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We are through eleven games so far into the 2014 campaign and to say the Kansas City Royals offense isn’t clicking is a major understatement. It’s been awful. Disgusting. Weak. Punchless. Craptastic. Describe it any way you want, they are simply not getting the job done. The good thing? We are only eleven games in. Seriously. I get that as Royals fans we are programmed to expect the worst, but the reaction of the fanbase this weekend was frightening. The season is over already? Eleven games, people. Chill out.

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I heard a lot of ideas that fans had yesterday to fix this club. Fire Yost/Moore/Grifol? Sorry, it’s none of these guys’ fault. For once, the blame doesn’t fall on their shoulders. Trade Butler/Moustakas? To who? For what? Their value has never been lower, but they should trade them? The Royals wouldn’t get anything of value in return for them, so that is a pointless argument. Bring back Brett? I love George Brett, but he isn’t coming back and he shouldn’t. He isn’t what elevated this team last year; Grifol is the one who worked on Hosmer’s mechanics, not George. George was just there for motivation, which he was fine at, but he was the hitting coach in name only. To be honest, why would the Royals bring Brett back? Is that the answer every time this team struggles offensively? When I answered that question in my head, I kept coming back to the same thing: no more hand-holding. No more coddling. The younger core of this group has been in the majors now for over three years. They need to either produce or lose playing time. With that in mind, it got me to thinking of what the Royals should do. Now, I’m not totally sure I have the answer to this; hell, maybe I’m not even close. But if I was in charge, or even just asked my opinion, this is what I would do.

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First thing I would do is shuffle the lineup. Move Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler from 3rd and 4th to 6th and 7th in the order respectively. I would then bump Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez from 5th and 6th up to 3rd and 4th. Gordon and Perez are at least having good at bats, with Perez getting off to one of the few good Royals starts to the season. I would then move Lorenzo Cain up from 8th to 5th in the order(nice call, Dalton!). Cain is also getting some key at bats, so he should be rewarded for it. With all these moves, it would move Mike Moustakas down from 7th to 8th in the order. Here is the thing though; I actually think Moose had some of the best at bats of the Minnesota series.

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Did I just say that the guy hitting .111 had some of the best AB’s in that series? Yes, yes I did. Moose had 2 hits in Friday’s game and a hit in yesterday’s contest. Moustakas was also able to accumulate a walk in games 2 and 3 of the Minnesota series. Mike actually looks like he has a game plan when he steps up to the plate(unlike Hosmer and Butler) and is still taking quite a bit of pitches compared to the rest of the team. We even saw him drive the ball throughout the three games, so there is reason to believe that he is just a tick off and about go on a bit of a hitting streak. I know Moose is struggling and not hitting even close to how he was in Arizona this spring, but he doesn’t look lost like others do. I know it’s frustrating, but I’m willing to be a bit more patient with Moustakas, at least for awhile.

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With all that lineup shuffling, I also think it wouldn’t hurt to have a few of the hitters struggling to sit out a game or two. Nothing major, just take a day off, no pressure and sit with hitting coach Pedro Grifol and go over a few things. Sometimes it just takes a different perspective to get your head on straight. Maybe let Justin Maxwell play a few games at DH while Danny Valencia gets some reps in at 1B or 3B. I know Ned Yost thinks it’s better to be in the lineup everyday to get out of a slump, but at this point it is just hurting the team. It won’t hurt for guys like Butler or Hosmer to sit out a game or two. In fact, Yost has a habit of not getting his bench players much playing time. Who already forgot Brett Hayes is on the roster? It looks like there has already been some work being done, as Grifol talked to Butler about moving off of the plate and stand in his normal spot in the batter’s box. It’s good to hear that a veteran like Butler is open to trying something, anything, to help his situation. A game or two talking baseball with Grifol might just be the thing for a few of these hitters.

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So it isn’t much, but that is what I would do to try and get the Royals offense going. Honestly, I don’t think a drastic event needs to happen for the hitters to come alive. They mainly just need to go out there, relax and try to keep it as simple as possible. This Royals offense has been living off of potential for years now; it’s time for them to either prove their worth or the team will have to consider Plan B. The Royals aren’t in a position where they can completely dismantle this team in the middle of the season, but something would have to be done if the offense continues to sputter along. The main thing is the blame needs to start falling on the players, not everyone else. 2014 could be the season we find out who really belongs and who needs to move on. But remember, we are only eleven games in; there is still lots of time to turn this thing around. Patience will be our greatest weapon.

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Back in 2009, we witnessed one of the best pitching seasons (if not the best) in Royals history. That year, Zack Greinke showed everyone just how talented he really was, winning the American League Cy Young award and posting numbers that are few and far between. Since then, the Royals have done a poor job of producing homegrown starting pitching, with Danny Duffy being the most successful (and he is now in the bullpen). So it should come to no one’s surprise that Royals fans are elated about the prospects of young flamethrower Yordano Ventura.

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Ventura combines an electric fastball that reaches triple digits with an improving curve and a change-up. Anyone who has followed baseball for awhile realizes that just because you can throw hard doesn’t guarantee success but if you learn how to pitch (not throw), you have a chance for a long career. Ventura is good enough that there is already talk that when James Shields leaves after the season for free agency that Ventura will slide in and take over the role of ‘Ace’. Yes, it is ironic that he could be slotted in that role when he has already been given the nickname, as an ode to the classic Jim Carrey movie. So how does a 22 year old rookie get anointed savior of the Royals starting rotation with only four major league starts under his belt? It’s not just the blazing fastball or the cool nickname. No, it’s the ability to pitch to his strengths.

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In Spring Training, Ventura had outings where his curve was at its knee-buckling best. So he used it more than he normally would. This past week, during his first start of the 2014 campaign, Ventura didn’t have a good feel on his curve. So instead of continuing to try something that wasn’t working, he used his change-up more and made the Rays look completely lost at the plate. Ventura is already picking up the nuances of pitching that many guys don’t learn until their late 20’s. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why so many are predicting such a high ceiling for him. But there are concerns.

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Ventura is very small, especially for a guy who throws as hard as he does. In the past, many pitchers who throw that hard with such a small frame end up hurting their arms and shortening their careers. There are exceptions, as future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez easily comes to mind. There is also worry about pushing him too hard, too soon. Last season Ventura pitched the most innings of his career, a combined 150 innings between the minors and majors. The Royals have said they won’t put an innings limit on him, but don’t be surprised if he is sometimes taken out of games in the 6th inning, if anything to save his arm for later in the year. These things are concerns, but not anything that can’t be overcome.

Cleveland Indians v Kansas City Royals

As long as the Royals and Ventura are smart, the team has a chance of producing a pitching talent to rival classic Royals like Greinke, Bret Saberhagen, Kevin Appier and Steve Busby. That is pretty nice company for a 22 year old ‘kid’. At this point, the sky’s the limit for ‘Ace’ Ventura.

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Well, it’s been eight games now. The Royals are 4-4. We’ve seen some good baseball so far. We’ve seen some bad baseball. Some things are working, some are not. Let’s go ahead and take a look at what we can take away from the first week of the 2014 season. First, let’s look at what is working:

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Patience  at the Plate

Over the years, it has driven me nuts that the Royals are just not a team who accumulates a lot of walks. This really isn’t anything new; this has been going on since the 90′s. Outside of Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, this team has been one that doesn’t take a lot of pitches and is always at the bottom of the league in bases on balls. But so far this year, we are seeing a different team. A team that has been seeing more pitches and taking more walks. Even a guy like Mike Moustakas, who didn’t get his first hit until last night, has shown a great amount of patience and has been able to take a few bases so far this year. This is a major improvement for this team and I really hope the patience is here to stay and isn’t fleeting. They are currently tied for 8th in the league in walks, which is way above where they have been in the past. In fact, they are currently way ahead of Detroit, who sits at the bottom of the league. If they can get some extra-base hits(more on that later), this team can make a big improvement on their ability to score runs from last year.

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The Starting Pitching is Still Great

I’ve been saying for awhile that the likelihood that the Royals would be able to put up the numbers the starting pitching had last year would be very small. Percentages say that it was just not realistic for that to happen, not with Ervin Santana gone and Bruce Chen and his clone(Jason Vargas) in the rotation. But so far, they are trying to prove me wrong. The Royals starting pitching is third in walks allowed, third in opponents batting average and second in WHIP. Jason Vargas has been the biggest surprise, as he has gone out there in two starts and has only given up two runs in 15 innings while compiling a 1.20 ERA and a WHIP of 0.73. Opponents are hitting a paltry .167 against Vargas. If he keeps this up(and I still believe he will be more in the middle and closer to his career stats this year), he will make Dayton Moore look like a genius for signing him. The rest of the rotation has been stellar, whether it be James Shields being, well, James Shields or Jeremy Guthrie continuing his magic tricks. Add in rookie Yordano Ventura, who made his season debut last night and made the Rays look awful(PLEASE, go check out these Gifs. They are worth it!), and you have a group of guys that might be able to challenge last year’s numbers. I hope it keeps up, as so far they have pitched above and beyond my expectations.

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Defensive Gold

This is no big surprise: the Royals defense is amazing. Anyone who has watched this team the last couple of years realize why they had 3 Gold Glove winners last year. It hasn’t slowed down, and might have gotten a bit better with the additions of Nor Aoki in right and Omar Infante at 2B. I don’t really see this changing and should continue throughout the year. The defense is working, oh yes, it is.

Now, onto the things that aren’t working:

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Royals Offense: MIA

This has probably been the biggest issue early on in the season for Kansas City. The Royals have struggled the last few years offensively, but the thought was with the additions of Aoki and Infante to the top of the lineup(and Alex Gordon moving down into the middle of the order)the Royals would see their offense flourish. So far, that has not happened. Sure, Aoki and Infante have hit, and so has Salvador Perez. Everyone else? Not so much. As a team, the Royals are 13th in runs scored, 14th in doubles, last in home runs, 13th in RBI, last in Slugging Percentage and next to last in OPS. Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon haven’t been horrible, but they haven’t been great. Billy Butler is struggling and Mike Moustakas, who tore it up this spring, just got his first hit of the year yesterday(in game 7!). I mentioned earlier that the team was doing a good job of taking some bases on balls, and it’s a good thing because they aren’t doing much else. I’ve had to remind myself numerous times so far that it is just eight games and is a very small sample size. But with the struggles the offense has had(especially scoring runs) the last few years, you hope this isn’t a regular thing and that the team can produce offensively the way management keeps thinking they should.

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Bullpen in Shambles 

I’ve been saying the last few years that bullpens have a very small shelf life. Normally, if a team can keep a solid group of guys together for 2-3 years then they are doing a good job. The Royals bullpen has been one of the best in baseball the last few years, and with their performance so far this year they might be drawing very close to a major shakeup. Tim Collins and Francisley Bueno have been roughed up, Greg Holland has looked human, and Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera have already had minor blips. What was once the most reliable thing on the team has become a big question mark. Louis Coleman has returned while Collins and Bueno have ended up on the disabled list for the time being. This is still a very solid group and will probably continue to put up solid numbers. But the days of them being locked down might be over. If there isn’t a shakeup this season, there very well could be in the offseason. Luckily for Kansas City, relievers are easy to accumulate and acquire.

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Seven Relievers and No Backup Infielder?   

One of the biggest deciding factors on whether or not a team makes it deep into the postseason is roster structure. If you are lacking in any area to compensate for another, there is a good chance you won’t even make it into the playoffs. With that said, it has been downright maddening to know that Royals management would rather carry seven relievers than ditch one and add a backup infielder to the roster. Pedro Ciriaco started the year on the team but was quickly jettisoned to Omaha to add to their collection of infielders. Christian Colon and Johnny Giavotella have seen regular time in AAA, as has journeyman Jason Donald. You would think with the amount of time both Alcides Escobar and Omar Infante missed this spring that it would be wise to keep an extra around in case one gets hurt. Hell, you might keep one around just because you might be tempting fate if you don’t. The Royals tempted, and what happened? Omar Infante was hit in the face the other night and had to be replaced by Danny Valencia. Yes, the Danny Valencia that had never played second base before Spring Training. The Danny Valencia who is a corner infielder and doesn’t play in the middle of the diamond. So in other words, he was out of place on Tuesday night when a ball was hit near him in the ninth inning that got past him and helped win the game for Tampa Bay. I’m not throwing this at Valencia’s feet; it wasn’t his fault. He just went out and did what was asked of him. But it makes no sense to not have a backup infielder on the team. They finally called one up for Wednesday’s game, as Giavotella made it to Kansas City and got a hit and a sac fly. This might seem like a minor thing, but it’s the difference between a contender and a pretender. For a team like Kansas City, there is no room for mental mistakes by management.

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So there it is, a breakdown of the first eight games and what the Kansas City Royals are doing right and what needs improvement. Look, it’s only been eight games so far; there is a lot of baseball yet to be played. I’m not too worried yet, but check back again with me in May. This team still has the potential and could be very special. As long as they continue to improve and don’t press too hard, we very well could be in a pennant chase this year. If not, we have this:

 

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Ahhh, it’s already warming my heart!

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Alright, I had planned on writing a long, drawn out prediction on the upcoming 2014 season(which goes into full force tomorrow). But alas, time got away from me. There was work to be had, sleep to be slept, and new Muppet movies to watch. So instead of a long-winded version of ‘War and Peace’, instead you get a quick summary, with a few notes. Actually, this should be way easier to read and also easier to go back on later this year and mock me for my awful picks. So without further ado, here are my 2014 baseball predictions that will be scoffed at come June.

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American League East

1. Boston Red Sox

2. Tampa Bay Rays

3. New York Yankees

4. Baltimore Orioles

5. Toronto Blue Jays

Kansas City Royals Photo Day

 

American League Central

1. Detroit Tigers

2. Kansas City Royals

3. Cleveland Indians

4. Minnesota Twins

5. Chicago White Sox

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American League West

1. Los Angeles Angels

2. Oakland A’s

3. Texas Rangers

4. Seattle Mariners

5. Houston Astros

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Wild Card Winners 

Tampa Bay and Oakland

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American League Championship Series

Boston over Los Angeles

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American League Award Winners

MVP: Mike Trout(FINALLY!)

Cy Young: David Price

Rookie of the Year: Yordano Ventura

Comeback Player of the Year: Grady Sizemore

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National League East

1. Washington Nationals

2. Atlanta Braves

3. Miami Marlins

4. New York Mets

5. Philadelphia Phillies

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National League Central

1. St. Louis Cardinals

2. Pittsburgh Pirates

3. Milwaukee Brewers

4. Cincinnati Reds

5. Chicago Cubs

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National League West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

2. San Francisco Giants

3. San Diego Padres

4. Arizona Diamondbacks

5. Colorado Rockies

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Wild Card Winners 

Pittsburgh and San Francisco

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National League Championship Series

Washington over St. Louis

 

National League Award Winners

MVP: Bryce Harper

Cy Young: Adam Wainwright

Rookie of the Year: Gregory Polanco

Comeback Player of the Year: Ryan Braun

 

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World Series

Washington over Boston in seven games

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals

 

So there you go. If this was an accurate science, everyone wouldn’t look so foolish by October. I think no matter what happens this season, it will be another fun season. Youth is dominating the game nowadays and I don’t think that is going to change anytime soon. All we can do at this point is strap in and enjoy the ride. Baseball is back, folks. That within itself makes this the best time of the year. Play ball!

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014 Spring Training_9274

Everyone knows during Spring Training is when hopes are the highest. You hope that one major prospect is ready to take the next step and make themselves part of the big league roster. You hope that veteran that seemed washed up has one more year of productivity in him. You hope this is the year Alyssa Milano finally notices you and doesn’t think you are “that creepy guy who gives me compliments”. Restraining orders aside, this spring is the time where most Kansas City Royals fans(and employees) hope that Mike Moustakas is for real and ready to be the player he looked to be in the first half of the 2012 season. This spring Moose has looked the part…but is he for real?

Mike Moustakas, Miguel Montero

It’s hard to judge simply by Spring Training stats, no matter how good they are. How good you say? Take a look for yourself.

Year   Tm Age GS  G PA AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB OppQual
2014   KC     25 20 57 45 12 21  6  0  4  17  1  0 10  6 .467 .561 .867 1.428 39   0   1  0  1   0     8.8

The most interesting is seeing how close this year’s Spring Training stats are to last year’s. Most don’t remember but Moose had a good spring last year and started off the regular season hitting well before his swing headed south. But there are a few things that are different with Moustakas this year from last. Manager Ned Yost has talked about how last spring Moose was hacking more and now has more of a game plan when he steps up to the dish. But there have been some very noticeable changes from last year.

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Above is a GIF of last year’s stance. He’s always had a bit of an open stance, but not a prominent one. Also notice the amount of movement in his swing. We’ll come back to that later. Now, here is a shot of his stance this spring:

pinetarpress.com

pinetarpress.com

It’s not as easy to tell, but the stance is quite a bit more open. It’s open enough that it is noticeable when you watch him bat. I have to believe with the more prominent open stance, Moustakas is able to see the ball a bit better, especially against lefties. That is one of the other changes this spring. Moose has been hitting lefties a lot better than he normally does. Last season was maybe his toughest against lefthanded pitchers:

Split             G  GS  PA  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS  TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
vs RHP              128 396 365 37 89 22  0 10  32  2  2 23 60 .244 .295 .386 .682 141  11   5  0  3   1   1  .265   109    90
vs LHP               66 118 107  5 21  4  0  2  10  0  2  9 23 .196 .256 .290 .546  31   2   0  1  1   0   0  .229    69    55

Moustakas’ struggles against lefties is why the team acquired Danny Valencia in the offseason. It must have been the kick in the pants he needed, as he has looked more than comfortable against all lefties, even the occasional LOOGY. Moose being able to hit lefthanded pitchers helps go a long way toward him being more productive in 2014.

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Earlier I mentioned the amount of movement in Moose’s “old” swing. It’s always seemed a bit long, loopy and not as compact as it should be. This spring, his swing has been the other change that makes me feel better about him going into the season. From the few games I have watched, his swing looked more compact with a lot less movement. I mentioned this to David Lesky of pinetarpress.com a few weeks ago and he agreed:

Lesky spent some time in Surprise, Arizona this spring, so he got to see Moustakas up close and personal. To me, the biggest thing I’ve seen that gives me hope that this isn’t just a spring thing is the swing. It’s just a matter at this point of being consistent with his swing and not falling back into old habits.

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There are a lot of factors that will determine whether or not the Royals have a successful 2014 or not, and the production(or lack of) from Mike Moustakas is a major one. So far this spring it is obvious that Moustakas put in a lot of time this winter to work on his swing, as evident by his time spent in the Venezuelan Winter League with hitting coach Pedro Grifol. If Moose can be consistent and continue to hit even close to how he has this spring, than it will go a long way to cementing his spot on the roster for not only this year but for the future. He might never be a .300 hitter, but a solid .270 with quality run production should make him a middle of the order guy for Kansas City. Soon enough, we will know if the “New” Mike Moustakas is real or just a figment of the thin Arizona air.