Drama Free For Three in KC: Royals Down Twins, Win Series

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After an eventful weekend at ‘The K’, there was hope as Minnesota came into town that there would be a tad bit more normalcy to kick off a new week for the Kansas City Royals. Luckily, normalcy was the “modus operandi” and the Royals came away with another series win, winning games 1 and 2 in the series while being shutout in game 3 on Wednesday night. Then again, as much as things seemed normal, that doesn’t mean everything made total sense. I mean, this was against the Twins, a team that has caused the Royals fits over the years. Seriously, just last week the Twins ended the Royals winning streak while also delivering Kansas City their first losing series of the season. So it makes sense that things veered a bit off the beaten path when the Twins came to town. With that said it is time to look back at what was.

Mike Moustakas, Christian Colon

Series MVP: Mike Moustakas

When the season started manager Ned Yost inserted Mike Moustakas into the 2 hole in the lineup, a move that got many(myself included) to shake their heads and wonder why. Sure, Moose had a great spring training and was consistently hitting the ball to the opposite field, but we’ve been down this road before; the road where Moustakas has a great spring and elevates our hopes for him for the season. With that said, so far so good when it comes to his new approach at the plate and it continued in this series. Moustakas would go 4 for 13 against Minnesota this week;Chris a homerun in game 2 and 3 RBI’s(including the game winning hit on Tuesday night). Moose also collected a big opposite field double in game 1 that helped get some runs on the board. I still want to see if this new approach will last throughout the long summer, but so far he looks amazing at the plate and has made me start to believe that maybe he is for real. Add in his solid defense and quiet leadership and he might end up being the building block we hoped he was when he was drafted.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

Pitching Performance of the Series: Chris Young

After a rough outing in Minnesota last week that saw the scoreless streak of the Royals bullpen go up in smoke, Young bounced back this week with a solid 2 innings in Tuesday’s night game where he gave up 0 hits and 0 runs with 1 strikeout, as he picked up the slack of starter Jason Vargas who exited the game in the 6th inning. In fact since Young and Ryan Madson gave up 3 runs in the final game of the series last week against the Twins, the Royals bullpen has yet to give up another run, so another scoreless streak has begun. A nod also goes to Yohan Pino and Edinson Volquez in this series. Pino went 3 scoreless innings on Wednesday night and pushed his scoreless streak to 7.2 innings; it definitely seems as if he is making the case of keeping a roster spot when closer Greg Holland returns from the DL. Volquez had another solid start on Monday night, allowing 5 hits, 1 run, 1 walk and 5 strikeouts in his 7 innings of work. Volquez has easily been the Royals most consistent starter so far this season and has really meshed well in the clubhouse as well. So far the bullpen has been amazing for Kansas City while the rotation has had a few questions early on in 2015.

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Other notes from this series:

  • I’ve mentioned the last few years how Jeremy Guthrie is a modern marvel, allowing many a baserunner while letting very few cross home plate, as his numbers seem to defy logic. One wonders if Guthrie has started his regression as he has yet to post a quality start yet in 2015. Guthrie struggled again on Wednesday night, only throwing 5 innings, allowing 6 hits, 6 walks(1HBP) and somehow only 3 runs. The Royals do have options if Guthrie can’t bounce back(Pino, Young) but the preference is to have him rebound and pitch more like he has the last 2 seasons. Guthrie still has this and next year on his contract, so I can’t imagine him being let go or traded if he doesn’t improve. It does appear the Royals will give him a long leash, so an improvement is needed sooner rather than later.
  • Kyle Gibson finally looked human against the Royals on Monday, tossing 5 innings, giving up 4 hits, 3 earned runs with 4 walks and zero strikeouts. The Royals seemed a bit more patient with him and that helped provide enough offense to knock him out of the game and take the victory. The Twins hurler has dominated Kansas City in the past but hopefully they have found a chink in his armor, as the team will have to face Gibson a few more times before the season is done.
  • A big kudos going out to Christian Colon and his at bat in the 8th inning on Tuesday night that helped spark the comeback against the Twins. It wasn’t an at bat that will show up in the box score but he worked the count against Casey Fien before eventually grounding out to second base to get Dyson across the plate and tying the game. It was a professional at bat where Colon did what he had to do to help get a run across the plate and not just a wasted out. Colon would also get an RBI double in the 6th inning to help the team keep it close against Minnesota. With second baseman Omar Infante dealing with a groin issue(and with his injury history), the Royals need Colon to be a solid replacement for moments like this. Colon will probably never be more than an average hitter, but he is versatile and plays good defense. Add in a solid bat and you have a guy who could keep a major league job for quite some time.
  • Speaking of clutch hitters, Paulo Orlando continues to impress at the plate for Kansas City. Orlando now has 5 triples on the year and got a big single in that 8th inning on Tuesday night. He would proceed to steal second and put himself into scoring position. Orlando might have had to wait until he was 29 years old to get a major league job, but so far he is taking advantage of his opportunities. To me he has locked himself into a roster spot and is more of a 4th outfielder at this point than Jarrod Dyson is.
  • If we are handing out kudos, a big one also needs to go to Eric Hosmer and his approach at the dish as of late. Hosmer got 6 walks in this series and officially only had 5 at bats. In the last week Hosmer has walked 9 times and despite not driving the ball much he is still getting on base and contributing. We’ve been gushing about Moustakas all season but a little gushing Hosmer’s way is deserved as well.
  • Alcides Escobar returned to the lineup on Monday and was 4 for 12 in this series. There is still a noticeable limp when he runs but he appears to at least not be letting the injury slow down his hitting.
  • The Royals were hit by pitches 2 more times this series. I can promise you neither one was intentional.
  • And Alex Gordon chimed in with his first home run of the season on Tuesday night. I think a hot streak from A1 is just around the corner.

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So that is how you extract revenge. The Twins won the series last week and the Royals returned the favor this week. I think the biggest worry so far into this season is the shaky starts from the back end of the rotation, as Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie makes one wonder just when Kris Medlen could contribute to this team. The Royals will now head to Chicago and take on the White Sox, who they swept in Kansas City the first week of the season. Kansas City will continue the tour of the Central Division with 4 in Chicago, then 3 in Cleveland next week before headed home for 4 against Detroit. May is creeping up and our Royals seem to be a contender, one that will be in the race all season. A good series in Chicago would go a long way toward setting up a great matchup next weekend against the Tigers.

 

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Misguided Anger: Royals Win Series Against A’s, Put Target on Their Own Back

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When this series started out I had some feel good vibes. Billy Butler was back in town, we would be reminded of the great Wild Card game last year against the A’s and more than anything we were going to see two good teams lock horns. Instead, those vibes left the building early on and by the end of the series I wanted to forget the last 3 days even happened. We will get to the insanity in a moment, but I’d like to bring back a few good feelings first.

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Series MVP: Eric Hosmer

A part of me didn’t want to pick anyone, just for the fact that no one really stood out. Friday was a good night for the offense, with 3 batters getting 3 hits apiece, but Saturday the bats were virtually silent and Sunday it took 3/4 of the game to get much going. Yes, the Royals offense this weekend looked more like the 2014 edition of the Royals. That being said, Eric Hosmer had a good series, going 6 for 10, with an RBI, and 2 walks, including a big base on balls in Sunday’s contest that helped fuel the rally in the bottom of the 8th inning. The only downside to his 6 hits was that they were all singles and continues to not really drive the ball much. Hey, I’m glad the guy is starting to find some holes and get on base(both good things), but as a cleanup hitter a few extra base hits would go a long way toward getting his power numbers to get in a upward projectory. All in all a good series for Hos and hopefully one he can grow on with Minnesota coming into town.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Yohan Pino

I would have loved to give this nod to one of the starting pitchers in this series. Unfortunately, all 3 were way off from giving the Royals quality starts. One pitcher that did excel over the weekend was Yohan Pino, who was recalled from AAA Omaha on Saturday to take the roster spot of closer Greg Holland, who would go on the 15-Day DL. Pino would almost immediately be called upon, as he would replace Yordano Ventura in the 4th inning after his implosion set off a number of bad decisions. All Pino would do in his Royals debut is go 4. 2 innings, giving up only 3 hits while walking none and striking out 3. The Royals needed someone to come in and right the ship and Pino did just that. I don’t know how long we will see Pino up with the big league club, but for now he has earned the right for at least a few more outings. Good to see there was at least some good news on the pitching side of things during these 3 games.

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There Goes Any Good Feelings I Had This Weekend

I guess it’s time to address the elephant in the room. If anything is going to be remembered from this past weekend, it is the bad blood that boiled over between the Royals and A’s. It all started Friday night as a ball glanced off Kelvin Herrera’s foot and was picked up by Mike Moustakas. Moose would attempt to get Brett Lawrie out at second base, which caused Lawrie to start his slide into second late, catching Alcides Escobar and injuring him. Some feel it was a dirty slide; I tend to agree with Ned Yost on this(Yes, I know. You don’t hear those words from me very often). Let’s let Neddy explain:

The worse thing Lawrie did there was to come in with his spikes up. Once again, I didn’t then nor now feel like there was any bad intentions on Lawrie’s part, nor do I feel like any of it was malicious:

So this led to Saturday night, where most baseball fans felt like Lawrie was probably going to be hit at some point, even if I’m not even 100% for sure he deserved it. In his first plate appearance Yordano Ventura did throw a pitch that was up and in a bit. Honestly, that was good enough for me. Message sent and hopefully we can all just move on from the stupidity of what was an aggressive slide that ended up injuring someone. Instead, after Josh Reddick rocked a Ventura pitch into the right field bleachers, Lawrie would step up to the plate and would get hit by a 100 mph pitch in the elbow. Ventura, obviously upset that his night was soon coming to an end, decided that was the right time for “revenge”. As I sat in the outfield at Kauffman Stadium, listening to the other Royals fans cheer their heads off, all I could keep thinking was that this whole thing was stupid. Fine, stick up for your guy, but if you are going to pay Lawrie back, do it in the first at bat. Otherwise, choosing to do it after giving up a home run makes you look immature and letting your emotions decide your decisions. Obviously, I felt like the weird fan in the crowd who felt like Lawrie didn’t even do anything majorly wrong, or at least not to put up with this circus. By the way, Lawrie did a good job after he got hit of just walking to first base and staying there while the benches and bullpens emptied. It did seem as if at that time he kept the cooler head. Ventura was ejected(rightfully so) and the game moved on. My serious hope was that we were done with all the shenanigans and Sunday’s game would be a contest just about baseball.

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Unfortunately, Sunday’s game wouldn’t be any better. In the bottom of the first inning, A’s pitcher Scott Kazmir hit Lorenzo Cain in the foot with a pitch. This led to the Royals bench chirping at Kazmir while the umpires dished out warnings to both teams. I’ve actually heard people say they think Kazmir hit Cain intentionally. Really?

As far as I am concerned, Kazmir went a bit more inside than he wanted and caught Cain’s foot. It happens. There was no reason to eject Kazmir, as it wasn’t done on purpose and a pitcher should still be allowed to pitch inside. Manager Ned Yost and pitching coach Dave Eiland were both ejected, which led to a nice argument between Yost and the umpires, including Yost throwing out his gum(nice touch). Trust me, I like that this team will stick up for each other and have each other’s back, but you have to distinguish between an intentional pitch and a pitch that just got away. Things seemed to be dying down when in the 8th inning Kelvin Herrera would come in, getting a bit inside with his first pitch to Lawrie. On his next pitch, Herrera would throw one behind Lawrie’s back at 100 mph. Amazingly stupid. There was no reason for it and at that point I just couldn’t defend what my team was doing. Herrera would also point to his head, which Lawrie took as he would get one in the head the next time(which is even worse than everything else that happened in this series):

Lawrie did lose his cool after this, and even started arguing with fans near the A’s dugout. Just horribly stupid. This whole thing could have been avoided if everyone would have just focused on playing the game rather than getting into a some macho feud with no actual intention. I call a spade a spade on this one, and the Royals were in the wrong. I get being upset that they have been hit 14 times in the first 12 games of the season, but I look at that as a gift. Other than maybe a couple against Chicago the first series of the season, the rest of the hit by pitches have not been intentional. In fact, these have all been free baserunners for the Royals, many of which helped keep rallies going and helped Kansas City score runs. Yes, it’s not fun to get hit that much, but take the free base and make them pay for doing that. The proper revenge in any of these scenarios is to go out there and get Lawrie out. That is the best revenge.

By the way, welcome back, Billy Butler…

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Onto other thoughts from this series(and I am done discussing this feud until the Royals visit Oakland in June):

  • My favorite part of the weekend was Billy Butler getting his American League Championship ring. A lot has been said about Billy the last few years but even at the end he didn’t want to leave. There is something to be said for him wanting to stay in Kansas City.
  • One of the nice things that probably went unnoticed this past weekend was how we started seeing a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to Omar Infante and Alex Gordon and their offensive woes. Infante went 4 for 8 in the series with 2 RBI’s and has pushed his average up to .250. Unfortunately, he also left Sunday’s game with a groin strain so we will see how much action he sees against the Twins. Gordon went 3 for 8, including a 2 hit game on Saturday night. Gordon is still a bit behind because of his wrist surgery this offseason but it is just a matter of time until he starts getting hot.
  • As mentioned earlier in the pitching performance section, the Royals starting pitchers did not have a good weekend. Jeremy Guthrie looked like a batting practice pitcher on Friday, Ventura had control issues on Saturday and Danny Duffy looked very unfocused this afternoon. The offense and bullpen won’t be able to pick this team up every time the rotation falters, so there is a need to see some quality starts as we get closer to May.
  • Closer Greg Holland going on the disabled list is never a good thing, but if there is a preferred time for it to happen, it would be now. The team has plenty of depth, and with Luke Hochevar probably coming back in May it could get even deeper. Hopefully Holland will only be down for a bit and is able to get back to action soon.
  • Erik Kratz not only got into a game, but he appeared in 2 games this week! Kratz got the start on Sunday, but as always, was replaced by Perez late in the game. I know Kratz looked like a guy who hadn’t appeared in a game in 3 weeks…because he hadn’t! Plus, if you don’t allow Perez to get a full day of rest, they are going to be back in the situation they were in late in the seasonlast year, that of Salvy looking tired and his offense suffering. Kratz is not such a bad defender or hitter that a few extra innings of him will cost the Royals any games.
  • Anyone else think Salvy’s hit down the third base line on Friday night was eerily similar to his game winning hit in the Wild Card Game?

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Out of all of this mess is has probably been forgotten that the Royals won the series, 2 games to 1. The Royals are sitting at 9-3, a game behind Detroit in the American League Central. The Twins are coming to Kauffman Stadium to kick off a 3 game series on Monday and hopefully the results are different than last week’s trip to Minnesota. Oh, and Kyle Gibson is pitching for Minnesota on Monday, which is not good. Let’s hope the Royals keep their excitement for this series while holding back any deep thoughts of revenge or retribution. Oh, and I’m looking forward to saying ‘Plouffe’ this week. I can neither say nor deny whether or not that Trevor’s name is my ‘safe word’. So onward and upward we go, to a land where we only discuss the baseball played on the field, not the extracurricular activities. Hey, a guy can dream!

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

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

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Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain

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

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

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

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Revenge Can Be Overrated

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

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Other notes from this series:

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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