Picking the Royals to win … again

15 Comments

I have a friend who, when trying to relax or when stressed about things, will run over Los Angeles Rams scores in his mind. I tend to do the same thing with Kansas City Royals blunders. It comforts me. Whenever I think of Desi Relaford just falling off of first base, as if he had been tipped by drunk college kids, or Ken Harvey getting hit in the back by an outfield throw or the team batting out of order with the first batter of the game (yes, that happened) — I feel better about these Royals.

They have started the most pivotal baseball season in Kansas City in more than 20 years. I really do fear that they might not be up to it.

But, hey, you know, there was this one time the Royals started a non-prospect from Class AA in Yankee Stadium because, well, I still don’t know exactly why they did that.

And I am comforted — because at least they’re not going back to that.

There are so many things that worry me about this year’s Royals team. The Plexiglas effect worries me — this is the proposition that teams that take big steps forward one year tend to give back many of the gains the next. The Royals won 86 games last season, a 14-game improvement and the most they won in a season since 1989. It just feels like they’ll fall a bit closer to earth.

The bullpen worries me — not because I think the bullpen will be bad (I expect it to be good) but because I don’t believe it can be as good as last year. You almost cannot overstate how dominant the Royals bullpen was in 2014. The league hit just .217 against that bullpen last year. The bullpen had an insane 2.55 ERA and the pitchers struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings, they were dominant in every possible way. And bullpens tend to be variable, mercurial … it probably won’t be that good this year. And, right away, Game 1, the bullpen blows a lead

Manager Ned Yost worries me. Yost’s often curious managerial decisions don’t bother me as much as his labored explanations for them — his exposition on why he did not have closer supreme Greg Holland start the ninth inning of a tie game against Detroit Monday but did bring Holland inning once the Tigers threatened to score was typically baffling. People will always argue about how much a manager means to a team’s success, but it has been 30 years since the Royals had a manager (Dick Howser) with any winning success as a manager before taking the job. I was actually daydreaming the other day about the Royals hiring Dusty Baker to be their manager — that’s probably not a good sign.

Jason Vargas and Norichka Aoki and Omar Infante worry me. I know a lot of smart people liked the Royals acquiring these veteran players — or at least didn’t mind it too much — but I keep going back in my mind to the astonishing Royals’ history of signing 30-something “professional players” and then watching them unhappily plod and toil and lose lots of games.

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain worry me. The Royals have had one of the game’s best minor-league system for years and they just have so much trouble with the seemingly simple process of having player come up and simply become a star without a lot of angst and failure and confusion. Other teams have players who just, blammo, are good players. I see it happen — Evan Longoria and Mike Trout and Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki and Manny Machado and Jose Fernandez and Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander. Heck, it even happened for ex-Royal Wil Myers. I mean it DOES happen.

But it rarely seems to happen for the Royals. Hosmer and Moustakas were the can’t-miss stars of their system (well, with Myers). Hosmer’s three-year career has already been a soap opera. Moustakas has 1,500 plate appearances in the big league and an 85 OPS+. Will they be good players? We still don’t know.

And so, I like to think back. I like to reminisce. I like to remember the time that a Royals outfielder climbed the center field wall to steal a home run only to watch the ball land on the warning track and bounce over his head.

I like to think about the time two Royals outfielders settled under a fly ball, looked at each other, and then started jogging happily toward the dugout … only to forget to actually catch the ball. It plopped down joyfully behind them.

I like to think of the time a Royals player lost a ball in the sun and explained afterward that he wasn’t wearing sunglasses because his prescription sunglasses had not arrived yet. Or another time a Royals player wasn’t wearing sunglasses, lost a ball in the sun and got hit in the face with it … on the plane ride home, it was noted, he WAS wearing sunglasses to cover up the shiner.

There was the time a pitcher was released in the middle of the game so he wouldn’t have to answer media questions about how terrible he had been. There was the time a Royals manager met with reporters in a hotel lobby after a game and was told, much to his surprise, that he had been fired. There was the time a pitcher was so ticked off at himself that he angrily threw his the ball in to his glove again and again kind of like that pitcher at the end of ‘Bad News Bears” only to have a base runner steal third while moped.

There was the time a pitcher complained that he was not getting enough no-decisions.

There was the time a Royals general manager considered hiring an artist — an actual painter artist — to draw some of his players so that they could use the artwork as scouting tools. There was the time the Royals tried out a professional softball player and talked about signing him despite the somewhat obvious drawback that he was balking on every pitch.

I like to remember that the Royals once had a manager who guaranteed the Royals would win the division in May of a season where they lost 104 games. The Royals were once on the brink of being sold to a man who walked around town wearing a suit and Royals cap, who had a meeting with the radio guy and told him to start using one of those egg timers so he would know when to give the score, who then held a meeting with the manager to tell him to stop letting batters swing at the first pitch.

I like to remember that the Royals once announced that the players would not be wearing Negro League uniforms on Negro Leagues Day because, you know, uniforms are expensive.

The Royals once blew a huge ninth inning lead with a spectacular series of blunders capped by a dropped fly ball — this last boo boo led announcer Denny Matthews to make the classic call: “Annnnnnnnnnd he dropped it. Yes he did.”

The Royals once had the future best player in baseball — the 47th best player of all time according to one recent ranking — play high school AND junior college ball in town, and they did not draft him either time.

The Royals once looked at a draft board featuring Tim Lincecum, Evan Longroria, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer (who went to school down the road at Missouri) and with the first overall pick took Luke Hochevar, an independent league player who had refused to sign with a team the year before.

The Royals once canceled their annual banquet to save a few bucks, once had a pitcher throw a baseball, no joke, 10 feet over a catcher’s head even though he was standing about 40 feet away at the time, once had an outfielder kick the ball back into the infield, once had a batter go so long without a walk that when he finally got one the fireworks went off — these are all true. The Royals once decided the best way to keep young players like Johnny Damon was to buy them a house in Kansas City (apparently on the theory that they might never figure out that houses can be sold).

The Royals once put a talented and young left-hander into his first big league game on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium with runners on first and second with Jorge Posada at the plate. The Royals either didn’t know or did not believe the numbers that showed Posada was a BETTER HITTER against lefties. After that three-run homer, the kid pitcher — a great guy named Tony Cogan who I still hear from now and again — was kind of ruined.

There are so many more … but, see, already I feel better. With all the worries, the Royals are not that team anymore. The problems they have are adult problems, real baseball problems, the sort of things that other teams must deal with. The Royals have very good baseball players. Alex Gordon is a brilliant defensive outfielder and an above average hitter. Billy Butler is a professional hitter who will get on base and offer doubles and occasional home run power. Salvador Perez is one of my favorite players in baseball, an exception to the general rule about young Royals players — he’s a brilliant young defensive catcher along the lines of a young Yadi Molina and a developing offensive player along the lines of, well, a young Yadi Molina.

Hosmer, for all my concerns above, is someone I still believe will develop into one of the really good hitters in the game.

That bullpen is still loaded with amazing arms and stuff.

Young Yordano Ventura physically resembles Pedro Martinez and he has a 102-mph fastball. James Shields is a pro’s pro. Again, even with my concerns, the Royals have five starters with a chance to be league average, and that’s actually very valuable.

And, in the end, the Royals don’t need miracles to win. They just need some players to live up to their billing, they need a few breaks, they need some development and they could use some luck — aren’t the Royals due for some luck? They absolutely could make the postseason this year.

And so, what the heck, I’m picking them to do so, despite my concerns (and Michael Schur’s logical skepticism). I’m picking them to win the American League Central. But then, I always do — every year as columnist for the Kansas City Star, I would pick the Royals to win the division. It was part joke, part silliness, part insane optimism, part naive hope. I always thought that’s what Opening Day should be about. I’m picking the Royals to win the American League Central. Why? Because: It’s time.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Hope you had a nice weekend. Mine consisted of a lot of sniffling sneezing coughing aching stuffy head, fever and, thus, NyQuil and bed rest which (a) meant I went to bed too early Saturday night to see Sean Manaea‘s no-hitter but which allowed me to (b) lay in bed most of yesterday afternoon and see a bunch of games. Not exactly a wash, but if you have to be sick thank God for day baseball. And thank God for NyQuill.

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Phillies 3, Pirates 2: It was 2-2 from the fifth until the bottom of the 11th, and that’s when Aaron Knapp tripled and Aaron Altherr singled him in for the walkoff win. The Phillies completed a four-game sweep of the Pirates. It was their first four-game sweep of Pittsburgh in 24 years. There was a time when “in 24 years” seemed like a long time ago — like, that should be in the 1980s or something — but it was 1994 and I had just finished my junior year of college. You lose decades after a certain age. Oh well, the Phillies have won 13 of 16 since we all decided Gabe Kapler didn’t know what he was doing. Guess he figured it out.

Rays 8, Twins 6: The Rays had a 6-3 lead, blew it, and it was tied 6-6 in the bottom of the ninth when Carlos Gomez came up to bat and hit a two-run walkoff homer. Gomez said that he told his son that he’d hit a homer for him in this game. He was 0-for-his-first 4, though, with three strikeouts before the blast. Phew. For the Twins, Brian Dozier extended his hitting streak to 23 games, dating back to September 22 of last year. It’s weird that we count hitting streaks that way. Of course it’d be weird if we didn’t count them that way too, as everyone would still be talking about last year’s games, so I dunno. The world isn’t always perfect and there aren’t always satisfying answers. You may lose decades when you get older but you gain the ability to deal with ambiguity and even embrace a lack of cosmic resolution in things. That sort of zen is one of the best parts of getting older, even if people tend to fight it rather than accept it.

Athletics 4, Red Sox 1: A day after getting no-hit by Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden and his twirly mustache held the Red Sox to one run on six hits in six and a third and the bullpen took it the rest of the way. I’d say who woulda thunk that the A’s of all teams would cool off the red hot Red Sox bats, but it’s not like any team is going to continue to score 7-10 runs a game ad inifinitum. Khris Davis knocked in all four of the A’s runs, the first one on a ground ball single in the first and the last three with a three-run homer in the eighth, both coming off of David Price. As for Mengden, I like him a lot, but not because of his mustache. I like the way he works from the full windup. This is from a game last year, but check this out:

I was watching him yesterday and he seems to have cut down a bit on that rocking motion, but he still goes both-arms-over-the-head like that. I love it because, even though I know not every pitcher did that back in the 1970s and 80s when I was beginning to watch baseball, it sort of felt like everyone did. It was how kids would pitch when emulating pitchers back then and it didn’t seem weird. I don’t know when that went out of style in favor of the bring-the-arms-in-towards-the-chest thing. I know Paul Byrd pitched like that his whole career and it didn’t feel weird when he did it. I don’t know, maybe I’m just remembering three random dudes who did that and I’m totally misrepresenting baseball history here. You misremember a lot of stuff when you get older too. Anyway: I’m on team Mengden.

Royals 8, Tigers 5: The Tigers took a 2-0 lead but Whit Merrifield hit a solo shot and Abraham Almonte hit a grand slam in the sixth inning to make it 5-2. Then the Tigers tied it up but Mike Moustakas hit a three-run shot in the seventh inning to make it 8-5. “And STAY down,” he said. Or thought. Maybe.

Yankees 5, Blue Jays 1: Top prosepct Gleyber Torres made his big league debut and went 0-for-4. He’ll have better days. Maybe days like Miguel Andujar, who went 4-for-4, had. Austin Romine doubled in a couple and Didi Gregorius smacked a dinger. Luis Severino didn’t need that much support, as allowed only one run on three hits over seven.

Indians 7, Orioles 3: Jose Ramirez hit two homers — a solo shot in the fourth inning and a two-run drive in the ninth — to help Corey Kluber get his third win of the season. Manny Machado homered in a losing cause. The O’s have lost nine of ten.

Astros 7, White Sox 1: Lance McCullers scattered a bunch of hits while allowing one run over six, while Marwin Gonzalez and Evan Gattis each drove in a couple. Houston sweeps the White Sox, outscoring Chicago 27-2 in the three-game series. The Sox have lost seven in a row, giving up 53 runs on those games.

Brewers 4, Marlins 2: Junior Guerra allowed one run — unearned — in five innings and the bullpen allowed one more run — also unearned — in the final four frames. Both of the unearned runs were attributable to the catcher, as the guy who scored in the first inning reached on a catcher’s interference and the runner who scored in the eighth got into scoring position on a passed ball. Of course, it still took hits in both cases for the runs to come in, so it’s not like the pitcher wasn’t at least partly responsible. I am fairly fascinated with blame apportionment when it comes to unearned runs. It makes me wonder which pitcher benefitted most from runs which, while technically unearned because of an error, were really on him anyway because he gave up a bunch of hits later, failing to limit the damage. Or which were unearned because of his own error. Like, I know Bob Gibson’s ERA in 1968 would not have risen to 3.68 if you analyzed things that way, but I’m sure someone, somewhere, got just under 3.00 to 2.98 or something due to the unearned run rules, thereby changing the way he was viewed in a given year as a result. Someone give me a $250,000 advance on a book to study this, please.

Cardinals 9, Reds 2: Close until the seventh when the Cards put up three thanks to a Paul DeJong three-run homer and then added three more in the eighth. Miles Mikolas allowed two runs — one earned — over seven. I’m too lazy to analyze the unearned run situation in this game, though, and no one has given me the advance I mentioned above just yet. Not doing it for free, folks.  Anyway, the Reds got swept and now they go home to play the Braves today. Maybe. I have tickets to that game so, of course, the forecast calls for a lot of rain. Maybe the Reds need a rainout, but I sort of hope Mother Nature doesn’t let them have one. It’s like 100 miles in the car each way for me and I don’t wanna waste the trip.

Diamondbacks 4, Padres 2: The Snakes scored all four of their runs in the fourth, two on a Nick Ahmed homer, one on Patrick Corbin single and one on a delayed steal thingie in which Padres pitcher Joey Lucchesi threw the ball away. In addition to knocking in that run, Corbin dominated the Padres, winning his fourth game of the year with 11-strikeouts over six two-hit, two-run innings.

Rangers 7, Mariners 4: Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo each hit dongs in the fourth inning as the Rangers avoid a sweep at the hands of the M’s. Rangers starter Martin Perez allowed two over six innings, lowering his ERA from 13.14 to 9.82. Yay, progress!

Cubs 9, Rockies 7: Chicago built up a 6-0 lead after three innings, let the Rockies back in it and then added three more later and held on. In other words, just another afternoon at Coors Field. Javier Baez homered and later doubled in two. He also got cute and blocked D.J. LeMahieu when the latter was trying, it seemed, to steal signs. LeMahieu didn’t like that, but well, tough:

Kris Bryant left this one in the first inning after getting beaned — the ball hit the bill of his helmet and spun the dang thing around without it even falling off his head — but he passed his initial concussion tests, so here’s hoping it’s not serious.

Giants 4, Angels 2: There was some history here as Brandon Belt and Jaime Barria faced off in a 21-pitch at bat, which was the longest since they began keeping track of such things 30 years ago. Barria ended up winning that battle when Belt lined up to right field for the game’s first out. Here you go if you like foul balls and/or building tension:

The Giants won the war, however, as Barria couldn’t make it out of the third inning, having tossed 77 pitches. As soon as he left Evan Longoria hit a two-run homer and Belt would add a solo shot later. Johnny Cueto, meanwhile, was more economical and shut the Angels down for six innings.

Dodgers 4, Nationals 3: Washington took a 3-0 lead over Alex Wood and the Dodgers by the top of the sixth but L.A. came back when Yasmani Grandal and Cody Bellinger hit RBI doubles of the two-run and one-run variety, respectively. Corey Seager put the Dodgers up for good with a sac fly in the seventh and the bullpen held on. The Dodgers won their sixth in seven games and climbed back to .500 after a slow start to the season.

Mets vs. Braves — POSTPONED:

Tried to get your attention all night long
Asked you once, I asked you twice, asked you four times
If you’d like to dance to that song
Front crawled the crowd down the stairs
And I followed you out in the rain, nowhere to be found
Never mind, you’ll probably never look that pretty again

You’re not nineteen forever, pull yourself together
I know it seems strange but things, they change
Older woman and an ever so slightly younger man
God bless the band, they’re doing all they can

You’re not nineteen forever
You’re not nineteen forever
You’re not nineteen forever
It’s not big, it’s definitely not clever