Walk-Off Wonders: Royals Split Series With Twins

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It’s amazing what a walk-off can do for a team’s outlook. The Royals were coming off of being swept by the Houston Astros earlier in the week before the Minnesota Twins came to town on Thursday to kick off a 4 game series and a long homestand for our boys in blue. The Royals offense has been scuffling as of late and the starting pitching has been its normal up and down self. Coming into this series, the Royals were 4.5 games ahead of Minnesota in the American League Central and the hope was for Kansas City to win the series and extend their lead in the division. Instead…well, instead we are where we were earlier in the week. With all that said, there is a some good feelings by the end of the series. Let’s dive in!

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Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain

A few seasons ago(hell, even just early on last year) there was some concern Lorenzo Cain might never be able to go a complete season without getting hit with a major injury. Last season he avoided anything major and played in 3/4 of the Royals games, putting up solid numbers and playing his normal jaw-dropping defense. Going into this season I was really intrigued to see if Lorenzo would grow from his sparkling play in the playoffs last October. So far to date Cain has done that and he once again put together another stellar series against the Twins. Cain was 6 for 14 in this series with 3 walks, 3 RBI’s, and a BAbip of .545:

The most important though of Cain’s stats was the 3 runs scored, 2 of which were game winning runs scored off of walk-offs. Cain will be a starter for the American League at the All-Star game in a week(more on that in just a bit) and you won’t convince me he doesn’t deserve that this year. His play in this series showed not only how important he is to the Royals lineup, but also how when he is playing well and getting on base, the Royals seem to find a way to score him when it counts the most. There is a number of issues we could nitpick about the Royals offense(and most of it would probably be deserved) but Lorenzo Cain is not one of them. Call it what you want, but it’s easy to see that Lorenzo Cain is having an All-Star season.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Danny Duffy

On Sunday, Danny Duffy had his best start since coming off the disabled list a few weeks ago. Duffy went 6.1 innings, giving up 5 hits and 2 runs while walking 3 and striking out 1. Duffy had a bit of an issue with his control, especially with his slider, but he was able to pitch into the 7th inning and was able to get out of a couple tough situations. In fact, Duffy can probably thank Torii Hunter for part of that, as Hunter hit into 2 double plays to help squelch a couple of Minnesota rallies. That fruit basket will be on its way soon, Torii. Duffy’s start gives the Royals some hope that he can be a quality starter for the rest of the season, allowing the Royals to focus on second base and right field before the trade deadline at the end of the month. It’s just one start, but it at least gives the team hope that the rotation might be coming back to full strength soon, as you can add Jason Vargas, Yordano Ventura and Kris Medlen to the list of starters coming back soon, as the last two are currently on rehab assignments in the minors. A Royals rotation of Edinson Volquez, Duffy, Ventura and Medlen would be an upgrade over the Blanton’s and Guthrie’s of the world. If that happens, it would make for a solid rotation if the Royals reach October and it all starts with the return of Danny Duffy.

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Hey Now, They are All-Stars

You heard all the uproar, all the whining and all the complaining that us Royals fans were making a mockery of the voting system for the All-Star Game. All of that time spent by folks who want to believe this exhibition game still matters. Hey, it’s a fun game that I look forward to every year, but I don’t take it very serious. With all that being said, the baseball Gods must have fixed the monstrosity that us fans have manipulated and after the possibility of up to eight Royals starting in the mid-summer classic, it turns out only four will actually start this all important exhibition:

Only four? I know, I know. But still, that is pretty impressive:

Yep, in fact four is the number of Royals that have started in the All-Star Game over the last 25 years! The funny about this whole All-Star hoopla is that the four Royals starters(Perez, Gordon, Escobar and Cain) are all legitimate candidates to start. The best part of this whole thing is that the Royals have four worthy candidates and will be representing Kansas City in Cincinnati next week. Let’s just say Kansas City has earned this honor:

That is where the Royals have been. This is where they are now.

 

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It was a long series for the Royals and Twins, so let’s look at some news and notes from the last four days:

  • Just looking at his base numbers and you would think Alex Gordon had a less than stellar weekend. But if you look deeper, and scratch away the 2 hits in 12 at bats, you see 4 walks(1 intentional) and an OPS of .750. Need more? How about two great catches on Sunday afternoon, robbing Trevor Plouffe both times of extra bases:

In my household, Alex Gordon is the standard-bearer on this Royals team. This weekend showed why he is looked at in that manner.

  • It appears as if Eric Hosmer is once again in his yearly summer swoon. Over the last month Hosmer is hitting .258/.307/.312. Now, we have all seen Hosmer hit worse(much, much worse) but it also obvious that once again he is trying to pull everything and has had poor pitch selection in his at bats. The poor pitch selection has led to his power numbers taking a dip; just look at that .312 slugging percentage over the last month. Yikes. He has hit only 3 extra base hits in that span, and luckily for Kansas City one of those was yesterday’s walk-off double to score Lorenzo Cain:

His timing was great there, but hopefully Hosmer picks up the pace and compile a few more extra base hits and help produce some more runs. Just know that Neddy won’t budge him from that 4th spot in the order.

  • You have to feel for infielder Dusty Coleman, who was called up during this series, as Christian Colon was sent down to Omaha to get some more at bats(trade bait?). On Friday night a ball is hit to right field. Coleman, who came in as a pinch runner, was at third base getting ready to tag up. Once the ball was caught by Aaron Hicks in right field, Coleman took off. But halfway down the line he stopped, trying then to return to third base. He was easily tagged out and at the time it seemed like a huge opportunity for the Royals, squashed by Coleman’s indecisiveness. To say the fanbase was angry would be an understatement. Luckily, things were corrected in the bottom of the 10th:
  • Before this series, Jarrod Dyson was hitting .368 over his previous 7 games and had been a spark on both the basepaths and on defense. He went 0-fer in this series, but delivered the chopper on Friday night to score Lorenzo Cain. Expect to see more of Dyson in the future as long as Alex Rios is struggling and Cain is fighting a hamstring issue.
  • Speaking of Friday, Jeremy Guthrie pitched a hell of a game that night, tied for his best game score of the season. Guthrie went 7.1 innings, giving up 5 hits and 2 runs while walking 1 and striking out 4. Guthrie has been like a roller coaster for much of this season but it goes to show when he is locating his pitches good and working the corners he can be a plus for the rotation.
  • On the other hand, Joe Blanton probably worked himself out of the rotation on Saturday. Somehow he did go 5 innings in the loss, giving up 9 hits and 4 runs while striking out 4. Blanton’s stuff has been good on his return to the big leagues, but when he doesn’t locate well he gets hammered. He left a couple of balls over the plate in this game which ended up costing him.
Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon makes a diving catch for the out against Minnesota Twins' Trevor Plouffe during the fourth inning of a baseball game Sunday, July 5, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Tweets of Royalty

 

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So it wasn’t the series win that most of us wanted, but it did keep the Royals on pace and didn’t let the Twins gain any ground. The Royals really need to get the offense going and the Rays(the Royals next opponent) lead the American League in Left on Base %(77.1). There are only seven games remaining before the All-Star break and it would be great for Kansas City to stretch their lead in the American League Central over 5 games. The Rays will be tough, but they are also 2-8 in their last 10 games. Let’s hope the Royals can pounce on that and get the offense going again. This series could also see the return of Yordano Ventura to the team, which would be a much-needed shot in the arm. Anything less than a series win against Tampa Bay should be taken as a disappointment. Also, the All-Star reserves will be announced later on Monday, which should be interesting to see just how many Royals make the team. 5? 6? 7? My guess is Wade Davis and Mike Moustakas get added to the team, rolling their team count to 6. It should be a fun week and hopefully a winning one at that.

 

 

 

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Just Another Boring Walk-Off Grand Slam

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So I’ve been sitting around for the last few hours, pondering what I witnessed today.  I journeyed to my home away from home, The K, to take in the final home game of the 2013 season for the Kansas City Royals.  I spent a lot of the season bitching and complaining about Royals management, but come September, I(like most Royals fans) got swept up in the realization that they were actually playoff contenders. I always try to go to the final home game of the season, since I know it will be months before I get to go to another baseball game. Little did I know what I was walking into today…

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As we sat down to watch the game, nothing really seemed out of the ordinary. In fact, it seemed like every other game in this series between the Royals and their opponents, the Texas Rangers. Great pitching from both sides, great defense, and little offense. My son wanted to see Royals catcher Salvador Perez throw someone out; he threw out two guys. We got to see Justin Maxwell(who will be brought up again) make a sprawled out dive in right field early in the game. Alex Gordon showed(once again) why anyone who runs on his arm is stupid, catching Alex Rios for an easy out at third to kill a Texas rally. When it went into extra innings scoreless, it was a foregone conclusion that we could be there awhile.

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Top of the tenth rolled around, and Tim Collins held the Rangers in check. To the bottom of the tenth we went, and the Royals, who to that point had only mustered together two total hits on the day, were looking to start a rally. Eric Hosmer led off the inning and slapped the ball to left field, sliding into the bag at second for a double. With Billy Butler coming up next, the Rangers brought in reliever and former Kansas City All-Star closer Joakim Soria, who would proceed to intentionally walk Butler. This led to a chorus of boos, as most of us wanted to see what Billy could do against his former teammate. Chris Getz would run for Butler, in a move that puzzled me, both because Butler wouldn’t have been the go ahead run(thus taking out one of your key hitters for a runner who might never matter), and because if you wanted anyone to pinch run, Jarrod Dyson should always be at the top of your list. Salvador Perez would hit a liner to shortstop, tying up Elvis Andrus who couldn’t get Getz out at second(who I will give credit to here; knowing that the first baseman was not holding him at first, Getz took a more sizeable lead than he normally would. If not for that lead, Andrus would have gotten him out). The bases were now loaded with no outs for Mike Moustakas. Moose would hit a weak pop up to third, making one out. George Kottaras(or he we haven’t seen in about two weeks) would come up, pinch hitting for Lorenzo Cain. Kottaras would hit a ball to second, with Ian Kinsler getting the force out at home. The bases remain loaded for Maxwell with two outs, who had an interesting day to that point. I mentioned the great catch, but he also had struck out earlier in the game, throwing his helmet and bat down in disgust. The umpire had pointed it out and made a gesture that he wasn’t pleased with Maxwell’s actions. One wonders if lady luck had been shining on us since he hadn’t been ejected from the game. Maxwell would work the count full, before….before…well, just watch this:

 

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Just WOW! Not just a walk-off, folks. A WALK-OFF GRAND SLAM!  This Royals team has found time and time again new ways to win and help this team stay in contention. Kansas City showed once again they aren’t dead yet, even if they are 3.5 games out of the wild card with only seven games remaining. That blast to left, off of Soria of all people, will be ingrained in my brain for years to come. You couldn’t have asked for a more dramatic win.

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So what did I take away from one of the most exciting Royals games I have ever seen? For one, this is a TEAM.  For them to get to this point, the Royals can’t just rely on one player to lift them up, they need all 25 guys. That is a sign of a true winner. Go ahead, check playoff pasts. The teams that play like a team tend to go further into October. I’m not saying destiny is on Kansas City’s side(I haven’t completely lost my mind!), but I think there is something to say for how this team wins in spit of their flaws. I also saw a group of guys that really enjoy not only themselves, but each other. We hope in a few years these guys will want to stay and won’t wander off through free agency. The argument can be made that they like each other and who doesn’t want to play a kids game with your best friends? But more than anything else, I saw a team who wants to win. I saw a fanbase that wants to win. Both played their parts yesterday and made for one of the most exciting times I’ve ever had at the ballpark. So exciting that you can’t tell who is more excited, myself or my son:

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Seven games are left in the regular season. Logic tells me that will be it, but the little boy in me wants a playoff game. In a week, we’ll know if destiny is on the 2013 Kansas City Royals side.

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