Just Who Is This Paulo Orlando?

I’m sure I’m not the only one asking this question and no, for those of you of a certain age group, he’s not Tony’s brother. (Which I think would have made him Dawn’s cousin, but I don’t know—that whole arrangement confused me.) Anyway, he filled in for Alex Gordon in left field today since Go-Go has not been on fire (1 for 13 so far this year), might still be having some issues with his wrist and the Angels had tough lefty C.J. Wilson on the mound. (Gordon, you might recall, had the extensor retinaculum of his right wrist (throwing hand) repaired on December 30, 2014. The extensor retinaculum? It’s the band of fibrous material on the back of the wrist that binds together the tendons leading to the fingers and thumb. But you already knew that.)

It’s the second time this year Kansas City has used Orlando instead of Gordon and while he hasn’t exactly been magic, he’s been more than adequate–3 for 8, 3 runs, one walk and one K.  The notable thing is that all three of his hits have been triples. The man has wheels.

So this led me to wonder where the heck he’s been? Of course, with Dyson backing up the tremendous KC outfield already, it’s not like another outfielder was really needed but it still made me wonder.

Turns out the Brazilian Orlando is from Sao Paulo and has been in professional baseball since 2006 when he was 20.  At that time, he was basking in the glare of the white hot spotlight of Kannapolis, NC, a city of about 45,000 that lies 21 miles northeast of Charlotte, give or take, and playing for the White Sox Class A affiliate Kannapolis Intimidators. He has spent the intervening years trudging his way through the minors, helped by his speed but hurt by his apparent propensity for swinging at just about anything that left a pitcher’s hand.  He became part of the Royals’ system in 2008.

And through all those years, never an at-bat in the Big Leagues until now, playing and starting for the first place, defending AL Champion Royals, displacing Jarrod Dyson. This is the head scratcher. KC signed Dyson to a one-year $1.225 M contract in the off season after he appeared in 106 games last year. In fact, Dyson has been the go-to fill-in OF for the last five years, has fantastic speed and a good OBP.  Why not use him? Maybe it’s because he has no power. But Orlando, despite being 6’2”, only has meh power. He’s speedy like Dyson but then, many outfielders are. So what led to Paulo filling in for Gordo instead of Dyson-o? My guess is that it was because he has only played left field whereas Dyson has only played center. They are different positions but I still thought the ball woulda shoulda gone to the guy who’s produced in the past. But then again, it’s early. Good time to grab a look-see at someone.

In any event, the Royals are undefeated, 6-0 with two sweeps under their belts and a series with the Twins upcoming. I’m glad Orlando has been given a chance after all his toil in the minors. I’m even more glad that he has done well.

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The New Guys In KC

So it’s Opening Day and high time to shake off the rust and begin the random commentary again.

The Royals, as you know, won the American League pennant last season.  (What a pleasure it is to write that sentence.) The question of course now becomes whether or not they can repeat. I think it’s going to be tough. Do-able but really, really tough. I’m not betting on it.  But honestly, I don’t like making predictions. All one can really do is ask two questions: “Who is gone?” And “Who are their replacements?”

The key departures were RF Nori Aoki, DH Billy Butler and SP James Shields.

Nori was my man.  I think we should have kept him.  He was cheap, did a decent job in the outfield, ran well and got on base. It’s the last bit that will be missed the most. The pastures at the K are too big to seriously believe that we can build a team around home runs.  We need guys who can drive the ball into the gap and run like deer. And while defense is nice, offense wins games.

To replace Aoki in RF, KC signed Alex Rios for one year at $11M (with a mutual option for 2016.) He’s much taller–6’5” to Aoki’s 5’9”. (It seems to me that “real baseball men” (and announcers) always, ALWAYS seem to equate height with potential, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone expound on the values of a player and include “He just LOOKS like a ballplayer.” Oy.) Anyway, Rios strikes out. A lot. And doesn’t walk. (A 24/94 BB/K ratio in ’14.) Which isn’t good but he has more power than Aoki did and about the same speed and durability.  Rios is 34 (Aoki is 33)  Nonetheless, if this was the only move made in the offseason, I’d conclude that KC would’ve been much, much better off keeping Aoki.  (And this is even before considering the fact that Rios has a bum thumb—if it doesn’t heal, the Rios deal will bark like a sick dog all year.)  Rios will cost $8 million more than Aoki in ’15 and  has a worse OBP (.311 in ’14, about .320 over last 3 years whereas Aoki had a .349 OBP in ’14, .353 over the last three years.)  Signing Rios is not a disaster (unless he can’t play) but it doesn’t look like he can replace what Nori brought to the team.

So we move on. KC also bid adieu to fan favorite DH Billy “Country Breakfast” Butler.  I was not a fan of Butler’s.  He could get on base, but his lack of foot speed made that something of a problem. He was so slow you didn’t really WANT him on base. Now, if you hit homers and don’t get on base, you still are worthwhile.  But Butler’s power numbers tanked in ’14 and, like I alluded to already, KC’s stadium dictates the type of player that would be the most valuable and Billy Butler was no longer it.  If he had dropped twenty pounds—well, no use crying over spilled BBQ sauce.

So who was signed to replace Butler?  Ulp.  Kendrys Morales.  Oh boy. Not good.  He strikes out more than Butler, walks less, is waaaaaaay less durable and has a much worse OBP.  And it looks like, if anything, he’s SLOWER than Billy. Criminy.  Butler is three years younger too. The durability is the key– since 2006, Morales has only played 150 games a season twice. Twice. Butler was in over 150 games a season for the last six years in a row. Morales’ fragility makes it really hard to guess what he might be like. He had a great year in 2009 and was pretty good in ’12 and ’13.  But the other years he played less than 100 games. Which is a terrible thing for a DH.  Now maybe if the Royals had got him on the cheap, this would have been palatable. But they didn’t. They’re going to pay him roughly the same amount that Oakland is going to pay Butler.

James Shields could not be replaced. He logged two Hall of Fame-calibre seasons (as measured by ERA+ at least) in his two years in KC and pitched lots of innings. Not inner-circle HOF, but still superb. I think they were smart to not re-sign him though—with his age and tremendous career workload, he’s bound to get hurt of falter sometime. I think it’ll be later this year.  The NL will be more physically taxing since he’s going to have to bat and run the bases. He gets to pitch against pitchers but still, I think letting him go was the cold, hard, right thing to do.

Unfortunately though, the Royals swallowed some crazy pills and decided that Edinson Volquez was the guy to plug into the starting rotation. As Bill James once wrote: Whaddyer nuts?  Volquez has been in the bigs for ten years and has had two, count ‘em, two good years—2008 and last year. 2008—a long, long time ago.  And the intervening years? He’s been bad. Not average but bad.  Really bad.  Hochevar bad. Wade-Davis-as-a-SP bad. He soaked up some innings but he stinked, stanked, stunk. I can only surmise that the Royals saw something because they threw $7.5 M at him for ’15, $9 M for ’16 and an option for ’17.  I suppose that is relatively cheap for a starter but he’s a righty to boot.  He hasn’t pitched in the AL since 2007 so maybe the league’s unfamiliarity with him will be a plus.  At least for the first time around the circuit. But I think this will be a nightmare. He has thrown 17.1 IP in spring training and has an ERA of, sit down please, 7.79.  Ouch.

So I think our starting rotation got quite a bit worse overall.  I like Duffy and Ventura a great deal but they can’t begin to replace Shields on the mound or in the clubhouse. Kris Medlen was, I think, a decent gamble but I was hoping that Brandon Finnegan would tear it up this spring and be another option but that didn’t happen and so he’s headed for the minors to work on things.  And KC is heading into the season with Edinson Volquez on the bump every five games.

The last factor pointing to the Royals not being as successful is the bullpen.  It was great last year. More than great. Damn near perfect. The law of averages says that can’t happen again.  For one thing, Hochevar’s back.  The team seems hell-bent on getting SOMETHING out of him for all the time and money they’ve poured on him over the years. It might be disruptive. Plus, history teaches us that relievers rarely turn in lots of great years in a row.  The important thing is for people to keep their expectations under control.  It’s still a really good pen, maybe best in show. But it’s going to let in some runs at bad times. But I’m not making predictions, remember?

So overall, I think both the pitching and the offense is going to be, if anything, worse than last year when, I feel obligated to point out, the Royals were a second place team. They got hot at precisely the right moment and, frankly had luck on their side.  But the changes made look like they weakened the team. Of course, if Moose turns it around and Hosmer stops swinging like a crazy person at least once an at bat, the Royals will be much better off. They might not get back to the playoffs since the division got tougher, but they will be good. (They also need to let Christian Colon play second and not make Salvy Perez play every game but I’ve already blathered on too long.)  But I am not about making predictions, just looking at the replacements. I’d grade them as a C, D and an F.

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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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