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Deconstructing The Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Series Reading:

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

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

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

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

— Don’t sleep on the Giants infield defense.

Pitching and defense wins championships?  Who knew?

There are a myriad, tangible and intangible, reasons why the Kansas City Royals are in the World Series for the first time in 29 years, but foremost among them is the fact that this team simply caught and converted into outs, well, basically everything that was put in play this post-season.  That may be an exaggeration, but not a huge one.

Defensive metrics are what they are:  way better than when all we had was errors and fielding percentage.  However, about the time we started to really believe in them, along came all the shifting and, at least in this small mind, skewed the numbers again. The metrics love Jarrod Dyson, Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon, they are not as kind to Alcides Escobar.  Take them for what they are worth and, sabremetricians cover your ears, you might have to just trust your eyes.

At least for a small sample size like the post-season, my eyes tell me that the Royals are playing as good a defense as I have seen a team play (and I’m old….and jaded…and pretty certain Cookie Rojas and Freddie Patek were gods).  The opposing batters have eyes, too, and likely not a lot of knowledge of UZR/150.  Are the Royals playing tremendous defense?  Ask Nick Markakis and Steve Pearce.

The second part (or first maybe) of the equation is pitching and, when it comes to the Royals specifically, relief pitching.  Kansas City is tailor made for playoff baseball with all it’s off-days and rest between series.  They can go to Herrera, Davis and Holland for nine outs on Tuesday and ELEVEN more on Wednesday.  They can, quite simply, give the opposing team 18 outs to score, while taking the full 27 to manufacture some runs themselves.  The Royals can do that without even having to use Brandon Finnegan, Jason Frasor and Danny Duffy.

In their eight post-season games, the Royals have gotten one, maybe two, really quality outings by their starting pitcher, but thanks to a dominant bullpen, have outpitched the opposing team.  You do that in the regular season and your bullpen will come apart after a couple of weeks.  You do that in the post-season and you start buying flagpoles.

Some other bits and pieces:

  • Zack Greinke has been part of seven post-season games since demanding a trade from Kansas City.  That’s one less than Alex Gordon.  Greinke has yet to be on a team that gets to the World Series.  Maybe he can demand a trade to a winner this off-season.
  • Darryl Motley was my favorite Royal the last time the team was in the World Series.  His game seven home run remains one of my most vivid Kansas City baseball memories.
  • Count me as one who is glad the Royals are playing the Giants and not the Cardinals.  I am from Nebraska (I have yet, by the way, noticed any difference between natives of Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa – I hate to break to you guys who are all about which state/region is better, but we’re all pretty much the same bunch) and don’t have that intense Kansas City versus St. Louis hatred.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I travel a lot and St. Louis is one of my least favorite cities, I mean it’s pretty freaking awful, but as an ‘outsider’ coming to the Series, I just don’t need the KC-St.Louis crap getting in the way of my drinking.
  • We will talk rosters over the weekend – I love to talk rosters – but just how healthy is Yordano Ventura and, more specifically, Danny Duffy?  If Ventura is good to go as a starter and the Royals think they can go to Danny Duffy for multiple innings more than once in a seven game set, they could well drop Tim Collins and add another position player. With National League rules looming in games three and four, Jayson Nix would seem to be far more useful than Collins, IF Duffy is really healthy.

Finally, I did not tweet, not even once during Game Four against the Orioles.  I was not in a great situation to utilize technology (driving a combine with scattered data coverage).  I listened to the game on the radio, just like in the olden days.  To be honest, it seemed right.  Everything seems right when you win.

These have been strange days for all Royals fans, but I’ve had an extra ingredient or two poured into the intoxicating mix to make the last six weeks especially earth-shaking. I’ll start by reassuring you that there is a happy ending. But in mid-September I got quite a scare when a tumor was discovered in my wife’s head. We had one especially terrifying day after we saw MRI images of an obvious, large growth pushing on her brain before we were able to get a diagnosis that it was “just” an acoustic neuroma: a benign growth on one of the cranial nerves. Thankfully, it’s a pretty treatable thing, and surgery for removal was scheduled for September 30. Yes: Wild Card day. So as you can imagine, this baseball team that I’m usually obsessed with took a back seat right at the most exciting time for fans. But: They were also there for me as the perfect, fun distraction at times when I needed that more than ever. As I sat in waiting rooms for 14 hours on the day of surgery, articles, tweets, and thoughts on that night’s game were there to occupy some of that time. After the totally successful surgery, one of the first things my wife said was, “Has the game started yet?”

Safe with the belief that Laura was going to be okay, but still shaken and drained, I fired up the game on DVR at around 9:30 that night. I should have had enough perspective at that moment in time to not really care, but I was totally down and out when the A’s went up 7-3 in the sixth inning. Losing the Wild Card was not enough for me. I wanted a playoff series at the very least. I hit fast forward, dejected, ready to get it over with and collapse in bed. But then the eighth inning happened. And then the ninth. Then the 10th, 11th, 12th, and oh my god, of course on the day of my wife’s brain surgery the Royals play one of the most incredible and biggest games I’ve ever seen.

There was relief in the next few days as Laura recovered as expected with manageable pain and exhaustion, but still craziness with her at the hospital and two young kids to be running around. She wanted to listen to the ALDS games, so I loaded the MLB At Bat app on her phone and she drifted off to sleep listening to the first two games. She’s normally not a huge baseball fan, but later told me she could at least feel close to me with the games on. (She’s also gotten more and more excited about the Royals themselves as the run goes on.) I’m a little embarrassed to say I couldn’t stay awake for the ends of game one and two in Anaheim thanks to all the craziness going on in my real life, but I was on top of the world watching the conclusions the next mornings. Her ahead of schedule recovery rate had her back home before game three so we got to watch the beginning of that one together at least.

I could relax a bit thanks to her slowly feeling better, and as the Royals kept rolling, a familiar homesickness started to amplify. We left Kansas City for Laura’s native Minneapolis a year and a half ago, and I still miss it. A lot. I miss my favorite places, my friends, my family, and, yes, the Royals. I could feel the excitement and joy the Royals were building in KC all the way from here. It poured out of my computer and TV screens, slapped me in the face, and said, “Ha, ha, you’re not here to enjoy this with your hometown! You live far away!” Before Laura’s diagnosis, I had a realistic dream of being able to make it to KC for a playoff game, so long as they could make it. But by the time they clinched, I knew I wouldn’t be able to leave Laura and the kids as she recovered throughout the postseason. And that was OK. Small potatoes when you’re dealing with brain surgery. But it added a bittersweet twist to what should be a purely sweet run. Friends and family texted and Facebooked pictures of themselves at the K, my favorite place in the world, but now with an atmosphere I can only imagine. “Have a great time!” I replied. “And I hate you!”

But Laura just keeps getting better. And the Royals just keep winning. A friend told me, “If they make the World Series, you have to come down.” I just chuckled. “We’ll see.” But then they did make the World Series. And Laura started trying to think of ways to make it work for me to get to a game. She’s still not allowed to lift more than 10 lbs, so can’t put our two-year old in and out of bed. But she did get cleared to drive, and her wonderful mom suggested that Laura and the kids could stay with her for a couple of days if I go down. But then we saw what tickets are going for. Another roadblock. But after I called my dad to hear about his great day spent at the K watching the team win the pennant, I mentioned it might be possible for me to make it down for a game if the tickets weren’t so insane. The next morning, I got an early Christmas present. I’m going to game one with my dad and brother. I’m tempted to say it’s unbelievable, but my hero Buck O’Neil said, “Nothing is unbelievable.” So I’m going to believe it. Laura’s doing great. I believe it. And I’m going to Kansas City. To Kauffman Stadium. To watch the Royals in the World Series. I believe it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Yordano Ventura. For throwing fire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Royals. American League Champions.

 

They did it.

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

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

A dream October.

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

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

Ballgame.

Pennant.

Pandemonium.

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

The baseball world is becoming well acquainted with Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland and rightfully so.  Could those three be one of  the best back of the bullpen combination in history?  That will take more research than time allows today, but certainly in a post-season full of good bullpens (not you, Detroit), I don’t think many would trade those three for anyone else.

That said, last night, the sixth inning belonged to Jason Frasor.  Acquired in mid-July in a not very noteworthy move made at a time when many of us were demanding big moves, Frasor has been around.  Eleven full seasons of ‘being around’.

Frasor debuted in the majors at age twenty-six way back in 2004.  Since then, Jason has made one trip to the minors: a pretty impressive feat for a non-closer type reliever.  He spent most of his eleven year career in Toronto, spread over two stints.  He was traded by the Blue Jays to the White Sox in a deal that involved Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen, then traded by the White Sox back to the Blue Jays a year later.

The right-hander has not been awarded a save since 2010.  He has never made more than $3.7 million in any one season.  He could sit down at the airport bar next to you and you would have no idea who he was.  Well, you might now, but you would not have a month ago.

Six hundred and forty-seven regular season appearances.

After facing 2,620 major league hitters and having struck out more of them than he allowed base hits to, Jason Frasor finally made his first post-season appearance in the Wild Card game against Oakland (a game in which he was awarded the win).   Eleven years and 619 innings worth of being ‘one of the other guys in the bullpen’ before pitching when it really, really mattered.

Now, cry not for Jason Frasor. That is a heck of a gig to be a reliever and made just one shuttle to the minor leagues in eleven years.  Few of us would turn down an 11 year run that yielded $17 million in total salary.  In the baseball world, however, Jason Frasor is just ‘one of the other guys’ and on the Royals he might well be the FIFTH best reliever in the bullpen.  There is a decent chance that somewhere in the excitement of the past month, you might well have forgotten – however momentarily – that Jason Frasor was a member of your Kansas City Royals.

Last night, however, in just the fourth post-season appearance of the 36 year old’s career, Jason Frasor came on in the sixth inning of a tie-game and mowed down the heart of the Oriole order as he bridged the gap between Jeremy Guthrie and the three-headed cyborg monster cerebus inadequately nick-named trio that dominates the later innings on behalf of the Kansas City Royals.

It was a big appearance when it really, really mattered.  A minor move by Dayton Moore back in July that paid off in October. Nice work, Dayton Moore.   Good for you, Jason Frasor, you earned it.

 

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

I don’t want it to stop. Ever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Royals 2, Orioles 1.

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

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

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

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

Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ShieldsVerticalLocation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another O’s starter, another match-up I like for the Royals. Wei-Yin Chen seems to throw anything and everything, mixing a four-seamer, two-seamer/sinker, slider, curve, and change from the left side. I can’t even fathom standing in against a two or three pitch major league pitcher, but when you have to be ready for five pitches?

Here is Chen’s selection, velocity, and runs above average on all those pitches in 2014, via Fangraphs:

four-seam fastball: 46%, 92, +4
two-seam fastball/sinker: 19%, 91, 0
slider: 15%, 82, +5
change: 12%, 83, -7
curve: 7%, 74, -3

So he’s had two plus pitches this season, one average, and a couple more that haven’t worked so well aside from giving the hitters more to think about. The Royals have faced him six times over the last three seasons, and have lit him up pretty well, cranking out 47 hits in 36.2 innings, including 14 extra-base hits, five of them homers. Billy, Alex, Hos, and Infante have all taken Chen deep. The Royals starting nine have a combined 117 plate appearances against him with a combined .878 OPS. Most of that damage came in 2012 and 2013 though–KC dropped both games against Chen this season, and failed to take him yard. Chen is quite susceptible to the long ball though, so it’s no surprise Buck Showalter saved him for a game at Kauffman. But it looks to me like most of the homers KC has hit in these playoffs would have left any yard.

Chen doesn’t have a lot of terribly similar comparable counterparts, but I came up with ten lefties* that are sort of in the same galaxy to see how the Yostmen have fared against them (sorted by OPS):

Wow. That’s a lot of dongs. The lefties sans Moose have not been bothered facing these same-side pitchers. Since everything in these playoffs has been backwards, Chen will probably toss a perfect game tonight, but, on screen, it looks like the Royals have another opportunity to jump on an O’s starter.

Here’s what happened the last time Chen started in KC, on May 15 this year:

*Chen, Clayton Richard, Tony Watson, Sam Freeman, Patrick Corbin, Aaron Loup, J.A. Happ, Caleb Thielbar, Wade Miley

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