Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals

How rare is the Royals’ season-opening homerless streak?

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OK, you know I love stuff like this — the Kansas City Royals (as of 1:41 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday) have not hit a home run all season. That’s seven games, that’s pretty rare stuff. The last team to start a season without a home run in its first seven games was the 1990 New York Yankees — that was the worst Yankees teams of the last 100 years. The Yankees streak was finally broken when Mel Hall — yeah, Mel Hall — homered off a 500-year-old Nolan Ryan in the second inning of Game 8.

Well, if the Royals can stretch their streak to eight games against Tampa Bay today, they will enter some very cherished company — only seven teams since 1950 have started the season with eight straight homerless games.

But what I found interesting and kind of shocking is that, on the whole, the seven teams weren’t too bad. In fact, a couple of them were REALLY good teams.

Most games without a homer to start a season (since 1950):

11 games: 1972 Red Sox. Man was that a crazy team and a crazy season — the Red Sox did not hit a home run the first 11 games but actually ended up finishing SECOND in the American League in home runs. They were 85-70 and lost the division title by a half-game in one of the weirdest races ever. There was a short strike in 1972 and because of scheduling quirks the Tigers played one more game than Boston. The Tigers finished 86-70, and baseball decided, OK, season over, no makeup game necessary for Boston.

Could you even IMAGINE the outrage today if something that absurd happened? Here we are in a time where they will take months to review some meaningles play in the third innings. And we’re not that far away from a time where they decided it was just better to give the Tigers the title rather than schedule a make-up game.

The Red Sox first homer of the year was Rico Petrocelli off our pal jim Kaat in a 5-2 loss.

10 games: 1966 Kansas City Athletics. The penultimate year of the Athletics stay in Kansas City — I love that word penultimate and don’t care if I used it right — that A’s team was just semi-stinky and already had good young players like Catfish Hunter and Bert Campaneris and Blue Moon Odom, who would be part of the A’s 1970s dynasty.

Pinch-hitter Larry Stahl hit the home run that broke the streak — he hit it in the ninth off former Athletics pitcher Orlando Pena in a 13-5 loss.

9 games: 1985 Houston Astros. Pretty good team that year (83-79) and a REALY good team in 1986.

An old hero of mine, Alan Ashby, broke the streak with a solo homer off Rick Mahler in a loss. That team really did not have much power — Glenn Davis led the team with 20 homers.

9 games: 1982 San Diego Padres. Another pretty good team — they finished 81-81. Ruppert Jones — who was hitting cleaning for San Diego — broke the streak with a home run off Bob Welch. That was in the middle of a San Diego 11-game winning streak, so they didn’t need homers.

9 games: 1963 Los Angeles Dodgers. How about that … a 99-win World Series team that did not hit a homer in its first nine games.

Of course that Dodgers team was a whole lot of pitching and a whole lot of speed — they were pretty famous for their lack of offensive firepower. Frank Howard, who was more or less the only guy on that team capable of hitting a home run, broke the streak with a two-run homer off Houston’s Turk Farrell. Those were the only two runs of the game — Sandy Koufax threw a two-hitter and struck out 14. It was like that a lot in 1963, especially in Los Angeles.

8 games: 1972 St. Louis Cardinals. Here, finally, we have a team that fits what you would expect of a team that could not hit a home runs. Those Cardinals were pretty bad and they had NO power. Ted Simmons led the team with 16 homers, Joe Torre was the only other Cardinal to reach double digits (he hit 11). They hit 70 home runs as a team.

Simmons broke the streak with a solo shot off Phil Niekro in Game 9. The Cardinals still got crushed 9-3.

8 games: 1967 Los Angeles Dodgers. Well this was the season after Sandy Koufax retired, and the Dodgers — even with future Hall of Famers Don Drysdale and Don Sutton in the rotation — were pretty dreadful. Obviously pitchers dominated the game then. The Dodgers hit .236 as a team and scored 519 runs. Those weren’t even league-worst totals.

Ron Fairly broke the streak with a three-run homer off St. Louis reliever Joe Hoerner. Fairly finished the season with 10 home runs, behind Sweet Lou Johnson (11) and fourth-outfielder Al “The Bull” Ferrara (16).

So what’s there to learn here? Nothing really. Of the seven teams to start with eight homerless games, one won the World Series, one was a fluke away from a shot at a division title, two teams were right around break-even and three were fairly bad but not historically bad. Some of these teams carried their home run drought throughout the season. Some did not.

In other words, it likely means absolutely nothing that the Royals have not hit a home run in their first few games. But it’s fun to keep track of anyway.

Report: Rays having “advanced talks” with free agent reliever Tommy Hunter

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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported this morning that free agent reliever Tommy Hunter required core muscle repair surgery earlier this offseason. Coming off a disappointing 2015, it’s understandable why he’s still on the market, but it sounds like he has at least one significant lead.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the Rays are having “advanced talks” with Hunter as they attempt to add an experienced arm to their bullpen. Nothing is considered close and Hunter is also talking to other clubs. Meanwhile, the Rays have been in touch with veteran reliever Ryan Webb while monitoring the trade market.

Hunter posted a 2.88 ERA as a late-inning arm from 2013-2014, but he compiled a mediocre 4.18 ERA over 58 appearances last season between the Orioles and Cubs. On the bright side, his velocity has held steady and his control is still very good. Despite the down year and core muscle surgery, Topkin writes that Hunter may be holding out for a multi-year deal.

Pirates sign left-hander Cory Luebke

Cory Luebke Getty
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Eric O'Flaherty wasn’t the only reclamation project added by the Pirates today, as the club also announced that they have signed left-hander Cory Luebke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Luebke once looked like a solid rotation piece for the Padres, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 27, 2012. He’s undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries since. Now 30 years old, he logged seven innings in the minors last season before requiring a procedure to remove loose bodies around a nerve in his forearm. The Padres cut ties with him in November after declining a $7.5 million club option for 2016.

It’s hard to count on much from Luebke at this point, but he told Adam Berry of MLB.com that he feels healthy and hopes to compete for a bullpen job in the spring.

White Sox reportedly considering Ian Desmond

Ian Desmond
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
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Many have speculated on a potential match between the White Sox and Ian Desmond this winter, but we haven’t heard much in the way of legitimate interest. That could be changing with spring training right around the corner, as MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports that Chicago is among the teams considering the free agent shortstop.

After turning the page on Alexei Ramirez this offseason, the White Sox currently have Tyler Saladino in line to serve as their starting shortstop in 2016. The 26-year-old is considered a strong defender, but he batted .225/.267/.335 with four homers over 254 plate appearances as a rookie in 2015. Desmond is coming off a nightmare of a walk year and has seen his strikeout rate climb by 8.5 percent since 2012, but he possesses more offensive upside and it’s not hard to imagine a bounceback campaign while calling U.S. Cellular Field home.

Similar to fellow free agents Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, Desmond is attached to draft pick compensation after turning down a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Nationals. It’s a big reason why a potential deal with the Rays is reported to be a “long shot.” Chicago’s No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft is protected, so they would give up their No. 28 overall pick if they sign a qualifying offer free agent like Desmond.

Pirates sign reliever Eric O’Flaherty

Eric O'Flaherty
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Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates that includes an invitation to spring training.

O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in the league for the Braves from 2009-2013, posting a combined 1.99 ERA in 249 innings, but Tommy John elbow surgery derailed his career and he struggled for the A’s and Mets in 2015 while dealing with shoulder problems.

It’s tough to know if O’Flaherty is healthy at this point, but the 31-year-old southpaw certainly has a chance to be a nice reclamation project for the Pirates on a no-risk contract.