Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts published by Craig Brown

Some things are just too bizarre to digest with immediacy. You need a moment – or several – to process what happened. And sometimes, even a little distance doesn’t help place things in the proper perspective.

Such was the aftermath of Thursday’s Royals win.

A brief recap:

- Danny Duffy and Corey Kluber retired the first 24 batters of the game. The first base runner was found in the fifth inning. The first four innings were played in about 30 minutes. ( That may not be a accurate reflection of time.)

- Omar Infante collected the Royals first hit in the seventh. He was promptly erased on a strikeout-caught stealing double play.

- Mike Moustakas circled the bases on one of the most bizarre plays I have ever seen. A classic Moustakas at bat where he lofts one to the left side. Except it was a pop up that Ryan Raburn couldn’t handle and the throw to second… Oh my god, that throw. Watching that was so fun, if only because that is about as Royal of a play you can get. It was as if Ken Harvey was in left.

- The Wade Davis Experience in the eighth. Close call.

- Greg Holland blows his second save of the year. At the time, you were probably cursing Holland. Upon reflection, you realize he gave you a gift.

- Eric Hosmer entered the game as a defensive replacement in the ninth. His wrist prevents him from swinging the bat, so the defensive replacement was lifted for Raul Ibanez when his turn in the order came around in the 11th. Ibanez roped a double against the shift.

- Ned Yost managed his bullpen well.

- Ibanez started a 3-6 double play in the 12th.

- Aaron Crow struck out the side in the 14th.

- The Royals got two hits in one inning only once all night. Lorenzo Cain and Nori Aoki in the 14th to mercifully end a night of extreme weird baseball.

And now after losing their first four games post Break, the Royals have rolled off three wins in a row. I’m exhausted. Be Royal, indeed.

Clark has been chronicling what I like to call “Ned Quotes,” and I don’t mean to step on his toes, but…

“One big hit in a crucial situation,” Yost said. “It always seems to take the pressure off everything when you’re struggling.”

That’s it. The magic elixir. One Big Hit. (All caps on purpose as it sounds like the name of a pop band.)

Apparently, that One Big Hit is pretty damn elusive. Have you seen one lately? Maybe the Sal Perez home run in Tampa earlier this month. That felt pretty Big. Huge, even. And since then the Royals have won exactly one of their last eight games. Don’t you see? One Big Hit changes everything.

Here we are again. Familiar territory. That time of the year when the Royals season starts spinning faster as it circles the drain. This year has been different from past seasons as they were able to stave off the pits at least until the All-Star Break. As fans, we are all too familiar with crappy Aprils and horrible Mays torpedoing any chances. This year, the Royals actually made a cameo appearance in first in June. It was kind of the Tigers to let us have our moment in the sun.

Since then, the Royals have gone 9-17. Impressive.

Stretches like that lead columnists to question the Royals collective intestinal fortitude when it comes to playing under pressure:

Hope is not a plan. Belief is not a right. Patience went out years ago. You want to talk about the problems with the Royals? That’s a good place to start.

So is this:

They regularly shrink as the moment grows.

It’s a good hypothesis, but I don’t buy it. The Royals don’t “shrink” when they manage to raise expectations. The simple truth is they just aren’t very good. That’s what mediocre teams do. They play well for a stretch, get your attention to where you begin to think, “Hey, maybe this team is good enough to do something positive.” Then, they revert back to their true talent level. That’s how it’s been with the Royals for the last several years. This year, they played well for a stretch, got into first and then reverted to form.

Ahead of the All-Star Break, I wrote that the final 13 games of July were crucial. The Royals are 0-4 so far. And looking lifeless. It’s clear it’s time to sell. It’s also obvious it’s time to clear house.

How about this?

BP power

That’s not the first time Yost has touted his club’s BP power. That doesn’t make it any less hilarious.

That a major league manager would talk up his team’s batting practice power is equal parts insane and sad. While Yost was outsmarting himself out of a job in the midst of a pennant race in Milwaukee, it appears he’s doing the same thing here. Expectations can be a bitch. Especially if you’re not equipped to handle them. Yost has to know time is running out. Not on the season, but on his employment in Kansas City. This is how it goes.

This regime is moving closer toward irrelevance every day. I’m doubtful there will be any movement this season. (Although I desperately hope I’m wrong.) Besides, it’s too late to make a difference anyway. But there’s always next year.

We don’t hear much from Royals owner David Glass. That’s probably a good thing, given his penchant for infuriating an already frustrated fan base. He usually grants a couple of interviews a year. One early in the spring, one at the end of a usually disappointing season and he will generally talk around the All-Star Break.

Royals beat writer Any McCullough sat down with Glass this week in Minneapolis. The Star published the entire Q&A online, which is a really good thing. As per my usual, I’ll grab a couple of snippets and we can discuss.

“I thought we’d be more consistent. At times, we’ve played extremely well. At times, we’ve played not so well. It’s the inconsistency that has surprised me. But we’re in a good position, I think, to make a run for the playoffs. If we have a good second half, there’s no reason why we can’t be in the playoffs.”

That pretty much sums up the season to this point. For me, the key to this comment is packed in the middle. “But we’re in a good position, I think, to make a run for the playoffs.” That may be stating the obvious as the team is 2.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot, but it’s nice the owner sees his team in position. (You know how I feel.) I know we treat everything Glass says with a healthy does of skepticism, but this is an expectation I don’t think we’ve heard from ownership at this point in the season. Yes, he’s allowed GMs to make some late season acquisitions in the past when the team was on the fringe of contention, but I don’t think he’s ever come out past the midway point of the season and proclaimed that they are in a good position to make a run for the playoffs. That’s usual the stuff we hear in March, when everyone is saying they have a shot at contention.
“I think they’ve (Dayton Moore and Ned Yost) both done a good job. Dayton is one of the best baseball people I know, and I’ve been around a lot of them for the last 60 years. And I think Ned is a very good manager. I think that he continues to grow as a manager. He’s got the balance that you need, as far as being a players’ manager, and also holding them accountable. I think that he does that.”

Is this a vote of confidence? I don’t think so, for the simple fact the Royals aren’t circling the drain at this point. In other words, Glass doesn’t need to give his management team a vote of confidence. Although we can disagree on this point.
“The one thing I’ve learned about Ned and Dayton both is they are as obsessed with winning as I am. All three of us have a real problem when we lose.”

How do you react when you lose?

“Not very good. You wouldn’t want to be around me.”

There are a couple of themes that run through this interview. One is “obsessed with winning.” It appears a couple of times in the transcript.

As I mentioned at the open of this post, Glass doesn’t speak much. My theory why this is, is because he’s extremely unpolished and has a penchant of saying some really crazy stuff that only serves to fan the flames of the fan base’s perception of negativity toward him. Except I didn’t read anything crazy in this transcript. He seemed almost… Coached. Is it possible, that after nearly 20 years at the helm in various capacities of this franchise that he’s finally had some media coaching.

I don’t just want to win, I’m OBSESSED with WINNING, dammit!

The second response above just kind of cracks me up. I don’t buy it.

“I think Dayton’s done a good job of putting this team together… And he and Dan (Glass) work closely together. Both of them believe that we’ve got a good enough team to win the division. In my mind, watching the team and interfacing with them, I think we’re good enough to make the playoffs. We just need to crank it up and make it happen.”

I pulled this quote because I think it’s another example of where Glass has received some PR coaching. Moore and Dan Glass work closely together? I’ve never been impressed with Dan Glass. Ever. However, he is the next in the ownership line. Dad is greasing the skids for his son. If there’s success, Dan Glass will damn sure get a portion of the spotlight. Second, Glass mentions he not only watches the team, he “interfaces” with them. This is always a criticism about Glass and his ownership. Many see him as an absentee owner, content to watch the team from afar, if at all. I don’t know that I’ve ever bought into that narrative. I also don’t know that it matters. Do we really want the owner heavily involved? Hire your baseball people and stay the hell out of the way. It seems Glass has been doing that since Moore was hired. But he’s not detached.

“Our objective has always been to try to break even. I guess you’ll have a year where you might make a little. But you might have years where you lose money. Over a period of time, we’d like to come close to breaking even, at least. And you try to fit it into that framework. But if you have an opportunity to win, you consider doing almost anything.”

More coaching.

I’ve been on Glass for years now about what exactly represents the break even point. Last November, he was deservedly ripped when he talked team financials.

But this is the new David Glass: Hey, we make money some years, we lose money some others. He learned to avoid specifics. Good student.

What would it mean to you for this team to reach the playoffs?

“It would mean that Dan and I picked the right people to do the job. Kansas City deserves a winner. It’s a great baseball town. The people in Major League Baseball still talk to me about the All-Star Game here, and how the cooperation they got from the Royals, the way the fans supported it, the way the city supported it, is unique. Better than what they were accustomed to experiencing.

“They rave about Kansas City and the fans and the city and the organization. It’s a great baseball town. And these fans deserve in the playoffs. They deserve to be able to support a winner. And if you go to The K, and we’re playing, and we’re playing well, and it’s an exciting game, and you’ve got a big crowd, it is really fun to watch how much they get into the game. It’s not like they’re just kind of casual fans. They get excited about it.

“They deserve it. All of us deserve it. I’m a fan, too.”

For some reason the mainstream media kind of likes to have a go at the fans from time to time. We’ve been portrayed as impatient, irrational and stubborn. My counter is to root for a team that hasn’t played a meaningful game in 29 years. Glass may be pandering to the fans here, but let’s be honest, that’s something he kind of needs to do. I don’t mean pandering in the pejorative. What Glass said is not heavy-handed. He’s paying tribute to us in this quote. We’re knowledgeable and passionate. We “deserve” it.

I can’t disagree with that.

Finally, at the end of the quote above, Glass mentions that he’s a “fan” as well. Four times in that transcript, Glass mentions he’s a fan. I’m telling you, the investment in his media coaching is paying dividends.

Overall, I enjoyed the interview. Which is a strange thing to write when it comes to Glass. He comes across as tuned into the situation with his team and is an owner who is largely hands-off in letting his baseball people run the show. I won’t go so far as to call him a “model” owner. I will give him credit for learning on the job. And that’s something.

It’s the All-Star Break. We’re about 16 days from the non-waiver trade deadline. The Royals stand 6.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central. They are two games above .500. They are 2.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. They own the sixth best record in the AL.

They are in the thick of the Wild Card race.

When Major League Baseball expanded the playoffs to include an additional Wild Card entry, the thought was adding another spot would add more competition. Leagues always love more competition. (They also love the money that goes along with ginning up more competition in the form of expanded playoffs, but that’s another story.) With one more Wild Card team, that meant a total of five teams would play in the post season. More postseason teams, more postseason money. Win-win. An October bonanza.

Except that it’s my belief the second Wild Card spot has been incredibly damaging to small market teams like the Royals.

A few years into this new playoff scheme, teams haven’t figured how to manage the second Wild Card. It inevitably creates an illusion of “being in the thick” of the race. It’s rare when five teams create separation between themselves and the rest of the league. What it does is creates a logjam of teams, jockeying for a single position, inert at the trading deadline, and mortgaging the future for a present where the odds are stacked against them.

Just look at this year’s American League standings

There are three teams that are clearly the cream of the crop. The A’s have the league’s best record and the best run differential. The Angels are the hottest team in the league at the Break and are just a game and a half off the pace in the West. And the third team is the Detroit Tigers, who have, after a rocky June, have gotten back on track and are now 15 games better than .500.

Three teams representing two divisions. Under the old Wild Card rules, the Angels would be running away from the rest of the pack. (The Wild Card renders what would be some wonderful division battles irrelevant, but again, that’s another story.)

Old WC Standings

Under the old Wild Card rules, this race is just about over. Their division rival Mariners are hanging around, and they do still have 10 games left to play against the Angels, so while they are still almost six full games out, they could mount a comeback. Although with their offense, that seems a longshot. (Royals fans know all about what poor offenses do to quality pitching and defense.)

Looking at the standings as presented above, you would think the remaining four teams on the table: the Blue Jays, the Royals, the Yankees and the Indians would have a solid reality check. They would see the two best teams in the American League live in the Western Division and that the one team that didn’t win the division would likely be the sole Wild Card representative. The teams in the back hovering around .500 could look at their rosters, easily assess they are not of the same class as either the A’s and the Angels and they would start jockeying for position as the trade deadline approached as it pertained to the Wild Card.

In other words, those teams would be sellers.

Now, look at the landscape under the current rules:

New WC Standings
Nothing changes at the top. The Angels (or A’s, whichever team finishes second in the AL West) remain prohibitive favorites to play beyond the regular season. By expanding the race to include a second Wild Card, the Mariners – outsiders under the old rules, by almost a week’s worth of games – are now playing the Angels in the “play-in game.” (Or whatever dumb name MLB has given the one-game Wild Card match.) And the lead has been cut by a cool 6.5 games.

By adding that second Wild Card, everyone moves forward in the line. Now, instead of finding themselves as rank outsiders, the Jays, Royals, Yankees and Indians are in the pack. They have a chance. And when you have a chance, you can’t sell. Even if you should.

This is where the second Wild Card cripples teams like the Royals. They have a handful of tradable players. James Shields has around 15 starts remaining in his Royals career. Wade Davis is going make $7 million next year coming out of the bullpen. Greg Holland is eligible for arbitration for a second time and will make more than Davis. Billy Butler has a club option ranging from $12.5 to $14.5 million. That’s just to name four players. (Although I can’t imagine any team in baseball giving the Royals anything for Butler. Although Seattle has been rumored to have interest.)

The Royals find themselves in the exact same spot as last year. They are in a cluster of teams within a few games of the Wild Card. That means they are in baseball limbo. Intertia. Paralyzed between the lure of October and the reality of the competition.

We’re heard ad nauseam the Royals are “all-in” in 2014. If that isn’t true, they are certainly “pot committed” at this point. They aren’t good enough to gain separation from the pack of mediocrity, yet they aren’t bad enough to throw in the towel on this season to look to the future. It’s an unfortunate situation. Their hands are tied. But it’s not something the Royals have done wrong. They’ve built a team designed to hover around .500. The American League is rife with average teams. This year, average gets you into the conversation. And while you’re in the conversation, you can’t punt on the season.

I see frustration from a segment of fans. Those fans want the Royals to sell. This segment feels the Royals are blind in their belief they can qualify for the postseason. While I agree that actually grabbing the final Wild Card spot seems like a pipe dream, the reality is the team is definitely in the mix. Nevermind the flaws you may see with this team. (And believe me, there are plenty of flaws.) All the teams in the Royals cohort have flaws. That’s why they are all bunched together. They just happen to have fewer flaws than the Rangers, Red Sox, Astros, Rays, Twins and White Sox. The reality says the Royals are 2.5 games out with 68 games remaining. They are at the forward of this mediocre group, meaning there aren’t six teams to leapfrog. As of this writing, they are the first team on the outside. As I mentioned at the top of this post, they have the sixth best record in the AL.

This weekend has been terribly frustrating. It’s the exclamation point on a slide that started when the Royals reached the summit of the Central for the briefest of moments. The Tigers have flipped the script, kicked the Royals ass in a four game series, winning three and now stand 6.5 games in front. I get the tendency to react to that. To say the Royals aren’t good enough. I agree. The Royals aren’t good enough to win the division.

But they are in the mix for the Wild Card. You may think this team isn’t very good. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. What matters is there is a cluster of teams that are battling for that final spot and those teams as a collective aren’t very good. As it stands, 87 wins will take the second Wild Card. Last year, it was 92 wins. The year before, it was 93 wins. It’s not often a sub-90 win team takes a Wild Card spot, but there’s a strong probability that happens this season.

Are the Royals good enough to win 87 games?

Obviously, we will find out. The Royals close out July with three games at Boston, three in Chicago before returning home to play four against the Indians and three with the Twins. All 13 of those games are against teams currently under them in the Wild Card standings. Nine of those are against teams outside of the Wild Card conversation. This is the big stretch of the season. Not the four games this weekend against Detroit. The key stretch is the first two weeks after the All-Star Break. The Royals sorely need to grab some wins against the also-rans of the AL. If they can’t win nine of these 13, making a push, then it’s time to sell.

The odds are already stacked against the Royals. Baseball Prospectus puts their playoff odds at 14 percent. Fangraphs is a little more optimistic at 21%, but those odds place them behind Cleveland. Neither scenario is ideal. But the Royals are in a position that even if they win five of the 13, they could still be in the proverbial Wild Card mix. Which would lead them to think they are still in a position to strike. Which would be the wrong conclusion to draw.

The smart teams will be the teams that figure their position relative to the league. They will make moves not based on games back for the final Wild Card spot. They will make moves based on their talent in relation to the talent found on other teams in their competitive group.

And remember: No one has ever referred to the Royals as one of those “smart” teams.

Should the Royals be sellers at the deadline? I’m willing to give the Royals the two weeks post-Break. With a favorable schedule, it’s time for them to make a move. Still, I can’t help but think this is truly a .500 team. With a target of 81 wins, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Royals finished anywhere between 78 and 84 wins. Even in a year defined by mediocrity of the second Wild Card, that’s not going to be good enough. If they reach the last couple days of July with no improvement in the situation, then it’s time to sell.

But as I mentioned earlier, if they remain a handful of games back, they won’t sell. It will be frustrating, but such is the nature of baseball in 2014 with the second Wild Card.

Some thoughts accumulated while watching a Royal butt kicking.

– Media needs a narrative. Television is confined by time and print is similarly restricted by space. That means things need to be neat and tidy. And it doesn’t get any neater and tidier than a scrappy walk-off win. And when that team on the positive side of the walk-off is hanging on the fringes of contention, that means such game will fall immediately into the “game changer” or “momentum” category.

Such was the case in Wednesday’s win against the Rays. I don’t want to minimize the awesomeness of the win, because it was awesome. The Royals don’t often hit three-run home runs in the top of the ninth inning to completely erase a four-run deficit. Then, immediately after the game, broadcasters and columnists pontificated about how that was THE WIN to push the Royals on their way. That was THE WIN that would make the difference in the season. That was THE WIN that meant everything.

Nice narrative. Not true.

We saw all about momentum in Thursday’s 16-4 wipeout against the Tigers. In that, it doesn’t exist in baseball.

I learned that lesson the hard way in 2011. It was early in the season and the Royals were hanging close to the division lead. (When you’re a Royals fan, this feels important.) The Indians were in first place and in town and the Royals record was at 11-7. Alex Gordon was hitting. So was Billy Butler. Melky Cabrera was warming up and Jeff Francoeur was playing out of his mind. The Royals fell behind 2-0 in the middle innings, but pushed a run across in the eighth. In the bottom of the ninth Kila Ka’aihue doubles, Mitch Maier singles and Chris Getz walks. The Cabrera hits a game-winning single. It was a pretty epic game.

I remember writing about it, and talking about how that game would be the launching pad to the season. This team felt invincible after that win. (Looking back at those names that fueled the rally, I feel like an idiot. I should have known.) That was their fifth walk-off of the year and it was only April 21. They felt like a (narrative alert!) team of destiny.

The Royals then went on the road and promptly lost six in a row.

I always remember that game when someone talks about momentum. And it reminds me that it doesn’t exist.

– The Raul Ibanez Experiment never should have happened. And it should be over.

You can talk all you want about “leadership” and “veteran presence” but if you are 42 years old and 0 for your last 23 with six strikeouts and no walks, and you play nasty defense, you shouldn’t be on a major league team.

It says a lot about the arrogance of this organization that they think they have something in Ibanez that merits giving him so many plate appearances.

– Justin Maxwell cleared waivers and reported to Omaha. He could have become a free agent, but he’s no dummy. He sees Ibanez in his roster spot and know he will be back in KC soon.

– Good news on Alex Gordon who had an MRI on his ailing wrist that revealed no break and no tear. A little rest and he should be OK. We hope.

It always worries me when the Royals say someone is going to be fine and they give him a few days off but use him as a pinch hitter or a defensive replacement. And then lose him to the DL and forfeit the ability to place him on it retroactively. Remember, this is an organization that has difficulty managing the 25 man roster. I would hate for Gordon to take the field in the ninth inning on Sunday, fail to see improvement over the All-Star Break and then have to go on the disabled list because he would be out another week or so.

Don’t laugh. It’s happened before.

– Finally, as we head to the weekend, take a moment to read this post by Michael Engel at Pine Tar Press about an experience while coaching little league. A wonderful story that is beautifully told. It’s the best thing I’ve read on a Royals blog this year.

Have a great weekend.

 

This is a statistical snapshot of  the Royals rotation prior to James Shields’s disaster start on Tuesday.

Rk Pos Name ERA G GS GF IP H R ER HR BB SO BF ERA+ FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
1 SP Jeremy Guthrie 3.69 17 17 0 112.1 110 48 46 16 27 68 469 111 4.67 1.220 8.8 1.3 2.2 5.4 2.52
2 SP Jason Vargas* 3.53 17 17 0 112.1 115 45 44 14 25 74 469 116 4.20 1.246 9.2 1.1 2.0 5.9 2.96
3 SP James Shields 3.79 17 17 0 111.2 120 58 47 15 24 87 476 108 4.12 1.290 9.7 1.2 1.9 7.0 3.63
4 SP Yordano Ventura 3.26 15 15 0 88.1 87 33 32 7 25 76 372 125 3.29 1.268 8.9 0.7 2.5 7.7 3.04
5 SP Danny Duffy* 2.60 17 11 1 72.2 49 23 21 5 29 55 294 157 3.80 1.073 6.1 0.6 3.6 6.8 1.90
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/1/2014.

The symmetry of the top three starters is kind of cool. Seventeen starts for each, they are within two-thirds of an inning and they are within seven batters faced.

What causes some concern is the ERA column followed by the FIP column a little further down the line. Entering Tuesday, all three were outperforming their FIP. Guthrie has been outpacing his FIP and xFIP for his entire career. Last year, the difference between his FIP and ERA was 0.75 and that was good for a 1.1 fWAR. This year, the difference is nearly a full run and at the halfway point, his fWAR is 0.5. Vargas is usually a little closer. Shields’s FIP is his highest since 2010. Not coincidentally, that was his worst season as a starter.

This is three-fifths of the rotation. These are the guys making the serious cash. And they look to be walking the tightrope.

Shields has been miserable his last nine starts. In his last nine starts, he has a 5.43 ERA covering 56.1 innings. During that time, he’s struck out 36, walked 14 and surrendered 10 home runs. Opponents are hitting .323/.362/.557. He doesn’t look hurt or mechanically broken. He’s just hittable.

If you revisit the chart above, Guthrie and Vargas are exactly the same pitcher, statistically speaking. And it looks like both will regress. ZIPS has Guthrie throwing 88 more innings this year with a 4.64 ERA. It has Vargas down for 98 innings and a 4.55 ERA. Obviously, these are projections so they have to be taken as such, but those numbers are frightening. At this point, the best thing we can say about Guthrie and Vargas is they have kept their team in games when they make starts. That’s not meant to be some kind of backhanded compliment. It’s fact. These two are going out there knowing their offense isn’t going to give them a ton of runs, and they grind out their appearances. The Royals have won 19 of their 34 starts. That’s a .559 winning percentage. That gets you into first place in the AL East.

The projection on Shields is more positive. ZIPS has him down for 106 innings and a 3.83 ERA.

Any time we gaze into the crystal ball, we really don’t know what’s going to happen. This isn’t meant to be a negative type of post where I’m spreading gloom and doom. Shields could find his change-up magic and Guthrie and Vargas could beat the projections all season, just like they have so far. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Or everyone could go off the rails. Hell, if anyone missed time due to injury, the whole thing could fall to shambles as there’s no major league depth in the organization right now.

The point is, Shields is scuffling and Vargas and Guthrie are way outperforming their peripherals. The Royals really need Shields to get it together if they are going to make any kind of run at October. Because to count on the rest of this rotation to continue to be this great would be risky.

I rip the Royals. A lot. Lord knows, they’ve deserved it. And they kind of make it easy.

But the last couple days some really positive things have happened around the team. Not necessarily in the win column or on the field. But stuff behind the scenes

First, the Royals hosted a group of visually impaired kids from Alphapointe on Tuesday. As I read the article in The Star, I thought to myself it was a great idea. These kids will never see the game, but they can hear and feel the game. The Royals took them on a tour through the Hall of Fame, a walk past the fountains and down to the field to listen to batting practice. They got to meet some players and Denny Matthews was on hand to teach some of the gang how to grip a baseball to throw certain pitches. It had to have been a thrill for those kids.

As usual, the John Sleezer photos that accompany the article online are delightful. My favorite is the one he took from field level as three of the kids leaned over to feel the grass. I mean, who among us hasn’t wanted to do that?

Second, on Tuesday the Royals had 11 year old Austin Sides throw out the ceremonial first pitch. His catcher was his father, who was returning from a year deployment in the Mideast. Austin didn’t know he was throwing to his dad. Well, just watch.


These reunions get me every time. But I guess they’re not for everyone.

“Before I deployed we went to an Angels-Royals game, so I’m like ‘let’s pick up where we left off’ and I’m like how better could that be than a first pitch at a Royals game,” Robert Sides said.

He got in touch with the Royals and, a few weeks later, got the go ahead. He knew he couldn’t keep his plan a complete secret.

“Becky, my wife, I let her know. Because she already said if I tried any type of surprise reunion with her she’d kill me and I believed her,” he said.

I like Becky.

I imagine these sorts of things are kind of tricky to manage. Do it too often and it will lose it’s appeal. Yet you can’t (and shouldn’t) ignore our service men and women. Kudos to the team for creating a great moment for the Sides family and those who witnessed it.

And finally, SungWoo is coming to Kansas City.

If you’re not familiar, SungWoo is on Twitter at KoreanFan_KC. He started following the team in the mid ’90s after catching a few games on the American Forces Korean Network broadcasts. He was watching to improve his English. After doing some research, he decided the Royals were the team to root for and he’s been one of us ever since. Read his story at Rambling Morons.

I’ll tell you, this guy is one hell of a dedicated fan. He’s up at all hours watching this team, he’s interacting on the web with idiots in Kansas City and now his wife bought him a plane ticket and he’s coming to Kauffman. And people are already stepping up to make sure this trip is an amazing experience.

The guy has such a following on Twitter that there’s no way he’s going to pay for a thing while he’s in KC. I don’t know if he drinks beer, but it would be an honor to buy him a Boulevard. I don’t know if the Royals would do something for him, but I think it would be cool if they could recognize him some way.

Regardless of what happens, SungWoo is going to experience first-hand what we already know: Kansas City is a great place with some truly outstanding fans.

One final thought for this post. (It may not be positive. Your mileage may vary.) I’ll be at The K on Saturday for another Baseball Prospectus event. If you’re at the game I’m sure we’ll make enough noise you can find us if you like. We’ve never done a “Royals Authority Day” or “Royals Review Day” when we were over there, so this is about as close to a meet and greet that will happen if you’re into those sorts of things. I hope you got your tickets to the event. I look forward to it every year.

So the other day, I went on the radio in Topeka. I channeled my inner Rex Hudler:

“At this point, it’s about maximizing the peaks and minimizing the valleys.”

Or something like that.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time (or probably followed the Royals at all) you know what I’m talking about. This team, over the last season and a half, has been streaky to the extreme. The offense is the worst in the world for two-plus months, then has a stretch where they are so hot, they move to the middle of the pack in several key offensive hitting statistics. Then, instead of leveling off, they swing wildly back the other direction where they look like they haven’t picked up a bat in their lives.

So damn frustrating.

This is a team who hung 22 runs up on the Tigers Cy Young Award winners in the span of two games in the early part of last week. They followed that up by scoring a grand total of 10 runs over their next five games. You sit back and watch this offense struggle in April and May. You tell yourself, this isn’t a world class offense by any means, yet they have to be better than this. Then, they go on the aforementioned tear. You tell yourself, this isn’t the true talent of this offense, but damn are they on fire. Then, they slide right back into the pits.

Ugh.

So how do you want it on this Monday? Glass half full? There are currently seven teams in the American League with a positive run differential. The Royals are one of those teams. Their +14 run differential is fifth best in the AL, in fact. They are ahead of Baltimore and Detroit. We know offense is down across the board. The league average team has touched home plate 321 times so far. The Royals have scored 311 runs. Given their lengthy offensive struggles, this is surprising news. I don’t know if it means anything, but it’s surprising. In a good way.

For those of you who prefer to see the glass completely empty, despite the recent 10 game winning streak, the Royals offense remains one of the worst in the game. Their 89 wRC+ is ahead of only the Mariners. Their .304 wOBA is also ahead of only the Mariners. (Who just came to Kansas City, stole our bread, peanut butter and jelly, made sandwiches in our own kitchen and then proceeded to eat our lunch, almost choking because they were laughing so hard.) Their OPS+ of 89 is worst in the league.

Their .371 slugging percentage and .313 on base percentage is 13th out of 15 teams.

I try to remain positive. The Royals are 2.5 games back in the suddenly tight Central, while they are half a game back in a five team scrum for the Wild Card. No, I don’t think the Royals are better than any of the teams they trail – except maybe Seattle. However, baseball in the Wild Card era is littered with teams that aren’t what you would term world class who have competed in October. Yet watching this team flail away at the plate tests my patience.

Two points before I wrap this up:

First, Ned Yost needs to juggle his damn lineup. He looked like the cat who got the canary in the early part of this month. Vindication! Just leave him alone, he knows what he’s doing! Except I don’t think he does. To continue to hit Eric Hosmer third at this point in managerial malpractice of the highest order. Keeping Alex Gordon fifth is the same crime. I’ve said this a thousand times: Being a major league manager is about putting your players in the best position to win the ballgame. Yost’s current batting order doesn’t come close to accomplishing this.

Also, what was the deal with the Billy Butler pinch running saga on Friday night? The game is tied in the eighth and Butler leads off with a single. It’s usually so damn automatic that Yost uses a pinch runner. Hell, he will pinch run in that situation when the Royals are leading by five runs. Yet he sat on his hands. I’m OK with that initially. But then Butler moves to second on the Gordon single. It was hit up the middle and hard, so not even Jarrod Dyson could have advanced to third. That moment seemed tailor-made for a pinch runner. Yet Yost sat on his hands. Sal Perez lifted a fly to center. Butler tagged. I’ve never seen someone try to run so hard they actually went backward. Butler is out, but the ball hit his foot and bounced away. Talk about catching a break. Then, Yost finally removes Butler for the pinch runner. And the Royals make the final two outs without bringing home the run.

I’m not blaming Yost for losing that game. I’m just pointing out the bizarre management of the team in a tight game in the later innings. It’s Yost being Yost. Something Brewer fans know all about.

Second point, this is Dayton Moore’s team. It’s Year Nine. This is the offense he’s built through draft, trades and a pair of holdovers in Gordon and Butler. And this offense will probably rank 13th or lower in overall production when the dust settles on the 2014 season. Pitching and defense are key, but fail to construct a competent offense and all you’ll do is get to .500. And until they add a couple more Wild Card spots, that isn’t good enough.

Which is too bad. You saw the crowd on Friday. Kansas City is hungry for a winning team. (Or maybe they’re just hungry for dollar hot dogs and fireworks.) Either way, this city and this organization deserve better. Maybe the next GM can deliver.

It gets weirder and weirder every day in the Royals Universe.

Nine in a row.

First place in the Central. In mid-June. Over the Detroit juggernaut.

My head is spinning.

Before we go any further, let’s check the latest offensive numbers from this nine game stretch.

DBD_617

They are all hitting. And the home runs. I can’t get over the fact this group, so punchless in the early going, has clubbed 12 out of the park in the last nine games. In the first two months, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas hit six home runs combined. This month, they’ve already combined for seven. As I pointed out the other day, this is what a hot streak looks like.

The homers last night were glorious. Especially the Alex Gordon bomb. More on that in a moment.

According to ESPN, the Royals most productive June as far as winning percentage came way back in 1972 when they won 18 of 27, which is a .667 winning percentage. So far in this June, the team has captured 12 of 15. Ummm, that’s .800. That’s pretty good.

Another thing the Royals accomplished last night which should certainly be noted: They knocked the Tigers from the top of their AL Central perch for the first time since July 3. Yep. The Tigers held first place in the AL Central all season and for half (let’s face it, the really important half) of 2013. While I maintain my previous position that I don’t get giddy over being in first place on June 18, I have to admit, it’s kind of fun to see this:

Standings_618

Damn. I mean, look at the run differential. Only five teams are in the green and the Royals are one of them. After drubbing Detroit the last two nights, they’ve shifted to red. Even more impressive, this once anemic offense is now pretty damn robust. Again, it’s the peaks and valleys I discussed the other day. Everything levels out in the end. Except most teams don’t seem to experience the extreme highs and lows we see in Kansas City. The Royals have scored 301 runs. Or three runs fewer than the Tigers. Wow.

I guess all it took was a reassignment of a hitting coach.

I don’t know if the Royals can win their 10th in a row this afternoon. I do know if the winning streak ends today, it went out with an exclamation point of a seventh inning on Tuesday.

FG_WE_617

The Gordon home run following the Butler walk was a thing of beauty. I mean, most homers are, but this one was especially a bomb. Officially, it went 414 feet. Maybe that’s not so impressive, but it was hit to a part of Comerica where I haven’t seen many home runs land. And I thought it was cool. Doesn’t really matter. It was like a dagger in the heart of the Tigers. When Moustakas hit a hanging change over the fence in right, it felt like the Royals were again in control. To hang three more runs was gravy. It felt good.

Nine games. Winning. Yes.

There are a bunch of games left. In fact, there are 93. Far too many to start selling internal organs so you can afford playoff tickets. But maybe you should prepare for life with a single kidney.

This could be a fun summer.

Do you remember, back in the early days of the season, when the typical Royals fan lament went something like this:

“If only they could get the bats going.”

May I present to you, the last week of Royals baseball.

Damn.

After sweeping the Indians at home and the White Sox on the road, the Royals own a seven game winning streak and are winners of eight of their last 10 and 12 of their last 20. There’s hot, and then there’s Royals Hot.

Baseball is a game of peaks and valleys. They say once you think you have the game figured out, it will humble you just as fast. The Royals, it seems, are the masters of the peaks and valleys. We saw the exact same thing last year when the team bottomed out at the All-Star Break, prompting this writer to call for the dismissal of Dayton Moore. Part of the reason for the call of Moore’s firing at the time was his apparent detachment from reality when he stated his 2013 Royals were capable of a stretch where they could win 15 out of 20. Laughable, I wrote, pointing out that very few Royals teams in the past had actually accomplished such a run of successful baseball. Then what happened? Ummmm… they won 15 out of their next 20. (Baseball is humbling? Damn. Try blogging.) Anyway, it’s about the peaks and valleys. Peaks and valleys.

This year, it’s looking like a carbon copy of 2013. Straight down to the reassignment of a hitting coach. Except now the Royals have found (or are close to) the peak at a much earlier date. At least one month earlier in 2014 they finally figured out where the switch for the afterburners is located and they hit the damn thing.

From Baseball Musing’s Day by Day Database, here’s how the offense has looked this month:

DBD_67

And how the offense looked last week.

DBD_66

Funny game, baseball. At the end of May I insisted that it was bad business to set your lineup based on streaks (both hot and cold) and advocated Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain move to the top third of the order. Well, one out of two isn’t bad. Gordon is his typical awesome self. Mr. Everything for this club. Cain, however, has had a bit of a rough go this month. Break it down to look exclusively at this winning streak and who are the two of the worst offensive performers? Yep. Gordon and Cain.

But take a moment to revisit those numbers from the last week. Eric Hosmer is hitting like Hosmer post-May 2013. Sal Perez is a destroyer of baseballs. Billy Butler is an on base machine. Mike Moustakas is FIXED! And good grief, Alcides Escobar. Look at those numbers. And that’s after an 0-3 day at the plate. Somehow, he drew a walk and saw a grand total of nine pitches in four plate appearances. But those numbers. This offense is now running on best-case scenario. These guys are just killing it. Early and often. It’s been a helluva week.

Here’s the great thing about this peak I just spent 500 words extolling: It’s coming against teams in the AL Central.

When the Royals opened this stretch of baseball, I said it was a pivotal moment of the 2014 season. At that moment, the Royals had won a grand total of six intra-division games. No other team in baseball had fewer than 10 wins against intra-division opponents. In other words, the Royals had become experts at laying down in their own division. That’s no way to win a wild card spot, never mind the division itself. Having dug such a hole in the Central, it was imperative the Royals stop the bleeding and get better. Immediately. And nine games against Central opponents presented the first opportunity. So here we are, five games in and the Royals have won all five.

Have I mentioned baseball is a funny game?

Now, attention turns to Detroit and the Tigers. It’s far too early in the season for me to get caught up in the standings. I could care less who is in first place on June 16. It doesn’t matter. Positioning matters. If teams harbor October expectations, they need to hang close. You can’t pull a Tampa Bay and drop 13 games out of the division and 10 games out of the wild card because that’s ground you just can’t make up over the course of three and a half months. We’ve said it over and over – and experienced it last year – but if you fall so far behind and allow multiple teams to move ahead of you and a playoff spot – it’s difficult to climb over those teams to get to the top.

At some point, hot streak will end. (I’m not trying to rain on your Plaza Parade. It’s a streak. If you are unfamiliar with the term, look it up somewhere.) At some point the Royals will probably play a stretch of baseball where they go 10-10. Maybe a little worse. The important thing to remember is positioning. The Royals are in a good position right now. If they stumble a bit, they may remain on the outside of a playoff spot, but if they can maintain their positioning, they can be OK.

And that’s exactly what I think this team can do. They can keep themselves in position. No way was the offense as bad as we saw back in April and May. Sadly, it’s not this good either. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in-between. And that’s OK. Because with the pitching and defense, that gives this team a pretty good chance.

This isn’t a team built on the premise they can dominate. (No sane Royals fan can believe that. Not after what we saw in April and May.) But this is a team that can compete and this team can cause some problems. There’s a ton of mediocrity in the American League this summer. So many teams have opportunity. So few will capitalize.

Here’s hoping the Royals continue to capitalize.

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