Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts published by Craig Brown

This needs to stop.

This isn’t to say I want the Royals to tone down or curb their emotion. I enjoy Sal Perez coming out of the dugout to greet someone after they hit a home run. I like how the pitchers tip their cap to a player who just made a sterling defensive play. I love the energy this team brings to the game. As I’ve written before, this is their DNA. It’s who they are. It’s real and is extremely fun to watch. I like the fire, I love this team and I embrace the way they play the game.

I’m also good with other teams in the league not liking the Royals. They can be hated by fans of opposing teams. A heel turn is OK by me. But this has gotten ridiculous. Sadly, the common thread has been Yordano Ventura. Anaheim with Mike Trout. The beaning of Brett Lawrie after surrendering a three run home run. The jawing with Adam Eaton on Thursday. That’s a year’s worth of immaturity packed into three starts.

After the kerfuffle in Anaheim, TJ Carpenter on WHB asked me if we should be worried about Ventura and his immaturity. After all, the entire incident with Trout was bizarre in that his crime was hitting a baseball back up the middle and then coming around to score. At the time, I answered “no.” Absolutely not, I said. Ventura is a great pitcher and I wouldn’t do anything to reign in his style. He is who he is and to ask him to tone it down would be impossible and probably counterproductive.

I think I was wrong.

Two starts later and the Ventura rap sheet is growing. The Trout incident was dumb. You know how I felt about his plunking of Lawrie. Now he ignites the latest bench clearing by staring down and yelling at Eaton. Three games to develop a reputation. It’s going to take more than three games to reverse that.

He’s young and we’ve all done stupid things due to youth, but at some point that stops being a valid excuse. Ventura needs to think of the consequences of his actions. By escalating on Thursday, it wasn’t surprising Lorenzo Cain and Jeff Samardjiza found each other in the scrum. Flash back to Opening Day and Cain was plunked by Samardjiza on a pitch that was most certainly on purpose following a Mike Moustakas home run. It was a gutless move and yes, it demanded a response. These teams play each other 19 times during the regular season, so there would be plenty of time to find a way to get even. A donnybrook in the late innings of a tie game on the road really isn’t that time. What’s going to happen with Edinson Volquez, who took a healthy swing at a White Sox? Cain gets ejected and his spot comes back up three times before the end of the game. Of course, his replacement was Jarrod Dyson, who beat out a fielder’s choice in the 13th and scored from first on an Eric Hosmer two-out double for the winning margin.

Royals devil magic is still strong.

Of course, there are two sides to every story. Fox Sports Kansas City alluded to the idea that Eaton was the instigator by flinging some choice words at Ventura. They didn’t show the video. (Think about the children!) Apparently, he was upset with a quick pitch from Ventura. Ventura confirmed as much when he talked to the media after the game. MLB Network seemed to justify Ventura’s “F-You” response because it was Eaton who acted first. Regardless, my take is that Ventura has to be better than that. He can’t be baited into response. Especially now. To his credit, he was contrite after the game, saying he needs to control his emotions better.

There’s fire and then there’s stupidity. Nothing productive comes from the benches emptying. Ventura already escaped discipline with a fine from his previous skirmish. As a repeat offender, I doubt he gets off lightly again. Volquez could get some time on the sidelines, too. That’s two Royals starting pitchers who could miss time because Ventura wasn’t mature enough to make the throw to first and keep his mouth shut.

Ventura is the best starting pitcher on the Royals. He has made four starts in 2015. He left his first two due to cramps. He left his last two when he was ejected.

No matter what, that’s a bad look.

Meanwhile, the Royals keep winning. In a post game interview, Eric Hosmer said the team was addressing the situation. This team was close when the season opened. If anything, this brings them closer together. With a healthy dose of irony, the fights, which I don’t like, create a stronger sense of team. Which I love.

Here’s the attached pic, which is a transcription of his interview with Joel:

HosmerQuote

There’s no leadership vacuum on this team. These guys are going to be fine. Someone will get with Ventura and help him harness his emotions in a positive way. Honestly, we should be talking about his overall pitching performance on Thursday. The guy was flat dominant for stretches. He truly is the best starter on this team. The Royals need him. He seems to understand that and – maybe this is because I am a fan – I believe him when he says he needs to get a better grip on those emotions. There was some regret there when he was talking to the media after the game. That’s good. He has to strike the balance, which I think he can certainly do.

These two incidents with the A’s and the White Sox, they weren’t started by the Royals. There will be other teams who provoke. The Royals need to get smarter about how to respond. They’re dangerous now because they look like a complete team. Imagine how dangerous they will be when they figure out how to handle the upstarts who want what they have – the AL pennant.

It was in the bottom of the seventh inning, when the Royals were behind by a run, that I felt a sense of serenity. I was centered. Locked into a Zen-like state, I thought to myself, “The Royals are going to win this game.”

I didn’t yet know how. And I certainly didn’t Tweet out my feelings. (Check my feed sometime. I have a brilliant reverse jinx track record.) But there’s something about this team and this young season that I had all the confidence in the world.

And damn if they didn’t rally for two runs in the eighth to pull of yet another come from behind win. The 6-5 win was the Royals 11th on the season, pushed them into a first place tie with the Tigers in the Central and was their first one-run margin of the year. Nice.

It was just another ho-hum type of Royals games we’ve all come to expect. Timely hits, solid – and sometimes spectacular – defense, and a lockdown appearance from the bullpen. It feels like this has been written myriad times already (we’re only in April for crying out loud) but this winning methodology never gets old. Hell, winning never gets old. It’s just the way the Royals are doing it.. It’s fun and it feels sustainable.

— New Mike Moustakas continues to roll. Three hits in five plate appearances, driving in three runs. Naturally, two of the hits were opposite field knocks. We’re now in the third week of the season and his change in approach at the plate hasn’t seemed to have wavered. His spray chart is equal parts stunning and effective:

MooseSpray_042215

On Tuesday against Tommy Milone, I found myself thinking about his power. Milone’s fastball lives in the mid to upper 80s and his secondary stuff isn’t overwhelming. While he is a left-handed pitcher, his arsenal is such that he’s the type of pitcher a locked-in Moustakas should sit on and – with a favorable or early count – try to pull. And damn if he didn’t do that in the fifth inning.

It wasn’t a moon shot by any stretch, but the ball when far enough to reach the Twins bullpen. The guy is just doing so much right at the plate. That was just the 10th home run of his career against a lefty.

Fast-forward to the eighth inning as the Royals are rallying. Paulo Orlando is at third with two outs. Moustakas steps to the plate. The Twins counter with their closer, left-handed Glen Perkins. Perkins gets ahead of Moustakas 0-2 and serves a 94 mph fastball on the outer half of the plate that is returned and lined to left field for the go-ahead single. Had this scenario happened last year – or any other time in Moustakas’s career – we all know how it would have turned out. (I’m thinking pop-up in foul territory on the third base side or a ground out to the right side of the infield as he rolled over on the pitch.) Instead, ballgame.

The big hits keep coming, no matter who is on the mound. For the short season, Moustakas is hitting lefties at a .333/.419/.556 clip. Small sample caveats all around, but I’m fairly certain he’s never had a stretch like this where he’s hit everyone like he’s Ted Freakin’ Williams.

— Eric Hosmer isn’t hitting for much power early in the season, but he’s just getting on base and letting the bottom half of the lineup do their thing. Another day and three more walks for the first baseman. His OBP is now .419, second highest on the team.

— If we’re going to talk about plate discipline or good approaches at the plate, we have to bring up Paulo Orlando. When he’s not hitting triples, he’s simply giving the Royals great plate appearances. This guy is so impressive. He came through once again in the eighth following a Sal Perez single with one of his own to get the rally going.

I know there’s much love in these parts for Jarrod Dyson, but Orlando has shown enough in the small sample to officially be named the Royals fourth outfielder.

— The Royals +35 run differential is the best in the league. On the offense, it’s not difficult to figure why. Check the lineup Ned Yost rolls out night after night. Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Hosmer and Kendrys Morales are all off to hot starts with OBPs over .400. Gordon after them is warming up and Sal Perez is scorching at the plate as well. When all the tumblers in the middle of the order are clicking, you’re going to plate some runs.

— I feel like I’ve ignored the bullpen, but I suppose that’s what happens when they shut down the opposition night after night. On Tuesday, just 3.1 innings of scoreless baseball. The bullpen has now thrown 42.1 innings and allowed just three runs. I’ll save you the hassle of reaching for your calculator. That’s a 0.64 ERA.

The Royals go for the sweep Wednesday night. Roll on.

The slide by Brett Lawrie was dirty. There can be no debate on this. I don’t care about intent. I don’t care about where Alcides Escobar was positioned. It was flat dirty.

The Royals have been human pinatas in the batters box in the season’s first two weeks. They just lost their starting right fielder because a Rule 5 guy couldn’t locate. Now they have someone attempt to separate their shortstop from his leg. This means Lawrie is going to wear one. Before we go any further, you should know that I think throwing a baseball with intent at any individual is not cool. Having said that, I understand that at some point enough is enough. A team can only take so much before they choose to retaliate. While Lawrie may not have meant for injury to come to Escobar, it happened. And because of that, he was going to get drilled.

I did not want Yordano Ventura to be the pitcher to retaliate. For me, this is just filed under common sense. Ventura is the Royals best pitcher. Whomever does the follow-up deed is likely to be suspended. Obviously, for a starting pitcher a five game suspension is not huge deal. A starter is only going to have his start pushed back a day. Plus, he will appeal his suspension, so he will continue to pitch until he drops his appeal, which he would do if he needed an extra day or two of rest. It’s farcical, really. But it’s Major League Baseball. Whatever.

Obviously, I am a fan of Ventura. He’s done relatively well at the start of the season, but there’s been plenty of intrigue around his starts. The cramps are bizarre, but hopefully something that won’t resurface. The confrontation last weekend with Mike Trout in Anaheim was a little more unsettling. Why did he decide to escalate something that was seemingly innocuous? I marked it up to a bad decision by a young pitcher who throws with some emotion.

Anyway, on Saturday Ventura chose the absolute worst time to retaliate. He struggled with command for most of the night, fed Josh Reddick a 2-0 fastball that split the middle of the plate and a two-run deficit ballooned to five. It was not Ventura’s night. Then, on his final pitch of the evening, he drilled Lawrie with a fastball that PitchF/X clocked at 100.1 mph.

Here’s some graphical evidence that Ventura basically decided to cash out for the evening.

Ventura_041815_Velo

If the timing wasn’t bad enough, Ventura decided to walk toward Lawrie and have a word or two. Look, the “unwritten rules” can be silly, but Ventura violated several of them. The timing made it so really the home plate umpire Jim Joyce had no alternative but to hit the eject button on Ventura’s night. The ejection now means the league office will be looking into what happened. And then there’s the second game in a row that Ventura needlessly approached a player. Not a good look.

I had hoped the Royals would have discussed how to respond to Lawrie’s takeout slide and the consensus would have been to wait to retaliate. Waiting would have had the benefit of keeping Lawrie uncomfortable in the batters box, not knowing when it was going to happen. Let a veteran handle it. Or a reliever at the back of the bullpen if the game got to the point where it was largely settled. Suspension and potential harm to reputation aside, if things had gotten nasty out there, the target would have been squarely on Ventura. Remember last year when Zack Greinke broke his collarbone in a fight with Carlos Quintana? Why take that kind of chance? Ventura was not the guy to do this.

I’m not going to give credit to Lawrie for putting his head down and jogging to first, because Lawrie was the one who started everything. He knew he was going to get dusted at some point in the weekend and he accepted his punishment. Ventura was tossed. The league will review the video.

It should have been over.

Instead, following the game on Saturday, Josh Reddick had words. Maybe he felt responsible for Lawrie getting drilled by fire because he was the guy who hit the home run immediately ahead of the retaliation. He couldn’t have been surprised Lawrie got drilled. Really, it was crazy talk to call what happened “bush league” by Ventura. One player was injured by a reckless play and the player that caused the injury was hit. Accept it for what it is and move on. Case closed. Except Reddick didn’t want it to be over.

“There’s no need for a season to be ruined between two teams that have something so small that happened, that’s obviously not going to be forgotten when they come to our place,” Reddick said. “You never know what’s going to happen or if we’re going to retaliate when they come to our place.”

There must be a few pages missing from his book of Unwritten Rules.

Then, Scott Kazmir hit Lorenzo Cain on the foot in the bottom of the first. Kazmir tried to make it like it was unintentional, but after Reddick’s words on Saturday, there’s no way anyone is buying that. Yeah, yeah, yeah, there are going to be the “but he hit his foot!” arguments that will be made, but Cain jumped to try to get out of the way. If he doesn’t move, it hits his lower leg. Kazmir had pinpoint control all afternoon. If he missed on that pitch, it was because he missed his vertical location. Maybe he didn’t mean to hit Cain and was merely attempting to bounce a two-seamer in his direction. Maybe he was throwing at his thigh and missed low. Semantics. That pitch had intent and by throwing it, Kazmir reopened a fresh wound.

What happened next is what contributed to the farce of the weekend. Home plate umpire Greg Gibson did not eject Kazmir. I understand the situation between Ventura and Kazmir was different, but if the umpires truly wanted to squash this beef there and then, they would have sent Kazmir to the showers. On Friday, Ubaldo Jimenez was ejected for hitting Pablo Sandoval in a 1-0 game in the 4th. In that instance, there was no history between the teams or the players. Although there was a takeout slide at second by Sandoval earlier in the game, but the slide didn’t result in injury and it didn’t result in any words or controversy at the time. If Jimenez was tossed for his pitch, Kazmir should have been run for his. Instead, they issued warnings. Insanity. The whole thing should have been over on Saturday. Kazmir throwing at Cain ensured that this would not end. And the umpires put the Royals in the position of being punished once again. Pitching coach Dave Eiland was ejected. Then Ned Yost was run. Yost rarely gets angry at the umpires, but he was irate and justifiably so. The umpires were making hash of the situation.

Overshadowed in all the shenanigans was Danny Duffy, who remained unfazed by everything. Duffy, as we all know, can have a difficult time controlling his own emotions on the mound, and while his command was less than ideal, he did not seem to be preoccupied with retaliation. The five strikeouts were nice, but the five walks were not so ideal. Nor was the 93 pitches it took him to survive five innings. He didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled and left the game with his team down just two runs. In a weekend when the gutless prevailed, Duffy’s performance was all about intestinal fortitude.

I know plenty of Royals fans who were wondering why no A’s were ejected and the Royals had six players and staff tossed over two days. The answer is simple: The umpires never punish the first strike. It’s always on the retaliation. The Royals twice found themselves in a situation where they felt the need to retaliate. Yost and Eiland knew this and they knew it wasn’t right. Kudos for Yost for standing up for his players in a situation where they felt the umpires and their actions were against them.

Then came Kelvin Herrera and his pitch behind Lawrie. That was just plain idiocy. Idiocy. At that point, the Royals were trailing 2-1 in the eighth. The last thing they needed was to put an A’s runner on base. Especially if it was at the expense of one of the Royals best relievers. Think about that for a moment if you applauded Herrera’s action. He chose to put a runner on base in a one-run game while removing himself from the proceedings. Dumb trade.

As I said earlier, there is a time and a place for retaliation if that is the decided course of action. The Royals are headed to Oakland in June. There will be more games. It didn’t have to be today. Besides, why Lawrie again? He’d already been drilled. Kazmir hit the Royals center fielder and number three hitter, so why not hit their equivalent? And why not wait for when the game isn’t on the line?

Herrera didn’t help things by pointing at his head as he was exiting the field. Even if his gesture was to tell Lawrie to “think about it,” that’s not how anyone is going to take a pitcher pointing at his head after intentionally throwing at someone. That just escalated the stupidity and gave the league more to think about when they decided to convene to discuss punishment. The whole incident with Herrera was unnecessary and distasteful.

Honestly, all of this would feel differently had the Royals not rallied for three runs in the eighth. It was a beautiful thing. The plate appearance from Paulo Orlando to lead off the eighth had some veteran moxie behind it as he fouled off three two-strike pitches before he worked the walk. Mike Moustakas almost had a hit through the right side of the infield (no shift all weekend!) but was able to advance Orlando to second. Cain squared up a pitch and drove a beautiful liner to left. The steal of third was a nice touch, too. After a walk to Hosmer (another good PA) Kendrys Morales blasted a double to almost dead center. He thought it was gone and if the damn wind wasn’t screaming from left to right, it would have cleared the fence without problem. Instead it hit close to the middle of the fence for a two-run double. To have Kazmir out of the game and have his bullpen blow it was a nice touch of justice.

The final tally for the Royals weekend: Two injuries, six ejections (seven if you count Don Wakamatsu getting thrown out twice), and two wins.

Are the Royals now Public Enemy Number One? Honestly, I don’t care. If opposing teams are irritated at their celebrations or whatnot in 2015, they weren’t paying attention in 2012 or 2013. They have been doing this sort of things for years. Ironically, I can remember Royals fans who used to get irritated at these guys for doing those little celebrations when they had never done anything of relevance in the major leagues. Now they have actually won something, the tables have turned and now it’s the opposition that may be annoyed. Sorry. Understand though, this is in the DNA of the team. They aren’t going to change. Nor should they. If another team has issue with that, that’s entirely their problem. It shouldn’t open the Royals to crazy takeout slides or beanballs. You don’t want to see a celebration? Try getting them out.

This weekend, the Royals got the ejections and they will get the notoriety, but let’s not forget the A’s twice put the Royals in the position where they felt they had to stand up for their teammates. Not once. Twice. I can’t get over how Kazmir and Reddick are somehow above the fray on this. It should have been over after Saturday, but the A’s postgame comments – mainly from Reddick – coupled with Kazmir’s actions in the first have ensured this will live for quite awhile. If the Royals throwing at A’s hitters twice in the weekend was “bush league,” so was Kazmir throwing at Cain. And so was Lawrie’s unnecessarily aggressive slide at second. Stop playing the victim, Oakland. You’re as culpable as anyone wearing blue. Lawrie was talking postgame about how it’s unfair that he has to worry about getting hit now when he stands in the box… Cry me a river. And talk to your starting pitcher.

I think the whole thing is dumb. I get the need to stand up for teammates and while I’m not pleased Ventura threw at Lawrie after the Reddick home run, I suppose it was going to happen sooner or later. That’s fine. It should have ended there. The A’s chose to escalate on Sunday. There’s plenty of blame to go around for what happened on Sunday. The A’s should stand up and accept theirs.

It was going to happen. Sure, it felt like the Royals were never going to lose, but trust me, it was going to happen. The Royals fall 3-1 to the Twins on Wednesday in Minnesota.

It was a straight-up pitcher’s duel. Edinson Volquez was nails for the Royals. He got off to a slow start, allowing the first three hitters of the game to reach, but settled down and allowed only two baserunners until Torii Hunter forced him from the game with a two out single in the eighth. Unfortunately those two were a Plouffe single followed by an Arcia home run. Ballgame. Twins.

The bats slumbered as the Royals once again turned Kyle Gibson into the pitcher of the century. But let’s focus on the positive because there was plenty of good things to note from this one.

— Starting with Volquez. He had all his pitches working. Fastball, curve and change. He located his pitches extremely well and had the Twins hitters mostly off balance for most of the evening. The curve had some outstanding break, dropping off the table, but it was the change that was the hammer Volquez swung with ferocity. He threw his change 35 times and got 27 strikes with that pitch. Twins batters swung at the Volquez change 24 times and missed on 12 of them. An amazing 50 percent swing and miss rate. Amazing undersells it, actually.

You know my skepticism regarding Volquez. Namely, his track record of spotty control was a concern of mine when the Royals signed him. Now, through two starts and 15.2 innings, Volquez has walked just two batters. One in each start. And, as I mentioned earlier, his command was impeccable. We’re dealing with a small sample, but from what I’ve seen in his two starts, let’s just say I’m very encouraged.

Volquez said Perez called for a change on the home run to Arcia. He shook off his catcher and left a two-seam fastball up in the zone. Interesting. Volquez gave a great postgame interview. Thoughtful, reflective and honest. Solid character. You can understand why Dayton Moore signed him.

— Speaking of Volquez, he’s impressed me with his awareness on the mound. We saw it in the sixth when Hosmer laid out for a ground ball and had it pop out of his glove. It dribbled to Omar Infante, who picked it up and quickly threw to Volquez covering first. Your textbook 3-4-1 play if you were scoring at home. Credit to Volquez for doing what he was supposed to do, which was to keep running to the bag. A small thing, to be sure, but something that was impressive none the less.

— Alex Gordon has been scuffling at the plate, but ripped a 3-0 pitch to right to drive in the lone Royals run of the evening. I heartily endorse this approach. Gibson was cruising and didn’t want to put another runner on base. Gordon sat dead red and executed.

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Hopefully, this will give Gordon a little push to get going.

— Mike Moustakas continued his assault on the opposite field, collecting a bunt single in the first and another single on a soft liner in the fourth. I know I said this was going to be positive, but jeez… Moustakas has the plate appearance with the highest leverage index in the game in the seventh with two on and two out.


Source: FanGraphs

In the chart above, you can easily find the Moustakas PA. The Twins summoned lefty Brian Duensing and he retired Moustakas on one pitch. One stinking pitch. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A pop-up to third.

So let’s say that as encouraging as it may be that Moustakas is going to the opposite field, he can still fall into the old habits and frustrate. He’s a work in progress. Will he succeed? I remain skeptical. Although I will always give him credit for attempting. And there is evidence that it will improve his performance. How much exactly remains to be see. However, after last year, he can’t go much lower.

— Not only did the Royals not hit a home run for the first time this season, they also failed to collect a walk in a game for the first time of the year. Coincidence they lost? I think not.

— I’ll give the final word to former Toastmaster Ken Arneson:

Very true.

Every day is now a new experience for a whole generation of Royals fan. And it’s an opportunity to recall decades earlier for the older fans. Last year, while the Royals played in the World Series, there was no “march to the championship.” The club didn’t lay waste to the opposition in what was some sort of inevitable push to the postseason. They did win five in a row at one point in April and finished the month with 14 wins against 11 losses, but stumbled in May and spent most of that month under .500. The Royals have played some strong baseball out of the gate in season’s past, but they’ve never piggybacked a successful April on a successful October.

Heady times.

When a team plays in the World Series and then dashes out of the gate to open the following season, people tend to take notice. Bandwidth gets filled with national hot takes. “Are the Royals for real?” A national internet baseball writer asks. “The answer is no, of course they’re not for real.”

Harsh.

The real answer to that question can be found on the Magic 8 Ball: “Reply hazy. Try again later.”

That’s not to put a damper on what has been a helluva fun start to a season. That’s simply because after seven games in a 162 game schedule, we can’t draw many – if any – conclusions about this team. We know they will have more power in their lineup, but they are on pace to hit 231 home runs. Not even the most star-struck Royals fans would concede that’s possible. We know their bullpen is nails, but they aren’t going to go the entire season without surrendering a run. We know the defense is great, but… Wait. Never mind. Their defense is the most wonderful thing since Justin Bieber stopped making records.

There were a bunch of projections and predictions that had the Royals finishing fourth in the Central. There were also a bunch that pegged them second. Or third. (The Twins, as we have witnessed, have the basement locked up all to themselves.) Basically, no one said the Royals were going to win the division. While Jon Morosi called attention to himself with a brilliant flip-flop over the weekend, I would be inclined to hold onto my own predictions for longer than a single week of games. Although I can certainly listen to the argument for revisions. The Royals aren’t just winning games, they are pulverizing the opposition, outscoring them by 34 runs and becoming only the second team in baseball history to win their first seven games of the season by a margin of two or more runs. Nail biters? Those are for losers.

The season is long and we are just getting a taste of how things are going to play out going forward. The only thing we can definitively say was the first week was a rousing success for our team. We could reconvene here in three weeks and have a completely different feeling. Because that’s baseball.

We are Royals fans, so we want to believe this was close to the real deal. We want to believe the power is real, the bullpen is spectacular and the defense is the best thing since Henry Ford introduced the assembly line . I think there are only positives that can be taken from this week plus of games. The Alex Rios injury the exception. And Alex Gordon’s start. And Omar Infante’s presence in the lineup. Oh, crap. We’re doomed.

No joke, there are certainly a few things to be concerned about. And they aren’t going to continue to post a .401 OBP. They aren’t going to keep slugging a league leading .532. And their .353 BABIP is certainly in for a correction. Injuries and underperformance are going to happen. We’re watching them happen at this moment. And yet, the Royals are 7-0. That’s good news. Maybe in a week when the bats go into a slumber (it will happen) the pitching will step forward and steal a few wins. Remember last year, Denny calling Gordon’s walkoff home run and mentioning that sometimes, things just go your way and how this may be the year? Maybe it’s still the Royals year. Maybe there’s some magic left and they outperform the projections and the predictions. Or maybe not. Seven games in to the season, it’s probably a little too soon to tell.

Wherever you may land on the fan spectrum, know these seven wins are important.

Seven wins in the early part of the season means the Royals are seven wins closer to the postseason. Think about it. April is just as important as September and at some point in the 2015 season, we will gain some clarity of exactly how many wins it will probably take to advance. It may be 89 like last year. Or it could be 92. Whatever the number, as it currently stands the Royals have a lower number to reach than all the other teams in baseball by virtue of their seven victories in the early stages of the regular season. That gives them a greater margin of error. Seven games in a 162 game season doesn’t exactly provide a comfortable margin of error, but it’s better than the converse of losing the first seven games of the season and having to figure out how to get on track.

The only thing you can speak to with any certainty in baseball is the past. Seven wins is seven wins. The Royals may go on a five game losing streak starting tomorrow, but those first seven games reside firmly in the win column. They’re not going anywhere. Maybe they account as a cushion. A brace against what will certainly be a regression. Maybe the Royals will ride away with the division and clinch in mid-September. The more likely scenario is this race will go down to the wire. Every one of those seven wins matter. They matter because it’s one less win this team needs to throw into the win column down the road. They matter because any time you can put a little distance between yourself and your competition, that’s a good thing.

Maybe there was some luck involved. The Royals didn’t face Chris Sale in the opener. The BABIP fairy has been awfully good to this team. The home runs the Royals starters have been serving haven’t hurt as only one of the six have come with runners on base. Every team steals a win – or seven – during the season. Maybe this is the week where the Royals use all of theirs. Or maybe luck didn’t have so much to do with this streak. They won all their games by two or more runs. It’s not like we had a player scamper around from second on a wild pitch in the ninth inning to steal a win. That’s so last year.

In his post, Rob Neyer mentioned the Brewers and the Rockies as teams who set the early pace in 2014, but faded. They’re not the first teams to have dropped from contention after a solid start. They won’t be the last. More injuries, Moustakas starts going pull happy again, Hosmer goes into another one of his extended funks, Perez gets overworked… It really wouldn’t take much for the Royals to be lumped into this group. We want to think it’s not going to happen – They were in the World Series last year! – but if you’re being honest with yourself, last year’s World Series appearance doesn’t mean anything this year. New year, new team, new challenges.

While we are a long way from the finish line, let’s not kid ourselves: This feels different. It does. It feels different for exactly the reasons I wrote didn’t mean anything in the previous paragraph. The World Series changed the calculus of this organization and its fanbase. Already hopeful for a repeat, the hot start is rocket fuel. That’s what makes sports fun. We know the darkness. The last year and a half, we have seen plenty of light. That doesn’t mean this is going to end in success, or that it will even continue. It just means it feels different to me, from say, 2003. Or other years where there have been successful Aprils.

Who knows what tomorrow brings? I just know I’m having a blast today.

The Royals failed to notice the calendar said April as they played as if it was October in sweeping away the first week of the regular season. Six games. Six wins. No problem.

They’ve done it with quite a bit of panache, clubbing nine home runs, swiping seven bags and outscoring their opponents by a 40 to 15 margin. Along with two cramps.

To say the Royals are firing on all cylinders may actually be selling them short. This team is locked in, charging forward and winning everything in sight.

For the second start in a row, Yordano Ventura was cruising, only to see his start short-circuited by a cramp. In the opener, it was his thumb. In his start on Sunday, it was a calf that ended his afternoon. It was too bad his day ended prematurely, as he has the Angels largely off balance all day, whiffing seven and touching 99 mph with his heater while spiking his curve. The Angels were hopelessly overmatched. Maybe they should have come to the plate with white flags instead of bats.

Ventura made one mistake in the first when he left a fastball middle in and Albert Pujols did his thing and deposited the pitch into the left field seats. Mike Trout and Pujols combined for the Angels second run on a couple of hard hit balls. It was Trout’s hit that set off the first Royal controversy of the season.

Why did Ventura feel the need to stare at Trout after the base hit? Who knows. Was it wrong? No. Ventura can look at whomever he wants to look at. Was it something you don’t see everyday? Sure, but Ventura is a little different. As Yost said following the game, he’s a confident guy and is difficult to rattle when he’s on the hill. I suppose the timing was a little weird. Whatever. What we know is that Trout took exception.

The pair had a chance to further discussion when Trout scored on Pujols’s double. And, as happens in this situation, the benches clear. I swear when Pujols broke for home from his spot on second base, that was the most agile he looked all weekend. Credit to Salvador Perez for removing his pitcher from what could have escalated into an ugly scene. And credit all the Latin ballplayers on the roster for rallying around Ventura to get his mind back on the game. And credit to the bullpens for getting in some light jogging. A minor kerfuffle.

That leads me to something I’ve been thinking about since the start of the season: The Royals are setting themselves up as a major target. Look, I’m not passing judgement here. I enjoy the enthusiasm and the brotherhood of the dugout they have working. These guys are winning, they’re fired up, and they are enjoying themselves. There’s a little ’86 Mets swagger about them. When Mike Moustakas leaves the dugout after every home run to perform a handshake ritual, that’s going to rub the Unwritten Rules Mob the wrong way. And we all know about the unwritten rules usually include some baseballs thrown with intent.

Speaking of Moustakas, he was hit by a pitch. Again. So far Royal batter have been plunked a league-leading 10 times. Coincidence? Random statistical noise? While there have been a couple of unintentional plunkings to be sure, there have been a few that could be classified as mysterious. On the flip side, Moustakas is getting drilled with such regularity Craig Biggio should start to worry his name may be wiped from the record books. Although pitchers are trying to pitch Moustakas inside to get him to pull the ball so he will hit into the shift, which makes sense. Yet I doubt some of these guys are upset if one runs just a little too far inside.

Whatever. This unwritten rule stuff bores me. The Royals play the game with a passion. As someone who has followed this team for close to 40 years, that makes me happy. We saw more than enough Royals teams sleepwalk through an entire season. This team is a blast to watch, although I can understand how the Angels and their fans don’t like it. Getting swept in the ALDS and then in the season’s first week doesn’t go down well. The Royals are still the scrappy upstarts that America (outside of Orange County) loves. If they are able to keep this run going, they will quickly shed the scrappy upstart label and will be called something a little less respectful. I’ll be OK with that, too. Because I love this team.

A couple of other notes:

— I enjoyed Pujols’s attempted steal of third being down five. Angels free out.

— The Royals bullpen has thrown 16.1 innings of scoreless relief. They are the only team in the majors whose bullpen has yet to surrender a run.

— The Royals were also the last team in the majors to be charged with an error this season. Lorenzo Cain earned their first one of the year on the play where Trout scored in the fifth when he failed to cleanly field the ball in center.

— Paulo Orlando collected a pair of triples on Sunday. As far as the record books go, he’s the first player in the history of the game to have his first three big league hits as triples. That’s something. That’s so Royals.

— Eric Hosmer saw his five game hitting streak come to an end, but Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Kendrys Morales all extended their streak to six games. The only other players in the AL to have collected a hit in every game are Trout and Billy Butler. Forever Royal.

— The Royals flew to Minnesota after the game and will play Monday afternoon in the Twins home opener. This would be an ideal time to get Perez a day off behind the plate. Yeah. I’m certain that is an option.

It’s as if 2014 never ended. We are suspended in time, just before the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 2014. In sweeping the Chicago White Sox for their first three wins of the new season, the Royals proved they haven’t lost their touch from last October.

The Royals polished off the Sox in myriad ways. They won the blowout (Monday), the comeback (Wednesday) and the pitching and defense special with the timely hit (Thursday). They say there is more than one way to skin a cat and likewise, there is more than one way to win a ballgame. The Royals provided three days of evidence of that.

On Thursday, it was newcomer Edinson Volquez who provided the quality start. In his Royals debut, Volquez spun eight innings of . He mixed equal parts sinker, change and knuckle-curve to keep the Sox off balance all afternoon. And the spotty command that has plagued him in the past? Didn’t happen on Thursday. Volquez issued a lone walk all day. It came in the seventh just after he hit Adam LaRoche with two outs. Lots of hit batters and LaRoche was the guy Duffy threw behind on Wednesday. Bad blood brewing.

Anyway, on Volquez, all his pitches were working and he was keeping the ball down in the zone. He threw first pitch strikes to 20 of the 29 batters he faced and with his sinker, he collected eight ground ball outs. And on those times he gave up fly balls, Lorenzo Cain had Jackson County covered.

Pitching and defense. Defense and pitching.

My concern about Volquez has been his history of poor command which has plagued him for pretty much his entire career. (Although a certain illustrator for the Kansas City Star will tell you career stats don’t carry as much weight as your last eight to ten days.) Prior to his start, I set his over/under for walks at 4.5. As I mentioned above, he walked one. For a guy who, just two seasons ago was walking over five batters per game, that’s an outright success.

I remain skeptical about the long-term success of Volquez, but after watching Ervin Santana and Jason Vargas come to Kansas City and pitch with a relative amount of success, maybe Dayton Moore and the Royals brain trust have indeed found a magic formula in regards to starting pitching. Hell, he’s done it on defense.

— The Royals have five home runs in three games. It’s inevitable that this will draw comparisons to last year’s power-averse club. So for reference, last year it took the Royals five times longer to hit five home runs. (That’s 15 games for the mathematically challenged.)

It was Salvador Perez who drove the bus to DongTown with a blast to left that plated Kendrys Morales in the sixth that knocked out starter John Danks.

I don’t think you will find a Royals fan (a rational one, anyway) who will claim the Royals are the second coming of the ’27 Yankees, but this qualifies as a notable development. And a good one.

— Paulo Orlando made his major league debut and collected his first hit with a triple in the bottom of the fifth. How can you not root for this guy? Grinding for 10 years in the minors, acquired for the long forgotten Horacio Ramirez in August of 2008, he’s paid his dues. Good for him. I saw on Twitter that Orlando went home to third in under 11 seconds. He will fit right in with this team.

Thumb cramps, pennants, rings and a blowout victory. That about sums up Opening Day, 2015.

The pregame ceremony was pitch perfect. The organization honored nearly everyone associated with the day to day responsibilities of the players which was nice to give them a moment of recognition. We watch these guys play everyday and it’s not often you think about the behind the scenes guys. Another nice touch was bringing players in who were part of September and October and who have been assigned to the minors to open the year.

And of course, old favorite Bruce Chen was back at The K. The Royals last 10-5 guy deserved to walk back onto the field one last time to collect a ring. The one guy I missed at the ceremony: Raul Ibanez. He will get his moment, for sure.

It’s always good to see Royals alumni at the game, but probably my favorite moment of the entire ceremony was when they had a season ticket holder from 1969 raise the American League pennant. Just a brilliant touch to recognize the fans. It’s amazing. After so many years of bumbling around, the Royals are suddenly an organization that gets it. Forgive me if it takes me some time to adjust to this new reality. Either way, it’s really nice.

— Yordano Ventura threw fire – but he didn’t hit triple digits on the radar gun all afternoon – yet he was steady and kept the White Sox off balance all afternoon.

Ventura_040615_Velo

He only whiffed two, but scattered just four hits and a walk. He was around the zone all day, throwing 81 pitches, 56 of them for strikes. The low number of strikeouts isn’t really notable. The Sox swung and missed at 11 of his offerings, so he was missing plenty of bats.

The really scary part was when he hit the ground after delivering a pitch to LaRoche in the top of the seventh. Fortunately, it was diagnosed as a cramp in his thumb. The telltale sign that is could have been a cramp was his delayed reaction to the pain after delivering his pitch. His hand (or thumb) just seized up. A bummer that Ventura left after just 81 pitches. Fortunately, it was just a thumb cramp. I don’t need to tell you, Ventura is absolutely indispensable to this rotation.

According to McCullough, he is ok and will make his next start.

— Not sure what to make of Kendrys Morales and his three walks. This is a guy who has walked 6.8 percent of the time in his career. His plate appearance on Monday were the paragon of patience. He saw 20 pitches in his five PAs.

— This whole Mike Moustakas as a number two hitter seems horribly misguided, but damn if it didn’t work on Monday. Remember how I told you to get Ned Yost to a casino last October. Apparently his hot streak is intact. While I encourage bunting against the shift, I would like to veto the idea of him sacrifice bunting. The moment when he sacrificed in the third inning following an Alcides Escobar double was as predictable as XXXX. I was glad I wasn’t on Twitter because I would have said something negative and then when Escobar scored on the Lorenzo Cain bloop down the right field line, I would have had a ton of, “See, it worked!” responses. I don’t have time for that.

Sac bunt aside, the most impressive moment of Moustakas’s afternoon was his opposite field home run. Entering 2015, exactly two of Moustakas’s 52 home runs have landed to the left side of center field. And those two weren’t exactly opposite field shots. They were just a few feet to the left of center. From Hit Tracker, here are his home run landing points from the last two seasons. 2013 is on the left.

MoosePull

For Moustakas to go that far to left is huge. And something we have never seen. (Bruce Chen called it on the broadcast. I’m not looking to dump Uncle Hud, so maybe a three man booth in the future.)

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m highly skeptical about this latest transformation of the Royals third baseman. We’ve been down this path before. But damn if he doesn’t have me scratching my head. Maybe, just maybe, he has become a different hitter trying to take the ball to all fields. Maybe, just maybe, he’s becoming some kind of better hitter because he’s staying within and going the opposite way instead of trying to yank everything. I don’t know. I need more evidence than one game. But that’s a much more promising start than doing it in Arizona.

— A very bad look from Smardzija to hit Cain on the next pitch after the Moose Oppo Taco. A very bad look.

— The Royals defense looks ready. I mean, is there really anything else to say? Poor Alexi Ramirez hit the ball on the screws a couple of times and had nothing to show for his efforts. And the double play in the fifth was a thing of beauty.

— My player profile on Alex Rios described him as an enigma with an injured thumb. Basically, we don’t know what we are going to get. A 3-4 day with a pair of singles and a home run to go along with a steal is a pretty good start. As those guys who pay attention to day one stats will tell you, Rios has already matched a quarter of his home run production from 2014.

The new guys got the job done.

— Quality starting pitching, a lockdown bullpen, a couple of steals, stellar defense and a sacrifice bunt. Royals baseball is back.

The Royals last played a meaningful baseball game on October 29, 2014. It’s been a shorter than usual offseason, but still… Winters are long. And harsh.

Nevermind all that. Baseball is back today. The Royals open their defense of the American League pennant at 3:10 against Central Division rival Chicago White Sox. Yes, baseball is back.

Happy Opening Day.

(Brief side note – This is the 10th year of Royals Authority. Clark started blogging back in February of 2005. I picked up the virtual pen a month later. We joined forces around June or July and have been going ever since. Ten years of blogging together. Damn, that’s a lot of time spent writing about this team. I do know I won’t check my bank balance to see how profitable this venture has been.)

The Royals set their 25-man roster by adding Franklin Morales as expected, and, in a bit of an upset, Ryan Madson. I thought the Royals felt Madson needed more time before he could be subjected to the rigors of the regular season, but it looks like he was going to get a major league offer from another team, which forced Dayton Moore’s hand. They had a “gentlemen’s agreement” in place allowing Madson to leave for a major league job if he wasn’t going to make the Royals. Rumor was, there was at least one team interested, so Madson gets the job over Brian Flynn who has options left and will travel to Omaha to open the year.

It’s become a bit of a tradition (at least in my mind it’s a tradition) that I ask readers to make their predictions in this space. I do that for posterity. Think the team is going to go nuts and win 95? Post it here. Feeling pessimistic and think a 90 loss season is in the cards? That’s what the comment section is for, so use it.

Here are my picks:

I think the Royals will win 83 games. A solid season, but ultimately they will fall short of October. I think the Central will be tight once again. It’s difficult to find a favorite here. All teams have their strengths. (Except for the Twins.) All teams have their weaknesses. (Especially the Twins.) There are arguments to be had for the Royals, Indians, Tigers and White Sox for making a run and outlasting their rivals.

Here is my order of finish:

AL Central
Detroit
Cleveland
Kansas City
Chicago
Minnesota

AL East
Toronto
Boston
Baltimore
Tampa
New York

AL West
Seattle
Los Angeles
Texas
Oakland
Houston

NL Central
Pittsburgh
Milwaukee
St Louis
Chicago
Cincinnati

NL East
Washington
New York
Miami
Philadelphia
Atlanta

NL West
Los Angeles
San Diego
San Francisco
Colorado
Arizona

Wild Cards
Boston
Los Angeles

New York
San Diego

World Series

Toronto and San Diego

These are unscientific, yet binding. So binding. And hopefully not boring. I’ve seen too many Washington picks for the World Series. One thing we know, at least one Wild Card team will probably make a deep run. Why not San Diego this year?

Bookmark this and feel free to throw it in my face at a later date. And if you’re so bold, leave a prediction or two in the comments. I’m specifically interested in your guess at the Royals win total and where they will finish in the Central. Although if you want to predict the entire league, I’m good with that.

Play ball.

Happy Opening Day

Defending American League champs.

Forbes came out with their annual valuations of major league baseball teams and your Kansas City Royals rank 28 out of 30 in overall value.

Poor David Glass.

But, wait! There’s more! It turns out that while the Royals rank near the bottom of the valuation list the overall value of the franchise is $700 million. That is a whopping 43 percent gain over last year when the team was $501 million.

Read those numbers again. Because they are mind-blowing.

Apparently, owning a major league baseball team is quite the money-making venture. I’ve been tracking these numbers from Forbes for some time. While they should not be considered gospel since major league baseball refuses to open their books, by looking at the big picture you can certainly grasp trends. For example, here’s the estimated overall franchise value going back to 2006.

Total Value 2015

That’s pretty incredible. Value grew steadily for about seven years before skyrocketing in 2013. In 2012, the Royals were valued at $354 million. They have doubled in value in three years.

This increase isn’t unique to the Royals. All of major league baseball is rolling in the dough. The Royals 43 percent increase from last year was only ranked them 21st among the 30 teams. The Washington Nationals gained 83 percent from the previous year. The hated San Francisco Giants doubled in value from last year. I’m fairly certain these numbers and this trend put to bed the trope that “baseball is dying.” It’s not. Not even close.

While team’s values are ballooning across the game, it wouldn’t be farfetched to think part of the increase on the Royals part was fueled by their October run. That was certainly reflected in their revenues.

Revenues

They have been on the uptick for years, but last October really put money in the coffers at The K. Tickets, merchandise, parking and concessions for eight extra home games certainly help. Especially at special October prices.

The increase in revenues led to near-record profits.

Operating Income

Quite the turnaround from the 2013 season when the Royals lost money according to Forbes. The profit has always been a little uncertain, again thanks to baseball owners refusing to open their books. The Royals maintain they do their best to break even each season. Forbes, the 2013 season aside, disagrees. Although it’s certainly not a stretch to assume their operating income wouldn’t have been so elevated without postseason baseball.

Going forward, we know the Royals will raise payroll to record levels. (Around $113 million, which will be the topic of another post around Opening Day.) They will also certainly experience a postseason hangover of sorts where merchandise and ticket sales will remain strong at least for the first half of the season, no matter how the season goes. The Royals are playing in one of the smallest market in the majors and that postseason financial bounce was certainly received with open arms.

The Royals will continue to talk budgets and financial constraints relative to market size. That’s to be expected and that’s wholly acceptable. The profits may find extremes from one year to the next, but they will likely set out to hover around the $5-10 million mark when those budgets are set. I remain skeptical their goal is to break even, as they so often say, but as long as they continue to inject money into a competitive payroll, I have no issue with their words.

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