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Merrifield Shines

Jun 15, 2016 -- 2:03pm

By Jeff Montgomery

Although it took Whit Merrifield roughly six years of minor league baseball to make it to the Major Leagues, his path is not extremely different than that of other Big Leaguers who were able to persevere until their opportunity was there.

Merrifield is 27 years old and in a perfect world a player will be in his early twenties when he starts his Major League service, especially if he is a high school draft pick. Whit attended the University of South Carolina which meant he was already older than some phenoms that are drafted as eighteen year-olds and start their professional careers before they know how to do laundry. Although he would have loved to been in the Majors at a much younger age, the extra time in the Minor Leagues will be very helpful in allowing him to stay in the Big Leagues for a long time if he stays healthy. The extra experience he has gained by spending most of six seasons down on the farm has already show me that he is ready for the Majors because he plays the game right.

Fans love the style of play that Whitley demonstrates along with his hustle and never take anything for granted play. When a player has to work extra hard to earn his opportunity he is going to make sure that no one takes it away from him. One way to do that is to play with conviction and control everything that you have the ability to control. His offensive numbers are quite impressive for a new call-up but his swings looks to be very fundamentally sound and one that will not be easy for pitchers to find holes in. He is a career .274 hitter in the Minor Leagues so it is unrealistic to expect him to hit at his current pace of .326 in the Major Leagues over an extended time frame. He could however, be one of those players that hits for a higher average in the Big Leagues because pitchers are around the plate more often.

Merrifield reminds me of a player that could be like Greg Holland. Not because of his pitching ability but because he wasn’t a high round draft pick (Holland was a 10th rounder and Merrifield was a 9th rounder) and is under-sized when compared to most other Major League players. Both Holland and Merrifield play with similar passion and both have Carolina roots. Those type players have to work a little harder and a little longer for their chance to play in the Major Leagues.

Maybe another reason I like Merrifield so much is that I was a 9th rounder too and was undersized and had to spend more time in the Minor Leagues than most. We’ll see how Whit turns out, but I really like his chances.

One-Out Wonders

May 31, 2016 -- 12:34pm

By Jeff Montgomery

 

The Royals recent comeback victories had everyone talking about the historic weekend of baseball at Kauffman Stadium.  And for good reason, never had a Royals team had as many thrilling come-from-behind wins in team history.  One will need to watch a lot of baseball to witness a series of games like the White Sox series to experience as much excitement.

One detail that stands out to me about the come-from-behind wins is the fact that all of the rallies started after the first batter was retired. On the surface, that may not seem too unusual but as a former pitcher I can attest to the fact that getting the first batter out is the most important.

Going back to Friday night’s game against the White Sox, the seventh-inning rally began with Cheslor Cuthbert grounding out to open the frame before Brett Eibner got things going with his first major league hit which was a double. The Royals would go on to score four runs in that inning and win, 7-5, after being down by three runs to start the bottom of the seventh.

Saturday’s game will be the most memorable of all the comeback wins as the Royals were able to score seven runs in the bottom of the ninth for an 8-7 win. That ninth inning started with Sox closer David Robertson retiring Paulo Orlando with a strikeout. What followed was an incredible display of frenzied hitting, capped off by Eibner getting the game-winner with his first career walk-off hit in only his second major league game.

It would have been tough to top Saturday’s win in the series finale, but the Royals still managed to erase a 4-2 deficit in the bottom of the eighth inning for a 5-4 win. And yes, the rally started with Whit Merrifield fouling out to start the inning before Lorenzo Cain started the rally by homering to right.

To keep the one-out rally theme alive, the Royals began a four-run rally in the eighth inning on Memorial Day after Drew Butera grounded out to start the inning after the Rays had tied the game at 2-2 in the top of the eighth. The Royals eventually won, 6-2.

So much of the Royals play over the past two to three weeks reminds most everyone who watches of how different this group is from most other teams. Their ability to come back from seemingly insurmountable deficits seems to be in their DNA.

Let's hope it lasts.

 

Big Win = Renewed Swagger?

May 04, 2016 -- 9:39am

By Jeff Montgomery

 

When the Royals scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s game against the Washington Nationals, it could have been just what this struggling team was looking for. After being shut out in three of four losses going into the game, it had seemed as though the defending World Series Champions had lost their swagger.

 

Even though it was only 25 games into the season it felt like the 8-2 start the team had was so far in the past it might never get back to playing “Royals Baseball”. The same baseball the fans had grown accustomed to seeing going back to October of 2014 when they pulled of the ultimate comeback in their Wild-Card victory over the Oakland A’s. The same “Royals Baseball” that had provided so many dramatic victories during the championship run to the World Series title last year that one could hardly keep track.

 

All teams hit the skids during the course of a long and grueling season but almost everyone who watched Royals baseball in 2015 felt as though a stretch like this team has experienced over the past few weeks was impossible.  With the offensive depth it demonstrated last year, it almost felt as though this team would be slump proof as it had not shown any signs last year and it returned 8 of 9 in the starting lineup from last year's Opening Day lineup.

 

We have learned that it is possible that seven or eight can go cold at the same time. We have learned that one hot hitter cannot carry a team every night. We have also learned that this team still has the ability to come back against even the best of teams. Before Tuesday’s victory, the Nationals were 16-0 when leading after 8 innings and they took a 2-run lead into the ninth with Jonathan Papelbon on the mound and the Royals proceeded to “keep the line moving” and scored 3 runs on 5 hits before it was all over.

 

It seemed as though it was going to be another night when the lights would go off and the focus would be on tomorrow and finding a way to get a victory. However, Alex Gordon got things going with an “excuse me” base hit and the flood gates opened from there with Lorenzo Cain closing the deal on the comeback with a single in the gap which scored Mike Moustakas who had driven in the tying runs with a 2-run, pinch-hit single of his own.

 

As the Royals move forward, it will be very interesting to see what kind of impact this single victory has on the team. A team that certainly needs no reminder of just how good they can be. A team that had sort of lost its swagger, an intangible that is very difficult to measure. An intangible that is so important to playing “Royals Baseball”.

Royals Have Same Look as AL's Best

Apr 11, 2016 -- 10:00am

By Jeff Montgomery

After the first week of Royals baseball it appears that all is still good in Royals Land. The team seems to be essentially the same team that just last season won their first divisional title in 30 years, won their second American League title in as many years, and won their second World Series title in franchise history.

There were some legitimate concerns about the starting rotation coming into the season. While the Royals gave Ian Kennedy the largest pitcher's contract and the second largest overall contract in team history at $70 million, the most common comment was that they overpaid for the right-hander. On Saturday night at Kauffman Stadium, he gave Royals fans a glimpse at why the Royals wanted him so much. He has always been a consistent performer that is know as an inning eater but Saturday he was much more than that. He turned in a brilliant performance and the Royals beat the Twins, 7-0. Edison Volquez has been Edinson Volquez in his first two starts and the Royals have won both of his starts. The first win coming on Opening Night in front of a national television audience. Through the the first five games the Royals rotation has an ERA of 1.91 which is a small sample size and doesn't have any duds factored into the numbers but still quite impressive for a department that was certainly under the microscope going into the 2016 campaign.

The offense has demonstrated the same ability to score runs from top to bottom in the order. In the Royals win on Friday night, all four runs in their 4-3 victory came from the bottom four in the lineup. It also featured newcomer Raymond Fuentes collecting his first hit in in Royal Blue which provided two critical RBI's. In my opinion, their deep and balanced lineup was one of the biggest keys for their offense in 2015 after adding Kendrys Morales into the designated hitter's role.

Even though defense doesn't always get the same credit for winning as offense, the early part of this season demonstrates exactly how important defense is to this team's ability to win games. The weekend series which the Royals swept from the Twins is a great example of how important defense can be. Yes, the Royals are the only team in Major League Baseball to not commit an error through the first week of baseball but that is only part of the reason defense is so important. The Twins committed three very costly errors which allowed the Royals to sweep the series. Over the past three seasons, the Royals have +192 Defensive Runs Saved - which is the best in all of baseball. And, it's not always the highlight reel play that makes a difference, sometimes it's just good baseball instincts taking over allowing a great play to be made.

The Royals bullpen has the makings of being one of the best in the game again this year. As Wade Davis slides into the closer's role to begin the season, everyone else slides up a notch in the bullpen ladder. It will also require Joakim Soria to settle in and pitch consistently (which I am confident that will happen). The pen is full of power arms which include Kelvin Herrera and new "fireman" Luke Hochever who has excelled in stranding the inherited runners which he comes in to prevent from scoring.

The other intangible element this team has shown that it possesses in the ability to come from behind regardless of how unlikely it may seem. It has picked up where it left off from the past two postseasons and won games already in the early part of 2016 that many had written off to the loss column.

Overall it appears the summer at the "K" will be full of excitement. Let's just hope the fall is just as action packed!

Opening Day ... and Beyond

Apr 04, 2016 -- 6:48am

By Jeff Montgomery

No two words are normally more welcome in early April than Opening Day. That certainly is the case this year as the Royals kick off their World Series title defense. Although their was enormous hype over last year’s Opening Day it is different this year after the team won it all and gave Kansas City a huge boost in the pride department. Now it has been proven that what our Boys in Blue have accomplished is not a fluke.

The Royals had 95 wins in 2015, which was the best in the American League. If you go back to the start of the 2013 season, the Royals are 270-216, which is the best in the American League during that 3-year span.

In looking at this year’s team it reminds me of last year’s team, and the 2014 team, and even the 2013 team. It is a team made up of many solid players that doesn’t necessarily have a super star. At least not a super star that almost everyone in the baseball world would point to as the best player in the game. It does however, have a long list of players that almost everyone in baseball would lave to have on their respective team.

It is a team that started learning how to win together in the minor leagues going back several years ago. A team that also took some lumps together when the core of young players arrived on the Major League scene. A team that was given the ability to fail at times without those failures defining their future but instead allowing them to grow into success by learning from their failures.

In looking ahead, the 2016 version of the Kansas City Royals will be exactly what it has been over the past 3 or 4 years. It will be a team that has to win more games with sometimes less than others. It will be a team that likely won’t have a Cy Young candidate in its rotation. It will be a team that has to grind out 9 innings every night in order to win a game. It will be a team that will rely on its defense more than anyone believes can factor in to as many wins as this team’s defense will factor into. It will be a team that will utilize its bullpen often and effectively. It will be a team that uses its athleticism more effectively than most have ever seen done on a baseball field.

I guess what I’m saying is that we could be very bored, but we could be very excited. Bored because this is what we have seen for a few years now. Excited because its what we have seen for a few years now. If I had to bet, I would be that we would be more excited than bored over the next 6 or 7 months. Let’s hope it’s seven.

Good luck Royals!!!!

Spring Has Sprung

Feb 17, 2016 -- 9:32pm

By Jeff Montgomery

As the Royals open their 48th Spring Training camp in Arizona, it is the time of year when all thirty teams in baseball dream of doing exactly what the Royals did in 2015. To be more specific, everyone wants to be that one team left standing at the top of the mountain looking down on everyone else in the baseball world. In the Royals case, it was that one team left looking out at a sea of an estimated 800,000 baseball fans that were mostly clad in Royal Blue after a World Series Championship parade around the streets of downtown Kansas City.

The Royals were 90-feet away (some might say they were a Madison Bumgarner away) from accomplishing the feat of a World Series Championship in 2014. The Royals made it clear they were driven in 2015 by coming up just short in 2014. Another factor seemed to be the lack of respect they were given by most of the experts who were picking them to fallback significantly in 2015. Well, don’t look now, but the experts are calling for the same regression in 2016 they expected in 2015.

Can this be somewhat of a motivational tool for the upcoming season? Do the Royals need any motivation after winning the Series last season? I think that only players truly know the answer to those questions. I do feel confident that once again they will be asked repetitively if they have heard about what the experts think they will do in 2016.

One of the beautiful aspects of the game of baseball is that you don’t have to be an unusually gifted physical specimen to play at a high level. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be a freak of nature physically but not essential to success. I think this is sort of why the projection systems don’t give the Royals the same level of respect as many other organizations. It’s because the Royals are not the freak of nature in the baseball world. Although some may argue that players like Lorenzo Cain or Eric Hosmer could/should win and American League MVP at some point in their career, so far the team’s success has been built around depth and not relying on just a few great players. The benefit to winning with a deeper, more balanced team is that you can afford to lose one of your best players and still not miss a beat. Last year the Royals lost Alex Gordon for about two months and actually had a better winning percentage in his absence that when he was active. They also lost an All-Star closer in Greg Holland for the post season and the bullpen still performed almost flawlessly.

As training camps open and we experience some nice early spring weather here in Kansas City, it will be interesting seeing how the Boys in Blue respond to the projections and simulators that think they will be a sub-.500 team again this year. Not that I expect the Royals to defy incredible odds and repeat their run to the top again, it just won’t surprise me if they do it again. It should be a fun spring…and summer of baseball for everyone who bleeds Royals Blue!

 

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