Euphoria Lingers:What 2016 Meant For the Kansas City Royals

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“I’ve had some wins. And been knocked down with defeats. Glimpsed views from the top of the mountain. And walked through the darkest of valleys. But through this entire ride called ‘a life’ – I’ve refused to give up.”~Robin S. Sharma

Everyone knew from the beginning that it wouldn’t be an easy task. Some would even say it was highly unlikely that the Kansas City Royals would repeat as World Series champions, a title they carried all throughout the 2016 campaign. The last team to repeat? That would be the 1998-2000 New York Yankees, a dynasty of a team that even tried to make it four in a row. So when the Royals came into the season, the hope was that they could make it back to the promise land. Instead, they were forced off their perch at the top of the mountain. There was a litany of factors as to why that was, but it wasn’t as if Kansas City had an awful season. In fact, the team wasn’t officially eliminated from postseason play until the last week of the season with four games to go. There were even some positives that came out of the season that will help the foundation of the 2017 Royals team.

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What Went Right  

First and foremost, Danny Duffy became the team ace that had been hoped of him for years now. Duffy started the year in the bullpen but it wouldn’t be long until he was summoned for starting duty. Duffy would make his first start of the year on May 15 against Atlanta, shutting out the Braves in his three innings of work. Duffy would continue to excel, gradually building up his arm strength while taking the lessons he learned in the pen into his starts. No longer was Duffy a man of inefficiency, racking up high pitch counts in a limited amount of innings. Instead, Duffy would post the lowest walk ratio of his career (2.1) while also increasing his strike out numbers as well (9.4 strikeouts per 9). On August 1st, Duffy would throw the game of his career, holding the Rays hitless through seven before finally giving up a hit, all while striking out 16 batters. Duffy would leave after 8 innings of work, just a mere inning away from throwing the first complete game of his career. He would get that complete game just two starts later, holding the White Sox to 1 run and 7 hits in a 9 inning gem . When it was all said and done, Duffy would post career highs in innings, strike outs, walks, FIP, BB9, SO9, SO/W and will go into the 2017 season as the ace of the Royals rotation.

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Cheslor Cuthbert was a welcome plus for the Royals this year, as he ended up with the third base job after Mike Moustakas went down with a season ending injury in May. Cuthbert’s numbers weren’t at Moustakas’ level, but did put himself into a solid position come Spring Training. Cuthbert hit a respectable .274/.318/.413 with an OPS+ of 93 (slightly below league average) and a bWAR of -0.2 (1.1 oWAR, -0.9 dWAR). Cuthbert could be a man without a position in 2017, but the team has sent him to the instructional league to get some work at second base, a chance to build up some versatility. Considering he is out of options and Moustakas will be back next year, Cuthbert could be dealt in the offseason; the good news is that 2016 really elevated his value in many people’s eyes.

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We also got our first look at Matt Strahm and he was a pleasant addition to the Kansas City bullpen. Strahm appeared in 21 games this year, posting a 1.23 ERA over 22 innings, 12.3 strike outs per 9 with an ERA+ of 362. Strahm became a reliable arm in the pen but manager Ned Yost was reluctant on using him too much, as he threw only 94 innings in 2015 and had already thrown over 100 innings during his time in AA this year. Strahm could return to the bullpen next year, but the Royals have also shown interest in giving him a shot at a rotation job in 2017.

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Paulo Orlando was another surprise this year for Kansas City, as the Brazilian elevated his game in 2016, putting him in a position to compete for a regular spot in 2017. Paulo hit .302/.329/.405 with an OPS+ of 95 and a bWAR of 2.3. Orlando sacrificed some power this year for more of a ‘spray the ball to all fields’ approach and that netted him a solid average but a dip in his slugging numbers. The Royals believe that Orlando is late bloomer and expect him to be in the hunt for the right field job at the ripe age of 31 next year.

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Whit Merrifield showed in 2016 that he could hang with the big boys, hitting .283/.323/.392 with an OPS+ of 90 and a bWAR of 1.6. Merrifield saw a lot of time at second base this year and while he proved adequate both offensively and defensively, he is probably better suited as a super utility guy for Kansas City. Merrifield will probably get at least a shot at the second base job in the spring, but there is a greater chance of Whit holding down a utility spot for the team next year.

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Finally, a slight nod to Drew Butera, the backup catcher for the Royals. It’s hard being the backup to Salvador Perez, as you see very little playing time. Perez did go down with a few injuries in 2016, so Drew saw some extra time behind the dish and performed admirably when asked. Butera got the most plate appearances he has seen since 2014, hitting .285/.328/.480 with an OPS+ of 112 and a bWAR of 0.4. Those are all career highs for Butera, who has long been known as a defense first guy with very little stick value. Drew will be a free agent this offseason and I can only hope he returns for another year in Kansas City. In a lot of ways, Butera is the perfect backup receiver for what this club needs from that spot.

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What Needs Some Work

Let’s start here with the starting rotation. The rotation felt like a talking point for a good chunk of the season, but some of that was positive in a few good stretches. Overall, the Royals starters had the third highest BB/9, the highest HR/9 and FIP, and in the bottom third of the American League in innings pitched, ERA and WAR. Yordano Ventura and Ian Kennedy both had roller coaster years, with equal parts good and bad in 2016. Ventura is still a work in progress and Kennedy gave up the third most home runs in the AL this year. Both will need to work on their consistency, as they will be back next year. There will probably be some change in next year’s rotation, as Edinson Volquez is a free agent while the fifth spot was in constant flux this year. Jason Vargas, Mike Minor and Strahm could all be in-house candidates for next year’s rotation.

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Also needing some work was the Royals bullpen. The bullpen was a key part of the Royals last two World Series’ teams, but this year they struggled. Luke Hochevar was lost for the season back in August, Wade Davis made a few appearances on the disabled list, and Joakim Soria struggled around a couple of strong stretches in his return to Kansas City. While some ranted and raved about the pen (mostly about Soria), I would like to point out here that we as Royals fans have been spoiled these last few years. The bullpen in year’s past were so insanely good that most seemed to just take it for granted. This was still a good bunch of arms for Kansas City, posting a HR/9 of 0.92(third lowest in the league), 77.3% LOB percentage (also third lowest), 3.45 ERA (yep, still third lowest), and 4.9 fWAR, 5th best in the league. The Royals have already talked about the bullpen being their main focus this offseason, so don’t be surprised to see some changes. Davis, Soria and Herrera will be back while Hochevar is a free agent, although it will be interesting to see if the Royals try to re-sign him. I also think there is a decent chance that Kansas City tries to bring Greg Holland, who spent the year recovering from Tommy John surgery, back into the fold. The pen is still a plus for Kansas City, but it will need some work.

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What Went Wrong

Two items of note went horribly wrong for Kansas City in 2016. First, the offense. What was actually a strong point in 2015 (6th in the league in runs scored last year), went sour this year. The Royals offense was last in home runs, ISO, BB% and wRC+, while in the bottom third of the league in runs, RBI’s, OBP%, slugging, and fWAR. Almost the entire lineup could be looked at to blame for this regression; Alex Gordon struggled when he wasn’t hurt, Salvador Perez saw a dip in his offensive numbers while Eric Hosmer had a horrendous second half  of the season, hitting in the low .200’s during that span, producing only six doubles in the second half while leading the American League in ground ball percentage. If it wasn’t for Kendrys Morales’ huge spurts of offense (and even Kendrys saw an early season slump derail his numbers)and Hosmer’s first two months of the season, one has to wonder how worse off this Kansas City team might have been. I believe some of the expectation of the Royals returning players is for them to improve on this year’s numbers in 2017, but there will need to be some changes before Spring Training rolls around.

MLB: ALDS-Kansas City Royals at Houston Astros
(Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY)

But the biggest blow to the Royals success this season was injuries. After years of the Royals being fairly healthy, they were dealt a bad hand this season. Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, Luke Hochevar, Jarrod Dyson, Chris Young, Kris Medlen and Wade Davis all spent some time on the disabled list this year at one point or another. Mike Moustakas collided with Gordon in late May, and while Gordon would miss a month, Moustakas would have a torn ACL and would be gone for the rest of the season. Lorenzo Cain, who was the Royals best player in 2015, had multiple stints on the DL and would end up missing about 1/3 of the season. While backups like Cuthbert, Merrifield and Orlando all performed admirably in their absence, they didn’t produce at the same level and it showed in the numbers. For the Royals to be successful in 2017, they are going to have to stay healthy and not have the level of injuries that hit them this season.

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The Royals finished 81-81 this season, a clean .500 record. To be honest with you, when you consider the performance of the pitching and the offense, then add in the injuries, I feel like Kansas City ended up about where they should have been. A few years back, I made the comment that all I really wanted from the organization was a contending ball club, a team that was in the hunt for a playoff spot on a regular basis. After years of watching them lose and most of the time in an ugly manner, I just wanted a team that could make the playoffs. We’ve gotten that the last couple seasons and even this year, the Royals weren’t officially eliminated until after game 158. You can expect a large chunk of this same team to return in 2017, as that appears to be the last year the window will be open with the core group of players they have now. It will be an interesting off-season, as the team needs to build up a few areas while also taking a look past 2017 when making any signing or deal. The 2016 season will be remembered as the year Kansas City came down from the euphoric high that we have all been on the last few years. Now it’s time to take a breath, rebuild and prepare for what could be another wild ride next season. I don’t now about you, but I’m ready.

 

 

 

 

Five Is The Magic Number

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The defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals have had a very trying 2016, with a litany of injuries, slumps and starting pitching woes. While the rotation has seemed to stabilize as of late, the team still struggles to put up good numbers from their number five starter each week. Chris Young isn’t the answer. Dillon Gee isn’t the answer. Brian Flynn probably isn’t the answer either, or like the other two pitchers mentioned, has racked up better numbers out of the bullpen than out of the rotation. So who would that leave Kansas City to be their fifth starter? There seems to be a lack of depth in some regards for the spot, but if they really want to be creative there might some solutions to this season-long problem.

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One fairly obvious choice would be to shuffle rookie reliever Matt Strahm into the rotation. Strahm has been a starter in the minor leagues but the Royals have been using him out of the pen since his recall. Strahm has shown electric stuff out of the bullpen, combining his 91-95 mph fastball with a slider and a change-up. He also occasionally throws a slurve, which is normally in the 77-81 mph range. Strahm’s numbers this year in the majors have been impressive; 1.80 ERA, 19.8 K/9 and a bWAR of 0.2. Obviously, if he was put back into the rotation his fastball would probably go down a notch or two, but it still can be an effective pitch with his deceptive delivery. Strahm will eventually be in the Royals rotation, so he really wouldn’t be a bad choice to get a test run under his belt this year.

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Credit: Minda Haas Kuhlmann

Then there is prospect Jake Junis. Junis started the year in AA, where he put up some impressive numbers, a 3.35 ERA with 18.5 K/BB% and a FIP of 3.32 over 119 innings. Junis was recalled to AAA Omaha within the past week and threw 7 innings of 1 run ball, striking out 7 while walking none. Junis was rated as the 10th best prospect for Kansas City this year and in his age 23 season and has seen an increase in his velocity (92-94 mph, topping out at 96 mph) with a consistent curve and a change-up with good sink. The Royals could be concerned about elevating Junis too fast this season, which is understood. But with September around the corner, a couple of starts at the big league level would be a good way to get his feet wet while helping the Royals get solid innings from the fifth starters spot.

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Now we get to the really creative options for the rotation. First, lets start with Mike Minor. Minor is currently on his second rehab stint in the minors for Kansas City, after the first one was shut down for “shoulder fatigue”. While Minor’s ERA has looked better, I’m sure Royals management would be concerned with most of his other numbers during this stint; he has 44 strike outs over 38.1 innings, although the 20 walks in that span would be a bit concerning. There was hope earlier in the season that Minor would be able to contribute at some point and September could be his best shot of helping the Royals out. Minor’s numbers aren’t eye-popping in the minors, but he does have big league experience and could be an upgrade over the options the Royals have thrown out there so far this year.

Kris Medlen
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Don’t like any of those ideas? Well, here are a couple of less likely options that we probably won’t see, but are at least worth mentioning. Kris Medlen has been on the disabled list since May but was scheduled to begin a rehab assignment on Tuesday. Medlen struggled in his 6 big league games this year, posting an ERA of 7.77, with 6.7 K/9, 7.4 BB/9(yes, his walk total was higher than his strike out total), and an ERA+ of 57. Even if we see Medlen this year, I would imagine it would only be a few starts, as his rehab stint will probably cover almost the entire 30 day period.

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Also out on rehab assignment is Jason Vargas, who had Tommy John surgery last year. Vargas will begin his assignment at AA and will probably see some work at AAA as well. Vargas’ situation is interesting, since there was some concern that if Vargas started for the Royals this year that they would lose the $6 million insurance coverage of his contract, but it appears it would be maxed out by then anyway. Even so, I’m not so sure we see Vargas this year. It would be about 13 months after his surgery if he pitched next month for Kansas City and I’m not really for sure what Vargas or the Royals would really gain by having him throw in the big leagues this year. In my mind, let him do the rehab assignment and then shut him down until Spring Training. That being said, the Royals could think differently and we could see the Rodney Ruxin look-a-like throwing off a big league mound in September.

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So there are some outside of the box options for the back-end of the Royals rotation. At this point in the season, all Kansas City really needs from their number five is 5-6 innings of 3 runs or less and most of us would be appeased with that. With the Royals still of the belief that they can claim a playoff spot, this spot in the rotation becomes even more vital. If the Royals are close to a wild card spot and the number five spot struggles, it could be the difference between playoffs or no playoffs. With the Royals winning the last three series’ and playing like a contending team, now might be the time to take a chance and see what a Strahm, Junis or Minor can do. It could make all the difference in the world.

 

 

Back In Blue

MLB: OCT 20 ALCS - Game 4 - Royals at Blue Jays
(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)

I love the Winter Meetings. I have since I was a kid. There is nothing quite like the insanity of four days of trades, signings and now rumors of where a number of baseball players could be inhabiting for the upcoming season. All has been quiet on the Kansas City Royals front(well, except for a few minor moves) but it was inevitable it wouldn’t stay that way forever. So when news broke Monday morning that a few moves were very close, I figured it was time to take a peak at the two new-old signings.

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The first was the re-signing of right handed starter Chris Young. Young was a great signing this past year for Royals GM Dayton Moore, as he would take a flyer on the 6′ 10″ righty during Spring Training. Most of us felt like Young would be a solid pick-up, if for no reason other than the fact that he is a notorious flyball pitcher, which works well in Kauffman Stadium. Young was even better than advertised, starting 18 games while throwing out of the pen for 16 more, with a 3.06 ERA over 123 innings, an ERA+ of 135 and an FIP of 4.52. His GB/FB rate was on pace with what he has done over his career and was solid in whatever role manager Ned Yost had for him.That flexibility turned out to be a Godsend for Kansas City, as Young excelled in every role he was given, but none bigger than Game 1 of the World Series. The Royals needed someone to come out of the pen, and despite the fact that Young was the expected starter for Game 4, was called upon to eat some innings that night. All he did was pitch 3 no-hit innings, walking 1 and striking out 4. He was just what the Royals needed and ended up getting the victory after Eric Hosmer’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 14th.

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The Royals inked Young to a new 2 year, $11.5 million deal(with a 3rd year as a mutual option; yes, Dayton loves his mutual options!) with the deal paying Young $4.25 million in 2016 and 5.75 million in 2017. Young can also earn bonuses based on games on the roster, which sounds like a sweet deal for someone as consistent as Young. Considering what all Young did for Kansas City this year, it’s not hard to see why the Royals wanted to bring him back:

“Chris Young is special,” Moore said from his suite in the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. “He’s an unbelievable competitor. You can make the case that he’s the MVP of our pitching staff. And we’re very proud that he’s returning to Kansas City.”

I really like this signing, as Young can fill multiple roles for this team and is a great competitor. Part of what makes Young so great is the fact that he doesn’t have to worry about  a loss of  velocity, as he already doesn’t throw very hard and works more on location and deception than anything else. It appears Young will start the year in the rotation, so it will be interesting to see if the Royals go after another starter, as a name like Scott Kazmir has been mentioned so far as a possible acquisition.

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The other signing for Kansas City was the return of former All-Star closer Joakim Soria. Now, this deal hasn’t been 100% finalized yet(Soria still has to take his physical) but the word is that Soria would come in on a 3 year, $25 million dollar contract(with a fourth year mutual option). There apparently is some language in the deal they are working on where Soria would have incentives for starting; I wouldn’t look too deep into that, as it seems like a moot point. In other words, he won’t be starting unless the rest of the rotation falls victim to chicken pox(oh, wait…). One positive for Kansas City is the fact that most of the Royals management is familiar with Soria and know what he is capable of performing for the team out of the bullpen. In fact, manager Ned Yost sounds as if he is anxiously awaiting Soria’s return to Kansas City:

“Just loved his professionalism,” manager Ned Yost said. “Loved his makeup and his composure. Loved his ability to field his position, control the running game, execute pitches. A lot like Chris Young. He’s just a professional performer when he steps on the mound and still very, very productive. Would love to have him.”

Last year Soria split time between Detroit and Pittsburgh and performed admirably in whatever role was chosen for him. It appears at this point that he will be a setup guy for Wade Davis, so I can easily see him pitching the 8th while sliding Kelvin Herrera back to the 7th inning. Soria’s numbers looked good last year, accumulating an 2.53 ERA over 67.2 innings, with an ERA+ of 156 and an FIP of 3.71. Soria also had 24 saves(if you like that sort of thing) in 2015, the most he has had in a season since his days in Kansas City. The most impressive number from Soria this past season was an increased velocity out of his fastball. In 2015 he had an average fastball speed of 92.1 mph, his highest average speed throughout his entire career. It would appear on the surface as if his arm is fine and possibly in the best shape it has been in years.
Joakim Soria
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

But I have my concerns. Soria has had two Tommy John surgeries so there will always be a concern that another arm injury could finish him off. Also, it will be hard to insure Soria because of those surgeries, which doesn’t seem like a big deal but if you look at a situation like Jason Vargas, where the Royals will get most of his 2016 contract covered if he sits out the entire year,  you could see the importance of being able to insure a pitcher’s arm. There has long been talk about how the Royals waited too long to try and deal Soria, and then lost him for his final Kansas City season to that 2nd Tommy John surgery. But his health isn’t the only problem I have with the Soria signing.

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The other aspect of this signing I have issue with is the size of the contract, both dollars and years. For one, averaging over $8 million a year(and knowing Dayton the deal will be smaller for the first year and gradually increase) just seems like too much for any reliever to me, unless you are Mariano Rivera or Dan Quisenberry. I know it is what the market is dictating right now, but I don’t agree with it. Finding hard throwing arms to fill your bullpen is fairly easy at this point and also fairly cheap. So to spend that money on a setup guy just seems almost comical. Throw in that the deal is 3 years and it goes from bad to worse. No offense to Joakim; I love the guy and I’m already looking forward to hearing ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ blare when he comes into a game at Kauffman Stadium. But for a guy with his injury history and where he is at in his career, 3 years just feels like too much. Once again, I feel the Royals could have gotten a solid reliever cheaper and probably even younger and they could have done the same job Soria will do for Kansas City. I’m glad Soria is returning to where he started, but sometimes that same magic doesn’t return just because you do.

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But the best returning news came Monday afternoon thanks to an interview with skipper Ned Yost:

Seriously, best. news. ever. Sure, part of it is the glorious hair that Kuntz rocks. I’m sure even part of it is his name that people still butcher. But the main part is that Kuntz is a big part of that Royals coaching staff. He is the one who works with shifting the outfielders and moving them around based on which hitter is at the plate. He also works with the team on baserunning and was a big part of a big play in the ALCS against Toronto, as he picked up on something David Price had been doing and took advantage of it. Kuntz is a vital part of the Royals success and I’m glad they convinced him to return for at least one more year. Watch out ladies, the ‘Kuntz is Loose’!
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…and so goes day one of the Winter Meetings! There are still a few days left, so plenty of time for Dayton Moore to continue his holiday shopping for the Royals. It will be interesting to see if a couple of the main outfielders on the market start to sign if the other dominoes(ie. Alex Gordon) fall after that happens. All that can be said at this point is the dull period of the offseason is probably over; time to turn the ‘Hot Stove’ up to 11!

Houston, You Have a Problem: Royals Extract Revenge, Beat Astros

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If you think back to about a month ago, the Royals visited the Astros in Houston and that series could very well have been the worst series for Kansas City so far in 2015. Houston swept the Royals with many stating that the Astros were now the best team in the American League. A month later, Houston travels to Kauffman Stadium to play three against the Royals, but the results were not the same. Not only did the Royals take this series two games to one, they also trumped Houston in the pitching acquisition market, picking up Johnny Cueto from Cincinnati for the stretch run while Houston had picked up Scott Kazmir from Oakland earlier in the week. But this series wasn’t just trades, sunshine and lollipops. Oh no, there was also games played with action involved. So what else stood out this past weekend? Read on and hopefully we can delve into all that is Royal.

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Series MVP: Alcides Escobar    

This wasn’t the easiest category for this series, as the offense was shut down on Friday night against Kazmir and didn’t do much more on Saturday. Luckily, Alcides Escobar had another good series and even came away with a game winning hit on Saturday. Escobar went 4 for 13 this series, but the big thing was his single to right on Saturday night scoring Paulo Orlando for the winning run:

This also lead to another postgame dousing:

Escobar didn’t scorch the ball for his big hit but was able to poke it into the outfield, away from the constantly shifting Houston defense. No one hitter stood out this series, but a guy who gets on base once every three times and gets a game winning knock is as good a choice as any for most valuable.

Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura throws in the first inning of a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, July 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)
(AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

Pitching Performance of the Series: Yordano Ventura

On Tuesday, Yordano Ventura was sent down to AAA Omaha to make room for Jason Vargas who was returning from a stint on the disabled list. By the next day Vargas was scheduled for Tommy John surgery and Ventura was told to stay put. Ventura had looked awful on Monday against the Pirates but Sunday against the Astros he looked like the ‘Ace’ we saw most of last year. Ventura went out on a hot and muggy Sunday and threw 7 innings, giving up 6 hits and 1 run while walking none and striking out 5. Ventura ended up with a game score of 66, tied for the third best he has had this year and it was well deserved. Ventura did a good job of locating his fastball away from the middle of the plate and had a good feel on the off-speed pitch. I’m not going to sit here and tell you he is fixed or that he won’t have another bad start this year. No, but what I will tell you is that it appeared he got the message from management that he needed to up his game and he did just that to wrap up a series win for the boys in blue.

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More stuff and things happened in a wild three game set at Kauffman Stadium this weekend. Let’s go diving into the news and notes:

  • Dusty Coleman was sent down before this series and infielder Cheslor Cuthbert was recalled for his second stint with the main team. It seemed a bit of an odd move in the sense that Cuthbert has only played about 3 games in his career at second base and has never played shortstop:

The thought was that if something happened to Escobar, Infante would shift over to shortstop and Cuthbert would roll to second base. That seems like a dicey proposition but everything else seems to be working this season, so why wouldn’t this?

  • Manager Ned Yost gave some of his starters a day off this weekend. Lorenzo Cain had Saturday off while both Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas had Sunday off. This was a smart move by Yost, as we are in the dog days of summer and the Royals need these guys to be as sharp as possible late in the season. I don’t always hand out compliments to Yost, but for this he deserves it.
  • Hold onto your seat: Alex Gordon is already throwing:

Want more good news? He wouldn’t tell Ned about it:

Want even more good news? Gordon plans on taking batting practice later this week. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Gordon will be back sooner than expected, but he seems to be working at a pace that would hint toward that happening. Just saying.

  • The Royals employed an all right-handed lineup on Sunday against their ace, Dallas Keuchel:

Keuchel gave up a season high in hits with 10 against the Royals and was also hit hard early by Kansas City:

This continues the Royals success this year against other team’s aces:

Chalk another one up for the good guys.

  • There has to be a little bit of concern as of late with Salvador Perez’s hitting. Over the last two weeks Perez has a line of .154/.209/.231 and over the last month he is hitting .186/.220/.360. I don’t know which is more impressive in that span; only 18 strikeouts or the 3 walks. Yost has been giving Salvy regular rest, so this just seems more like someone who is not very selective at the plate. Fixing Salvy’s offense could become a major project soon if it doesn’t improve.
  • The Mike Moustakas watch is now over. Moustakas has reached his hit total from 2014:

I am a big fan of Moose’s turnaround. The guy has put in the work and the results are apparent on the field. I know Albert Pujols is having a nice return to form but I would vote Moustakas as the Comeback Player of the Year.

  • Carlos Correa is already really good. Like ridiculously good. I’m afraid of how good he will be with some more maturity.
  • Danny Duffy continues his turnaround since returning from the disabled list. On Saturday Duffy threw 6 innings, giving up 3 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 3. His game score of 64 was tied for the second best score he has accomplished this season. If Duffy continues to sparkle, and Yordano can pitch more like he did on Sunday, then the Royals rotation is starting to look more formidable than it looked even just a week ago.
  • Oh, and the Royals picked up that Johnny Cueto guy. I wrote a few words about it here. It’s worth your time.

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Tweets of Royalty

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If you noticed a little bit more of a hop in my step, it would be because of all the great things happening right now for the Royals. Kansas City takes another series, have a big lead in the American League Central, have the best record in the American League and now have Johnny Cueto to lead the rotation. Can things get better? I’m not going to sit here and tell you no. The Royals have the Cleveland Indians next, a team that’s pitching scares me but continue to under-perform.  After those three games the Royals will travel to Toronto for four against the Blue Jays and then three in Detroit. It’s not the easiest schedule but as long as the Royals win these series they remain the team to beat in the American League. So bring everyone else on; so far it appears this team can take it.

 

Kansas City Gets Their Ace: Cueto Now a Royal

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Well, they did it. After much discussion and even the tease of a deal on Saturday night, the Royals pulled the trigger on strengthening their rotation, acquiring Johnny Cueto from the Cincinnati Reds for minor leaguers Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, and Cody Reed, all left-handed pitchers. The Royals now have a legitimate ace for the rotation and have more than likely increased their odds of not only reaching the playoffs this year, but possibly even the World Series. The fact that Kansas City has the best record in the American League without Cueto makes one wonder just how high this team can soar. So now that the deal is official, the question remains: was this a smart trade by Royals GM Dayton Moore? I think so and will explain why.

 

Sep 23, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) pitches during the first inning against the New York Mets at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with Cueto. The Royals have acquired one of the top starters in all of baseball since 2011:

The Royals starters are last in the American League in WAR(4.3), 2nd to last in BB/9(2.90), 13th in K/9(6.08), and last in innings pitched(530). If there has been on weakness on this Kansas City team so far this year, it is the rotation and everyone has known that for quite awhile.

Outside of the great work that Edinson Volquez has done for 3/4 of the season, the rest have been less than reliable. Yordano Ventura has encountered the ‘Sophomore Slump’, Danny Duffy has dealt with injuries and control issues and Jeremy Guthrie has finally come back down to earth. Chris Young has been a great fill in for most of the season, but the Royals coaching staff have long discussed him returning to the bullpen and Jason Vargas is done for the year as he will have the dreaded Tommy John surgery. All that being said, there have been some glimmer’s of hope as of late. Duffy has looked more like he did in 2014, his breakthrough season, and seems to be solidifying his place in the rotation. Ventura pitched great on Sunday and there is hope it is a return to form for the youngster rather than the outlier of his starts. Adding Cueto to this group can only help this Royals team and there will be two notable differences he will realize very quickly:

As well as Cueto has pitched so far this season(2.62 ERA, 145 ERA+, 3.12 FIP and 0.934 WHIP) just imagine how he will do with the best defense in the AL and in a ballpark like Kauffman Stadium? One would think his numbers would only improve from where they are and it leaves only one other question: is he healthy? There has been some concern about Cueto’s health this season, but apparently Royals management feels comfortable with it:

So Cueto is a big upgrade to what has been a struggling rotation. What about the three pitchers Cincinnati acquired?

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Brandon Finnegan is the most familiar pitcher going to the Reds. Finnegan was the no. 1 draft pick last year of Kansas City and by September was throwing out of the Royals bullpen. Finnegan was even a big part of the Royals postseason run, pitching in 7 playoff games and outside of a bad World Series game, he performed admirably. So far this year he has bounced back and forth between the minors and the majors, as the Royals have flip-flopped on his role. Originally Finnegan was supposed to stay in the minors and work on being a starter, building up his arm to throw more innings. That didn’t last long as he was recalled early in the season and dispatched to the bullpen. In 14 major league games this season, Finnegan has an ERA of 2.96, 138 ERA+, 4.67 FIP and a WHIP of 1.192 over 14 games. Some in the organization had soured on him, partly because of his conditioning during the offseason(Finnegan had noticably put on weight when he arrived at Spring Training) and partially because some in the organization saw him as a reliever, not a starter. Finnegan has a good arm and is still early in his career and it will be interesting to see just what Cincinnati does with him going forward.

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The resurgence of John Lamb has been one of the bigger stories in the Royals organization this past year. Lamb had Tommy John surgery back in 2011, back when he was one of Kansas City’s top prospects. Lamb would return in 2012, but not as the same pitcher he was before. In fact Lamb had struggled these last 3 years, throwing with less velocity and even having issues with his off-speed stuff throughout that span. After an up and down 2014 where Lamb would sometimes look like the guy that would one day be a part of the Royals rotation with Mike Montgomery, the question became ‘what now’? Well, Lamb has been nothing short of great this year in Omaha, a 2.67 ERA, and a 1.155 WHIP over 94.1 innings in 17 starts. Lamb made the AAA All-Star team and his name had been mentioned quite often when discussions were had about possible starters in Kansas City. Unfortunately, management looked at Lamb as almost a last resort, as the team preferred starting a veteran like Joe Blanton over calling Lamb up. Like Montgomery, I believe Lamb deserves a shot. Cincinnati might accomodate him on that, since Kansas City didn’t seem willing to.

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Finally, there is Cody Reed. Reed is a 22 year old, 6’5 lefty that is in his third professional season and recently was recalled to the Royals AA team in Northwest Arkansas. Reed is a hard-throwing southpaw, throwing in the mid-90’s with a curveball with good movement. He has had some issues with control so far in his career, although his BB/9 this year has hovered around 2.5, an improvement over the7.0 during his first pro season. Reed has been climbing up the Royals prospect list and there have been solid comparisons made to another Royals farmhand, Sean Manaea. If there is a steal in this deal for the Reds, it would be Reed. I can see him being in the majors at some point in 2016 if things go right for him.

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The best part of this trade for Kansas City was they were able to acquire a top level arm for the rotation and gave up no top prospects or major parts of their roster. None of the three players traded to Cincinnati were going to be major fixtures for this team anytime in the immediate future and top prospects in the Royals farm system(Kyle Zimmer, Raul Mondesi, Manaea) were untouched. To me, this is a big success on Moore’s part and should definitely be chalked up as one of his better trades. I also really loved that the Royals front office did whatever needed to be done to get this team back to October. Myself and many others have lambasted Moore and the rest of the braintrust in the Kansas City front office over the years, but they have done their part and no one can blame them for not trying their hardest to help this team win. Us Royals fans have been spoiled since late September, as almost every move on and off the field has worked out for this organization. If we are celebrating a World Championship in late October, we can point to this acquisition as a major step in getting the Royals to that point. Knowing the organization will go out and strengthen this team is a great feeling and I hope when Alex Gordon has his time to negotiate a new contract he keeps this in mind. Johnny Cueto is a piece of a large puzzle that Kansas City has been patiently working on. Now it is time to finish the puzzle and just watch it in all it’s glory.

 

Sinking the Jolly Roger: Royals Make Pirates Walk the Plank

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I am not the biggest fan of interleague play. I get why it is interesting but after close to twenty years, it just feels played out to me. I’m sure for some it still has its appeal, just not for me. All that being said, I was excited for this three game series. The Royals would be going up against one of the best teams in the National League, a team that I’ve often referred to as ‘The National League Royals’. There are many similarities between the two teams, so it was almost a guarantee this series would be a fun one. Luckily for us, it was not only an exciting three games but it also went to the Royals as they won it, two games to one. Time now to see just how everything went down in these three games that were all sold out at ‘The K’.

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Series MVP: Eric Hosmer  

I believe it is safe now to say that Eric Hosmer has hit a hot streak. Hosmer might be one of the streakiest players on this Royals team(Alex Gordon is also pretty streaky) and it is always nice when the pendulum swings around to the hot side of the streak. Hosmer went 6 for 10 in these three games, with 1 double, 1 triple, 1 home run and 2 RBI’s. Oh, he also walked once and had a BAbip of .740! His average has jumped back over .300 for the first time since June 19th, and has raised his slugging percentage almost 20 points in the second half of the season. The best part of this is that Hosmer is driving the ball and doing so in critical situations. Right now, Hosmer’s wRC+(weighted runs created, which is league and park adjusted) is 126; the highest it has ever been since his recall to the majors is 120 back in 2013. If Hosmer can keep this up for the next few weeks(and I would say longer, but hey, remember, he is streaky!), he could help push this Royals team higher up on the food chain at an important time of the season, as the Royals will be playing Houston, Cleveland, Toronto and Detroit over the next few weeks. As if this wasn’t enough, Hos also hit an absolute bomb on Wednesday night, just a massive shot to right field:

That home run was also important for its significance:

I don’t think I will ever tell you that how Hosmer goes, so go the Royals. What I can tell you is that this offense is better when Hosmer becomes a force in the middle of this lineup. Right now, he is front and center when it comes to Royals producing for this team.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

What was the best signing for Dayton Moore this past offseason? I won’t fault anyone who says Kendrys Morales and at some point we might all say Kris Medlen(more on him in a bit), but as of right now I would have to say Volquez has been the best. Looks like I am not the only one:

‘Easy Eddie’ put forth another solid effort on Wednesday, pitching into the 8th inning, going 7. 2 innings, giving up 8 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 8. Volquez figured out early that Pittsburgh was having a hard time hitting his slider and he took advantage of that factor. It’s scary to think how bad this rotation’s numbers would be if you threw out Volquez’s stats. He has been vital for this team, saving the bullpen with an effort that garnered him a 66 game score, one of his better scores of the year. Volquez still has his days where he struggles with his control, but the majority of the time he is on his game and would have to be a lock for a starting spot when/if the Royals reach the playoffs. I might not always agree with Dayton’s offensive signings, but pitching-wise he has been a pitching prophet these last two years.

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There is so much more information to digest about this series. Let’s wander over to the news and notes sections of these three games against Pittsburgh:

  • Kris Medlen was activated by the Royals on Monday:

Medlen was almost immediately thrown into action later that night, as he would relieve Yordano Ventura. Medlen went 3.1 innings, giving up 4 hits and 4 runs(including a home run) while walking none and striking out 4. Just looking at the line you wouldn’t be too impressed. But the bigger story is Medlen was able to return from a second Tommy John surgery with good velocity and his home run to Travis Ishikawa continued the struggle he had this year during his rehab starts when facing lefties. I thought for the most part Medlen looked good and was consistently throwing strikes. As of now Medlen will be the long man in the pen, but there is always a chance we will see him in the rotation in due time. Luckily, Medlen is just happy to be on the team:

  • Speaking of Ventura, he continued his inconsistency this season on Monday with one of his worst outings of the year. Ventura went only 4 innings, giving up 10 hits and 6 runs while walking 1 and striking out 7. The biggest issue is that hitters are now sitting on Ventura’s fastball and practically ignoring his off-speed pitches, which is leading to hitters teeing off against him. This also explains some of his numbers:

Even Ventura realized how awful his outing was:

The Royals would send Yordano down to AAA when they activated Jason Vargas before Tuesday’s game. But Ventura didn’t even get out of town…

  • Vargas started Tuesday’s game(which I was in attendance for) and left in the 2nd inning, walking toward the dugout almost instantly after throwing a pitch to Pittsburgh’s Brent Morel. It was pretty obvious that something was majorly wrong after seeing his reaction from the pitch and Kansas City’s worst thoughts were validated on Wednesday:

There is a good chance that Vargas will not only miss the rest of this season, but also all of next season. If he does miss the 2016 season, there is one silver lining to this whole mess:

This also pushes up the need for another starting pitcher for the Royals, with names like Cueto, Gallardo and Price being bandied around. My guess is we see a lower level starter than that, more on the level of a Mike Leake or Aaron Harang. The one definite is that the Royals will need more pitching and need it soon.

  • The one positive of Vargas’ injury is that it gave Joe Blanton a chance to shine on Tuesday night. Blanton came in after Vargas left and threw like a man who knew he could be a roster casualty at any moment. Blanton went 3.2 innings, giving up 2 hits and no runs while while walking none and striking out 5. Not only did Blanton strike out 5, but he struck out the first 4 batters he faced! I think at this point in the season we can’t expect Blanton to throw like this every outing, but he has value and showed it on Tuesday. I think if he can moderate his lows a bit more he has a spot on this team and could stick around through the rest of the season.
  • Alex Rios continues to hit! Rios went 4 for 11 in this series with 2 extra base hits and a big hit on Tuesday night that helped the Royals rally and win. I don’t think Rios will ever blow us away, but a guy who is hitting .339 for July with an .388 OBP works for me. At this point, little victories are just that, victories. He also did this on Monday:

  •   Jarrod Dyson came up big twice in this series. First, there was the 2 run single in the 8th inning on Tuesday that helped Kansas City get on the board and eventually win. Then there was his huge bunt in the 7th inning on Wednesday to score Omar Infante:

I am not the biggest fan of the bunt, but when done correctly I am all for it and think it can be a huge weapon. Dyson bunting is a huge weapon within itself and it was done to perfection on Wednesday. One thing that manager Ned Yost has done this season compared to early last year is his ability to put a player in a situation that plays to his strength and letting him help the ballclub with this positive aspect of their game. Both situations were almost tailor made for Dyson and shows that a player just needs to be put in a situation where he can succeed.

  • One of the funnest parts of a Royals victory is the post-game celebration:

Don’t worry; Salvy always gets his man!

  • Finally, I have to say what a great crop of players Pittsburgh has. We got to see Gerrit Cole pitch a great game, Andrew McCutchen showed why he is one of the top players in the game and Starling Marte threw Eric Hosmer out at second base as Hos was trying to stretch a single into a double. I know it is still a ways away, but a Pirates/Royals World Series would be a lot of fun and would be great for these two organizations that have seen so much bad baseball over the last 20+ seasons.

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Tweets of Royalty 

Kansas City Royals' Salvador Perez (13) dunks Mike Moustakas (8) after their baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates Wednesday, July 22, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. The Royals won 5-1. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Another series down, another series won by the boys in blue. Ever since late September it has felt like we are watching a dream sequence of this Royals team and I am going to wake up and find out it was all a dream. That is how good they have played and how night and day it is to a lot of last year. The Royals now have a funky next couple of days. First, they will play a make-up game on Thursday against the Cardinals, then Houston rides into Kansas City for three games at Kauffman Stadium. Houston has acquired Scott Kazmir from Oakland and the Royals have had some problems against him this year, so I’m sure not looking forward to seeing him and Dallas Keuchel throw against Kansas City. Hopefully the Royals can show Houston the same hospitality that the Astros showed the Royals earlier this year in Houston. Now is not the time to pump the brakes on the train; let’s keep the win train rolling right through the weekend!

 

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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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Walk-Off Wonders: Royals Split Series With Twins

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It’s amazing what a walk-off can do for a team’s outlook. The Royals were coming off of being swept by the Houston Astros earlier in the week before the Minnesota Twins came to town on Thursday to kick off a 4 game series and a long homestand for our boys in blue. The Royals offense has been scuffling as of late and the starting pitching has been its normal up and down self. Coming into this series, the Royals were 4.5 games ahead of Minnesota in the American League Central and the hope was for Kansas City to win the series and extend their lead in the division. Instead…well, instead we are where we were earlier in the week. With all that said, there is a some good feelings by the end of the series. Let’s dive in!

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Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain

A few seasons ago(hell, even just early on last year) there was some concern Lorenzo Cain might never be able to go a complete season without getting hit with a major injury. Last season he avoided anything major and played in 3/4 of the Royals games, putting up solid numbers and playing his normal jaw-dropping defense. Going into this season I was really intrigued to see if Lorenzo would grow from his sparkling play in the playoffs last October. So far to date Cain has done that and he once again put together another stellar series against the Twins. Cain was 6 for 14 in this series with 3 walks, 3 RBI’s, and a BAbip of .545:

The most important though of Cain’s stats was the 3 runs scored, 2 of which were game winning runs scored off of walk-offs. Cain will be a starter for the American League at the All-Star game in a week(more on that in just a bit) and you won’t convince me he doesn’t deserve that this year. His play in this series showed not only how important he is to the Royals lineup, but also how when he is playing well and getting on base, the Royals seem to find a way to score him when it counts the most. There is a number of issues we could nitpick about the Royals offense(and most of it would probably be deserved) but Lorenzo Cain is not one of them. Call it what you want, but it’s easy to see that Lorenzo Cain is having an All-Star season.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Danny Duffy

On Sunday, Danny Duffy had his best start since coming off the disabled list a few weeks ago. Duffy went 6.1 innings, giving up 5 hits and 2 runs while walking 3 and striking out 1. Duffy had a bit of an issue with his control, especially with his slider, but he was able to pitch into the 7th inning and was able to get out of a couple tough situations. In fact, Duffy can probably thank Torii Hunter for part of that, as Hunter hit into 2 double plays to help squelch a couple of Minnesota rallies. That fruit basket will be on its way soon, Torii. Duffy’s start gives the Royals some hope that he can be a quality starter for the rest of the season, allowing the Royals to focus on second base and right field before the trade deadline at the end of the month. It’s just one start, but it at least gives the team hope that the rotation might be coming back to full strength soon, as you can add Jason Vargas, Yordano Ventura and Kris Medlen to the list of starters coming back soon, as the last two are currently on rehab assignments in the minors. A Royals rotation of Edinson Volquez, Duffy, Ventura and Medlen would be an upgrade over the Blanton’s and Guthrie’s of the world. If that happens, it would make for a solid rotation if the Royals reach October and it all starts with the return of Danny Duffy.

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Hey Now, They are All-Stars

You heard all the uproar, all the whining and all the complaining that us Royals fans were making a mockery of the voting system for the All-Star Game. All of that time spent by folks who want to believe this exhibition game still matters. Hey, it’s a fun game that I look forward to every year, but I don’t take it very serious. With all that being said, the baseball Gods must have fixed the monstrosity that us fans have manipulated and after the possibility of up to eight Royals starting in the mid-summer classic, it turns out only four will actually start this all important exhibition:

Only four? I know, I know. But still, that is pretty impressive:

Yep, in fact four is the number of Royals that have started in the All-Star Game over the last 25 years! The funny about this whole All-Star hoopla is that the four Royals starters(Perez, Gordon, Escobar and Cain) are all legitimate candidates to start. The best part of this whole thing is that the Royals have four worthy candidates and will be representing Kansas City in Cincinnati next week. Let’s just say Kansas City has earned this honor:

That is where the Royals have been. This is where they are now.

 

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It was a long series for the Royals and Twins, so let’s look at some news and notes from the last four days:

  • Just looking at his base numbers and you would think Alex Gordon had a less than stellar weekend. But if you look deeper, and scratch away the 2 hits in 12 at bats, you see 4 walks(1 intentional) and an OPS of .750. Need more? How about two great catches on Sunday afternoon, robbing Trevor Plouffe both times of extra bases:

In my household, Alex Gordon is the standard-bearer on this Royals team. This weekend showed why he is looked at in that manner.

  • It appears as if Eric Hosmer is once again in his yearly summer swoon. Over the last month Hosmer is hitting .258/.307/.312. Now, we have all seen Hosmer hit worse(much, much worse) but it also obvious that once again he is trying to pull everything and has had poor pitch selection in his at bats. The poor pitch selection has led to his power numbers taking a dip; just look at that .312 slugging percentage over the last month. Yikes. He has hit only 3 extra base hits in that span, and luckily for Kansas City one of those was yesterday’s walk-off double to score Lorenzo Cain:

His timing was great there, but hopefully Hosmer picks up the pace and compile a few more extra base hits and help produce some more runs. Just know that Neddy won’t budge him from that 4th spot in the order.

  • You have to feel for infielder Dusty Coleman, who was called up during this series, as Christian Colon was sent down to Omaha to get some more at bats(trade bait?). On Friday night a ball is hit to right field. Coleman, who came in as a pinch runner, was at third base getting ready to tag up. Once the ball was caught by Aaron Hicks in right field, Coleman took off. But halfway down the line he stopped, trying then to return to third base. He was easily tagged out and at the time it seemed like a huge opportunity for the Royals, squashed by Coleman’s indecisiveness. To say the fanbase was angry would be an understatement. Luckily, things were corrected in the bottom of the 10th:
  • Before this series, Jarrod Dyson was hitting .368 over his previous 7 games and had been a spark on both the basepaths and on defense. He went 0-fer in this series, but delivered the chopper on Friday night to score Lorenzo Cain. Expect to see more of Dyson in the future as long as Alex Rios is struggling and Cain is fighting a hamstring issue.
  • Speaking of Friday, Jeremy Guthrie pitched a hell of a game that night, tied for his best game score of the season. Guthrie went 7.1 innings, giving up 5 hits and 2 runs while walking 1 and striking out 4. Guthrie has been like a roller coaster for much of this season but it goes to show when he is locating his pitches good and working the corners he can be a plus for the rotation.
  • On the other hand, Joe Blanton probably worked himself out of the rotation on Saturday. Somehow he did go 5 innings in the loss, giving up 9 hits and 4 runs while striking out 4. Blanton’s stuff has been good on his return to the big leagues, but when he doesn’t locate well he gets hammered. He left a couple of balls over the plate in this game which ended up costing him.
Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon makes a diving catch for the out against Minnesota Twins' Trevor Plouffe during the fourth inning of a baseball game Sunday, July 5, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Tweets of Royalty

 

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So it wasn’t the series win that most of us wanted, but it did keep the Royals on pace and didn’t let the Twins gain any ground. The Royals really need to get the offense going and the Rays(the Royals next opponent) lead the American League in Left on Base %(77.1). There are only seven games remaining before the All-Star break and it would be great for Kansas City to stretch their lead in the American League Central over 5 games. The Rays will be tough, but they are also 2-8 in their last 10 games. Let’s hope the Royals can pounce on that and get the offense going again. This series could also see the return of Yordano Ventura to the team, which would be a much-needed shot in the arm. Anything less than a series win against Tampa Bay should be taken as a disappointment. Also, the All-Star reserves will be announced later on Monday, which should be interesting to see just how many Royals make the team. 5? 6? 7? My guess is Wade Davis and Mike Moustakas get added to the team, rolling their team count to 6. It should be a fun week and hopefully a winning one at that.

 

 

 

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.

 

New York State of Mind: Royals Swept by Yankees

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My, how a week will change things. About ten days ago the Royals took a series from the New York Yankees in Kansas City, a series where the Royals looked to be playing at a different level than the ‘Bronx Bombers’. Jump forward to this week and there was very little in this series that the Royals did good. The defense was there. The bullpen was pretty solid. The offense…well, it was pretty much M.I.A. The starting pitching? Eek. So with that said, lets take a look at a series that will hopefully be forgotten by the end of the weekend.

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Series MVP: Mike Moustakas

Honestly, a part of me just wanted to leave this spot blank. No one really stood out in this series as the offense basically took a powder in this series. Alcides Escobar and Kendrys Morales both got 4 hits in this series but didn’t provide much in the form of runs. Moustakas went 3 for 11, including his 5th home run of the year on Wednesday afternoon:

Moustakas has been one of the ‘feel good’ stories of the year so far and nothing says ‘improvement’ like a spray chart:

It almost feels like every week Moose will fly by some other accomplishment that surpasses his dreadful 2014 season:

Look, we all scoffed when manager Ned Yost said he was going to bat Moustakas second in the order to start the year. What started out as Yost trolling us(hey, it felt that way) turned into motivation for Mike and it has paid off in spades. Unfortunately, this series saw very little offense from the Royals despite the efforts of Moustakas, Escobar and Morales.

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(Worst) Pitching Performance of the Series: Jeremy Guthrie

Look, I’m not happy about picking on Guthrie here, but Monday’s start was so bad for Jeremy that it felt like it should get it’s own section. Since no one else really went out there and stood out(besides one reliever who I will discuss in just a bit) I figured we would point out how monumentally bad Guthrie performed. The numbers in just a moment; first, take a look at the destruction:

Alright, that was just as painful as the first time. It was obvious early on that Guthrie was going to be left out there to take the beating, although apparently 11 runs was all the bleeding Yost could muster watching(I was done after the first 8 runs). 1+ inning, 9 hits and 11 runs while walking 3, hitting a batter and striking out 1. Oh, and 4 home runs given up. Hey, at the least there were some eye popping stats that came out of his outing:

Just an ugly performance all the way around. Guthrie has long been an anomaly; a pitcher who allows a lot of baserunners yet allows very few to score. That has not been the case this year and honestly he hasn’t put up numbers this bad since his short stay in Colorado. Before this start it had seemed like maybe he had gotten behind some of his struggles but Monday it appeared as if he was leaving the ball out over the middle of the plate and the Yankees made him pay for it. The numbers right now are staggering: An FIP of 6.01, ERA+ of 61(lowest total since 2006 for Cleveland, where he appeared in 9 games), he is allowing 11.9 hits per 9 innings, and 3 walks per 9. Most of the numbers so far are very comparable to his stay with the Rockies, where he was rescued by Kansas City for infamous space-waster Jonathan Sanchez. I still feel like Jeremy has value and still feel like he can bounce back from this. But the longer it goes on, the more you ask two questions: ‘how long can the Royals continue to throw him out there?’ and ‘when is Kris Medlen expected back?’. Hopefully Guthrie chooses to rise like the Phoenix.

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All-Star Dominance

There was some good news that came out this week in the form of the the All-Star balloting being announced and it looks like the Royals have something else they are leading in; votes! There are 5 Royals leading their respective positions and so far Salvador Perez is the overall vote-getter. I’m sure there will be some talk about Royals fans stuffing the online ballots, but like many others, I could care less:

If anything else, this is happening for one reason; the Royals are winning. Winning does this, especially for a fanbase that has been dormant for a number of years:

Look, I would be happy with one Royal starting in the All-Star game. Five Royals? That would just be awesome. I have reasons to cheer for each of the five guys who are leading but a start for Alex Gordon would mean a lot, especially considering how his tenure as a Royal has been over the years. Escobar also seems to be cherishing the idea of being in his first ‘Midsummer Classic’:

So Royals fans, if you have not yet voted, what are you waiting for? Go vote here and let your voice heard. I also have yet to vote; just wait until I get my 35 votes in for all 8 of my e-mail accounts! I can’t wait to vote for Gordon 280 times!

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Now onto the news and notes section of this series:

  • I mentioned earlier how there was one stellar pitching performance in this series and that was the outing Brandon Finnegan had on Monday following Guthrie’s awful tribute to Memorial Day. Finnegan came into the game in the 2nd inning and threw 3 shutout innings, allowing zero hits, 1 walk and 1 strikeouts. It was exactly what the Royals needed and lowered Finnegan’s ERA below 2.00 on the year. For a guy who has been bounced around this year, between the rotation and the pen, between the minors and the majors, he has managed to excel in the situations the Royals put him in. Now if the team could decide on a role for him and stick with it…
  • Finnegan had been recalled earlier in the day as Danny Duffy headed to the disabled list. I had actually mentioned this after the last series against the Cardinals and how it wasn’t a bad thing for this to happen:

There are a lot of theories out there about what is wrong with Duffy and it could be the shoulder stiffness that landed him on the DL, or it could be overthrowing or it could be him overthinking. Actually, I tend to lean toward all 3 to be honest with you. I’ve heard he could get up to 5 starts down in Omaha before coming back, so I wouldn’t expect to see him anytime soon, unless he is needed before then.

  • Finnegan was sent back down to the minors after Monday’s game to make room for Jason Vargas’ return from the disabled list. Vargas was on a strict 75 pitch limit(which was apparently not relayed to Steve Physioc in the Royals radio booth) and struggled out of the gate in his return. Vargas threw 4 innings, giving up 4 hits and 2 runs while walking 1 and striking out 6:

Vargas had a rough 1st inning but settled down and it would have been interesting to see how he did if he hadn’t reached the pitch limit imposed on him. The Royals need Vargas to pitch closer to his performance in 2014 than what we have seen so far this year and hopefully this was the first step toward that.

  • I mentioned a moment ago about Physioc not knowing about Vargas’ pitch limit on Tuesday night and it was just one of many miscues he made on air that night. Maybe it was because I was following the broadcast closer than normal, but Physioc was atrocious that night and he seemed to not do any homework at all. I’ve never been a fan of his work, but this series really highlighted how bad Physioc is as a broadcaster. I’m sure he is a nice guy, but nice guys don’t always make good on air talent.
  • Speaking of the broadcasters, if I had to hear them say ‘well that wouldn’t have been a home run at Kauffman Stadium’ one more time in this series I was ready to pull my hair out. Yes, Yankee Stadium has smaller dimensions than ‘The K’; but these games weren’t played in Kansas City so it didn’t matter. The Royals had the same advantage the Yankees had in this series, so comparing the two stadiums is ignoring the fact that the Yankees took more of an advantage of the shorter porch in right field. It came across as sour grapes.
  • Paulo Orlando hit his first career major league home run on Tuesday. Orlando has seen a lot of playing time this year thanks to Alex Rios’ injury, and while his average has slipped the last few weeks, he is still one of the best feel good stories of the year. Even if he never hits another one over the fence, he will always have his one at Yankee Stadium.

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Tweets of Royalty

 

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As far as I am concerned the best thing to do about this series is forget about it and move on. The Royals will venture to Chicago this weekend for 3 games at Wrigley Field against the Cubs. I am pretty excited for this series, since I grew up watching tons of Cubs games on WGN(as did a lot of people my age) and have a deep fondness for Wrigley and the ballclub. I am also looking forward to seeing some of Chicago’s young talent, guys like Jorge Soler, Addison Russel and Kris Bryant; I’m looking forward to seeing them, even if I don’t want them to do very good in this series. The Royals will be throwing Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez and Jeremy Guthrie in this set and hopefully the pitching and offense can put forth some solid effort. It is only May folks, so I am not worried at all. We knew a slump would happen; the question is just how long it will last, especially with Minnesota playing so good. It’s going to be a fun 3 games and my plan is to just enjoy the Royals being at Wrigley, since this only happens about once every six years. I can’t imagine this series will be worse than what we just saw…

 

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