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

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

What?

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

First place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Finally, a couple of images from Monday.

 

 

It’s a damn crazy season. Buckle up.