Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

RHP ∙ 2001—04

grimsley

The Royals first acquired Jason Grimsley in mid-1997 in a minor league trade after Grimsley had pitched in the bigs between 1989—96 as a mostly ineffective starter. Grimsley got into just seven games for Omaha in 1997 before becoming a free agent at the end of the year. Grimsley then became a full-time reliever and started a cocktail of amphetamines, steroids, and human growth hormone to aid his return as a viable major league pitcher for the Yankees in 1999 and 2000. The Royals acquired him for a second time as a free agent before the 2001 season, and he went on to pitch the best three and a half years of his career for KC. His role never shifted in that time: never a mop-up man and never a closer, Grimsley pitched most often in the seventh and eighth innings of close games. 2001 and 2002 were his best years. He led the team in appearances both seasons, had the best ERA in 2001 and the second best in 2002. He was clearly the team’s best reliever both years, so why he never got a shot to take over as closer from Roberto Hernandez, I do not know. There seems to be little remarkable about those years. He did give up the Scott Hatteberg home run in the wild game that gave the A’s 20 straight wins in ’02, but mostly Grimsley was just a good set-up man on some terrible teams. Only a crazy person dedicates a blog post to that 12 years later, but here we are.

After those two solid years, Grimsley faltered in 2003 while the Royals went on their improbable pennant chase. He still appeared in at least 70 games for the third straight season, but his bread-and-butter fastball was not working as well. Grimsley was a free agent at the end of the year, but wanted to stay in KC. Though he had two-year offers on the table from other teams, Grimsley gave the Royals a bit of a home-town discount and signed for one year. “I sat down with my wife and we talked about how our kids are here and our home is here now,” Grimsley said. “What kind of a price are we going to put on that? That pretty much made my decision right there.”[i]

Grimsley went back to pitching effectively in 2004 but had a scary collision with Royals first baseman Ken Harvey in early June. On a slow roller between them, the two players read the play completely differently. Grimsley was charging to cover first while Harvey picked up the ball and was going to whip it home to try for an out. Harvey’s forearm and the ball smashed into Grimsley’s head, and Grimsley lay motionless on the grass for quite a while. Fortunately, Grimsley came away with nothing worse than bruises and knots on his forehead and jaw and was only kept out of action for a few games. His time with the Royals concluded at the end of June when he was dealt to Baltimore for minor league pitcher Denny Bautista. After leading the team in relief appearances for three straight years, Grimsley was again in the lead in 2004 at the time of the trade. His 251 relief appearances rank sixth in Royals history. Grimsley’s career after that spiraled into controversy stemming from his performance enhancing drug use and an affidavit in which he allegedly named other players using. There was also a bizarre and tragic accident in 2005 when a small plane crashed into Grimsley’s Overland Park home, killing all five persons on the plane but sparing Grimsley’s wife and daughter who were home at the time.

[i] Robert Falkoff, “KC is Grimsley’s home, sweet home,” http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20040128&content_id=631580&vkey=news_kc&fext=.jsp&c_id=kc, January 28, 2004.

Well, today is exactly why Dayton Moore traded for James Shields.

There has been a good deal of snark directed at Shields’ nickname, some of it with a firm foundation in fact, but when you trade your best hitting prospect (by a mile at the time) and one of the best prospects in the game, one is pretty much expecting James Shields to take the mound late in the summer with first place on the line.   And one is pretty much expecting that James live up to his nickname.

After a rough three start stretch at the end of June (14 runs allowed in 19 innings), Shields has been – dare we say it? – a number one starter.  He has gone seven innings or more in five of seven starts and allowed two runs or less in six of those seven starts.  That includes going eight innings on August 3rd while allowing just four hits, no walks and two runs and going the distance in a four-hit shutout on August 9th.

The Royals have gone 3-1 in Shields’ last four starts, despite scoring a combined total of just 12 runs.

Yeah, this is pretty much the guy you want out there when facing the Oakland A’s and Jeff Samardjiza on a Thursday afternoon with your team holding a half game lead in the A.L. Central.

We can debate whether Shields is really ‘Big Game James’, but I don’t believe you can debate that today’s non-televised businessman’s special is indeed a Big Game.  The Royals need Shields to be his nickname…or at least do a Jason Vargas impersonation.

You can’t win them all.

That’s how the cliche goes. Allegedly.

The Royals were dropped by the A’s by a score of 11-3 on Tuesday, ending their eight-game winning streak.

It’s a game that, were you able to extrapolate the entire season, from beginning to end, to examine the pitching match ups, you would have circled on your calendar as an obvious loss. Jeremy Guthrie versus Jon Lester. That loss is as guaranteed as the Royals not removing a poor bullpen arm from their roster because they’re frightened they would lose him to waivers. That’s how guaranteed this loss was on paper.

But they don’t play these games on paper. At least that’s what I’m told. No, they play on the field and that’s where the Royals have been invincible the last couple of weeks. So, what the hell. Play the game. Because as Joaquin Andujar once said, “Youneverknow.”

Sadly, it went about as expected.

The Royals rotation has been pretty good this summer. Really good. But don’t let anyone tell you Guthrie has been anything but the weak link. Yes, he’s thrown some gems. He was especially sharp his last two outings. But he is the Royals least effective starter as ranked by fWAR and his peripherals are pretty lousy. Just for fun, here’s the Royals rotation as ranked by fWAR:

James Shields – 2.6
Yordano Ventura – 2.0
Jason Vargas – 1.9
Danny Duffy – 1.8
Jeremy Guthrie – 0.9

Guthrie is the guy you’re nervous about every time he takes the mound. Sure, he can give you a game like he did against the Diamondbacks last week, but he’s a few more times as likely to throw one like Tuesday. And that’s one of the continuing underlying issues with this team. Guthrie seems like a decent guy. He originally signed for $11 million for 2014, but restructured his contract to knock $3 million off that sum. But he will collect it – with interest – should his mutual option for 2016 not be picked up by either party. According to Fangraphs, Guthrie has been worth around $5 million this year. With eight to nine starts left on his season, there’s no way he’s going to provide value for his contract. Hey, not everyone signed to a contract will. However, I’ve always argued that the Royals, given their market, must be smart enough to avoid those kinds of expensive mistakes.

I’m not trying to be a downer. The Royals are in first place, after all. It’s an exciting time to be a fan. But as Clark wrote last week, it’s fine to be a fan and disagree with the front office on how they value certain players. It’s why, while I’m hopeful the Royals can win the division (or the Wild Card), I remain wary of this team for the future. There are too many bad decisions that happen. Guthrie just happened to remind me of one last night.

(And I’m not even going to mention Bruce Chen. Wait, I just did. To pay that guy $4.25 million is… Unwise. But you probably knew that. Shame Dayton Moore and the Royals brain trust didn’t know that. Could have had some payroll flexibility at the deadline.)

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I haven’t done much reading about the game, but I wonder if the narrative will circle around about how the Royals always seem to have this “moment” to capture the fans, but can’t capitalize.

I’ve seen this theory before. It goes something like, “The Royals play well enough to get people on the bandwagon. They finally go to the game. Fill the stadium. Then they put up a stinker in front of 25,000+ and lose 11-3.”

If that happens, please don’t buy into that narrative.

We’ve discussed this before, but the Royals are one helluva streaky team. And streaks end. Sometimes bad baseball will be played. Last night, the Royals announced an attendance of greater than 27,000 with walkup sales of over 9,000. That’s impressive. That’s a signal that the fan base is buying what you’re selling. And lord knows, the Royals need that kind of support and they need to hold on to it tightly. Yes, last night was disappointing. But a game like that was going to happen sooner or later.

The Royals didn’t “choke” in front of a large crowd last night. They didn’t feel “pressure” and they didn’t fail to come through in the “clutch.” They lost. To a better pitcher and a better lineup. That’s baseball.

The beauty is, the Tigers lost last night, too. The Royals are still in first. And the beat goes on.

 

You read that headline right.   Although to be fair, it should continue to include ‘and his Tommy John surgery’.

Despite some rumblings to the contrary in the early stages of spring training, the Royals had pretty firmly decided to make Luke Hochevar their eighth inning guy.   While using a former number one overall pick as a set-up reliever is not the ideal end result, many/most of us were expecting good things from Luke in his new role.

I strongly doubt, however, that anyone would have willing to predict that Hochevar would strike out over 13 batters per nine innings or only allow a hit every other inning or allow ONE extra base hit (only a double at that) in his first 51 innings of work.  That would have been crazy talk.  No one does that.

No one except Wade Davis.

Within a day of the Royals discovering that Hochevar was lost for the season, they abandoned all thought of Wade Davis as a starter.  What happened and is happening since that point in time has been a spectacular success.  You can apply and debate the value of a pitcher who only pitches the eighth inning when his team has a lead, but I do not know that you can debate that Wade Davis is better in that role than anyone else in baseball this year.

Now, I’ve been jaded by years of organizational stubbornness when it comes to ‘their’ players. It took the Royals five years to allow themselves to use Hochevar out of the pen.  It took them just this side of forever to give up on Kyle Davies.  You do the math:  if Luke Hochevar is healthy in 2014, does Wade Davis take up space in the starting rotation?

In 2013, the Royals were 10-13 in games started by Davis.  In 2014, Kansas City is 12-10 in games started by Yordano Ventura and 9-9 in those started by Danny Duffy.    We don’t know and they don’t know, either, what the Royals would have done with regard to Davis with a healthy Hochevar in the picture, but I have a sense that he’s in the rotation to at least start the year.

Assuming Davis was, he might well have taken Bruce Chen’s spot and quite possibly have been roughly equal in effectiveness.  Does that really sound like something Dayton Moore and Ned Yost would have done in April?  After their team has surged back into first place, maybe we should give them the benefit of the doubt, but you almost have to believe that there was a better than even shot that Chen would stick in the rotation with Davis taking the spot of Yordano Ventura.

Anybody want to trade Ventura’s five April starts (the Royals went 3-2 in those) for five Wade Davis starts?  Anyone?  Bueller?

Carry it a bit further.  When Bruce Chen went on the disabled list in late April, that might well have triggered a Ventura promotion, but then when would Danny Duffy have been granted his first start?   Instead of May 3rd, where would Kansas City be if Duffy did not get the nod until mid-June?

Complete and total speculation on my part with regard to 97.3% of everything above. It is quite possible that the Royals would have broken camp with the exact rotation they did, called up Duffy exactly when they did, and done so even with Hochevar AND Davis in the pen.  It might have happened that way.

I wish no ill will on Luke Hochevar.  I was looking forward to him being an effective, if overpriced, weapon out of the bullpen this season.  However, I am not sure a healthy Hochevar would have equaled a better team record for the reasons listed above.

It is August 12th and the Kansas City Royals are in first place.  Tough break, Luke, but I’m digging this reality.

 

 

 

 

“We can’t get caught up in what Detroit’s doing. Or whoever’s behind us.”
– Jarrod Dyson

Forgive me if this is a bit stream-of-consciousness. This is being written immediately following my return from The K, where I watched the Royals defeat the Oakland A’s 3-2. With the win and the Tigers loss to Pittsburgh, the Royals have moved into first place in the AL Central by a half a game.

What?

The Ned Yost Baseballing Strategy again worked to perfection. A couple of timely hits by the evening’s offensive hero in Alcides Escobar. Six gritty innings from Yordano Ventura. Solid defense by Alex Gordon in left and Mike Moustakas at third. And the lockdown triumvirate of Kelvin Herrera, The Wade Davis Experience, and Greg Holland. Boom. Boom. BOOM!

First place.

I think I’ve written this before, but I don’t really believe in “celebrating” being in first place on August 11. But you cannot deny there is something going on here. On May 20, the Royals were in third place in the AL Central, seven games out of first. By June 17, they were in first. That stay was short lived. Again, the Royals stumbled. One month later, on July 12 they lost at Detroit and fell to 7.5 games behind the leaders. And now, on August 12 they are back in first place. Do you see what’s going on here? They have rallied from seven games back not once, but twice. To accomplish that once in a season is impressive. Twice? Oh, my.

So I’ll celebrate. Just a little. One eye on the standings. Another on the calendar.

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The Royals made a trade on Monday, acquiring Josh Willingham from the Minnesota Twins. (I really need to get around to updating my Dayton Moore database. Sorry.)

Willingham gives the Royals the right-handed bat they had been so desperately seeking. In many ways, he’s an anti-Royal. For starters, he walks. His career walk rate is 12 percent. He’s actually outperformed his career average in each of his three seasons with the Twins. Second, he strikes out a bit. Like in more than a quarter of his plate appearances. Third, he has a high OBP. His current .345 OBP ranks second on the Royals. Finally, he has some power. His career-high for home runs is 35, set a couple seasons ago. That’s impressive. (Remember, this is a Royals blog. Our idea about impressive home run totals is skewed by Steve Balboni and ballplayers wearing stirrups.) He’s kind of a Three True Outcomes Lite kind of guy. Sort of a poor man’s Adam Dunn. Which on a month and a half rental, is just fine.

Defensively, you don’t want him to have a glove. He’s played in left field for the Twins. We know that’s not going to happen here. He last played right field in 2009 for the Nationals. Ned Yost says he’ll move him around, but if Ned is smart (don’t answer that) Willingham is the DH. In 2011 and 2012, the right-handed hitting Willingham hit for a better average against right-handed pitchers, but hit everyone for power. In 2013 and this year, he’s reverted to the old fashioned platoon split. He’s been miserable against right-handers and passable against lefties. But he’s still hitting for more power versus the righties.

Even with his anti-platoon struggles, he’s still an above average offensive player. A nifty combination of on base-ability and power give him a 111 wRC+. He needs to be in the lineup as the everyday DH.

A nice piece of business from Dayton Moore to fill a big hole in the lineup.

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Being at The K on Monday was one of the more memorable experiences I’ve had there as a fan in the last 20-plus years. The crowd was Kansas City subdued, but there was a buzz in the stands. Kind of percolating, waiting for something big to happen. We didn’t get an Alex Gordon moon shot or a three-run Billy Bomb. The offense was kind of classic Royals. A couple of hits, another god-awful outfield throwing error and a double play led to the first run. Three singles created the second. And the third scored following a walk, a fielder’s choice, another weak grounder to second and a single from Escobar. Nothing sexy. Workman-like. And enough to secure the win.

The crowd obviously responded to the runs, but they seemed to save their energy for the bullpen. By the time Herrera entered the game, there was this odd sense that this team was in control. In control. How often have we used those words to describe a Royals team? Herrera throws straight gas and gets a flyable out on a nice play by Cain who had to run a long way, and then punches out Jed Lowrie on 101 mph petrol and follows that up with a whiff of John Jaso. Herrera yields to Davis who picks up a pair of strikeouts before ending the inning on a fly ball to left. The buzz is building the whole time through the seventh and eighth. It’s as if the fans know this is the appetizer. But it’s damn good. And then Holland. The place erupts. Saveman. He wobbles. A single. A wild pitch. A walk. Trouble. Yet the buzz continues to build. We’re on our feet. The chants. The cheers. And Holland comes through. He gets a ground ball double play and a fly out to center.

At the end, it was as loud and joyous a crowd I can remember at The K. We know what’s happening. We are aware. Everyone knows what the Tigers are up to. Everyone knows the stakes. It was a special, special evening.

It wasn’t a playoff-type of atmosphere. But 21,000+ made it a damn fine dress rehearsal.

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I don’t go for memorabilia, but I do have a few things. Odds and ends that are special to me. I have a bunch of ticket stubs. Playoff tickets dating back to 1976. World Series tickets. Random games from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. I haven’t kept much lately. I’m keeping that ticket.

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Finally, a couple of images from Monday.

 

 

It’s a damn crazy season. Buckle up.

 

It is August 10th, or if you went to be early, you are waking up on August 11th and the Kansas City Royals are a game and one-half in front of the pack for the second wild card berth.  Even more, they find themselves just one-half game behind the injured riddled Detroit Tigers.

What the hell is going on here?!!

Weird things happen when a team with a great bullpen gets good starting pitching at the same time Billy Butler and Alex Gordon hit.  Baseball things happen.

Winners of 14 of their last 17, the Royals have benefited greatly from the fact that Billy Buter (by chance or by because he is getting to play in the field) has 11 extra base hits over that span.  A third of Butler’s extra base hits have come in the last three weeks while his fellow hold-over from the Allard Baird era (Alex Gordon) has hit seven more extra base hits and walked eight times.

That combination makes baseball seem easy.   It won’t always be that way.

I’ve done some statistical analysis and have come to the conclusion that the Kansas City Royals, nor any other team, is going to maintain a 14-3 pace for the rest of the season.  I know, who would have thought?

That said, the Royals control their own destiny with just 47 games left to play in the regular season.  They have a real chance to overtake Detroit and win the Central Division.  They have a very good chance of hanging onto that second wild-card spot.  They should make their chances even better.

This playoff race almost certainly seems to be headed to a final week conclusion, the margin to get into post-season might well be one game.  Dayton Moore (and David Glass) should do whatever possible to find one or two more wins.  Sure, you can look forward to the return of Eric Hosmer, but that is likely three weeks away at least and I just don’t think teams routinely get to the playoffs by playing Raul Ibanez at designated hitter…not with Mike Moustakas playing third (he’s surged ALL the way to .200!).

Three weeks is a long time: long enough for Toronto or New York or Detroit or Seattle to get just as hot as the Royals are.  It is also long enough for the Royals to endure some tough luck or revert to the team that not very long ago could not score any runs.

Adam Dunn.

He does things the Royals don’t really understand, like take walks, and he also does things they are only a little familiar with, like hit home runs.  He strikes out a ton and doesn’t hit much of anything else besides home runs, but he is a tremendously more effective hitter than Raul Ibanez or Eric Kratz.

Who do you want to be your designated hitter for the next 21 days?   Who would you have more faith in helping to continue this freakishly fun ride?

I have a hard time imagining you have to give up a ton for seven weeks of Adam Dunn, certainly not any of your top five prospects and probably not even your top ten.  I have not heard that Dunn has cleared waivers and it would seem possible that he might not, but it certainly is something worth exploring if you are the Royals.

The Royals may find that Dunn is unavailable or that the White Sox don’t want to be reasonable in a trade (although it would seem odd they wouldn’t take something) and if that is the case then they should be ‘aggressively pursuing the waiver-trade market’ as they claimed they would do on July 31st.

Winning baseball games should not have changed that mindset.  In fact, it should only make the Royals’ organization more intent on improving this team.

Even if the improvement is just one game.

I don’t normally write blog posts on the weekend. This isn’t a normal weekend.

The Royals dropped the Giants 5-0 on Saturday. James Shields pitched a complete game shutout. Alex Gordon homered. Sung Woo was there. Just another Saturday night at The K.

That’s really all you need to know. This week has been so improbable, I feel at a loss for words. This team has so many flaws; many of them on display during this six game winning streak. Yet for one week, they have consistently overcome those flaws and have won. The Royals have captured 13 of their last 17 and are still, officially, the hottest team in baseball. Flaws be damned.

Shields was brilliant on Saturday. He allowed only two Giant base runners to advance to second base. One on a wild pitch, another on a double. Both times, the runner was stranded. The most pitches he threw in any one inning was 16. He threw 109 pitches total, yet got only four swings and misses. Such is how the Giants offense is rolling these days. Which is really fine with me. A win is a win. They’re all important, but as the calendar advances, they certainly seem to grow in importance. They say baseball is a game without a clock, but the season is certainly finite. There are 162 games. Win enough and you get to the playoffs. April wins mean as much as August wins, but with fewer opportunities available, the August wins come with a little more passion.

As the numbers have grown in this stretch, I find myself thinking of Dayton Moore and his proclamation last summer that his team was capable of winning 15 of 20. I mocked Moore for making such a statement. (Actually, I called for his firing.) And damned if they didn’t rip off 19 wins in 24 games. That was the first time a Royals team got that hot since April of 2003. Seriously, it took the Royals 10 years to get hot enough to win 15 of 20. And now, with 13 wins in their last 17 games, they’re on the cusp of doing it again.

The difference is, this stretch comes when other flawed teams are actually losing (or not winning as much.) So the Royals have been able to push to the front of what really is a mediocre pack and place their grip on the second Wild Card. And now, with the Detroit bullpen doing Detroit bullpen things, the Royals have somehow closed the gap between first and second in the AL Central to a mere 1.5 games. And that’s why this year feels different. Last summer when the Royals got hot, they couldn’t get closer than 6.5 games back of Detroit.

On Saturday, the Royals won their 62nd game of the year. Their record is 62-53. Last year, at a similar point, their record was 62-54. The difference? The standings. Last year at this time, the Royals were 6.5 games behind Detroit in the Central. And they were four games out of the Wild Card. This year, they are in place in the second Wild Card and they are making life extremely uncomfortable for the Detroit Tigers. Funny how that happens.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

This may have been one of the more improbable wins of the season.

Jeremy Guthrie opens the game for the Royals, and as Jeremy Guthrie is apt to do, he allowed some baserunners in the early going. Like a lot of baserunners.

In his first three innings of work, Guthrie threw 54 pitches. He allowed seven hits, all singles, and two runs. Jeremy Baserunner Guthrie, indeed.

Then… The turnaround.

For the final six innings, Guthrie threw 55 pitches. And he was masterful, retiring his final 19 hitters. He mixed a four-seam fastball with his change, cutter and slider, throwing all four pitches almost equally. He generated only six swing and misses, but this is the Diamondbacks. When not throwing at opposing hitters, they’re busy waving the white flag. But that’s OK, because these games count for the Royals just as much as any games against the Tigers.

Once Guthrie found that groove, the Diamondbacks were helpless. He was actually throwing pitches down the heart of the plate, but Arizona couldn’t do any damage.

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Fouls, called strikes and in play, out(s). The Diamondbacks were powerless against the wizardry of Guthrie.

On the offensive side of the ledger, Alex Gordon muscled up on a belt-high fastball and the Royals parlayed a Nori Aoki single, an Omar Infante single, a double steal and a Sal Perez single (all aboard the Single Train!) into a pair of runs in the fourth. It was all Guthrie would need.

The Ned Yost Baseballing Formula worked for another night. Quality starting pitching, a couple of key hits, and a manufactured run or two. Thursday, he didn’t need to go to his bullpen. How perfect was that. Let the man shine on.

The game wasn’t without some old Royal moments. Alcides Escobar was picked off/caught stealing in the fourth for his team-high 10th TOOTBLAN this season. In the last week and a half, he’s been picked off twice and doubled off first. Speaking of TOOTBLAN moments, in the eighth, Mike MoustakAZ was thrown out on a play at the plate where it was clear that he would have been safe had he bothered to slide. In the same inning, Guthrie was hit by a pitch and then went first to third on an Aoki single that featured one of the most awkward slides I’ve seen since Chris Getz face-planted into second base last year. I’ll excuse the Guthrie transgression since he’s a pitcher and all that, but the MoustakAZ gaffe is another indication that the guy just doesn’t seem to get it. He’s happy with his double. He’s happy the team is winning by three runs late. And he just doesn’t seem to understand that every run is important. Every out is precious. I’m singling out MoustakAZ, but this is a Royals problem. Winning hides the unpleasant, but this is a problem that percolates just under the surface. Nearly everything went right for the Royals on this roadtrip. Carelessness or a sense of entitlement can change all that in an instant. And these mistakes won’t look so good during a three-game losing streak.

I don’t mean to be a downer. I’m on the bandwagon after all. The Royals wrap up a six game road trip with five wins. That’s pretty huge. They won a game 1-0 (another Guthrie masterpiece) and they won a game 12-2. And they won games in between. They have won 12 of their last 15. Just a month ago, we mocked Yost and Moore for the “second half team” comments. Yeah…

When Thursday ended, the Royals were atop the Wild Card Number Two standings. One-half game ahead of the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Mariners. Quite the logjam. While it’s great the Royals hold the advantage for the second Wild Card, I’m not going to celebrate that. It’s August 8, for crying out loud. Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely outstanding the team has shoved their way to the front of the line. It’s great they are in the pole position. In a way, they control their own destiny from this point forward. Win more games than the other three teams in the mix and it’s October baseball. But still… There’s a lot of baseball to be played. Like more than seven weeks of games. We’ve seen this team. They rip off a few wins and just as quickly take a dip in the tank. Or we’ll write them off and they’ll charge back. Yeah, I’m buying in. Don’t worry about me. I’m just saying I refuse to get too high about the standings at this point in the season. Just like I’m going to try to avoid the lows if the team gets swept by the Giants this weekend. (Like that’s going to happen. We have Sung Woo on our side.)

Now, having said that, I will absolutely engage in scoreboard watching. It’s a lost art among Royals fans. During the game on Thursday, I propped up my iPad with the Mariners game, just to keep tabs on another team in the hunt. I am concerned about the standings and they absolutely do matter. The wins are meaningful and the losses are going to sting just a little more than usual. It’s just this is unfamiliar territory for us. The roller coaster is about to get just a little more extreme.

But I’m still excited. Oh, yes. I’m still excited.

This is happening, isn’t it?

A quick recap of my most recent emotional roller coaster:

— At the All-Star Break, I wrote the Royals needed to make a move in the first 13 games of the second half.

— The Royals went 7-6 in those games and lost ground in the Wild Card chase.

— I wrote the Royals should sell.

— Dayton Moore made me angry when he didn’t.

— The Royals have won four of their five games in August. That’s 11-3 in their last 14.

— They currently stand 3.5 games behind Detroit in the Central and just a half game back of the Blue Jays. They are solidly in second place in both races. There are no teams to leapfrog. They’re not in pole position, but they’re pretty damn close.

This season. This team. Bananas.

The patented Ned Yost Baseballing Formula worked on Wednesday. Get six innings from your starter. One or two big hits. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland. Chalk up a win.

The hero was Mike Moustakas. A two-run home run, a run-scoring single and a run-scoring fielders choice. The guy drove in all four runs. When he hits free agency, the dude needs to make sure the Diamondbacks are bidding. MoustakAZ is clearly the king of Arizona. The guy crushes in Surprise every March and that’s just carried over to the desert in August.

His home run plate appearance was interesting. Josh Collmenter started him with three pitches away. He came down Main Street on 3-0 and MoustakAZ swung. This drives me crazy and I’m sure I’m not alone. MoustakAZ has seen 27 3-0 counts this season and has swung four times. I know, I know… It’s not a lot. But still. Exactly what has he done to deserve the option to swing 3-0? He doesn’t have a base hit in that situation, missing (or fouling off the pitch) twice and making a pair of outs. Please, just stop. I don’t care if it’s Collmenter offering an 84 mph cutter. You’ll still have a favorable hitting count 3-1.

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Speaking of 3-1, the next pitch was down, but MoustakAZ dropped the barrel and whacked it out of the park on a line drive. A flawed process with a good final swing that was rewarded with two runs. It’s the Royals. It’s how they roll.

Yordano Ventura threw fire, wasn’t exactly sharp, but managed to whiff seven and routinely get out of trouble. And that’s all the Royals ask of their starters these days. The bullpen was a touch wobbly, but they were able to hang on and power through. Hey, you’re not always going to get nine consecutive outs from the Big Three. You just ask for those outs as rapid as possible, please. And thank you very much for allowing just the single run.

So we’re at this point in the season. I don’t know when the last time was the Royals were this close in mid-August. I want to go “all in” with the club, but I’ve seen too much and been burned far too often. I do know this… What I said last month is still valid. All the teams in the Wild Card hunt have some serious flaws. The winner will be the team that doesn’t necessarily overcome those flaw, but it will be the team that is able to gloss over them effectively over the last seven weeks of the season. The Royals have as good a chance as any team to grab that second Wild Card. Are the Blue Jays, Yankees, Mariners, and Indians appreciably better? Does any one of the five teams in the mix have a marked advantage over the other four. The answer to both of those questions is, “I don’t think so.”

I guess it’s time to soak it all in. Yeah, we can get hurt all over again. But that pain subsided for me a long time ago. Another season without October? Yeah, I can deal with that. Because I’ve dealt with that for almost three decades. Missing out on a potentially joyous ride of my adult life with a baseball team I’ve pulled for for almost 40 years? That’s not happening. I’m here. You’re here. Let’s do this together.

Royals baseball, man.

1B/DH ∙ 1974—76

Tolia “Tony” Solaita (so-LEE-tah) blazed a unique trail to the majors: He is the only MLB player born in the tiny territory of American Samoa, located midway between Australia and Hawaii. There was no baseball being played on the island when Solaita was growing up, but he loved to play cricket. That passion switched to baseball at the age of eight after the family moved to Hawaii. He is also unusual on my top 100 Royals list as a Rule 5 draft acquisition (Joakim Soria is the only other).

The Yankees had signed him way back in 1965 but only gave him one MLB plate appearance for the next nine years while he toiled in the minors. Jack McKeon took a liking to Solaita when he managed him in the minors before McKeon shifted to the Royals system in 1968, and told Solaita the Royals would take him in the 1968 expansion draft. But the Yankees ended up protecting Solaita, and he remained buried in the minors. The Royals, with McKeon now the big league manager, finally got their chance five years later and selected Solaita in the Rule 5 draft in the winter of ’73-’74.

Solaita stuck with the Royals for the next two and a half years, but he still had a hard time getting regular playing time with John Mayberry, Hal McRae, and Harmon Killebrew holding down first base and DH duties much of that time. Solaita took full advantage when given a chance, and nearly matched the great Mayberry and McRae at the plate. He started off 1974 with a homer in the fifth game, and just kept hitting whenever he was sent up there. A couple of injuries suffered by Mayberry allowed Solaita to play first base in 65 games (DHing and pinch-hitting tacked on 15 more). He possessed the perfect combo of taking walks plus hitting for power.

It is easy to see in retrospect that the Royals made a mistake signing an over the hill Killebrew to DH in 1975 instead of just handing the job to Solaita. “I think I can play every day and hit up here,” Solaita said. “I know I can.”[i] The way he crushed the ball in 1975, he should have been given the chance. But the afterglow of Killebrew’s great career was too bright, and the Royals ended up giving Killebrew the bulk of the time at DH while Solaita hit circles around him in fewer chances. Hitting 16 homers in just 275 PAs gave Solaita the best home run rate in the AL. One of them was a massive 550 foot blast in Tiger Stadium, and three of them came in a single game, which was the first time anyone did that at Anaheim Stadium.[ii] He ended up getting just the 12th most plate appearances for the team in 1975 but the fifth most runs created. McKeon, Solaita’s biggest booster, was replaced mid-season by Whitey Herzog.

Solaita remained on the team at the beginning of’76, but continued to have a hard time cracking the lineup with Mayberry at first and McRae reinstated as the usual DH. The roster crunch finally caught up with him in July and the Angels claimed him on waivers. Few Royals players have produced as much given so little opportunity. Solaita’s unique baseball life took him to California, Montreal, Toronto, Japan, and then back to American Samoa to grow the game in his homeland. His life ended tragically and early, but his dream of bringing baseball to Samoa was realized. Kids there today play little league on Tony Solaita Field.

Read Rory Costello’s broader biography of Solaita here.

[i] Del Black, “Born to Cricket, Tony Now Loud Royal Chirper,” The Sporting News, June 7, 1975.

[ii] Rory Costello, Tony Solaita, http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/86186fe8

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