Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

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

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

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

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

Genius.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The weather forecast for Monday… Gross.

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

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

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

 

The Kansas City Royals have to be wondering what’s so hard about the playoffs?  Six games, six wins.  Nothing to it.

Yesterday was pretty much the Lorenzo Cain show as the centerfielder had four hits and a catch that entailed running basically across the entire outfield to make a tremendous catch.  I am an old guy.  I watched Amos Otis play center and then Willie Wilson and Brian McRae and Johnny Damon and Carlos Beltran and, my god, can Lorenzo Cain play the position!

Proof that the Royals just might be an actual team of destiny can be found in that Mike Moustakas, who spent the bulk of 2014 displaying no ability to hit baseballs whatesoever, has four home runs in six games.  I stole this from Sam Mellinger (and the world of data in general), but Moose has never hit four home runs in six games in the major leagues ever.  In the playoffs?  No problem.

Here stand your Kansas City Royals, two games up and coming home to play three. It’s been a long time since we have been in the playoffs, but I am pretty sure that is Position A.

The Royals have gotten to this position by routinely moving what may be the best defensive centerfielder in the game to rightfield in the final three innings of close games…and we all pretty much like it.  They have gotten there playing a second baseman who has not hit in half a season and, by most accounts, can barely throw a ball at this point.  They have won the first two games of this series even though the Royals’ two best starting pitchers have looked more like Odalis Perez (the version that pitched in Kansas City) than front of the rotation playoff starters.

Destiny? I don’t know if I truly believe in that, but this group has some sort of mojo.  That’s right: MOJO.

Now, a two games to none advantage going home is not a lock.  Your 1985 Royals were down two games to none, by the way.  However, winning two games out of the next five seems, dare we say, not that hard.

Rain is in the forecast for Monday.  A lot of rain..and wind..miserable conditions basically. While you want to keep the ball rolling, I don’t think a rainout slows this teams’ roll. In fact, I would not adverse at all. The big three relievers plus Finnegan have worked the last two days and worked hard. Sure, they would be ready to go with the off-day today, but they would be even more ready with two days off.

A rainout would give Ned Yost the option of bringing Shields and Ventura back for games four and five at home, with the World Series on the line. Maybe, like me, you think James Shields looks like a tired pitcher, but I like him to have a good outing on the heels of three so-so ones.

Frankly, at this point, I am not sure it matters who starts, what the weather is or even if Ned finally benches Infante and plays me or Craig instead.

Party on, Ned.

Not enough time to really dig into today’s opposing pitcher, righty Bud Norris, but here are some quick notes:

Pitch mix, velocities, and runs above average in 2014, via Fangraphs:

four-seam fastball: 61%, 93, -14
slider: 26%, 86, +7
changeup: 9%, 85, +2

Hitters have eaten up his fastball this year, which is good news since he throws it most of the time. Laying off the slider and change might be a good idea this afternoon. (Easy for me to say.)

I came up with a group of 15 righties including Norris who feature a similar arsenal* and saw how the KC nine have fared against them in their careers:

Not a ton of PAs for those top three, but it might be telling that the lefties (sans Alex) have had success against this group. Norris has a huge lefty/righty split in his career: .351 wOBA allowed to lefties vs. .308 to righties.

Norris was sharp in his ALDS start:

*Bud Norris, Alexi Ogando, Anthony Bass, Dan Straily, Drew Storen, Erik Johnson, Ervin Santana, Jason Hammel, Jeff Manship, Jeremy Bonderman, Jeremy Hefner, Julio Teheran, Mat Latos, Michael Pineda, and Ryan Webb

You expected something different? Even though it had been four days since the Royals took the field, this is still Postseason 2014. This is still crazy time.

Royals 8, Orioles 6. Final in 10 innings.

Perhaps we got another signal that this would be a typical Royals October baseball game in the top of the third. With one out, Alcides Escobar took Orioles starter Chris Tillman yard to put the Royals on the board. It opened the floodgates to weird baseball:

— The Royals walked seven times.

— Baltimore rallied from a 5-1 deficit.

— Brandon Finnegan was ineffective.

— Alex Gordon was hit in the neck by a 94 mph fastball.

— Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera both threw two innings.

— The Royals loaded the bases in the ninth with no one out and didn’t score.

— ALEX FREAKING GORDON hit the go ahead home run in the 10th.

— Mike Moustakas hit another home run.

The Royals win and take a 1-0 lead in the best of seven series. I wish I had something interesting to say beyond the “just the facts” recap, but these games are exhausting. I can’t remember a stretch of baseball like this. Ever. Five post seasons games. Five wins. Four in extra innings. And all the home runs.

There’s so much strategy to discuss and churn and second-guess. Did Yost stick with Shields for too long? What was Hosmer thinking swinging at that pitch from Zach Britton? The Royals tried to give away outs in the ninth, but Britton wouldn’t let them. Is Greg Holland ever going to find his velocity?

But I’m kind of tired and definitely giddy. Another classic for the vault. I’ve officially reached a point of postseason euphoria.

Seven wins from the promised land.

Some random stuff that needs to be discussed before the Royals return to the ALCS this evening…

— The Orioles announced right-hander Chris Tillman as Game One starter. Tillman led the O’s in innings and his 3.34 ERA was second on the staff. His 2.4 fWAR was similarly the second-best mark.

Tillman’s .267 BABIP was the 12th lowest mark among AL starters. You may think the BABIP gods were smiling on Tillman, but that mark is in line with his performance over the past three seasons. His GB/FB ratio is close to 1 so everyone gets in the action when he’s on the mound. That’s a good thing for Tillman, as the Baltimore defense has been among the best in baseball again this year.

Tillman works fastball, curve and change. His fastball averages in the low 90s but has late action that creeps up on the hitters. The Royals can go up looking first pitch fastball, but if they fall behind in the count, they’ll have to be on guard for the curve. If Tillman is even or ahead in the count, he’ll throw the curve nearly 25 percent of the time. It’s a pitch that has a sharp 12-6 break and it’s one that generates plenty of ground balls. Tillman approaches hitters from both sides of the plate largely the same, but will mix in a cut fastball to right-handed batters on occasion.

— One of the more intriguing story lines is how Mike Moustakas is approaching his plate appearances. Sure, it’s a small sample size, but here’s his spray chart in four postseason games:

Moose_PS_Spray

Two bombs to right, another deep fly out and a bunch of balls put in play to the left. I’m not going to go so far as to claim he’s “fixed” because after nearly 2,000 major league plate appearances and a slash line of .236/.290/.379, I continue to question his ability to be an everyday contributor. He’s picked the right time to finally focus on working the count, making solid contact and going with the pitch on the outer half of the plate.

— Ned Yost announced his starting lineup. Be shocked:

Alcides Escobar
Nori Aoki
Lorenzo Cain
Eric Hosmer
Billy Butler
Alex Gordon
Sal Perez
Omar Infante
Mike Moustakas

The last time the Royals started with anything different was September 20th.

— There’s been a more than a little talk surrounding Game One starter James Shields and his upcoming foray into free agency. Rumblings on the Unnamed Executive Street have his next contract around five years and upwards of $80 million. That’s a hefty price to pay for a starting pitcher who will be 33 next season. There will be more time to discuss after the postseason, but I would imagine the Royals will make a cursory run at Shields, but he’s still moving to another team. Perhaps he would be so good as to give the Royals an opportunity to match an offer, but with the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, and Angels expected to be in the running for his services, I can’t imagine the Royals will pony up the cash.

We’ve seen the business model the Royals will be continuing to use – trading of prospects for pitching help under contract. One of my major gripes on the Shields-Myers trade was that was the sort of deal you make when you’re a player or two away from contention. At the time of the trade, it felt like the Royals were much further away that Shields and Wade Davis. Now the nucleus of this postseason team is still under team control for another couple of seasons, I wouldn’t be surprised if Moore walked the same path this winter and sent some prospects in exchange for a frontline player or two.

Either way, it’s early days for speculation. There’s still baseball to be played.

— Apparently, Omar Infante has been battling shoulder soreness. Oh, really? Didn’t we hear this in March? And in April? And at some point in May? You get the picture. He’s been broken for most of the season and the numbers back that up. The black hole his bat is in the lineup becomes a little less noticeable when Moustakas is hitting behind him.

— One of my favorite subplots of this ALCS will be the defense. According to The Fielding Bible, the Orioles have the best defense in the AL at 49 runs saved. The Royals are second at 40 runs saved. The Orioles value is spread fairly evenly through the field. The Royals value comes from a loaded outfield. Baseball Prospectus’ Defensive Efficiency – the measure of turning balls put into play into outs – has Baltimore third and the Royals sixth.

— My prediction: Royals in six.

Just judging by Chris Tillman’s numbers, I suspect he has something in common with Royals pitchers like Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie: average stuff, slightly below average peripherals, but an elite defense behind him giving him good results. Everything about the righty’s pitch mix and velocities say “normal MLB pitcher” to me (data from 2013-14 combined): a 91 MPH four-seamer used 63% of the time, 76 MPH curve for 17% of his pitches, and an 83 MPH change 14% of the time. There seems to be little special about his fastball—it is actually straighter than most—but he has somehow turned it into a weapon over the last two seasons. He may have just figured out how to spot it. He was getting hitters out with the fastball up and above the zone in game one of the ALDS vs. Detroit:

He lasted five innings and yielded two runs on two solo dongs (both off his fastball) in that game. His average fastball speed jumped all the way to 94, perhaps fueled by adrenaline and a hyped home crowd. Tillman hasn’t pitched for eight days, so I’ll be curious to see his fastball speeds tonight with a fresh arm and another big game atmosphere.

Tillman’s curve has excellent 12-6 bite, and is a good ground-ball inducer, but it and the change have gotten Tillman below average results over the last two years, perhaps being used more to set up the fastball.

I’ve identified a handful of other righties that feature a similar pitch mix and velocities to Tillman. 12 pitchers that Royals hitters have faced roughly match Tillman by throwing an 89-94 MPH fastball 55%-72% of the time, a 77-81 MPH curveball 7%-25% of the time, and a 82-86 MPH change-up 4%-24% of the time over the last two years combined.* Of course not all these pitchers are equals, no doubt featuring differing qualities of movement and command. But I compiled the KC starting nine’s results against those 12 plus Tillman, and I like what I see (sorted by OPS):

Wow. I like seeing Alex and Billy at the top, the worst hitter by OPS slugging .421, and a team-wide OPS of .771. Tillman is probably a little tougher than the overall group, but I’m cautiously optimistic about the match-up. And I do mean cautious—as Royals fans know, the KC offense is capable of falling off the face of the earth and making any pitcher look like Walter Johnson for a night. That side of the offense actually showed up on May 16 this year at Kauffman Stadium against…Chris Tillman. Tillman hurled his first and, so far, only career shutout. Aoki led off the Royals half of the first inning with a double, and that was about it for offense the rest of the night:

So who knows. Anything can happen in one game. But if the Royals bats haven’t gone to sleep during this long downtime between series, I’m hopeful they can jump on Tillman for a few runs early.

Shoutout to the amazing Fangraphs.com, Baseball-Reference.com, and BrooksBaseball.net for aiding this article.

*My 12 Tillman comps are: Shelby Miller, Jarred Cosart, Charlie Morton, Paul Clemens, Randall Delgado, Anthony Varvaro, Samuel Deduno, Ian Kennedy, Michael Wacha, Scott Carroll, Kris Medlen, Edinson Volquez.

Part of the allure of baseball is it’s connection to the past. Old-timers are celebrated. Championship teams are revered. Everyone loves a winner. In baseball, they’re never forgotten.

That’s a good thing.

The Royals, it seems, have been stuck in this time warp. It’s both literal and figurative. This team doesn’t hit home runs! Just like baseball in 1985. They steal loads of bases. Just like in 1985. The pitching dominates and compensates for a wet noodle offense. Yes, it’s 1985 all over again. OMG, they’re in the playoffs! IT’S 1985 ALL OVER AGAIN!!!

The connections are so obvious, the drought so long, it’s not surprising we see these “Party like it’s 1985″ shirts all over the place.

What this postseason has done for me is underscore how tired I am of 1985. Honestly, I never thought I’d write that. As a 14 year old when the Royals won the World Series, that team was integral to my baseball consciousness. But the Wild Card game and the ALDS has awakened something in me. I’ll never forget 1985. But we’re ready for new memories. We’re ready for new heroes.

The Royals have played four games this postseason. All four of those games have been incredibly memorable. It’s as if they’re making up for lost time, paying back our devotion with heart-stopping, improbable victories. Four games of magic:

Twice being three outs from elimination and both times getting up off the mat.

Sal Perez lining a pitch out of the strike zone just inside the third base bag for the winning Wild Card hit.

Eric Hosmer hitting home runs and landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Billy Butler stealing a base and paying tribute to Jarrod Dyson while standing on second.

Greg Holland rushing through the SoCal traffic to arrive at the stadium in time to close the door in Game One.

Yordano Ventura throwing 102 mph gas.

Alex Gordon clearing the bases with a double.

Mike Moustakas crushing a home run that landed one row in front of me in Game Three.

Amazing. So many signature moments. And just like that, the twentysomethings finally have their postseason memories. Never again will they have to hear about George Brett’s home run silencing Yankee Stadium in 1980 and wonder if they’ll ever experience something similar. We have Mike Moustakas going yard in Anaheim. This isn’t to say the heroes of 2014 are going to knock the 1985 team off the shelf or replace them in some way. They’re going to share the real estate. Finally. Finally we have a group of players that have accomplished something meaningful. It’s been so damn long. How great will it be 25 years from now when Darryl Motley and Eric Hosmer are back at The K for an Old Timers Day? They played in different eras, but they share a connection as Royals who won pivotal postseason games with one swing of the bat. And it’s about time we as a fan base have a shared experience like this. There’s no more divide between the old fans and the younger ones. That gap disappeared when Sal Perez smashed a ball down the right field line sending The K into raptures not seen for almost three decades.

The 2014 October Royals have made their mark. They have become America’s baseball team. Don’t believe me? According to USA Today, the Royals have sold the most merchandise of any team in baseball this month. The same report has Eric Hosmer as the third most popular player, behind Derek Jeter and some St. Louis Cardinal. Fine. Small sample size and all that, but this is an October when everything has been turned inside out and upside down. Expect the unexpected and you won’t be disappointed.

After 29 years we are finally moving on from 1985. That team will never leave our memory. But it’s about time they have some company.

All I write is 25 man roster stories anymore – or so it seems, anyway.  Here’s hoping that in a little over a week, I am going to write another one in preparation for the World Series.

Truthfully, there is little to analyze at this point:  both manager and general manager are – for maybe the first time in this duos’ combined tenure – actually comfortable with this unit.

Pitchers:

  • Shields, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas, Duffy, Holland, Davis, Herrera, Finnegan, Frasor, Collins

Position Players:

  • Perez, Hosmer, Infante, Escobar, Moustakas, Gordon, Cain, Aoki, Butler, Dyson, Kratz, Colon, Gore, Willingham

Tim Collins’ is in italics as he is likely the only one that might not make the transition from ALDS roster to ALCS roster.  He was a surprise addition before the Angels’ series and surprised us further by appearing in a high leverage situation and, surprisingly, performing well in said situation.  I think he probably comes back again, but a move to a different lefty (Francisely Bueno or Scott Downs) is always a possibility.

A dark horse to the mix might be Liam Hendriks.  With rain sprinkled (get it?) throughout the forecast for this series, the scenario of playing a couple of innings, sitting for two hours and then resuming looms as a real possibility.  Your starter is burned and even if piece together the rest of the game using the bullpen, you might well have a game the next day. At some point, the Royals may opt for innings.   Plus, even in the playoffs, junk innings sometimes come up.  Up or down by eight runs in the seventh, do you really want Ned Yost sending out Finnegan or Herrera?

Now, the Royals like to think too much sometimes, and could bounce off enough walls to think they need TWELVE pitchers.  I doubt they will go there as that means dropping Terrance Gore, your pinch running weapon of choice, or Josh Willingham, the only guy you actually would use to pinch hit for anyone.

They could also consider going with just ten pitchers, given that one of the starters (likely Duffy) will be in the bullpen full-time, and take another bat into the ALCS.  That means, Raul Ibanez or Jayson Nix:  handy to have around if the game goes 13 innings, but only in the sense that someone has to stand in each of the nine positions on the diamond. That scenario also assumes that the Royals are 100% confident that both Duffy and Herrera are completely healthy.

In the end, I believe we will find ourselves with the 25 men listed above and, at this point, that seems just about right.  Yost is comfortable with that group and is almost on autopilot in how to use them – which is not a bad thing.

We know the nine starters and that Gore will pinch-run when the Royals trail or are tied late.  We know Dyson will come on at some point in the last three innings in place of Aoki and that Willingham might pinch hit against a left-handed reliever (or if Gore’s turn comes up in the order).

We know that Herrera might pitch in the sixth if needed and certainly the seventh if the Royals are ahead.  We know that Finnegan will pitch as often as the HDH combo – another good thing.  You can bet on Danny Duffy in extra innings.

Sure, Ned could surprise us and I almost never like Ned surprises, but you can likely guess 95% of every pitching and position player change that is going to be made and, at this point, with this roster, it is going to be hard to argue with very many of them.  It took a long time to get here, but this is a comfortable group being used in mostly logical fashion.

Feels like a real life baseball organization, doesn’t it?

 

Everything is new. We’re approaching the second week of October and instead of wondering what rash move Dayton Moore will make minutes after the final out of the World Series, the Royals and Ned Yost are setting their pitching rotation for the American League Championship Series.

The American League Championship Series!

We know James Shields is throwing in the first game. That makes sense. Shields is the Royals de facto “ace.” He was the best starter on a strong staff this season. He threw in the Wild Card and in the clincher over the Angels in the ALDS. Yost thought about this for half a second before writing his name down with a Sharpie.

How about the rest of the rotation?

Here’s how I’d like it to look:

Game Two – Yordano Ventura

The Orioles are going to bring right-handed thunder in this series. They led the majors in home runs this summer and the heart of their order will consist of Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz, Steve Pearce followed by JJ Hardy. Jonathan Schoop hits at the bottom of the order, but he hit 16 home runs this season. Baltimore’s top left-handed power bat, Chris Davis, won’t make the roster as he serves out the rest of his 50-game suspension.

Oriole Park plays neutral to the home run this year. Which seems strange to me, because when I think about Baltimore, I think of the park as a little bandbox. Either way, I’m leery of the long ball and want to do everything I can to steal a game (or two) in Baltimore and Ventura gives the Royals the best chance. His 47.6 percent ground ball rate was the best of the Royals rotation and his 31.1 percent fly ball rate was the lowest. Game One starter Shields has the second-best ground ball rate at 45.2 percent and second-lowest fly ball rate at 34.1 percent. Throwing those two guys at the start of the series gives the Royals a great shot out of the gate.

Game Three – Jeremy Guthrie

We haven’t seen Guthrie this postseason, but it’s time to give him the ball in Game Three. Guthrie is certainly home run prone, but the hope here is a cool fall night at the K and a stellar defense neutralizes any advantage the Orioles may have in facing a fly ball, back of the rotation starter. Guthrie faced the Orioles twice in the regular season, throwing a total of 15 innings, allowing 14 hits, two walks and a home run. I’m not looking at a small sample size and giving him the ball based on that. It’s just info you’ll hear. The O’s will get base runners against Guthrie, but the hope is, he can minimize the damage as he did in his best starts of the season.

The added benefit of throwing Guthrie in Game Three is the bullpen will have a day of rest, so all the arms should be fresh, should they be pressed into service early. Also, I throw Guthrie in Game Three because I like him in a do or die Game Seven should the series go the distance. Mind you, I’m not advocating Guthrie as the ideal Game Seven starter. I’m saying with Shields and Ventura unavailable, he would be the best option in Baltimore.

Game Four – Jason Vargas

As much as I enjoyed the renaissance of Danny Duffy this year, I’m just not comfortable giving him the ball in a starting role against the Orioles. Duffy is an extreme fly ball pitcher (46 percent) and those right-handed bats… No. Also, I’m not sold he’s at a point where he can go deep into a start. He’s made just three appearances since the end of August – not counting his one-pitch start in New York – and has thrown a total of nine innings. Instead, I’ll turn to Vargas who bounced back from a rough September to deliver a shut-down performance against the Angels. Sure, he gave up a couple of bombs, but fortunately they came with the bases empty.

Game Five – Shields

Game Six – Ventura

Game Seven – All Hands On Deck

With a potential Game Seven in Baltimore, there’s no way I’m throwing a left-handed fly ball pitcher. So I’ll start with Guthrie, knowing that this is the game where everyone is available. Duffy and Vargas are options, but if they’re coming in the game, the Royals are already bleeding out and it’s probably too late.

This isn’t gospel. I would listen to arguments for anyone beyond Shields and Ventura in the first two games. I’m simply laying out my reasoning for what I think is the best rotation for the Royals in this series. With Brandon Finnegan, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland in the back of the bullpen, it’s possible the Royals will need only five innings from a Guthrie or Vargas. The Royals have a solid rotation, but it looks a helluva lot better with a lockdown bullpen behind them.

This rotation gets four starts from the Royals top two starters as soon as possible. I’m not about holding a starter for a Game Seven that may never happen. Get the best on the mound early and see how things roll.

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