Back In Blue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just a Transaction Away

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We are creeping into the second week of December and very little has occurred with the Kansas City Royals transactions page since they wrapped up the World Series. It’s a bit odd at this point in the offseason to see Dayton Moore so quiet after all those years of moves being made within the first week of the end of the season. All has been quiet until the other day, when the Royals made a few notable moves to add to the ledger.

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Let’s start with closer Greg Holland being non-tendered a contract. This wasn’t a shocking move, as it had been discussed almost immediately after everyone found out Holland would be having Tommy John surgery and would be missing the 2016 campaign. The good news is that this move was purely financial, as the Royals didn’t want to be on the hook for close to $10 million next year for a pitcher who would be sitting on the sideline. This also means the Royals are open to re-signing Holland to a new deal, possibly a two year deal that would be low for this upcoming season while much larger salary for year two of the deal, probably with a bunch of incentives. I would say the chance of Kansas City and Holland coming to agreement on a new deal is pretty good, as both parties want to stay together and understand why this business decision was made. I would expect Holland back in the fold fairly soon and hopefully will make his Royals return in 2017.

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The other move made by Kansas City was acquiring backup catcher Tony Cruz from St. Louis. On first glance this seemed like a move designed to make him the new backup to Salvador Perez while pushing Drew Butera(yes, I almost just wrote ‘Sal’ instead of ‘Drew’; his father would be proud) out the non-tendered door. But then the Royals offered Drew a contract, leaving the Royals with two options to play in about 30 games next year(if that). So it would appear from the outside that these two catchers will be battling in Spring Training to see who heads North with the team, and who ventures to Omaha(possibly; last year’s AAA catcher, Francisco Pena, was claimed by Baltimore). So who would be the better option?

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Offensively this might be a bit of a push. Butera last year had a line of .196/.252/.252 with an OPS+ of 40 while Cruz had a line of .204/.235/.310 with an OPS+ of 47. Over their careers, Butera has an OPS+ of 41 while Cruz’s is 58. Cruz looks to be the better hitter, even if by just the smallest of margin’s. It does appear Cruz has more pop in his bat(.310 to .266 career slugging percentage) while Butera seems to be the more patient hitter(Cruz has averaged a tad over 6 walks a year over his career, Butera almost 8 per year). Offensively, neither one of these guys are going to earn their job with their work with the bat, so let’s check the glove work.

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Looking at dWAR, Butera has quite the advantage over Cruz, 2.3 to -0.4. It seems as if Butera is the better defender, which was my initial thought before I started breaking down the stats. I was actually surprised though; Butera only has about 45 more career games than Cruz, despite Butera being 3 years older than Cruz. It also appears as if their offense drags them down, as both have negative career WAR; -1.7 to -2.8, Butera over Cruz. Now I can say I haven’t seen as much of Cruz’s work, but I’ve long enjoyed Butera’s work behind the plate, where he is known for his defense and good game calling skills. I’m not 100% for sure where Royals management head is on the backup catcher situation, but I know manager Ned Yost(a former catcher) prefers his backup to be solid defensively. It would appear if that was the case again this spring, you will see Butera backing up Perez. I wouldn’t mind keeping Cruz down in AAA if he is open to that, and once again, I’m not entirely for sure what the Royals braintrust is thinking. If I had to make a guess, this move was purely for depth, which is never a bad move for any team.

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So nothing major has occurred yet for the Royal roster, but the Winter Meetings are this week, so something is bound to happen. There is already talk that Kansas City is close to a deal with Chris Young and word crept out today that they have interest in lefty Scott Kazmir. So more than likely, expect something to happen this week in Nashville. This news also brightened my day today:

So be prepared; it could be a busy week, and by the end of it we might have a better idea of what the 2016 Kansas City Royals will look like.

 

Royals Devil Magic Has Returned

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 09:  Salvador Perez #13 and Tim Collins of the Kansas City Royals celebrate after defeating the Houston Astros in game two of the American League Division Series at Kauffman Stadium on October 9, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri.  The Royals defeated the Astros with a score of 5 to 4.  (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

I’m going to let everyone in on a little secret that most of us longtime Kansas City Royals fans don’t tell anyone: we still sometimes expect things to go wrong. Yep, it’s not healthy and the last 15 months have helped tone down some of that thinking, but it still pops up now and then. To be honest, you can’t blame us. Before last year, the Royals hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1985 and had only one winning season between 1995-2012. Trust me, we have watched so much bad baseball in that span that it’s hard to just push it out of one’s head. So when the Royals were down 4-2 to start the 4th inning, there was a linger of doubt in my mind that they could bounce back. The rational part of my brain said “hey, it’s only two runs” but the irrational side said “please don’t let them go to Houston down two games to none and then have to face Dallas Keuchel”. Luckily, that did not happen, as the Royals pulled out a 5-4 win in Game 2 of the ALDS in dramatic fashion. But it wasn’t just that they averted defeat, oh no. No, the Royals of 2014 showed up and returned some ‘Royals Devil Magic’.

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Let’s start with what I felt was a bit of a turning point. In the 5th inning it appeared the Royals changed their philosophy at the plate. Earlier in the game they appeared to be swinging at Scott Kazmir’s pitches early in the count, a strategy that had mixed results. But in the 5th it felt like a light bulb went off in their heads and they realized that home plate Umpire Angel Hernandez wasn’t calling a consistent strike zone and to play that to their advantage. So the Royals started taking more pitches, driving Kazmir’s pitch count up and  forcing him to throw strikes. This would pay off in spades come the 6th inning.

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Lorenzo Cain would start things off the festivities in the 6th with a 1 out double. Houston would pull Kazmir at this point and bring in lefty specialist Oliver Perez to face Eric Hosmer. The first two pitches Hosmer would flail at and it put him down 0-2 in the count. To say Hosmer did not look good on those two swings would be an understatement. Perez’s slider seemed to have Hosmer’s number, until pitch three, a pitch that Hosmer had no business actually making contact with. In fact, even Hosmer was unsure of what he hit:

What happened though was a little bloop to left center that would drive in Cain and put the Royals down by only one run, 4-3.

This hit was huge. I had even sent a text out when it happened and said that exact thing, as I felt it was a game-changer and looked to remind the Royals they were still in this ballgame. It also set up an array of events that was very reminiscent of 2014, as Kendrys Morales would hit against the Houston shift and poke the ball to right field, followed by a walk to Mike Moustakas to load the bases. Josh Fields was in the game at this point for the Astros and would walk Salvador Perez on four pitches, bringing in the tying run. Seriously, Perez not only hit a solo home run earlier in the game, but also took not only this walk, but pushed another at bat earlier to a 3-2 count before striking out. If you follow the Royals in any manner, you know that Salvy very seldom walks and most of the time is swinging early and often. I don’t know if this is a new way of thinking for him or just a rare occurrence. What I do know is the game was tied now and the Royals confidence was soaring. I want to add a personal note here: from my vantage point in the stadium, the 6th inning made everyone stop and pay attention to what was developing. By the end of the inning no one was milling around to get food or drinks. No, from what I could see everyone had stopped what they were doing and was watching the Royals comeback. There are very few times I have seen this at a ballgame but it was a great sight to see everyone glued into the action.

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Moving to the 7th inning(after a great top half of the inning thrown by Kelvin Herrera) and Alcides Escobar would leadoff the inning with a triple, a ball hit over the outfielder’s heads. The Astros notoriously play shallow in the outfield and it helped Esky in this case. Another interesting tidbit from this play: both Astros outfielders on that play(Jake Marisnick and George Springer) said after the game that neither could hear the other talking to each other as they scrambled for the ball at the fence. Yes, the Kansas City crowd was that loud!

This would bring Ben Zobrist to the plate and he would plate a single to left and bring in Escobar and give the Royals the lead:

A couple of tidbits here. First, that was the first lead the Royals would take in the series. Second, this was another aggressive at bat for Kansas City and I tend to think that is what the Royals need to do the rest of the playoffs. By nature this is an aggressive team that likes to use their speed and ability to put the ball in play to mess with other team’s defenses. In fact, very little of that aggressive attack was used in September, a month where the Royals struggled. Hopefully the Royals build off of this game and start employing a more aggressive attitude.

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One final pivotal play. In the Top of the 9th and Wade Davis would issue a walk to pinch hitter Preston Tucker. Carlos Gomez would pinch run, and before even throwing another pitch would attempt a pick-off at first. The ump would call Gomez safe on a close throw, but the Royals would ask for a review of the play. The call would be reversed and Kansas City would go from one out and tying run on base to two outs and no one on.

A really big play for the Royals and Davis would get Jose Altuve out next to wrap up the win and the series was now tied at one game apiece headed to Houston.

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So will the offense that showed up Friday afternoon stick around for the next couple games in Houston? There really is no way to tell but that game really felt like a momentum shift for this ballclub as they get set to face Keuchel in Game 3 on Sunday. The last time Kansas City faced Keuchel was in Kansas City back in July the Royals employed an all right-handed lineup against him and the Royals would win by a score of 5-1. Yes, Keuchel is going to be a tough challenge but he is not unbeatable. If the Royals can be aggressive at the plate and on the bases(and if Edinson Volquez can hold the Astros in check) then the Royals could be looking at another ‘W’ in the series. There has never been a greater time to step on the throttle and show the world what you are made of. If Kansas City plays like they did on Friday then it could be an early offseason for Houston. I might never completely rid myself of worrying about Kansas City collapsing late in the game, but I have never believed so much in a team like I have this one. The bad times might not ever completely go away, but the good times are the games I will hold onto forever.

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

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

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Series MVP: Alcides Escobar    

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

This also lead to another postgame dousing:

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

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

Pitching Performance of the Series: Yordano Ventura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chalk another one up for the good guys.

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

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

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

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Tweets of Royalty

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

 

Sinking the Jolly Roger: Royals Make Pirates Walk the Plank

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

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Series MVP: Eric Hosmer  

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

That home run was also important for its significance:

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

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

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

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

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

  • Kris Medlen was activated by the Royals on Monday:

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

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

Even Ventura realized how awful his outing was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t worry; Salvy always gets his man!

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

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Tweets of Royalty 

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

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

 

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

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

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Series MVP: Eric Hosmer

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

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Yohan Pino

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

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There Goes Any Good Feelings I Had This Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

By the way, welcome back, Billy Butler…

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

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

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

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