Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts published by Craig Brown

Ned Yost has run the exact same batting order out for 18 consecutive games. Eighteen games! The last eight of the regular season, the Wild Card game, the three in the ALDS, the four in the ALCS, and the first two of the World Series. Now, with the Series shifting to the National League park where the Royals will lose the designated hitter, Yost will have to ponder some changes.

I have joked that Yost will just throw the pitcher in the fifth spot in the order in place of Billy Butler. Pretty automatic, right? Of course, Yost isn’t going to do that.

What will probably happen is Yost will keep his top four, remove Butler and then push his usual bottom four one higher. There are rumblings Yost will actually make a change, removing Nori Aoki and replacing him with Jarrod Dyson. That’s a really good idea.

How about this for a lineup?

Gordon – LF
Escobar – SS
Cain – RF
Hosmer – 1B
Infante – 2B
Moustakas – 3B
Perez – C
Dyson – CF

I know what you’re going to say. Madness. But think about it. Alex Gordon is having a miserable October, hitting .176/.333/.353, yet I bump him to the top of the order. It’s going with my gut, because he’s done it before and he’s done it successfully. Also, because I believe the Royals really need to get Gordon going. Imagine the next three to five games if he gets hot. So much better. Maybe it’s a touch of insanity, but I prefer to think of it as a move to get an important bat going again. Moving his away from Perez has to help, right? I know we’re not supposed to talk about “protection” in the lineup, but I believe it makes a difference in small sample sizes. They’re not giving Gordon anything to hit because they know Perez isn’t going to follow with anything of substance. Moving Gordon ahead of Cain and Hosmer has to make a difference in the quality of pitches Gordon will see. At least I believe that.

Alcides Escobar bumps down to second. He’s taken just one walk and has a .311 OPB in the postseason. Not leadoff material. However, he’s handled the bat well enough that I’m fine with him staying toward the top of the order.

Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer at three and four are automatic.

Omar Infante is heating up when it matters most. The double and home run in Game Two were spectacular, but he also had a .433 OBP in the ALCS to go along with four hits. Mike Moustakas has hit some big home runs, but mostly has been a steady presence. Which is to say he’s an improvement over regular season Moustakas. He still doesn’t belong higher in the order. Bump them up a couple of spots.

Salvador Perez has continued his offensive struggles this month. Even when he’s gotten a big hit – like in the Wild Card game or the double in Game Two – he’s been lost nearly every other time at the plate. been hitting well at the top of the order, relatively speaking. He needs to be buried at the bottom of the lineup while hoping he can collect a big hit or two.

Jarrod Dyson is the biggest change in my lineup. With triples alley in right-center, and with a tremendous defensive potential outfield, I think Ned Yost has to put his best glovemen in the outfield. That means Dyson in center, Cain in right and Nori Aoki to the bench. Plus, you have Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas, who are the two fly ball pitchers in this postseason rotation. Aoki has been a… let’s just say an adventure in the outfield. Plus, his bat on the bench gives Yost an attractive pinch hit option along with Billy Butler. And don’t forget Josh Willingham. That trio could come in handy in the National League park.

This lineup largely goes left-right-left-right. Since we saw how Bruce Bochy is going to manage his bullpen in the middle innings, that seems important. The exception is at two and three with Escobar and Cain from the right side. Since that’s the case, I would entertain flip-flopping Gordon and Escobar at the top. I’m not thrilled with Escobar leading off, but he’s been doing it since mid-September and well… You can’t argue with the results since then.

Yost has to move out of his lineup comfort zone. Why not shift things around to get what could be an optimal lineup when all you need is three wins?

Sorry for the belated post.

First, let’s talk about the managing. Ned Yost made several moves we can discuss. He sent Alcides Escobar on a stolen base attempts in the bottom of the first. Escobar was thrown out and a few pitches later, Lorenzo Cain hit a double to short left-center field. Interesting call. Notice that Yost hasn’t had Nori Aoki bunt in the first inning in these playoffs. Obviously, I’m fine with that. However, I didn’t understand the stolen base attempt in the situation. Cain is swinging the hot bat – Hosmer, too – so maybe in the first you practice a little patience and see what happens. I don’t know. I do know that the Royals collected three hits in the first, along with a walk and scored one run.

Then, in the sixth, Yost lifted starter Yordano Ventura after he allowed a pair of singles sandwiched between a fly out. Enter Kelvin Herrera for the five out hold. Obviously, in that situation you’re hoping Herrera won’t throw a ton of pitches – he ended up offering 32 – but with the off day Thursday, I suppose that’s OK as well. It was clearly the right situation to bring Herrera into the game. Yes, Yost could’ve gone with Brandon Finnegan, but the comfort level is there with Herrera. So in the big game, you use him. Herrera wobbled a bit in the seventh, issuing two walks. It looked like he lost his arm slot and wasn’t comfortable on the mound. A frightening moment, made less frightening by the fact the Royals scored five a half inning prior.

The other move Yost made that I almost questioned (remember, he’s on a roll, so we’re not really allowed to question) was when he pinch ran for Billy Butler after his go-ahead single in the sixth. Why bring Terrance Gore into the game when there’s a runner (Hosmer) on base ahead of him? It just didn’t make sense to me. Also, at that point, it was a one run game. Butler’s spot in the order was going to come around again. At the time, I feared we would miss his bat. This is October and Yost is Yost. So it all worked extremely well. Gore came around to score on Sal Perez’s double and then Omar Infante clubbed a home run. Three hits. Three daggers. Ballgame.

Second, I’m tired of pitchers who aren’t very good losing their mind when their mistakes get crushed. If you don’t want to give up a double and a home run, make better pitches. And if you need to get angry at someone, look to yourself.

Third, the last six outs for the Giants: strikeout, strikeout, groundout to first, strikeout, strikeout, strikeout. Yost isn’t kidding when he says he doesn’t have to think after the sixth inning. This bullpen is so key.

Fourth, it would appear Infante is feeling OK. He’s made a couple plays on the infield at the end of the ALCS and now in the World Series that lead you to believe the shoulder is holding together. Last night, it was a nice play to grab a ball up the middle from Buster Posey with a runner on first. If that ball gets through, you have maybe first and third with Pablo Sandoval at the plate. So Infante’s snare seems important. And then the home run. He was sitting dead red, got a meatball and crushed it. Totally unexpected. Totally awesome. Dude. And we can’t forget his double in the second, either. Ripped and a one-hopper against the left field wall.

Fifth, I love me some Billy Butler. What a great moment on Wednesday, after he was lifted for Gore, the BIL-LY BUT-LER chant started and quickly spread through the stadium. He came out for a curtain call. A curtain call for an RBI single. So great. The relationship between Butler and the fans is a complicated one, which I have never understood. (Well, I have understood, but I really don’t want to.) It’s clear he cares for this franchise, his teammates and this city. It’s entirely possible Wednesday night was his final appearance in the home whites. If that was his last Royal at bat at The K, it was perfect: A line drive to left-center, pushing the Royals ahead.

Welp. We’ve seen better postseason games, haven’t we?

The tendency of a Game One in any series is to analyze and over-analyze. It’s the first game, so surely what we saw has to carry over to the remainder, right?

Rewind yourself.

Certainly there are conclusions we can draw: James Shields isn’t right. Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval can hit the ball. The Royals are hacking. Again.

If there’s anything to be dispirited over, it would be the bottom of the third inning. Omar Infante reaches via an error and Mike Moustakas doubles to set up second and third with no one out. Just put the ball in play. Just put the damn ball in play. Instead, we get Alcides Escobar swinging at pitches at his eyeballs and Nori Aoki hacking at curves in the dirt. Lorenzo Cain puts together a helluva plate appearance, falling behind 0-2 before working four straight balls for the free pass.

Bases loaded, two down. And Eric Hosmer swings at the first pitch he sees – a slider on the outer half he tries to pull, yet predictably rolls his wrists and softly grounds out to second. Inning over. Threat over. Ballgame over.

The Hosmer ground out was the first of 12 straight Royal batters retired by Bumgarner. Only the Sal Perez home run in the seventh broke that streak.

If you’re surprised at the offensive futility we witnessed on Tuesday, welcome to the bandwagon, I guess. You must be new. These are the 2014 Royals. They can’t swing the hot lumber all month. Yet I would caution you to count these guys out just yet. It’s a short series, so there’s a certain danger – and poor timing – but they will continue to rely on their starting pitching and defense to keep the games close. Three runs can be enough. Oftentimes for the Royals, it is.

Which is why Shields has been a colossal disappointment this October. He threw his change-up 11 times, got five swings and just one miss. Of the three change-ups put in play, all went for hits. His bread and butter pitch has turned stale. Why? Who knows. It could be the mileage on his arm. It could be mechanics. It could be the current moon phase. What we do know is he’s been underwhelming in all of his postseason starts. Underwhelming enough that if the Series makes it five, Ned Yost has to consider replacing him with someone like Danny Duffy, who once he found his groove, threw quite well for throwing only nine innings since the end of August. Of course we know that Yost won’t do that. He would never do that. Shields is his “ace” and his ace will take the ball.

I’m not fine with that. Not after what I’ve seen. While Yost said Shields would get the ball for his next scheduled start, things could change between now and Sunday. If it’s an elimination game, I’d really be worried.

The Royals still need four wins to pull this off. They suffered a setback, but it’s not fatal. There’s still time to recover. It now rests on the fireballing arm of Yordano Ventura.

Let’s throw fire.

I’ve had a fun time the last several days as I’ve watched some of the brightest analytical baseball minds attempt to figure out the Royals success. Hell, I enjoy analysis and while I don’t consider myself smart enough (or good enough with numbers) to be a true sabermetrician, I tend to lean toward the statistical and analytical side of things.

The great thing about the Royals of October is there’s simply no explanation. Sure, pitching and defense and speed are supposed to be the bedrock of postseason baseball. But the Royals made it to October by scoring 651 runs while allowing 624. Remember how I said I’m not good enough with numbers? Well, forget that, because the Royals had a positive run differential of 27. By the straight pythagorean, that translates to 84 wins. By third order pythagorean, the Royals are a 79 win team. The 2014 Royals – the real players in real uniforms – won 89 games. And they’re playing in Game One of the World Series tonight.

Sometimes, the unexplainable happens. Yeah, I know some writers are paid to make sense of such things. But how do you explain the 2014 Kansas City Royals?

What I like about this Series is both teams have had ample rest. Sure, the bats may be a little slow out of the gate on Tuesday, but I really like the fact both teams have had the opportunity to recharge the batteries on players like Sal Perez. I also like that both bullpens will be fully functional. And I also like that both managers have had the opportunity to set their rotations. It’s a level playing field, so there’s no narrative here about one team being rested. Or rusty.

I’ve seen some words floating around the internets about how this is the worst World Series ever – at least according to records of the participants. Complain if you must, but this is what Bud hath wrought. The team with the fourth best record in the American League, squaring off against the team with the fifth best record in the National League. I’ve gone on the record before that I’m no fan of the Wild Card. I guess that puts me in the, “Get off my lawn” group. That’s fine. However, contrary to outward appearances, I’m not stupid. The Royals benefit from the benevolence of Chairman Bud and the greed of the owners who are adding playoff tiers in an effort to squeeze even more money from their public. Whatever. The Royals are a Wild Card team and they’re in the World Series. Next April, they’re going to raise a flag – either an AL pennant or a World Championship banner. There won’t be an asterisk on the cloth. The rules are the rules. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened in 1975, but this October run is every bit as legit as all the others going back to 1903.

We know the Royals starting lineup for Game One and we know how they were acquired. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are holdovers from the Allard Baird regime. Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer belong to Moore. That’s four first rounders in the lineup. Then you have free agent signing Omar Infante. And international free agent Sal Perez.

Then the trades. Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain came to the Royals from Milwaukee in the Zack Greinke trade. Someone – I wish I could remember who – mentioned the Greinke trade wasn’t well received at the time. Maybe my memory is hazy, which is entirely possible, but I don’t remember it that way at all. I remember that trade as an inevitability once Greinke said he didn’t want to continue to play for a perpetually rebuilding team. Then of course you have the James Shields and Wade Davis trade. And we can’t forget the Nori Aoki deal. Is it kind of funny the Royals have three former Brewers in their starting nine? I think it’s funny. Don’t forget the manager, too.

Speaking of Ned Yost, don’t you find yourself warming up to the guy? He’s gone from fired two weeks from the postseason to a remarkable 8-0 in playoff baseball. Hurray for second chances. Maybe I’m reading way too much into this, but it looks to me like the guy has had a 1,000 pound weight lifted off his shoulders. Yeah, yeah, yeah… He’s not into vindication or whatever. Right. When people are calling you “dunce” (For the record, I never did that.) or “Nervous Ned.” (I did do that.) and they keep bringing up how you spit the bit in Milwaukee, it has to feel damn good to not only prove you can get the job done, but to do it in style. And eight wins in eight chances is most certainly style.

The bunts have to stop and I have no doubt he’s going to make some sort of infuriating move somewhere down the line, but damnit if he isn’t winning me over in some small way. I’ve enjoyed the shots of him in the dugout, raising both arms when Moustakas or Hosmer crushes one and quickly putting them down as if he remembers how all the great ones keep the celebration on the inside. It’s cool, Ned. Let it out. You deserve this.

Another great byproduct of this World Series is how it’s an opportunity to showcase Kansas City. As you probably know, I was born and raised here. Went a short distance away for college, and apart from some European adventures, I’ve spent most of my adult life in this city. Because I love it. I love everything about this city. From the Plaza to Westport to downtown. The WWI museum, the Kauffman Center and Union Station. The OP Farmers Market and the Louisburg Cider Mill. There’s so much greatness about this city. I remember when the Royals were awarded the All-Star Game, some worried about the lack of public transportation and how the stadium was kind of in the middle of nowhere. I remember I told people not to worry, that the All-Star Game was a big party and that Kansas City knew how to throw a great party. And we didn’t disappoint. Now, a little over two years later, we have another chance. KC is the middle of the baseball universe again. The city is alive and it feels so right. And we feel so ready. The buildup has been fun, but the actual event is going to be a blast.

I love baseball and I love the Royals. I hope that’s obvious. I’ve only been squatting on internet bandwidth, writing about this damn team since 2005. I was burning out. Last March, I didn’t know if I wanted to write about them anymore. I left SB Nation in May because it wasn’t fun – both the team and writing for a network. I spent a good portion of this summer unsure of what I wanted to do and just going through the paces. But this October has awakened something in me, I didn’t know existed anymore. The joy from winning baseball and the elation at the victories has been something else. I never get nervous watching my teams compete. Truly. I think that has something to do with the time I spent in the media. No cheering in the press box and all that. But in the later innings of Game Four of the ALCS, I was nervous. I was so nervous, I thought I needed to sit down at a couple of points. I’m not sure that’s ever happened. How fun. Baseball is fun. Royals baseball is fun.

I owe you a prediction, I suppose. Let’s go with the Royals in six.

Thanks for hanging with me. Thanks for reading.

Go Royals.

Lost in the euphoria of the sweep of the Orioles was the fact the Royals offense went into cold storage when the series shifted back to The K. After scoring 14 runs off 25 hits in Baltimore, the Royals managed four runs and just 12 hits at home. Of course, it was enough to squeak by, and in the October world of short series and long breaks, it probably doesn’t matter. I just find it interesting that in the last two games the Royals scored their runs on a ground out, a sac fly and a fielders choice that resulted in an error allowing two runs to score on one play. Also, of the 12 hits in the two games, the Royals mustered only one extra base hit. That was Billy Butler’s double leading off the eighth in Game Four. Terrance Gore ran for Butler, but was stranded at third. Welcome home, Royals offense.

But the beauty of the 2014 Royals is they can make two runs stand up. It was a recipe we saw often. Just give five or six strong innings of starting pitching and get the hell out of the way for the Three Relievers of the Apocalypse.

It seems like I wrote about this at length once the team went on it’s second half tear. Every night it was a different guy with a big hit in a key situation that seemed to do just enough to plate a run or two and then the game is left in the hands of the pitching and the defense. Although the Royals have played some wild games and had some late inning heroics on the back of the long ball, this is a team built for October success through it’s pitching and defense. We saw that on display in Games Three and Four. Again, in the short series of October it looks like the Royals can beat you in a variety of ways. It’s not going to be easy against the Giants, but you know the Royals will be competitive in damn near every game. If not all of them.

As a team in the ALCS, the Royals hit .280/.362/.417. They drew 15 walks, which feels like an extraordinary number for this team in a four game series, and stole just a single base while collecting 10 extra base hits. By contrast, the Orioles hit just .217/.283/.297 with two steals and seven extra base hits. Remember how going into the series the talk was how the Royals were going to run like hell and the Orioles were the brutes of baseball? Hmmmm… Baseball narratives are fun, aren’t they?

I guess the point is, expect the unexpected. Or, if you prefer, anything goes. If some expert at ESPN or the MLB Network tells you how it’s going to be, change the channel to some home improvement show. Because they know exactly as much as you or I.

— Ned Yost named his Game One and Two starters and it’s no surprise it’s James Shields and Yordano Ventura, respectively. Shields hasn’t had a start you would define as “quality” this postseason. He’s allowed a bunch of baserunners and has had a difficult time preventing them from crossing the plate. He’s allowed 10 runs in 16 innings. I did the math. That’s a 5.63 ERA.

Shields will be squaring off against Madison Bumgarner who’s been brilliant this October. On paper, and based on recent history, it’s not a favorable match-up at all. But this October we’ve learned to throw out all that kind of nonsense. Count out Shields at your peril.

— The Royals have played eight postseason games. They’ve had the same lineup for all eight. In fact, the lineup hasn’t changed since September 21. So it’s pretty safe to assume we know what the lineups will look like for Game One and Two.

Everything changes in Game Three, when the Series shifts to San Francisco, as the Royals lose the DH. I half expect Yost to just insert Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas in the fifth spot in the order. Automatic managing is the best. Hey, I’m only half kidding. Everything Yost touches in October has turned to gold. At this point, if he told me Nori Aoki would hit home runs in every World Series game, I’d believe him.

— I’ll make my prediction on Tuesday. After final rosters have been announced and I consult my tarot cards and locate my missing Ouija board.

World Series Reading:

— Here’s your feel-good story of the day: Six year old Noah Wilson, who is currently at Children’s Mercy Hospital undergoing cancer treatments, got World Series tickets from Joe Torre.

— For you old-timers, the Royal Lancers aren’t as active as they used to be, but they’re still around. Still making a difference.

— Jim Bowden ranks the World Series players from 1 to 50. It’s behind a paywall, so I’ll just tell you, the highest rated Royal is Alex Gordon at number four.

— Here’s how umpire Eric Cooper learned he got the World Series gig.

— Don’t sleep on the Giants infield defense.

Thank you, Dayton Moore. For never backing down and assembling a championship calibre team. There was plenty of doubt, but you remained true to your vision and The Process. This is a just reward.

Thank you, Ned Yost. Second chances kick ass because you get the opportunity not only for redemption, but to use lessons that were learned in the first chance. I hope that doesn’t come across as a back-handed compliment, because it’s not supposed to be one. You developed a game plan and executed it flawlessly throughout this postseason. Living right this October (and September, too.)

Thank you, Billy Butler. The longest tenured Royal. For your doubles, your embrace of this city and the fans, and for your BBQ sauce. And for your stolen base in Game Three of the ALDS.

Thank you, Alex Gordon. For your dedication and for reinventing yourself into a complete player. Watching you play the game is so much fun. In my opinion, you are the Royals.  #A1 forever.

Thank you, Sal Perez. For your leadership, your never say die spirit, your walk-off hit in the Wild Card game and your Instagram videos.

Thank you, James Shields. For showing a young pitching staff the way. Your arrival in Kansas City couldn’t have been more controversial. You delivered exactly what was hoped for in the trade.

Thank you, Wade Davis. For anchoring a lock-down bullpen. The key to The Trade. I’ll always remember your smile after you underhanded the ball to Hosmer in Game Four of the ALCS. And for the Wade Davis Experience.

Thank you, Eric Hosmer. For the home runs in the ALDS and the bat flips.

Thank you, Mike Moustakas. For the play at the dugout suites in Game Three of the ALCS. Forever in the pantheon of great postseason plays.

Thank you, Lorenzo Cain. For covering more ground in the outfield that the giant American flag that’s brought out in pre game ceremonies. And for your enthusiasm and joy playing this wonderful game. ALCS MVP!

Thank you, Nori Aoki. For the bunts (really!) but especially for the GRAND SLAM in Arizona. Kanpai!

Thank you, Danny Duffy. For your recovery from Tommy John surgery to emerging as one of the top young left-handers in the game. I had my doubts, but you proved me wrong this year. So gnar.

Thank you, Alcides Escobar. For being the rock up the middle and forming, together with Sal and Lorenzo the backbone of the Royals stellar defense.

Thank you, Jarrod Dyson. Draft picks from the 50th round aren’t supposed to make this kind of impact. But I guess, “That’s what speed do.”

Thank you, Greg Holland. For your slider and for the ninth inning security.

Thank you, Kelvin Herrera. For the propane. For the gas.

Thank you, Omar Infante. For giving us the upgrade at second base we so desperately needed.

Thank you, Jason Vargas. For stepping into a role vacated by the departure of Ervin Santana and massively exceeding expectations. Your start in Game Four of the ALCS had me on the edge of my seat all afternoon, but it was damn near perfection.

Thank you, Raul Ibanez. For being the veteran leader down the stretch. Is it possible you were the final piece to this puzzle? And for your home run in the 1-0 win at Oakland on August 1.

Thank you, Brandon Finnegan. For stepping in to a bullpen role and pitching successfully in high leverage situations. From the college World Series to the MLB World Series in a just a few months. Amazing journey.

Thank you, Yordano Ventura. For throwing fire.

Thank you, Jason Frasor. For the sixth inning in Game Three of the ALCS. Such a scary inning for this team in the postseason. Helped by Moustakas Catch.

Thank you, Terrance Gore. For the wheels and the disruptive presence on the bases. And for the mad scamper from second base against the White Sox.

Thank you, Josh Willingham. For coming over in the trade and providing a bat with some power and some OBP.

Thank you, Jeremy Guthrie. For the win in the clincher in Chicago, kicking off a celebration that hasn’t stopped. And for grinding out your start in Game Three of the ALCS. Yes, there will be base runners, but you seemed to save your best starts for when they mattered the most.

Thank you, Erik Kratz. For the two home runs against the Twins in mid-August.

Thank you, Bruce Chen. For your class. Forever Royal.

Thank you, Our Readers. For sticking with us these last ten seasons.

Thank you, Royals. American League Champions.

 

They did it.

This team. This postseason. It’s an unstoppable run.

On Wednesday, the Royals completed their second postseason series sweep, they won their eight postseason game a in row. And they won the American League pennant.

A dream October.

Maybe I’ll have more tomorrow. This needs the proper perspective. And even though the Royals have only played eight games in the last two weeks, I’m exhausted.

I will say that the Royals performance on Wednesday was as ballsy a performance as we’ve seen from this team. They scratched out two runs in the first inning on an error at home plate. They saved two (or more) runs with the gloves of Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas. In a series that was decided by the thinnest of margins, the Royals didn’t make mistakes. They didn’t hit a ball hard until Billy Butler doubled to leadoff the eighth. But Jason Vargas – like Jeremy Guthrie the night before – had the mettle to hold the lead long enough to hand it to the Three Relievers of the Apocalypse.

Ballgame.

Pennant.

Pandemonium.

Game One of the 2014 World Series is Tuesday. At The K.

For the third time in the last two weeks, I come home drenched in euphoria, without a voice, relishing another postseason win.

I don’t want it to stop. Ever.

The most amazing run of baseball anyone in Kansas City rolls on Tuesday night as the Royals edge the Orioles by a 2-1 score. That’s three in a row in the ALCS. To go along with three in a row in the ALDS. To go along with the epic Wild Card win. Add them together and you have a 7-0 start to the postseason. Add them together and you have an unreal stretch of baseball.

I know it’s been written before… You simply can’t make this up. There’s no way anyone would believe you if you presented this story. Hell, on September 29, there’s no way I’m buying this. And I was pretty giddy at the time that the Royals were just in the postseason and hosting a Wild Card game. No, you can’t make this up.

The heroes on Tuesday start with Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie retired the first four batters he faced – ground out to first, pop out to first, strikeout and ground out to first. I keep score at the game and I almost remarked to my kid that these four batters represented just about the best looking scorecard you could ask for from any starter, let alone Guthrie. I caught myself thought. Not because I’m superstitious. Because I don’t want to jinx the guy. Apparently, just the thought is enough to tilt the game on it’s axis as Steve Pearce and JJ Hardy lashed back to back doubles to score a run. After a walk to Ryan Flaherty, Nick Hundley scorched another ball to the right-center gap that Lorenzo Cain was able to track down. It felt as though this was a pivotal inning. Guthrie wobbled, but didn’t collapse. Three balls were laced and only one run scored.

I don’t know if the long layoff – Guthrie last pitched in the clincher against the White Sox on September 26 – affected him in any way. I heard him describe his start as “a grind” and that’s what it felt like watching from the stands. The Orioles were having good plate appearances, Guthrie was throwing a lot of pitches, but aside from the second inning, they weren’t able to hit him at all.

Then there was Mike Moustakas who was doing his best Brooks Robinson impersonation at third. Maybe I should use George Brett in the ALCS Game Three of 1985 as comparison, but the way Moustakas laid out for the smash off the bat of Pearce in the top of the fourth sure looked like the former Oriole third baseman to me. Besides, a defensive comp to Robinson is about the highest compliment you can pay a third baseman. Then, that play in the sixth where he dove into the dugout suite… Probably the best defensive play I’ve seen in person. I was sitting in the upper deck, just to the right of home plate. I saw the ball go up. I saw the ball drift over the crowd and then push back toward the field. I said out loud, “He’s got a chance.” Wow. That play is just another signature moment in a postseason full of signature moments. These guys never fail to surprise.

On the way home from the game, I had the post game radio show on in the car and Steve Physioc said something I thought was really cool. (I know… Bear with me on this.) He said, “As for the Royals defense, Lorenzo Cain is playing like Willie Mays. Mike Moustakas is playing like Brooks Robinson. Eric Hosmer is playing like Keith Hernandez. And Alex Gordon is playing like Alex Gordon.” I know, right? Amazing.

One of the stories of this insane postseason has been how the Royals have swung the thundersticks and morphed into formidable power hitters. Not on Tuesday night, as the Royals collected seven hits, all singles. The offense felt like the Royals offense of the regular season. That is to say, it felt mortal. Lorenzo Cain singled in the first with two outs, but was stranded when Eric Hosmer rolled one over to second to end the inning. In the third, Omar Infante had a really good 10 pitch at bat before lining a single, but was erased on a Moustakas double play.

Finally, the Royals broke through in the fourth. A pair of one-out singles by Cain and Hosmer was followed by a walk to Billy Butler. Again, here comes Gordon with the bases loaded. Is it just me, or does it seem like almost every game has a bases loaded Alex Gordon moment. Uncanny how that situation seems to find him. At least to me it is. Gordon hit a grounder to second that Schoop had to range to his left to get. His only play was to first and Cain scored the tying run.

In the sixth, Nori Aoki led off with a single. As per Ned Yost’s book of managerial moves, he inserted Jarrod Dyson to pinch run for Aoki. It makes all sort of sense given he’s going to enter the game as a defensive replacement in the seventh or eighth inning. There have been times where Yost has actually missed his opportunity to pinch run Dyson for Aoki, but he didn’t on Tuesday. He must have highlighted that portion of his managerial handbook, so he wouldn’t miss it. Dyson advances to third when Hosmer pulls a ball into right. With runners on first and second, this is where Buck Showalter makes his move, inserting Kevin Gausman into the action to face Billy Butler. With a 41 percent ground ball rate, Gausman is a pitcher who keeps the ball on the ground. He also owns an 18.5 percent strikeout rate. Either outcome would suit the Orioles. Nearly half of Billy Butler’s batted balls in play are grounders.

In a moment that happens only in a Royals game in October, where the most likely outcome seems preordained to be a ground ball or a strikeout, Billy Butler lofted a fly ball to left. It was deep enough to easily score Dyson from third.

Royals 2, Orioles 1.

All that was left was for the Three Relievers of the Apocalypse to finish the Orioles. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland all pitched clean innings to close out the game.

Game Three was reminiscent of those games in September, when things really started clicking for this team. It all follows Ned Yost’s masterplan: Get solid starting pitching, scratch out enough hits to plate one more run than your opponent, add a pinch runner and/or a defensive replacement, and turn the ball over to your bullpen.

Tuesday, that recipe yielded a 3-0 lead in the ALCS.

One win away from the American League pennant and a World Series appearance.

Wow.

Quick postscript: I forgot to mention more examples of how this team is connecting with the fans. In the early innings, a batter (either Moustakas or Hosmer, I can’t remember) ripped a ball foul that almost nailed first base coach Rusty Kuntz. His helmet rolled away and when he went to pick it up, he exchanged high-fives with fans in the first base dugout suite. High-fives of relief because that ball was scorched and it was going right for his dome. Kuntz is approaching cult figure status in KC and it was fun to see him react like that.  Then when Moustakas made that catch in the third base dugout suite in the sixth, after he went back to his position, the fans in that suite were pointing at him and Moustakas pointed back. A small gesture, but an acknowledgement nonetheless. It was, in my mind, the perfect moment between fans and this team. The fans are saying, “We got you, we won’t let you down.” Moustakas is saying, “I got you, too. And I won’t let you down either.” Maybe that’s a bit hokey on my part, but part of what has made this ride so damn enjoyable has been the interactions between players and fans. This city is embracing this team and instead of running from it, the Royals, to a player, are accepting their role in our storybook seasons. It’s a blast.

And one final thing… The Royals brought back Freddie Patek, Dennis Leonard, Jeff Montgomery and Bret Saberhagen, along with Art Stewart and George Toma for the ceremonial first pitch thrown out by none other than George Brett. So cool to see the past represent for the present.

There is no such thing as momentum in baseball. There isn’t. I defy you to prove otherwise. What there is in baseball is narrative. So if the Royals lose on Tuesday, the story will be how the rain derailed their hot bats, pitching, fielding… You get the picture. If they win, they will do so in spite of the conditions. Sorry, but that’s a load of bunk. I know we want to find a reason the Royals are suddenly playing like 120 regular season win beasts. Maybe the best explanation is there is no explanation. Some teams simply get on a roll in October. Those teams usually play deep into the month because, you know, they’re on a roll. The Royals were built for the postseason with solid starting pitching, a lock-down bullpen, and world class defense. It’s all falling into place for this team. I haven’t analyzed much because there will be plenty of time for that when the games are over. Right now, I’m literally enjoying the ride.

One thing I do know is this is pretty much the same team that was assembled last year. Remember how they were supposed to avoid prolonged losing streaks because they had a rotation built with depth? Of course you remember May. Sometimes a plan comes together. Sometimes that plan comes together at the most opportune time imaginable. The Royals will tell you this was their plan. That last year was about learning how to compete, which in turn served them this September which then carried over into the eighth inning on September 30, which has propelled this team to six wins in a row. It’s a nice story. A tidy narrative. It’s just I’m not sure that’s what’s happening right now.

I do know this team is playing with a “we don’t give a damn” attitude. It borders on a feeling of invincibility that won’t seem so absurd when someday we find out all 25 guys were wearing capes under their jerseys. It’s amazing to watch. This is the most fun I’ve had watching baseball since I don’t know when. Seeing a ball leave the bat for the outfield and knowing with absolute certainty Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon or even Nori Aoki will track it down is an amazing feeling. I want to tell you there are no absolutes in baseball. The Royals outfield says otherwise. The offensive flaws are still on full view – poor plate discipline, failing to hit good pitches in hitter’s counts, going to the plate without a discernible plan – but those flaws have been obscured by the home run. Imagine that. Even more amazing has been the timeliness of the power. Late inning pyrotechnics. Our Royals? If you had tried to sell me this script in July, I would have mocked you on Twitter.

When there’s rain, there’s not so much going on, which gives the national guys covering the series the opportunity to fan the flames. It looks like multiple attempts were made to create an inferno courtesy of Jarrod Dyson. I’m sure you remember his comment following the Royals second win in Baltimore when he was asked if he thought the series would return to Camden Yards:

“No sir, I don’t. And I don’t think they (the Orioles) think that either.”

Cheers from The Royals Universe. Jeers from OrioleLand. Personally, I like the comment. If McCullough had asked someone like Alex Gordon, he would have gotten the stock “there’s still a lot of baseball to be played” response, and really, what fun is that? Dyson answers questions the same way he plays the game. While he may frustrate when he’s getting picked off second in September, it’s cool when he’s speaking his mind in October. Mountains. Molehills. Whatever. While I have zero issue with what Dyson said, I can understand the hurt feelings it may have caused in the other clubhouse. Maybe it gives some bulletin board ammo. But if you don’t believe in momentum, you probably don’t believe that the words of a fourth outfielder provide added inspiration. As Nick Hundley said, “You think we need motivation to try to get to the World Series.” Exactly.

Of more importance than Dyson’s words are Ned Yost’s thoughts. Specifically what he’s thinking about his rotation with this rainout. He now has the option of throwing Game One starter James Shields in Game Four on what would be his regular rest. My gut tells me that’s unlikely for a few reasons.

For starters, Shields hasn’t been sharp this postseason. His velocity is as strong as it’s been all year, but his change-up has lost it’s bite. In fact, all of his pitches have been up of late. Way up. From Brooks Baseball, here’s his vertical location broken down by month.

ShieldsVerticalLocation

He’s still getting some swings and misses, but when batters are making contact, specifically against his change and curve, he’s been getting worked. He actually recognized this trend and moved away from the change and curve in his last start in Baltimore, throwing more cutters and sinkers. His pitch count elevated early and Shields barely made it out of the fifth inning with a 5-4 lead. Not the kind of confidence-building start you expect from your Number One starter.

Is he tired? Shields threw 227 innings in the regular season, which is exactly his 162 game average, and has thrown an additional 16 innings this postseason. Is it his mechanics? His release point is fairly consistent from July when he went on the start of a pretty solid second half of the season. Who knows what’s happening. Hopefully, Shields knows. Or maybe Dave Eiland. And they’re not talking.

At any rate, if Shields can get an extra day of rest, that can only be beneficial to him I would imagine.

Another reason to keep Shields as the Game Five starter is Jason Vargas. Vargas threw Game Two in Anaheim in the ALDS and hasn’t been seen since, except in one of those sad shots of the bullpen where he wasn’t allowed a seat on the bullpen bench because he’s not a regular reliever. Folding chairs for starters. Vargas was a pleasant surprise against the Angels and probably needs to get some game action to stay sharp. He struggled down the stretch (6.57 ERA in September and the league slugged .471 against him) but if the Royals survive this round, the would probably call on him for the Series.

Then, there’s the Yordano Ventura question. I know the Royals have given their reassurances everything is OK with their rookie fireballer, but we all know to take those words with skepticism. After all, this is the same team that kept telling us Greg Holland just needed to rest a sore triceps. While his results have been largely pleasing since his return, his velocity has not. Not to say the same thing is happening with Ventura, but we all saw his outing on Saturday. He never seemed comfortable and Yost kept sending him out there before he finally had to remove him. It was potentially the largest case of managerial malpractice since the famous Trey Hillman Massacre performed on poor Gil Meche.

If you push Shields forward to Game Four, who starts Game Five? It would come down to Ventura on regular rest or Danny Duffy. We discussed this earlier. Duffy has thrown a total of nine innings since September 1. There’s no way he is stretched out for the maximum kind of start you need from a pitcher in October. He could give three, four, maybe five innings. And we all know he’s a pitch count bomb set to go off at any start. Although to be fair, he tamed that issue for the most part this year, which is a great story for sure, but would you want to trust him after being used so little over the last month and a half. Either something is up with Duffy, or the Royals are following a plan they never publicized and decided to curtail his innings. Whatever the story, he’s good for only a few more innings scattered over a handful of games. He’s not coming back to the rotation.

There you have it. I think a lack of rotation options means the Royals will use the rainout to their advantage and give Shields an extra day of rest. Obviously, they’ll be hoping to take at least two of three from the Orioles in Kansas City so they can have a week to reset their rotation ahead of the World Series.

Another potential fallout from the rainout is how it will affect the bullpen. Yost has been as automatic as we thought he would be using Kelvin Herrera in the seventh (and sometimes the sixth), with Wade Davis in the eighth (and sometimes the ninth), and Greg Holland to get the final three outs. I fully expect the trio to appear in every postseason game the Royals play unless something insane happens and they secure a six run plus lead in the later innings. With the specter of five consecutive games on the horizon, Yost will have to be careful about how he uses his Three Relievers of the Apocalypse. They’re not going to be able to pitch in every game if the series goes seven. No way. If it goes seven, he’s going to need some mop up innings and we know he doesn’t have the stomach for that sort of thing. This rainout could be a bit of a problem for his bullpen plans. It will call for a little more flexibility. We know flexibility isn’t Yost’s strong suit.

A couple of notes while attempting to dodge a raindrop or two.

— The Royals named Jeremy Guthrie as Game Three starter. As I wrote in a previous post, starting the right-handed Guthrie against the right-handed heavy lineup of the Orioles and at The K, makes all kinds of sense. Of course, if it doesn’t work, you’re more than welcome to hold me accountable. But if Ned Yost is behind an October decision – as we have all learned this month – you don’t question his Process.

— Ned Yost has never lost a game in the postseason.

Genius.

— Over at The Star, Sam Mellinger has a proper take on how this October is affecting the Royals pocket books. And how that money should translate into an investment in 2015:

The money will not change the Royals’ stature as one of baseball’s small-revenue organizations, but it could push them toward the middle third.

Along with profits from a season in which the team drew its most fans since 1991, the Royals should be in a position to play the 2015 season with what would be the sixth franchise-record payroll in the nine years since Moore was hired.

The Royals drew 1,956,482 fans this year, and internally they are expecting 2.1 million or more through the turnstiles next year. Their $92 million payroll this year ranked 19th in baseball. Even with increased attendance, before the playoff money, the Royals figured to be among the bottom four in revenue.

People familiar with baseball’s financial structure say the Royals operate around a break-even point annually. That does not take into account the skyrocketing value of Glass’s franchise.

Payouts from playoff games are just part of the increased revenue the Royals can expect. Playoff success means greater attendance, and more concessions and merchandise sales.

We haven’t discussed it much, but the Royals are back on board the train of fiscal happiness. Yeah, yeah, yeah… Baseball is trying to help the smaller market teams with revenue sharing and competitive balance picks and whatnot. But you can’t beat butts in the seats and winning baseball. What a combination. I’m under no illusion the Royals will ever challenge the larger market teams in the financial race. Yet it’s vitally important for the Royals to get in this cycle that allows them to make – and spend – money. So important.

Payroll doesn’t equate success. Thankfully. But having a bigger bankbook can’t hurt. As long as you spend wisely.

— The weather forecast for Monday… Gross.

I hope baseball does the right thing and, if it looks like the evening is going to be as bad as the forecasters think it is, they’ll postpone the game. From all accounts, once the rain moves out in 24 hours or so, we should have beautiful October weather. Let’s aim for that.

Too often, baseball has attempted to get these games in which makes for a miserable experience for the players and is extremely horrible for the fans. The fans. You know, the ones who pay their money for the privilege of attending. I’m going to the game on Game Three. I’m taking my kid. And I am dreading the idea of going out, sitting in the rain for three hours while MLB decides what to do, and then calling the game around 11 pm.

We’ve never really experienced it in KC, (obviously) but I can’t help but think of Philadelphia in 2008. Those games were delayed forever and then they attempted to play in conditions that weren’t even fit for the NFL. October weather can be a challenge, but as ticket prices skyrocket, MLB needs to be mindful of the fans. Think about them and if the forecast warrants, do the right thing and postpone the game early enough to spare everyone the hassle.

 

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