There is no such thing as momentum in baseball. There isn’t. I defy you to prove otherwise. What there is in baseball is narrative. So if the Royals lose on Tuesday, the story will be how the rain derailed their hot bats, pitching, fielding… You get the picture. If they win, they will do so in spite of the conditions. Sorry, but that’s a load of bunk. I know we want to find a reason the Royals are suddenly playing like 120 regular season win beasts. Maybe the best explanation is there is no explanation. Some teams simply get on a roll in October. Those teams usually play deep into the month because, you know, they’re on a roll. The Royals were built for the postseason with solid starting pitching, a lock-down bullpen, and world class defense. It’s all falling into place for this team. I haven’t analyzed much because there will be plenty of time for that when the games are over. Right now, I’m literally enjoying the ride.
One thing I do know is this is pretty much the same team that was assembled last year. Remember how they were supposed to avoid prolonged losing streaks because they had a rotation built with depth? Of course you remember May. Sometimes a plan comes together. Sometimes that plan comes together at the most opportune time imaginable. The Royals will tell you this was their plan. That last year was about learning how to compete, which in turn served them this September which then carried over into the eighth inning on September 30, which has propelled this team to six wins in a row. It’s a nice story. A tidy narrative. It’s just I’m not sure that’s what’s happening right now.
I do know this team is playing with a “we don’t give a damn” attitude. It borders on a feeling of invincibility that won’t seem so absurd when someday we find out all 25 guys were wearing capes under their jerseys. It’s amazing to watch. This is the most fun I’ve had watching baseball since I don’t know when. Seeing a ball leave the bat for the outfield and knowing with absolute certainty Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon or even Nori Aoki will track it down is an amazing feeling. I want to tell you there are no absolutes in baseball. The Royals outfield says otherwise. The offensive flaws are still on full view – poor plate discipline, failing to hit good pitches in hitter’s counts, going to the plate without a discernible plan – but those flaws have been obscured by the home run. Imagine that. Even more amazing has been the timeliness of the power. Late inning pyrotechnics. Our Royals? If you had tried to sell me this script in July, I would have mocked you on Twitter.
When there’s rain, there’s not so much going on, which gives the national guys covering the series the opportunity to fan the flames. It looks like multiple attempts were made to create an inferno courtesy of Jarrod Dyson. I’m sure you remember his comment following the Royals second win in Baltimore when he was asked if he thought the series would return to Camden Yards:
“No sir, I don’t. And I don’t think they (the Orioles) think that either.”
Cheers from The Royals Universe. Jeers from OrioleLand. Personally, I like the comment. If McCullough had asked someone like Alex Gordon, he would have gotten the stock “there’s still a lot of baseball to be played” response, and really, what fun is that? Dyson answers questions the same way he plays the game. While he may frustrate when he’s getting picked off second in September, it’s cool when he’s speaking his mind in October. Mountains. Molehills. Whatever. While I have zero issue with what Dyson said, I can understand the hurt feelings it may have caused in the other clubhouse. Maybe it gives some bulletin board ammo. But if you don’t believe in momentum, you probably don’t believe that the words of a fourth outfielder provide added inspiration. As Nick Hundley said, “You think we need motivation to try to get to the World Series.” Exactly.
Of more importance than Dyson’s words are Ned Yost’s thoughts. Specifically what he’s thinking about his rotation with this rainout. He now has the option of throwing Game One starter James Shields in Game Four on what would be his regular rest. My gut tells me that’s unlikely for a few reasons.
For starters, Shields hasn’t been sharp this postseason. His velocity is as strong as it’s been all year, but his change-up has lost it’s bite. In fact, all of his pitches have been up of late. Way up. From Brooks Baseball, here’s his vertical location broken down by month.
He’s still getting some swings and misses, but when batters are making contact, specifically against his change and curve, he’s been getting worked. He actually recognized this trend and moved away from the change and curve in his last start in Baltimore, throwing more cutters and sinkers. His pitch count elevated early and Shields barely made it out of the fifth inning with a 5-4 lead. Not the kind of confidence-building start you expect from your Number One starter.
Is he tired? Shields threw 227 innings in the regular season, which is exactly his 162 game average, and has thrown an additional 16 innings this postseason. Is it his mechanics? His release point is fairly consistent from July when he went on the start of a pretty solid second half of the season. Who knows what’s happening. Hopefully, Shields knows. Or maybe Dave Eiland. And they’re not talking.
At any rate, if Shields can get an extra day of rest, that can only be beneficial to him I would imagine.
Another reason to keep Shields as the Game Five starter is Jason Vargas. Vargas threw Game Two in Anaheim in the ALDS and hasn’t been seen since, except in one of those sad shots of the bullpen where he wasn’t allowed a seat on the bullpen bench because he’s not a regular reliever. Folding chairs for starters. Vargas was a pleasant surprise against the Angels and probably needs to get some game action to stay sharp. He struggled down the stretch (6.57 ERA in September and the league slugged .471 against him) but if the Royals survive this round, the would probably call on him for the Series.
Then, there’s the Yordano Ventura question. I know the Royals have given their reassurances everything is OK with their rookie fireballer, but we all know to take those words with skepticism. After all, this is the same team that kept telling us Greg Holland just needed to rest a sore triceps. While his results have been largely pleasing since his return, his velocity has not. Not to say the same thing is happening with Ventura, but we all saw his outing on Saturday. He never seemed comfortable and Yost kept sending him out there before he finally had to remove him. It was potentially the largest case of managerial malpractice since the famous Trey Hillman Massacre performed on poor Gil Meche.
If you push Shields forward to Game Four, who starts Game Five? It would come down to Ventura on regular rest or Danny Duffy. We discussed this earlier. Duffy has thrown a total of nine innings since September 1. There’s no way he is stretched out for the maximum kind of start you need from a pitcher in October. He could give three, four, maybe five innings. And we all know he’s a pitch count bomb set to go off at any start. Although to be fair, he tamed that issue for the most part this year, which is a great story for sure, but would you want to trust him after being used so little over the last month and a half. Either something is up with Duffy, or the Royals are following a plan they never publicized and decided to curtail his innings. Whatever the story, he’s good for only a few more innings scattered over a handful of games. He’s not coming back to the rotation.
There you have it. I think a lack of rotation options means the Royals will use the rainout to their advantage and give Shields an extra day of rest. Obviously, they’ll be hoping to take at least two of three from the Orioles in Kansas City so they can have a week to reset their rotation ahead of the World Series.
Another potential fallout from the rainout is how it will affect the bullpen. Yost has been as automatic as we thought he would be using Kelvin Herrera in the seventh (and sometimes the sixth), with Wade Davis in the eighth (and sometimes the ninth), and Greg Holland to get the final three outs. I fully expect the trio to appear in every postseason game the Royals play unless something insane happens and they secure a six run plus lead in the later innings. With the specter of five consecutive games on the horizon, Yost will have to be careful about how he uses his Three Relievers of the Apocalypse. They’re not going to be able to pitch in every game if the series goes seven. No way. If it goes seven, he’s going to need some mop up innings and we know he doesn’t have the stomach for that sort of thing. This rainout could be a bit of a problem for his bullpen plans. It will call for a little more flexibility. We know flexibility isn’t Yost’s strong suit.