By Jeff Montgomery
Unfortunately, the fall of 2016 is not going to be filled with memorable moments supplied by our Kansas City Royals. Occasionally, there have been a few shots from last years World Series run shown on the Playoff television coverage but its just not as exciting when you are watching teams from other markets take the field of play.
After only two seasons of Playoffs for the Royals, there seems to be an enormous void while watching other teams try to make their own history in 2017. One would think that after a 29-year drought without Playoff baseball we would all be okay with sitting this year out. In reality however, most Royals fans almost thought that a World Series title would produce a bye to the post-season this year much like it seemingly did in 2015 after falling just short of a title in 2014.
Looking back, it now makes one appreciate how precious those post-season appearances really are. The fact that the last four World Series Champions have not made the post-season the following season certainly confirms just how difficult sustaining a championship caliber team is.Several people ask me who I like in the Playoffs and my answer is the Cleveland Indians, the same team that I talked about back in May and June as the team I felt the Royals should be the most concerned about in the Central Division.
My reason is a little different now than it was then but several factors remain the same. They have Terry Francona at the helm. He helped bring the Boston Red Sox titles again after decades of absence during his tenure in Boston. The Indians have great pitching. Before losing two keys in their rotation before the season ended, most people talked about their starting rotation. Now people usually talk about their bullpen when they talk Tribe pitching.
They also have a very balanced offensive attack. No real standouts but several high quality hitters. They also play good defense, especially up the middle and they have speed.
If you look at my reasons for liking the Indians its basically describing the 2015 World Series Champion Royals: A manager that backs his players almost to a fault, a bullpen that finds ways to rise to the occasion no matter how gloom it seem and also covers up whatever shortcomings the rotation may have, and a lineup that produces from top to bottom that plays solid defense and will push the envelope on the base paths.
The National League will provide a formidable opponent in the World Series against whoever represents the American League and it will be great baseball. With the Royals out, I would love to see the Indians match up against the Chicago Cubs as they are both teams that have not experienced a World Series title in many, many decades. Lets enjoy our offseason!
Disappointing Season Ends
By Jeff Montgomery
As the 2016 Royals season came to an end, I found myself reflecting on the year looking for a good word to describe the season and decided the best word was ... disappointing. Some other words came to mind as well. More extreme words like devastating and crushing. Although some Royals fans were crushed and devastated by the fact that our Boys in Blue are not in the postseason for the third consecutive October, I think disappointing is the best word to describe the season.
The past two trips to the World Series, with last year’s trip being capped off with the largest parade in the history of our city has certainly elevated everyone’s level of expectation. Only two years of success has erased the memory of two decades of struggles the team endured while building the current model.
The disappointment is certainly warranted as this year’s Opening Day lineup had eight of nine starters returning from last year’s Opening Day lineup with the only change being Raymond Fuentes in right field in place of oft-injured Alex Rios.
After the first few weeks of games, it was easy to believe that a third consecutive postseason was eminent. The Royals won 12 of their first 18 games and were not even clicking on all cylinders. They were winning games in late innings and proving that you were going to have to get 27 outs to beat them as they were never out of the game.
Memorial Day weekend saw some of the most dramatic wins since the Wild Card win over the A’s, and last year’s comeback against the Astros in the Divisional Series. There was good reason to expect more postseason magic this fall.
As the Royals limped into the All-Star break, there was still reason for hope and Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez provided a much-needed boost of confidence as they performed remarkably on the big stage. It would be the month of July that would eventually dent the team’s chances of defending their Central Division title, as only seven wins would appear in the win column and the Cleveland Indians were unconscious for a big part on the month.
Danny Duffy’s 16-strikeout gem on August 1 against Tampa Bay seemed to turn the entire season around as the calendar changed to a new month. The outstanding play during August had everyone once again thinking about a possible Wild Card and another postseason.
This was all about the time that key players like Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon were getting healthy and catching fire along with a red-hot Kendrys Morales. Unfortunately Cain would not be able to stay healthy after injuring his left wrist and essentially ending his season.
Although the Royals had what everyone identified as a favorable schedule during the stretch run, it was a homestand that opened with a four-game series against the Oakland A’s that would eventually be a momentum killer as they were swept by the struggling A’s. This was a series that everyone thought the Royals had a chance to sweep and not be swept based on the way the A’s were playing as they came to town.
For the fourth year in a row the defending World Series Champion would be home watching the postseason.
As disappointing as the 2016 campaign was, it is easy to be optimistic about the future of the ball club. With an entire off-season to get healthy, rest, get stronger and prepare for next year the team will return a core of players that has a winning DNA.
The top four in the starting rotation looks to be pretty well set and it is almost a given that Dayton Moore and company will bring in some interesting candidates to round out the rotation.
It has been proven that a lock-down bullpen is essential for the Royals to win and there were some key players who had limited time in 2016 because of injury, most importantly those were Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar. A rebuilt bullpen is essential but an obvious void the organization realizes needs to be addressed.
It should be a fun ride!
By Jeff Montgomery
As the Royals closed out August with back-to-back gut-wrenching extra-inning losses, many Royals fans throughout the Midwest were left wondering what the team’s chances are of going back to the playoffs again for a third straight year.
And thought the chances are slim, I feel there is still some life left in this bunch and they may be able to make a final push toward post season. They played excellent baseball during the Month of August. Prior to that stretch I wasn’t sure they had anything left in the tank based on their horrible July when they went 7-19. Things seem different now with the return of a healthy Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon. The way Kendrys Morales has come to life the second-half of the season is another reason to have some hope as well. With these three players producing it creates a similar balance in the lineup that last year produced enough to win a Championship. The move with Alcides Escobar to the bottom of the lineup also helps with the balance.
Another positive has certainly been the pitching staff. Starting with the rotation, it has seemed to solidify itself now that Dillon Gee has at least stabilized the fifth slot. Kennedy, Duffy, and Ventura were all really good in August. Unfortunately, Steady Eddy Volquez has not been the consistent starter we expected based on last season’s performance. The rotation will likely be the biggest key to a strong finish to the season so it looks like the weight will be mostly on their shoulders.
The realigned bullpen featuring unexpected performers like Matt Strahm, Brian Flynn, and Peter Moylan have been fun to watch as they have stepped in nicely to fill the vacancies created by injuries to Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis. Kelvin Herrera was fabulous in August as he converted 10 of 10 save chances. Davis’ expected return is coming at the right time as the arms in the bullpen are a little weary going into September. Expanded rosters for September should help too.
It’s impossible to know how many wins it will take to qualify for the second Wild Card slot but based on history it will take 90 wins. That number is based on the number of wins the second Wild Card has had since the inception of the two Wild Card format in 2012, with the average being 89.75 wins. The range of wins for that slot has been from 93 wins in 2012, to 86 wins last year. The Royals won 89 in 2014 and were the first Wild Card and Oakland won 88 to qualify as the second Wild Card team.
Regardless, it is great to have watched the Royals play well enough for an extended period of time to even be having these frequent discussions about what their record must be from here on out. But, as they enter September with a 69-64 record and three games out for the Wild Card, it looks like they must go 21-8 in the final 29 games. That would mean playing at a .724 clip for almost a month which is not easy to do. During the month of August they went 20-9 for comparison.
By Jeff Montgomery
I remember the ground ball to Terry Shumpert during the 1991 season for the last out of the game when Bret Saberhagen no-hit the Chicago White Sox. A lacquered memento, which displays the final line score and a ticket from the game signed by Sabes still resides in a prominent spot in my trophy case. It is displayed next to a similar memento from George Brett’s historic 3000th hit game in my study.
Those were two of the most memorable games I had a chance to witness as a player in my career. George’s 3,000th capped a 4-hit night for him but had an interesting twist as he was picked-off first immediately following the on field celebration. Saberhagen’s No-No also included an interesting twist as a fly ball to Kirk Gibson that was initially scored a hit was later changed to an error, which kept the no-hitter in tact. To this day Gibby still swears there was no way he should have been charged with an error on the play.
On Monday against the Tampa Bay Rays, Danny Duffy turned in the most dominant pitching performance I can remember watching in person. Although he allowed a leadoff double to Desmond Jennings in the 8th inning, it was still the most dominant game I can remember. The sixteen strikeouts were a testament to how great Duffy was in the game and the reason he is the new single-game strikeout record holder in the Royals record books.
Duffy has been brilliant during the entire season and it has been thrilling to watch him turn into the pitcher everyone expected him to be. Without a doubt he has been the most consistent hurler for the Royals this season.
There have been a handful of games before last night that Duffy has at least made one think that something special (like a no-hitter) might happen but none have been as brilliant as last night’s performance. Danny has progressed in his career to the point where no one will be surprised when he does finish off a no-hitter. In fact, he will likely be the pitcher who breaks the drought and throws the next Royals no-hitter.
More important than knowing that Duffy might turn in more historic starts like he did against the Rays, is knowing that Duffy has turned himself into a reliable top of the rotation starting pitcher the Royals have been missing since Zack Greinke was wearing a Royals uniform.
By Jeff Montgomery
The last time I wrote was about the Rotation being the key to the Royals second half and their ability to compete for the Central Division title. Things have not changed much except there appears to be more consistency in the top four in the rotation with Ian Kennedy, Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura and Edinson Volquez all making very nice starts in their post All-Star Game efforts.
Chris Young has been out of the rotation and will contribute from the bullpen. Dillon Gee has been given five opportunities to start but has failed to nail down the slot and will continue to help the bullpen in long relief situations. And, Kris Medlen is not ready to come back as had been hoped because of shoulder fatigue. Lefty Mike Minor could provide some help but he has not shown with any certainty that his shoulder is ready to carry the burden of the innings necessary to be a legitimate option in the near term.
The aforementioned group of Young, Gee, and Medlen has made 24 starts collectively in the fifth spot in the rotation while compiling a 4-14 record and 7.14 ERA in those starts. As on July 20th, the other starters(Volquez, Kenndy, Duffy, and Ventura) have compiled a 25-23 record with a 4.29 ERA in 68 starts. While those numbers are not near the top in League statistically, they are certainly good enough to allow the Royals to compete for a divisional title as we learned last year if the bullpen returns to its expected level of performance now that Wade Davis is back from the Disabled List.
Brian Flynn was given an opportunity to fill the last slot in the rotation which has proven to be difficult one to fill.Unfortunately, his outing lasted less than three innings and he left behind a 3-0 deficit. It will be surprising if Flynn is given another shot at the fifth spot.
Although the price tag may be too expensive to land a starter at the level of a Johnny Cueto like last July, an acquisition of a solid number five starter may be essential if the Royals plan on making up the deficit in the standings that currently exists. They are not looking for a Cy Young candidate, just need someone who gives them a chance every five days to win a ballgame. Unfortunately, the contributions from their fifth starter through the first one hundred games of the season have come up short on the production side.
By Jeff Montgomery
As baseball moves toward the midway point it is always a good time to take a look at where teams stand and what they may or may not need as the July 31 and August 31 trade deadlines get closer.
Remember, the July 31 trade deadline is one that teams have the best chance of making a deal since there are no waiver wire restrictions. In other words, other teams cannot block a trade that may occur as they don’t want one of the teams involved in the trade to get better.
The August 31 trade deadline is significant as that is the last day which a player can be acquired via a trade and still be eligible for the postseason. The August trades normally are made to help teams get to the playoffs, not help them win in the playoffs.
Barring any more significant injuries, it appears the Royals may be set with their position players as Whit Merrifield and Cheslor Cuthbert have performed at a level that has eliminated any concerns on whether or not they can be long-term fixes at their respective positions and Paulo Orlando has hit well enough to squelch the early season cries for another bat in the outfield. The bench appears to be strong and Brett Eibner was a pleasant surprise during his injury-interrupted stay and could be called up if needed.
Although the bullpen has the league’s lowest ERA, it has been called upon for over 250 innings of work and will need to be monitored during the second half to insure it is not exhausted by season’s end. Ned Yost has done an outstanding job over the past few years in making sure the pen is strong and healthy as he knows its importance to the team’s success.
That pretty much gets us to the starting rotation which has been the least consistent element of the ballclub to this point. The rotation has show signs during a couple of extended stretches of the season that it can be very serviceable. The Royals rotation does not need to be great; it just needs to be consistent. Through the first 75 games of the season, the rotation had pitched the fewest innings in the league and was second-to-last in quality starts. Another alarming stat on the rotations mid-season resume was the amount of home runs allowed which is just over one per game and leads the league in that category while pitching in the most spacious ballpark in baseball.
While it appears that no saviors are looming in the minor leagues, it will be essential for the starters on the current roster to provide more consistent results during the second half of the season. In my opinion, that challenge will need to be answered by the two youngest members of the rotation; Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura. It is easy to be excited about what their contributions might be based on what we have seen from both lately (before Ventura's start vs St. Louis).
With Edinson Volquez and Ian Kennedy being proven innings eaters and consistent performers, the upside lies in the two young guns in Duffy and Ventura. Chris Young will need to return to his 2015 form to be able to continue to take the ball every five days as he has not been able to keep the ball in the ballpark during the majority of his starts. He has also demonstrated the ability to contribute from the bullpen if needed.
Another possibility for upside exists in Kris Medlen who appears to be healthy and throwing the ball the way everyone expected him to be able to throw this season which is the reason the Royals inked him to a two year contract following his second elbow surgery.
Remember, they don’t have to be great, just consistent.
There are no games scheduled for today.
There are no games scheduled for today.
There are no games scheduled for today.