series, a game that could have been an elimination game for the Royals. It’s a lot of weight on Yordano’s shoulders, but he seems able to handle the pressure that comes with being “the man”. Danny Duffy will slide into the role of #2 starter and the hope is last year was a glimpse into what to expect from “Duffman”. There are some concern about Duffy and his injury history, but as long as he continues to throw strikes and let the defense work in his favor, he should be fine. Jason Vargas, Volquez and Jeremy Guthrie will round out the rotation and hopefully all three can continue to put up the numbers they had in 2014. Vargas defied his own career numbers last year and turned out to be a pleasant surprise while Guthrie continues to make no sense, a pitcher who allows a lot of  baserunners yet not many score. Also remember that the Royals could add Kris Medlen to the rotation around August if all goes according to plan. I wouldn’t expect this to happen, but it very well could as Medlen recovers from Tommy John surgery. The Royals rotation isn’t going to match up with, say, Washington’s, but as long as Kansas City employs their elite defense they won’t need them to be Cy Young candidates. They just need them to throw 5-6 innings an outing, giving up 3 runs or less, or give the team as many quality starts as possible.

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Speaking of the Royals defense, if there is a reason to be excited for 2015 it’s the possibility that this team will continue their winning ways led by a top notch ‘D’. The only notable defensive difference in 2015 is Alex Rios replacing Nori Aoki in right field. Rios has the label of being lazy defensively but obviously if that is the case that also means the defender’s success in the field is determined purely on his want and will on any given day. It does appear as if early on Rios will not be replaced late in the game on defense, like Aoki was for 3/4 of last year. That could change after a few months but for now he looks to have some slack in the leash. Outside of that the Royals are returning 3 Gold Glove winners(Hosmer, Perez and Gordon) and two other players who were in the discussion for Gold Gloves last year(Cain and Escobar). Add in solid efforts for Moustakas and Infante and you have one of the best defenses in baseball. The defense was a key factor in the Royals October success and why the Royals could be looking at postseason baseball again in 2015. Now about that offense…

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This section will probably feel a lot like the 2013 Royals…or the 2012 Royals…anyway, you get the hint. The last couple of seasons the Royals offense hasn’t been a force to be reckoned with. In fact the last 2 seasons we have seen the team struggle offensively the beginning part of the season so badly that the last 2 May’s they have been forced to change hitting coaches to get the offense to pick it up. 2014 was no different in that the team was in the bottom third of the league in OBP, Slugging, OPS, Total Bases, and dead last in Walks and home runs. There a couple positives; the team does get quite a few hits (3rd in the AL last year) and is first in stolen bases. Now I don’t expect this team to ever be an offensive juggernaut, but the two areas that could be improved on would be extra base hits and walks. They were 4th in doubles and 5th in triples last year, which would be great if they could hit more home runs(not a ton more but some) and take more walks. There are times this team becomes a station to station team, which doesn’t work with as little power as the Royals have. So will there be a difference in these numbers in 2015?

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The answer to that question is a loaded one. There are some that believe that the additions of Morales and Rios are the keys to how this offense does, but I actually don’t agree with that. The real key to the Royals offensive season will be whether or not Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas improve on their awful 2014 regular season. For Moustakas that will mean learning to hit the ball to the opposite field and taking advantage of that left side being open when teams put the shift on him. Those shifts killed Moose last year, as he continued pulling the ball despite the fact that teams would fill up the right side of the field when he came up to the dish. He also needs to drive the ball more this year, as his 21 doubles and 15 home runs could be improved on. His walk rate was up last year and his strikeout rate went down, so he did have those positives going for him. But those were about the only positives when it comes to Moustakas in 2014. Hopefully his power surge in the postseason carries over into this year and if so that would mean improved numbers in 2015.

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If you didn’t follow the Royals until October you would think Hosmer was a middle of the lineup force for Kansas City in 2014, but you would be wrong. Hosmer struggled for a good portion of the season(what I have started calling his ‘yearly swoon’) and didn’t really start producing until his return from the disabled list in September. Sure, he had a respectable .270 average and a solid 35 doubles last year, both are in the positives of his season. But his slugging percentage was below .400, he didn’t reach double digits in home runs, finishing the year at 9(in fact he didn’t even hit his 5th HR of the year until July) and he was awful in clutch situations. Add in an absolutely putrid June where he looked lost at the plate and you have a guy who is about as streaky as it gets. The Royals worked with Hosmer and re-tooled his swing late in the year and it paid off in the playoffs, where he had 6 extra base hits and drove in 12 runs. If that Hosmer shows up this year, this team will be improved on offense. It would also help if he could avoid his ‘yearly swoon’. The last 3 seasons he has spent a long stretch of the season in a funk at the plate where he just looks lost and his swing is a mechanical mess. A little bit of consistency would go a long way for Eric as he heads into his 5th year in the big leagues.

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The rest of the offense could use some improvement as well. Alex Gordon had another good season last year and looks to be returning to the top of the order this year, as it appears he will be hitting 2nd to begin the new campaign. Salvador Perez fell a bit offensively in 2014 but a lot of could probably be contributed to him catching the most innings in major league history. One of the items on Neddaniel Yost’s ‘to do list’ in 2015 is to give Perez some much needed days off. Sal will never have great plate discipline but it could improve with a little bit more rest. Lorenzo Cain is coming off of a great 2014 and will start the year batting 3rd for Kansas City. Cain had a ridiculous .380 average on balls in play last year, which will probably fall a bit but if he can even get close to that number again he would looking at another good season. Alcides Escobar will return to the leadoff spot this year and hopefully he can avoid his ‘every other year’ curse he has had in his major league career. Also, if he is going to stay at the top of the lineup they will need him to take a few more walks than the 23 he had last year. Omar Infante is coming off a rough first season in Kansas City and more than anything just needs to be healthy in 2015. That leaves us with the two newbies, Morales and Rios. The hope by Kansas City management is that both will bounce back after rough seasons in 2014. Both are sitting at their regression years and we probably won’t see them put up All Star numbers this year, but the Royals don’t need them to. As long as they can be compotent and improve on last year they should be a plus. It does appear Rios will go into this year with his thumb injury, an injury that hindered his swing and sapped his power in the second half of last year. These two aren’t keys to the Royals season but it would be nice for them to produce close to what Butler and Aoki did last year for Kansas City.

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That leaves us with the strongest part of this Kansas City Royals team, the bullpen. The bullpen, along with the defense, was a guiding force for this team in October and it’s easy to see why teams hated getting into the late part of ballgames against this Royals team. The ‘Big 3’ of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland return this year and the hope is they can come close to replicating their dominating 2014 numbers. There is some concern, considering the workload these 3 took on in October:

 

Hopefully it’s nothing major, although even if one of these three go down, there are other arms that can slide in. Luke Hochevar is returning from Tommy John surgery and should be able to go sometime in the next couple months. Jason Frasor is a former closer and was a great pickup for Royals GM Dayton Moore last summer. You could also throw someone like Brian Flynn into the conversation, a reliever acquired from Miami this offseason, a flamethrower that went to Wichita State. The Royals trio might not be able to be AS great as they were in 2014, but this group might be even deeper than it was for Kansas City last year.

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So that leaves us with the inevitable question; where do I feel the Royals will finish this year? Most projections have had the Royals under .500 and sitting in 4th in the American League Central. I can see where they come up with this, as we are talking about a team that didn’t really get hot until the last few weeks of the 2014 season. Add in the free agent losses, the giant question marks on the new acquisitions and how Cleveland and Chicago have improved in the Central and you can see why there is some skepticism. Some think it is being disrespectful to the defending American League Champions; I see it as realizing the flaws that Kansas City does have. That being said, outside of the team dealing with some major injuries, I think they will be in the hunt for a playoff spot. Unfortunately, I also think they will fall just short of that, probably sitting in the 81-84 win mark this year. It’s hard to believe the entire offense will improve and that the rotation won’t have a few faltering parts, and I can see the team hitting a snag in the road at some point in the summer. The solid to all of this is that this will still be a contending team and for years that is all that we have asked for. I would rather see them contend and fall short than be an afterthought and have fans start focusing on the Chiefs come August. If this team is still in the race come September, then I will be a happy man. Let’s be honest; it’s going to be hard to top the Royals playoff run last October. But the competitiveness in me says “Maybe so, but lets give it a try”. This is what competitive baseball is folks; hopefully it becomes a regular occurrence.

 

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