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In the old days, you would play all the teams in your designated league the same amount of times. It didn’t matter whether you were a Central division team or an East team, you play each other the same amount of times as the teams within your own division. That was changed a few years ago and teams now play the teams within your division the majority of the time. That means a team like the Kansas City Royals only play the teams in the “other” division twice per year(one at home, one on the road). So this series with the Tampa Bay Rays wrapped up the two teams time together this year, as the Royals won the previous series at Kauffman Stadium. That series saw the Royals sweep Tampa Bay; this one saw the Royals take two of three. This put the Royals at 80 wins with 32 games remaining and leads to a number of varying topics coming out of this series at ‘The Trop’.

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Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain  

This section felt like it could be a toss-up, with both Kendrys Morales and Mike Moustakas getting heavy consideration. But the more consistent hitter in this series was Lorenzo Cain, who went 3 for 9 with 2 runs, 2 RBI’s, 4 walks and 2 stolen bases. Cain did what he has done for most of this year, which is basically a little bit of everything. I decided to take a deeper look into just how good Cain has been and I have had a hard time finding something that Cain has done worse this year than last. Walk percentage? Up. Strikeout percentage? Down. Slugging and On Base percentage are both up as is his wRC+ and WAR. He is hitting the ball harder and hitting the ball more consistently to all fields than ever before in his career. Literally the only thing that is down from last year is Cain’s BAbip, which is at .357 from last year’s .380. But the argument there can even be made that this is due almost entirely to his increased home run numbers. There has been a lot of discussion about what the Royals will do once Alex Gordon is activated and just how the lineup will shake out. I’m pretty sure that no matter the changes in the batting order, Cain will remain in the third spot, his home for this entire 2015 campaign. It’s even conceivable at this point that Cain will end up in the top five of the voting for the American League MVP race, as he should:

It has been a marquee season for a player who at one time we just worried he wouldn’t be able to stay healthy, let along put up numbers that would put him into consideration for the highest honor in the league.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

When the season wraps up, I am going to go back and check just how many times Volquez got this honor, since it seems to happen quite frequently. Volquez spun another good game on Friday night, going 6.2 innings, giving up 6 hits and 2 runs(1 earned) while walking 2 and striking out 5. It was another quality start for ‘Easy Eddie’ and gave him a game score of 59. At this point Volquez is probably in line to be the #2 or #3 starter in the rotation in the playoffs and has earned that right this year. I’ve asked the question before ‘which Dayton Moore signing has been more important this offseason, Kendrys Morales or Volquez?’ and as great of an impact as Morales has had on the Royals lineup(and it has been a big impact), I tend to lean toward Volquez. Earlier in the season(before the Johnny Cueto trade), Volquez was the only consistent starter in the rotation as Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy and Jeremy Guthrie all struggled. Volquez has been the stopper for this rotation, a guy who holds the other team in check and allows his team to win, thwarting off any threats or long losing streaks. Without Volquez being a steady force in the rotation, I’m not sure the Royals sit here right before September with the biggest division lead in the league. Without Volquez, this very well could be a much tighter race that what lingers in front of them.

Tampa Bay Rays catcher Rene Rivera, second from right, tags out batter Kansas City Royals' Kendrys Morales (25) after tagging out Royals' Ben Zobrist, right, to complete a double play during the eighth inning of a baseball game Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015, in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Rays won 3-2. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

                      (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

TOOTBLAN or Foul Ball?

Sure, the Royals won this series. But most of what has been discussed has been a pivotal play in Sunday’s game that Kansas City lost. The Royals are down in the Top of the 8th inning, 3-2, with runners on 1st and 3rd and 1 out. Morales hits a little chopper down the first base line and then…

On first instinct I felt that was a TOOTBLAN(Thrown Out On The Basepaths Like A Nincompoop) on Morales’ part and one of the worst plays I have seen this year. But the more I watch the play I tend to think even though it is bad, there were a number of issues that should be pointed out. First off, the ball appeared to be foul once James Loney grabbed it. In fact I am assuming that is why Morales didn’t run. There was also no definite call from the home plate umpire, who had the best view of that ball. The first base ump called the ball fair, which I believe is what the home plate ump went off of. I should probably point out here that the play is non-reviewable, which is a bigger conundrum for Kansas City. Saying all that, some blame falls on Morales. He had to have seen the first base umpire call the ball fair, which meant he should have run. Even if he didn’t see it, you should assume it is fair unless otherwise called. I get he thought it was foul and in the postgame manager Ned Yost said “we don’t run out foul balls”. That is fine, except in a scenario like that you run and ask questions later. That major flaw is on Morales as he should have ran no matter what. It looks really bad when a rally is snuffed out while you are just standing at home plate, an easy out for the catcher to make. This might not be a TOOTBLAN at the end of the day, but it is still bad fundamental baseball, which is a shock since the Royals don’t make many fundamental errors. This probably cost the Royals at least a chance of tying up the game and maybe even costing them a victory. Hopefully it is remembered and next time the batter runs to first, foul or not.

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas hits a RBI-double off Tampa Bay Rays starter Jake Odorizzi during the fourth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

                (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

It was an exciting three games at Tropicana Field and much more went on than just what is above this line. For more on the Royals and Rays series, read on:

  • The Rays played a tribute video to former Ray and current Royal Ben Zobrist before Friday night’s game. It was a great gesture to a guy who played many years in Tampa and had become just as synonomous to the team as Evan Longoria. The Rays even acknowledged his greatness with some sabermetric love:

It also appears as if Zobrist will be taking over for Omar Infante once Alex Gordon is activated from the disabled list:

One can only hope that Kansas City has made a great impression on Zobrist and makes his decision this offseason a little bit easier. It would help though if Zobrist doesn’t make any enemies:

Don’t cross the Kuntz!

  • A lot of pub has gone Kendrys Morales way as of late due to his ability to drive in runs with 2 outs in an inning:

There is also his ability to hit a home run in the catwalk at ‘The Trop’:

You always hear how each stadium has their own set of quirky rules. Wrigley Field has the ivy, Houston has Tal’s Hill(for now), and Tropicana has those catwalks. Luckily the call went Kansas City’s way and Morales came away with a homer. Folks, that stadium is ugly. Let’s hope they get a new one before MLB decides to ship them up to Montreal.

  • The Royals bullpen as of late feels like the walking wounded. Wade Davis had back issues, Greg Holland has been dealing with a cranky elbow(I have to feel that has been going on most of this season) and now Ryan Madson has a dead arm:

This was to be expected. Madson hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2011 and has thrown 51 innings so far this year. Hopefully a little rest will help keep him healthy and available for the playoffs. Now if only the Royals could find a cure for Jeremy Guthrie’s “Longball-itis”.

  • Speaking of Guthrie, he held a little bit of a friendly competition with the Tampa Bay ballboy this weekend:

I often feel like Major League Baseball isn’t always the best at promoting their players and why they are so great. Guthrie might be relegated to long reliever status and might not appear in very many games going forward, but he still managed to have fun and put a smile on that kid’s face. THIS is the stuff you promote about your game. THIS is just one of many examples about what is so great about this game and it’s players.

  • Yet another good series for Mike Moustakas this weekend, as he compiled another accomplishment to his long list of new career hights this season:

Moose has also shown that he can be a tough out when he needs to be:

A lot of praise this season will go to Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer, but Mike Moustakas has put together a season he should be proud of. Lets hope he finishes strong and shows that early season surge was not a fluke.

  • Danny Duffy had some good and some bad in his outing this past Sunday. On the positive, Duffy figured out early that the umpire was calling the low strike and took advantage of it, striking out six in his 5 innings of work. Craig Brown of Royals Authority went into greater detail about Duffy’s outing, and like him I still cringe at Duffy’s pitch count. Duffy threw 99 pitches in those 5 innings when the Royals probably would have preferred he go 6 or 7 innings. The difference in this start was not balls thrown by Duffy but the foul balls. Duffy had 22 pitches fouled off in this game and overall this season batters have fouled off 19% of pitches he throws. I think we all would like to see a more efficient Danny Duffy, but for that to happen he has to limit his pitch count to go deeper into the game. Because of this there is a good chance he could be pitching out of the bullpen come October rather than as a starter. At this point, it would appear Kris Medlen could be taking Duffy’s spot in the rotation come playoff time.
  • Finally, it appears the Platinum Glove Award winner will be returning this week:

Gordon looks like he didn’t miss a beat while playing in AAA Omaha:

The big question now is where will Gordon bat in the lineup upon his return? The 6th spot where he was hitting earlier in the year is now inhabited by Mike Moustakas, who has been hitting lights out as of late. Honestly, the best idea is to bat him leadoff, sending Alcides Escobar down in the lineup, especially considering his hitting throughout August:

Batting Gordon and Zobrist at the top of the lineup makes the most sense, since those are your two best OBP hitters. If the Royals really want to maximize their offense, placing Gordon near the top of the lineup would be the wisest move. I guess we will find out Tuesday what Ned Yost has in mind when it comes to lineup construction going forward.

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Tweets of Royalty

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We now venture into the final month of the regular season and the Royals still have a few items to check off their ‘Want List’:

The beginning of that journey begins on Tuesday, as the Tigers stroll into town for three games at ‘The K’, followed by three against the White Sox. Tuesday night’s game could be fun, as Johnny Cueto faces off against Justin Verlander, who will be making his first start since he almost no-hit the Angels. Tuesday should also be fun, as it looks to be the return of Alex Gordon. The Royals are in the driver’s seat as the playoffs loom and it is the pole position we have all yearned to be in this spot for the last 30 years. Buckle up, kiddos; we are getting ready to go on a fantastic ride.

 

 

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Going into this series in ‘Beantown’ we all knew what loomed in front of the Kansas City Royals. The Royals had gone 7-10 against Boston the last three seasons, including 1-2 against the Red Sox earlier this year at Kauffman Stadium. Logic would tell you that with Boston holding down the American League East cellar(and it’s not even close) and Kansas City dominating the American League Central, well, it seemed like everything would come up blue this series. But that is why they play the games, right? The Royals were able to get out of town splitting the series 2-2 which after Friday seemed like a minor miracle. But this series wasn’t all tea parties and marathons. Nope, we also got some big league baseball in. Trust me, read on.

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas follows through on a two-run double against the Boston Red Sox during the ninth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Series MVP: Mike Moustakas

If I was going purely off of batting average(and no one should do that), I might have picked Alex Rios for this honor. No, really. But after Sunday’s game, there was only one player who deserves this. Moustakas was 5 for 12 this series with 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 5 RBI’s, a walk and 4 runs scored. But the bigger story from this series was how impactful he was to the Royals victories on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, Moustakas would sharply single to left in the 6th inning after a Kendrys Morales walk to keep the rally going. Salvador Perez would then line a 3-run homer to the right field bullpen to take a 5-0 lead. Moustakas has become pull-happy again the last couple months and it was a nice sign to see him take the ball the other way, which was the main reason for his success in the first few months of the season. Then on Sunday, he would hit an ‘Oppo Taco’ in the 6th inning over the Green Monster, another pitch taken the opposite way. If you are wondering why all of a sudden he has returned to this new-old approach, it is all thanks to hitting coach Dale Sveum. Sveum has been working with Moose as of late to start hitting the ball the opposite way, as Moustakas had been trying to add some power to his game that was missing those first few months. The best thing would be for Moose to meld these two things, which is kind of what Lorenzo Cain has done this year with better pitch recognition. But this is a new road that Moustakas is venturing down, so it could take some time to mix both into his game. That being said, his at bat in the 9th inning on Sunday was the crown jewel of his work this series. The bases were loaded in the 9th with the score tied and Moustakas at the plate:

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The at bat would go 9 pitches, as Moustakas would foul off numerous pitches before getting the one he could drive, which turned into a 2-run double into right center that would end up being the game winner.

It was a fabulous at bat and one that only a couple of Royals(Gordon, Zobrist) would probably have been capable of having. Moose would get 3 hits in this game, driving in 4 and continuing his improvement from his woeful 2014 season. It would turn out to be a great series for the ‘Man Called Moose’, both offensively and defensively.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Yordano Ventura

Since the early parts of this season we have wondered ‘which Yordano Ventura are we getting this start?’. Are we getting the one who could dominate hitters last year with his mix of triple digit heat and off-speed magic? Or the Ventura that leaves the ball out over the middle of the plate? Or the one who can’t find the strike zone? In a lot of his starts this year we’ve gotten some hybrid of all of these things. On Saturday though we got an efficient and quality style start from Yordano. Ventura went 6 innings, giving up 6 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 6. It was another quality start for ‘Ace'(his third in a row) and helped push him to a game score of 61.

The best part of the start was his improvement the last few starts to get himself out of jams with very little if any runners crossing the plate. It also appears as if Ventura is getting more confidence with his off-speed pitches, which is a must for him. Sure, he can dial up the 100 MPH heater and try to blow it past hitters. But a big league hitter can time a fastball and will sit on it, as they have been this year. But if he has confidence in his change-up and curve, that makes one more weapon in his arsenal and make the batter less comfortable in the batters box. He still isn’t quite back to old form, but like Ned said after the game:

“Looks to me like he’s starting to get his swagger back. He’s executing his pitches and getting his confidence back.”

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The Strike Zone(And Bad Defense) And the Damage Done

Thursday night was not a good game for the boys in blue. Early on it was evident that the strike zone from the last series might have creeped over into Boston:

Now, part of this wasn’t on Danny Duffy. Obviously the umpire had a smaller strike zone than normal and was causing some problems for Duffy. But he was also favoring the low strike and Duffy didn’t adjust. After sitting through Wednesday’s abomination, I wasn’t in the mood for another long, drawn out ‘Ump Show’:

It didn’t help any that the Royals defense was not on point like they normally are. Paulo Orlando misplayed a few balls in left field and overall the Royals just didn’t look like themselves. By the time it was all said and done, Duffy was able to go 5 innings(which I didn’t imagine would happen early on in the game), giving up 7 hits, all 4 Boston runs while walking 2 and striking out 3. It felt like a step back for Duffy, who had been trending upwards over his last few starts. It was bad enough that for about an inning and a half Denny Matthews and Ryan Lefebvre discussed Toronto, Kansas, a small town about half an hour from where I grew up. Trust me when I say that Toronto is not worth an inning and a half of discussion. Just trust me on this one.

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Time now for the Good, the Bad and the Ugly from the four game set in Boston:

  • One of the big reasons that Boston is in last place and why Kansas City is in first in their division is defense. The Royals are the best defensive team in the league. Boston is not:

I remember before the season started MLB Network claimed Hanley Ramirez was the best left fielder in baseball. Offensively we all knew he could be a force. But you have to factor defense in there and he has looked even worse than Manny Ramirez did out there. Offense is good but a great defense is good for the long haul.

  • It was announced when we would finally see Kris Medlen start a game for the Royals:

Jeremy Guthrie has been moved to the pen, as Medlen will take his spot in the rotation. This has to be a move to see if Medlen can contribute as a starter in postseason play. I think it’s a good move, since Medlen has pitched good in relief and he has shown he can be a top shelf starter in the past. Hopefully all goes well and we are talking about Kris starting a game in October.

  • Omar Infante went 0 for 31 before getting a hit on Sunday:

Infante would try for an inside the park home run in the top of the 9th of that game, but would get thrown out at home thanks to a nice throw from left fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. It was not a pretty slide at home. Mud will stop a man.

  • Speaking of Omar, him and Alex Rios finally found out how long their leash would extend:

Rios would contribute by getting back to back multiple hit games while Infante would contribute with 2 hits on Sunday. Yost seemed to have lit a fire under their butts; let’s hope they continue to play above what they have done up to this point in 2015.

  • I mentioned earlier that Salvador Perez hit a big home run in Saturday night’s game at Fenway. It was not only a crucial blow to the Red Sox, but also a milestone for Perez:

Personally, I loved the fact the ball was jacked to right field, which means Salvy went oppo. Like Moustakas, Perez has become very pull-happy, although this goes back a couple of years now. It would be nice to see Perez start using the opposite field a bit more, since it would help his declining offensive numbers over the last few years. Even a little bit would make a big difference.

  • Finally, Johnny Cueto easily had his worst start in a Royals uniform on Friday night and his worst start of 2015. Cueto went 6 innings, giving up 13 hits and 7 runs(6 earned) while walking none and striking out 3. This lead to a game score of only 23(his previous worse game score was 35 back in May against Atlanta) in a game that Boston dominated. The bottom line is that starts like this happen; as long as they aren’t the norm there is nothing to worry about. But what everyone wanted to talk about when it came to Cueto this weekend was a radio interview where he said he would be interested in signing with Boston in the offseason because he wants to play with a “championship caliber team”. First, I don’t worry too much about players who will be free agents discussing possible destinations. It is a part of the game at this point and most players are fairly used to it. Hardly any player stays with one team for the duration of their career in this day and age. Second, Cueto is still new to the Royals so he isn’t heavily ingrained into the fabric of the Royals team chemistry. Third and finally, yes it was dumb of him to say Boston was a championship team, forgetting that Boston is in last place and Kansas City is in first. Yes, ignoring what the Royals have done this year is dumb. But we all knew when he was traded to the Royals he wouldn’t return to Kansas City next year. This is just him keeping his options open. Nothing to see here. Move on.

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Tweets of Royalty

Kansas City Royals' Salvador Perez (13) celebrates his three-run home run with a fan during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Boston, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

                    (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

So the magic number now sits at 27 with with 39 games remaining this season. It seems like almost a guarantee that the Royals will wrap up the division and do that fairly soon. Kansas City has no time to rest, as the Baltimore Orioles are headed to town for a four game rematch of last year’s ALCS. We all remember what happened the last time Baltimore was at ‘The K’:

Sorry, just wanted to watch it again. I’m sure the Orioles remember this very clearly and will looking to gain back a pound a flesh in the form of a few victories. The Orioles are currently fighting for a wild card spot in the American League, as they are about a game a half out of the spot and about six games back in the American League East. It should be a fun series with lots of defensive action, as the Orioles are near the top of the defensive leader-board with Kansas City and Tampa Bay. I don’t normally predict anything before the series, but I will go ahead and do it here: Royals will take 3 out of 4 from the Orioles. If I am wrong I’m sure I will hear about it…and be forced to watch hours of Jonah Hill movies, which would be my own personal hell.

 

 

 

Cincinnati Reds' Jason Bourgeois (30) dives safely back to first base as Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) applies the tag on a pick-off attempt during the third inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

(AP Photo/Gary Landers)

The Kansas City Royals traveled to Cincinnati this week for a short two game series that could be a short but sweet set. Instead, you got some ugly baseball, a 13 inning affair on Tuesday, a rain delay and on Wednesday the umpire made it to where the game could have been referred to as “Honey, I Shrunk the Strike Zone”. The Royals came away with a two game sweep but these two games felt like the two longest games played the entire season, even though they weren’t. Time to meander into this series and look at the good, the bad and the ugly.

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Series MVP: Ben Zobrist

If you are a Royals fan and aren’t gushing about Ben Zobrist, what are you waiting for? Zobrist dominated this series, going 6 for 11 with 2 doubles, a home run and 3 RBI’s. The fun part was that it wasn’t just how often Zobrist got on base, but when he would get his big hit. First was his big home run against Aroldis Chapman in the 9th on Tuesday to tie the game:

Once again, this was off of Aroldis Chapman!

Zobrist’s day was not done yet as he would extend the Royals lead with a single in the 13th inning:

Yes, even Ben Zobrist can get an infield hit. Ben would follow that up with a four hit game on Wednesday to help pace the Royals to another ‘W’ and the series sweep:

Since coming over to the Royals from Oakland, Zobrist is hitting .379/.468/.636 with 5 doubles, 4 home runs, 13 RBI’s and 12 walks. I was a big fan of Zobrist’s ability to get on base and his versatility on the diamond before he became a Royal. Now that he is in Kansas City, that admiration has grown:

Zobrist seems to have a lock on the second spot in the lineup and with Alex Gordon about a week and a half away from returning to the main roster we could start seeing Zobrist getting some more playing time at second base. There has been a lot of talk about how big acquiring Johnny Cueto has been for the Royals, but getting Zobrist has added another dimension to this team’s lineup and opened up the possibilities for this team come October.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez    

It almost is getting redundant mentioning ‘Edinson Volquez throws another quality start’. You almost wonder where the Royals would be if Dayton Moore hadn’t taken a flyer on Volquez this offseason and brought him into the fold. On Tuesday, Volquez started against his former team, throwing 6 innings, giving up 4 hits and 1 run while walking 3 and striking out 7. Volquez got himself into a few jams but was able to wiggle his way out of them, including a little help from Mike Moustakas to wrap up the 6th inning:

It’s a pretty good estimate to say Volquez will be the #2 starter going into the playoffs this year(unless Yordano Ventura starts rattling off some gems) and he has definitely earned it. You always have to worry a tad about bases on balls with Volquez, but when he just throws and allows the Royals stellar defense to do the rest, he is as good as gold.

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Nothin’ Worse Than Some Ugly Baseball

If you tuned in to Wednesday night’s game, you probably realized pretty early on that it was going to be a long night. Not just because of the close to two hour rain delay, but because both teams were working with a tiny strike zone. All you have to do is point to Chris Conroy’s minuscule strike zone to see why we saw such an ugly brand of baseball that night. Sprinkle in a couple of mediocre pitchers(Keyvius Sampson for Cincy, Jeremy Guthrie for Kansas City) and you have a recipe for a game that I felt would never end:

By the end of the 3rd inning Sampson was close to 80 pitches while Guthrie had surrendered multiple home runs. Now to be fair, Conroy was consistent with his strike zone, as it was tight for both pitchers, as noted by manager Ned Yost:

“Just struggling with his command, wrestling with his command all night long,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of Guthrie. “The zone seemed really tight, but they were calling pretty much balls for both guys.”

Yes, lots of balls. There were 9 total walks in this game, a game that last 3 hours and 38 minutes but felt like 13 hours and 38 minutes. It didn’t help any I was stuck listening to Steve Physioc call the play by play for the duration of this game; that’s enough to drive any person crazy! This got me to thinking. You hear people who don’t like baseball mention that it takes too long and that the game can be very boring. Most of us scoff when we hear that; we love baseball and love that it works at its own pace. We also love the little things that someone who only occasionally watches doesn’t notice or realize why this move is made for this reason. We love the intricacies. But even I hated what was going on Wednesday night. I mentally was done with this game in the 5th inning, and folks, that just doesn’t happen very often. This was ugly baseball that no one should have to appreciate. I don’t normally rag on the umpires(for the most part I think they do a good job) but umpires with tiny strike zones befuddle me. It makes no sense. Major League Baseball wants to pick up the pace of the game, which is fine. But maybe they should look at umps like Conroy, who make a game drag on by making a pitcher work with a strike zone the size of a moist towelette.  Bigger is better, at least when it comes to the strike zone.

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It was only two games, but there was more to digest. Let’s divvy up some news and notes from the ‘Queen City’:

  • If you are making plans for October and want to know when the Royals will be playing in the World Series(hey, we are allowed to be a bit brazen) here ya go:

If there is a Game 7, it would be on November 4th. I don’t know about you, but baseball should be done before November 1st. MLB needs to fix this for next year. I’m afraid we are getting closer and closer to a World Series game being played close to Thanksgiving.

  • In the 9th inning on Tuesday it looked like the Royals had taken the lead thanks to some nifty moves by Lorenzo Cain:

Alas, after review Cain was called out and the game would continue. I only wish I had half of Cain’s move. I would have killed it at pickle:

  • I’m not much for individual wins; much like saves I think it is an overstated stat. That being said, both Kris Medlen and Luke Hochevar got their first wins in the big leagues since 2013 in this series:

Both pitchers sat out 2014 with Tommy John Surgery and both made their returns this year. The ‘W’ is more about them being able to persevere and make it back successfully than an indication of their greatness. Kudos to both, as they have been pluses for this Royals team this year.

  • Finally, word got out this week that left fielder Alex Gordon would be going on rehab assignment starting Sunday. Gordon will be there for about a week before hopefully returning to the Royals lineup. You’re on notice, Omar Infante.

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Tweets of Royalty 

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The Royals now venture to Boston for four games with the magic number of 29. The Twins are long in the rear-view mirror so the Royals are playing more at this point to secure home field advantage through the playoffs. As we get closer to October, there are some questions that Royals manager Ned Yost will have to answer. How long of a leash does Alex Rios and Omar Infante get? Where all will Ben Zobrist play once Alex Gordon returns? How long does Jeremy Guthrie keep his spot in the rotation? Will Kris Medlen get a start before the season is done? And what will those Duke boys do now to get out of this sticky situation? Okay, maybe not that last one. The rest are legit and could be answered sooner rather than later. The Royals have nothing but American League East opponents this next week and a half, which the Royals have had issues with these teams so far this year. A good showing is strong support in case they have to face any of them come playoff time. Right now is all about keeping the course while also keeping an eye on October. It is a great spot to be in with just over a month left in this 2015 season.

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Sometimes a little competition is nice. With the Royals soundly dominating the American League Central and with the regular season winding down to about six weeks left, it seemed as good a time as any to have the Los Angeles Angels stroll into town. The Angels are currently in second place in the American League West and are in the conversation for one of the wild card spots in the league. Plus, the Angels have the best player in baseball, that wily veteran Mike Trout. So on paper this looked like a good matchup with the possibility of some very good baseball…and very good baseball is what we got.

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 14: Eric Hosmer #35 of the Kansas City Royals runs to first hatter hitting a two-run home run against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the sixth inning at Kauffman Stadium on August 14, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Eric Hosmer

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Series MVP: Eric Hosmer

Eric Hosmer has been on fire. I don’t know what magic potion he took during the All-Star break, but since coming back he has been a dominant force. In these four games, Hosmer went 6 for 15, with 2 home runs, 6 RBI’s, a double, 4 walks and my adulation. First, there was this single plating a run on Thursday:

There was also this blast on Thursday night; just listen to the sound of the ball off the bat!

Hosmer is hitting right now like most of us felt he would when he first got the call to the big leagues. Since the start of the second half, he has a line of .397/.457/.655, driving in 26 runs in 31 games and has raised his wRC+ to 142(16th best in MLB). He has also driven in a run in 10 consecutive games:

There are so many things to gush about right now when it comes to Hosmer that I almost don’t know where to start. His patience at the plate, quiet hands, driving the ball and understanding the situation of the game have all been elevated in the last month and has turned him from a solid bat and glove at first base to a middle of the order basher. In fact, he is just punishing the ball right now:

I had mentioned 4 years ago how I felt Hosmer could one day be an MVP candidate in the very near future. He seemed to have taken the long way there, but he might have finally arrived at his expected destination. He also has great hair:

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Johnny Cueto

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Cueto has taken this category for two straight series. The funny thing is the Royals got quality starts out of all four of their starters this series and their game scores reflected that. Cueto’s line was most impressive: 8 innings, 8 hits and 1 run while hitting a batter and striking out 4. This lead to a game score of 66, which was just one point higher than Yordano Ventura’s on Sunday. This start was another example of why the Royals acquired Cueto; they needed a starter at the top of the rotation who can shut down an offense and give the bullpen a rest from time to time. Cueto accomplished all of those things on Saturday and with his last two starts has shown what he is capable come October.

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Walk-Off Wonders 

Up until July 3rd, the Royals had not gotten a walk-off win all year. Since then, they have piled up a number of memorable walk-off’s, none more memorable than Sunday night’s victory. One reason why it will probably stay etched in my brain for awhile is the fact that after the 1st inning the Royals didn’t get another hit until the 10th inning(33 batters in that span). Even in the bottom of the 9th inning, where the Royals rallied to tie the game on an Alex Rios sac fly, the Royals cobbled together three walks(more on that in a bit) but no hits. So finally the Royals broke through in the bottom of the 10th, as Ben Zobrist singled to right. That was followed a few batters later by a walk to Eric Hosmer(who had 3 walks in this game!) before Kendrys Morales ended the proceedings:

I almost wanted to yell at the players to Leave.Morales.Alone. He just has a bad history of celebrating walk-offs(no, I will not post that video here). These two teams dueled for 10 innings, turning the final game of this series into a nice pitchers duel for the most part. Even more, a chance for Morales to get the recognition he deserves for a great season so far:

Outside of maybe Zobrist or Hosmer, there is no one else on that team I would rather have up in that situation. Morales had a chance in the 9th to win, but hit a dribbler in front of the plate. An inning later, he redeemed himself and put another memory into what has been a magical season for these Kansas City Royals.

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This four game set was chalked full of nice little tidbits. Let’s dive into the rest of what happened over the weekend in Kansas City:

  • After the Royals bullpen lost the game on Wednesday night against Detroit, the pen would lose another the next night against the Angels. Greg Holland, making his first appearance in five days, looked less than sharp and gave up 4 runs while not even getting a batter out:

Now, Holland has not looked like his normal dominating self for most of this season. But as of late his velocity has been on the incline and his arm slot has seemed a bit more consistent. There was a belief amongst the Royals coaches that part of the problem was Holland needs regular work to be consistent:

So the thinking is to pitch Holland more often, save situation or not. This was put to the test immediately:

There was a lot of talk this past weekend about the Royals bullpen and how it might be cracking. I’m not totally for sure I buy into that, if for no other reason than the fact that Holland hasn’t been his normal self all season. Add in that no team is going to hold a “perfect” pen and you have a few days where the bullpen under-performed. It happens.  Like Greg Holland, lets move on and not worry about this until it becomes a weekly thing.

  • Salvador Perez returned to the lineup on Saturday and proceeded to hit a home run in his first at bat back:

He would also get the first ejection of his career on Sunday:

His ejection might have actually been a godsend, as Drew Butera would come in and draw a walk in the 9th inning that helped prolong the inning and allow the Royals to tie up the score. I’m glad Salvy is back, but I also felt like the rest was good for him.

  • The Royals have been doing something recently that we are not accustomed to them doing:

I am a big proponent of walks, since it does two things; it puts a runner on base and it also drives up the pitch count of the pitcher(and leave the pitcher more likely to make a mistake). I have long wanted this team to walk more, but for the most part had given up any hope of this becoming an arsenal in their offensive game. It does appear in some non-connected way that Ben Zobrist is rubbing off onto his new teammates:

I don’t want to give Zobrist all the credit, but he has lead the charge. It would be wise for this team to continue this philosophy, since it plays well in the postseason.

  • I mentioned earlier about the great starts by the rotation this series, as all four starters achieved quality starts. Guthrie and Duffy went 6 innings apiece while Ventura would go 7 innings, to go with Cueto’s eight. It has been nice to see both Duffy and Ventura improve from start to start, as they are a key part of this team when it comes to the playoffs. Cueto has been a nice influence on Ventura, as Ventura’s only real concern at this point is working on his location. These guys might not have quality starts every outing, but if they can compile numbers close to what they did this weekend they will help this team win more often than not.
  • Mike Sweeney was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame on Saturday and there really couldn’t be a more deserving player to be given this honor:

Unfortunately for Sweeney he played on some awful Royals teams, so he didn’t get to experience postseason play until after he left Kansas City. There is no one who was more deserving of getting to experience the Royals return to the playoffs than Sweeney. He bleeds Royal blue, folks. Here is clips from his Hall of Fame ceremony:

  • Jarrod Dyson celebrated his 31st birthday on Saturday the best way possible. Dyson went 3 for 4, drove in 3 runs and stole 2 bases. Dyson probably will never be a fulltime starter, but as a 4th outfielder and injury replacement he is perfect. If he could only hit lefties…

  • Speaking of Dyson, there has been a push as of late to replace right fielder Alex Rios with a Dyson/Paulo Orlando platoon, especially once the playoffs come around:

Trust me, there is a reason that a number of us prefer this scenario:

I don’t know if it is the thumb and/or wrist injury, or just the normal regression of a player his age, but Rios is at a point in his career where he has zero power and his defense is average at best. Dyson and Orlando are both much superior defenders and offensively they won’t be a major upgrade, but they tend to get on base more than Rios. I say make the move before October; we will see if that happens or if Yost rides Rios through the rest of the regular season.

  • Finally, the Royals added depth to their pitching staff in AAA:

I doubt either makes a serious impact with the big league club, but you can never have enough depth. Plus, they could eat some innings in September, letting some of the other pitchers get some rest. Chamberlain in particular could see some serious time out of the pen, if necessary.

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Tweets of Royalty 

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Only 45 games are left in the season and at this point it feels like the Royals will spend September loading up and getting all their ducks in a row for the playoffs. This week the Royals will have two games against Cincinnati, then wrap up the week with a four game series with Boston. The offense, defense and pitching all clicked for Kansas City this past weekend and they will need that to continue this week. Sure, the Reds and Red Sox are out of the race, but both teams can still cause problems. I really like of late that Ned Yost has been resting his starters on a regular basis, even if he always seems to rest Lorenzo Cain when I go to a game! There is a game plan in place and it looks to be unfolding as expected. It’s been a magical season in Kansas City this summer, but there is still some leg-work left to do before another ‘Blue October’!

 

 

 

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After a series sweep of the White Sox, the Royals welcomed the Detroit Tigers to Kauffman Stadium. Last week, Detroit took two of three games from the Royals and overall made Kansas City not look like the team with the biggest divisional lead in the major leagues. The Royals so far this year have been remarkable better at home than on the road(39-20 to 29-26) so the hope was this series would not be a repeat of the one in Detroit. In fact, it was not, as the Royals would take two of three from the Tigers and were it not for a lead blown by the bullpen on Wednesday night, this might have been a sweep for the Royals. It was a banner series, so let’s slide into this set and look at the preceedings.

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Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain

For the second straight series, Lorenzo Cain showed why he is an honest to goodness MVP candidate this year. Cain was 8 for 12 in these three games, getting 3 doubles, a home run that might still be in flight, and 3 RBI’s. His slugging percentage this series was a ridiculous 1. 167 and  almost raised his OPS this series 30 points. I talked about the numbers Cain has put up this season earlier this week and the numbers keep popping up for Cain:

We’ve heard the last few years from manager Ned Yost that Cain showed much more power in batting practice then he would during the game. This year, Cain’s pitch recognition has vastly improved, to where he understands which pitches he can drive and which ones he can’t. It has made a drastic difference in his offensive production and has kept him in the 3rd spot in the batting order this year. You add in his top shelf defense(which is in the top 15 of baseball in defensive runs saved) and you have the biggest driving force in the Royals lineup. Having a bat like Cain’s(and his consistency most of this year) has to make Royals management comfortable, knowing he can lead the team offensively come October.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Johnny Cueto

Amazingly, there are still some fans who don’t understand why the Royals needed Johnny Cueto. On Monday night, he showed why Kansas City was so adament about acquiring him for their postseason run. All Cueto did in his third start as a Royal is pitch a complete game shutout, giving up 4 hits, walking none and striking out 8 on 116 pitches. If this didn’t make him endear himself toward you, nothing will. His game score of 87 was his highest since July 7th against Washington and overall his second best this season:

Still not sold on Cueto? Well, consider this when compared to the rest of the Royals rotation so far in 2015:

Cueto was also introduced to a Royals favorite: the postgame ritual!

While Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura have been up and down, having Cueto makes two solid starters(with Edinson Volquez) that the Royals can count on in October. Cueto won’t do this every start, but the fact he is capable of doing it in a high stakes game late in the season, well that alone makes his acquisition more than worth it.

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Death By Defense  

On Tuesday night, the Royals put on a defensive clinic to remind the Tigers why they are on the top of the American League Central…and why the Tigers aren’t. First there was a great relay throw from Alcides Escobar to nail James McCann at the plate:

Not only a great assist from “Shortstop Jesus” but also not his first:

Trust me, it was beautiful(and I wish I could show it, but MLB has limitations. Come on, MLB!). It was so great that even Neddy approved:

Oh yeah, I approved as well:

Later in the game, Salvador Perez picked Anthony Gose off base:

There would also be a dazzling play by Alcides Escobar later in the game as well. The Tigers would also do something amazing on defense, although not in the good way. A fly ball would get hit to left fielder Tyler Collins later in the game and it would bounce off the palm of his glove and veer to the corner. It was the perfect description of the differences between these two teams. The Royals lead the American League in defensive rankings, while Detroit is in 4th place. But it’s not as close as 1st to 4th place, as the Royals have a 51, the Tigers 10.9. That is a rather huge gap. Within the division, Chicago is last in the league while Cleveland sits in 11th place and Minnesota 9th, all in the negative rankings. Sure, the Royals have had a good offensive season and the bullpen is about as good as they get. But the defense sets them apart from everyone else in the division and is why the Royals are at the top with everyone else looking up.

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Oh, but there is more! With that said here are the news and notes portion of this series:

  • One of the most asked questions this season has been “how long will the Royals go with Omar Infante at 2B?”. It’s easy to see why this question continues to get asked:

Yet, we have seen a llllloooooooooooootttt of Omar this season:

But Ned has confidence:

Oh, speaking of big hits:

I think it’s safe to say his defense is what is keeping him in the lineup. In fact, defensively he has having his best season since 2012(5 DRS and a UZR of 4.3). Sure, he doesn’t take walks and any punch he used to have seems to have gone by the wayside. But don’t fret; when(if?) Alex Gordon comes back in September, I have a feeling we will be seeing more of Ben Zobrist at second base. Oh, and Infante did get a day off this week; on Tuesday, Zobrist started in his place and made an error. I don’t think that proves Infante is the better option; that is more of a sign that the universe likes to mess with our heads.

  • Wade Davis did not see any action during these three games:

I’m sure some will point to not having Davis available on Wednesday cost the Royals the game(Yost went with Volquez into the 8th inning and the Royals would end up losing the lead and the game), but it is a good thing that Kansas City can be cautious with Wade. I made the comment last series and will say it again; I would rather have a healthy Davis in October than use him injured and lose him for longer than just a week.

  • What a weird start for Yordano Ventura on Tuesday. Ventura would go 6 innings, only giving up 2 hits and no runs. Looks good, right? But Ventura also walked 6 and struck out 8. Rare, huh?

Ventura was able to get out of a couple of dicey situations, which is improvement. He has had issues pitching with runners on base this season, but on Tuesday he kept a calm head and dealt his way out of it. Sure, the 6 walks is a scary number; but I will take the improvement and hope that continues over the next couple of starts.

  • Over the years the Royals have had issues dealing with Anibal Sanchez. Not anymore:

I don’t have answers for why the Royals seem to handle the best pitchers in the league better than the lesser known pitchers, but I will take it. It is a vast improvement over where the Royals were just a few years ago.

  • Salvador Perez had to leave Tuesday’s game in the 6th inning due to a wrist injury:

Perez hasn’t played since the injury and is still being evaluated. You lose a little bit offensively with Drew Butera behind the plate, but not a bunch on defense. There were some fans angry with Butera on Wednesday night but he is a solid defensive catcher, in fact he is a well above average fielder over his career. This injury might just be a good sign; all that rest that Perez has needed the last few years might be caught up on.

  • Eric Hosmer continues to dazzle. Hosmer had a slash line of .333/.333/.750 in this series and is hitting .366/.414/.545 since the beginning of July. I can’t tell you if Hosmer has finally figured it out or not(he has been a streaky hitter throughout his career), but I will say the power he has shown in this span has made me think that he actually could contend for an MVP award at some point in his career, and I haven’t thought that in a long time.

  • Finally, the Royals streak of 111 games won when leading after 7 innings is over:

The Royals were only 4 wins away from the record, held by the 1998-99 New York Yankees. Damn Yankees!

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Tweets of Royalty

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Johnny Cueto, left, is hugged by catcher Salvador Perez, right, following a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Monday, Aug. 10, 2015. The Royals defeated the Tigers 4-0. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner) ORG XMIT: OTKOW

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

So the Royals still have a double digit lead in the American League Central as they welcome the Los Angeles Angels to town for a four games series this weekend. Interesting note, out of the teams currently holding leads in either a division or the wild card, the Angels are the last one of those teams the Royals will face this season(outside of a make-up game late in September against the Cubs). A question was posed to me the other day, asking if there should be any worry that the Royals would get too complacent with this big a lead. I said there is always the chance, but these players seem to be pretty driven. The other good thing is that Kansas City can rest a guy like Wade Davis and let him heal better than if they were fighting for a playoff spot. There are pluses and minuses to having this big a lead, but as of right now I don’t see anyone slacking off on the field. That is a good thing, since we are only about six weeks away from the regular season wrapping and what appears to be another ‘Blue October’ for the Royals!