Royals Authority

Long Live The Process

Browsing Posts published by Clark Fosler

So, yesterday we learned via Jeffrey Flanagan that the Royals’ plan (i.e. hope) is for Bubba Starling to make his major league debut sometime in 2016 and be a major league regular in 2017. That is somewhat startling news (get it?) given that Bubba has a career minor league line of .245/.329/.403 with a nearly 27% strikeout rate.  Without question, the timeline reported by Flanagan is certainly the Royals’ best case scenario.  Clubs don’t typically reveal that their plan for player X ‘is to play fair to middling baseball next season, struggle at the next level and be out of the game by 2017’.  I still found the above timeline and in particular making it public to be surprising.

Yes, Starling has had a great Arizona Fall League which has featured two rather stunning defensive plays. I don’t believe anyone has any doubts that Starling could be an upper echelon defender at the major league level right now.  In fact, he pretty much came out of the womb with a major league caliber glove, that has never been the problem.  The problem, as we all know, is that this is player that as recently as last year was described as ‘unable to recognize pitches and constantly late on them when he does’.

As recently as 2014, Starling hit .218/.304/.338 in Wilmington.  Now, say all you want about that league and that ballpark and even how poor a statistic batting average is, but .218 is still .218.  Bubba followed that up with a .177/.226/.241 in 84 Arizona Fall League appearances. It was dismal.

Minus a waggle in his swing, Starling had more fun in 2015:  obliterating High A pitching for two weeks before moving up to AA ball.  He was okay in AA (.254/.318/.426) but nothing special frankly. Not anything that would necessarily restore luster to a tarnished former prospect’s star. While raves are coming in this fall, Starling is hitting .274/.330/.440 in the Arizona Fall League with four home runs and five steals.

Nice numbers, right?  They are, but Gary Sanchez has 7 home runs, Adam Engel has 10 steals (and is hitting .403).    And Starling still has 25 strikeouts in 90 plate appearances. Let’s not bid farewell to Gordon and Zobrist just yet, okay?

That variable is the interesting part of the optimistic organization timeline.  It tells me that the Royals are looking at one corner outfield spot and seeing Dyson, Orlando, Jose Martinez, maybe Brett Eibner (speaking of parks, age and batting average, .384 is .384!) and then Starling.  It tells me that the organization is thinking Gordon OR Zobrist at one corner outfield spot and going ‘internal’ for the other. They could perhaps add a one year veteran reclamation project for 2016 as well.  You know, it worked with Melky Cabrera and sorta, kinda if you squint right also did with Alex Rios.

We could also take the fun scenario here (dollars be damned!) and read the above to mean Gordon resigned to play left, Zobrist resigned to play right in 2016 and then sliding in to play second in 2017 when Bubba Starling arrives and wins a Gold Glove in right.  That sounds fun, but sadly unrealistic.

Or course, the more logical analysis is that the comments reported to Flanagan were just talk of what the club sees as an optimistic, but realistic, timeline and has nothing to do with what the Royals do this off-season.  Truthfully, that is far closer to reality than anything I just wasted your time with above.  That’s okay, in my opinion.

We are not too far removed from the days of targeting the arrival of a Bubba Starling to the big leagues as the START of when the Royals had a chance.  Instead, we stand here in mid-November with the Kansas City Royals as your World Champions, back to back World Series participants, with six regulars (seven if you count Infante), four starters, their closer and best set-up man already coming back for 2016.

There have been comments and commentary about what the Royals should do that include ‘not having to rebuild or, flat out suck, in 2018 and 2019’.  I read many of those and see how you can get the 2018 Royals to 80 or 82 wins….maybe, but I don’t see how you do it without the 2016 and 2017 Royals sacrificing wins.  That logic does not fly with me.  I can see, with the right moves and some money, how the Royals could be a playoff team in the next two seasons.  Truthfully, they might be as close as Yordano Ventura being a true number one away from another World Series.

Bubba Starling in 2017?  Hey, that would be quite a nice bonus, but it should have nothing to do with planning to be a real winner without him.



Earlier this week, Shaun Newkirk at Royals Review discussed the Royals payroll going forward and what they should consider doing in that regard.  His payroll analysis, like many others, pegs the Royals at being committed to (this includes potential arbitration awards) right around $100 million for 2016 right now, with the possibility of the 2017 payroll being nearly $130 million WITHOUT adding anyone new this or next off-season.

Yes, my friends, there is a reckoning coming.

My belief is there are two paths to take for the Royals.  The first is to try to soften the inevitable end of this current core group of World Champions.  They could make moves that will keep them from falling back to a 90 loss team in 2018 and 2019.  This plan of action likely means building the 2016 and 2017 Royals to be 85-90 win teams instead of 90-95 win teams.  Hey, a lot of 88 win teams make the playoffs.  It is not an illogical idea at all.

On the other hand, one could ride this group hard.  The Royals won 89 games, then they won 95 and – not sure if you heard – the World Series.  They control the majority of the players that have been winners for two seasons for two more seasons.  Bolster the group, keep charging, spend the money and be a playoff team for two more seasons and worry about three years from now three years from now.  It is not an illogical idea at all.

Shaun is a young guy, a finance guy.  In his article he advocates saving your money for something better down the road.  Smart.

I am an old guy, a venture capitalist guy.  I believe in putting my money to work for a goal I can see in the near term.  Not dumb.

If the Royals were to follow my plan (and my gut, by the way, says they will try for something of a hybrid of the two), they have to first decide if they really are a 2016 playoff team.  That statement sounds stupid on the surface, doesn’t it?  After all this was a no-fluke World Champion with essentially 20 of their 25 man roster coming back.  Playoffs?  You betcha.  Let’s take a look anyway.

As it stands right now, the Royals are minus Alex Gordon, Ben Zobrist and Alex Rios from the offensive side of the equation.  Although they don’t play the same position, Rios has already been replaced by the return of Omar Infante.  Gordon is projected to land a contract somewhere around five years and $90 million.  Zobrist is projected to land one in the three year/$36 million range. If the Royals have around $30 million to spend this off-season, they could get both Gordon and Zobrist back….and that would be the extent of any major or even minor free agent activity for the team.   When 2018 rolled around and Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, Escobar, Davis and Duffy are all free agents, the Royals would have a 38 year old Zobrist and a 34 year old Gordon taking up $28 million of payroll per season.

Without resigning Gordon or Zobrist, the Royals could conceivably fill one outfield spot with a Jarrod Dyson/Paulo Orlando combination.  Defensively, they would be quite good.  Offensively, the two in combination would likely hold their own, but they will not post on-base percentages of .364…or .377.   Maybe the Royals sign one of Gordon and Zobrist to play the corner opposite Dylando.  Is that a playoff lineup?

For the pitching staff, let’s go with who is coming back.  The rotation currently has Volquez, Ventura, Duffy and Medlen.  The bullpen contains Davis, Herrera, Hochevar and….   Yeah, there’s some work to do.  Johnny Cueto (thanks for Game 5 of the ALDS and Game 2 of the Series, Johnny!) is and always has been leaving.  Ryan Madson wants a multi-year deal, which is probably not a good deal for the Royals.  Chris Young is a free agent who might get more than he should given his injury history, age and the fact that you have to tell yourself you are buying in for 140 innings per year.  Franklin Morales is a free agent, too and Greg Holland is hurt.

Now, there is a chance that the four starting pitchers currently on the roster could be quite good.  There is also a chance that they could be an inconsistent mess as well.  Let’s put it this way, a playoff 2016 Royals is going to need more than Louis Coleman and Tim Collins between its starting rotation and the new HHD.  They likely will also want more than the hope of Kyle Zimmer to fill the fifth spot in the rotation.

So, what DOES make the 2016 version of the Royals a real (as opposed to a hopeful) playoff team?

It is at least the signing of one of Gordon or Zobrist (or an equally capable bat who can play defense) and, quite honestly, a right handed bat better than Paulo Orlando to platoon with Dyson.  It will take a starting pitcher from the mid-tier of those available.  If Chris Young wanted to come back at a nominal price for the fun of it, who would not love to have him as your swing man?  It will take, as the Royals already seem to be on the hunt for, another quality relief pitcher and the next Ryan Madson.

Painting with a broad brush, that previous paragraph just cost David Glass $30 million.  For that, Mr. Glass, you get the chance to hang up another flag in the outfield.

Sadly, and this hurts, the logical move is to sign Zobrist and not Gordon.  At the plate, they are similar players, but Zobrist is at most a three year commitment (and one would hope most of the aging for Ben would occur in year three of the deal) and Ben brings some versatility.  You sign Zobrist to play a corner outfield spot, but you can use him at second or third or even shortstop in a pinch.  With Gordon, you are buying into two more years (I will offer that you would trust Alex’s decline to be slight for most of that contract given his work ethic and how he takes care of his body, but you never know) and pretty much getting a left-fielder that entire time.

You go sign a mid-level (maybe low mid-level) starting pitcher and good reliever and, if Dayton Moore catches a break and still have $5 million of his $30 to play with, see what you can get as far as another reliever and an right-handed outfield bat.   If everything breaks right and one of your starting pitchers steps up into top of the rotation class and this team could be on-par with the World Champions.   The Royals would also be positioned (albeit with an even larger and likely money losing payroll in 2017) to be just as good that year.

It would sadly position this organization for a hard crash landing in 2018, but I will tell you that going 68-94 in 2018 would be far more tolerable if it was coming off three straight 90 win playoff campaigns.  I think I make that trade, myself.

If you can look at a roster and be pretty confident that three realistic additions to your team makes you a playoff team, I think you have to reach out and make the moves.  The farther you look into the future, the less facts you have and your plans to be a winning team five years from now might well get derailed through no fault of your own.  We can all make some pretty good theories for 2018 and 2019, but we can stare facts in the face for 2016 and 2017.

What the hell?  Go for it and pick up the pieces three years from now.



At some point back in the dark ages, when The Process appeared aimless and the Royals were losing games in all possible fashions, I remember reading a quip from a scout saying ‘the Royals just want athletes’.  It was not a complimentary observation and, at the time, seemed valid as well.

The widely held perception was that the Royals drafted for looks, not for baseball skill and did little to develop the athletes they were collecting. In 2009, both Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas struggled in A ball, while Alex Gordon was on the verge of playing his way out of the game.  Sure, Zack Greinke won the Cy Young, but by 2010 was disinterested and demanded a trade.

The Greinke trade netted the Royals – you guessed it – more athletes.

The organization by then had handfuls of prospects.  The best farm system in the history of whatever, but it didn’t matter.  They lost 91 games despite having the new and improved Alex Gordon joined by Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar. They lost 90 games the next year, when Hosmer and Moose could not hit, Cain could not stay healthy and Perez hurt his knee in spring training.

Just a bunch of athletes on a baseball field.  Potential?  Sure.  Production? Not so much. The Royals were last in the league in walks, but also struck out the least and were 12th in runs scored.

Then the Wade Davis trade was made.  Off went Wil Myers, in came James Shields and Davis.  Sure, there were others (notably Jake Odorizzi), but the deal really would come down to what Wade Davis would be. We hoped he might become a serviceable starter, no one expected him to become a cyborg.  In 2013, he was neither.

That year, even as the Royals flirted with contention on their way to winning 86 games, they still had a third basemen and shortstop with on-base percentages below .300.  They had an athletic centerfielder who could not stay on the field and a got a total of just 33 starts from pitchers under the age of 29.  At the plate, with a few exceptions, the Royals hacked away. Only two teams walked less than Kansas City, but once again they struck out less than any other team.

It continued into 2014 when the Royals were predictably last in walks, last (in a good way) in strikeouts and last in home runs. They did, however, climb to 9th in runs scored and rode a now dominant bullpen and better than you might think starting pitching all the way to Game Seven of the World Series.  Those athletes, by the way, could also play a little defense.  Actually, they could plan a whole lot of defense.

You, of course, know what happened in 2015.  Last in walks, second to last in home runs, fewest strikeouts (by a mile) and third in stolen bases.  Now, however, the Royals were sixth in the AL in runs scored, somehow even better in the field and deeper in the bullpen.  The result, despite choppy starting pitching, was a championship.

That championship came, in no small part, by playing the numbers. An organization that seemed to thumb their noses at sabremetrics for years either intentionally or by chance, was betting that batting average of balls in play (BABIP) was real.  With the highest contact percentage in baseball, Kansas City very simplistically became a team that put more balls in play than their opponent.  When the Royals swung at pitches in the strike zone, they made contact 89.9% of the time – best in the game.  When they hacked out of the zone, they had the second best contact rate in the game.  Somewhat surprisingly, eight teams swung more often than the Royals in 2015, but only three swung and missed less than Kansas City.

This was the same group of athletes, playing the same way they always had….only better.  And those athletes could field. I suppose one could make a case that there were better defensive teams in baseball in 2014 and 2015 – you’d be wrong, but go ahead. It was all part of the Royals’ numbers games.  They would put more balls in play than you and, when in the field, make more outs on balls in play than your team.

Just a bunch of athletes making contact, catching and throwing and, oh yeah, they had five or six guys in the bullpen that threw 95 or better.  Welcome to the new world.

Dave Cameron at Fangraphs wrote a great piece on the Royals in which one of the premises is that it would be rather difficult for another team to replicate them. That makes one wonder if this is the team that Dayton Moore thought he was building or it just delightfully morphed into this current juggernaut?  Without a doubt, Moore wanted athletes and high velocity arms.  He preached pitching and defense, but did he (or any of us) really imagine that the pitching was mostly bullpen arms?  Did Moore really think he could put a plus – and usually plus-plus – defender at every position on the diamond?  Hey, who are we to wonder?

This is the GM who we watched sign Jose Guillen, trade for Mike Jacobs and acquire Yuniesky Betancourt…twice.  The same guy who, when forced to trade Zack Greinke got two All-Stars in return.  The same guy who traded his number one prospect for 400+ innings of James Shields and the best reliever in the game.  The guy who somehow went back in time and signed the 2011 version of Kendrys Morales in 2015.  The guy who signed Chris Young and Ryan Madson when no one else really wanted them.  The former ‘stand-pat’ GM who got Ben Zobrist AND Johnny Cueto at the trade deadline.  My God, boys and girls, Dayton Moore traded for Johnny Gomes ‘just in case’.  At this point, Mr. Moore could seemingly bring Ryan Shealy out of retirement and have him turn in positive WAR.

Not only did this group of athletes change and not only did their general manager change, but so did Ned Yost. Do I want Ned Yost designing the rocket that will take me to Mars?  I do not. Do I want him managing my baseball team? I do.

Would the Yost of a few years back have sent Kelvin Herrera out for a third inning in a World Series game?  Would he have used his close for multiple innings?  Go back to the early days of Yost and tell me if he would have routinely benched a veteran like Alex Rios for a defensive replacement in the seventh inning.  Yost’s team got better and that makes any manager look better, but I believe Ned himself got better, too.

The organization got better and, dare I say it, the ownership got better. Salvador Perez and Kelvin Herrera play for someone else if Moore had been hamstrung by the same conditions as Allard Baird had to work under.  The past is hard to forget.  David and Dan Glass spent much of their early ownership years gutting and flat-out wrecking this franchise and they don’t get forgiveness for that, but they do get credit for changing.

The payoff for having just a bunch of athletes, for sticking with a manager who seemed lost, for allowing a GM to follow a Process that took twice as long as he said it would and for becoming an ownership group that spent money and operated their team like a real franchise all came to fruition when Wade Davis froze Wilmer Flores for a called strike three.

On August 6th, 2005 we took our oldest daughter to her first Royals’ game.  That team lost to Oakland 16-1 on their way to losing 106 games. Joe McEwing, Angel Berroa, Denny Hocking, Donnie Murphy and Jimmy Gobble played in that game. In the late innings, Kaitlin looked at me and said “Daddy, this is pretty bad.”

Sunday night she texted me from college:  “WORLD CHAMPIONS!”


Nine innings, two hits, one run:  Johnny Cueto, ladies and gentlemen.

The debate over whether Cueto was an ‘ace’ or not has long since waned, smothered by a slew of bad starts in August and September, but as he was in Game Five of the ALDS, Johnny Cueto was an ace last night. He became just the fifth pitcher to throw a complete in the World Series this century and the first American League pitcher to do it since Jack Morris threw ten shutout innings to win Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

How many pitchers have allowed two hits or less in a complete World Series game?  Sixteen, counting Cueto… the history of the game.   Greg Maddux was the last to do it before last night and that was twenty years ago.

The performance becomes even more impressive when you note that the only two hits – both by Lucas Duda – were an infield single and a bloop single:  both against the shift.  The run scored after the Royals narrowly missed turning an inning ending double play.  Of course, you never know what happens if Cueto gets out of his own self-created jam in the fourth inning, but he was incredibly close to being even more brilliant than he ended up being.

Cueto had it all working last night, throwing 70 of his 122 pitches for strikes and facing just 31 batters. He threw more than 16 pitches just once in an inning – that odd fourth.  Here, you try hitting this:

Cueto Movement

Or even figuring out when to attempt to hit (the Mets took 21 strikes looking last night).

There is a chance that last night was Cueto’s last as a Royal.  If so, he ended up doing pretty much what Dayton Moore acquired him to do:  win big games. The road to get to the final out of last night was rocky, but Johnny Cueto was brilliant in the deciding Game Five against Houston and brilliant once more last night to give his team a 2-0 lead in its quest to win a second World Series.  John Lamb, Brandon Finnegan and Cody Reed have a lot of work to do to make folks lament giving them up for two months and a post-season worth of Cueto.

Along the way last night, the Royals plated seven runs:  four against Jacob deGrom who was nationally assumed to be poised to shut the Royals down.  They did so with Ben Zobrist and Lorenzo Cain going a combined 0-9.  If Yoenis Cespedes was not quite so good, they would have scored more than that.  It is what this Kansas City team does.  They have gone from a group of hackers to a lineup of aggressive hitters and there is a big difference.  What would the 2012 Royals have done in a big game after deGrom mowed them down in order the first three innings?

All of the above touchy-feely is nice, but let’s not get carried away.  As Max over at Royals Review tweeted last night, the 1985 Royals lost the first two World Series Games at home and we know how that turned out.

Ned Yost set his World Series rotation today, giving the Game One nod to Edinson Volquez.  The decision makes sense on several levels.

First, it puts Volquez on regular rest. Second, it puts the Royals’ most consistent post-season starter in position to get his team off to a positive World Series start.

Volquez pitched ten spectacular innings in the Toronto series and two agonizingly shaky frames.  He emerged from one of those shaky innings unscathed and did not emerge from the second such inning at all. In fact, Volquez was just one Troy Tulowitzki double off Kelvin Herrera away from finishing the ALCS with just two runs allowed in twelve innings against the highest scoring offense in the game.

The free agent signing that few were happy about has become the obvious choice to start the second Game One of a World Series to be played in Kansas City in the last twelve months.  Volquez is not likely to strike out double digit hitters like a hot Yordano Ventura might, nor is he likely to spin eight innings of complete domination that Johnny Cueto might.  However, he is quite simply the most likely starter on the staff to toss five, maybe six innings of quality baseball.  To look at it from a different direction, Volquez is the least likely to bury his team by pitching poorly early in the game.

With a rested bullpen going in and an off-day after Game Two, one would assume the Yost will be less likely to try to coax an extra inning out of Volquez as well.  Five good innings followed by a lead-off walk in the sixth?  Let’s have the relief corps up and ready, okay Ned?

Now, the angst portion of our headline comes from the announced Game Two starter:  Johnny Cueto.

Who will toe the slab on Wednesday night?  The distract (paranoid?) guy who could get no one out in Toronto or the guy who gave up two hits in eight innings to get his team to the ALCS?  Or maybe it will be the guy who pitched an ‘okay’ Game Two in the ALDS, giving up four runs over six innings.  Hell, if anyone has an idea, they are lying and that might well include Johnny Cueto himself.

There was talk – talk radio talk, so take it for what it’s worth – that Cueto should not start at all in the Series.  You almost have to start him.  Pitching in the post-season is the only reason the Royals traded for him to begin with and, ugly as it might be, they are 2-1 in games he started this post-season.  Plus, there is the tantalizing prospect of ALDS Game Five Cueto showing up.

Game Three in New York belongs to Yordano Ventura, which already has some national types wondering about his ability to control his emotions on the big stage in the big city. I don’t have near the problem with Ventura staring down Troy Tulowitzki (who, let’s face it, is a great player with an attitude) as I do with a first-base coach who never did anything of note on a major league diamond mouthing off about it.  Ventura might lose it or he might strike just the balance of emotional edge that makes him great.  We have all seen a calm, collected Ventura pitch just as bad as an irate Yordano and also seen an edgy Ventura be dominant.

However he does it – with or without emotion – a solid outing from Ventura will be needed in Game Three as the Royals will go with Chris Young for the next game. Young has done all that has been asked of him this post-season and done it well, but he won’t do it for very long.  Yost has shown that five innings is all he wants or expects to get from Young and thus having a bullpen that maybe only had to cover three innings the night before would be extremely helpful.

In the end, however, Cueto is everyone’s focus. He is the one whose mental make-up is questioned, whose ‘want’ has come under scrutiny.  He is also the one who could simply go out and win a game all on his own….or lose it in a hurry. Worried?  Uncertain? Those emotions are well warranted and probably apply to Ventura as well.


Well, who among us, back in April, thought he would be the Game One starter and, more importantly, would be the rotation member in whom we almost universally have the most confidence?   Not sure if you noticed, but Dayton Moore had a good off-season.

Game on, boys and girls.


Back in Game One, Edinson Volquez pitched five brilliant innings, then floundered into choppy waters in the sixth.  In that game, after an agonizing 30 minute-37 pitch frame, the Royals emerged unscathed and took the game.  Yesterday, Volquez was not brilliant, but was very good for five innings and entered the sixth with his team down 1-0. Unlike the first game, the Royals did not emerge unscathed.

Walk, hit by pitch, walk and walk is no way to make a living on the mound and that is what Volquez did to begin the frame. Relieved by Kelvin Herrera, he could only watch as Troy Tulowitzki ripped a one out double (more good hitting than bad pitching on that one, by the way) to plate three more runs.  Game over, basically.

My wife asked me ‘what happened?’ and the only real answer I could come up with is the Royals simply got beat yesterday.  They ran into a good pitcher having a great night and handed a great offensive team four free baserunners to play with – in a row.  Momma said there would be days like this.

Did Volquez get squeezed in that sixth inning?  Here’s the strike zone plot courtesy of Brooks Baseball for the at-bat against the purveyor of sunshine and goodness, Jose Bautista:

6th Inning Bautista


You want way more and way better on the above?  Click this link for an absolutely tremendous article by BasedBall.

And the following plate appearance by Edwin Encarnacion:

6th Inning Edwin

It would not be uncommon to get a few of those calls, but it is not uncommon not to, either.  Big name hitters on their home turf?  That’s a tough called strike to get sometimes.

The Royals did muster something of a challenge in the eight when Salvador Perez hit a two out solo homer followed by singles by Gordon and Rios.  You wonder what might have been if Alcides Escobar’s liner (fliner more accurately?) had found a home outside of Happy Bautista’s glove, but it was not to be.  The Royals got beat, turn the page.

The national storyline now seems to be turning towards an almost expectation that the Blue Jays are going to waltz through Game Six. There was already talk on MLB Radio speculating about whether Ned Yost could actually hand the ball to Johnny Cueto for Game Seven.  My question is, how comfortable does John Gibbons feel about handing the ball to David Price for Game Six?

Do you think, with Price warming in the pen in the seventh yesterday that the Royals hurt themselves by not forcing Gibbons to pitch Price in relief yesterday (and thus go with Marcus Stroman on short rest tomorrow night) or help themselves?  Playoff demons?  David Price has more than a few and the last time he threw a pitch to the Royals, they were spraying the ball around Kaufmann with large amounts of authority.

Having annointed Yordano Ventura a big game pitcher prior to the start of the post-season and subsequently been disappointed by my proclamation, I still feel good about a Ventura-Price showdown in Kansas City.  That is all feel and no fact, mind you, but I feel good about Game Six.  It is quite obviously, the game the Royals need to win as all the pressure will rain down on them should this series go to Game Seven.  It is time for a Ventura gem.

Cueto in Game Seven?  Don’t worry about it.  Royals win in six.

One had to expect there would be a game like last night at some point in the ALCS.  You know, one where the Blue Jays just score too many runs.  When a 95 win team with the best record in the first half of the season faces a 93 win team with the best record in the second half of the season, expecting a sweep is simply not realistic.

It would have been unreasonable to expect Johnny Cueto to throw another eight inning two hit gem, but reasonable to expect something other than a two inning eight run four walk disaster that he ended up providing in front of a national audience that no doubt included the five or six men contemplating throwing millions of dollars at him this off-season.

Cueto simply could not locate a pitch.  Were the Royals being too cute with multiple signs and Perez waiting to the last second to set his target?  Were they a little too worried about what the Blue Jays may or may not be doing?  I don’t know, maybe.  I do know Cueto was awful last night.

That said, this is a talented Toronto lineup that scored 137 more runs this season than any other team.  They were due, after amassing just three runs in the first two games to explode and they did.  They are a dramatically better team playing in Rogers Centre than anywhere else and it showed. It was bound to happen.

Now, the Royals did not curl up in a ball and whimper.

Kris Medlen, after serving up a giant home run to Josh Donaldson (possibly the only player in the league who makes me say ‘you know Eric Hosmer’s haircut isn’t that bad’) allowed only one other run in FIVE big innings of relief. He was tagged for a solo shot by Ryan Goins, but was otherwise pretty much untouchable.  The outing was huge in that it allowed Ned Yost to save really all of his bullpen for better days.

On the offensive side, down seven, the Royals scratched a couple of runs across in the fifth courtesy of Alcides Escobar and Ben Zobrist, who accounted for six of the team’s eight runs and seven of their fifteen hits. They could not muster any other challenge in sixth, allowing the Blue Jays to milk an extra four outs out of the only marginally effective Marcus Stroman.

In the end, however, the Royals made it interesting, plating four runs in the top of the ninth with still two outs to play with. I did not truly feel as though Kansas City was going to make it all the way back, but it was enough to force Toronto to go  to their closer to finish the game.  In fact, despite leading by six and seven runs most of the night and winning by three, the Blue Jays did use their top three relievers last night, while the Royals saved everyone that they would use in a close game.  That could prove to be an important fact today and tomorrow.

More than anything, last night’s contest pointed out just how different these two teams are.  The Royals had 15 hits and one walk, the Blue Jays 11 hits and six walks. The Jays scored six of their runs via the long ball, the Royals just two (and that in the game’s last inning). Also, at least one Blue Jay thinks it is cool to wear eye black..indoors…at night.

Last night’s game was an example of what we all knew this series would be:  a test to see if the Royals can put the ball in play more than the Blue Jays can hit it over the fence.

As Craig detailed yesterday, the Royals will send Chris Young to the mound this afternoon and hope the tall soft thrower who believes in the fly ball can somehow keep those balls on Lorenzo Cain’s side of the fence.  In turn the Blue Jays will throw knuckle balling R.A. Dickey out in hopes he can guide the Royals’ balls towards Troy Tulowitzki’s glove, where we know the induce glare of indoor baseball will not effect the Toronto shortstop.

The baseball post-season is littered with unlikely heroes. The Royals need Chris Young, the exact opposite kind of pitcher one would logically like to see facing the Blue Jays in Toronto, to be one of those unlikely heroes and give them a stranglehold on this series.

Buckle Up

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The American League Championship Series, featuring the Kansas City Royals for the second straight year, starts tonight. Without question, the two best teams in the AL – despite some ALDS tribulations – are squaring off.  It is what we expected, what we anticipated and likely is going to be a great series. Hey, that these two teams don’t much care for one another just adds to the fun.

The Royals, long installed as baseball’s badboys, played in the only series that did not feature accusations, bench clearings and controversy.  Surely, however, Kansas City was somehow to blame for the Rangers and Blue Jays melees right? Jake Diekmann after all is from Nebraska, so is Alex Gordon and likely it was Alex (at the urging of Yordano Ventura) who got Jake to rile up Sam Dyson to the point that he would have the audacity to say something to a saint like Troy Tulowitzki!  Okay, just joking around…

The Royals do jump around, flip bats, yap, tip their hats and have elaborate celebrations in mid-game. They are not above throwing inside and not inclined to ignore the yapping from the other dugout. That is who they are.  They are not headhunters and constant instigators.  In fact, of the handful (and it was JUST a handful, national media people) of incidents this year, the only opposing team that was likely totally innocent was the Angels.

The Blue Jays flip bats (at times with epic grace – I’m serious, Jose Bautista’s flip on Wednesday was outstanding), they yell and yap and stare people down.  They crowd the plate and throw inside.  They don’t take any crap and dish out plenty of ‘baseball advice’ to the other team during the game.  Has Josh Donaldson stopped talking yet? I will be honest, I don’t have a problem with any of it.

I love baseball played with emotion.  I don’t mind a team doing any of the above any more than I mind when two guys from opposing squads share a light-hearted moment on the bases.  You can be mad and play well. You can joke around with the other team and still play hard.  It is all fine.


The Blue Jays seem to have a problem with a team doing any of the things that they themselves do.  Bautista is a big ‘staredown guy’ when one throws inside, but when Blue Jay Aaron Sanchez buzzed someone inside, that’s just good pitching. Bat flips? Love them and so does Bautista, but god forbid Eric Hosmer flips one after a home run in Game One. You don’t get to be loud and intimidating and flashy and then become incensed when the other side is doing the same thing.

This could be a tremendous series both in terms of pure baseball and with regard to being emotionally charged.  I look forward to it, but let’s also remember that both teams get to be emotional.  And let’s keep the beer cans and cups in the stands, okay?

Relevant data points:

  • Kansas City pitchers hit 52 batters in 2015. Toronto pitchers hit 59.
  • Kansas City batters were hit 77 times.  Blue Jay hitters were plunked 54 times.
  • Toronto pitchers allowed 173 home runs.  Kansas City pitchers allowed 155.
  • Toronto hitters blasted 232 homer runs.  The Royals just 139.
  • Blue Jay hitters struck out 1151 times, while Kansas City hitters fanned just 973 times.

Shortly, the ALCS roster will be out.  I would not anticipate many (any?) changes from the ALDS. Again, where exactly do you see Jonny Gomes pinch-hitting in this series?  If you cannot envision a likely scenario (the only one I come up with is Gore pinch runs for Morales, game goes extra innings and his spot comes up in the order) then you probably can count on Paulo Orlando as ‘man 25’.

A more intriguing question might be would you pitch Volquez, Ventura and Cueto on three days rest in the ALCS.  Volquez goes in Game One and Ventura in Game Two, both on regular rest as does Cueto in Game Three. Do you go with Kris Medlen in Game Four or Volquez on three days rest?  How about Ventura on three days rest in Game Five or Cueto on three days in Game Six? Does Ned Yost dare do that with all three starters?  I might consider it.

Is just the idea of bringing one, two or three starters back on short rest enough to drop one of the six outfielders and carry another reliever?  Given that pitching Chris Young in any of the three games in Toronto is not a best case scenario, that might be in consideration already.

The fun starts tonight and while there might be some whining, some glaring, some flipping (from both sides) it will indeed be fun.


It had been a good season – 95 wins is nothing to sneeze at – but it was ending in disappointment.  Bitter disappointment.

You can call it however you want. Rationalize that 95 wins is great and we should all be happy just to be in the post-season. It is after all, just a game. So many other things are more important than to stress about the results of a baseball game or four.  We get it, you’re deep and so rational with your emotions.

This Royals team and its 95 regular season wins was going to go out with a whimper in the post-season.  A four game series loss to a Houston team that stumbled to the finish line.  Since sports is really about emotions, we were right to be bitter, angry and maybe for a few hours on a Monday afternoon more concerned about a baseball season ending than world peace or whatever Donald Trump said today.

This Royals team was not built to have a great regular season, it was built to win a championship.  Dayton Moore did not acquire Johnny Cueto to win 95 games, he got him to win playoff games and the entirety of Cueto’s Royal legacy was going to be one solitary post-season start.  Dayton Moore traded for Ben Zobrist to win games in October and here he was, playing second for a team that was getting no further than it would have with Omar Infante in the lineup.  (To be fair Zobrist has been fantastic as a Royal, but you get the point).  Heck, Dayton Moore traded for Jonny Gomes specifically with the idea of him pinch-hitting in a National League park in the World Series! That this team was going out – getting blown out in fact – in the divisional series was a bitter disappointment.

Trailing 3-2 in the top of the seventh, Terrance Gore had been called out trying to steal third after Alex Gordon had struck out with him on second.  The Astros then added three more runs in the bottom of the inning and the season, and if you did not think so, you are a better person than I, the season was over.

Then it wasn’t.

Alex Rios, who had had two of the worst at-bats of the last decade earlier in the game, singled to lead off.  Then Escobar did so, too.  And Zobrist and Cain and Hosmer (who I called a bad name at least twice earlier in the contest).  The Royals were now down just two with nobody out and the bases loaded.  Kendrys Morales, who had two home runs to start the series and not much else since, hit a grounder to Carlos Correa. The Astros’ shortstop is maybe a year away from being in the Mike Trout/Bryce Harper best in baseball discussion, but at this moment, he booted what was a somewhat quirky groundball.  Game tied.  Unbelievably, the game was tied.

One out later, Drew Butera came to the plate.  Ned Yost had no options. It was a worst case scenario: high pressure situation, extremely part-time player and one who, frankly, is a lousy hitter. Butera fell behind 1-2 and then proceeded to have probably the plate appearance of his life. Ten pitches total, four two-strike foul balls and, in the end a walk.  A glorious walk.  Alex Gordon followed with a run scoring ground ball.

The season was not over and it is not over.

On Wednesday night, Johnny Cueto takes the hill and Ben Zobrist will bat second and play second.  The Royals will be at home, needing to win just one game to move onto the next round of the post-season.  Just like it was supposed to be, right?


Yordano Ventura ended the regular season exactly as he began it:  as the Royals’ best starting pitcher.

There were a couple of trainwrecks in between, but Ventura enters the post-season having logged six innings or more in 10 of his last 15 starts.  He struck out 11 last Saturday, eliminating the Twins from post-season consideration and threw seven shutout innings the start before against the Cubs.  He enters tonight’s playoff game with several reputations depending on where you are from, but one of those is that he is a big game pitcher.

Most of that comes from Game Six of the World Series last year, when Ventura held the Giants scoreless through seven innings with the Royals facing elimination.  He was solid, if unspectacular in Game Two, throwing five plus innings and allowing two runs.  His first post-season start was a seven inning one run gem on the road in Anaheim.  Yes, there was a so-so start in Baltimore and the ugly relief appearance in the Wild Card Game that was more a case of managerial malpractice than anything else, but still, a rookie pitcher having two great, one okay and one so-so start in his first post-season?  That’s pretty good.

Oh, and the Royals won all four post-season games Yordano Ventura started.

What about other ‘big game’?

Ventura’s major league debut was as a starter and he tossed five and two-thirds innings and allowed just one run.  His first start as a ‘real’ member of the starting rotation came on April 8, 2014 and Ventura tossed six innings of two hit shutout baseball.  Down the stretch of 2014, when the Royals were making their push for the playoffs in 29 years, Ventura went 10 straight starts where he pitched six innings or more and only once allowed more than three runs.

While 2015 was – shall we say a bit rocky? – the closest to a playoff atmosphere was certainly Opening Day and Ventura tossed six innings and allowed just one run before being felled by a thumb cramp. Through all the trials and tribulations of what was Ventura’s season, he did pile up TWELVE starts where he went six or seven inning and allowed two runs or less.

So, the Royals play the first of what is hopefully a number of ‘big games’ tonight and Yordano Ventura, a pitcher with swing and miss stuff, will face down an Astros team that swings and misses a lot.  I like the Royals tonight and expect Ventura to have a good start.  This is who the Royals thought he was, it just took a little longer to get there than we had hoped.

Game Notes:

  • Gomes, Orlando and/or Gore?  The final two roster spots, barring a surprise, comes down to these three guys.  Just a few days ago, I thought Gomes was a lock just for the idea of him coming off the bench to pinch-hit against a lefty.  In an American League series, however, when would that happen?  Yost, who doesn’t like to pinch-hit anyway, is not going to do so for Hosmer, probably won’t for Moustakas, can’t for Escobar and won’t for Gordon.  Maybe, just maybe, if you pinch run Dyson or Gore or Orlando (depending who of the latter two makes the roster) late and that spot comes back up (extra innings), then Gomes would hit.  Is planning for that contingency more important than having a third pinch-runner?  Maybe.  It will seem damn important if Terrance Gore is schedule to hit down one in the bottom of the 12th!
  • Is Danny Duffy the fireman this post-season?  That is how I would use him.  Ryan Madson has been great, so has Kelvin Herrera, but they have also had their bad moments as well.  If Madson gives up two line drives to start the seventh, do you go to Duffy?  Ditto for Herrera in the eighth.
  • Last year, Lorenzo Cain had himself a monster post-season. My prediction for this year is that Eric Hosmer (who was not shabby last year) announces his presence with authority.
  • If you are a rational human and watched Dallas Keuchel carve up the Yankees Tuesday night, you know how absolutely lovely it would be to take both games in Kansas City before facing the Astros’ ace in Game Three down south.  Yes, I know the Royals jumped on Keuchel last time they saw him.  No, I don’t think that will happen again.
  • As Royals’ fans, we got used to playing out the string in August and September of many seasons and this year was no different, except that playing out the string meant waiting for the playoffs to start. Looking back, that was a good feeling. Let’s make a habit of it.


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