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“Guys are what they are. You’re not going to say ‘OK, take more pitches.’ That doesn’t work. They play their game. Nights like tonight, when a guy’s on his game, you’re going to get what we got tonight.”

Ned Yost as quoted in the Kansas City Star.

I got Vine, specifically for Ned’s soundbites. Embedded in a Tweet here.

It’s an interesting comment from Yost. Born of frustration, most certainly, after being force-fed another abysmal offensive performance on Tuesday against the Minnesota Twins. Five hits through nine (with two of those leading off the ninth) and a 2-1 scoreline that made it look closer than it actually was. The Royals were never in this game.

At the All-Star Break, I wrote this was a crucial stretch for the Royals if they harbored any true hopes of October baseball. We are 11 games into a 13 game stretch. The Royals are 5-6. They have lost a game and a half in the Wild Card standings, but more importantly, they have been passed by the Yankees and the Blue Jays and still trail the Mariners. And don’t look now, but the Rays, counted out a couple of months ago, are streaking and are just a single game behind the Royals.

I said I’d give them 13 games, but the returns through 11 aren’t encouraging. The Royals are scuffling to stay at .500 both in this stretch and in the season. We’re over 100 games into 2014. As Ned would say, this is who they are. They are going to land somewhere between 79 and 83 wins. They are not going to make the playoffs. The offense won’t allow it.

Which brings me back to Yost’s comment from last night. Pretty damning, isn’t it? A public acknowledgement that his team doesn’t know how to work the count and doesn’t know how to have what you would consider to be a professional at bat. And while we can certainly be outraged (or any other emotion) about how this team performs, this lack of discipline isn’t on Yost. It’s on the architect of the team. The guy charged with assembling a coherent 25-man roster. This is Dayton Moore’s fault.

Look at Kyle Gibson’s strike zone plot from last night.

Gibson_Plot

Find the cluster of dark red in the lower left. Look at the dark red and the off yellow in the lower right. See the dark red and the blue in the upper left. All pitches outside of the strike zone. All swung at by inept Royal batters. Of Gibson’s 95 pitches, I count 26 out of the strike zone that the Royals couldn’t resist. That’s an undisciplined team.

And we know what happens when they make contact: Singles. Lots and lots of singles. No walks, no power, and a plethora of singles leads you to score an average of 3.97 runs per game. Well below the league average of 4.24 runs per game. This offense doesn’t stink. It’s rancid.

But as Yost said, they are who they are. In a simple post-game comment, Yost gave us more evidence (as if we needed any more) that Dayton Moore isn’t fit to assemble a major league roster.

The Royals traded Danny Valencia on Monday to the Toronto Blue Jays. In exchange, they received minor leaguers Liam Hendriks and Erik Kratz.

I know with the trade deadline approaching, there’s been a ton of talk about the Royals being either “buyers” or “sellers.” This ignores the more obvious middle ground of the “stand paters.” Or the “standing pats.” While this trade is technically a transaction, this has a “stand pat” kind of vibe.

Since this seems to be the case, let’s look at a few ramifications of this trade:

– The Royals just made a trade with a team two games ahead of them in the Wild Card standings.

Forget for a moment there are other teams between the Royals and the Jays for the final Wild Card spot. Why on Earth would you help a rival for a postseason position. I know all GMs say the right things. They want each team to come out of a trade looking good. Win-win and all that. That’s understandable when a club sends a player to another league, or when a selling team at the deadline trades off major league assets for a couple of prospects. But why if the team you’re allegedly chasing in the standings needs a right-handed bat, would you provide said bat for them? Especially on who hits .333/.369/.510 against southpaws for his career? (Valencia is hitting a robust .354/.386/.492 against lefties this season.) I just don’t get it.

– Valencia has a… reputation.

There are a certain subset of major league players who have – let’s call it delusions – as to their value and skill. Valencia has always chafed at the “lefty masher” tag and has insisted he can clobber all pitchers. The stats say otherwise. Yet that hasn’t stopped him from jockeying for increased playing time. Not that I blame the guy. He’s a competitor. But when you see yourself one way and your bosses see you in a different light, that can be a little awkward. And word is, Valencia isn’t the greatest guy to be around sometimes.

We know the Royals pay lip service to the culture of the clubhouse, which kind of made his acquisition a little strange last winter. Maybe he finally wore out his welcome in Kansas City.

– The Royals officially believe in Mike Moustakas.

I didn’t know where to place this. Good? Or bad? Depends on your perspective, I suppose. The Royals will tell you he’s been great since his exile in Omaha, hitting a team high nine home runs since the first of June. The other numbers don’t paint as nice of a picture. Since his return to the bigs, Moustakas is hitting .231/.292/.449. Yes, that’s better than when he was shipped out. But let’s face it, if that’s how we’re judging Moose, you can’t set the bar any lower.

Moustakas has been a streaky hitter throughout his career. He also has power potential. I don’t think what we’ve seen over the last two months signals a rebirth or even a hot streak. Look at those numbers above again. This is probably who Moustakas is going forward. That means he needs a platoon partner. That the Royals are gambling on Moustakas being “fixed” or whatever, seems misguided.

But the Royals do seem to give certain players in their organization a lot of rope.

– Christian Colon breaks free from the shackles of Omaha.

Colon is hitting .307/.361/.430 for the Storm Chasers and has seen his extra base hit totals spike over the last month or so of action. The former fourth overall draft pick will never live up to the status that comes with that selection, but he can be a useful part on a team that lacks depth on the infield. He can play second, third, and short (along with some outfield) which gives the Royals some desired versatility. Also, at the major league minimum salary, he’s as affordable as they come.

I’ve always said that Dayton Moore struggles with roster math – the art of assembling a coherent 25-man roster. In other words, I’m not surprised the Royals have had what looks to be a decent option in the minors to fill the utility infield void. It seems like Colon should have been up a long time ago.

– Pitching remains the currency of baseball.

Two years ago, Hendriks was rated as the Twins seventh-best prospect by Baseball America.

“His fastball sits at 86-92 mph and peaks at 94. He uses both two- and four-seamers, complementing his sinker with a solid slider. When he’s in rhythm, Hendriks peppers the bottom of the zone and commands his fastball to his arm side, allowing him to induce weak contact with his slider and above-average changeup on the other side of the plate… He has an outside chance of becoming a No. 3 starter.”

A year later, Hendriks was claimed off the Twins by the Cubs, who then lost him to a claim by the Orioles, who then had him claimed by the Jays. That’s three waiver claims in three months for a former prospect. He’s thrown 169 major league innings with a 6.06 ERA and 5.38 FIP. Hendriks has had success this season in Triple-A, posting a 2.33 ERA and 2.52 FIP. He also has a ground ball rate of around 50 percent with a 22 percent whiff rate. Very solid numbers for Triple-A. Is it possible he’s figured things out? He had similar success before in Triple-A, back in 2012.

But we do know how the Royals have taken fringe starters and found value from them in the bullpen.

– Kratz is a backup catcher.

Hence the release of Brett Hayes. I dunno. This seems like a shuffling of deck chairs. Kratz has some power potential that Hayes lacks, but really… We’re talking about Salvador Perez’s backup. It’s not like the guy is going to play all that much.

Final thoughts

It’s a trade that really elicits a shrug of the shoulders, except I can’t get over the fact the Royals got a pair of role players for someone who will fill a hole in the lineup for a team whom they are competing against for a playoff spot. I wonder if the Royals checked the standings before making the trade.

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.

Dayton Moore cannot bury his head in a bucket and do nothing in the next seven days.  His team is not good enough and will not get hot enough and will not improve enough to be neither a buyer or a seller at the trade deadline.BtOtpgvIcAA8-DdIt was fun to have Mike Moustakas hit two home runs in a game and threaten the Mendoza line.  It’s also a great thing when your manager actually uses his three best relief pitchers to get four innings of work and Bruce Chen – freaking Bruce Chen – came through with a nice effort.   Winning’s fun, the Royals should do more of it.

Let’s look in the mirror, however, Mr. Moore and realize that this team you have so patiently constructed in eight/nine years of service is what it is.  The Kansas City Royals right now are going to win about 81 games.   With rare exception, winning between 78 and 84 games in a season is about the worst thing you can do in baseball:  good enough to be respectable, close enough to not sell off pieces, but not enough wins to be a post-season participant of any relevance.

If this is a ‘go for it year’ and it sure seems like it was supposed to be, then Dayton Moore needs to buy and buy big.   On the other hand, if Alex Rios, Ben Zobrist and Ian Kennedy still doesn’t get this team into more than a one game play-in, then swallow your pride and sell.

To be honest, I know in my head that the Royals need to sell.  Take a look at the Dodgers’ bullpen:  what would they give for Wade Davis or Greg Holland or, hell, even Aaron Crow at this point?

My heart, if only to keep things exciting for a while, kind of leans toward buying.  Some of that comes from my skepticism of the Royals being able to consistently develop prospects.  Is the return on James Shields better than a compensation draft pick? I don’t care, I am weary of coveting draft picks.  Basically, I’d rather have someone else’s Sean Manaea from two years ago than our Sean Manaea.

What I fear the most and, frankly, expect the most is for Dayton Moore to neither buy nor sell.  We will be told that there just wasn’t the value for value trade out there.  That this group is good enough and ‘we like are team’ and whatever clumsy rhetoric this organization will toss out to us.

The Royals will have a nice little hot streak, get close, and then fall back: probably end up 84-78 and be set up in 2015 to win 84 or 85 wins again.   It’s better than losing 100 games a year, but it will get really, really annoying three or four years in a row.

Buy or sell.  Pick one, but for godssake do one or the other in a big way.

 

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’re not playing good situational offensive baseball” – Ned Yost, courtesy the Kansas City Star.

I think I will start every post (however sporadic they have become) with a quote from Ned Yost.  Perhaps I’ll even begin each meeting in my office with a quote from Dayton Moore.  Hey, if the Royals are going down, I’m taking all of you with us.

We have been fed the company line for a long time with regard to how the Kansas City Royals just need to hit better with runners in scoring position.  Many of you have already figured out just how absolutely whacked out that line of reasoning is, but if not (and that means you are NOT spending enough time in your Mom’s basement!) let’s boil it down.

Overall, your Kansas City Royals – the team you have been waiting for, mind you – is hitting .263/.313/.374.   That is good for fourth in the American League in batting average, but only 12th in on-base percentage and 13th in slugging percentage.  Apparently, it is not only impossible to hit home runs in Kaufmann Stadium, but also difficult to walk as well.

The problem, remember, is not a .313 on-base percentage: it is how poorly they perform with runners in scoring position.  In those scenarios, Kansas City is hitting just .262/.324/.386.    Those numbers are good for 5th in batting average, 11th in on-base percentage and 9th in slugging.

So….the Royals offense is good enough, they just need to hit better with runners in scoring position, but yet they ARE better hitters with runners in scoring position then they are overall.  Wait.  What?

To put it another way, the Kansas City Royals have put 2,229 runners on base this season (not counting solo home runs) and scored 14.67% of those runners.  In the American League, only Texas, Oakland, Detroit and the Angels have scored a higher percentage of runners.   That’s right, your situationally deficient Royals are fifth in the league in actually scoring runners they put on base.

The Royals, from coaches to manager to general manager to team president to team owner, always have an explanation.  They will be happy to explain to us why this team is not quite good enough, while also making us aware of just how much smarter they are than the rest of us.  Listen, kid, you may have your numbers and stuff, but WE know how the game of baseball really works.

Well, guess what?  Baseball is not all that complicated.  In fact, it is not complicated at all.  It is hard, yes, but not complicated.

If you hit about the same with runners in scoring position as you do as a team, then I am going to wager that if I could get more runners on base, I’m going to score more runs.  If, by the way, I happen to find a guy or two who actually can perform the impossible and hit a ball over the fence at Kaufmann, then I will score even more runs.

The Royals are not going to the moon here.  They also are not going to the playoffs.

 

“I outsmarted myself” – Ned Yost

It may well be the defining moment of what is appearing to be a disappointing 2014 season by the Kansas City Royals.

With Kansas City clinging to a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth Friday night, Ned Yost trudged to the mound and pulled his starter, James Shields.    The Royals’ ace had given up a two run homer, followed by a double, but had then struck out David Ross for the second out of the inning.  Jackie Bradley Jr., at the time posting a .225/.303/.309 line, was about to bat.

Shields had already thrown 112 pitches – a laboring 112 at that – and I frankly thought it might be time to make a change.  After all, with the addition of Jason Frasor, Yost could go to the pen early in games and still put in a quality pitcher.  You know, a guy like Frasor or Aaron Crow (who looks a lot better in the sixth than the eighth) or, I don’t know, how about Kelvin Herrera who was already warming in the pen.

Instead, the Royals’ manager opted for lefty Scott Downs to face the lefthanded hitting Bradley. It is probably important to note that Bradley is not a good hitter versus right or left-handers.  It is also relevant to note that Downs, released from a team with a bad bullpen, is at this point in his career ONLY effective versus left-handed hitters.

Enter Downs.

Enter Jonny Gomes.

Were you surprised that Red Sox manager John Farrell used a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning?  If you were, then you did not check Baseball-Reference and note that Gomes had been used as pinch-hitter twice in the sixth already this season and four other times in the seventh.  Now, you have school or work or kids or friends or read or watch too much television or a hobby or an X-Box, so if you did not know that it’s okay.  On the other hand, it is kind of Ned Yost’s job to be aware of that sort of stuff.

While Jonny Gomes  became something of a joke on Twitter as the series progressed –  courtesy of some ‘odd’ defense and the idea that Gomes success against the Royals would certainly lead to him be traded for immediately – he was not the guy you wanted to see facing your sixth best reliever with a one run lead on the road.

What followed was a two run homer and the Royals managed just one run and nine hits over the next 21 innings in Boston.  Over the course of the weekend, we say Nori Aoki get more at-bats than Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson.   We saw Danny Valencia bat clean-up, Salvador Perez miss a game with ‘groin thing’ and Raul Ibanez pinch-hit.

Not all of that paragraph is Ned Yost’s fault.  He is not in charge of player acquisition.  His options to pinch hit on Saturday  were the slumping Lorenzo Cain (0 for his last 20), the 42 year old AND slumping Ibanez, Brett Hayes and the only-hits-lefties Danny Valencia.    All this, in year whatever of Dayton Moore’s process.

The Royals’ GM has labored all these years to give us a basically .500 ballclub and put a manager in charge who (and you can debate how much a manager can do, but he can do something) is not going to make this team any better than its base talent level.

So, what can you get for James Shields these days?

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.

 

Francisely Bueno probably should have made it out of last night’s eighth inning unscathed.  He fumbled a bunt single by a fast guy (that what speed do) – hardly the first pitcher to have that happen.   Then he got a groundball for a possible double play only to have his Gold Glove caliber shortstop make a little league decision to not get any outs at all.

Bueno might have deserved better.   That does not mean Ned Yost’s decision to go to Bueno in the eighth was right.

Let’s ignore for a moment, Yost’s steadfast and defiant refusal to use Wade Davis when his team is trailing.  There is another guy out there, Kelvin Herrera, who has not thrown since June 30th:  that’s SEVEN DAYS OFF.  No, let’s go with Francisely Bueno.

To be clear, Bueno has pitched quite well of late.  Heck, he has thrown 5.2 innings of shutout baseball in his last two appearances.  Both of those appearances having occurred SINCE the last time Herrera appeared in a major league baseball game.  What am I missing here?

We all know that Ned is paranoid about overusing his bullpen.  Sometimes seven relievers is simply not enough.  I am pretty sure they would have eight pitchers in the pen now if the team was not absolutely convinced that Raul Ibanez was going to wake up one of these mornings and be five years younger.

Still, Herrera – on pace to pitch 70 innings this year and idle for a week – stood and watched as the Royals gave up two runs in the eighth inning.  They were somewhat meaningless runs until Kansas City connected for two runs themselves in the following half inning.

It’s hardly all on Bueno, but it should have been Herrera simply because this is was a close game, he was rested and Kelvin is a better pitcher.  If not him, then Wade Davis.

Down one run with your offense getting hits (no runs, but hits – law of average stuff has to start coming into play) and Escobar then the top of the order coming up in the ninth, one almost has to stop being a stubborn by the book manager and go with your dominant eighth inning guy.

Let’s also keep in mind that other than the last week of the season, this is the one week when you can really push your guys – especially your best guys.  You have four days off coming up, so if Davis, Herrera and Holland pitch in five times this week, they’ll have time to recover over the All-Star Break.    One could even get real crazy and use Greg Holland for more than inning this week.  Theoretically, the world would not implode.

Of course, if Tim Collins and Louis Coleman had not forgotten how to get people out or Luke Hochevar had not gone under the knife, this bullpen might be Ned-proof.  Instead, however, the vaunted depth is really not there.  Assuming Herrera might have a tweak or something that makes the team hesitant to use him right now and knowing that Wade Davis simply cannot be used (because – NED), then Bueno was far more palatable than Bruce Chen or Scott Downs or any of the six other pitchers who have appeared for the team this season.

The bullpen depth is not there and the imagination of the man who handles it is lacking.

 

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