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The Royals still aren’t hitting home runs

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The Kansas City Royals have hit 14 home runs in their first 36 games this year. That is not just the worst home run rate in baseball by far in 2014, it’s among the worst in recent baseball history. Here, over the last 25 years, are the fewest home runs hit by teams in the first 36 games:

2012 Padres, 13 homers

— Padres finished 14th in the National League with 121 home runs and went 76-82.

2014 Royals, 14 homers

— The Royals did not hit a home run in their first seven games. They have not hit one in their last four games either.

1992 Red Sox, 14 homers

— Red Sox went 73-89 and hit just 84 home runs all year, their lowest total INCLUDING STRIKE SEASONS since 1946.

1991 Cardinals, 15 homers

— Cardinals were a speed team for Joe Torre and went 84-78. But they hit 68 homers all year, far and a way the lowest total in baseball. Todd Zeile led the team with 11 home runs. As in ELEVEN home runs.

1991 Astros, 15 homers

— Houston lost 97 games that year and hit just 79 homers, led by a young Jeff Bagwell, who hit 15. The Astros were playing in that home-run crushing Astrodome.

1989 Cardinals, 16 homers

— Whitey Herzog’s Cardinals were always near or at the bottom of the league in home runs, but they found ways to win by getting-on-base and using speed. They hit 73 this season but won 86 games.

1994 Pirates, 16 homers

— Strike season Pirates went 53-61. Brian Hunter led the Pirates with 11 home runs in that same year the Ken Griffey and Matt Williams were on pace to challenge Roger Maris’ home run record.

1993 Marlins, 16 homers

— Expansion Marlins lost 98 games and hit league-worst 98 homers, led by Orestes Destrade with 20.

1989 Dodgers, 16 homers

— Defending World Champions had been power-challenged even in their championship season but they hit just 89 homers in 1989, 10 fewer than year before, and went 77-83.

This is not to say that home runs are everything in offense or even close to everything. You can win without hitting a lot of home runs. Just one of many examples: The Giants won the World Series in 2012 despite hitting the fewest home runs in baseball. But that Giants team found other ways to score runs — they were fourth in the league in on-base percentage, first in triples, third in hits — and they had five starters who made 30-plus starts.

The Royals show little sign so far of being able to make up for their near-historic lack of power. They have an everyday third baseman hitting .147, none of their regulars has even a .360 on-base percentage, and while they are getting some good pitching — especially from 23-year-old phenomenon Yordano Ventura — there just isn’t enough pitching in all the world to make up for that little offense.

A friend of mine, Lee Judge, writes a column for the Kansas City Star called “Judging the Royals.” In his latest installment, he goes into some detail about the importance of productive outs — the headline is “How making outs can help you win.” With all due respect to Lee, who has a great love and appreciation of the game, I have been straining all morning to think of a theme I disagree with more — maybe if he had written, “More intentional walks, please!” or “Why I want clutch hitters instead of good hitters.”

Making outs cannot help you win. Ever. If you make 27 first-class outs in a game — the kind that would score runners from third or move runners over — you have just become history as the 24th team to be on the wrong end of the perfect game. The only possible way you can score a run is by NOT making an out. This is so fundamental and yet some teams — and I’ve seen this with the Royals in particular for a long time — seem to utterly miss this point. They seem to think that they can score enough runs to win by maximizing the value of their outs, by doing little things that don’t show up in the box score (or only show up in the “sacrifice” part of the box score), by being smarter and hitting to the right side of the infield and lifting fly balls with a man on third.

No. You cannot score enough runs just doing that stuff. You have to actually get runners on base. You have to string together non-outs. And as crude as it may sound, you have to actually hit the ball out of the ballpark now and again. On a basic level, the Royals must understand this, but you never quite feel sure that they do. They always give the impression that if only they could play a little bit smarter … but all the smarts at MIT, NASA and the collected wisdom of Casey Stengel combined cannot change the basic formula of scoring runs: Get on base. Get around the bases.

Eric Hosmer, the Royals large and powerful first baseman, has one home run this year. Alex Gordon, the Royals best player for a while now, has a .300 on-base percentage and one home run this season. Billy Butler, the Royals designated hitter for the last six years, has a .298 on-base percentage and one home run this season. You can’t find enough good outs to make up for that.

I like to think of good outs as items you sell at below cost. If you own a store, it might not be a terrible thing to sell a couple of things below cost — say, the new Coldplay CD and charcoal — in order to get people into your store. Productive outs are better than unproductive ones. But if you sell too many things below cost, you lose money and go out of business, no matter how many people come to your store. The Royals get 27 outs just like every other team. Giving away too many of those outs and hitting many fewer home runs than any other team is a pretty good formula for another doomed season.

Report: Chase Utley’s family received death threats from Mets fans after controversial slide

DENVER, CO - APRIL 22:  Chase Utley #26 of the Los Angeles Dodgers warms up onthe on deck circle as he prepares to take an at bat against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on April 22, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Dodgers 7-5. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Even before Chase Utley broke former Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada‘s leg with a slide during the playoffs last year, the second baseman was persona non grata in New York. Utley, playing for the rival Phillies, made the right field corner his — literally — with his performance at Citi Field. He was booed during his introduction at Yankee Stadium before the 2009 All-Star Game, prompting him to say audibly, “Boo? F— you.”

The slide put New York’s hatred of Utley into overdrive. Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times reports that after Utley broke Tejada’s leg, his family received death threats from angry Mets fans. In order to protect himself and his family, Utley didn’t stay at the team hotel after Game 2 of the NLDS.

His teammate, Clayton Kershaw, wasn’t happy with the way Utley was treated. He said, “Chase was playing the game the way he’s always played. Obviously you never want anybody to get hurt. The game being in the playoffs, and all that stuff, magnified everything. But there’s been a whole lot of slides a lot worse than that over the course of baseball [history] . . . Some of the stuff he had to go through, it wasn’t fair.”

The Mets host the Dodgers for a three-game series beginning on Friday. As McCullough notes, the two clubs didn’t get into any retaliation business when they played each other in Los Angeles earlier this month.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday evening’s action

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 15:  Joe Ross #41 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the third inning during a baseball game against the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park on May 15, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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Early Thursday afternoon treated us to a pair of games: Diamondbacks/Pirates and Marlins/Rays. We have an abbreviated slate from the late afternoon onwards, with only six contests.

Let’s use this opportunity to talk about Nationals starter Joe Ross, who will take on the Cardinals in the opener of a four-game home series beginning at 7:05 PM EDT tonight. Ross will oppose Mike Leake.

With Stephen Strasburg off to a great start and having signed a seven-year, $175 million extension, and with Max Scherzer having authored just the fifth nine-inning 20-strikeout game, it’s understandable why Ross hasn’t made headlines. The brother of Padres starter Tyson Ross, Joe has put up a 2.70 ERA with a 37/15 K/BB ratio in 46 2/3 innings spanning eight starts thus far. Only 19 qualified starters across baseball have put up a better ERA than Ross.

Ross was rated one of baseball’s top-100 prospects entering last season and he proved why, as he pitched well in 13 starts and a trio of relief outings following his promotion on June 6. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, featuring a fastball that averages 92 MPH. He compliments that with a slider and a change-up. Ross has good command of the strike zone and mixes up his pitches well enough to keep hitters off balance. He turned 23 years old last Saturday, so he has plenty of time to get even better.

The Cardinals, though, will be a hard match-up for Ross. They’re averaging 5.43 runs per game, a mark bested only by the Cubs (5.61) and one which is more than a full run per game above the league average (4.28).

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ) @ New York Yankees (CC Sabathia), 4:05 PM EDT

St. Louis Cardinals (Mike Leake) @ Washington Nationals (Joe Ross), 7:05 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Jon Gray) @ Boston Red Sox (Clay Buchholz), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Wily Peralta) @ Atlanta Braves (Matt Wisler), 7:10 PM EDT

Baltimore Orioles (Kevin Gausman) @ Houston Astros (Lance McCullers), 8:10 PM EDT

Chicago White Sox (Miguel Gonzalez) @ Kansas City Royals (Danny Duffy), 8:15 PM EDT

Major League Baseball issues a statement about the Padres national anthem thing

SAN DIEGO - APRIL 06:  The grounds crew works on the field before the start of the game between the Colorado Rockies and the San Diego Padres during Opening Night at Petco Park on April 6, 2007 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
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I figured the last word on the Padres National Anthem thing came the other day when everyone seemed to apologize to everyone else and ask for fired people to be rehired and all of that stuff. But no, it appears that there is more.

A coda anyway. From Major League Baseball which apparently used its Department of Investigations to suss everything out about the whole affair. And here you thought all they did was walk a questionable ethical line when investigating drug use.

Anyway, here is their statement. One more false ending to this thing and I’ll feel like we’re in a sequel to the movie “Clue.” Which is massively underrated, by the way. Tim Curry’s second-best movie, easily, and Lesley Ann Warren’s absolute best.

The statement:

Major League Baseball announced today that it has completed its investigation into the unfortunate events of Saturday, May 21st, when members of the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus had been scheduled to perform the Star-Spangled Banner before the Padres’ “Pride Night” home game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Petco Park.  The review, which was conducted by MLB’s Department of Investigations, included a dozen interviews with individuals who were involved in the situation.

The Department of Investigations has concluded that the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus has performed the Star-Spangled Banner multiple times before a Padres game; that Saturday’s regrettable situation was a product of human error; that the situation was exacerbated by the fact that the lead entertainment supervisor was involved in a car accident on Friday night and thus was unable to work on Saturday and handle his typical responsibilities; that employees involved in the matter were handling new duties with which they were insufficiently familiar; and that the employees involved had no malicious intentions and, in fact, universally relayed contrition for how the incident unfolded and the adverse impression that it created.

MLB received the full cooperation of Padres management, which expressed its deepest apologies.  MLB believes that the Padres’ efforts to remedy the situation, including its invitation to the Chorus to return to a future game to perform the National Anthem, are appropriate and has every expectation that the Club’s longstanding record of inclusion will be evident in the future. 

 

A-Rod off the disabled list and back in the Yankees lineup

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez watches his RBI single during the first inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday, April 19, 2016, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
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Alex Rodriguez has been activated from the disabled list and will be batting fifth in his return to the Yankees lineup this evening.

A-Rod has been on the DL since May 4 with a strained right hamstring. He was off to a slow start this year but began to slowly heat up just before going down with the injury. Overall he’s He’s hitting .194 with five home runs in 20 games.

It’s hard growing old. Partially because of the injuries. Partially because jerks remind you of things like the fact that you went 3-for-5 with a solo homer in a loss against the Royals on the day the Dodgers starting pitcher for tomorrow night’s game was born.

Anyway, welcome back A-Rod.