Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

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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When did I know? When did I know when the Royals were going to Sweep The Leg and sweep the Angels back to Anaheim?

Was it in the first inning when Alex Gordon hit a bases-clearing triple?

Was it when the Royals knocked Angels starter CJ Wilson out of the game after that triple?

Was it when Eric Hosmer clubbed his home run to push the Royals lead to 5-1?

No. None of the above.

The pivotal, soul crushing moment came right after Hosmer’s home run. When Billy Butler walked and stole second base.

Yep, that was the exact moment when you knew it was over. If I hadn’t been cheering wildly at that point, I would have looked at the clock to call an official time of death of the Angels 2014 season.

The Royals only needed nine innings for this one.

I remember Alex Gordon’s first at bat as a Royal, back in 2007. Facing Curt Schilling and the Red Sox, Gordon strolled to bat with the bases loaded in the first inning, an early signature moment in a nascent career. Gordon struck out.

Jump ahead to Sunday night. First inning again. Bases loaded again. Gordon this time lashed at a slider on the outer half and took it the opposite way. Into the gap for a bases clearing double. The journey took some unexpected twists and turns. But the destination couldn’t have been more perfect. That double knocked Wilson out of the game and set the Royals on their way.

Wilson wasn’t right. I don’t watch enough Angels games to know, but his pitch selection felt odd and he was definitely having difficulty locating. After his final regular season start where he was cuffed around, this was the Wilson I was hoping (as a fan) to see at The K. He got Hosmer on a called third strike after giving up back to back singles to Nori Aoki and Lorenzo Cain, but walked Butler on four pitches before the Gordon double. Facing elimination, Angels manager Mike Scioscia had the quick hook. It didn’t make a bit of difference.

With the game still relatively close in the early innings, Scioscia was burning through his bullpen. I guess the reasoning is you throw everyone in the elimination game in the hopes everyone can come back the next day and be available once again. I mean, I suppose that’s a strategy. But as a believer in what I call Bullpen Roulette – where any one reliever can come in and be horrible, derailing your plans – it doesn’t seem like a sound strategy.

The Angels were on their third pitcher of the night when Hosmer strode to the plate in the bottom of the third with Aoki at first. Hosmer, as you may have heard, has been on quite a roll of late. After a stellar effort in the Wild Card game where he reached base five times and scored the winning run in the 12th, he had reached base an additional five times in nine plate appearances against the Angels, including the go-ahead home run on Friday.

You want to see a guy locked-in? Look no further than Hosmer. A 2-0 fastball on the outer half of the plate and he didn’t miss.

Hosmer HR
Earlier in the season – hell, probably a couple of weeks ago – Hosmer hacks at that pitch and rolls it over to second base for an inning-ending double play. But October Hosmer laughs at such folly. He smoked that pitch to left-center for his second home run of the postseason.

I know in an earlier post, I dismissed the idea of comparing the games of the current postseason with the games from 1985. Having said that, Hosmer’s home run gave this game a very Game Seven of 1985 feel. With the way James Shields has pitched down the stretch and with the lockdown bullpen, a four run lead felt insurmountable. At least I hoped it would be insurmountable. It was still early at that point so perhaps some wishful thinking on my part. But I liked – no, loved – our chances.

With the 5-1 lead, Butler follows Hosmer’s home run with a walk. Then, the most amazing thing I’ve seen in a season full of the improbable, Butler suddenly takes off for second. A steal. And the dude was absolutely motoring. Angels catcher, Chris Iannetta, perhaps taking a mental break from what had to have been an exhausting series for him behind the plate, threw a one-hopper to second that Aybar couldn’t handle.

Stolen base, Billy Butler.

Pandemonium.

Maybe he was encouraged by the fact he motored around the bases on the Gordon double and executed a perfect slide at home in the bottom of the first. Maybe he’s just been hanging with Mr. Zoombya. Whatever, the reason, it was an astounding play. Stunning. Not exactly beautiful. But damn, it was pretty great.

An inning later, it was Mike Moustakas doing the damage with a home run that landed one row in front of me in right field. My brother sent along this image.

IMG_0481

I’m in the middle back with the blue Royals hat. The ball is embedding itself into the guy in the blue top in the front row, just above his hand. Shortly after the home run, my friend asked me, “If I had told you in June that the Royals would be in a playoff series and both Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer would hit a pair of home runs as the Royals swept the best team in the American League, what would you have said?”

I just stared blankly at him. I knew the answer. But I wasn’t going to say it.

With a 7-2 lead, you just are on your knees before the baseball gods, asking them to end the game as quickly as possible. Shields wobbled a bit in the fifth, allowing a single and walk with one out. Up came Albert Pujols, who hit a sinking line drive to the right of Lorenzo Cain. Caught. The next batter, Howie Kendrick hit a sinking liner in front of Cain. Caught. My words can’t do these catches justice. Just watch the video.


I’m watching these replays as I write this and I’m just laughing. This team… I don’t know. All I can say is when this is over my apology post will be pretty damn epic.

And there you go. You had timely hits from Gordon and Hosmer. You had speed on the bases from Butler. (?) And you had great defense in center from Cain. Follow that with the seventh from Kelvin Herrera, the eighth from The Wade Davis Experience and the ninth from Greg Holland and ballgame. A typical Royals win. Just like Ned Yost draws it up on the whiteboard before the games.

ALCS. Unreal.

Hosmermania anyone?

Eric Hosmer gets on base four times and blasts the go ahead run in the 11th so send us off to sweet dreams in the early Saturday morning hours.

Yordano Ventura threw high-octane gas all night. He hit 102 mph at one point.

Jarrod Dyson enters the game as a defensive replacement and guns down Collin Cowgill at third base in the eighth. Superb play by Mike Moustakas to get the tag down.

The home plate umpire’s strike zone was drawn like a five year old on amphetamines with a crayon.

The Royals became the first team to win three consecutive extra-inning postseason games. They lead the series against the Angels 2-0.

Coming home…

I want to play craps with Ned Yost.  Right now, before his luck changes.

Yost went with Vargas too long….and it worked.  He went to a 21 year old rookie as an injury replacement (I would have too, by the way) and it worked.  He has a rightfielder who, best I can tell, has never gotten from point A to point B without a detour to point C (and sometimes D, E and F) and said rightfielder made two run saving catches.  He pitched Tim Collins in the ninth inning of a tied playoff game and it worked!  Hell, in a 2-2 game, Yost used six relievers before handing the ball to his All-Star closer…and it worked.

Roll ‘em, Ned.  Let’s get rich.

Of course, not going to Holland until the Royals were in a save situation is not gambling to Ned.  It is by-the-book baseball 101. I don’t agree with it, because you run the risk of losing a game without using one of your best relievers.  Last night, the book served Yost well.  Damn if it wasn’t nice to have Holland go out and blow the Angels away for the save and a 1-0 series lead.

Even with the win, there is plenty to debate.  Would you have had Terrance Gore try to steal third?  I would have and would have been proved a genius if he had done so before Salvador Perez flied out to center.  Of course, I would have been a goat had Gore been thrown out at third.  I think the odds were in the Royals’ favor on that one, however, and Ned should have rolled the dice and given it a try.  I mean, why not?

Last night, the Royals went 16 straight hitters without getting a baserunner or, for that matter, even hitting a ball square.  They went six innings without a hit.  Their bullpen walked four batters, hit another and none of them scored. They did not bunt once (did they?) and won on a home run.

What the hell is going on here?  I don’t care, I love it.

Not all, of course, was sunshine and roses last night.

Kelvin Herrera left after facing one batter with forearm stiffness. It’s the Royals and we’re conditioned to think the worst and forearm stiffness is often the first indication of UCL issues.  How long can you wait before replacing the designated seventh inning guy on the roster?  Keeping in mind, of course, that if the Royals replace Herrera for this series, he is NOT eligible for the following series.

Does the Herrera injury make Danny Duffy a full-time reliever for this series and hence Jeremy Guthrie the Game Four starter? That would seem the likely plan of action.  After all, even if the Royals decide to replace Herrera on the roster, the pitcher they would call up is not a guy you want anywhere near a pressure situation.  A lot depends on just how bad the Royals believe Herrera is hurting, but this is going to be a tough string of decisions.

Also, let’s think about tonight and Yordano Ventura, who has pitched Sunday and Tuesday and not been very good in either outing. Can you bring back Duffy and Finnegan without any rest? If you have to get Ventura early, is Guthrie the call and sort out Monday’s starter later?  (The answer is likely yes on that last one, by the way).

This is playoff baseball.  It is agony and euphoria and tension and happiness all in one big hairy ball of crazy. For reasons unknown, Yost has guided his team through a landmine of debatable tactics to two wins.

Roll the dice, Ned.

Another game ends around the midnight hour. Postseason baseball didn’t used to be this crazy?

Jason Vargas gives the Royals six solid innings.

Nori Aoki makes circus catches in right.

Terrance Gore steals a base.

The Royals went 2,000 innings between base hits.

Every decision Ned Yost makes works. Again. Somehow.

Greg Holland birthed a baby and saved a game.

AND MIKE MOUSTAKAS HIT A HOME RUN.

Royals win, 3-2.

Analysis later. Maybe. I’m so damn tired.

A quick desktop background with the ALDS game dates for you. Click for full-size.

The actual 25 man roster for the ALDS is out and, unlike I did earlier, the Royals did NOT forget to add Josh Willingham. Two players not on the active roster for the Oakland game, Jason Vargas and Tim Collins, are on with Jayson Nix and Raul Ibanez not being active for this series.

Vargas is a no-brainer, Collins is interesting. While I assumed that the Royals would go with six relievers, I have to tell you that Tiny Tim was not very high on my personal pecking order for that spot. Frankly, I might have gone with Louis Coleman, but then we are kind of splitting hairs on this one.

When your choices are Downs, Bueno, a couple of Colemans and Liam Hendriks, it is hard to be critical of taking Collins….or any of them. Listen, if this series goes right, we will never see Collins, nor have to debate whether he was the right choice.

Beyond that, I love that Colon is in over Nix and Gore is still active over Ibanez. It makes complete sense…..so what the heck is going on? World upside down!

We have waited 29 years to speculate on playoff rosters, so let’s do it twice in a week.

The Royals can revamp their 25 man roster for the series with the Angels and it really comes down to just a few questions at this point.  We know, for example, that all five starters will be on the roster – well, we think we know anyway.

Jason Vargas wills start Game One with Yordano Ventura and James Shields following.  The Game Four starter, if necessary, is undetermined at this point, but we do know that Danny Duffy will be available out of the pen in this series and is ‘in consideration’ to start a Game Four.  Now, if Duffy does make a relief appearance, the Royals might well opt to trot Jeremy Guthrie out to start the fourth game (the only other option would be Vargas on short rest). They will want to keep their options open and hence, all five starters will be on the twenty-five.

We also know that Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Brandon Finnegan and Jason Frasor will hold down the first five  spots in the bullpen.  It would not surprise me if the Royals opt to carry just one more reliever, probably Scott Downs or Francisely Bueno.  I personally would roll with ten, knowing that Duffy and/or Guthrie would be available for at least the first two games of the series as well. Ned Yost, however, has always, always worried about running out of pitchers, so look for at least the big five plus one reliever to be on the roster.

Not only do you know what the lineup will be, you also know the order in which they will bat.  The starting nine will certainly be joined by Eric Kratz and Jarrod Dyson, giving the Royals 11 position players and 11 pitchers.  Should the premium be placed on being able to pinch run and pinch hit at will over having an extra relief arm, then it pretty easily becomes Christian Colon, Jayson Nix and Terrance Gore filling out the roster.

That group of twenty-five would seem to be the most likely.  It will be interesting to see what the brain trust in blue comes up with.

EDIT: In my haste to push something out this morning, I managed to forget Josh Willingham, who will and should be on the 25. In my world, Nix is out Willingham is in, but I fear that Yost/Moore may opt for Nix over Colon.  Also, they wouldn’t keep Ibanez over Terrance Gore…..would they?

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