And So Ends The 2014 Season

The Kansas City Royals came within two runs of being the World Champions just an hour ago. But they couldn’t solve Madison Bumgardner, which is nothing to be ashamed about. So the title goes to San Francisco.

There is no disappointment here though. To be disappointed, one would have to have an expectation. I didn’t expect the Royals to be in the World Series. To be honest, I didn’t expect them to be in the playoffs after September 14th when they had dropped three out of four to the last place Boston Red Sox. But then things began to happen and, as we all know, they put on a postseason show for the ages, marching undefeated through the cream of the American League to capture the pennant.

Did I want to them to win? Of course. But they played well and just came up short. It happens. There is no goat to beat, no big gaffe to curse, by manager, umpire or player. There were issues that will be discussed at the proper time–the lack of adjustment to Bumgardner, the overswinging, the slide into first. But tonight is not the time to pick at the bones because, like I said, there is no disappointment. Just appreciation for the ride. Thanks fellas. It’s been a helluva trip.

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The Royal Backs To The Wall

On the morning news today, a commercial ran for a local sporting goods store that declared that the Royals had won the World Series and that the store was THE place to buy your t-shirts and what not. We’ll just call that enthusiasm.

I’m enthusiastic too, even though KC has it’s back to the wall, trailing the Giants 3 games to 2. Why? Mostly because the Royals don’t have to face Madison Bumgardner any more. He’s been tremendous for San Fran. Plus, I haven’t really seen KC doing anything egregiously wrong. Sure Escobar whiffed on a couple of grounders last night and Dyson should have been more aggressive on those sinking liners but overall, the Boys in Blue are holding their own against the best team in the National League. They’re coming home and I see no reason the Royals can’t take the next two and be done with it.

Of course, I have a few suggestions for Ned Yost.  Well, two.

  • I think we need to revive our commitment to small ball. We should have done it last night. We couldn’t hit MadBum with a paddle. Why not try bunting for a hit? Get on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in.
  • I’ve said this before but it’s still true–somebody needs to tell Hosmer to quit swinging so damn hard. It gets the announcers all in a lather about what a “good cut” it was when Hos swings from the heels. Problem is, they’re dead wrong. He misses every time he swings like that. It’s an out of control action and his bat doesn’t get close to the baseball. He needs to learn to trust that a smooth swing and the velocity of the pitch have enough combined power to get the ball out of the park.

Basically, it seems to me that the Giants are just doing what KC did in their march through the pre-Fall Classic postseason. Bloop hits are falling in. Beautiful bunts are being laid down. Pitches that should be taken for balls are being whacked for hits. Stellar defensive plays are being made. I’m not saying they have been lucky really, any more than the Royals have been. Those kinds of things happen in baseball. And since they do, they can happen for Kansas City.

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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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