The Marlins Guy

You had to have seen him in Game One of the World Series. In the pricey seats right behind home plate? Wearing the bright orange Marlins jersey in the sea of Royal blue? Looking very much like a fish in the water? Oh yeah, THAT guy. The Marlins Guy.

The story around is that the Royals’ management was none too thrilled to have him sit where he sat, potentially introducing the logo of another franchise into every standard shot of an at-bat taken from the center field camera. So they offered him swag and a suite to lure him away. He didn’t bite. But he later talked to reporters about the bait and let the catfish out of the bag.

This story surprised me a little. Here in KC, we’re supposed to be all big toothy smiles, midwesterny and friendly, welcoming everyone. Even guys wearing the ugliest uniform ever invented. (Oh yes, and I include the mustard-and-brown schemes of San Diego from the early ’70s, the White Sox foray into short pants of 1976 and the ghastly orange, yellow and umber horizontal stripes of the Astros in the ’80s.  The teal and orange look is so ugly it hurts my feelings.)

Assuming the guy is telling the truth about the situation, management should have taken his presence as a compliment. Marlins Guy is reportedly a single, never married, work comp attorney from Florida who has no kids. He loves going to big games and drops considerable bucks to do so. His attendance, along with the 40,000 plus appropriately attired others, is just another indicator of how far the Royals have come.

So he should have been welcomed with open arms. Maybe even given a big slab of ribs and sauce. And perhaps a big blue bib or maybe even a poncho as a thoughtful courtesy. You know, just so he wouldn’t dribble on himself.

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Notes on Game One

Well, Royals fans, the bad news is the streak is over. The good news is that the team is still in the World Series!

Here are a few random thoughts about Game One:

- It was Madison Bumgarner. No shame in losing to a fantastic pitcher throwing a terrific game. The dude’s got a bigger wingspan than a condor and when he comes around sort of from the side by way of Albuquerque, I don’t know anyone who could hit it.

- That being said, we hit him pretty well in the first inning with the line out by Aoki, several rips (although foul) by Cain and that smack to center by Hosmer. And, thanks to Salvy’s long ball later in the game, KC did break his record-setting streak of postseason scoreless innings.

- Aoki had an adventurous night in right.  He played that crazy bounce back off the corner superbly, starting the relay to Infante that easily got Posey out at the plate. And he did what a could with that wicked spinning liner in the gap later in the game. He gave it the desperation leap that was needed since the game was already quite out of hand but just came up short. “A” for effort.

- Cain scared me to death taking that pitch for the team. It looked like it hit right on the top of his foot. There’s no meat there to absorb the blow so those babies hurt like a mo, uh, hurt like the dickens, as Mother used to say.

- Shields obviously didn’t have it but then he never seems to have it in the first inning so I wasn’t surprised or upset that Yost didn’t pull him. But Big Game didn’t seem to have his usual fire or at least the fire I would’ve expected from him in a World Series game. And I thought that when he threw from the stretch, he didn’t bend over as far as he usually does so I wonder if his kidney stones or whatever are still a lingering problem

- Moose should not have been given an error. That was a tough, tough play.

- The crowd really did their part, hanging with the Boys until the bitter end.  Of course, with the money they shelled out for tickets, I’m sure they wanted to get every penny’s worth. And we all remember the Wild Card game.

-  I thought Duffy did quite well being called upon to relieve when he’s a starter. His stats don’t look too good but I thought he did alright.

- Most importantly for Royals fans, it’s only one game and there are six more to play.  Go Royals!

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Cheers to the Royals of the Past

By now, you probably know the current crop of Kansas City Royals players pretty darn well. And you should. Unless you’ve been in a coma you know that they’ve brought the World Series back to our humble little city, which I heard described on the radio today as a “Midwestern hamlet.” Really? Oy.

But I don’t want to talk about Moose et al. No, I want to dedicate this post to the guys who toiled on the teams in the franchise’s Dark Ages (1990 – 2010). Why? Because those guys are important and relevant to our current excitement. They gave us a history. The time period might not be a proud history but the players did what they did for us to the best of their natural ability (well, except for Zack Greinke for that one season and Melky Cabrera and Miggy Tejada.) It might seem cruel to say but, really, if they had been better, we probably wouldn’t be having as much fun right now. But, seriously, these fellows hit home runs, held the opponents scoreless, stole bases and made great catches. They might not have done so enough to get the team to the World Series, but they made us love the Royals.

So here’s to you Jim Eisenreich, Mike MacFarlane, Kurt Stilwell and Kevin Seitzer. Take a bow Danny Tartabull, Bo Jackson, Gerald Perry and Terry Shumpert. Hats off to you, Bill Pecota (whom I always called Biff, because of Biff Pocoroba. I know, you don’t remember him either.) But you do remember Brian McRae, Kirk Gibson, Wally Joyner and Keith Miller, I’m sure of it.  And you probably will smile when you read David Howard, Gregg Jeffries, Kevin McReynolds and Jose Lind. They wore the uniform just like George Brett and Eric Hosmer. Then there’s Gary Gaetti, Greg Gagne, Mendy Lopez, Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon and Mike Sweeney, the lonely All Star.

Cheers to Kevin Appier, who deserves Hall of Fame consideration, Rey Sanchez, Gil Meche, Gary Gaetti, Jose Offerman, Michael Tucker, Joe Vitiello, Tim Belcher,  Jose Rosado, Jeff King and Bob Hamelin, the stylistic link between Steve Balboni and Billy Butler.

Salute to Hipolito Pichardo, Chris Haney, Rusty Meacham, Felix Jose, Mike Boddicker, Storm Davis,  Steve Farr, Jay Bell, David Cone, Tom Gordon and Jeff Montgomery.

And the list goes on. Keith Lockhart, Mike Magnante, Joe Randa, Phil Hiatt, Mark Teahen, Jon Nunnally, Jermaine Dye, Raul Ibanez, Glendon Rusch and Gil Meche. Oh and Pat Rapp, Hal Morris, Larry Sutton, Carlos Febles, Jeff Suppan, Mark Quinn, Dee Brown and Brent Mayne.

And Angel Berroa, Chad Durbin, Neifi Perez, Chuck Knoblauch, Aaron Guiel, Kila Ka’aihue, Paul Byrd, Jeremy Affeldt, Desi Relaford, Ken Harvey, Darrell May, Mitch Maier, Jeff Francoeur, Chris George, Runelvys Hernandez, Jose Lima, David DeJesus, Jimmy Gobble, (Oh yeah! Jimmy Gobble!), Mike MacDougal, Calvin Pickering, Jose Bautista, Terrence Long and Emil Brown.

And Mark Grudzielanek, John Buck, Ross Gload, Tony Pena Jr., Joakim Soria (whom I shall always respect for actively telling people to quit calling him the Mexicutioner because of the horrific drug gang violence then plaguing his native Mexico), Mike Aviles, Joey Gathright, Alberto Callaspo, Yuniesky Betancourt, Brayan Pena, Brian Bannister, Jason Kendall, Scott Posednick, Kyle Davies, Sean O’Sullivan, Jeff Francis and last but by no means least, Bruce Chen.

You and the many, many other players who were Boys in Blue did the only thing a fan asks for–play hard for our team. And for your efforts, I say thank you.

Now on to the Giants!

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Rethinking The Wildcard Format

I have never liked the wild card situation in major league baseball. To me, it smelled like a crass money grab by the league. And it demeaned the regular season, allowing less worthy teams a chance to climb into the World Series through the back door.

But now that the Royals have done just what I have long railed against, I have been thinking about the situation and found that if I changed the way I looked at the records, I might have been wrong.  Well, maybe not completely wrong, but at least wrong in thinking the Royals, just by their status as “wild card” team, might have been less than worthy.

First lets look at the standings at the end of the regular season. I’m ignoring the divisions here obviously.

W L
Angels 98 64 .605
Orioles 96 66 .593
Tigers 90 72 .556
Royals 89 73 .549
A’s 88 74 .543

The Angels had the best record. Two games better than the Orioles, eight better than the Tigers and nine ahead of the Royals. So at the end of the regular season, clearly the Angels were the best team. Neither the Orioles nor the Tigers, it would seem, had any business representing the American League in the World Series. The Royals? Please. Back in the day, no one outside of KC would have given them a thought after the regular season ended.

But here’s how I changed the way I look at the situation: I simply considered the post season as an extension of the regular season. You want the best team in the league to win the pennant, right? And the “post season” games help one determine that issue, right? So it makes sense to pay attention to the complete records of the teams.

Look at how the overall standings change when you add in how the teams did in the postseason:

W L
Angels 98 67 .594
Orioles 99 70 .586
Royals 97 73 .571
Tigers 90 75 .545
A’s 88 75 .540

Thanks to their historic broom-busting run in these last few magical, exhausting, triumphant days, the Royals have a much more legitimate claim to the pennant than I would have given them credit for using my old way of thinking. Although the Angels still have the best record, the Royals are much closer to the top.

Now obviously this doesn’t end the discussion about the legitimacy of the wild card format, but it does make me feel confident that the Royals have a legitimate claim to the title of “best team in the American League” and are therefore deserving of their trip to the World Series.

Postscript: And of course it doesn’t matter anyway because they swept the A’s, Angels and O’s. Boom. End of story.

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The Royals Win The Pennant!

The Royals Win The Pennant!

The Royals Win The Pennant!

The Royals Win The Pennant!

These are the sweetest words I’ve ever written about the Kansas City Royals. And it felt so good, I’ll do it again.

The Royals Win The Pennant!

 

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The Royal Dilemma

How do you deal with a hot team, a hot team with no star to focus on stopping, no big name, high cost player? So far, apparently, you don’t.

Witness the Royals of Kansas City, still undefeated in the 2014 postseason after Saturday’s victory in Baltimore. Have the Royals a star? Outside of Kansas City? Before the playoffs? No. Not even close. Well, maybe James Shields. And baseball heads would have heard of Alex Gordon if only to scoff at the idea that he was one of the best players in the AL as measured by WAR because, well, you know, an element of WAR compares you with the other players in the same position and left field is, well, you know, out there in left field. But other than that, how many bottles of Billy Butler BBQ sauce got sold in cities north of 100,000 population? Farther than 100 miles from KC?

Thus the dilemma for opposing teams and the happy dilemma for long suffering Royals fans. Who do they try to stop? And who gets cheered the most? The team seems to have a rotating hero thing going on. Whose turn is it to have the big hit? Hosmer? Moose? Esky? Zo Cain? My Man Aoki? Every player in the lineup is capable of doing damage with the lumber. Whose turn is it to do something spectacular in the field? Cain has been unbelievable in the post season. But then, so have others. Gordon, Infante, My Man Aoki… Whose turn is it to do something spectacular on the basepaths? Dyson? Gore? Billy Butler? I may have to break out the caps for that last one. BILLY BUTLER? Dang.

And then there is the rock which gives the offense the opportunity to dance–the pitching. A steady starting group and a shut down relief corps, especially Wade Davis. And the rock behind the pitching, catcher Salvy Perez.

Are the Royals unstoppable? No. Of course not. All teams lose games. But going forward, into the World Series, which is where I think the Royals are headed, their broad based attack will be very hard to stop.

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Professionalism In Announcing

A certain Major League Baseball team recently had one of their games broadcast on television. During the broadcast, a trivia question was asked of the audience. The question was along the lines of “Which major league shortstop…” and dealt with batting averages. There were four answers to choose from: Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughan, Luke Appling and Nomar Garciaparra.

The play-by-play announcer for this broadcast had never heard of Honus Wagner or Arky Vaughan. He might not have heard of Luke Appling either but I don’t know. The color commentator had never heard of Vaughan either and claimed to have heard of Wagner stating something about him being from “way back in the thirties.” After a few moments, the color man said that he had just found out that Wagner had played for the Dodgers.

Um.

Honus Wagner never played for the Dodgers. He was one of the five players elected to the Hall of Fame in the inaugural class of 1936, along with Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson. He and Ruth were tied for second in the voting, being selected on 95.1% of the ballots cast. (Cobb was first with 98.2%.) I don’t think I have ever seen any “best ever” list of shortstops that doesn’t have Wagner at #1. For that matter, I can’t recall a “best ever” list of position players that doesn’t have Wagner in the top ten or fifteen. He dominated the National League from 1900 through 1910 almost as much as Cobb did in the American League from 1907 through 1918 or Ruth from 1920 through 1931. Category after category after category, they were not only among the top five or ten players, but the number one player. Honus Wagner is baseball royalty, among the best of the best of the best.

Like Wagner, Arky Vaughan was the shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played in the ’30s and, while he didn’t get any love from the BBWAA during his time on the Hall of Fame ballot, he was elected to Cooperstown in 1985 by the Veterans Committee. Vaughan died young, drowning at the age of 40, and had statistics that only became widely respected in the 1980′s with the rise of sabermetrics and the realization that walks and on-base percentage were of tremendous value. He was in the top 10 of WAR for position players 11 times in the NL, six times as first or second. He had seven seasons in the top 10 of Adjusted OPS. He is 44th all-time in career OBP. Check his record out at www.baseball-reference.com for more.

To me, for the professional announcers to not have heard of Honus Wagner is beyond unbelievable. It is more understandable, but still surprising, for them to not have heard of Vaughan.  But the issue is that they compounded their ignorance of Joseph Floyd Vaughan and his tremendous career by making fun of him. Repeatedly. In the “who the heck has ever heard of THAT guy?” vein. Primarily by the play-by-play man. I have never heard anything like it. The color commentator is a former major leaguer. The play-by-play man played very briefly in the very, very low minors but is the son of a man who played in the big leagues for eight years then managed for another six. He’s been around major league baseball for a long time. So one would think that one of them would know about these two tremendous players. Or that there would be someone associated with the broadcast that would perhaps quietly mention via headphones that they needed to clam up. But it didn’t happen.

For these two to act as they did, throwing gasoline on the bonfire of their ignorance each time they made some chuckling reference to Arky Vaughan, was tremendously annoying and unprofessional. And so I used the ultimate weapon at my disposal. I turned them off.

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The Royal Line Up

Royals’ fans are, by now, fully aware that scoring runs is a major problem with the team. I’m not saying that I am disappointed or even particularly unhappy in what they have accomplished so far this season–heck, if anything, it is amazing that they are in the middle of the pack in the AL Central given their relative inability to dent the plate. But as I followed last night’s game against Seattle, I began to wonder if perhaps a little lineup juggle would help.

Last night, the batting order was this:

Aoki
Hosmer
Butler
Perez
Gordon
Valencia
Cain
Moustakas
Escobar

It produced four hits (three by the 1 and 2 slots) and no runs. Now, they were facing Hisashi Iwakuma who is a heckuva pitcher. But bunching Butler, Perez and Gordon in the heart of the order seems to be a bad idea no matter who is on the bump.  Butler is having a terrible time in general, can’t run and is only having success grounding into double plays. Perez has tailed off since his hot start and Ned Yost seems intent on driving him into the ground. The constant blather and hype about Gordon’s defense overshadows his awful plate discipline and subsequent inability to get on base.

So my suggestion is to try the following order:

Aoki
Moustakas
Hosmer
Infante (if available)
Escobar
Gordon
Cain
Butler
Perez

Right now, Moose is floundering. Everybody knows that. If he’s moved up to the #2 slot with Hosmer behind him and Nori dancing on the paths, pitchers should be forced to feed him fastballs instead of off-speed stuff and perhaps his hits will start coming. Infante is a good on base guy and I like him at #2 but I think dropping him to #4 will give him more opportunities to drive in runs. If he isn’t available, I’d put Gordon at #4 and stick Valencia somewhere low in the order.

 

 

 

 

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Oh My Omar!

Kansas City Royals’ second baseman Omar Infante put on a clinic in offensive versatility in today’s game against the Baltimore Orioles.

Infante’s first contribution came in the first inning and was helped a great deal by the Baltimorians. Nori Aoki had led off the game and hit a long fly to center but Adam Jones put in a lackadaisical effort and had the ball clank off his Gold Glove. Aoki, who had been off and running, charged all the way to third. Infante then hit a grounder to J.J. Hardy at short and Aoki made a break for the plate. Inexplicably, Hardy threw to first. Get the sure out and everything, but this was the first inning, your team is facing James Shields and it looked like Hardy could’ve had Aoki out by twenty feet. Still, Infante forced the issue and got the run home so it was a good play for Royals’ fans.

I love Aoki’s hustle by the way. I’ve already seen the Royals blow two plays when a batter fails to run hard to first—Alcides Escobar did it in one of the first games of the season and Billy Butler did it in the tenth inning last night when the second basemen who fielded his routine grounder threw poorly to first. Billy may have been out anyway but we’ll never know. Oh, and a batter later, Salvy Perez cracked a double that even Butler might have been able to chug home on. Perhaps he was exhausted from sitting on the bench all game. Rrrrr.

Back to Infante. In the third, he drove in Jarrod Dyson in a beautiful small ball inning. Dyson had walked, stole second and moved to third when Aoki spanked a grounder to the pitcher. Infante then lifted a fly ball to right and Dyson trotted home, putting KC up 2-0.

Showing that he could hold his own in a bash fest as well as a “manufactured-runs” environment, Infante smashed a double to left in the fifth that scored two and then, in the seventh, blasted a two-run homer to left, putting Kansas City up 8-3. The Royals eventually won 9-3.

The happy totals for Omar were two hits in three official at-bats, a walk, six runs batted in and a run scored. He now leads the club in RBIs, something that one hasn’t been able to say about a KC second baseman in a long, long time.

But as great as this game was statistically, the aspect that impresses me the most is how Infante did it a mere 20 days after getting hit in the face by an 89-mph pitch from Tampa’s Heath Bell. Six stitches were needed to close the wound created by that pitch but no bones were broken and he did not suffer a concussion. Still, it was a harrowing thing to watch and had to be only more so to experience. After such an episode, one might expect a player to be a little flinchy in the batter’s box for a while. I certainly expected Infante to take quite some time to get comfortable again. But he hasn’t.

Oh and let’s not forget that Infante also has a bone spur in his elbow and some shoulder problems.  And since getting hit, he’s worn a modified helmet with an elongated ear flap–good for protecting his jaw, probably not so good for seeing pitches.

A lot of guys have bone spurs and shoulder issues so perhaps it is not that big a deal for Infante to be playing well with those issues rattling around. And perhaps the modified helmet is forcing him to concentrate more. But whatever it is, it is impressive. And the Royals need him to be impressive to reach their goal of making their first postseason appearance since 1985.

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Viva Los Vargas!

Did you see this coming? Did anyone? When the Royals signed Jason Vargas to a four-year, $32 M contract last fall, I groaned. Who? For how much? For how long? Oh geez.

About a month ago, I started a post about the signing of both Vargas and Omar Infante but never finished it. The gist was that these were horrible signings as neither player seemed to be anything special. If anything, they were below average. Vargas had turned in three decent seasons in Seattle but then moved to the Angels in 2013 and saw a major decline in innings pitched. (He’d averaged around 203 IP per year with the Mariners with ERA+’s of  104, 88 and 99. Nothing to write home to Mother about but completely acceptable. In LA, 150 IP, ERA+ of 94. Again, not bad really, just what looked like the start of a decline phase in an undistinguished career, which was somewhat understandable since he turned 30 that year.) Infante seemed to have a similar history and trajectory.

I likened Vargas and Infante to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You might want steak, but you can get by on PB&J’s. But no rational person buys four years worth of the stuff and spends so much that they are almost the most expensive thing in your pantry.  To me, the signings looked like just another example of the team-building approach the Royals seem to take—sign guys who are not good enough to make it anywhere else just so there are some upright bodies on the field at Kauffman Stadium.

But so far, I’ve been about as wrong as I could be, especially about Vargas. In his four starts, he’s thrown 29 innings and only allowed four earned runs. Pow. He’s gone at least seven innings in each start. Yes, he’s faced the Twins twice, but he’s also faced the perennial stalwart Tigers and Rays.  And the Twins aren’t a bad team this year.  The thing that strikes me the most is how calm he is on the mound. It almost looks like he couldn’t care less.  But from what I’ve read and heard, it’s just his personality and his practiced approach. Pitchers are going to have good days and bad, and so it is probably best not to throw a tantrum whenever the pendulum swings over to the bad place.

Now, of course, it is waaaaaaaaaaaay too early to call the signing of Jason Vargas a success. But so far, he’s been steak and champagne on a silver platter.

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