Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals

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


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.

John Lackey to start Game 1 of the NLDS for the Cardinals

John Lackey
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St. Louis has decided on John Lackey as the Game 1 starter in the NLDS versus the winner of tonight’s Wild Card game, manager Mike Matheny announced.

Lackey led the Cardinals in starts (33) and innings (218) this season while posting a 2.77 ERA and 175/53 K/BB ratio with 21 homers allowed.

Carlos Martinez being out for the playoffs with a shoulder injury took a big rotation option away from Matheny, but Lackey has a 3.10 ERA in 43 starts since joining the Cardinals in mid-2014 and also has a 3.08 ERA in 117 career postseason innings.

He’ll face either the Cubs or the Pirates, in St. Louis. No word yet on the order, but Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, and Jaime Garcia figure to follow Lackey in the rotation.

The Yankees were booed last night. Did they deserve it?

Masahiro Tanaka

The boos came raining down from the Yankee Stadium faithful last night. They started when Brett Gardner grounded out in the eighth inning. More came later. A lot of it was, no doubt, based on Gardner’s disappointing performance late in the season. A lot of it was because, around that time, it seemed like the Yankees had zero shot whatsoever to mount a comeback. Which, in fact, they didn’t. A lot of it was pent-up frustration, I assume, from a late season skid which saw the Yankees lose their lead in the AL East and wind up in the Wild Card Game in the first place.

Anyone who buys a ticket has a right to boo. Especially when they buy a ticket as expensive as Yankees tickets are. It’s obviously understandable to be disappointed when your team loses. Especially when your team is eliminated like the Yankees were. And last night’s game was particularly deflating, with that 3-0 Astros lead feeling more like 10-0 given how things were going.

But isn’t booing something more than a mere manifestation of disappointment? Isn’t a step beyond? Booing isn’t saying “I’m sad.” It’s saying “you suck!” It’s not saying “I’m disappointed,” it’s saying “you should be ashamed of yourselves!” And with all respect to Yankees fans, the 2015 Yankees have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

This was a club expected to miss the playoffs, full stop. Maybe some people allowed for an if-everything-breaks-right flight of fancy, but hardly anyone expected them to play meaningful games late in the year, let alone a playoff game. They were too old. Too injured. There weren’t enough young reinforcements to fill the gaps. Some even went so far as to claim that they were about to spend years in the wilderness.

But then A-Rod broke out of the gate strong. And Michael Pineda had a really nice first couple of months. And Mark Teixeira put up numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place for him several years ago. The bullpen did what it was supposed to do and more, Masahiro Tanaka held together somehow and, eventually, a couple of young players like Greg Bird and Luis Severino came in to reinforce things. The not-going-anywhere Yankees were contenders. And they led the division for a good while. Of course they stumbled late. And of course they lost last night, but by just about any reasonable measure, this was a good team — better than expected — and, unlike a lot of Yankees teams in the past, was pretty darn enjoyable to watch.

Then the boos. I just can’t see how this Yankees team deserved that.

I realize a lot of people in the media have duped a lot of people into thinking that a team with a high payroll is supposed to be dominant. And I realize George Steinbrenner duped a whole lot of people into thinking that anything less than a World Series championship for the New York Yankees is failure. But that’s rhetoric and branding, not reason. In the real world where baseball players play baseball games World Series titles are rare, even for the Yankees. At the end of the season all but one of 30 teams are either at home for the playoffs or went home after suffering a gut-wrenching playoff loss. The Yankees are the most dominant franchise in the history of American professional sports yet they still have finished their year without a title over 75% of the time.

With that as a given, fans are left to judge their team’s performance based on its talent, its health, its heart, its entertainment value and the strength of the opposition which ultimately vanquished it. The Yankees weren’t nearly as talented as many, yet made the playoffs anyway. They were a walking hospital ward, let limped on. They never quit and never got pulled down into the sort of muck a lot of New York teams find themselves in when things start to go sideways. And, ultimately, they were simply beat by a better team. By any reasonable measure the 2015 Yankees were a good story, a successful enterprise, a resilient bunch and no small amount of fun.

It’s OK to be sad that it ended as it did. But that doesn’t deserve to be booed. Not by a long shot.