The 2019 Kansas City Royals: A Rebuild By Any Other Name is Still a Rebuild

Credit: Kansas City Star

When 2018 ended, the Kansas City Royals wrapped up one of the worst seasons in team history. The team coasted to a 104 loss season, allowing almost 200 more runs than they scored and compiling the worst bullpen in baseball.

But something happened those last two months. The team compiled a 25-31 record in August and September and while on the surface it IS still a losing record, compared to the team’s 13-31 record in June and July, the latter months made them look like world beater’s.

So the team was actually riding a high those last two months and they were doing it with a simple philosophy: pitching and speed. For the first time all season, they looked more like the aggressive team we saw during their championship runs in 2014 and 2015 than the team’s that appeared to be scraping by the previous two seasons.

Credit: Kansas City Star

Whatever the reason, that philosophy trickled into the offseason and the Royals you are getting ready to see in 2019 appear to be a team ready to run. Management realized this was a team with very little power and the possibility of competing with other teams stocked with that extra ‘pop’ wasn’t going to get them very far. So instead, they have decided to take a page from Forrest Gump and just run.

The Royals already had the American League stolen base leader (Whit Merrifield) from last year and coupled with rising star Adalberto Mondesi (32 steals in 75 games), it appeared the team had an excellent one-two punch that would keep the opposing defense busy.

But then they signed super-speedy outfielder Billy Hamilton. Then they reunited with baseball’s version of Barry Allen, Terrance Gore. The Royals decided to double-down on speed and make sure that the catchers and pitchers around the league are going to have to stay on their toes when facing Kansas City this season.

Credit: Getty Images

But will this plan of attack work? The biggest roadblock to the Royals offense this season isn’t the lack of power or even the uncertainty of a number of younger players. The biggest fly in the ointment could very well be their ability to get on base, or lackthereof.

While Merrifield or even Ryan O’Hearn showed an ability last year to consistently find their way on base, bu t others did not. Hamilton is the biggest concern, as he posted a .299 OBP in 2018 with a rising strikeout rate. While he did see an uptick in his walk rate last year, he struck out more and saw an increase in his flyball rate. For a guy who’s sole purpose it is to get on base and cause havoc, it would appear less strike outs and putting the ball in the air less would be a healthier way to get the most desired results.

In fact, outside of Whit and Alex Gordon, no other Royals hitter had a walk total above 30. This is a team that needs to be on base as much as possible to score runs, since relying on a longball to help them doesn’t appear to be much of an option. The Royals were near the bottom portion in almost every power category last year for all of baseball and there doesn’t appear to be much help on the way. That being said, there could be some interesting developments to follow this year when it comes to the offense.

Credit: Kansas City Star

O’Hearn saw 170 plate appearances in his rookie year and showed that he could hit major league pitching, posting a solid OBP and an OPS+ of 155. But most of his damage was against righties, so the goal in 2019 is to see what he can do against lefties. The good news is that he produced some solid numbers in the minors against lefties in his career, so there is a chance that last year was an outlier.

Hunter Dozier struggled during most of his rookie campaign, but showed some steady progress as the year wore on. He has looked good this spring and his continued development would be huge for the Royals success this year.

Brett Phillips is starting the year in AAA, but he has a chance to be a regular if he can tone down his strike outs this year. Phillips has some major pop in his bat and combined with his above-average defense, could be a foundation piece for Kansas City if he battle some of his flaws this year.

Most eyes are on Mondesi to see what he does this year. He started seeing regular playing time in July of last year and once that happened he appeared to take off. He hit .276/.306/.498 last year with 14 home runs and an OPS+ of 116. Mondesi’s combination of speed and power illicits a lot of comparisons and if he can continue to hit with authority while showing a bit of patience, he could be an elite player in no time at all.

Credit: Kansas City Star

Then start the questions. Will Jorge Soler stay healthy? It felt like Soler had turned a corner last year and one wonders what would have been if he hadn’t fouled a ball off his foot in Oakland. For the Royals to show some improvement this year, they need a healthy Soler to steer the middle of the batting order.

Can Chris Owings rebound? Owings is the new ‘Alcides Escobar’ (ie. super utilityman, not player who will never leave) and it would appear he is going to be a semi-regular moving forward. But Owings hit a paltry .206/.272/.302 but he also posted an extremely low BABIP of .265 which could be a sign of bad luck. Owings has never posted an above-average offensive season, so his value at this point might be tied into how he produces on defense.

How about the catchers? With Salvador Perez gone for the year, the catcher’s spot will be helmed by Cam Gallagher and Martin Maldonado. While you shouldn’t expect much from these two on offense, defensively the Royals might actually see an improvement in 2019. I’m not saying either of these two are superior to Perez as much as I’m saying that what they excel at are the areas that Salvy struggles with. It will be interesting to see how these two mesh with the pitching staff.

Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Finally for the offense, Alex Gordon returns to man left field. Gordon hasn’t been the same since his collision with Mike Moustakas back in 2016, but he did show a few signs of offensive glory last year and defensively is an elite defender. This very well could be the end of the road for Gordon, as his contract is up at the end of the season and he has talked about going home and spending more time with his family.

As an Alex Gordon fan, this is going to be a hard season for me and this spring has already left me dreading what is close at hand. Gordon has been the lifeblood of this organization for a long time and it’s going to be strange if this is it. At some point this year, I will discuss a bit more in detail, but for me, Gordon has been the closest thing to George Brett the Royals have had since #5 retired. For those of us that have been around for the last 30+ years, 2019 will be an end of an era.

Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

All this talk about the offense and no mention of the pitching? No worries, as the rotation for Kansas City actually looks like a pretty solid group. Brad Keller looks to front the rotation this arm, as he looks to duplicate a great rookie season. Keller started the year as a Rule 5 pick that the Royals could stow away in the bullpen and by the end of the year he had locked down a starting job and become Kansas City’s most reliable pitcher.

Jake Junis and Jorge Lopez return and both look to improve in 2019. Junis was an innings eater last year but ran into some issues with the longball (32 home runs given up last year) and is hoping to cut that total down to a more livable number.

Lopez was acquired mid-season from Milwaukee and showed signs of being a stud as the season progressed. His most notable achievement last year was the perfect game he took into the 9th inning against the Twins in September. For the Royals to see some success this season, these two need to show some improvement in their game.

The back-end of the rotation looks to be filled by Homer Bailey and Danny Duffy. Bailey is looking to resurrect his career and showed glimpses of a solid starter throughout the spring. The biggest issue for Bailey has always been his consistency and for him to stay employed in Kansas City he is going to have to show some steadiness in his performance.

Duffy is coming back from an injury-riddled 2018 and is hoping to be ready once April rolls around next week. There are a lot of questions of whether Duffy can be an elite starter again or whether he can just stay healthy for a full season, and the Royals are going to give him every opportunity to show he can return to his past stellar glory. There was some talk of moving Duffy to the bullpen, but as of now he is slated for the rotation.

Credit: Kansas City Star

Speaking of, Ian Kennedy appears to be starting the season in the bullpen, a move that the coaches hope can keep him off the injured list. The Royals hope to use him as a guy who can throw a few innings at a time out of the pen while possibly filling in as a starter should an injury arise. There is some belief that Kennedy’s stuff will play better out of the pen, much like former Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar. Kennedy is locked in for another two seasons (counting this one), so Kansas City is going to give him one last chance to show his worth.

When talking about the bullpen, the honest truth is that one has to believe this year’s group can’t be any worse than the pen the Royals assembled in 2018. In fact, when I talked to Max Rieper of Royals Review earlier in the month, that was exactly his sentiments. It’s essentially addition by subtraction and with Maurer, Boyer and Grimm sent off to sea, the pen would appear to be improved from last year.

The Royals have added Brad Boxberger and Jake Diekman to fill the veteran quota of the pen, while also giving them some late inning experience that was sorely lacking for most of last year. Wily Peralta returns to fill a late inning role while Kevin McCarthy and Tim Hill also appear to be returning, and both were solid during their time in Kansas City last year.

That being said, it has sounded like there might not be defined roles in the pen for these relievers, at least early on. Boxberger, Diekman and Peralta will all be called upon to fill not only the late innings, but will be the primary candidates for any high-leverage situation. It will be interesting to see if anyone breaks away from the rest and ends up as the de facto closer in 2019.

Credit: Kansas City Star

But the real story out of the pen this spring has been the emergence of former first round draft pick Kyle Zimmer. Zimmer did not pitch at all in 2018, as Kansas City sent him to Driveline to build up his strength and see if they could help him stay healthy, which has been a longstanding issue with him.

After a solid stint there, Zimmer was signed by Kansas City to a major league contract and thrown onto the 40-man roster. All he did this spring is produce a 0.71 ERA in 12+ innings, striking out 8 and walking 4. His velocity is up a few MPH and appears to finally be ready to make his major league debut. If he continues to excel, he will easily be the best story to come out of Kansas City in what appears to be a year focused on rebuilding.

Yes, the Royals are rebuilding. I’m not declaring anything you don’t already know, but Dayton Moore has refused to use that ‘R’ word over the last 4 or 5 months, always implying that the team is still going to go out there and “compete”. As a veteran Royals fan, let me try my best to interpret “Dayton Speak”, which isn’t always as clear as one might think.

What I believe Moore is trying to relay is that Kansas City isn’t tanking this year, but rather trying to stay a bit competitive while also allowing a number of younger players the time to develop at the big league level. Now what this means they still want fans to come out to the stadium and not feel like this isn’t a team worth paying your hard earned money for. They also have a television contract to think about, and the higher the ratings, the higher the dollars will be once it is signed.

Credit: Nicky Lopez, Twitter

But in layman’s terms, yes, it is a rebuild. While the team has brought in veterans like Lucas Duda, Owings and Bailey to fill roles to start the year, it doesn’t mean those vets are the focus. The focus will be on not only the Lopez’s, Phillips’ and O’Hearn’s, but also guys like Nicky Lopez and Richard Lovelady, who will probably both make their big league debuts this year. It will be about finding out if a minor league vet like Frank Schwindel can take advantage of his opportunity in the big leagues. It will be about seeing who can fill what role and who is worth keeping around once this team starts winning again.

So if I am being fair and unbiased, this is probably a team who is going to win 70-75 games this year, a healthy improvement over last year. At times this team will look like they have turned a corner and other times they will look like a boxer who has fallen back into the ropes. Part of the joy of a rebuild is watching the youngsters learn and grow and a lot of times that includes more struggling than succeeding.

Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

So hopefully you come along for the ride. It’s going to get bumpy from time to time, but 162 games will do that to a person. What I can say with quite a bit of certainty is that no matter what, it’s hard to imagine this version of the Royals being as woeful as they were in 2018. This version will at least give you reasons to stay in your seat. Whether you want to see Mondesi or Merrifield, or Keller or Lovelady, it’s going to be an interesting development. Just call it what it is: it’s a rebuild, Kansas City style.

Advertisements

V is For Versatility

Credit: Getty Images

It’s sometimes rough to find a positive for a team coming off of a 104 loss season. You don’t lose that many games without there being some major issues going on with your team. In that regard, the Kansas City Royals are like every other team in their situation.

That being said, by the end of the year you could see some bright lights and the idea of a better squad in 2019 wasn’t far-fetched. While most will point to Adalberto Mondesi’s upward trajectory or Brad Keller’s amazing rookie campaign as positives for this Kansas City team moving forward, a less likely nod will be sent to the team’s versatility.

The Royals will be headed into this upcoming season with a litany of positional opportunities and players who can shift around to multiple areas on the diamond. The most obvious player to fit this description is Whit Merrifield, who is easily the Royals best player.

Whit put together a 5 Win season in 2018 but the most jaw-dropping aspect of his success is the ability to float around the field on any given day and fill in wherever needed. While he saw the most action at second base last year (starting 107 games), he also put time in at center field (27 starts), right field (7 starts), first base (5 starts) and left field (1 start).

Whit gave manager Ned Yost options throughout the year and not only was he a great team player by allowing Ned to play him wherever he needed him, he was able to continue to produce at a high level, no matter the position. This is why when we discuss Whit’s value this offseason, it’s reasonable to see where it could be considered “invaluable”.

But it’s not just Merrifield who can play about anywhere. Recently acquired Chris Owings was almost as adaptable as Whit this past season for Arizona, as he played in right field (33 starts), center field (10 starts), third base (9 starts), second base (8 starts) and left field (3 starts). That’s not including shortstop, where he didn’t play in 2018 but made 51 starts there in 2017.

Credit: Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

While Owings didn’t put up the offensive numbers of Merrifield last year, he did show an ability to play wherever he was needed, which is vital for almost any team. Owings is penciled in to be a backup in 2019, but if he can rediscover his bat (which is possible, as a .265 BABIP last year could be a sign of bad luck) there could be some solid playing time for him in the future.

But while Merrifield and Owings would fit the mold of “Super Utility Players”, a number of other Royals could get considerable playing time at multiple positions. Hunter Dozier can play both corner infield and outfield spots. Mondesi can play at both middle infield positions and the Royals have teased playing him in the outfield. While Ryan O’Hearn is almost primarily a first baseman, he could play the corner outfield spots in a pinch.

This isn’t even mentioning someone like Nicky Lopez, who we very well could see up in Kansas City by mid-summer. Lopez has played both middle infield spots throughout his minor league career and some in the Royals organization believe he could make a fairly easy transition to third base if needed. If so, that would add another infielder who could see considerable time in multiple slots this next season.

With all this versatility, it’s easy to see why the team designated Rosell Herrera for assignment to make room on the roster for Terrance Gore. While Herrera has shown an ability to be solid defensively both in the infield and outfield, his bat has shown very little punch these past few years (wRC+ of 63 last year) and the belief by Royals management has to be that they believe Owings will provide more offense than Herrera.

While normally Herrera would probably be able to fit on the Kansas City roster with his versatility, right now there is so much flexibility that even keeping him around for depth is unnecessary for the Royals.

That word “depth” is the key factor to the value of having players who can play at multiple positions. No team gets deep into the season without a healthy dose of depth and while the Royals more than likely won’t be a contender in 2019 (although in the American League Central, all bets are off), they will need that depth to get them through all the peaks and valleys of the upcoming campaign.

The Los Angeles Dodgers of 2018 are the perfect example of what flexibility can get you. They had at least 3-4 regular players who saw considerable time at multiple positions and it gave their manager Dave Roberts a great opportunity to shuffle around players and use a few platoons to help strengthen their lineup.

That is what versatility will get you. That is why Whit Merrifield has become a highly touted commodity. And that is why it will be a good thing to give Yost options to shuffle his lineup this upcoming season. It might not bring them a winning season, but it will probably help them stay away from 100 losses in 2019.

The 2017 Kansas City Royals: In It To Win It

kc1

2016 was anything but a glorious season for the Kansas City Royals. Coming off of their first World Championship since 1985, the Royals spent most of last year trying to catch their footing and keep hopes afloat as long as possible. Injuries piled up, fatigue set in but more than anything, the fire the Royals showed in 2015 was few and far between. It wasn’t a huge surprise; one of the biggest obstacles for teams who reach the top of the mountain is to stay on top. Instead, the Royals fell and while there were positives for this team, there was mostly disappointment. So the question has been asked headed into 2017: how does Kansas City return to past glory? While the predictions and pundits aren’t glowing of the Royals chances, that is even more reason to bet on the ‘Boys in Blue’ to return to the playoffs.

kc2

Let’s start with the story of the winter, which was the unfortunate passing of Yordano Ventura. His untimely death left a giant question mark in a pitching rotation that already had a few questions. The Royals, instead of trying to ‘replace’ Ventura, went out and stocked up. First it was Jason Hammel. Then they went and signed Travis Wood. The rotation went from one with more questions than answers, to one of the deepest groups in recent Kansas City history.

Starting Rotation

  1. Danny Duffy
  2. Ian Kennedy
  3. Jason Hammel
  4. Jason Vargas
  5. Nate Karns

Duffy will front this group and hopefully show that his career-turning 2016 was not a fluke. My money is on Duffy excelling as he grows into the ‘ace’ role. Kennedy, while not your normal number two starter, actually put up solid numbers last year and looks to continue that this year (this spring he has yet to allow a run over 17 innings). Kennedy will have his rough outings and will give up some homers, but he consistently racks up innings and at times looks amazing. Hammel strung together a good 2016 with the Chicago Cubs, with the only real concern being the fatigue that hit him near the end of the season. Hammel is another innings eater who will probably benefit from the Royals defense. Vargas returned in September last year from Tommy John Surgery and looks to pick up where he left off in 2015. Vargas will more than likely be what he was before the surgery, as he is in the last year of his 4 year deal. Karns won the 5th starters spot this spring, striking out 30 over 23 innings thrown. The back-end of the rotation is interesting, since I tend to believe it could very well be different by the time the Royals reach the All-Star break. Wood and Chris Young are both candidates to fill in while they are being stowed away in the bullpen for now. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Kansas City looks for a trade as they get close to the trade deadline and that could shake up the rotation even more. While this might not be the most dominating group in Royals history, it is a solid group that should eat a lot of innings.

kc3

While Fangraphs does NOT think fondly of the Royals bullpen (they have them ranked 28th in MLB), I lean the other way, thinking while it may not be as dominant as years past, they are a solid group that will do more good than bad.

Bullpen 

Kelvin Herrera-Closer

Joakim Soria-Setup

Matt Strahm-Setup

Mike Minor

Travis Wood

Chris Young

Peter Moylan

Herrera takes over the closers role from the departed Wade Davis and should slide nicely into that role. Soria was a walking nightmare last season and Kansas City is hoping he bounces back and at the least, improves on his 2016 numbers. Soria did have an excellent strike out rate last year, but that still doesn’t explain this:

“The roles haven’t been defined,” Yost said. “If we were going to do it tomorrow, we’d probably use [Soria] in the eighth inning, depending on what the matchups are.”

High-leverage situations were a killer for Soria last year and I tend to think he should be kept away from those this year, or at least until he gets his feet underneath him. To me, Strahm will end up in this role eventually and has shown the ability to stop rallies. Those two might not be the only relievers in the setup role:

Minor battled throughout most of 2016 to stay healthy but has looked good so far this spring. Wood is an interesting choice, but he did prove valuable in Chicago’s pen last year. Moylan was a solid bullpen arm last year for Kansas City and while Young struggled, he is still a great choice for the long reliever/spot starter role. The intriguing part of the Royals pen are the ‘What Ifs’ that could contribute later in the year. Josh Staumont is a rising star in the Royals organization and has electric stuff. If healthy (stop me if you’ve heard this before), Kyle Zimmer could also factor into the pen late in the year and don’t count out someone like Eric Skoglund, a lefty who could be a great LOOGY down the stretch. While on the surface this wouldn’t appear to be a deadly pen, it could be a completely different story by July or August.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals

So what about the offense? It appears manager Ned Yost has already figured out his lineup for Opening Day:

I’ve long been less than satisfied with Yost’s lineup structure, but I totally approve of this lineup. It is very interesting to see how the Royals and Yost came to this starting nine:

Royals manager Ned Yost likes to point out that the club’s batting order is an organizational decision, with input drawn from coaches, front office staff and members of the club’s analytics department.

Yes, I smiled to see the team used their analytics department to help structure it. There is also a bit of logic thrown in there as well:

“It gives us a nice left-right-left balance,” Yost said.

I have loooooooong been a proponent of Alex Gordon in the leadoff spot, as it only makes sense to put the guy with the best on-base percentage at the top. Gordon is coming off of his worst season since moving to the outfield and is hoping to bounce back this year. He also added some more muscle to his frame this winter and if spring is any indication, it has paid off (.351/.448/.509 with 8 walks and 5 extra base hits). Moustakas in the two-hole is a great choice, as he has some of the team’s most professional plate appearances while also adding extra base power to the top of the lineup. Cain and Hosmer at 3 and 4 respectively makes sense, although I would like to see Hosmer elevate the ball more this year and hit the ball much less on the ground (he lead all of baseball last year with a 58.9% ground ball rate). Salvy and Moss at 5 and 6 gives the team some thump in the heart of the order and hopefully they are able to drive in the guys who get on base ahead of them. Moss especially adds a nice power bat to the middle of the Royals order and I am excited to see him do his thing. Paulo Orlando will start the year in RF and will hold down that spot until Jorge Soler comes back from the disabled list. The lineup could shuffle a bit after Soler’s return, but I could also just see him slide into the same spot as Orlando, since that would keep up that L-R-L-R order that Yost likes. After years of attempting to keep Alcides Escobar in the leadoff spot, Yost finally has sent Esky down to the bottom of the order, where he is better suited. Rounding out the lineup is second baseman Raul Mondesi, a surprise winner of the job this spring. Mondesi struggled offensively during his short stint in Kansas City last year and the team is hoping that his bat will improve while adding much-needed speed and great defense to the roster. The offense is going to be different this year, as the team looks to provide more power and focus less on speed and a clustering of hits. Kansas City finished last again in 2016 in home runs in the American League and the additions of Moss and Soler should add more thump to the lineup and hopefully more extra base hits. This team has seven players capable of hitting 20+ home runs, which will be a big change of pace for the Royals(as will the strike outs that come with it). It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out as the season gets underway.

kc5

I’ve been touting the team’s depth for a few months now and as much as this will be the immediate lineup, there will be more shuffling this year than in year’s past:

Bench

Cheslor Cuthbert

Drew Butera

Christian Colon or Whit Merrifield

Terrance Gore

Cuthbert will get plenty of playing time shuffling between third base, DH and possibly even 2B. Butera is the perfect backup catcher for this squad, providing above average defense and is coming off the best offensive season of his 7 year career. I would expect Gore to only be with the team during Soler’s time on the disabled list, but when he is on the roster he provides a late inning speed threat on the basepaths. The final roster spot battle has come down to Colon or Merrifield, and it looks like we won’t find out the result until Sunday:

Colon is out of options and would appear to have the inside track, but there have been some rumblings about a trade going down to procure a spot (not only a spot for backup infielder but also to open a 40 man spot for Moylan). I don’t know who of those two would get traded, although Merrifield’s versatility might be a heavier intrigue for some teams. Also remember, Peter O’Brien is stashed away in AAA and his big bat was all the rage this spring. O’Brien has massive power and if someone in the lineup would happen to go down with an injury, O’Brien would be an interesting name to insert into the lineup. He has his flaws, but if the Royals mainly used him against lefties he could be a big bonus to a bench that has never had much pop. Either way, the Royals don’t employ a large bench but then again Yost has never been big on using his bench players on a regular basis.

kc6

You won’t ever hear me talk much about intangibles here, mostly because at the end of the day they are hard to quantify. You can break down numbers and get a good idea of the performance of a player, but stuff like clubhouse chemistry and leadership are like a mystical potion that just floats around in the air. What I am saying is that those intangibles exist but it is hard to really figure out how much they affect the play that goes down on the field. That being said, there is no way to follow this team and NOT recognize the intangibles. Bottom line is this group is very tight-knit and loves being around each other. That is a huge plus and why some players are excited now about coming to Kansas City. There is also some big motivators this year. For one, the core group of this team (Cain, Hosmer, Moustakas and Escobar) are all free agents after the season and more than likely the majority (if not all of them) will be gone. This is their final chance for another deep playoff run together. Also, there is some motivation with the death of Yordano Ventura. The loss of Ventura hit the Royals hard and he was looked at like their little brother. If you don’t think there is motivation there to win one in his honor, then you aren’t looking in the right places. Finally, there is a bit of a chip on the Royals shoulders this year since Cleveland took their spot, or at least what they considered to be their spot. If you remember back in 2015, a big rallying cry for this team was them feeling like they came thisclose to winning the World Series only to come up short. They played the entire 2015 season like they were there to prove everyone wrong and I have gotten that same vibe from them this spring. These are all big factors into the makeup of this team and why they will more than likely be fighting for a playoff spot into the fall.

kc7

So what should we expect from the 2017 Kansas City Royals? While the predictions and projections once again aren’t kind to the Royals,  I see this from a different slant. What the projections miss some of the time is the value of defense and it’s counter-effect on the pitching. In that regard, Kansas City is still a top-notch defensive team. The other factor is that a number of the Royals hitters struggled last year (Gordon, Hosmer, etc.) or missed a good chunk of the season (Moustakas, Cain). In my estimation, as long as those guys stay healthy they will produce better than they did in 2016 and even if there are injuries, I feel the Royals are better prepared to handle them. Add in power bats like Soler and Moss and factor in a deep starting rotation, and I tend to believe they will be battling the Indians for American League Central dominance all season long. Unless things go horribly sideways (and the percentages tend to lean toward that being doubtful), the Royals are prepared for one final long playoff run. They might not claim the division, but there are two wild card spot for the taking and I have to believe this Royals team has a good shot to claim a playoff berth. One of the greatest joys of my life has been watching these Royals teams of the last few years play meaningful baseball for the first time in decades. While that contender door could be closing after 2017, I have to believe there is one more final run in this squad. Batten down the hatches, Royals fans; I have a feeling this 2017 season is going to be one for the ages.

Mondesi Wins Second Base Job; Soler to the DL?

kc1

The biggest question mark for the Kansas City Royals throughout Spring Training has been ‘who would win the second base job?’, with four players competing for the spot. Christian Colon, Cheslor Cuthbert, Whit Merrifield and Raul Mondesi have all been vying for the job as the second sacker and Monday manager Ned Yost announced who will start the year at the position:

This was a bit of a shock, despite the fact that Mondesi has had a fantastic spring, hitting .375/.388/.625 with 6 extra base hits (3 homers) in 20 games. The shock is in the fact that both Colon and Cuthbert are out of options and most have felt Merrifield would begin the year either as the starter at second or the super utility player. Instead, Colon and Merrifield seem to be fighting over the final bench spot, with the fact that Whit still has options left probably hurting his case. So are the Royals making the best choice by starting Mondesi to start the year?

kc2

It feels like a weird question to ask, but there are some important factors to remember when it comes to Spring Training numbers. For one, especially early on in camp, hitters are facing a variety of minor leaguers, which isn’t always a good barometer of how successful a hitter is. Max Rieper at Royals Review did a great write-up in this regard, charting all the pitchers that Mondesi has gotten hits off of this spring. I had actually wondered the same thing about Mondesi (and Peter O’Brien as well) this spring and now we know. This doesn’t completely discredit his spring (hey, a good spring is a good spring), as hitting has been the main issue with Mondesi throughout his progression in the Royals farm system and it was obvious that whether or not he made the Opening Day roster was going to be largely determined on how he hit this spring. With that being said, while the numbers appear different, the approach feels like more of the same. Mondesi is not a patient hitter and that showed in the numbers as well; only 1 walk this spring and 13 strike outs over 48 at bats. You don’t have to be a math major to realize that isn’t a great ratio and the Royals should at least be mildly concerned that he strikes out as much as he does. While patience is a concern, his athleticism has won Yost over:

Look, I like Mondesi and still feel like it is waaaaaay to early to start giving up on the kid (he is only 21 years old). That being said, he is no Mike Trout. The only way Mondesi could be like Trout is in his dreams, and even there he probably can’t imagine himself as great as Mike Trout. In other words, this is a ridiculous comment…but I think I know what Ned is getting at. It really feels like Yost naming him the winner this early and comments like this are being done to boost up Mondesi’s ego and give him a bit of confidence going into the season. Whether or not he performs as well as Ned imagines is another issue, one that we will find out soon enough. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Raul not play every day at second and shuffle into a few roles, including pinch runner. The Royals lost Jarrod Dyson this offseason and only other player on the Kansas City roster that can rival Mondesi’s speed is Terrance Gore. While Mondesi isn’t going anywhere, I’m not sold that he will remain the every day second baseman all season long.

kc3

Meanwhile, the news on Jorge Soler was not as positive:

It appears there is a good chance that Soler will start the year on the disabled list, mostly as a precaution:

Remember how we mentioned the Royals missing Dyson this year? If Soler does end up disabled, good chance Gore takes his spot on the roster. It’s been an interesting spring for Soler, as he has struggled, hitting .143/.254/.286 with only 3 extra base hits all spring (2 homers). I know there are some down on Soler already, but I feel it important to stress a couple of things here. For one, he has had only one major league season of more than 400 plate appearances and still doesn’t have a full season under his belt. Two, he is moving to a different team and was traded for one of the most dominant relievers over the last 3 years; there is a bit of stress that goes with that and trying to prove ones self. Three, he is also adjusting to a new league on top of all of this. I fully expected him to struggle for the first few months of the season and don’t feel like a knee-jerk reaction really is fair here. Soler has four years to prove his worth and while he will need to do that sooner than year four, I don’t think we will get a good estimation of what he can do until later into the 2018 season. While the injury isn’t great timing, it also might give him an opportunity to slide back into the team early in the season with a little less pressure on him.

kc4

While the makeup of the roster is getting closer to being finalized, it is interesting on how this will shake out. Gore is an interesting add, since he is almost solely on the team as pinch runner which limits his usage. If the final spot goes down to Colon or Merrifield, I have to feel like Whit loses out and possibly only because of option availability. The other factor to remember here is that Yost is not huge on using his bench, so in some ways the structure of said bench isn’t as super important now as it will be come August and September. It also appears as if Peter Moylan is poised to take the final bullpen spot, but that will also mean that the Royals will need to make a corresponding 40 man roster move, as Moylan is currently not on it. I made the comment a few weeks ago that this Royals roster is the deepest it has been in years and it is showing with the roster moves made over the last couple of days.

kc5

Within the next day or two we will know the Opening Day roster, as Yost wants the team to be locked in before they head to Arlington, Texas this weekend for a couple of warm-up games against the Rangers. Earlier in the spring, it was mentioned that the roster always finds a way to work itself out and it is looking like there is a lot of truth in that statement. This team is built for the long haul and is in a good spot to handle a Soler injury or to give a youngster like Mondesi a shot at a starting job. Hope springs eternal and we all hope that the Royals are right about Mondesi and Soler. Luckily, this is a team that can handle a few missteps.

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

kc1

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

kc2

Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain

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

kc3

Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

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

kc4

Revenge Can Be Overrated

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

kc5

Other notes from this series:

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

kc6

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

 

 

 

 

 

What I Want to See in the 2014 World Series

kc1

Sure, Game one of the 2014 World Series is in the books, and there really wasn’t much to cheer for if you are a Kansas City Royals fan. Salvador Perez went deep for his first postseason home run, Danny Duffy removed himself from the back of milk cartons and helped the team eat some innings and …and…well, there really wasn’t much to get excited about. But more games are coming, and there is still a lot from this series I want to see before it is all said and done. Since us Royals fans have been waiting for 184 years(or something like that), here is a nice tidy list of things I would love to see happen during this Fall Classic.

1) August Alex Gordon to show up

Alex Gordon

Sure, it’s been two months ago, but do you remember Alex Gordon in August? The Alex Gordon that looked like a legit MVP candidate, the one who almost carried this Royals team offensively on his back? Since September we have only seen glimmers of that Gordon, including his huge home run in game 1 of the ALCS against Baltimore. If you listen to the national media then you would think Eric Hosmer is the main guy in this Kansas City lineup. Sorry folks, Gordon is the heart of this team and he leads by example. Having Gordon step up and get into a groove would lessen some of the pressure off the rest of the lineup and it feels at this point like he is due. I would even consider moving Gordon up in the lineup. I get that the lineup we have seen since September 21st is one that was working, but the key word there is was.We aren’t talking about a red hot Hosmer anymore and Billy Butler has been lukewarm at best. Gordon has been pitched around a lot during this span and a move up, maybe behind a blazing Lorenzo Cain could do wonders for him. Either way, the Royals need Gordon to get hot and prove why he is the most clutch bat in this lineup. What better time than on the biggest stage of them all?

2) A True Big Game From James

kc3

They call him “Big Game James” but James Shields has been anything but big during this Royals postseason, except for maybe a big disappointment. Outside of his ALDS start against the Angels where he fought through 6 innings without his best stuff, only giving up two solo home runs, he has been shaky at best, compiling a 7.11 ERA this October, not very befitting of a rotation’s ace. I guess in some ways this shouldn’t be a big shock, as he has put together a career 5.74 ERA and a 2.93 strikeout to walk ratio. But a stellar outing from Shields would be a plus on so many levels in this World Series. For one, he will most likely be going back up against Madison Bumgarner in Game 5 and if the Royals even consider taking that game they need Shields at his best. If he can match zeroes with MadBum then the Royals can win that game if it becomes a battle of the bullpens. Also, it would be nice to see Shields have one fantastic postseason start before he leaves via free agency this winter. I know, I know, there is a chance he will come back. But that is a very slim chance and I just don’t believe Kansas City will be able to offer him what he truly desires(which is just as much about years as dollars). So what better way for him to leave Kansas City then on top on this World Series stage? Let’s do it James, put a final stamp on your Kansas City career with a game we will be talking about 29 years from now.

3) One Last Big Hit for Josh Willingham

kc4

Josh Willingham hasn’t done much for the Royals during the playoffs, as he has only accumulated 3 plate appearances during that span. Injuries have limited him throughout much of his Royals tenure but he is still a dangerous bat off the bench for Kansas City. With the likelihood that Josh will retire at the end of the season, and him making his first playoff appearance during this mind-numbing run by the Royals, it seems like a true storybook ending to his career would be a big hit for Willingham during this World Series. Willingham has never been a star in the game but he has been a solid bat who you could rely on for a true professional at bat with the chance of a deep bomb always looming. Josh is one of the good guys in the game, so nothing would please me more than a big hit in this series to help the Royals get a win. The best chance would seem to be during the games in San Francisco, where he could pinch hit for the pitcher’s spot in the lineup especially late in the game. I can already hear the music from “The Natural” playing as Willingham strides to the plate. Let’s hope he gets at least one chance during this series to make some magic happen.

4)More Redemption for Danny Duffy 

kc5

My heart has pained for Danny Duffy this postseason. Here is a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve and has had to constantly fight throughout his career. Whether it is stepping away from the game in 2010 or Tommy John surgery in 2012, Duffy has had one challenge after another. But things finally seemed to fall in place this year, as he put up numbers that the Royals organization have been expecting from him for years. It has been glorious to watch Duffy blossom this season, but the last couple months have not been pleasant. First there was the one pitch start in New York, where most of us feared for the worst. Then there was the horrible outing in Chicago where Duffy couldn’t throw a strike from the windup and was forced to throw from the stretch. Between these things and his past injuries, the Royals seemed to back off Duffy during the playoffs and had only used him in relief in one game of the ALDS against the Angels. But then Duffy came in last night to relieve James Shields in the 4th inning. Duffy had a rough start, but soon settled down and ate some valuable innings that the Royals needed. In fact before the 7th inning, Duffy looked like the guy we had seen for a large portion of 2014. This was almost redemption for not getting to start in the playoffs, as Duffy is a total team first guy, wanting to help in anyway possible. I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen from him this postseason. I hope he gets to have one more outing to really shine again. Some have recommend him start game 5 of the World Series instead of Shields, but that just isn’t going to happen. But a solid outing out of the pen is more than possible. A chance for Duffy to show his value in this series is a feel good story for a guy who bleeds Royal blue. Let’s hope we have not seen the last of Danny Duffy in 2014.

5) The Return of Moustakas and Hosmer

kc6

So far this postseason, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have looked like the first round draft choices they were by Kansas City. But if you follow the Royals in any fashion, you know that these two have been living off of potential the last four years. I feel like I have discussed these struggles over and over, with Moose and Hos. You have heard a lot about these two turning a corner this postseason, but we won’t truly know if that is the truth until we get the 2015 season underway. What we can say is that we haven’t seen much from these two offensively the last few games in the ALCS into the World Series. Want to show us that you are truly maturing during this postseason of Royals goodness? Get some more big hits for Kansas City. Hosmer is locked into the cleanup spot in the order and has a good chance of having runners on base in almost every plate appearance he makes. His swing has looked better as of late, but I still want to see a bit more discipline and him to hit it to the opposite field a bit more. Moustakas has struggled when teams put the shift on him, so hitting it to left field more often would make me feel like he is starting to learn at the dish. No matter what, if these two can get going again, we could start seeing a bit more offense out of the Royals and comfortable leads in their future. I don’t want to say the fate of this offense relies on these two, cause it doesn’t. But it is a much better offense when they are producing.

6) #RoyalsDevilMagic

kc14

This hashtag became a fun little topic on Twitter not only during this postseason run but even before that, back when the time was just vying for a playoff spot. “Royals Devil Magic” is when the unexplainable happens, or as Denny Matthews would say, “simple, dumb luck”. Like this:

kc15

Or like Terrance Gore scoring from second base on an infield chopper. Or pretty much anything that happened in the Wild Card game against the A’s. It has been said by better men than me that the Royals are a team of destiny, and even if you aren’t someone who believes in something like fate, you have to at least acknowledge that when it is your time, things seem to fall your way. More than anything I want to see some “Royals Devil Magic” in this series. I was an 8 year old kid when the Royals won the World Series back in 1985 and there are certain moments that are etched into my memory that will be there long after I get old and start losing my mind. George Brett sliding into the dugout to catch a pop up. Dane Iorg’s bloop hit into right field to score Jim Sundberg, sliding headfirst into home. Darryl Motley’s home run in game 7 and him catching the last out in that same game to clinch the series. I would love to add some more memories to pass the time during those seasons that aren’t quite as magical. There is no reason to stop this train now. Some more devil magic would seal the deal on what has been a season of the unexplainable. There has to be some more magic left in this team for a few more great moments. It might not make any sense, but why should we start making sense of this Royals team now?

kc7

Look, this list could go on and on. Who doesn’t love the Royals outfield defense and the amazing feats they pull off? What about the back end of this Kansas City bullpen with the Cyborgs(Herrera, Davis, Holland) throwing heat? Maybe another stolen base from Billy Butler? More than anything, I want to see a good, tough series where the Royals triumph. This has been an electric postseason for Kansas City but there is still work to do. It’s time for the Royals to bring it home. Yes, more than anything I want a World Championship. I’m already making plans to view the trophy in the Royals Hall of Fame next spring. Oh, how sweet it is…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebration At 1 Royal Way

kc1

This past Sunday night the Kansas City Royals completed their sweep of the Los Angeles Angels in the American League Divisional Series with a resounding 8-3 victory, advancing the Royals to the American League Championship Series. 29 years of no postseason action makes for many demons, not only with the organization but with the fanbase as well. The good thing is that the Royals have been purging many of these devils this October. For many of us, our mantra became “we just want to get to the playoffs”, as we knew how uplifting it would be for the franchise, the city and the fans. I was lucky enough to be one of the 40,000+ this past weekend to witness the completion of the sweep in person and purge my own demons at ‘The K’.

kc3

A few days before this game I lucked myself into a playoff ticket thanks to a friend. There was no way I could turn down getting to see my favorite team for 30 years break down the walls and be part of the playoff atmosphere. Little did I know when I bought the ticket that the Royals would be in line for a sweep if the cards all fell right. As I made my way to the gates to enter Kauffman Stadium, it felt like any other time I have been there. There was a bit more energy in the crowd than normal, but for the most part it felt like it had most of this season at my home away from home. As I walked around, I noticed little differences. Postseason banners hung from the rafters and there seemed to be more urgency in getting Royals merchandise from the team store. I found my seat(upper deck, right behind home plate) with about 90 minutes before first pitch and got myself settled. From my vantage point I could see everything; I might have lucked into the best tickets for what was about to go down. Before too long pregame would start up, and that was when it really hit me; I was at a playoff a game, a Royals playoff game! I could lie here and say it didn’t affect me, but it did. During the introductions, watching the crowd go nuts for players like Terrance Gore made me just smile from ear to ear. Even while the announcer was trying to get everyone ready for the National Anthem, the crowd loudly(and I mean LOUDLY) started a ‘Let’s Go Royals’ chant, one so loud you couldn’t hear Mike McCartney. You could tell he was talking, but that was it. This rabid fanbase was ready and dying to see their boys in blue finish the sweep. As the flyover occurred at the end of the anthem, I teared up. For 29 years I just wanted my Royals to go out there and reach the playoffs. I was now not only at one of those games, but one with a bunch of crazy bastards who completely understood how I felt. It was hard not to just break down in happiness at what I was about to witness. I was about to fulfill a dream that I had started to believe would never happen.

Royals Divison Postseason 2014 vs Angels Game 3 KC

Once the game started the insanity didn’t stop. I have always said the loudest I have ever heard that stadium was during Robinson Cano’s weak effort at the Home Run Derby in 2012, but Sunday night it was louder. The crowd yelled, stomped and waved their blue and white towels(homer hanky?), cheering on their team and cheering on the fact that the Royals had made the playoffs. The crowd early on hung on every pitch; Mike Trout tried to upset the mood with a 1st inning home run off James Shields, but it only calmed us for a bit. The Royals would retaliate in the bottom of the inning, as team leader Alex Gordon continued his clutch ways with a bases clearing triple, putting the Royals up 3-1. Insanity ensued. At that moment any chance of me being even slightly sane went out the window. Complete strangers started high-fiving each other, as we were almost all of the same mind and soul. If we had to, we were going to will this Royals team to a victory. Luckily, no willing was needed as the Royals continued the onslaught, not bothering to let up on the Angel’s throat. Eric Hosmer would add a two run home run in the bottom of the 3rd and Mike Moustakas added a scorcher of his own the following inning. Not even an Albert Pujols solo job could deter things. By the 4th inning I was texting a friend, asking him if it was too soon to start counting outs. He said too soon; yep, we are a superstitious bunch. The roof about came off the place when Billy Butler stole a base; if there was ever a sign that the Royals were going to win, that was it. Billy Butler???

That’s what speed do! Between this and two amazing catches by Lorenzo Cain, it just seemed to spell doom for the Angels.

kc4

Numerous times during the game I would look around me, look to the left and then to the right. Happiness, all around me. So much suffering was being let go that night and words can’t even describe how glorious that was. More than anything it felt like a giant weight was being lifted off of the collective shoulders of a fanbase that honestly could have just walked away and chose some other team to cheer for. Instead, we all stayed and were being rewarded for our loyalty.

kc5

Before the top of the 9th, a video played on CrownVision. I wish I could remember it verbatim, but instead here was the synopsis; this is what we had waited for. It was almost time to celebrate the Royals advancing to the ALCS. Three outs later, everyone in the stadium lost their collective minds. I have never heard ‘The K’ that loud, and I seriously wonder if I ever will hear it louder than that. Strangers high fived, hugged and grown men openly wept. I have been a huge baseball fan for 30 years, and at that moment I had never been happier in my life. Sure, I remember 1985, but I was younger and thought that the playoffs would come again soon enough for Kansas City. This meant so much more to me, more than I can even try to describe here. We all yelled and cheered, hoping the moment would never leave. I know whenever I am old, and my mind starts to fade, there is a good chance I will remember this moment, as it will be hard to ever replace the emotion I was feeling at that time. To give you an idea of just how jubilant everyone was, as we piled out of the stadium, complete strangers started high-fiving everyone who walked by. There was no way I was not joining in, as I became part of the insanity. I would eventually walk out of there, and the rain would come. I was drenched and couldn’t care less. The Royals were going to the ALCS, and I got to be there to be a part of one of the greatest moments in Royals history.

Eric Hosmer

I’ve had a couple of days to reflect, and to be honest I can’t get the grin off of my face. I have felt over the years that I have been a very fortunate man to have gotten to experience some great baseball moments. Without a doubt in my mind, this was the best baseball experience of my life. It’s hard to really describe to people, especially those that aren’t Royals fans. This let out a lot of venom, a lot of pent up anger that I have held against this franchise for past mistakes. All I feel right now is love, to a team that I have loved since I started collected baseball cards and would try to get all the Royals player’s as soon as possible. The only thing that could have made this experience better would have been if my son, my grandma, my dad or girlfriend had been there(or all). In some ways though, it might have been good to let me have this all to myself. I have loved baseball for so long that I don’t remember not loving it; it has given me so much happiness over the years and I hope much more in the future. For one night 29 years of anger, sadness, stupidity, carelessness, and bad mojo just got swept away. Thank you, Kansas City. Damn that was awesome!

 

A Team Tailored for the Playoffs

kc1

As the Kansas City Royals inch closer and closer to their first postseason berth since  1985, it becomes harder and harder to not play out scenario’s in your head. What if they win a Wild Card spot? What will the starting rotation look like? Who do you leave off the playoff roster? These might all seem like minor details, but for us Royals fans it is foreign territory. Hey, we’ve spent close to 30 years just asking for a game that really matters; these questions seem to matter more to us than they should. With all that said there are a few things that not only make me feel confident that we could not only be witnessing a number of playoff games but that this team could be a great fit for what is headed their way.

kc2

Obviously the preference for most of us is for Kansas City to win the American League Central, as the Royals would avoid the one game playoff that is the wild card. Winning a wild card is still playoffs, but there is always the possibility that the Royals have an off night and that would leave them one and done. Also, unless the Royals finish above or tied with Oakland in the Wild Card race they will be playing that game on the road. The thought of only getting one playoff game and not getting October baseball at ‘The K’ saddens me in ways you don’t even know. Like watching the end of Toy Story 3. I’m not alone on that, right? Anyway, there has been lots of discussion on whether the Royals playing in one game would be satisfying enough, and I can easily see why one game would not be enough. Either way, playoffs are playoffs, whether you play 1 game or 21. Bottom line is that the Royals need to reach the Division Series for any of the following points to even matter.

kc3

There are normally three key things stressed for a team to go deep into the playoffs: pitching, defense and timely hitting. The good thing is the Royals are good for at least two of those, with the third coming and going. Let’s start with the pitching. This has been one of the bigger factors in the Royals success this year and without it we probably aren’t even talking playoffs right now. It will be interesting to see if the Royals will go with a 3 or a 4 man rotation to start out. I would imagine the top three goes James Shields, Danny Duffy, and Jeremy Guthrie. I would like to think Yordano Ventura would be the third rather than Guthrie, but my gut tells me they won’t want to push him real hard, as he has already pitched the most innings in one season of his career(179.0 as we speak). You also have to wonder where Jason Vargas is in this conversation, as he has had a really good season but in his last 7 starts he has a 5.89 ERA/1.66 WHIP and Kansas City has lost 6 of his those starts. Since I can’t see either Guthrie or Vargas being a part of the bullpen(unless they are a long reliever, and sweet baby Jesus, let’s hope we don’t need one of those) they will probably either start or not be on the playoff roster. This will lead to some interesting dilemmas for Royals management, as they will want to get the most out of their rotation without killing Ventura’s arm or using a starter who is regressing(I’m staring at you, Vargas!).

kc4

But it’s not just the starters that will guide this team in October. The Royals bullpen has been a major force over the last few years and this year has added an element of dominance to the late innings. With Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland you are seeing a back portion of the pen who will slow down the best of offenses. Three guys with upper 90’s heat, nasty off-speed pitches and the ability to make a Royals game be over if they are leading after 6 innings. Add in the likes of Jason Frasor, Brandon Finnegan(who was drafted by Kansas City this summer) and just for the hell of it Francisley Bueno and Louis Coleman and you have the making of a playoff caliber pen. It will be interesting to see if Aaron Crow makes this squad, as obviously manager Ned Yost still thinks fondly of him, despite his disappointing season where inherited runners abound and velocity decreases. Add in the possibility of Ventura being in the bullpen and you could make the case that Kansas City will make opposing teams want to strike early or pay for it when HDH enter the game.

Kansas City Royals v Cleveland Indians

Defense is also a major plus for Kansas City and something that will help them in their hunt for gold. This has been about a solid of a unit as the Royals have had in a very long time, although there have been a few hiccups these last few weeks. For the Royals to play deep into October they need the ‘D’ to step up and return to their earlier levels of excellence. It shouldn’t be hard to muster, but this team has also showed the penchant to let pressure affect their play on the field.

kc6

The timely hitting is the only thing that could be a worry. The Royals are hitting at a .270 with runners in scoring position, which is in the top 5 in baseball this season. It does drop to .214 with 2 outs in the inning, which lowers them to the middle of the pack in both leagues. They are also doing well when they get past the 7th inning, hitting at a .252 clip which is good enough for 6th in all of baseball. So this is a team that can hit and hit in the clutch if needed. But if you are a Royals fan you know how streaky they can be as well. One minute this team looks like an offensive juggernaut, the next you wonder if even Kent Murphy or Domingo Ayala(Google them; go ahead) could hit better than Kansas City’s hitters. They also aren’t a team that takes a lot of pitchers, so it is rare when you see them work a count and attempt to wear a pitcher down. Surprisingly they don’t strike out much either, although this means a lot of ground balls that don’t get past the infield. There is also a reliance on bunting when they start to struggle, which can be both good and bad. Letting a speedy player bunt early in the game for a hit? Fine by me, although I would prefer they hit. Sacrifice in the first 6 innings? Awful and something the Royals are notorious for doing. More than anything this team needs to hit in the clutch and attempt to be moderately consistent to reach the next level. I hope this can happen, but if there is anything I worry about it is this very issue that has hampering the team for the last couple seasons. Bottom line, this is a team of hackers who have both good and bad nights.

kc7

Oh, there is one more positive that will be amplified in October; speed. The Royals are almost a team that harkens back to the 80’s, one built on speed, defense and pitching. The Royals like to flaunt this speed whenever possible, especially with both Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore on the bench for late inning heroics. This is a team that needs to use that speed to their advantage when they get to the postseason, if for no reason than that it is a plus for the team. This is a team full of speedy guys(Dyson, Gore, Cain, Aoki) and guys who are good base runners(Gordon, Escobar). If the offense is struggling? Use your speed by stealing bases and utilize the hit and run. The Royals aren’t a team that can bunch up a few hits and then expect a big three run bomb, so causing some damage on the basepaths would seem to be a solid game plan. I’m not saying do this all the time, and obviously I think they need to be smart about when they do take advantage of the speed, but there are times that this team strands runners on base, runners that could be in motion. Making opposing pitchers and defenses feel uneasy should be a regular part of Kansas City’s offense this October and one that could gain them a slight advantage.

White Sox Royals Baseball

Look, there are areas of concern when it comes to this Royals team, like the much maligned offense, a non-threatening bench or Ned Yost’s tactical decisions. All could cost this team in the playoffs. In fact the ideal scenario for the Royals would be for them to get a lead by the 6th inning and then let Yost throw HDH out there for the last 3 innings. The less Yost has to manage, the better. But putting that aside, there are many teams in the American League who have already said they don’t want to play Kansas City in postseason play because of the way they are built. This is a Royals team that is used to playing in low scoring affairs and have shown a penchant to be a team that doesn’t give up late in the contest. So as much as this Royals team isn’t the team you or I would have built and despite logic telling us they shouldn’t have gotten this far with what they have, they are here. Watch out American League playoff teams; the Kansas City Royals are coming no matter how unorthodox or old school their game plan is.             

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑