Author: Craig Calcaterra

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Deep Thought: Are the Royals “good?”


OK, that is a bit of a misleading headline. I am not going to sit here and argue that point. But given how the Royals are doing, given that they could have several days off before the World Series starts should they make it and given that, if they win the whole dang thing, the entire offseason is going to be spent talking about the Royals, I’d like to examine how that conversation is going to go. And to acknowledge how tedious that conversation will be.

So, let’s assume for the moment that the Royals win the World Series. Can you see a situation where this argument does not occur?

Pundit One: The Royals are the champs! They dominated in the playoffs! They developed a formula for our low-offense times and we all underestimated their genius! [Team X, which did not do so well in 2014] needs to do what the Royals did, defense and small-ball are the new “Moneyball,” etc., etc.

Pundit Two: The Royals aren’t good. They just got hot at the right time. The playoffs are a crapshoot. They could’ve lost many, many of the playoff games they won if the ball had not bounced in their direction. God, shut up about the Royals!

And it really won’t be an argument as much as it is people talking past one another. And maybe the most frustrating thing about it is that both of these imaginary and only slightly-exaggerated pundits will be speaking a good bit of truth.

There is something anomalous about a team that wasn’t really great in the regular season doing so well in the playoffs. Not shockingly anomalous — it happens — but something that is at least mildly unusual. As we discussed yesterday, trying to assign meaning to that sort of thing is often a bad idea, so to the extent people try to draw larger lessons out of what the Royals have done here and assign to greatness what is really a function of weighted chance, they should probably tread carefully. At least insofar as those lessons are things other than “it’s a good idea to get great defensive players and have 3-4 otherworldly shutdown relievers.” Because that’s always a FANTASTIC idea, even if I am dubious that that is the lesson many will draw from the Royals success.

At the same time, if the Royals do win it all — heck, even if they just almost do — focusing on the teams’ faults and flaws in a way that delegitimizes their success, however inadvertently, seems petty, mean-spirited and even a bit hypocritical. I mean, you are correct to note that the playoffs can be a crapshoot, but if you acknowledge that it is a crapshoot, what possible point is there in trying to convince people that an 89-win Ned Yost-managed team is not “good?” That’s sort of beside the point, isn’t it? And it rather pisses on a lot of people who are enjoying the heck out of all of this.

I guess I just hope that a Kansas City Royals World Series victory, should it happen, does not become yet another tired, binary argument about team quality and philosophy. That such a victory would be celebrated at face value as an exciting yet improbable event and a wonderful story for the fans and the city yet not simultaneously be used to overreach to unsupportable conclusions (“Ned Yost: hidden genius!”) nor dismissed as some failure of the Grand Meritocracy or something so damn anomalous that the Royals are considered something other than World Series Champs.

I’d like to think we can live in that weird, middle world where we react to what happens rather than use it as proof, one way or another, of some philosophy. It so rarely happens in sports, of course, but I at least hope that occurs.

Playoff Reset: League Championship Series Game 4

Royals Orioles


The Game: ALCS Game 4. Kansas City Royals lead Baltimore Orioles 3-0
The Time: 4:07 PM Eastern
The Place: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Jason Vargas
The Upshot: Can anything stop the Royals at this point? Probably not in the series, as it would take an historic comeback by Baltimore to keep Kansas City from the World Series, and they’ve shown that, in the ALCS anyway, they have no second gear. The real question now is whether the Royals can sweep the entire playoffs, as they shoot for their eighth playoff win in eight tries this afternoon. Jason Vargas? He’s hittable. The Royals lineup? You can pitch to them. But that’s the same story that has held for a couple of weeks now and it hasn’t mattered a bit. The Royals are gelling and the defense — maybe it’s most important, though undersold trait — is all but immune from struggling. The real question is whether Buck Showalter can get some fight out of his men or if, alternatively, they know where this is going and subconsciously play in such a way as to put themselves out of their misery.

The Game: NLCS Game 4. San Francisco Giants lead St. Louis Cardinals 2-1
The Time: 8:07 PM Eastern
The Place: AT&T Park, San Francisco, California
The Channel: Fox Sports 1
The Starters: Shelby Miller vs. Ryan Vogelsong
The Upshot: Yesterday afternoon’s game was just plain weird, ending with the Cardinals’ worst reliever on the mound in extra innings of a playoff game and a guy who went 0 for 4 with a sac bunt as the hero in a mob scene. Going for the Giants is Ryan Vogelsong, who is 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA in his last five playoff outings. The Cardinals have handled him in the regular season, however, and they’ll need to do so again in order to find themselves with their backs against the wall. Shelby Miller, who stood to be the loser in Game 4 of the ALDS before Matt Adams’ homer off Clayton Kershaw bailed him out, takes the hill for the Cards. Once again, one assumes, Yadier Molina won’t play.

The Giants jump on the Cardinals in the first inning of Game 3 of the NLCS

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Things didn’t start well for John Lackey and the Cardinals this afternoon. After his offense went down 1-2-3 to start the first inning, Lackey didn’t fool anyone in the bottom of the inning. After getting two quick outs, this happened:

  • Buster Posey single;
  • Pablo Sandoval single;
  • Hunter Pence double, scoring Posey;
  • Brandon Belt intentional walk to load the bases; and
  • A Travis Ishikawa double that cleared the bases, making it 4-0 Giants.

The Ishikawa ball was absolutely tattooed. If it weren’t for a stiff wind blowing from right to left knocking it down, it would’ve been in the water. As it was it appeared to hit off the brick wall and right fielder Randal Grichuk had trouble playing the carom. Or it possibly just fell short of the wall and Grichuk couldn’t track it. It was hard to track live and then I missed the replay because, man, I got kids here.

One thing that is true, however, if that Lackey was visibly upset that the ball fell. Perhaps he was unaware that, you know, if you allow absolute blasts like that, it’s maybe bad form to blame your fielder for not bailing you out in tough conditions.

We’re heading into the bottom of the third and the Giants maintain their 4-0 lead.


Dave Dombrowski may not be telling the truth about something

Doug Fister AP

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski held a press conference this afternoon. No real news or anything, just an end-of-season wrap. One question was about last winter’s trade of starter Doug Fister to the Nationals. His response:

I suppose it’s possible that Fister is a big jerk no one likes and thus trading him away for scrap and watching him put up a 16-6 record with a 2.41 ERA with the Nationals is no big thing. That trading away one of the guys you got for him — Steve Lombardozzi — for Alex Gonzalez in March (who was subsequently cut) while another, Ian Kroll put up an ERA of nearly 5.00 out of your bullpen and the third, Robbie Ray, was beat up pretty good in the majors and the minors is not particularly bothersome.

But I sort of feel like maybe, just maybe, Dombrowski would take a do-over on that one.