Rebuilding a Franchise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Wanted The Royals To Sign Someone…

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It’s been a slow winter for the Kansas City Royals so far. Outside of the acquisition of Jorge Soler, the possible next biggest news for Kansas City might be the team re-signing backup catcher Drew Butera. Yep, that is how slow it has been. In fact, you’ve probably heard many a Royals fan utter the phrase “Just sign someone, anyone…”. Well…you got your wish, as Kansas City signed four players to minor league deals on Christmas Eve. On that list is pitcher Bobby Parnell, infielder Brooks Conrad, outfielder Ruben Sosa and…former Royal Jonathan Sanchez. Yes, the same Sanchez who was acquired for Melky Cabrera at one point. The same Sanchez who was absolutely atrocious during his short stint in Kansas City. We will get back to him in just a moment. But first, lets look at all of these signings and what to expect from them.

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Let’s start with Parnell, who is the biggest name on this list. Parnell used to be a solid contributor out of the bullpen for the Mets, including a four year run from 2010 to 2013 where he produced an average 140 ERA+ during that span. Injuries curtailed Parnell’s run after that, appearing in just one game in 2014 (due to Tommy John surgery) before returning to the Mets for 30 games in the 2015 season. That year was nothing to write home about, as Parnell posted an ERA+ of 61, a FIP of 4.18 and an ERA of 6.38. Parnell signed a minor league deal with Detroit last year but threw most of the year in AAA, putting up very pedestrian numbers. He did appear in six games for the Tigers, throwing 5 innings, striking out 4 while walking 5 in that short span and would eventually be let go by Detroit. The one positive in 2016 for Parnell was that the velocity on his fastball did increase, picking up to 94 mph on average, one mph faster than he racked up in 2015 and closer to the upper 90’s fastball seen by him before the surgery. I actually think Parnell could be a valuable asset in the Royals bullpen, as he could be in the vein of a Ryan Madson, who had been out of baseball for a couple of years before signing with Kansas City before the 2015 season. This is a quality signing by Dayton Moore in my eyes.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Chicago Cubs

Conrad is a veteran journeyman who has floated around baseball for about 15 years now and played in the Independent League in 2016. Conrad last saw action in the minor leagues back in 2015, posting a line of .190/.280/.319 in 83 games. Conrad has basically been used as a utility infielder throughout his career, seeing most of his time at third base. He has played parts of 6 seasons in the major leagues, putting up a line of .200/.271/.389 over 515 plate appearances. It’s pretty obvious that Conrad’s signing was a depth move, as he can fill a number of roles if the Royals end up placing him in either AA or AAA. In fact, I would dare to say there is a chance he was signed for the sole purpose of working with many of the younger players in the farm system and might even be a future coach in the Kansas City system. This might be a signing that was being eyed more for a future role in the organization than anything else, so I wouldn’t really expect to see him in Kansas City at anytime in 2017.

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Sosa is an outfielder who has spent most of his career in the Astros and Angels organizations. Sosa hasn’t had a horrible minor league career, posting a career line of .282./.366/.391 over six seasons. Sosa is a speedy outfielder who seems to take a good amount of walks, but also strikes out quite often (319 strike outs in 419 games). What probably caught the Royals eye is his work in the Mexican League in 2016. Over 70 games, Sosa hit .371/.458/.517 with 22 stolen bases. Sosa probably is a backup outfielder at best if he would reach the big leagues, used mainly as a defensive replacement and pinch runner would be my guess. Sosa would be a long-shot to get to Kansas City and has been assigned to the Kansas City AA affiliate, Northwest Arkansas.

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Finally, we have reached the main event, former Royal Jonathan Sanchez. I’m sure many a Royals fan cringed when they heard Moore had signed Sanchez to a minor league deal, as he is not fondly remembered by Royals fans. Lets not mince words-Sanchez was awful during his short span in Kansas City. In just 12 games (and yes, it feels like he pitched more than that for Kansas City), Sanchez 0.82 Strike out to walk ratio, an ERA+ of 54 (100 is league average) 6.45 FIP and a -1.3 bWAR. Before you ask, yes, Sanchez was as bad as the numbers indicate. The worst part of his run in Kansas City was that it just seemed like he didn’t want to be with the team, so he was dealt to Colorado in July of 2012 for Jeremy Guthrie. Incidentally, my first post on this blog was spent talking about that deal, a deal that was definitely one of Dayton Moore’s best. All this being said…it doesn’t really bother me that the Royals have brought Sanchez back into the fold. The honest truth is that the likelihood that he makes it to the big league club is slim and none. Sanchez hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2013, where he pitched in 5 games for Pittsburgh, throwing only 13 innings, allowing 18 runs and 7 home runs in that short amount of time. He was in the Reds camp last year for Spring Training, but was released at the end of camp. It is very simple math with this signing: if he is awful, the team will release him in Spring Training and that will be that. If he does good, then he can actually contribute to the Royals in 2017, something he didn’t do the first time around. Kansas City doesn’t lose anything by bringing him in, other than a small amount of time.

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The honest truth is that moves like these are necessary for any major league ballclub. Most minor league deals are done for one very big reason: depth. A team never knows how the season will unfold and the more depth you have stored away in the minor leagues, the more likely you will stumble across someone who can contribute to the major league team. It’s a total win/win situation, as most of these signings are done very cheaply and don’t cost the team anything. Over the years the Royals have succeeded on a few of these signings, especially with a few guys who were coming off of injuries and were able to be a part of the big league roster. Ryan Madson is the most prolific, as he pitched good enough in 2015 to earn himself a lot of money from Oakland that following winter. So while these signings aren’t going to blow anyone away, you never know what might actually pan out. So I’m not going to get worked up about Sanchez being in Royals camp this spring; the honest truth is the Royals gave up nothing for him and he either pitches good or he is gone. This time around, Sanchez needs the Royals more than they need him.

Strength of the Pen

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When discussing the Kansas City Royals last two years (and more specifically their historic runs in the playoffs), a lot of their success seems to be derived from the stellar bullpens they have employed. In 2014, the team heavily relied on the three-headed monster of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Last year started the same, but after Holland struggled(which we found out later was due to an injury), the coaching staff was able to also rely on Ryan Madson and Luke Hochevar late in the game. General Manager Dayton Moore has made a number of successful moves these last few years, but near the top of the list has been his ability to piece together one of the best(if not the best) bullpens in baseball. What is even odder about this isn’t the ability to put together a solid pen; we can trace the origins of bullpens filled with power arms back to the late 1980’s/early 1990 Cincinnati Reds’ teams that featured the ‘Nasty Boys’, Rob Dibble, Randy Myers and Norm Charlton. No, what is odd is the consistency the Royals bullpen has showed for years now.

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Most major league bullpens show success for a year or two, but then start to be less efficient and eventually are re-tooled. The Royals have tinkered with their formula for a few years now and seem to continually find arms that contribute and keep their success going. Last year, the Royals were 4th in bullpen WAR in the American League at 5.0, but more importantly had the highest LOB(Left on Base) % in the league at 80.4,  4.5 % better than the next best bullpen in the league. In 2014, the Royals bullpen was second in league WAR(5.1 to the Yankees’ 5.5) while leading the league in HR/9(0.62). More of the same in 2013(or as I call it B.W., Before Wade), as the Royals had the second best bullpen WAR in the AL(6.2) while leading the league in LOB%(81.4), K/9(9.57),ERA(2.55) and FIP(3.21). Even going back to 2012 shows the Royals had the second best WAR(6.4), second in FIP(3.52), third in LOB%(77.8)and first in HR/9(0.71). What I find most fascinating about this is how while the Royals have been a model of consistency during that span, no other team in the league has been as consistent. One year the Rays are near the top, the next it’s the Orioles, then it’s the Yankees. The point being that it’s not just that the Royals bullpen is good; it’s also the fact that with new pitchers rolling in and out of the pen each year, the numbers stay near the top of the league.

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So over the last four years, the Royals bullpen has been one of the best in the American League, all while shuffling pitchers around utilizing different players into different roles. With all that being said, the bullpen looks to be just as strong headed into the 2016 campaign. Wade Davis is still front and center as the closer and dominating force he has been the last two year, with Herrera and Hochevar helping setup again this year. But there are some new names in this year’s pen, and one of the primary relievers this year looks to be former Royals closer Joakim Soria. Soria was brought back into the fold this past offseason and will be one of the Royals main setup guys going into the season. Danny Duffy looks to be starting the year in the pen, which adds another power arm to this group while also giving them someone who will probably start at some point this season. Dillon Gee looks to be filling the role that Joe Blanton held for the Royals last year, as spot starter and long reliever if needed. Throw in Scott Alexander and Brian Flynn from the left side(with Tim Collins out for the year) and Chien-Ming Wang looking to be an option at some point this year, it looks to be another loaded pen.This is all without mentioning players coming up through the farm system, guys like Miguel Almonte, Alec Mills, and Matt Strahm, who could all see action at some point this season.

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Every year I wonder if this is the year the bullpen comes back down to reality. So is this the year the bullpen finally stumbles? I wouldn’t count on it:

Sure, they are just Spring Training numbers, which are to be taken with a grain of salt, but they are impressive nonetheless. It’s hard to imagine this group of arms being the one to break the ‘Streak of Dominance’. Greg Holland is gone from this group, but he battled an unknown injury most of last year and his ‘replacement’, Soria, looks to be a notch up from 2015 Holland. Looking at the set of arms the Royals have and it’s hard to imagine much of anyone regressing, as most are still in their prime. It’s a testament to the knowledge and hard work that pitching coach Dave Eiland and bullpen coach Doug Henry have put in that have helped the Royals succeed with their bullpen. At some point the Royals pen will be normal again and we will fondly remember this time period. But I wouldn’t count on that happening anytime in the immediate future, especially if this group of high velocity arms have anything to say about it.

Your Invite is in the Mail

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Spring Training is just around the corner, and there are always a few things you can count on. There is always that one player who is in “the best shape of his life”. Yep, you know the player; he’s the guy trying to bounce back from a down season and looking to put up career high numbers. Then there is the player who would conceivably be in “the worse shape of his life”. That player normally looks he spent all offseason on the couch watching Homer Simpson’s genius plan to be able to work from home by gaining as much weight as humanly possible. This role is normally reserved for Pablo Sandoval(sorry, Panda). Then there is the third type of player at Spring Training, the non-roster invitee who tries to slide into camp inconspicuously while hopefully walking away with an Opening Day spot on the 25 man roster. Most don’t, but there are always a few who make their case and wiggle their way up north. Headed into Spring Training there are a few of these players that will be in Kansas City Royals camp, looking to impress the Royals coaching staff and procuring a job. In fact, there are three in particular who will be vying for a spot that seem to have an outside chance of making the club. So who are these mystery men? Let’s start with a former New York Met looking to wear Royal blue come April.

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Dillon Gee will be entering his age 30 season, coming off of an injury riddled 2015 campaign with the Mets. In fact, Gee only appeared in 8 games last year, partially due to a groin injury and partially because the Mets were loaded with a bunch of young power arms(see Syndergaard, Noah or deGrom, Jacob). Plus, Gee didn’t help his own cause by getting bombed in the few starts he was given in 2015. The positive is that Gee is a serviceable arm, one that most major league teams would use as insurance at AAA until he is needed. In other words, there is a good chance Gee will be the 2016 version of Joe Blanton, who turned in a good season for the Royals and Pirates last year, netting him a deal with the Dodgers. Gee won’t overpower you with his fastball(he averaged about 89 mph in 2015)but he knows how to get outs and if paired with the Royals defense he would probably put up some pretty solid numbers. That being said, if Gee gets 8-10 starts for the Royals, someone is either injured or something has gone horribly wrong. I like Dillon Gee as insurance at Omaha, but his chances this spring hinge on the health of the other candidates in the rotation. So unless chicken pox arises in the Royals clubhouse again, it’s a safe bet Gee will be AAA to start the year.

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Peter Moylan’s chances of starting the year at Kauffman Stadium are better than Gee’s, but still a bit of an uphill battle for the 37 year old reliever. Age will be a factor for Moylan, although he has never been a guy who relied on his fastball and with his sidearm delivery his whole success is based more off of movement than velocity. Moylan was actually able to come back from a second Tommy John surgery in 2015, although the Braves initially intended him to be a coach in their low minors. Instead, the Braves stumbled and used Moylan out of the pen in September to positive results. For one, he didn’t walk anyone in the 10+ innings he threw, and was able to induce groundballs at a fairly high rate(69%), which we all know is a positive in Kansas City. He also was able to get some movement back on his sinker, which is a major plus for a guy who won’t blow pitches by batters. The Royals bullpen is loaded right now(as we all know), but there is always a chance Moylan could find his way to Kansas City. Louis Coleman was released on Wednesday, giving Moylan one less reliever to fight with for a spot in the pen. Moylan is also good friends with Royals starter Kris Medlen, as the pair were former teammates in Atlanta back in the day. I would say Moylan’s chances of making the team are slim, but did anyone predict he would have the career he has had so far? In other words, there is always a chance.

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Then there is Travis Snider. Snider was signed to a minor league deal over this past weekend and is the definition of living off of potential. Snider was once a 1st round draft pick of the Blue Jays back in 2006 and ten years later the baseball world is still expecting him to prove he can be as good as once expected. Over his 8 year career, Snider has performed below league average(93 career OPS+, league average is 100) and has not hit the way scouts once expected him to. There are positives with Snider, like the fact that he is going into only his age 28 season and he isn’t too far off from his career best year in the majors(2014). Looking back at that 2014 campaign, Snider played in 140 games for the Pirates with a line of .264/.338/.438, producing an OPS+ of 117 and a WAR of 2.1. Snider fell back this past season, splitting time in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The other positive for Snider is that the Royals are currently looking at a Jarrod Dyson/Paulo Orlando platoon in right field, so there is a lot of room for someone to step up and make Royals management take notice. The argument could even be made that if Snider showed an ability to get on base on a regular basis he would get a decent amount of playing time. The Royals at this point know what they are getting with Dyson and Orlando; Snider is the wild card that has the ability to open some eyes. There is a good chance Snider could make the opening day roster as backup outfielder and work his way to a good chunk of at bats. I don’t know if Snider will ever turn into a .300 hitter or a 20 home run guy, but a reliable bat who can get on base could work just as well when it comes to playing time.I have to say, Snider’s chances are good this spring but like most things, I am basing this off potential.

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There aren’t many spots available on the Royals roster as we head into Spring Training, but just look at last year. Ryan Madson came into camp as a guy who hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2011 and ended up not only making the roster, but being a reliable cog in the pen for the entire 2015 season. A few spots are open for the taking, and any of the three names mentioned above could sneak their way onto the team. That’s the great thing about spring; hope springs eternal, even for grizzled veterans. Even if they don’t, the Royals will have depth which is always a coveted part of any winning team. These signings are proof that the Royals roster will be just as deep in 2016 as it was during their run to a world championship.

A Royal Comeback

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A great man once said “It ain’t over till it’s over”. Nope, I’m not talking about Lenny Kravitz, although he turned that saying into a nice little soft rock hit in the 90’s. Mr. Yogi Berra made that saying famous but the Kansas City Royals are trying to make it a mantra. The Royals have a history in the playoffs of coming back from the jaws of defeat to live another day. Go back to one of my favorite games of all-time, Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, the whole reason I even know who Dane Iorg is. Then there is the most famous Royal comeback, the Wild Card game from 2014, a game that no Royal fan will ever forget. After today, you can go ahead and add Game 4 of the 2015 ALDS to that list.

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Headed to the bottom of the 7th inning, the Royals were down by a lone run, 3-2 with Kelvin Herrera was on the mound. Herrera would walk George Springer to lead off the inning, leading to Ryan Madson being brought in to face Carlos Correa. What followed felt like a horror movie or one of those nightmares you have that you can’t wake up from. Correa would hit a 2-run bomb, which would be followed by a solo home run from new Royals nemesis Colby Rasmus and the Astros lead now sat at 6-2.   At this point the Royals had gotten 6 hits and 2 walks but was only able to muster 2 runs off of a Salvador Perez home run. So to say it did not look good going to the Top of the 8th would be an understatement. I thought it was over. I really did.

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What followed would be the perfect example of why you should never give up on this team. I should probably point out here that the highest Win Probability percentage Houston had was 98.4%, which was when Carlos Gomez singled in the bottom of the 7th with the Astros up 6-2. If you would like to see the full graph of the Astros Win Probability click here. Trust me, it is a fun little look into how quickly things fell apart for Houston. Now, back to the game. Over the last few years there is a fun little saying some of us have on Twitter called “#deathbysingles’, or basically what happens from time to time when the Royals start an offensive attack, which doesn’t always include extra base hits. The Royals have also started calling it ‘going on down the line’, or a way to keep the rally going. It focuses way more on every single plate appearance rather than looking 2-3 batters ahead. Focus on your at bat and try to keep the base runners moving.

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What followed can only be explained as #RoyalsDevilMagic, a term coined last year when the Royals would find a way, anyway, to win a ballgame. I felt we saw some of that same magic on Friday in Game 2. Rios(Tips?), Escobar & Zobrist would lead off the attack with singles. Cain would follow with another single to knock in a run, 6-3. The Astros win probability was now down to 70.7%. Eric Hosmer would follow with a key hit to right field to make it 6-4. Before this at bat, Hosmer had been 1 for 15 in the series and it just felt like he needed something(anything?) to get his bat going and to help what had been an issue for this team with runners in scoring position. Houston’s win probability now down to 55.6%. Kendrys Morales would then hit a chopper up the middle(aided by glancing off Tony Sipp’s glove) that looked like a fairly easy play for Carlos Correa. Instead, the ball takes a weird hop(with a little help from Correa taking his eye off the ball. It appeared as if he was already looking at second base) and two runs would score, tying the game at 6. This would be a costly error for the Astros, knocking their win probability down to 24.4%. Funny thing is that the next two at bats felt like the most important at bats in the game. Mike Moustakas would strike out, but not before making it tough on Sipp, an at bat that saw him foul off pitch after pitch. Following that, Houston closer Luke Gregerson would come in to try and stop the bleeding. Houston’s win probability had jumped up to 35.3%.

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Gregerson is very familiar to the Royals. He pitched for the A’s last year in the infamous Wild Card game and would let the Royals back into that game, allowing a couple of inherited runners to score. In this game he would come in and face backup catcher Drew Butera. Butera had entered the game an inning earlier after Perez was hit by a pitch. Butera is known for his glove…and for how poor of a hitter he is. But he would have the at bat of the game, pushing Gregerson to a 10 pitch walk, one in which Butera was down 0-2 to begin the plate appearance. Houston’s win probability was back down to 31.7%. This loaded the bases again for Alex Gordon, a man who has been struggling since his return from injury last month. Gordon would hit a grounder that almost got past second baseman Jose Altuve, as Altuve dove for the ball then flipped to first for the second out of the inning. Hosmer would score though and the Royals would have the lead, 7-6. The Astros now had a 23.6% chance of winning. Rios would then walk(second time he had been on base in this inning) followed by an Escobar strike out to end the inning:

Houston now had a 29.2% chance of victory, down 67.7% from when the inning started. The Houston crowd had been silenced by the Royals offense. Astros fans now understood ‘Death By Singles’.

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Now all that stood in Houston’s way of tying the game up was one Wade Davis. Yes, the nearly unhittable and unflappable Wade Davis. Davis was in for a six out save, the first of his career. Just another 1-2-3 inning for Davis, one in which the Astros chance of winning had dropped to 15.5%. The knockout punch was dealt in the top of the inning, as Hosmer would strike again, dealing a death blow with a 2-run homer. The Astros now sat at a 3.3% win expectancy, or next to nil. Davis would close it out in the bottom of the 9th, tying up the series and sealing a Game 5 in Kansas City…

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…and there you go. One of the greatest comebacks in Royals history leads to another do or die game on Wednesday. I have no clue what will unfold for Game 5, but it probably can’t top Game 4. I didn’t even mention Mike Moustakas’ words at the end of the 7th inning, probably an “Animal House” style speech:

Or how Salvador Perez feels after the double dose of a foul ball tip and hit by pitch combo within the span of an inning:

Okay, here is all the fallout from this game:

What a great game. This Royals team is worth all those years I sat through bad baseball, hoping that next year would be “the year”. In fact, I don’t think I have comedown from this game yet:

This team is for real. Watch out Houston; this Royals team might have just found their swagger.

 

 

 

It’s Not Easy Being On the Royals Playoff Roster

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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.

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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.

DH(1): Kendrys Morales

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.

July 03, 2015: Kansas City Royals Manager Ned Yost relieves Kansas City Royals' starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie (11) in the seventh inning during a Major League Baseball  game between the Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. The Royals won in ten innings, 3-2.

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.

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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’.

Ray of Sunshine: Royals Beat Tampa Bay

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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’.

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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.

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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.

Tampa Bay Rays catcher Rene Rivera, second from right, tags out batter Kansas City Royals' Kendrys Morales (25) after tagging out Royals' Ben Zobrist, right, to complete a double play during the eighth inning of a baseball game Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015, in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Rays won 3-2. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
                      (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

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.

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas hits a RBI-double off Tampa Bay Rays starter Jake Odorizzi during the fourth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)
                (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

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:

It also appears as if Zobrist will be taking over for Omar Infante once Alex Gordon is activated from the disabled list:

One can only hope that Kansas City has made a great impression on Zobrist and makes his decision this offseason a little bit easier. It would help though if Zobrist doesn’t make any enemies:

Don’t cross the Kuntz!

  • A lot of pub has gone Kendrys Morales way as of late due to his ability to drive in runs with 2 outs in an inning:

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:

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:

Moose has also shown that he can be a tough out when he needs to be:

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:

Gordon looks like he didn’t miss a beat while playing in AAA Omaha:

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:

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.

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Tweets of Royalty

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We now venture into the final month of the regular season and the Royals still have a few items to check off their ‘Want List’:

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.

 

 

The Battle Over Proper Baseball Etiquette: Royals Lose Series to Striving Blue Jays

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Leading up to this past weekend, the Royals had been building some positive momentum. They were still on top of the American League Central. They still had the best record in the American League. Then there was the two giant acquisitions they made earlier in the week to acquire Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, which you would think puts Kansas City right in line for favorites to be in the World Series. Then the Blue Jays went out and got Troy Tulowitzki. And Ben Revere. And Mark Lowe. And oh yeah, that David Price guy. A lot of the Royals thunder went to Toronto by the end of the week and many felt like this was a series that could be a window into a bigger playoff picture. This was a loaded four game series that was not weak for the heart, so let’s dive in.

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Series MVP: Ben Zobrist

Well, that didn’t take long. In Zobrist’s first games as a Royal he showed why fans like me have been praising his value for so long. Zobrist was 5 for 15 in this series, with 3 home runs, 6 RBI’s, a walk, a double and his slugging percentage went up over 40 points to .480. Zobrist hit two of those home runs on Saturday, one from each side of the plate:

To me that wasn’t even the part of his game that got me super excited. No, what I really loved seeing in this series was Zobrist work a count. I don’t know how many 2-2 or 3-2 counts I saw, but it is nice to see considering how most of the rest of the Royals are free swingers. Zobrist started out the series batting down in the sixth spot in the order, which seemed like a misuse of his on-base talents. Luckily, by the last two games Mike Moustakas was on the bench so Zobrist got a shot at the second hole. He seemed to really enjoy being near the top of the order, as was evidenced by his 4-7 in those two games with all 3 of his home runs and 4 of those 6 RBI’s:

If Zobrist continues to perform like this the Royals won’t miss Alex Gordon as much as expected, with the team feeling most of his loss on defense. I’m already excited to see Zobrist float around defensively; left field one game, right field another, then some time spent spelling Omar Infante at second. It is still early, but if the Royals are unable to re-sign Gordon this offseason, they should definitely take a long look at keeping Zobrist. I have a feeling his bat in this lineup would be a major plus while his glove would be paramount.

TORONTO, CANADA - AUGUST 2: Edinson Volquez #36 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch in the first inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays on August 2, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

Edinson Volquez has been the rock of the Royals starting rotation in 2015. While Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura have been inconsistent, Volquez has picked up the slack. When Jeremy Guthrie has had trouble keeping the ball in the ballpark, Volquez has slowed the other team’s offensive attack. That success continued on Sunday, as Volquez would compile his 10th quality start of the year, throwing 6 innings, giving up 4 hits and 2 runs while walking 3(and hitting a batter; more on that in just a bit) and striking out 4. Volquez did a good job of moving the ball around, in and out and then up and down. He kept the batters off-balance by constantly changing the view and was very adamant about pitching inside. In fact, that leads us to the biggest news story from this series…

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Sunday Afternoon is Alright For Fighting

Here we go again. First there was Oakland. Then there was Chicago. Now Toronto? First, let’s look at what happened. In the first inning Edinson Volquez got a pitch a bit too inside and plunked Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson:

Now, Donaldson has been red hot as of late and had been killing Kansas City during this series. I don’t fault Volquez for pitching him inside and as far as I could tell that wasn’t intentional, although after listening to Volquez postgame there is a chance it was done on purpose(sidenote: there was also a feeling amongst the Royals that Toronto was stealing signs during this series):

At that point the home plate umpire Jim Wolf issued warnings to both teams. Fine by me, nip it in the bud as fast as possible. Then in the 3rd, Volquez came back up and in with an off-speed pitch to Donaldson. No intent there, it was just a pitch that got away. If you know your baseball, you are aware that no pitcher is trying to hit a batter with an off-speed pitch; that is just illogical and defeats the purpose of what you are trying to accomplish. I can understand why Donaldson would be frustrated, but no way he was being thrown at, although that didn’t stop him from throwing a little swag into his walk to first:

Onto the bottom of the 7th inning and Ryan Madson is now in the game for Kansas City. Madson, on the 7th pitch of a 2 strike at bat, would hit Tulowitzki, which many felt thought should have been an automatic ejection. Once again, there was no intent there, as there was no way, that deep into the at bat and with a runner on second, that Madson is intentionally hitting Tulo. It was just a pitch that got away. Donaldson was up next, and on a 2-2 count he would come up and in on Donaldson. Once again, I get why Donaldson would be frustrated, but no way Madson is trying to hit him with two runners on base and the Royals still in a position that they can win the game. Donaldson at this point is irate, flat out screaming at Jim Wolf:

Look, at this point in the game I 100% agree with how Wolf had called the game. Wolf did a great job of figuring out what was intentional and what was just pitches that got away. Wolf even understood why Donaldson was so livid and let him yell at him; I can’t imagine many umpires letting a batter show him up like that, even considering the situation. This brings us to the top of the 8th and with 2 batters out and none out, Aaron Sanchez uncorked a pitch that would get him ejected from the game:

I believe that pitch was intentional on Sanchez’s part. I even understand that Toronto felt like they needed to retaliate. But Wolf was going purely off of intent at this point, and Sanchez’s pitch was intentional and that was why he was ejected. This leads me to a whole other topic that bothered me watching this game; the hitters(more specifically, Donaldson) getting angry about a pitcher throwing inside. I get any balls thrown at or near one’s head; no hitter likes that and I don’t blame them. But Donaldson seemed to have a major issue with the Royals pitching him inside and I am sorry but no hitter owns that plate:

Not only that, but the Blue Jays hitters are notorious for leaning out over the plate. No pitcher wants a guy getting that comfortable at the dish and no hitter should be diving out over the plate and not expect to get plunked:

All I kept thinking watching this was a)If these guys did that to Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale they would probably be in a hospital somewhere and b)this whole thing made Josh Donaldson look like a child. Back in April I felt like the Royals were being babies during that A’s series that got out of control. On Sunday it felt like the Blue Jays were being oversensitive to a normal part of the game. All hitters take note: the plate is not yours and yours alone. A pitcher is allowed to pitch inside, especially if you crowd the plate with all of your body armor. You dive over it, you get nailed. I personally felt like Jim Wolf did a great job in this game and understood what was going on. That being said, there was a part of me that wished someone would have gotten thrown out on the Kansas City side just so this whole mess hadn’t escalated. Even impartial baseball fans like Grant Brisbee felt like Wolf called a good game but might have been better off just throwing Volquez out. I know there was a lot of discussion that this could be an interesting matchup in the playoffs, but I would rather not revisit this. There was more nonsense that went on after this on Twitter, but I’m not even going to discuss that. Here are some more tidbits from Sunday’s melee:

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But wait, there is more! Time for the news and notes from this four game series:

  • I’ve been chronicling Mike Moustakas’ hit total as of late, since he toppled his 2014 total with a few months of baseball remaining. What I haven’t mentioned is his struggles over the last month. In July, Moose hit .188/.271/..306 in 23 games. The power has been there, as he has clobbered 3  home runs while driving in 8, but Moustakas has gotten away from what worked earlier in the season, which was hitting the ball to the opposite field. During July, Moose has pulled the ball 36% of the time, hit to center 37%, and only hit the ball to left 26% of the time. It seems simple to me, but if Moustakas can start taking advantage of the whole field again, I think we could see him start to climb out of his current slump. Moustakas ended up sitting out both Saturday and Sunday; Saturday he pinch hit and was hit by a pitch, which caused him to sit out the next day.
  • If(if) the Royals have to face off with Toronto in the playoffs, it might be best to keep Ryan Madson off that roster. In 4 games this season against Toronto, Madson has thrown 1.2 innings, giving up 9 hits, 7 runs(5 earned) while hitting a batter and striking out 3. Yes, that gives him a glorious 27.00 ERA this year against the Blue Jays. Whatever it is, it appears Toronto has his number.
  • Once again, Mark Buerhle stifled the Royals offense on Saturday. In fact since 2013, Buerhle has held the Royals to 9 runs in 5 games. Buerhle isn’t going to blow anyone away but he hardly walks anyone(4 walks during those 3 years against Kansas City) and knows how to pitch. It goes to show you, kids, it’s all about location, location, location.
  • Hold on to your seat; Wade Davis gave up a home run!!!

Now, Davis also had some back stiffness this weekend. I am going to go ahead and blame it on that:

Hey, credit to Jose Bautista to turn on that high 97 mph heater. But still, it was because of Wade’s back. That is my story and I am sticking to it.

  • For not being a base stealer(like, ever), Kendrys Morales sure knows how to slide:

He also knows how to properly celebrate:

Okay then.

  • Yordano Ventura was breezing along on Saturday before giving up a couple of blasts to Bautista and Donaldson in the 4th inning.  Overall, he allowed five runs on six hits and two walks over seven innings. Ventura seemed to hit a wall in that inning and was forced to fight his way out of it. He seemed to be throwing his off-speed pitches a bit more in this game, but he was still leaving his fastball out over the middle of the plate. Ventura is still young and I’m sure will find his way but right now he is learning it’s not as simple as having a fastball that reaches triple digits. It might not be this season, but he will get there. This is the second straight start I saw improvement and I think it was good that manager Ned Yost kept him in to figure it out. It’s the only way he will learn.
  • Johnny Cueto had a decent outing in his first game as a Royal. Cueto went 6 innings, allowing 7 hits and 3 runs while walking 2 and striking out 7. It doesn’t matter how many times I see him pitch, all I see is Luis Tiant. He even did a butt-wiggle in mid-windup to try and throw the Blue Jays hitters off.
  • Eric Hosmer’s 14 game hitting streak was snapped on Sunday. Hosmer has been red hot most of July, hitting .375/.417/.554 since July 1st. Hopefully we will see more of the same throughout August.
  • Finally, Aaron Brooks, a former Royals dealt in the Zobrist deal, had a great first outing in Oakland:

Congrats, Aaron. Hope this means an extended stay in the majors is in his future.

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Tweets of Royalty

Jul 31, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Home Plate umpire Angel Hernandez (55) calls Kansas City Royals designated hitter Kendrys Morales (25) safe at home plate during the first inning in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-216426 ORIG FILE ID:  20150731_ajw_bt2_047.jpg
Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY

So the Royals are still leading the American League Central after losing 3 of 4 to Toronto, now ahead of Minnesota by 8.5 games. The team will have a much deserved day off on Monday(their first since the All-Star Break) before opening a three game series in Detroit against the Tigers. It will be nice for Kansas City to not have to face David Price or pitch to Yoenis Cespedes during these three games. Hopefully they can win this series before heading home to take on Chicago for three at ‘The K’. Normally, August is when teams that are going to fade start doing just that; at this point I don’t expect to see Kansas City slip too much in the standings. Hopefully there is regular rest during one of the hottest months of the year for their starters and players like Moustakas and Sal Perez can get out of their slumps. It’s a new month but the Royals should have the same game plan; win the whole thing.

 

 

Grade Two Sweep: Royals Pummel Rays, Lose Gordon

Kansas City Royals' Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando (16) celebrate after Orlando hit a walk-off grand slam during the ninth inning of the first game in a baseball doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday, July 7, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. The Royals won 9-5. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Sometimes there are series where it appears nothing much of importance happens and you are left wondering if you are even going to remember anything from those games a week later. Then there are series like this, which was packed full of excitement and concern. It was mentioned to me at one point this week that this would go down as possibly the most emotional series of the year, and when it is all said and done it very well could be a pivotal series that decides whether or not this team makes it to October or falls short of the prize. It’s surprising I have said all of that and yet the Royals swept the Rays, taking all four games and extending their lead in the American League Central. We have a lot of ground to cover so let’s get to it.

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Series MVP: Alcides Escobar

No disrespect for Lorenzo Cain, who packed quite a punch in the last two games of this series, but Alcides Escobar set the table for this offense to come alive this series and score a plethora of runs. Escobar was 9 for 18 this series, knocking in 3 runs on a bases clearing double and produced a .667 BAbip. Escobar pretty much owns Rays starter Chris Archer, as he went 4 for 4 against the All-Star on Wednesday night, 7 for 9 career. Escobar is not your typical leadoff hitter, as he hardly ever walks and tends to swing at the first pitch quite often. I am a big believer in working the count, taking walks and getting on base in whatever manner possible. When Alcides is on his game, he gets on base and that is all that matters. Sometimes he even bunts and ends up with a double:

I am a big Escobar supporter and this series showed a lot of reasons why he will be starting at the All-Star game next week. Escobar is one of those great acquisitions by Dayton Moore that is appreciated more when you watch him everyday. I guess we can thank Milwaukee for letting Kansas City take him off their hands:

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

In all honesty, there wasn’t one pitching performance that really stood out in this series, as the offense was really the hero for these four games. That being said, Volquez had the best game score out of the bunch, a solid 55 after his outing on Tuesday. Volquez went 5 innings, giving up 5 hits and 1 run while walking 3 and striking out 5. The only real blemish on there is the 3 walks, which are Volquez’s weakness. The good thing is the starters in this series all got through 5 innings and let the bullpen guide them the rest of the way. The Royals did see the return of Yordano Ventura on Thursday, as he coasted through the first 4 innings before struggling in the 5th, as he had a hard time finding the strike zone. I talked about this after the weekend, but getting Danny Duffy, Ventura, Jason Vargas and Kris Medlen will go a long way toward solidifying the rotation and might make it to where the Royals won’t need to go out and acquire another starter. That is the hope, since the Royals now have an All-Star sized hole in the outfield for the next two months…

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Gordon Out For Eight Weeks 

The most talked about subject from this series is the injury to All-Star left fielder Alex Gordon. Gordon went down during Wednesday night’s game and it did not look pretty:

The initial thought was a knee injury(if you watch the video, Gordon’s knee looks like it buckles right before he falls) but it turned out to be a groan strain:

The good news is Gordon won’t need surgery and should be able to start rehabbing in 2-3 weeks. Gordon is a work-out nut, which would make one think he could be back closer to 6-7 weeks than the expected 8. But groin strains are risky business:

No matter what, that leaves a hole in the Royals outfield. For now Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando will split time in left field, but neither should be starting too much, and with Alex Rios struggling as well, there is a need for another outfielder:

There is also a couple of other issues. For one, this doesn’t even factor in how important Gordon is to the fabric of this team:

The plus to that is it looks as if Gordon will still be around:

The other factor is Gordon’s contract situation. Gordon has an option on his contract at the end of this year that he can opt out of. I have no idea whether or not this injury will hamper his value on the open market. For the most part that will be determined on how he performs when he returns from the injury. If he plays fine, his value will remain as high as it was before Wednesday. If not, teams could be less likely to want to roll out a multi-year contract for “A1”. His time away will make one thing very obvious for this Kansas City Royals team:

 

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There was soooo much more this series that was notable. Now onto an emotionally charged news and notes:

  • There was a lot of roster shuffling to start off this series. Paulo Orlando was recalled from Omaha on Monday, which forced the Royals to DFA Jason Frasor. Frasor had been a solid arm in the pen for the Royals since his acquisition last year but he was low man on the totem pole and had an issue earlier this year with allowing base runners. Frasor was a total class act about being let go:

The Royals also put Mike Moustakas back on the bereavement list and recalled Cheslor Cuthbert from AAA. I’ve been following Cuthbert’s progress in the minors the last few years, even when the team had experimented with playing him at second and first base, and loved seeing him getting the call up to the big club:

By the way, Cuthbert went 5 for 15 in his first 4 games in the big leagues, including his first career triple on Thursday afternoon to drive in a couple of runs. Then there was the insane amount of moves on Thursday:

I expect some more moves before the Royals return from the All-Star break. It will be interesting to see how this team looks over the next couple of weeks.

  • Monday’s game was rained out. It was not safe in Kansas City:

https://twitter.com/staypuft/status/618189295342325760

There was also all the “mucho rain” in the Royals dugout:

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The game was rescheduled and played as part of a “day-night” doubleheader on Tuesday.

  • The reserves for the All-Star game were announced on Monday night, and Royals relievers Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera made it six Royals going to the All-Star game next week. Third baseman Mike Moustakas is part of the final vote, and as of this writing is leading the balloting. If he wins it, that will make it seven Royals going to Cincinnati next week.

  • Paulo Orlando might never have a greater experience than his walk-off grand slam in game one of the doubleheader on Tuesday:

The walk-off reminded me of the one Justin Maxwell hit a few years ago and was the third consecutive walk-off win for the Royals. Orlando’s slash line isn’t the most impressive in the world but he did a solid job of filling in for Alex Rios earlier this season and plays above average defense. With Gordon on the shelf, having Orlando around is a definite plus for this team.

  • Speaking of backup outfielders, Jarrod Dyson will start seeing some increased playing time, and so far he has excelled with it. First, there was this little inside the park home run on Wednesday night:

Then there was his impersonation of Willie Mays on Thursday:

He would also throw out a runner at home on Wednesday and 4 for 11 in the entire series. Right now Dyson is riding a hot streak and the Royals will need that going forward.

  • I mentioned earlier that Lorenzo Cain had a good series, despite only playing the last two games. Cain was 4 for 7, hitting 2 home runs while driving in 5 runs. I doubt anyone at this point is questioning whether or not he deserves to be in Cincinnati next week.
  • How deep is the Royals bullpen? Normally the Royals go Herrera-Davis-Holland late in the game. On Thursday, they went Madson-Hochevar-Herrera with the same results. This pen is insanely good:

 

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Tweets of Royalty

 

Kansas City Royals' Paulo Orlando, right, celebrates with teammates after hitting a walk-off grand slam during the ninth inning of the first game in a baseball doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday, July 7, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. The Royals won 9-5. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

So the offense has come back to life, and hopefully they can keep things going as the one more series before heading to the All-Star break. The Royals invite the Toronto Blue Jays into town for three games, and with only those games left it is assured the Royals will head into the break in first place in the American League Central, currently 5 games ahead of the Minnesota Twins. The Blue Jays are 3-7 in their last 10 games but they possibly have the most talent in the American League East and offensively can be a juggernaut. The Royals will throw Duffy, Young and Volquez over the next three games and then there is a chance Vargas and Medlen could be added to the team after the break. It’s a fun time to be a Kansas City Royals fan, but the injury to Alex Gordon looms over the entire team at this point and we will know soon enough if they can overcome this latest obstacle thrown in their way. I’m not going to enjoy two months of no Gordon, but I like the idea of knowing what this team’s mettle is truly made of and just how valuable Gordon is to their success. No success is truly great without some major obstacle to overcome. We are now going to see what this Royals team is truly made of.

 

 

 

 

 

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