One of the fun things about Spring Training is that anything is possible, and the opportunities are endless. In fact, every spring is spent with fans trying to predict how their favorite team will stack the lineup to start the season. In some ways it is a pointless activity but it’s always interesting to compare how you would position the starting lineup as opposed to the manager in the dugout. With that being said, here is how I would stack the starting nine for the Kansas City Royals to kick off their 2016 campaign.
Batting leadoff would be left fielder Alex Gordon. Years ago Gordon was actually the regular at the top of the order but the Royals have spent the last few years trying to utilize some of his power and put him anywhere from fourth to eighth in the order. My reasoning for having Gordon leadoff is that he is one of the few Royals to put up a good walk rate, has decent speed and has proven success in this role. I really like Gordon’s ability to get on base and feel like it is best suited for this spot in the lineup. I know it is highly unlikely this will happen, but Gordon would be my choice.
Batting in the two hole would be Lorenzo Cain. Last year Cain spent most of the year in the third spot in the order and turned in a career year that netted him a third place finish in the American League MVP vote. Now, it might seem odd to move Cain out of the third spot after the year he had, but I like having the Royals best two players hitting back to back in the order, as it allows Cain use his speed a bit more early in the game and makes it harder for pitchers to pitch around the Royals top of the order. I have no issue with Cain batting third, but I would like to see what he could do batting second.
Hitting third in my Royals batting order would be Eric Hosmer. It’s long been said that you bat your best hitter in the third spot in the order and this could be the year that Hosmer takes that leap and puts up MVP caliber numbers. Hosmer put together a solid 2015 campaign and was an RBI machine in the postseason. If Gordon and Cain got on base consistently, Hosmer would get even more RBI opportunities and give the Royals more runs on the scoreboard. Batting Hosmer third could be a win-win situation.
The “Cleanup Spot” could go to Kendrys Morales, the Royals RBI leader in 2015. The four hole has long been where you plug in your power guy and Morales is that for Kansas City. Even if we see a slight fall in extra base hits, Morales batting cleanup would give Morales even more of a chance to drive in runners than he did last year batting fifth.
In the fifth spot would be Salvador Perez. Salvy isn’t the most patient hitter in baseball, but he did put up career high home run totals in 2015 and could see better pitches hitting behind Morales. Now that Perez is signed long-term in Kansas City, its time to give the man more rest and one has to wonder if his offensive numbers would hit an upward trajectory with more time to rest his weary bones.
Despite coming off of a career season, I would bat Mike Moustakas sixth this season for the Royals. Moustakas looked like a changed man the first few months of the season, as he consistently was hitting the ball to the opposite field, forcing teams to scrap the shifts against him which were prevalent in 2014. The second half of the 2015 season saw him pull the ball at a greater rate, although still occasionally taking the ball the opposite way. So which player is Moose? I would like to say he would be more like the guy we saw in the first half of the season, but we will have to wait and see. If he continues to show that growth this season then he is more than capable of batting back near the top of the order. I would prefer to be convinced first before sliding him back.
The seventh, eighth and ninth spots in the order are pretty interchangeable, but I would go with Omar Infante/Christian Colon batting seventh. Infante will probably win this job and if he does he is good to bat near the bottom of the order while still occasionally driving in some runs from this spot.
Eighth would be Alcides Escobar, the man who Ned Yost will have lead-off this year. None of us can explain why it works, but batting Escobar at the top of the order, a guy who rarely walks and batted .257 last year, seemed to be a sparkplug for this Royals team during the playoffs. Honestly, Escobar just doesn’t get on base enough for my taste, which is why I would bat him near the bottom of the order. We know how this will play out, but Escobar’s bat seems to justify me batting him eighth in the Royals batting order.
Batting at the bottom of the Royals lineup would be the Jarrod Dyson/Paulo Orlando platoon. I really like batting these two here for two reasons. First, neither will produce much offensively and will see the least amount of at bats in this spot. Second, if they do get on base, their speed could be utilized when the batting order flips back around to the team’s best hitters in Gordon and Cain and you could even see the hit and run used quite a bit. I actually think batting the right field duo here is the perfect spot for them.
So how do I think the line-up will actually shake out? Knowing manager Ned Yost and what he has said so far this spring, the line-up looks to be Escobar, Moustakas, Cain, Hosmer, Morales, Gordon, Perez, Infante/Colon, Dyson/Orlando. It’s not too far off from the batting order we saw in October last year and that seemed to work out okay. How would you stack the Royals? Who knows what would actually be the most productive order for the Royals, but it sure is fun moving it around to see what comes out of it.
Headed into Spring Training 2016, the Kansas City Royals have very little when it comes to major concerns on their roster. There is right field (which looks like a platoon between Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando), the 5th spot in the starting rotation, the backup catcher battle and a few bullpen spots. But there also is a battle at second base, where Omar Infante looks to reclaim his spot while upstart Christian Colon looks to pry playing time away from the veteran. It would appear on first look that it is Infante’s job to lose, but there is always a chance Colon could take over, especially since Infante’s numbers the last few years have been less than stellar. Word last month from the almighty GM, Dayton Moore was that Colon would get a chance to win the job away from Infante this spring. So this begs the question: who should the Royals start at second base?
Let’s start with the man we all figure will win the job, Omar Infante. Infante is getting ready for his age 34 season, year 3 of a 4 year deal with Kansas City. To say Infante has been lacking offense the last two seasons would be a bit of an understatement. Infante’s OPS+ the last two seasons has been 76 and 49(league average is 100), miles away from the 115 he produced for Detroit back in 2013. He was actually able to produce a positive WAR in 2014(0.8) but slipped to -0.8 in 2015. Pretty much every offensive statistic has suffered in his two years in Kansas City, although he did have a number of clutch hits for the team in 2014. It’s not even just the main offensive numbers; fly ball % is down, his groundball rate is up and his hard hit rate has suffered as well. None of this is too surprising, as Infante is at that age where regression starts to sit in, so a dip in the numbers shouldn’t be too shocking.
Defensively, it has been a different story, as Omar actually held his own on defense this past year. Infante was able to post a positive dWAR, a big bump in his UZR, and a slight increase in his defensive runs saved. If ever you wondered why manager Ned Yost continued to pencil Infante into the lineup everyday, looking at his defensive numbers should explain it. The real detriment to Infante the last two seasons(and why there is at least some optimism in his return) has been the litany of injuries that he has dealt with during his time in Kansas City. In just two seasons, Infante has dealt with a jaw sprain, a shoulder sprain, an oblique strain(which sidelined him at the end of 2015), and a bone spur in his right elbow that required surgery this past November. Outside of the first week of the 2014 season, I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen a completely healthy Infante during his time in Royal blue. A healthy Infante would go a long ways toward not only sewing up a starting spot but also increasing his value in any way possible.
So what about Christian Colon? Well, his numbers are a bit harder to decipher because of limited time in the majors. Offensively, he has been better than Infante the last two seasons numbers wise, but once again this is in limited action. Colon has put up an OPS+ of 139 and 91 the last two seasons, but that is in 21 and 43 games. He has compiled a positive WAR(0.7 and 0.6) and defensively has been a slightly above average fielder. I went ahead and looked at his numbers in AAA Omaha, and Colon played about how you would figure; an average hitter with little power, decent speed and a positive increase in his BB/K rate. It’s hard to really get a read on what kind of major league player Colon would be, but it would appear he is about replacement level.
If you believe Moore, this will be a serious competition between the two players. In fact he all but said that last month when talking to MLB.com:
“We’ll just evaluate,” Moore told MLB.com. “We’re going to play the best players. Omar is a terrific second baseman. I know offensively he has not performed the way he has liked or the way we expect him to. I just know we’re going to put the best team out there each and every night, and I know Omar is capable of being that guy. But we like Christian Colon, too. But you need them all to win, as you know. It’s a team, and you count on everyone to perform. I don’t know if Omar, at this point, is going to play 162 games.”
Go ahead, look at that last sentence. Moore basically implies they aren’t for sure Infante can stay healthy the whole season. You can understand why, after the list of injuries I mentioned above, but this also makes you wonder if something else is in the mix.
There is something else in the mix, and that ‘something else’ would be hot prospect Raul Mondesi Jr. Mondesi is entering his age 20 season and finished last year in AA Northwest Arkansas in the Royals farm system. Mondesi is still a very raw talent, but it is conceivable he could make a big jump this season. One downside is that Mondesi has only played 18 professional games at second base, although it will be interesting to see what they do with him when he starts the year in the minors. If he is playing second fairly often early on, then it is possible the Royals would be looking at him as a possible solution in the big leagues later in the summer. I don’t think we will see Mondesi in the mix to start the year, but I have a hunch we will see him before the year is up.
So what is the final verdict? Going just off of numbers, it would seem like a dead heat. Infante and Colon’s ‘Steamer Projections’ are fairly similar: Infante has a projected line of .253/.284/.352 with a wRC+(weighted runs created) of 71, while Colon’s line would be .264/.316/..352 with an 83 wRC+. The numbers show that Colon might have a slight edge offensively, but not by much. It would seem Infante would have the edge defensively, which the Royals highly value. Infante would probably also have the edge because of his contract; it’s hard to justify benching the guy who’s making $7.8 million this year, especially since he is almost untradeable. Here is what I believe will happen: Infante will win the job out of Spring Training and will hold onto it until/if he gets hurt. Even if Infante is able to stay healthy, I really believe by August we will see Mondesi holding down the second base job. The Infante-Colon combo is not a permanent answer, especially for a team that has aspirations of making the postseason again this year. Instead it is the current answer, not the permanent one. Come August, second base could look much different for the Royals.
The Kansas City Royals have waited 30 years to say they are World Champions. Whenever anyone around Kansas City talks about the Royals, it is inevitable that the 1985 Royals, the only other Kansas City team to win the World Series, are brought up. In some ways I’m sure it felt like big shoes to fill, living up to the legend of a team that made a lot of us(myself included) Royals fans. Now though is another champion for future teams to live up to. In what was possibly the most dramatic 5 game World Series in history, Kansas City can now call themselves ‘World Champs’!
There are so many stories to tell here, and all deserve your time and praise, but let’s start with the beginning of the season. This was a team that felt like they had unfinished business, left with the bad taste in their mouth from being beat by the Giants the year before in the World Series. This was a team that was on a mission to finish what they fell just short of in 2014. Not only is it a difficult path to make back to back World Series in this day and age, but they were doing it without some big components from the year before. Billy Butler was gone. James Shields-gone. Nori Aoki jumped ship to the world champs. In their place was Kendrys Morales, Edinson Volquez and Alex Rios, two of which were coming off of disappointing seasons. In fact, guys like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer were also coming off of less than stellar campaigns, which is why the PECOTA projections had Kansas City at 72 wins. In fact, I was a bit skeptical of their chances, expecting them to be in the hunt while falling just short. It wasn’t that I didn’t want my team to ‘Take the Crown’; I just wasn’t for sure that a majority of the lineup was going to improve on their 2014 numbers. Luckily, I was wrong.
What happened during the regular season would seem like a fairy tale written up by a Royals fan before the season began, while bordering on fan fiction(somehow Salvador Perez and his perfume would fit in here). The team got off to a hot start, took control of the American League Central and held it for 3/4 of the season. In fact, if it wasn’t for the surging Minnesota Twins stepping up near the beginning of the summer, the Royals might have lead the division all season long. There was so many highlights to the regular season, like Mike Moustakas’ offensive turnaround, as he learned to hit to the opposite field, forcing opposing teams to quit putting the shift on him and play him straight up. There was the monster comeback season by Morales, toppling 100 RBI’s while adding power to the middle of the order. There was another phenomenal season by Wade Davis and Volquez turned out to be a solid replacement for Shields. Lorenzo Cain really blossomed this year, putting together a MVP caliber season after dealing with injuries almost every year before. The team almost single-handedly took over the All-Star Game, with 4 Kansas City starters in the game and 8 total players representing the Royals. Hell, we Royals fans almost voted Omar Infante into the game, and most of us agree he was awful this year! Then in July, the Royals front office stepped up, acquiring Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist to further elevate their chances of capturing a world championship. Zobrist was a huge acquisition, as he filled in for left fielder Alex Gordon while he was out with a groin strain, then slid over to second base, taking over for the black hole of offense known as Infante. Cueto had very mixed results, sometimes looking like the ace he was in Cincinnati, other times looking like a back of the rotation arm who had to be perfect to succeed. Either way, Royals management did their part by giving the team the pieces to win, leaving it all up to the players to take it home. In fact, the Royals steamrolled through the competition most of this year, putting up the best record in the American League and garnering them home field advantage throughout the playoffs. This team was on a mission from day one and accomplished the first part of it; making the playoffs. Now it was time to do the hard part: advance to the World Series.
In the American League Division Series, the Royals would play the Houston Astros, a young team that gave Kansas City trouble during the regular season. This series pretty much dictated the Royals fate and what we should have expected from this Royals team. Royals would lose Game 1, but then would mount one of their famous comebacks late in Game 2 to pull out a victory. Game 3 went to Houston, as Dallas Keuchel shutdown the Royals offense, and at this point it was ‘do or die’ for Kansas City. In Game 4, Houston took a four run lead into the Top of the 8th, which seemed like a death kneel for this Royals team. The Royals ‘kept the line moving’ in this inning, with a bit of help from Carlos Correa, and would not only storm back, but would end up taking the lead, taking the game and forcing a Game 5.
Game 4 of the ALDS might be the greatest summary of what this Kansas City Royals team did this entire postseason. When their backs were against the wall, they didn’t give up. The picked and picked, battling pitchers while finding a way to get on base and keep a rally going. The word ‘relentless’ has been used at great lengths these past few weeks, but I also think you can use the word ‘stubborn’. This Royals team just would not quit, which was night and day from what we saw just a few years earlier. Once you get in the playoffs you are playing nothing but great teams, and the Royals frustrated every last one of them. The philosophy of ‘putting the ball in play, forcing the defense to make the play’ really has worked for this team, and I’m not for sure it can be duplicated. You would think Game 4 of the ALDS was a standalone game, one that was the outlier of the group, but it isn’t. The Royals entire postseason was some variation of that Monday afternoon in Houston, where even myself doubted this team would come back and win. Game 5 was almost a non-contest, once Johnny Cueto got past the Luis Valbuena home run. It was smooth sailing after that blast for Cueto, as the Royals punched their ticket to the ALCS.
Before we move on to the ALCS, I want to point out something here. I have long criticized Ned Yost and his managing style. Before last September, he seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. There was concern that the same mistakes he made in Milwaukee would be repeated in Kansas City, costing the Royals any semblance of glory. But sometimes people surprise you and change their ways, and Yost did just that. Starting in late September 2014, Yost started listening more to his coaching staff and venture outside of the box some more. It was very slight at first(letting Kelvin Herrera pitch more than an inning at a time), but by the playoffs he made almost every logical move a manager could make. That continued this year and to be honest, a lot of it was just letting the players go out and play. Trust them. The players stepped up this year and deserve a lot of the credit, but Yost’s more laid back managing style was a welcome plus. I’m still not a big Yost fan, but I will give the man credit when I feel he deserves it. Quite a bit of the Royals success this year can be tied into Yost relaxing his style and allowing himself to not be confined to an old way of thinking that had held him back in the past.
This would lead to the ALCS, the match-up that almost everyone wanted, Royals vs. Blue Jays. These two teams had some issues this past August and despite the fact that no one expected any extra fireworks this series(I mean, it is the postseason; no one wants to lose time in October over something stupid), some of the bad feelings were still lingering. Game 1 went to Kansas City, thanks to another solid postseason start from Edinson Volquez and some timely hitting. Game 2 was the perfect definition of #RoyalsDevil Magic, as Kansas City looked lost for 6 innings against David Price, to the point Price had retired 18 straight batters before heading to the 7th inning. Then it happened; Zobrist hit a fly ball to right field that fell in between Ryan Goins and Jose Bautista in what looked like a miscommunication. What followed was the Royals doing what they do, or what they call ‘keep the line moving’. By the end of the inning the Royals had taken the lead and put a seed of doubt into the Blue Jays’ minds on their ability to stop this Kansas City team. Game 3 went to Toronto, as the two teams ventured north of the border, which was followed by a Royals offensive slaughter of the Blue Jays in Game 4. The Royals could have clinched the series with a win in Toronto for Game 5, but Marco Estrada shut down Kansas City, which meant the series would return to Kauffman Stadium, with the Royals only needing one win to head to the World Series.
I think when we really dissect this postseason for the Royals, what we will find is a number of games that will go down in Kansas City history as some of the most memorable games in team history. Obviously Game 4 of the ALDS ranks high on the list, but the argument can also be made for a couple of the World Series games and for Game 2 of the ALCS. But without a doubt, Game 6 of the ALCS will be on that list, as it turned into another classic nail-biter that left Royals fans on the edge of their seats. The Royals would take the lead early on thanks to a Ben Zobrist and Mike Moustakas hitting solo home runs, and would hold the lead until the Top of the 8th. Jose Bautista would club his second home run of the game, a 2 run shot, that would tie the game at 3 and had sucked a lot of air out of the ballpark. There would be a slight rain delay before starting the bottom of the inning(could it have been building to the drama that was to happen?) but it didn’t slow down the Royals. Lorenzo Cain led off the inning with a walk, then Eric Hosmer would stride to the plate, yet another clutch situation for him in a postseason filled with clutch hits for the Gold Glove first baseman. Hosmer would line a single down the right field line, which meant no matter what Cain was getting to third. But the Royals scouts had noticed earlier in the series that Bautista would always throw the ball into second base with runners on first, while third base coach Mike Jirschele had also noticed it was normally done in a lackadaisical manner. The Blue Jays were not prepared for Cain to be racing home on the play, as Troy Tulowitzki was caught a bit off-guard when after receiving the ball from Bautista, he turned around to notice Cain was headed home. Cain was in safely, giving the Royals the lead and giving Kansas City another memorable moment this postseason.
Cain’s play was even more impressive when you realize he was tracked at nearly 21 mph by Statcast on his trip around the bases. The almost unstoppable Wade Davis would come in to pitch the top of the 9th, and despite the allowing the tying and go-ahead runs to get on base to start the inning, Davis would shut down the Blue Jays, getting probabley future AL MVP Josh Donaldson to ground out to end the game and give Kansas City back to back World Series appearances for the first time in team history.
The Royals were now only four wins away from a World Championship, their first in 30 years.
So the stage was set for the Royals returning to the World Series, this time to face the New York Mets. It was interesting to notice the narrative thrown out by the media during this series, as it focused on New York, making their first World Series appearance since 2000, trying to bring the trophy back to the ‘Empire State’. Should it have been the narrative? Probably not, as it should have been the Royals trying to do what they couldn’t do last year and win their first Championship since 1985. But because New York is considered the center of the sports world(or even just the center of most things in this country, whether you are talking about entertainment or sports), the focus was bound to be on the Mets. I wasn’t overly bothered by it, because once again it made the Royals the underdog, a role that this team cherishes. This series would get off to a hot start, as I think it safe to say Game 1 will go down as a World Series classic. There are so many little tidbits from this game that I loved, and maybe it was because it was my first ever World Series game to be in attendance for, but here is just a snippet of what all happened in this game:
The game started out with the news leaking on Twitter about Edinson Volquez’s father had passed away earlier in the day, unbeknownst to Eddie. The crowd, in support, chanted “Eddie” numerous times throughout the contest.
Alcides Escobar would hit the first inside the park home run in World Series history since George “Mule” Haas of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1929. Escobar’s hit was on the first pitch of the bottom of the 1st inning.
The Mets would take a 4-3 lead in the Top of the 8th thanks to an Eric Hosmer error, allowing Juan Lagares to score from second. It was an odd sight, since the Royals had been almost spotless defensively during the playoffs this year before that, and since Hosmer is normally so sure-handed.
The Royals would tie the game back up in the bottom of the 9th with an Alex Gordon homer off of Jeurys Familia, the Mets closer. This was a monster of a shot that Statcast had at 438 ft, off of a 97 mph sinker:
Chris Young, who was scheduled to start in Game 4 of the series, would come in and throw 3 shutout innings, stifling the Mets. This might have been the biggest pitching outing of the series, outside of Johnny Cueto’s Game 2 start.
The game was won in the bottom of the 14th by Kansas City. I was live tweeting the game for work, and might have foreshadowed the win as I sent this out in the middle of the 14th:
Bottom of the 14th would start with Escobar reaching on an error by David Wright(which I had wanted to tweet out ‘costly error?’ but since I was on the work account I figured I shouldn’t), followed by a Zobrist single and a Cain intentional walk. This led to the bases loaded with no outs and Hosmer at the plate, hoping to redeem himself for his error back in the 8th. Hosmer would lift a fairly deep fly ball to right field, scoring Escobar and giving the Royals a Game 1 victory. This game was the third World Series game to go 14 innings and undoubtedly will go down as a classic. In a lot of ways, this game set the tone for the rest of the series.
Game 2 would see Johnny Cueto put up the best game score for a Royals pitcher in a playoff game in history, as the Royals would go up 2-0 in the series with a 7-1 victory. The two teams would travel to New York for three games, and the Mets would take Game 3, 9-3 as Royals starter Yordano Ventura saw a loss in velocity and the Royals never seemed to find their footing in this game. Game 4 would be another close one that the Royals took, 5-3 and gave Kansas City a 3-1 lead in the series, needing only one more win to be world champions. This would lead to yet another classic Royals comeback in Game 5.
For 8 innings in Game 5, it looked as if the Royals number might be up, as Matt Harvey was dominating Kansas City, looking as sharp as I have seen him all season(in what starts I have seen him in). Harvey would come out for the Top of 9th, which seemed fine since he had been handcuffing the Royals all night long. He would allow a leadoff walk to Cain, who would then steal second base. Eric Hosmer, who to this point had been hitting about .111 in the series, came up big again with a double off the left field wall, scoring Cain and cutting the Mets lead to 2-1. Familia would come in for New York and he would get Moustakas to ground out, moving Hosmer to third. So with one out and the Royals down by one, Salvador Perez would hit a slow chopper to David Wright at third. Wright would glance back at Hosmer, who was just a little bit of the way down the line at third, then toss to first. Hosmer, in what would be equal parts genius and stupid, took off for home once Wright slinged it over, causing Lucas Duda to hurry a throw home. The throw would be wide of catcher Travis D’arnaud, as Hosmer slid into home safely.
Now, I know the broadcasters said it was good baserunning by Hosmer, but like I said, it was just as much a lucky play. Probably nine times out of ten, that throw is accurate and Hosmer would have been out by a mile. Royals scouts had told the team to run on Duda and D’arnaud as much as possible, and it seemed Kansas City picked an opportune time to take advantage of that knowledge. But as most everything this postseason, the play went the Royals way and the game was now knotted up at two. It would stay this way until the 12th inning, as Jarrod Dyson was on third and Christian Colon, former #1 Draft Pick for the Royals, making his lone postseason at bat and he would deliver big:
The Royals would tack on four more runs and then would hand the ball over to the best relief pitcher in baseball the last two years, Wade Davis:
For the first time since 1985, the Kansas City Royals are World Champions! For everything that the city of Kansas City, the organization and even us fans have endured, this was the sweetest victory that one could imagine. Demons were purged, losses have faded and now here they stand, the best team in baseball in 2015.
When the 2015 season started, 30 teams all wanted one thing, to call themselves the World Champions. Only one team gets that distinction, and this year it is the Kansas City Royals. For years this team has heard about the ghosts of Royals past: George Brett, Willie Wilson, Dane Iorg, Jim Sundberg, Bret Saberhagen, Darryl Motley and so many more. Those ghosts will no longer haunt this team, as they have accomplished their only goal this season: win the World Series. It has been a crazy ride all season long, one that could make this team the greatest Royals team of all-time(they have competition with those late 70’s teams that faced the Yankees in the playoffs) and will hopefully not leave ghosts of their own for future generations. What this team did was the equivalent of slaying the dragon, or blowing up the Death Star. What this team did was put the focus back on an organization that for years was one to duplicate throughout the 70’s and 80’s. Celebrate this victory, Kansas City. Your Royals are the World Champions!
It’s that time of year, where the leaves turn colors, the hoodies are dragged out of the closet and, if you are lucky, your favorite baseball team can start thinking about the playoffs. This also means that as a fan you can start piecing together how you think your team’s playoff roster will look. As a Kansas City Royals fan, we never knew this was a ‘thing’, since up until last year we never had to worry about the Royals playing October baseball. But with Kansas City’s magic number currently sitting at ‘3’, it is pretty safe to say they will be playing past October 4th and hopefully deeper into the postseason. With that said, I was asked over the weekend what I thought the Royals playoff roster would look like. So here is my guess, although to be honest it looked a bit different than on Friday.
Catchers(2): Salvador Perez, Drew Butera
Infielders(5): Eric Hosmer, Ben Zobrist, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Christian Colon
Obviously, this was fairly easy, since you have the four starting infielders and a backup. Originally I felt like Omar Infante would get picked over Colon, despite the fact that Colon is more versatile whereas Infante is solely a second baseman. Then Omar came up with an oblique injury on Friday, which could sideline him for close to a month if not longer. As most also know, Zobrist can also play the outfield so he could almost be counted as an infielder and an outfielder if necessary.
Outfielders(5):Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Rios, Jarrod Dyson, Jonny Gomes
There was some debate just a week ago that Rios could be on the outside looking in for a roster spot due to his poor performance most of this year. Then he went out last week, continuing his hot hitting since his return from the chickenpox(which is not a minor league team in the Frontier League) and pretty much sewed up a spot for the playoffs. In my mind this pushed Paulo Orlando off the team, as I think the Royals will want Jonny Gomes’ bat for pinch hitting late in the game or against a tough lefthander. I had an argument with someone over Gomes being on the team, as I am of the belief that he was acquired for the sole purpose of being used in the playoffs while this other person who will not be named believes he won’t because the Royals aren’t using him much. I guess we will see, but in the playoffs I can’t see the reasoning behind six outfielders, or having Orlando on the team for solely defensive purposes. But, there might be a spot for him otherwise, which I will get to later.
Starting Pitchers(4): Johnny Cueto, Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Kris Medlen
This seems pretty self-explanatory, especially once Danny Duffy was sent to the bullpen. I still laugh when thinking about some of the Royals fans believing that Cueto might not be on this roster if he continued to under-perform. The wild card in this group is Yordano Ventura; if he pitches like he has over the last 4-6 weeks then he will be a solid number two. If he reverts back to his form from earlier this year there could be an issue. I also think Medlen could be a major player, which seems a bit inconceivable considering where he was at when the season started(starting the climb back from Tommy John Surgery). This isn’t the most solid group but if they can go 5-6 innings every game in the playoffs, hopefully the bullpen can do the rest.
Relievers(8):Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson, Franklin Morales, Danny Duffy, Luke Hochevar, Chris Young, Greg Holland
Speaking of, the bullpen is still a strong suit for this Kansas City team but not quite the monster it was last year. Greg Holland has fallen from grace and it was announced earlier today that Wade Davis is the closer going forward while Holland’s role on the team is to be determined. It also came to light that Holland has been dealing with an elbow issue since the All-Star break and isn’t reliable enough to close games for Kansas City. I’m not shocked to learn Holland was hurt, as I have suspected it most of this year, but this puts a giant question mark into the playoff roster. Can Holland be relied on to perform in any close game, even if that means coming in as early as the 6th inning? Or is he past the point of being trusted in such a situation and be completely left off the roster? I really don’t have an answer to this, but I also know manager Ned Yost is a loyal person and might keep Holland around for that reason only. The other options would be to leave him off while adding Paulo Orlando to the team, trusting that a 7-man bullpen is good enough in the ALDS, or you add young pitcher Miguel Almonte to the pen. Almonte has been a mixed bag so far in September and probably isn’t ready for the big stage, but he does have electric stuff and if used in the proper situation could be a viable option. IF Holland is left off the roster, Orlando very well could be the one given the nod.
The other roster question for the bullpen is whether to go with Chris Young or Jeremy Guthrie as the long reliever. I know there some Royals fan snickering right now for even mentioning Guthrie, but hear me out. Over the weekend I felt like it could be Guthrie, since he was given the starting nod once Duffy was shuffled to the pen and because Chris Young hasn’t been used much over the last couple months. In fact, in August Young didn’t throw more than an inning in any outing, and only appeared in five games during the entire month. Young does have a 2 and a 3 inning outing so far in September, but I would imagine his arm isn’t stretched out like it normally would be. Plus, I couldn’t imagine Young, an extreme fly ball pitcher, to see any action in Toronto, New York, or even Arlington or Houston’s ballparks. Those ballparks are pretty much all hitter’s parks, or in other words a nightmare for a guy who gives up lots of fly balls. So the only action Young would see would probably be at Kauffman Stadium and that cuts down how often you could use him. But then Guthrie looked atrocious on Tuesday night against Seattle and pretty much assured that he would be left off of any and all playoff rosters. Great guy, but Guthrie has had an awful season that isn’t getting better. So Young gets the nod over Guthrie, but hopefully there won’t be much of a need for him come October.
So there you go, my guess as to what the Royals first round playoff roster will look like. Like I said, there could be a few slight changes to this and with a week and a half left in the season there is the possibility someone else could get hurt or there could be a need for a bit more depth in an area I hadn’t thought of. At the end of the day it is great to even be able to have this conversation, no matter how much bickering goes on about which player stays or goes. With September being a rough month, I think I speak for lots of Royals fans by saying “let’s just start the playoffs already”. Trust me, it will be here soon enough, as we get to engulf ourselves in another ‘Blue October’.
In the old days, you would play all the teams in your designated league the same amount of times. It didn’t matter whether you were a Central division team or an East team, you play each other the same amount of times as the teams within your own division. That was changed a few years ago and teams now play the teams within your division the majority of the time. That means a team like the Kansas City Royals only play the teams in the “other” division twice per year(one at home, one on the road). So this series with the Tampa Bay Rays wrapped up the two teams time together this year, as the Royals won the previous series at Kauffman Stadium. That series saw the Royals sweep Tampa Bay; this one saw the Royals take two of three. This put the Royals at 80 wins with 32 games remaining and leads to a number of varying topics coming out of this series at ‘The Trop’.
Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain
This section felt like it could be a toss-up, with both Kendrys Morales and Mike Moustakas getting heavy consideration. But the more consistent hitter in this series was Lorenzo Cain, who went 3 for 9 with 2 runs, 2 RBI’s, 4 walks and 2 stolen bases. Cain did what he has done for most of this year, which is basically a little bit of everything. I decided to take a deeper look into just how good Cain has been and I have had a hard time finding something that Cain has done worse this year than last. Walk percentage? Up. Strikeout percentage? Down. Slugging and On Base percentage are both up as is his wRC+ and WAR. He is hitting the ball harder and hitting the ball more consistently to all fields than ever before in his career. Literally the only thing that is down from last year is Cain’s BAbip, which is at .357 from last year’s .380. But the argument there can even be made that this is due almost entirely to his increased home run numbers. There has been a lot of discussion about what the Royals will do once Alex Gordon is activated and just how the lineup will shake out. I’m pretty sure that no matter the changes in the batting order, Cain will remain in the third spot, his home for this entire 2015 campaign. It’s even conceivable at this point that Cain will end up in the top five of the voting for the American League MVP race, as he should:
It has been a marquee season for a player who at one time we just worried he wouldn’t be able to stay healthy, let along put up numbers that would put him into consideration for the highest honor in the league.
Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez
When the season wraps up, I am going to go back and check just how many times Volquez got this honor, since it seems to happen quite frequently. Volquez spun another good game on Friday night, going 6.2 innings, giving up 6 hits and 2 runs(1 earned) while walking 2 and striking out 5. It was another quality start for ‘Easy Eddie’ and gave him a game score of 59. At this point Volquez is probably in line to be the #2 or #3 starter in the rotation in the playoffs and has earned that right this year. I’ve asked the question before ‘which Dayton Moore signing has been more important this offseason, Kendrys Morales or Volquez?’ and as great of an impact as Morales has had on the Royals lineup(and it has been a big impact), I tend to lean toward Volquez. Earlier in the season(before the Johnny Cueto trade), Volquez was the only consistent starter in the rotation as Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy and Jeremy Guthrie all struggled. Volquez has been the stopper for this rotation, a guy who holds the other team in check and allows his team to win, thwarting off any threats or long losing streaks. Without Volquez being a steady force in the rotation, I’m not sure the Royals sit here right before September with the biggest division lead in the league. Without Volquez, this very well could be a much tighter race that what lingers in front of them.
TOOTBLAN or Foul Ball?
Sure, the Royals won this series. But most of what has been discussed has been a pivotal play in Sunday’s game that Kansas City lost. The Royals are down in the Top of the 8th inning, 3-2, with runners on 1st and 3rd and 1 out. Morales hits a little chopper down the first base line and then…
On first instinct I felt that was a TOOTBLAN(Thrown Out On The Basepaths Like A Nincompoop) on Morales’ part and one of the worst plays I have seen this year. But the more I watch the play I tend to think even though it is bad, there were a number of issues that should be pointed out. First off, the ball appeared to be foul once James Loney grabbed it. In fact I am assuming that is why Morales didn’t run. There was also no definite call from the home plate umpire, who had the best view of that ball. The first base ump called the ball fair, which I believe is what the home plate ump went off of. I should probably point out here that the play is non-reviewable, which is a bigger conundrum for Kansas City. Saying all that, some blame falls on Morales. He had to have seen the first base umpire call the ball fair, which meant he should have run. Even if he didn’t see it, you should assume it is fair unless otherwise called. I get he thought it was foul and in the postgame manager Ned Yost said “we don’t run out foul balls”. That is fine, except in a scenario like that you run and ask questions later. That major flaw is on Morales as he should have ran no matter what. It looks really bad when a rally is snuffed out while you are just standing at home plate, an easy out for the catcher to make. This might not be a TOOTBLAN at the end of the day, but it is still bad fundamental baseball, which is a shock since the Royals don’t make many fundamental errors. This probably cost the Royals at least a chance of tying up the game and maybe even costing them a victory. Hopefully it is remembered and next time the batter runs to first, foul or not.
It was an exciting three games at Tropicana Field and much more went on than just what is above this line. For more on the Royals and Rays series, read on:
The Rays played a tribute video to former Ray and current Royal Ben Zobrist before Friday night’s game. It was a great gesture to a guy who played many years in Tampa and had become just as synonomous to the team as Evan Longoria. The Rays even acknowledged his greatness with some sabermetric love:
As part of their video tribute to Ben Zobrist, the Rays noted that he led MLB in WAR from 2009 to 2012.
There is also his ability to hit a home run in the catwalk at ‘The Trop’:
You always hear how each stadium has their own set of quirky rules. Wrigley Field has the ivy, Houston has Tal’s Hill(for now), and Tropicana has those catwalks. Luckily the call went Kansas City’s way and Morales came away with a homer. Folks, that stadium is ugly. Let’s hope they get a new one before MLB decides to ship them up to Montreal.
The Royals bullpen as of late feels like the walking wounded. Wade Davis had back issues, Greg Holland has been dealing with a cranky elbow(I have to feel that has been going on most of this season) and now Ryan Madson has a dead arm:
Ryan Madson is dealing with a wicked case of dead arm. He hasn't pitched since Aug. 22, and his right arm is still sore to the touch.
This was to be expected. Madson hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2011 and has thrown 51 innings so far this year. Hopefully a little rest will help keep him healthy and available for the playoffs. Now if only the Royals could find a cure for Jeremy Guthrie’s “Longball-itis”.
Speaking of Guthrie, he held a little bit of a friendly competition with the Tampa Bay ballboy this weekend:
I often feel like Major League Baseball isn’t always the best at promoting their players and why they are so great. Guthrie might be relegated to long reliever status and might not appear in very many games going forward, but he still managed to have fun and put a smile on that kid’s face. THIS is the stuff you promote about your game. THIS is just one of many examples about what is so great about this game and it’s players.
Yet another good series for Mike Moustakas this weekend, as he compiled another accomplishment to his long list of new career hights this season:
.@Mooose_8 has 10 extra-base hits in his last 9 games. He also has hit 5th 2-double game of 2015 after 6 in career entering season.
A lot of praise this season will go to Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer, but Mike Moustakas has put together a season he should be proud of. Lets hope he finishes strong and shows that early season surge was not a fluke.
Danny Duffy had some good and some bad in his outing this past Sunday. On the positive, Duffy figured out early that the umpire was calling the low strike and took advantage of it, striking out six in his 5 innings of work. Craig Brown of Royals Authority went into greater detail about Duffy’s outing, and like him I still cringe at Duffy’s pitch count. Duffy threw 99 pitches in those 5 innings when the Royals probably would have preferred he go 6 or 7 innings. The difference in this start was not balls thrown by Duffy but the foul balls. Duffy had 22 pitches fouled off in this game and overall this season batters have fouled off 19% of pitches he throws. I think we all would like to see a more efficient Danny Duffy, but for that to happen he has to limit his pitch count to go deeper into the game. Because of this there is a good chance he could be pitching out of the bullpen come October rather than as a starter. At this point, it would appear Kris Medlen could be taking Duffy’s spot in the rotation come playoff time.
Finally, it appears the Platinum Glove Award winner will be returning this week:
It is "reasonable" to expect Alex Gordon will be recalled next week, Ned Yost says. I bet you see him in KC on Tuesday.
The big question now is where will Gordon bat in the lineup upon his return? The 6th spot where he was hitting earlier in the year is now inhabited by Mike Moustakas, who has been hitting lights out as of late. Honestly, the best idea is to bat him leadoff, sending Alcides Escobar down in the lineup, especially considering his hitting throughout August:
Worst hitters in August (wRC+) J. Bruce (-6) K. Wong (26) J. Segura (29) T. Saladino (31) A. Rodriguez (34) A. Escobar (39) J. Lowrie (42)
Batting Gordon and Zobrist at the top of the lineup makes the most sense, since those are your two best OBP hitters. If the Royals really want to maximize their offense, placing Gordon near the top of the lineup would be the wisest move. I guess we will find out Tuesday what Ned Yost has in mind when it comes to lineup construction going forward.
The beginning of that journey begins on Tuesday, as the Tigers stroll into town for three games at ‘The K’, followed by three against the White Sox. Tuesday night’s game could be fun, as Johnny Cueto faces off against Justin Verlander, who will be making his first start since he almost no-hit the Angels. Tuesday should also be fun, as it looks to be the return of Alex Gordon. The Royals are in the driver’s seat as the playoffs loom and it is the pole position we have all yearned to be in this spot for the last 30 years. Buckle up, kiddos; we are getting ready to go on a fantastic ride.
Going into this series in ‘Beantown’ we all knew what loomed in front of the Kansas City Royals. The Royals had gone 7-10 against Boston the last three seasons, including 1-2 against the Red Sox earlier this year at Kauffman Stadium. Logic would tell you that with Boston holding down the American League East cellar(and it’s not even close) and Kansas City dominating the American League Central, well, it seemed like everything would come up blue this series. But that is why they play the games, right? The Royals were able to get out of town splitting the series 2-2 which after Friday seemed like a minor miracle. But this series wasn’t all tea parties and marathons. Nope, we also got some big league baseball in. Trust me, read on.
Series MVP: Mike Moustakas
If I was going purely off of batting average(and no one should do that), I might have picked Alex Rios for this honor. No, really. But after Sunday’s game, there was only one player who deserves this. Moustakas was 5 for 12 this series with 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 5 RBI’s, a walk and 4 runs scored. But the bigger story from this series was how impactful he was to the Royals victories on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, Moustakas would sharply single to left in the 6th inning after a Kendrys Morales walk to keep the rally going. Salvador Perez would then line a 3-run homer to the right field bullpen to take a 5-0 lead. Moustakas has become pull-happy again the last couple months and it was a nice sign to see him take the ball the other way, which was the main reason for his success in the first few months of the season. Then on Sunday, he would hit an ‘Oppo Taco’ in the 6th inning over the Green Monster, another pitch taken the opposite way. If you are wondering why all of a sudden he has returned to this new-old approach, it is all thanks to hitting coach Dale Sveum. Sveum has been working with Moose as of late to start hitting the ball the opposite way, as Moustakas had been trying to add some power to his game that was missing those first few months. The best thing would be for Moose to meld these two things, which is kind of what Lorenzo Cain has done this year with better pitch recognition. But this is a new road that Moustakas is venturing down, so it could take some time to mix both into his game. That being said, his at bat in the 9th inning on Sunday was the crown jewel of his work this series. The bases were loaded in the 9th with the score tied and Moustakas at the plate:
The at bat would go 9 pitches, as Moustakas would foul off numerous pitches before getting the one he could drive, which turned into a 2-run double into right center that would end up being the game winner.
It was a fabulous at bat and one that only a couple of Royals(Gordon, Zobrist) would probably have been capable of having. Moose would get 3 hits in this game, driving in 4 and continuing his improvement from his woeful 2014 season. It would turn out to be a great series for the ‘Man Called Moose’, both offensively and defensively.
Pitching Performance of the Series: Yordano Ventura
Since the early parts of this season we have wondered ‘which Yordano Ventura are we getting this start?’. Are we getting the one who could dominate hitters last year with his mix of triple digit heat and off-speed magic? Or the Ventura that leaves the ball out over the middle of the plate? Or the one who can’t find the strike zone? In a lot of his starts this year we’ve gotten some hybrid of all of these things. On Saturday though we got an efficient and quality style start from Yordano. Ventura went 6 innings, giving up 6 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 6. It was another quality start for ‘Ace'(his third in a row) and helped push him to a game score of 61.
.@YordanoVentura_ in a nice groove his last 3 starts. 1.42 ERA and a huge key, opponents are just .111 with runners on base.
The best part of the start was his improvement the last few starts to get himself out of jams with very little if any runners crossing the plate. It also appears as if Ventura is getting more confidence with his off-speed pitches, which is a must for him. Sure, he can dial up the 100 MPH heater and try to blow it past hitters. But a big league hitter can time a fastball and will sit on it, as they have been this year. But if he has confidence in his change-up and curve, that makes one more weapon in his arsenal and make the batter less comfortable in the batters box. He still isn’t quite back to old form, but like Ned said after the game:
“Looks to me like he’s starting to get his swagger back. He’s executing his pitches and getting his confidence back.”
The Strike Zone(And Bad Defense) And the Damage Done
Thursday night was not a good game for the boys in blue. Early on it was evident that the strike zone from the last series might have creeped over into Boston:
Duffy almost at 30 pitches in 1st inning. Ump looks to be more in favor with the low strike tonight. #Royals
Now, part of this wasn’t on Danny Duffy. Obviously the umpire had a smaller strike zone than normal and was causing some problems for Duffy. But he was also favoring the low strike and Duffy didn’t adjust. After sitting through Wednesday’s abomination, I wasn’t in the mood for another long, drawn out ‘Ump Show’:
I don't complain about umps, but these last 2 nights have not been quality umping. A bigger strike zone is a better strike zone. #Royals
It didn’t help any that the Royals defense was not on point like they normally are. Paulo Orlando misplayed a few balls in left field and overall the Royals just didn’t look like themselves. By the time it was all said and done, Duffy was able to go 5 innings(which I didn’t imagine would happen early on in the game), giving up 7 hits, all 4 Boston runs while walking 2 and striking out 3. It felt like a step back for Duffy, who had been trending upwards over his last few starts. It was bad enough that for about an inning and a half Denny Matthews and Ryan Lefebvre discussed Toronto, Kansas, a small town about half an hour from where I grew up. Trust me when I say that Toronto is not worth an inning and a half of discussion. Just trust me on this one.
Time now for the Good, the Bad and the Ugly from the four game set in Boston:
One of the big reasons that Boston is in last place and why Kansas City is in first in their division is defense. The Royals are the best defensive team in the league. Boston is not:
Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez combine for a staggering -30 Defensive Runs Saved.
I remember before the season started MLB Network claimed Hanley Ramirez was the best left fielder in baseball. Offensively we all knew he could be a force. But you have to factor defense in there and he has looked even worse than Manny Ramirez did out there. Offense is good but a great defense is good for the long haul.
It was announced when we would finally see Kris Medlen start a game for the Royals:
Jeremy Guthrie has been moved to the pen, as Medlen will take his spot in the rotation. This has to be a move to see if Medlen can contribute as a starter in postseason play. I think it’s a good move, since Medlen has pitched good in relief and he has shown he can be a top shelf starter in the past. Hopefully all goes well and we are talking about Kris starting a game in October.
Omar Infante went 0 for 31 before getting a hit on Sunday:
Omar Infante is at 31 consecutive at-bats without a hit. The Royals franchise record for position players is 44, set by Joe Keough in 1969.
Infante would try for an inside the park home run in the top of the 9th of that game, but would get thrown out at home thanks to a nice throw from left fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. It was not a pretty slide at home. Mud will stop a man.
Speaking of Omar, him and Alex Rios finally found out how long their leash would extend:
Ned Yost, at last, acknowledged the obvious today: Both Infante and Rios need to produce to prove they belong in the starting lineup.
Rios would contribute by getting back to back multiple hit games while Infante would contribute with 2 hits on Sunday. Yost seemed to have lit a fire under their butts; let’s hope they continue to play above what they have done up to this point in 2015.
I mentioned earlier that Salvador Perez hit a big home run in Saturday night’s game at Fenway. It was not only a crucial blow to the Red Sox, but also a milestone for Perez:
Salvy HR!! He sets a career high with his 18th HR of the season! #Royals
Personally, I loved the fact the ball was jacked to right field, which means Salvy went oppo. Like Moustakas, Perez has become very pull-happy, although this goes back a couple of years now. It would be nice to see Perez start using the opposite field a bit more, since it would help his declining offensive numbers over the last few years. Even a little bit would make a big difference.
Finally, Johnny Cueto easily had his worst start in a Royals uniform on Friday night and his worst start of 2015. Cueto went 6 innings, giving up 13 hits and 7 runs(6 earned) while walking none and striking out 3. This lead to a game score of only 23(his previous worse game score was 35 back in May against Atlanta) in a game that Boston dominated. The bottom line is that starts like this happen; as long as they aren’t the norm there is nothing to worry about. But what everyone wanted to talk about when it came to Cueto this weekend was a radio interview where he said he would be interested in signing with Boston in the offseason because he wants to play with a “championship caliber team”. First, I don’t worry too much about players who will be free agents discussing possible destinations. It is a part of the game at this point and most players are fairly used to it. Hardly any player stays with one team for the duration of their career in this day and age. Second, Cueto is still new to the Royals so he isn’t heavily ingrained into the fabric of the Royals team chemistry. Third and finally, yes it was dumb of him to say Boston was a championship team, forgetting that Boston is in last place and Kansas City is in first. Yes, ignoring what the Royals have done this year is dumb. But we all knew when he was traded to the Royals he wouldn’t return to Kansas City next year. This is just him keeping his options open. Nothing to see here. Move on.
So the magic number now sits at 27 with with 39 games remaining this season. It seems like almost a guarantee that the Royals will wrap up the division and do that fairly soon. Kansas City has no time to rest, as the Baltimore Orioles are headed to town for a four game rematch of last year’s ALCS. We all remember what happened the last time Baltimore was at ‘The K’:
Sorry, just wanted to watch it again. I’m sure the Orioles remember this very clearly and will looking to gain back a pound a flesh in the form of a few victories. The Orioles are currently fighting for a wild card spot in the American League, as they are about a game a half out of the spot and about six games back in the American League East. It should be a fun series with lots of defensive action, as the Orioles are near the top of the defensive leader-board with Kansas City and Tampa Bay. I don’t normally predict anything before the series, but I will go ahead and do it here: Royals will take 3 out of 4 from the Orioles. If I am wrong I’m sure I will hear about it…and be forced to watch hours of Jonah Hill movies, which would be my own personal hell.
The Kansas City Royals traveled to Cincinnati this week for a short two game series that could be a short but sweet set. Instead, you got some ugly baseball, a 13 inning affair on Tuesday, a rain delay and on Wednesday the umpire made it to where the game could have been referred to as “Honey, I Shrunk the Strike Zone”. The Royals came away with a two game sweep but these two games felt like the two longest games played the entire season, even though they weren’t. Time to meander into this series and look at the good, the bad and the ugly.
Series MVP: Ben Zobrist
If you are a Royals fan and aren’t gushing about Ben Zobrist, what are you waiting for? Zobrist dominated this series, going 6 for 11 with 2 doubles, a home run and 3 RBI’s. The fun part was that it wasn’t just how often Zobrist got on base, but when he would get his big hit. First was his big home run against Aroldis Chapman in the 9th on Tuesday to tie the game:
Once again, this was off of Aroldis Chapman!
Aroldis Chapman had converted 56 straight saves at home before blown save Tuesday, the longest streak since saves became official in 1969.
Since coming over to the Royals from Oakland, Zobrist is hitting .379/.468/.636 with 5 doubles, 4 home runs, 13 RBI’s and 12 walks. I was a big fan of Zobrist’s ability to get on base and his versatility on the diamond before he became a Royal. Now that he is in Kansas City, that admiration has grown:
Zobrist seems to have a lock on the second spot in the lineup and with Alex Gordon about a week and a half away from returning to the main roster we could start seeing Zobrist getting some more playing time at second base. There has been a lot of talk about how big acquiring Johnny Cueto has been for the Royals, but getting Zobrist has added another dimension to this team’s lineup and opened up the possibilities for this team come October.
Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez
It almost is getting redundant mentioning ‘Edinson Volquez throws another quality start’. You almost wonder where the Royals would be if Dayton Moore hadn’t taken a flyer on Volquez this offseason and brought him into the fold. On Tuesday, Volquez started against his former team, throwing 6 innings, giving up 4 hits and 1 run while walking 3 and striking out 7. Volquez got himself into a few jams but was able to wiggle his way out of them, including a little help from Mike Moustakas to wrap up the 6th inning:
It’s a pretty good estimate to say Volquez will be the #2 starter going into the playoffs this year(unless Yordano Ventura starts rattling off some gems) and he has definitely earned it. You always have to worry a tad about bases on balls with Volquez, but when he just throws and allows the Royals stellar defense to do the rest, he is as good as gold.
Nothin’ Worse Than Some Ugly Baseball
If you tuned in to Wednesday night’s game, you probably realized pretty early on that it was going to be a long night. Not just because of the close to two hour rain delay, but because both teams were working with a tiny strike zone. All you have to do is point to Chris Conroy’s minuscule strike zone to see why we saw such an ugly brand of baseball that night. Sprinkle in a couple of mediocre pitchers(Keyvius Sampson for Cincy, Jeremy Guthrie for Kansas City) and you have a recipe for a game that I felt would never end:
By the end of the 3rd inning Sampson was close to 80 pitches while Guthrie had surrendered multiple home runs. Now to be fair, Conroy was consistent with his strike zone, as it was tight for both pitchers, as noted by manager Ned Yost:
“Just struggling with his command, wrestling with his command all night long,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of Guthrie. “The zone seemed really tight, but they were calling pretty much balls for both guys.”
Yes, lots of balls. There were 9 total walks in this game, a game that last 3 hours and 38 minutes but felt like 13 hours and 38 minutes. It didn’t help any I was stuck listening to Steve Physioc call the play by play for the duration of this game; that’s enough to drive any person crazy! This got me to thinking. You hear people who don’t like baseball mention that it takes too long and that the game can be very boring. Most of us scoff when we hear that; we love baseball and love that it works at its own pace. We also love the little things that someone who only occasionally watches doesn’t notice or realize why this move is made for this reason. We love the intricacies. But even I hated what was going on Wednesday night. I mentally was done with this game in the 5th inning, and folks, that just doesn’t happen very often. This was ugly baseball that no one should have to appreciate. I don’t normally rag on the umpires(for the most part I think they do a good job) but umpires with tiny strike zones befuddle me. It makes no sense. Major League Baseball wants to pick up the pace of the game, which is fine. But maybe they should look at umps like Conroy, who make a game drag on by making a pitcher work with a strike zone the size of a moist towelette. Bigger is better, at least when it comes to the strike zone.
If there is a Game 7, it would be on November 4th. I don’t know about you, but baseball should be done before November 1st. MLB needs to fix this for next year. I’m afraid we are getting closer and closer to a World Series game being played close to Thanksgiving.
Please, Lord, let Game 7 of the WS happen and please let it snow and please let at least one outfielder die of the cold and maybe a wolf att
I’m not much for individual wins; much like saves I think it is an overstated stat. That being said, both Kris Medlen and Luke Hochevar got their first wins in the big leagues since 2013 in this series:
Both pitchers sat out 2014 with Tommy John Surgery and both made their returns this year. The ‘W’ is more about them being able to persevere and make it back successfully than an indication of their greatness. Kudos to both, as they have been pluses for this Royals team this year.
Finally, word got out this week that left fielder Alex Gordon would be going on rehab assignment starting Sunday. Gordon will be there for about a week before hopefully returning to the Royals lineup. You’re on notice, Omar Infante.
Tweets of Royalty
ELIAS: The Royals are 25 games over .500 for the 1st time since September 13, 1989 (85-60).
The Royals now venture to Boston for four games with the magic number of 29. The Twins are long in the rear-view mirror so the Royals are playing more at this point to secure home field advantage through the playoffs. As we get closer to October, there are some questions that Royals manager Ned Yost will have to answer. How long of a leash does Alex Rios and Omar Infante get? Where all will Ben Zobrist play once Alex Gordon returns? How long does Jeremy Guthrie keep his spot in the rotation? Will Kris Medlen get a start before the season is done? And what will those Duke boys do now to get out of this sticky situation? Okay, maybe not that last one. The rest are legit and could be answered sooner rather than later. The Royals have nothing but American League East opponents this next week and a half, which the Royals have had issues with these teams so far this year. A good showing is strong support in case they have to face any of them come playoff time. Right now is all about keeping the course while also keeping an eye on October. It is a great spot to be in with just over a month left in this 2015 season.
After a series sweep of the White Sox, the Royals welcomed the Detroit Tigers to Kauffman Stadium. Last week, Detroit took two of three games from the Royals and overall made Kansas City not look like the team with the biggest divisional lead in the major leagues. The Royals so far this year have been remarkable better at home than on the road(39-20 to 29-26) so the hope was this series would not be a repeat of the one in Detroit. In fact, it was not, as the Royals would take two of three from the Tigers and were it not for a lead blown by the bullpen on Wednesday night, this might have been a sweep for the Royals. It was a banner series, so let’s slide into this set and look at the preceedings.
Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain
For the second straight series, Lorenzo Cain showed why he is an honest to goodness MVP candidate this year. Cain was 8 for 12 in these three games, getting 3 doubles, a home run that might still be in flight, and 3 RBI’s. His slugging percentage this series was a ridiculous 1. 167 and almost raised his OPS this series 30 points. I talked about the numbers Cain has put up this season earlier this week and the numbers keep popping up for Cain:
Lorenzo Cain's 27th double increases his 2-out AVG to .400 – best in the American League.
We’ve heard the last few years from manager Ned Yost that Cain showed much more power in batting practice then he would during the game. This year, Cain’s pitch recognition has vastly improved, to where he understands which pitches he can drive and which ones he can’t. It has made a drastic difference in his offensive production and has kept him in the 3rd spot in the batting order this year. You add in his top shelf defense(which is in the top 15 of baseball in defensive runs saved) and you have the biggest driving force in the Royals lineup. Having a bat like Cain’s(and his consistency most of this year) has to make Royals management comfortable, knowing he can lead the team offensively come October.
Amazingly, there are still some fans who don’t understand why the Royals needed Johnny Cueto. On Monday night, he showed why Kansas City was so adament about acquiring him for their postseason run. All Cueto did in his third start as a Royal is pitch a complete game shutout, giving up 4 hits, walking none and striking out 8 on 116 pitches. If this didn’t make him endear himself toward you, nothing will. His game score of 87 was his highest since July 7th against Washington and overall his second best this season:
Royals win! Johnny Cueto is the first #Royals pitcher to throw a shutout this season.
While Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura have been up and down, having Cueto makes two solid starters(with Edinson Volquez) that the Royals can count on in October. Cueto won’t do this every start, but the fact he is capable of doing it in a high stakes game late in the season, well that alone makes his acquisition more than worth it.
Death By Defense
On Tuesday night, the Royals put on a defensive clinic to remind the Tigers why they are on the top of the American League Central…and why the Tigers aren’t. First there was a great relay throw from Alcides Escobar to nail James McCann at the plate:
There would also be a dazzling play by Alcides Escobar later in the game as well. The Tigers would also do something amazing on defense, although not in the good way. A fly ball would get hit to left fielder Tyler Collins later in the game and it would bounce off the palm of his glove and veer to the corner. It was the perfect description of the differences between these two teams. The Royals lead the American League in defensive rankings, while Detroit is in 4th place. But it’s not as close as 1st to 4th place, as the Royals have a 51, the Tigers 10.9. That is a rather huge gap. Within the division, Chicago is last in the league while Cleveland sits in 11th place and Minnesota 9th, all in the negative rankings. Sure, the Royals have had a good offensive season and the bullpen is about as good as they get. But the defense sets them apart from everyone else in the division and is why the Royals are at the top with everyone else looking up.
Oh, but there is more! With that said here are the news and notes portion of this series:
One of the most asked questions this season has been “how long will the Royals go with Omar Infante at 2B?”. It’s easy to see why this question continues to get asked:
Bottom of the wOBA leaderboard O. Infante (.100) J. Werth (.186) K. Pillar (.187) J. Hardy (.189) J. Segura (.190)
I think it’s safe to say his defense is what is keeping him in the lineup. In fact, defensively he has having his best season since 2012(5 DRS and a UZR of 4.3). Sure, he doesn’t take walks and any punch he used to have seems to have gone by the wayside. But don’t fret; when(if?) Alex Gordon comes back in September, I have a feeling we will be seeing more of Ben Zobrist at second base. Oh, and Infante did get a day off this week; on Tuesday, Zobrist started in his place and made an error. I don’t think that proves Infante is the better option; that is more of a sign that the universe likes to mess with our heads.
Wade Davis did not see any action during these three games:
Ned says Wade Davis still has tightness in his back. Could be another day or two. #Royals
I’m sure some will point to not having Davis available on Wednesday cost the Royals the game(Yost went with Volquez into the 8th inning and the Royals would end up losing the lead and the game), but it is a good thing that Kansas City can be cautious with Wade. I made the comment last series and will say it again; I would rather have a healthy Davis in October than use him injured and lose him for longer than just a week.
What a weird start for Yordano Ventura on Tuesday. Ventura would go 6 innings, only giving up 2 hits and no runs. Looks good, right? But Ventura also walked 6 and struck out 8. Rare, huh?
Yordano Ventura is the first #Royals pitcher ever to strike out 8, walk 6, and allow no runs in a game.
Ventura was able to get out of a couple of dicey situations, which is improvement. He has had issues pitching with runners on base this season, but on Tuesday he kept a calm head and dealt his way out of it. Sure, the 6 walks is a scary number; but I will take the improvement and hope that continues over the next couple of starts.
Over the years the Royals have had issues dealing with Anibal Sanchez. Not anymore:
The @Royals scored a total of 6 runs against Anibal Sanchez in his first 7 starts. They have gashed him 18 runs in his last 4, all in 2015.
I don’t have answers for why the Royals seem to handle the best pitchers in the league better than the lesser known pitchers, but I will take it. It is a vast improvement over where the Royals were just a few years ago.
Salvador Perez had to leave Tuesday’s game in the 6th inning due to a wrist injury:
Ned says Sal Perez had an MRI on wrist today and it came back clean. Sal immediately asked if he could play today. Ned said no, take a day
Perez hasn’t played since the injury and is still being evaluated. You lose a little bit offensively with Drew Butera behind the plate, but not a bunch on defense. There were some fans angry with Butera on Wednesday night but he is a solid defensive catcher, in fact he is a well above average fielder over his career. This injury might just be a good sign; all that rest that Perez has needed the last few years might be caught up on.
Eric Hosmer continues to dazzle. Hosmer had a slash line of .333/.333/.750 in this series and is hitting .366/.414/.545 since the beginning of July. I can’t tell you if Hosmer has finally figured it out or not(he has been a streaky hitter throughout his career), but I will say the power he has shown in this span has made me think that he actually could contend for an MVP award at some point in his career, and I haven’t thought that in a long time.
So the Royals still have a double digit lead in the American League Central as they welcome the Los Angeles Angels to town for a four games series this weekend. Interesting note, out of the teams currently holding leads in either a division or the wild card, the Angels are the last one of those teams the Royals will face this season(outside of a make-up game late in September against the Cubs). A question was posed to me the other day, asking if there should be any worry that the Royals would get too complacent with this big a lead. I said there is always the chance, but these players seem to be pretty driven. The other good thing is that Kansas City can rest a guy like Wade Davis and let him heal better than if they were fighting for a playoff spot. There are pluses and minuses to having this big a lead, but as of right now I don’t see anyone slacking off on the field. That is a good thing, since we are only about six weeks away from the regular season wrapping and what appears to be another ‘Blue October’ for the Royals!
Coming off of a ten game road trip that saw the Kansas City go 4-6, the Royals returned home this past weekend to take on division rivals the Chicago White Sox. The Royals last played Chicago in the second city to kick off the second half of the season, a series the Royals won. Would the same happen in Kansas City? Would the Royals bounce back from a rough series in Detroit? Would Salvador Perez get a Gatorade sponsorship? And would the Royals need Jedi help in their rotation this past weekend? All these answers lie ahead(well, most of them anyway!).
Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain
Friday night was a spotlight stealing night for Lorenzo Cain, as he would get a double, a triple and an RBI to help pace the Royals to a victory. Big night for Cain, but overall he would put forth a stellar series, going 3 for 7, while also scoring a run, stealing a base and slugging at an .857 clip. It really shouldn’t have been a surprise that Cain would step up this weekend:
Lorenzo Cain is hitting .419 with nine extra base hits in 11 games against the White Sox this year.
Looking at Lorenzo’s numbers this season breaks it down even more how much he has improved the last few years. Strikeouts are down, walks are up, average still sitting above .300 while already setting a career high in triples and home runs. Add in 20 stolen bases and a career high WAR of 5.9 and OPS+ of 133 and you have the making of an all around above average player. I think sometimes we take what guys like Cain and Hosmer do on defense as just daily plays that are the norm. They are the norm, but that does not mean they are ho-hum. Cain has elevated his game so much this year that it’s not hard to see him take the mantle of ‘best player on the Royals’ once Alex Gordon is no longer in Kansas City. Actually that day could come sooner than that, much sooner. The good part is that Cain isn’t eligible for free agency until 2018; the bad part is he could be quite expensive by then. Trust me, it is a good problem to have.
Pitching Performance of the Series: Kris Medlen
With credit going to Edinson Volquez’s great outing on Friday night, I was overjoyed with the performance of Kris Medlen on Sunday afternoon. After Danny Duffy left the game in the fourth inning, Medlen would come in for his first outing since Thursday(although in that contest he would face only one batter and throw only three pitches) and would shut down the White Sox. Medlen would go 3.2 innings, giving up no hits, and no runs while walking 1 and striking out 3. Medlen threw 69% strikes on Sunday and looked like the former ace he was in Atlanta. As much as we would all love to have Medlen in the rotation, we do have to remember he is coming off of Tommy John Surgery and at this point should just be thankful that he is healthy and able to pitch for the team. In a dream world, Medlen would be in the rotation come October, and we are not alone in that thinking:
Ned Yost says he would like to see Kris Medlen make a start before the end of the season. #Royals
I was just happy with how good he looked this weekend. He seemed to have good velocity on his fastball and he seemed to have a good feel for his off-speed pitches. We can’t expect Medlen to pitch like this every outing, but if this is what we see the majority of the time, then the rotation has sunnier day’s in their future.
Thanks For the Hugs, Melky
If you remember early in the season, whenever Melky Cabrera would get on base, he would hug some of his former teammates. Didn’t matter if it was Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar or Salvador Perez, Melky would proceed to embrace his friends. It was not only amusing to watch a grown man act like a child and show his affection, but it also seemed to drive Rex Hudler bonkers(calm down, Rex; the game has changed since you played). But while watching Melky this past weekend I started thinking about how much he loves these guys and I started pondering how much fun he would have if he was still with Kansas City. The thing is, he could have been a Royal again. This past winter, the Royals were on the hunt for a new right fielder to take the place of Nori Aoki. They had tried Torii Hunter but he returned to Minnesota. They had also talked to Melky about coming in, even offering him a contract fairly similar to what he got from Chicago. Chicago eventually won the Melky sweepstakes, but I found it interesting why he chose the White Sox over the Royals:
Cabrera “really wanted to win,” Rick Hahn, White Sox GM recalled. “(He said) ‘But with all due respect are you guys really in a position to win and am I really a difference maker for you?’ ”
So Chicago’s winter moves swayed Melky, or at least he felt like they had a better chance to win. The funny thing is, the Royals offered a deal somewhat similar to what Chicago gave him. I believe it was one less year, and possibly a few million less. But here was my thought this weekend: with the Royals in about the same situation as Chicago, at least when pertaining to their chance of winning, why would he not take a little less money to be around a bunch of guys that he really enjoys playing with? Now, Seattle did offer Cabrera an extra year, so maybe the years weren’t as big a deal but with the Royals offering something in the same ballpark, I just find it odd that he wouldn’t try to come back to Kansas City. I’m sure that White Sox locker room is full of quality guys; I don’t doubt that a bit. But the chance to win a championship and do that with a bunch of guys you think fondly of? I tend to think you can’t beat that. But obviously it was not meant to be, and instead the Royals end up with Alex Rios who looks about the same as the Alex Rios that was sapped of power last year in Texas. We can only imagine how much better this Royals team would have been with Melky roaming right field…
Seriously, Melky's face on the Diamond Vision looked sooo sad. Maybe he should have signed with KC. #Royals#ForeverRoyal
Time to slide on over and review some news and notes from this weekend sweep for Kansas City:
So Yordano Ventura has been an enigma this year. How has the guy who dominated the Giants in Game 6 of the World Series now have issues facing even lower level teams in the American League? Well, we might have finally have gotten a peak into what has been plaguing Yordano:
Yordano Ventura, 2015, opponents hitting: No runners on: .211/.289/.326 Runners on: .356/.394/.589
The entire article is here and it definitely goes into some major detail as to what ails “Ace”. It’s been noticeable that with runners on Ventura has been leaving more pitches out over the middle of the plate. His Babip has also been crazy this year, .309 to last year’s .288. The biggest obstacle Ventura is going to run into is figuring out how to get hitters to quit sitting on his fastball and forcing them to swing at the off-speed stuff. As frustrating as it has been, he is still young and has plenty of time to adjust and return to form. It would just be nice if that could happen before October.
Good news on the Alex Gordon front; he is now taking batting practice:
Just imagine a September lineup with Gordon back in left field and Ben Zobrist at second base. Yep, hard not to get excited about what we could see in October with this team.
Over the years, John Danks has confused Kansas City hitters. Before this year, Danks was 9-0 against Kansas City and had only given up 28 runs in 104 innings against the Royals. So far this season, Danks is 2-2 against the Royals, giving up 10 runs over 23 innings. The Royals haven’t completely solved Danks, but it’s no longer a guarantee that he will put up a ‘W’ whenever throwing against Kansas City like it used to be.
Wade Davis did not pitch in this series as his back continues to give him problems:
Yost says Wade Davis unavailable again w/ stiff back. Could've pitched but with lead in division, don't want to push or risk further injury
If this was last year, Davis would probably be asked to pitch through it and increase the chances of injuring himself even further. Instead, with a big lead in the American League Central, Davis can sit out and heal. Davis, at this point, is more important in October than August.
Saturday night, Greg Holland looked like the “Dirty South” of old. His breaking pitches had proper dive and his fastball was popping, reaching 97 mph on the radar gun. Holland has been hovering around 93 mph most of this year, so seeing the uptick in velocity is a definite plus. It’s been rumored most of this season that Holland had an injury(and he still might), but Kansas City management has to breathe easier knowing Holland seems to be pitching more like his old self as we reach the last few months of the season.
On Sunday, Kendrys Morales would hit his 13th home run of the season, while also driving in RBI’s 79 and 80. This puts him 3rd in the American League in RBI’s and tied for second in doubles. I feel like I can’t stress enough how valuable Morales has been to this Kansas City team. He drives in runs in the middle of the order and as much as most of us loved Billy Butler, he had really quit doing that last year. I don’t even want to imagine where Kansas City would be without Morales’ bat in the middle of this lineup.
Sunday was ‘Star Wars Day at the K’, as the Royals finally dipped their toes into what has become a popular promotion over the years for most other major league teams. There was no way I was going to miss this, since the two things I am most passionate about are baseball and Star Wars. This also led to scenes like this at Kauffman Stadium:
Sure, the in-between skits on the field were hokey and it felt like it would have been nice to have more Star Wars characters floating around all sections of the stadium, but it was still a fun time and I was just happy Kansas City finally took the plunge. Here’s to hoping this becomes a regular promotion for the Royals!
Just returned from #StarWarsDayAtTheK . No pics, unfortunately, but we had a fun time & got to see another win. Plus, Melky hugs. #Royals
Finally, let’s go back to Sunday afternoon’s game. The Royals have runners on second and third with one out and Omar Infante at the plate in a tied game. On an 0-1 count, Infante would flair the ball in between the pitcher and first baseman:
Yes, it wasn’t the farthest hit ball Omar has ever had. But here is the thing; it was a difficult play for the defense to make, which hurt the White Sox chances of making the play. To further that thought, Alex Rios took off at contact. If he doesn’t do that he probably doesn’t score in that situation. It wasn’t the most dramatic hit but was the perfect description of how the Royals season has gone to date. They just find a way to win. At the end of the day, that is all that matters.
Tweets of Royalty
Current odds to win 2015 World Series, from @fangraphs
So with the White Sox in the rear-view mirror, the Royals look ahead to a three game series against Detroit. Last week, the Tigers were able to beat the Royals 2 out of 3 in the ‘Motor City’, and one has wonder if things will be different this time at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals have an 11.5 game lead in the Central, which is just mind blowing if you have watched this team the last few years. This hasn’t been done by a Royals team since 1980, and it conjures up memories of those late 70’s team that were ousted in the playoffs by the Yankees. In some ways this big lead gives them a chance to rest regulars on a consistent basis or guys who are injured(like Wade Davis); you just hope they don’t become complacent before they get to October. We are in uncharted territory but this isn’t a bad thing; in a lot of ways we have earned this as Royals fans since we sat through a lot of awful baseball for all those years. The rewards have now become a regular occurrence; let’s just hope this team is as hungry as they were before the season started.