Royals Authority

Long Live The Process

At this point, if you decided to forgo the first five or six innings of a Royals postseason game, no one in their right mind would criticize you.

The Royals rode the singles (and error) train once again, waiting until the later innings to fire up the engine, and now stand one victory from their first world championship in 30 years.

The first 16 innings or so of their Citi Field odyssey had been underwhelming. The bats, aside from a good start on Friday night, had been silent. The pitching, generally solid, but not solid enough to keep the Mets off the board. The fielding, curiously inconsistent.

It left the Royals just five outs away from dropping their second consecutive game and allowing the Mets to even the series while guaranteeing a return trip to Kauffman. Make no mistake, as comfortable as home has been this October for the Royals, not a single member of that club wants to have a home game there in November.

Funny how all this works. Roughly 24 hours after coming in for some criticism on how he managed his bullpen and bench, Ned Yost seemed to push the right buttons. Meanwhile, his counterpart Terry Collins failed at the most crucial moment of the game. Although with the way these Royals rally, Collins could have thrown the love child of Mariano Rivera and Rollie Fingers and it probably wouldn’t have mattered.

Let’s start with Yost. He lifted his starter Chris Young after four innings when his spot in the order came around with a runner on first and two outs. Conventional wisdom says that’s a little early. Conventional wisdom goes on to scream that you shouldn’t use Kendrys Morales in that situation, rather save him for a higher leverage moment. (Literally, it screams. At least the beats on Twitter do.) I disagree. Fire your best bullet at the first opportunity. Morales is capable of the home run or the double, both of which would have scored Alex Gordon from first. After the Royals had broken through with a run to cut the deficit in half, it was the right call. Morales singled to move the line, but the inning was over when Alcides Escobar grounded out.

In the next frame, Collins made his first blunder of the night, allowing Stephen Matz to return to the mound to face the top of the order for the third time. Matz doesn’t have much big league experience, only making his fifth home start of the year, and was on a short leash as far as pitch count. The signs were there in the previous inning that he was tiring. Plus, Collins had the opportunity to remove his starter for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the fifth. Never mind. Mistake recorded. Ben Zobrist doubles and Lorenzo Cain singles to add another run to the tally. Collins goes to his bullpen to stop the bleeding, but the Royals scratched back another run.

Forward to the eighth. Collins goes to Tyler Clippard, who has been his normal eighth inning guy. Confidence in Clippard is low, but Collins needed someone to bridge to the closer after Jeurys Familia threw the night before in a blowout win. We know exactly what happened.

Zobrist and Cain – those two again – work back to back one out walks. Cain’s plate appearance was especially impressive as it came after he fell into an 0-2 hole. With the pressure on, Collins finally summons Familia. He gets a weak grounder to second off the bat of Eric Hosmer. As Royals fans, we’ve seen this millions of times where Hosmer rolls over and hits a harmless grounder to the right side of the infield. Except this one was a little different in that it was weaker than his usual 4-3. Second baseman Daniel Murphy charged, but the ball scooted under his glove. The floodgates open. The Royals tie the score.

Who knows what happened to Murphy. I thought for a moment he may have been shielded by Cain running to second, but that doesn’t seem likely. Murphy may have been wondering if he could get Cain at second, which perhaps caused him to speed up the play. Or maybe Royals Devil Magic arrived in the nick of time. Whatever the reason, the Mets middle infield has been a defensive playground all year. Sometimes, it just takes a ball put in play. The Kings Of Contact, indeed.

Mike Moustakas and Sal Perez fire up the singles train to plate two more. With a two run lead, Yost trumps Collins by going to his closer, Wade Davis, for the final six outs. It’s the second time Davis has done it in the postseason, and really, you get the feeling if Davis was called upon to get a 27 out save (relax, I know there’s no such thing) he could do it. That’s how great Davis is.

A minor blip in the ninth as the Mets string together back to back singles with one out. Sometimes, you receive an unexpected gift from a stranger. It just shows up on your door. You may wonder why it’s there, or who sent it, but you generally just smile, say thank you and accept the gift.

Thank you, Yoenis Cespedes.

Lucas Duda hits a soft line drive to Moustakas, who looks up and is surprised to see Cespedes went on contact. Throw to Hosmer and ballgame.

The Royals stand on the brink of a championship.

It rests on the shoulders of Edinson Volquez, who made his return following the funeral of his father in the Dominican Republic. Volquez will be pitching for his dad, and will have the entire Royals Universe lifting him up. It sounds trite, but that’s what this team does to us. We root for them as ballplayers, but we support them as people. These are our Royals. Since they reported to spring training last February, they have been part of the fabric of our daily routine. It’s been a helluva ride. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s mostly been fun. They now need just one more win. The finish line is in sight. The goal has almost been reached.

The Big Blue Machine rolls along.

The Royals had their chances to pounce early against the Mets. They plated one run in the first, then two more in the second. Then… silence.

Yordano Ventura found himself in hot water early, allowing a single to Curtis Granderson and a home run to David Wright. It was a nice recovery to retire the next three batters to escape the inning. It looked like his command was good and his pitch selection was OK. His velocity, however, was another story. It dropped immediately after the Wright home run and never recovered. From Brooks Baseball, here is how Ventura’s entire evening looked.


The first couple of fastballs are around his normal average for the entire season. Then, it drops. The game log will show that Ventura averaged a tick below 95 mph on his heater, but that’s skewed by a small sample size (he was in the game only long enough to throw 20 fastballs) and by the fact his first couple of pitches were way faster than anything he threw the rest of the night. For some perspective, here’s how Ventura’s velocity has looked game by game this year.


Knowing this, the Royals probably should of had someone warming in the bullpen earlier than they did. Especially after Noad Syndergaard opened the third inning with a single on an 0-2 pitch. And certainly after another two-run home run, this time by Granderson.

But the zaniness was just getting started.

When Ned Yost did finally get his starter, he brought in Danny Duffy. This would have been the time to perform a double switch. Before the game, I was listening to MLB Network Radio and they were interviewing Yost on the field. It was a fun conversation and they asked him about playing in the NL park with NL rules. The double switch came up.

This makes sense. The Royals lineup is constructed with everyday players who you want to stay in for every play of the game. Rios has been pulled of late for Paulo Orlando as a defensive replacement. So if the eighth place hitter (Rios) makes the final out of an inning and the Royals are in the situation where they would like to have multiple innings from a reliever (say… Duffy) then you may see a double switch.

In other words, the setup was perfect. And Yost did nothing.

Instead, he brought Duffy in to get two outs and lifted him for a pinch hitter. OK. Maybe he didn’t want to pull Rios so early in the game which necessitated this play. That’s understandable. What’s not so understandable is that Yost send Raul Mondesi up to lead off the inning. Mondesi has tools and has the potential to be an above-average player in the major leagues. His defense and speed are already excellent. His hit tool… Not so much. The Royals have been aggressive in his promotion and he’s always been one of the youngest (if not the youngest) player in his league. Why in the world would Yost give away an at bat in that situation? If you are so hell-bent on doing that, why not let Duffy go up and stare at four or five pitches? At least that way, you’re not starting to go through your bullpen.

With the bullpen carousel in full spin, Yost turned to Luke Hochevar. Hochevar got out of the inning on 15 pitches. In the bottom of the inning, the Royals loaded the bases with two outs. Rios up again. Having missed one opportunity to remove Rios from the game, Yost found himself at another critical junction. In that same interview on MLB Network Radio, Yost said he was hoping to use Kendrys Morales in a high-leverage situation. Well, if bases loaded, two outs in the sixth inning of a game where you have a two run deficit isn’t high-leverage, they should just remove that term from the baseball lexicon.

Yost stood still. Morales sat. Rios grounded out.

If you were expecting to see Hochevar return for the sixth, you were mistaken. Instead, Yost turned to Franklin Morales. It was clear at this point that Morales would be the dreaded “sixth inning guy.” At this point, the game was still close enough that Yost would go to his big late inning guns to at least keep the game within striking distance. Instead, it went off the rails, into the dumpster and it burst into flames.

Yost brought his reliever in to face a pair of right handed bats sandwiched around a lefty in Michael Conforto. Yost should of known that Conforto would probably be lifted for a pinch hitter, as this has been something Terry Collins has done frequently this October. The same would be true if anyone reached base and the pitcher’s spot came up. In other words, there was a very real possibility that Morales would face strictly right-handers.


vs RHB 151 137 15 39 11 1 3 9 21 .285 .333 .445 .779 126 118
vs LHB 107 99 8 19 5 2 1 5 20 .192 .245 .313 .558 63 52
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 10/31/2015.

That’s less than ideal. Morales is a guy you could turn to for a full inning for sure, but you’d feel better about your chances if you had him face at least two left-handed bats. Instead, in Game Three of the World Series, he didn’t face a lefty until Granderson, his fifth batter of the inning. And that’s when things got really interesting.

With runners on the corners and one run already in, Granderson hit a comebacker to the mound. Instead of turning and throwing immediately to second to start a potential inning-ending double play, Morales did a little dance, spinning every which way, before finally chucking a throw wide of second. The runner held at third, but the bases were now loaded. Enter Kelvin Herrera, who Yost didn’t want to use in the sixth. Herrera coughed up all three runners.


Oh. Morales finally got to hit. With two outs in the ninth with his team down by six. Not exactly high-leverage.

There’s something glorious and fun – and demoralizing – about the Royals singles train. Death by a thousand paper cuts. This is a team that has lived this way for the better part of two seasons. Probably longer, but you don’t notice it so much when they’re losing. Maybe because the singles train doesn’t make so many appearances for a losing team.

The Royals rode the train again in Game Two of the World Series on Wednesday. It’s become a theme of the last two postseasons. Lacking pure, consistent power, the Royals have to string together hits in order to hang a crooked number on the board. It can be effective.

Source: FanGraphs

When the Royals broke the game wide open, the frame opened with a walk. What followed were five singles and some ill-advised bunt attempts. The hardest hit ball of the inning – the Lorenzo Cain line drive to center – was caught for an out. Death by a thousand paper cuts, indeed.

I’ve tried to catch up on my reading during the off day, but probably failed at that. There’s so much to digest when your team is playing into October. Analysis, too. One thing I heard yesterday on MLB Network Radio was speculation the Royals would opt to keep Kendrys Morales’s bat in the lineup at Citi Field, so they would move Eric Hosmer to right field. It can be very difficult to keep the car on the road sometimes.

There’s simply no way that a team that prides itself on its defense would weaken itself at two positions just to keep a bat in the lineup. No way. Besides, we know with Ned Yost and his love of pinch running for his designated hitter, the odds are always long that Morales would be in the lineup for the full nine no matter where the game would be played and under any set of rules. Plus, Hosmer in right? Woof.

Time for a mini rant: Baseball needs to get its act together regarding the DH. With interleague, a pool of MLB umpires no longer restricted to each particular league, and the foolish way they award home field in the World Series, it’s time MLB reached a consensus here. It’s cute they still have the pitchers hit in the NL and that some relish the strategy – I mean who doesn’t get out of their seat and jump up and down when a manager pulls a double switch? – but the difference in rules puts teams at a massive disadvantage. For the Mets, they have to find a capable bat to use in the lineup. For the Royals, they have to remove a bat they are paying millions of dollars just for that purpose. Can you imagine any other sport doing this? “Hey, you’re going to want to find a guy who can hit, but in the most important games of your season, you can’t use him three or four times. Depending on the outcome of the All-Star Game.”


Morales is hitting .250/.302/.500 in the postseason. He is tied for the team lead with four home runs. The Royals will absolutely miss his bat and the threat of power in the middle of the order. They can survive. All aboard the singles train.

Yordano Ventura gets the start in Game Three. Going over some of his tendencies, I noticed he’s throwing his change less in the postseason. He’s moved away from that pitch and is throwing more two-seam and cut fastballs.


His favored off speed pitch remains the curve, which he continues to use the ahead in the count.

This will be Ventura’s fifth start of the postseason, and searching for adjectives, I’d say he’s been steady. That’s what the Royals will need on Friday. The bullpen has two days of rest and with Chris Young still slated to start Game Four, it would be helpful if Ventura could go deeper than the sixth inning, but it’s hardly necessary. I’ve been harsh on Yost in this space for his reluctance to remove his starters and turn the game over to the bullpen, so I’ll continue to beat that drum. Let’s not forget how Ventura does each time the batting order turns over.

1st PA in G, as SP 28 252 228 18 56 7 2 3 16 59 .246 .307 .333 .640 84 83
2nd PA in G, as SP 28 244 220 27 53 6 1 5 22 58 .241 .316 .345 .661 90 83
3rd PA in G, as SP 25 184 162 25 44 14 3 6 19 37 .272 .348 .506 .854 143 122
4th+ PA in G, as SP 8 13 11 0 1 0 0 0 1 2 .091 .231 .091 .322 -4 -9
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 10/30/2015.

He’s worse than the league average on the third time through the lineup. If it’s a close game, Yost needs to keep him on a short leash and trust a rested bullpen. The Royals have two wins in their pocket and feel in control, but one bad game can wash that good feeling right away.

Clark discussed Johnny Cueto’s performance yesterday. I’m still shaking my head in amazement. You can make the case that his start on Wednesday was the best by a Royal in the postseason. Yes, that’s going back through the glory days of the 1970’s and the Bret Saberhagen dominance in ’85. Here are the top seven starts ranked by Game Score:

Rk Player Date Series Gm# Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str GSc ERA WPA RE24 aLI
1 Johnny Cueto 2015-10-28 WS 2 KCR NYM W 7-1 CG 9, W 9.0 2 1 1 3 4 0 122 70 80 1.00 0.271 3.510 .805
2 Bret Saberhagen 1985-10-27 WS 7 KCR STL W 11-0 SHO9, W 9.0 5 0 0 0 2 0 92 64 79 0.00 0.201 4.550 .337
3 Johnny Cueto 2015-10-14 ALDS 5 KCR HOU W 7-2 GS-8, W 8.0 2 2 2 0 8 1 91 62 78 2.25 0.227 2.009 .712
4 Bret Saberhagen 1985-10-22 WS 3 KCR STL W 6-1 CG 9, W 9.0 6 1 1 1 8 0 132 88 78 1.00 0.264 3.066 .773
5 Danny Jackson 1985-10-13 ALCS 5 KCR TOR W 2-0 SHO9, W 9.0 8 0 0 1 6 0 113 76 76 0.00 0.556 4.550 1.227
6 Dennis Leonard 1977-10-07 ALCS 3 KCR NYY W 6-2 CG 9, W 9.0 4 2 1 1 4 0 97 65 76 1.00 0.287 2.651 .603
7 Danny Jackson 1985-10-24 WS 5 KCR STL W 6-1 CG 9, W 9.0 5 1 1 3 5 0 125 80 75 1.00 0.247 3.066 .782
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/30/2015.

In his two “great” starts, Cueto has allowed just three runs in 17 innings. You could easily see how he could’ve held both opponents off the board. One bad pitch in the ALDS and if the double play is made in the World Series. Had Cueto been just average, and not thrown one of the worst postseason starts in history (forget Royals history for a moment, we’re talking in baseball history) we would be marveling at how he is a true ace and has carried this team.

We normally take the weekends off in this space, but if you check back, I would imagine there will be a few posts. The World Series is kind of a big deal.

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.

Tragedy, comedy, drama, and even a little poetry. It was as if someone dumped the complete works of Shakespeare into a blender. That was Game One of the 2015 World Series.

The temptation is to try to rank these Royals postseason games. And why not? Contests of such epic scale demand they are accurately assessed and sorted in some manner. But there have been so many, at this point it’s futile.

The Royals won in the 14th inning on an Eric Hosmer walkoff sacrifice fly. It was Tuesday night. Or Wednesday morning. Hell, it could’ve been December for all we knew. The game lasted forever. Except it didn’t. There was an end. We saw it. And tiredly celebrated.

The game opened against the bizarre backdrop of the news breaking on social media that Edinson Volquez’s father passed away earlier in the day. Some outlets said Volquez knew. The Royals said he didn’t. Fox, the broadcast rightsholders, properly remained mum.

The Royals, as their prerogative all October, hit Alcides Escobar leadoff and it continued to pay dividends. He launched the first pitch to left-center. We know all about what happens in that area in the postseason. Outfielders get a bit… disoriented. By the crowd noise, by the lights, by their nerves, by whatever, we’ve seen more key hits to that area seemingly than any other part of the yard. In this one, Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes converged, then stopped, then kind of looked at each other. By that time, the only question was whether Escobar would stop at second.

He wouldn’t.

An opening pitch inside the park home run. On the first pitch to Escobar. Do the Mets even employ advance scouts? How can you even decide to throw a first pitch strike to Escobar?

From there, the game settled into a comfortable rhythm.

The Mets boarded their own singles train to scratch a run to tie the game in the fourth. Curtis Granderson homered in the fifth. It was around this point, it looked like Volquez was fading. His velocity has been up all month, seemingly “from Gatorade” as he liked to joke. Does the tank empty a little faster when he’s so amped up so early? You would think so, but Ned Yost had confidence to leave him in the game to continue working through the order for a third time.

In retrospect, it was probably the wrong call at the time, but given how events unfolded, it was the right call by the end of the game. Singles by Cespedes and Lucas Duda (beating the shift for the second time of the evening) set up first and third with no one out. A batter latter, Cespedes came home with the third run of the night on a sacrifice fly. The Royals were down two.

This is where the Royals appear to like to do things. Ben Zobrist takes the first pitch of the bottom of the inning down the line for a double. Lorenzo Cain follows with a single. Eric Hosmer brings in a run with a sac fly of his own. It’s 3-2. Cain swipes second, which should be a theme for as long as this series goes. We know the Royals have shelved their running game this October, but against the Mets, this would be prime time to break it back out. There are rumblings their catcher, Travis d’Arnaud, is battling a sore shoulder. They need to take advantage.

Thanks to the steal, the Royals tie the game on a Mike Moustakas single up the middle.

With the game now turned over to the bullpen, you figure the Royals would find a way to scratch out the win. You just didn’t think it would take so long. In the eighth, with Kelvin Herrera on the hill and two outs, Juan Lagares singled. Lagares did not start but entered the game for defensive purposes in the sixth after the circus in the outfield to open the game. He stole second. With two strikes, Wilmer Flores hit one down the first base line. It’s a play Hosmer has made millions of times. This time, the ball had a little extra spin and skidded away from his glove as he moved toward the line to field it. It was a deserved error. Hosmer could have gotten his body in front of the ball. Even if the spin handcuffed him, he could have at least kept it on the infield. Instead, the rare defensive blunder led to the Mets fourth run of the night.

The Mets turned to their setup man Tyler Clippard to open the eighth. He’s had a difficult time finding outs this October. The Royals, to absolutely no one’s surprise, began to make some noise. It was that man Zobrist again, with another double to lead off an inning.

This is where things went off the rails. With Cain at the plate, he squared and pushed at a ball at his eyeballs. Strike one. He squared again on the next pitch and fouled it back. Strike two. He then waved at another high fastball. Strike three. It was an awful at bat. Just awful. There is no other way to describe it. It was made worse when you realize Cain had attempted exactly no sacrifice bunts all year. In fact, over his entire career he’s sacrificed exactly one time. Once. Just horrific baseball. Anyway, forget the numbers. You do not let your number three hitter bunt in that situation. Never. If Cain was freelancing, Yost needed to be on the top step yelling at him to knock it off. If Yost called for it… I don’t even want to consider that.

Hosmer followed with a putrid plate appearance of his own. The Royals had a golden opportunity and left it on third. At that point, you could be excused if you thought the game was over. It certainly felt like the team let the air out of the stadium after squandering a half inning that started so full of promise.

We know the baseball axiom: “It’s not over, ’til it’s over.” That’s never felt more true when applying it to these Royals. Down to their final two outs, it’s Alex Gordon who pulls his team back from the precipice. A monster bomb to dead center field against Jeurys Familia, a closer who has been absolutely lights out the last couple of months. Salvation in one swing.

From there, the bullpen took over. What another amazing, yet routine, outing from the pen. Eight innings. Five hits. One run. And 12 strikeouts. Chris Young, slated to pitch in Game Four, came in and was brilliant, even pumping his fastball to 90 mph. That’s a velocity he hasn’t reached since 2009. World Series baseball, man.

The great thing about baseball is it’s a game where redemption is always a possibility. Screw up one inning, you can make a difference the next one. That’s where Eric Hosmer was with the bases loaded in the 14th. He just needed to get the ball to the outfield to bring home the run and victory. His second sac fly of the ball game came with a bat flip. Because how else could this one end? Escobar, who opened the scoring some five hours earlier, crossed home with the winning tally. Mission accomplished.

That was a helluva ballgame.

Prospect hounds love to sniff around the backfields in spring training. They measure the young talent to try to get a feel about which newcomers could contribute in the coming season. If you want to discuss prospects in the fall, Arizona and the Fall League is where you want to be. The World Series is serious business.

Except the Royals turned that conventional wisdom upside down this morning when they announced Raul Mondesi, Jr. would be on the World Series roster in place of designated burner, Terrance Gore.

The way Ned Yost manages never reaches state secret status. It doesn’t even rate secrecy status in a municipality or a hamlet. In October, Yost has been using Paulo Orlando as a defensive replacement for Alex Rios. Jarrod Dyson (and Gore) have been the featured pinch runners. Plus, with Gore off the roster, Mondesi fills that role, but gives Yost the added utility of his defense in the middle infield.

Then there’s the added uncertainty around Ben Zobrist and his availability for the next week. His wife is expecting and is due after the Series. Of course, infants like to arrive on their own schedule. We could have shades of Bret Saberhagen in ’85 again, pitching just ahead of his own son being born. Should Zobrist miss time, you could see where the Royals would start Christian Colon, hit him low in the order, and swap him out in the later innings, using Mondesi as a defensive replacement.

I would write something pithy about this being a new age Royals team that would call up a 20 year old playing above his level in Double-A, but if you had told me 16 months ago the Royals were going to be playing in their second consecutive World Series in 2015, I would flamed you on Twitter for being super mean. Instead, I’ll just nod, secure in the knowledge that Dayton Moore and his staff understand their team better than anyone, and they have a firm grasp on the current situation. As a sucker for rookies and their first major league base hits, I’ll be over here, spending a good chunk of the Series rooting for Mondesi to not only get a plate appearance, but to collect his first hit. Could you imagine?

Meanwhile, the rest of the roster is unchanged. You know the rotation. The batting order will be unchanged. The sequencing out of the bullpen… Yeah, that could be changed. Except for Wade Davis. As I write this, first pitch is five hours away. The only certainty (besides the lineup) is Wade Davis. And thank goodness for that.

Buckle up. Should be a helluva series.

Maybe it’s because I downloaded the Timehop app, but I’ve been having a lot of “one year ago this day” moments recently. On September 11, it was one year since my wife Laura was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. Then on September 30, one year since her surgery and the wild card game. And of course the whole 2015 Royals playoff run has been a distinct reminder of the 2014 playoff magic. Between last year’s ALCS and World Series, I wrote about the strange brew of my wife’s major health scare and the euphoria in Royals-land I’d been experiencing. I wrote that piece when a surprising turn of events had me getting ready to go to Kauffman for Game One of the World Series. It was all thanks to my wife’s recovery going smoothly and the generosity of my parents and hers. Friends, family, e-migos, and readers of this site responded so warmly to that post, and another wave of love and support, rushing in regularly since Laura’s diagnosis, crested.

The evening and night before the game, I made the solo, seven-hour drive from my Minneapolis-area house to my hometown of KC exhausted, grateful, and full of anticipation. I got to my parents house late, and by the time I was up the next day, family and friends were at work. It was a little strange to be alone but I welcomed a day to immerse myself in the city I’d grown so attached to and have a hard time being away from. I headed first to The Bunker in Westport in hopes of getting a Charlie Hustle KC heart t-shirt for Laura. A tornado of blue t-shirt-starved citizens had long beaten me to the punch. From there I strolled down Broadway for a bit. I of course had on Royals apparel, and a fellow pedestrian struck up a conversation. “Tonight’s the night!” he said. Turned out he would be in attendance too thanks to his daughter winning two tickets and a limousine ride to the game through a radio station. Neither one of us could believe our luck.

Next I meandered through the Nelson sculpture garden before getting a cup of the best coffee I know of at The Roasterie in Brookside. Then a long walk up the Trolley Trail, a familiar jogging path in my previous life. All day I’d felt the electric Royals buzz that I’d been sensing 500 miles away in Minnesota for a while. An unfamiliar nervous excitement built up as game time was getting closer. I felt nerves as if I was going to be playing in the game.

I grabbed our dinner at LC’s and met my brother and dad to carpool to the park. Barbecue and Boulevard taste pretty sweet in the Kauffman lot before a World Series game. We found our upper deck seats behind the plate and soaked it all in. The Royals in the World Series! I couldn’t wait to be a small part of the crowd roar that had been overwhelming my TV speakers all month.

But the game went off script. The Giants immediately scored three runs, and the crowd never got to take off. We tried to force it when Sal homered in the seventh, but it was too little, too late. The team that had waited for me to leave town before getting good broke their eight game playoff victory streak when I came back.

I wonder where I picked up my nervous habit of putting my hand to my chin.

I wonder where I picked up my nervous habit of putting my hand to my chin.

I tweeted after the game, “A bad World Series game in KC is still a World Series game in KC. Great night.” And I meant it. But after I sped back home the next morning, I spent a lot of time trying, and only half succeeding, to convince myself that the important thing was that I’d gotten to a game and that it was beside the point that the game itself had been a dud. I hung on every pitch of Games Two through Six from my couch.

On the morning of Game Seven, I couldn’t stand it. I tried hard to convince myself that it was OK not to be there, or that it was too late anyway. It didn’t work. I scoured Stub Hub for tickets, and, around 9:30, decided with Laura that I could splurge on a ticket if I could find one for $500 or less. Refresh, refresh, refresh, refresh, refresh…10:30…two tickets, $499 a piece! I called my dad as fast as I could and he was in. The printer is out of ink! I don’t have time to go buy ink! Maybe I can download them to my phone…yup, that works. Um, clothes, toothbrush, goodbye, I love you! On the road at 11:15. What is going on! I am not a spontaneous person! Are we going to make it by first pitch? Eat in the car, no water allowed, drive, drive, drive, this is really happening! Made great time. Don’t think I sped that much? In our seats, second to last row in the upper deck, in plenty of time. Did I really just do that?

I really did.

I had the same nerves as if I was playing, along with a new giddiness. I could not be still, knees and toes bouncing non-stop. The atmosphere was insane. The whole stadium stood for most of the game and held its collective breath on every pitch. I’m pretty sure the stadium lifted off and reached orbit after the Royals tied the score in the bottom of the second. The tension was sweetly agonizing all night. After Alex reached in the 9th, I realized I’d been jumping up and down during his entire run to third. (Alex continuing to home on the play didn’t even cross my mind, but my dad immediately said they should have sent him since Bumgarner seemed invincible.) Too much magic had brought the Royals to that point for it to end with Alex at third. What was one more slice of magic after the month they were having?

But Sal popped up. The roar silenced immediately and my hands covered my blue hat. After a few beats of disbelief, I heard a faint “let’s go Royals” chant start up. Perfect. I joined right in. Of course I was disappointed, but I wasn’t crushed. I didn’t have to try to convince myself that this had been a great night. I got to experience a level of energy, fun, and passion around baseball in Kansas City that, for me, had up to that point only existed in historical accounts.

And now, one year later, we get to do it again.

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.


It’s been a couple of days since the Royals won the 2015 American League pennant. Normally, it would have made sense to get a post up celebrating a return trip to the World Series as soon as possible. Yet Game Six was so special, it makes sense to have waited a couple of days. It wasn’t just a baseball game. It was a moment to be savored, shared and revisited. The Wild Card Game is the gold standard for this franchise. A once in a lifetime type of game that will resonate forever. Never to be replicated. Game Six of the 2015 ALCS comes damn close.

The Blue Jays annoy, yes, but they were a formidable opponent. The Royals had been on cruise control in the Central for months, and after the trade deadline when Toronto added David Price and Troy Tulowitzki, it was all but assumed the two teams would meet at some point in October. Baseball doesn’t always follow the script, but when it does, it can be of the highest order.

What a series. What a game.

The LoCain dash from first enters Royals pennant lore. It stands along with George Brett’s home run off Goose Gossage in Game Three of the 1980 ALCS, Jim Sandberg’s bases-clearing triple in Toronto in Game Seven of the 1985 ALCS, and Alex Gordon’s face-plant catch against Baltimore in Game Four of the 2014 ALCS. Four pennants. Four signature moments.

More on that in a moment.

Ned Yost’s bullpen management has left something to be desired this October. One year removed from masterfully figuring out which relief buttons to press, and when, Yost has backpedaled. In the ALCS in particular, he stuck with his starters (with the exception of Edinson Volquez in Game One and Chris Young in Game Four) too long, trying for some reason to squeeze another inning out of those arms, while the best bullpen in the game was idling. Yost narrowly escaped disaster in Game Six with this gambit.

Yordano Ventura pitched another gem through four innings. His only mistake was a belt-high fastball Jose Bautista put into orbit. In the fourth, Ventura wobbled, issuing back to back walks to open the frame. Let’s not kid ourselves. While the calendar said this was Game Six, it felt very much like a Game Seven. With the unpredictable Johnny Cueto set to take the mound the next game, while no one on the Royals would admit, there was an urgency to finishing the series.

So when Ventura put two runners on to start the inning, it felt like his leash suddenly should be getting short. Another alarm that should have been sounding in the dugout was the fact the Jays were, after the second walk, a batter away from flipping the order for the second time on the evening. The Times Through The Order Penalty is real, and in this series, it was spectacular. The Jays are the league’s best offense, and the best offense only got better when they faced a Royals starter for a third time in a game. To tempt fate with Ventura on the hill was especially foolhardy. Here is how Ventura does against the opposition each time through the order.

1st PA in G, as SP 28 252 228 18 56 7 2 3 16 59 .246 .307 .333 .640 .315 84 83
2nd PA in G, as SP 28 244 220 27 53 6 1 5 22 58 .241 .316 .345 .661 .306 90 83
3rd PA in G, as SP 25 184 162 25 44 14 3 6 19 37 .272 .348 .506 .854 .314 143 122
4th+ PA in G, as SP 8 13 11 0 1 0 0 0 1 2 .091 .231 .091 .322 .111 -4 -9
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 10/26/2015.

That jump in his tOPS+ (OPS+ relative to his own total) and sOPS+ (OPS+ relative to the league average in that situation) should be a cause for concern in a general game in July, let alone a short series in October. The number that is really scary is the gain in slugging percentage – nearly 150 points from the second to the third time through the order. And I shouldn’t have to tell you the Jays lineup is stocked with thunder.

Another point to consider is Ventura’s swing and miss rate. He threw 77 pitches on the evening, but generated only four swings and misses, meaning the Jays had him measured. They simply weren’t missing when swinging on a pitch in the zone.


There is an alarming cluster of foul balls on middle-middle pitches. His swings and misses were on chase pitches – balls either up or down and out of the zone. He was getting the called strike low in the zone, but the Jays batters were waiting for an elevated pitch. It was only a matter of time before they would be able to turn those fouls on pitches in the upper two-thirds into balls in play. Again, the Royals were entering the danger zone.

Ventura, however, rallied. He retired Ben Revere (one of the few Jays who doesn’t hit for power) on a fly to left for the second out. Up stepped Josh Donaldson. Gulp. He ripped a cut fastball down to the left side.

The ball left Donaldson’s bat at 113.8 mph. That was the hardest ball Donaldson hit all year. Go back and read those last two sentences again. Let that sink in for a moment. Get a cold drink of water and realize how close the Royals were to surrendering the lead in that situation. Donaldson is probably going to be the MVP of the AL. He has hit balls hard all year. He absolutely destroyed that pitch from Ventura.

And Mike Moustakas saved the day.

OK. So Ventura got through the fifth inning. The Royals are holding on to a one-run lead. That should be enough for Ventura, right? Not so fast. For some reason, he returns for the sixth. To face… GULP… Bautista for a third time. Ventura gets him on a fly ball. Now, Edwin Encarnacion. This Jays lineup, man… It does not take a holiday. Encarnacion doubles and finally (Finally!) Yost comes from the dugout to get the ball from his starter.

The questionable bullpen management continued in the eighth. With rain approaching the Royals went with Ryan Madson in the top of the inning. The postgame reasoning was completely understandable. The cover was off the tarp. The Royals surely knew a delay was imminent. They didn’t want to get Wade Davis into the game only to have to shut him down for an extended period. They wanted to steal an inning against Madson.

The only problem is, sometimes the Baseball Gods don’t want you to be able to steal an inning. The Jays lineup had turned over again and the eighth inning was to feature the top three hitters. Revere singles on a grounder to the hole at shortstop. Donaldson gets caught looking.

Let’s not turn into a crowd with pitchforks regarding Madson. He has pitched extremely well for the team this year. For the first two batters of the inning, he made great pitches. It was not an egregious decision by Yost to bring him into the game. It seems the final three in the bullpen is a combination of Madson and Herrera for the seventh and eighth and Davis for the ninth. It’s reads like a bullpen-by-numbers, but I don’t think that’s necessarily so. In this game, Yost needed to put out a fire in the sixth. It was a fire Yost started by not removing his starter in a timely fashion, but still… In that situation, Yost likes to go with Herrera. Never mind the inherited runner numbers – Herrera  allowed eight of 20 to score in the regular season, a 40 percent rate that was highest among regular relievers – when Yost needs a big out, he trusts Herrera.

Anyway, Madson looked good for the first two batters. The pitch Revere hit was up and on the outer half that was placed in just about the only spot where the Royals couldn’t get him out. The curse of the BABIP Gods. His pitches to Donaldson were up, but he was thoroughly overmatched by the sequencing and after swinging and missing a 90 mph cutter and fouling off a 94 mph fastball, he watched a 97 mph fastball go by for the third strike.

One out. A runner on. A three run lead. Jose Bautista coming up.

The Big Book Of Baseball Management states you save your reliever for the ninth inning. The footnote to that chapter says you can bring your closer in earlier in October. If there was ever a situation, it was this one. Rain coming or no. You have the heart of the best lineup in the AL. You have the best reliever in baseball. Don’t play around. Bring him in.

I don’t have to tell you what happened next.

Even after the Bautista home run, Yost allowed Madson to pitch to Encarnacion. The Royals were fortunate he only reached base on a walk. So in a case where the Royals wanted to save their best reliever in case a rain delay happened, they were forced into using their best reliever just ahead of that delay.

After about a 45 minute break, the game resumed. And then, for the second time this October, Lorenzo Cain did his thing.

That play was amazing on so many levels. Let’s start with the fact it was the only time all year a player scored from first on a single when he wasn’t running on the pitch. Wrap your head around that little stat nugget for a moment.

Next, by now you have read all the stories about how third base coach Mike Jirschle knew about Bautista’s tendency in right field to loft a throw to second base in that same situation. Jirsch was windmilling Cain from about the moment he was between second and third. Watching the play unfold from the stands, I thought Jirsch was insane. That he had lost his mind in the excitement of the moment. Then, seeing the ball from right field floating toward second base, I understood.

Credit to Jirsch for the send. Credit to LoCain for flying. The man got faster as he cruised the 270 feet necessary to put the Royals into their second consecutive World Series.

Just an amazing play all around. My favorite part may be the reaction of Eric Hosmer when he realized what just happened.

With a one run lead, there was still a ballgame to close out. And after nearly an hour on the sidelines, Davis returned to send the Royals back to nirvana. Not surprisingly, he stumbled, allowing a first pitch single and a walk. The lead runner stole second and third. Runners were at the corners for pinch hitter Dioneer Navarro. Let’s be perfectly honest. The Royals caught a break. With the count 1-1, Davis got a called strike on a pitch outside the zone. To Davis’ credit, he went right back. Same pitch, same location. This time, Navarro swung and missed. One out.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 7.17.37 AM

You can barely see the plot of the fourth pitch. That’s how close it was. With the zone expanded, Navarro had no chance.

Davis got the exact same call on Revere. This time, Davis went down with a curve that Revere missed for the second out.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 7.24.09 AM

The Blue Jays weren’t happy, and they probably had every right to feel that way. From Brooks Baseball, here is home plate umpire Jeff Nelson’s strike zone on left-handed batters.


The Royals were the only team to put a pitch in that area all night. It just so happened that two of them came in the ninth inning. A break, for sure.

With two outs, the tying run at third and the go-ahead run at second, up stepped Donaldson. I’m sure you recall Donaldson was the third baseman who stretched out for Salvador Perez’s grounder down the line in the Wild Card Game last year. The hit that kicked off this over year long celebration of baseball in Kansas City. Once again, with the Royals season in the balance, Donaldson would play a central role. The Baseball Gods have a wicked sense of humor.

Donaldson smashed another one to Moustakas. Just like the clincher in 2014, Moose powered a throw across the diamond, into the glove of Hosmer. The draft cornerstones of the Dayton Moore regime hooking up once again to send the Royals to their second consecutive World Series.

Back to back.

What a game. What a series. What a season.

What a 12 months of baseball in Kansas City.

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