Seven Quick Questions with Andy McCullough

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Earlier today I did a quick ‘Q & A’ with former Kansas City Star Royals beat writer, Andy McCullough. Andy covered the Royals during both the 2014 and 2015 seasons so he was around for their playoff runs during both years. This is just a quick few questions about his time in Kansas City and covering the team during their resurgence.

1. You went from covering the Mets & the Yankees to covering the Royals for the Kansas City Star in 2014. What was your opinion of the team(contenders, pretenders, etc.) headed into Spring Training that year & in your mind when was the point where the team seemed to shift from just playoff contenders to serious championship material?

I thought they would be a good team and compete for the division. The turning point during the postseason was after they won the Wild Card game.

2. What was it like going from big market teams like the Yankees & Mets to a small market team like the Royals? Was there a difference in how you covered the teams?

The biggest difference is the postgame interviews were shorter because you don’t have 15 people in the scrum, all asking questions. I did not cover the team any differently.

3. The Royals fanbase is quite rabid to say the least. Were you surprised at how passionate the fans were & how did you handle some of the crazier ones on Twitter?

I wasn’t surprised by the passion, but I was definitely impressed by the crowds during these past two postseasons. Great atmosphere. I muted or blocked a lot of dopes on Twitter.

4. Was there a major difference in the team when comparing Spring Training in 2014 & Spring Training this past year?

Teams sound confident, every single year, in spring training. In 2014, I suppose it appeared more like false bravado, because they hadn’t actually won anything yet. In 2015, they had some evidence to back up their confidence.

5. The two most memorable articles you wrote(in my mind) was the recap of the 2014 Wild Card game & the Lorenzo Cain piece. Did you feel it was fairly easy to find compelling stories for this team & do you think you’ll ever cover a team with as much material as the 2014-2015  Royals had? 

There was a lot of untilled ground when I took over the beat in 2014, because the team hadn’t spent much time in the national spotlight. It’s never easy to find interesting stories, but there was certainly some low-hanging fruit. I hope I’ll find a team that’s just as compelling soon enough, but I’m not sure I will.

6. Finally, looking back how do you view your time in Kansas City?

It was an OK time. Underrated city for Vietnamese food.

7. Oh, one more question for old times sake: any word on Kyle Zimmer?

I hope he starts the All-Star Game in 2017.   

I would like to thank Andy for taking the time to answer these questions. McCullough is now working for the LA Times, as he is their beat writer for the Dodgers. You can find Andy’s coverage of the Dodgers at LATimes.com and he is a great follow on Twitter. Sure, he covers the Dodgers now, but if you love baseball(and some humor), McCullough is a good follow no matter the team. Glad us Royals fans had McCullough to guide us through the last two years. He did a great job and in a lot of ways will always be connected to this team. Thanks, Andy.

 

Spring Training on the Horizon

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With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Spring Training starting on Wednesday I felt like there is no better time than now to return to my blog after a few weeks away. This time of year is weird in that outside of a few minor signings and arbitration filings and signings, there just isn’t a whole lot going on. With that said there are a few key items I wanted to toss out there to get back in the groove. Call this a news and notes post or just ramblings of a bored baseball fan; either way here are a few topics of discussion to pass the time.

Shields ends up in San Diego

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One of the biggest questions over the last couple months is ‘just where is James Shields going to end up?’ . I pondered this question about a month ago and at that point basically had no clue what was going to happen. In fact with the way things were going it appeared at best he was going to end up with a 3 year deal in the $18 million a year vicinity, rather than the 5 year, $20 million a year he was shooting for. Color me shocked then when he got a a 4 year deal from the Padres in that $18-20 million range per year. Shields grew up near San Diego and is a perfect fit for their rotation of youngsters that needs a veteran to help guide them to the next level. Most of us Royals fans are familiar of how Shields helped the likes of Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy and I’m sure he will look to do the same for guys like Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner. It also seems fitting he ends up with a home ballpark that is sure to not only help some of his numbers but also hide some of the regression that I believe is on his doorsteps. Petco Park is a spacious park and, much like Kauffman Stadium, is not known for being a hitters park. Shields might have picked the best park for him at this stage in his career with the only possible downfall being his defense in the outfield(Kemp, Myers and Upton)will pale in comparison to the Royals outfield he has had behind him the last two years. With all the talk the last few weeks focused on how his agent might have hurt what he would get on the market, at the end of the day going to San Diego is probably the best place for him, both as a family man and as a baseball player. We will miss him in Kansas City but I’m glad the Royals don’t have him locked in for the next four years. He served his purpose and now he can serve that same purpose for the Padres.

Game 7 Question Answered…Maybe?

AP WORLD SERIES GIANTS ROYALS BASEBALL S BBO USA MO

The one question Royals fans have wondered all winter about has been whether or not 3rd Base coach Mike Jirschele should have sent Alex Gordon home on his extra base hit in the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series. Some people believed the team should have gone for it, especially with Salvador Perez up next and his propensity to swing at anything and everything(and the fact he had been hit by a pitch earlier and was hobbling most of the game). Some others(myself included) felt there was no way Gordon would have made it and Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford(an excellent defender) would have nailed him at home plate if he would have gone. Well, the Kansas City Star decided to test the theory out, using the Rockhurst University baseball team(a Division II school) to test out whether or not it was plausible:

Now what happened is not a 100% accurate portrayal of what would have happened, but it does appear that if they would have sent Gordon he would have been easily out. The team ran the play 6 different times with one of their fastest runners and he was nailed at home plate 5 out of the 6 times. I tend to agree with Rany Jazayerli on this one:

I get why everyone pondered this question and the possibilities of if Gordon had scored and tied the game up. But the thought of him being thrown out at home and sitting on that all winter sounded like a personal living hell for me. I would have rather taken the chance with Perez possibly wrapping the ball around the foul line at third(like in the Wild Card Game) then sit and wonder all winter why they didn’t just hold Gordon at third. People will still ask ‘what if?’ but it might now be time to just let it be, folks.

The Royals Have the Best Billboards

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If there was one thing the Kansas City Royals dominant at(besides bullpen arms and outfield defense) it would be their wonderful billboards. Above is this year’s, Jarrod Dyson taking off and burning the path behind him. Fantastic! It didn’t seem possible they could top last year’s,  which looked like this:

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…and this one as well:

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So the creative minds that put these together continue to excel with the Dyson billboard this year. Which apparently also lights up at night and makes people actually think it is on fire:

The bar is now set pretty high after two straight years of creative, out of the box thinking for their billboards. Makes me wonder what is in store for 2016.

Your Promotional Schedule is My Wet Dream

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Back in 2013 I was less than enamored with the Royals promotional schedule for that season. In fact so much so that I wrote my own ideas about what I felt they should do to improve their giveaways. One of my big beefs in 2013 was that they were doing condiment bobbleheads rather than the actual players on the field. You see, I love bobbleheads and love collecting them each season. Last year they took a step in the right direction by giving away Alex Gordon, James Shields and Salvador Perez bobbleheads(all of which sit in my house). What they are doing for this year not only tops 2014 but might be even better than any idea I could have come up with. Here is a look at the Royals bobblehead giveaways for 2015:

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Good God almighty I need all of those! The fact that the team went with key moments from the playoffs was a genius idea and made me wish I had thought of it first. You have Perez celebrating after his walk-off hit in the wild card game. You have Lorenzo Cain sprawling out and making an electric catch in the outfield. You have Yordano Ventura tossing a gem during Game 6 of the World Series…and most importantly you have Mike Moustakas making a diving catch on top of the third base dugout suite in the ALCS against Baltimore. These bobbleheads are so great that it almost puts a tear in my eye. I also fear I won’t be able to go to all of these games and will have to purchase them on ebay, which will probably cost me an arm and a leg. Good thing I only really need one of each!

And the Projections are In… 

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One of the interesting items of interest before the season starts are projections of where everyone believes the Royals will end up this season. PECOTA projections have the Royals at 72-90, which would net them 4th place, still ahead of the Twins. David Schoenfield of espn.com has the Royals at 80-82, which would net them 3rd place in the American League Central. Finally, Bovada Official in Las Vegas has the Royals at 80.5 wins for 2015, in case you are the betting type. The consensus is that the Royals will slide a bit from their 89 wins in 2014, which I can see why. The Royals key 3 free agents they lost (James Shields, Billy Butler and Nori Aoki) have been replaced on the roster by Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios. It’s not hard to see how these three are a step down from the players they are replacing. You could also factor in on whether or not you believe Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie will be solid contributors to the rotation and whether or not their young lineup stalwarts(Hosmer, Moustakas, Perez, etc.) are able to improve on their 2014 numbers. I personally have my own thoughts of how I think this season will go(which I will reveal at a later date), but it’s safe to say there is no reason to get upset about any of these predictions. These are just predictions, guesses and estimates on a season that hasn’t even started. Some guesses are better than others, but there is no real clue as to how the season will go. A team could get hit with injuries and cause a major hole in their lineup. A player could come out of nowhere to put up career high numbers and elevate the team. Yes, a players career projection normally doesn’t adjust very much season by season, but it could happen. That’s the beauty of baseball; there is no definite until the games are played. So any Royals fans that see these “guesses” and gets bent out of shape, just remember; the season hasn’t started so nothing is etched in stone. No need to get upset about these projections…yet.

Division Series - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Kansas City Royals - Game Three

So there you go. Just a few notes of interest over the last few weeks. Here before too long we’ll be able to discuss actual games and roster moves that will affect the Royals going into this 2015 season. Just the fact that pitchers and catchers are reporting tomorrow brings a smile to my face and puts a little hop into my walk. So get ready; the defending American League Champions are headed back soon. The 2015 season is just on the horizon!

 

Breaking News: Ned Yost to return to Kansas City, Royals Fans Groan

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It was announced earlier this morning that Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost will be returning to the dugout for the 2014 campaign, signing a two year extension. The Royals finished this year 86-76, their first season over .500 since 2003. Some people will give most of the credit to general manager Dayton Moore, while others give a nod to Yost. I have been very vocal the last year and a half that Yost needed to go and that it was a detriment to keep him around. In fact, I’ve written a lot of about Neddy.  Like here. Or here.  Or about anywhere else on my blog, to be perfectly honest with you. I’m just not a big fan of the guy, and apparently I am not alone.

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For a guy who just brought the Royals to a winning record, something that as Royals fans we just don’t see very often, he is not popular amongst the fan base. This has even been a topic of discussion lately in the Kansas City Star, as two articles have discussed this. One by Vahe Gregorian and one by Sam Mellinger. I find the one by Mellinger really interesting, as he mentions how Yost needs to change if the Royals want to go from a contender to an actual playoff participant. I don’t just hate Ned Yost for illogical reasons or because it’s easy to blame the manager. No, I hate him as the Royals manager because I know they will never get to the promised land as long as he is in charge.

Ned Yost, Billy Butler, Jordan Baker

Before we go much farther, I do want to say that Yost does have some positives. He does a great job with the players, a group of guys who like him and still buy into what he says. If they didn’t believe, there is no way he should be coming back. One thing I’ve heard numerous times within the last month was how Yost kept a positive attitude in the clubhouse during the rough patches of the 2013 season. That is a positive and something that Yost can take credit for, especially with a really young bunch of players. If you saw the end of game 162 Sunday, you saw a bunch of players who hugged their manager and obviously care. All of this is a positive.

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But if you are a Royals fan, you can, off the top of your head, mention many reasons as to why he shouldn’t be coming back. My main reason, and the one that most of us point to, is his inability to properly handle pressure. Remember the 12 game losing streak in 2012? What about the month of May this year? If not for Moore’s Hail Mary of hiring George Brett as the hitting coach at the end of May, who knows how low things would have gone. Bottom line is Yost has no answers. In fact, that is why he was fired by Milwaukee in the heat of a pennant race with 12 games left to play in 2008. Milwaukee management talked to him about what he thought the team was doing wrong and what they needed to do and Yost had no answers. None. That speaks volumes. It shows that if stuck in a tight situation late in the year, don’t expect a whole lot of answers from Neddaniel. Instead, expect a whole bunch of crap being thrown at the wall.

Ned Yost

There are other things as well, obviously. He shuffles the lineup more than he should. He still thinks bunting is a good form of producing runs. He still wants to get his pitchers a win(#killthewin). He says nothing of actual value whenever interviewed. Hey, as someone who has ACTUALLY interviewed Yost, trust me, it’s all just cliches and pointless gibberish. His actual in game management is very lacking and I think that actually is a big reason why fans haven’t warmed up to him.

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There are two games this past season that stick out as a guy who was either over-managing or just not using his head. The first was the game in early May against Chicago. James Shields had been shutting the White Sox down all day, and hadn’t run up his pitch count. He left the game after 8 innings and in came Greg Holland. Now, the complaint isn’t having Holland in. No, the complaint was that Shields had been dominating yet he was pulled, while just a few days earlier he had kept Jeremy Guthrie in a game where he hadn’t been really dominate but he wanted to give him a chance to get his first career complete game shutout. Their pitch count had been almost completely identical. My complaint wasn’t really that he had brought in Holland. My complaint was that the two pitchers had almost identical numbers up to that point, yet Ned felt the need to pull his ace while keeping his number three starter in the game—what kind of reasoning is that? That’s what scares me; he is the guy making those decisions yet he isn’t consistent and has no real game plan once in the game. By the way, Guthrie finished his shutout, while Holland gave up the tying run and the White Sox would win the game in extra innings(and was the beginning of their losing May).

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The other game was just a few weeks ago. Once again, Guthrie was pitching against Detroit and had barely been squeaking by. In fact, it would be safe to say that he was getting lucky, yet Yost decided to let him go out and start the 8th. By the end of the inning, the Tigers had gotten a home run from Alex Avila and Detroit would take the lead and eventually win the game. Most people watching that game knew Guthrie should have been pulled. I mean, the Royals did have the best bullpen in baseball this year. Instead, Neddy said in postgame he “wanted to get Guthrie a win.” Are you serious? The Royals are in a pennant race and you are worried about a pointless personal stat? That move(or lack of one) showed why Yost should not have been asked back for next year. But the Royals had a winning season, correct? But winning doesn’t mean everything.

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At the end of the day, I personally believe Yost is NOT a manager to get you to the promised land. He is the guy you hire to help develop your younger players. But once you are to a point where you can seriously contend, that would be the time to move on. Instead, we get more Yost. I’m glad the Royals had a winning season this year, but it seems counterproductive if the main person who hurts your ball club is coming back. I tend to think the Royals won’t reach the playoffs as long as Yost is in charge. They won this year in spite of Edgar Frederick; let’s hope we don’t find out just how much he can hurt this team when it really counts…but it seems like it will have to happen before some people(ie. Dayton) realize Yosty will cost this team real glory.

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