By Kurtis Seaboldt
Wednesday night was a banner night for the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Jeremy Guthrie tossed six scoreless innings, running the team’s current streak to 24 straight, tying a franchise record set way back in 1976.
Three innings later, Luke Hochevar struck out Brandon Phillips for the final out of the Royals’ 7-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds. Kansas City’s third straight win ran their record to 26-14, the best 40-game start in the club’s 47-year history.
It’s great. But what does it mean? What does history say about teams that sit where the Royals sit right now and where they eventually sit when the season is over? I wanted to know and so, as I do from time to time, I checked it out.
Since 1995, when Major League Baseball adopted their current six-division format, 16 teams have started a season exactly 26-14 (not including the Royals, Cardinals and Astros this season). I initially looked at teams that were 26-14 or better but decided that would not be an accurate predictor. The Seattle Mariners started 31-9 in 2001; what could that predict about at team that started 26-14?
So, how did those 16 teams fare? Not as well as you may have expected, certainly not as well as I expected. Their average win percentage that season was just .553, which works out to an average 162-game record of 90-72. That’s just one game better than the Royals were last year when they started the season 20-20.
But, how many of those 16 teams had a run differential that matched the Royals’ current differential of +68? Just one. The 1996 Texas Rangers had exactly the same record and exactly the same run differential as this year’s Royals and they finished – you guessed it – 90-72.
Even the post-season wasn’t a lock for the “Sweet 16”. Only nine made it, though it must be pointed out that, from 1995 through 2011, there was only one Wild Card team in each league. The 2006 White Sox would have made it as the second Wild Card team.
One oddity that may or may not have anything to do with the Royals’ chances: From 1995 through 2004, seven of the eight made the post-season. From 2005 through 2014, only two of the eight did although, again, the 2006 would have.
The Royals are off to the best start in their history and the fans should enjoy every minute of it. But any thoughts that they are a post-season lock should be tabled for the moment.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
In popular culture that number is and will always be the maximum output for Nigel Tufnel’s amps in “Spinal Tap”.
But in sports, especially around these parts, it represents how many consecutive Big 12 titles the Kansas Jayhawks have either won outright or tied for. It also happens to be the age of Jamari Traylor, KU’s oldest player, the last time Kansas’ name wasn’t on the trophy. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk was six. Siiiiiiiix.
The streak has become such a phenomenon that it has developed something of a “the-chicken-or-the-egg” thing. How much of the streak has been due to Kansas being great and how much has been due to the league being down? How does KU’s run compare to the other major conferences?
In the last 11 seasons, the teams that have won or shared the most titles in the other five power conferences are as follows:
ACC: North Carolina, 6
Big East: Georgetown, 3
Big Ten: Ohio State, 5
Pac 10/12: UCLA, 4
SEC: Kentucky and Florida, 4
So, Kansas has more than doubled all but North Carolina in conference titles and no school had more than three in a row. Adding to the story is the fact that Kansas has also dominated the Big 12 when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Kansas is the only Big 12 team during their streak to go to the Final Four, having gone in 2008 and 2012.
Let’s compare that to the other five power conferences:
ACC: (2 teams, 4 appearances) North Carolina 3, Duke 1
Big East: (6, 8) Louisville 2, UConn 2, Georgetown 1, Syracuse 1, Villanova 1, West Virginia 1
Big Ten: (5, 8) Michigan St. 3, Ohio State 2, Illinois 1, Michigan 1, Wisconsin 1
Pac 10/12: (1, 3) UCLA 3
SEC: (3, 7) Florida 3, Kentucky 3, LSU 1
So Kansas isn’t the only school to be their league’s only Final Four representative in the last ten years; UCLA joins them in that honor. But the Jayhawks have completely dominated the Big 12 in regular season and the NCAA Tournament. Their domination of the Big 12 Tournament pales in comparison but they’ve still won six of ten and only Missouri has won more than one.
What it means is, to some degree, still a matter for debate. But one thing is not. The Kansas Jayhawks have owned the Big 12. And they still do.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
At first, it was just a curiosity. Then it became a concern. Finally, it became an embarrassment.
For the first time in half a century, an NFL team – the Kansas City Chiefs – went an entire season without a touchdown catch from a wide receiver. The last team to pull that off was the 1964 New York Giants.
How far back was that? The Chiefs were in just their second season in Kansas City, two years away from playing in the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The name “Super Bowl” hadn’t even been invented.
At the time, the Giants’ dubious achievement likely drew few headlines. They didn’t throw the ball around much in 1964. The NFL’s leader in touchdown passes – Cleveland's Frank Ryan – threw just 25. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers threw 25 this season – at home.
Considering the current, pass-happy NFL, the Chiefs’ lack of a wide receiver touchdown this season is one of the more amazing developments in the history of the league. It’s gotten a good amount of exposure around town but I still feel that its significance has been somewhat understated. What the Chiefs did this season is damn near impossible. Consider that 124 wide receivers in the NFL this year caught at least one touchdown pass. One hundred and twenty four. That includes three wideouts who had fewer than ten catches all year. And the Chiefs’ entire crew had zero.
What concerns me almost as much is what appears to be an organization-wide denial that it is even an issue. All year long, Andy Reid and the team’s de facto number one receiver, Dwayne Bowe, were asked about the issue and they both brushed it aside. Every week.
Reid said that, as long as his team was scoring touchdowns, he didn’t really care who was scoring them. Well, they were 17th in the NFL in scoring so clearly the guys who were scoring touchdowns weren’t scoring enough. The team was among the best in red zone efficiency; the problem was that they almost had to get into the red zone to score. The Chiefs had only two touchdowns longer than 40 yards – a 63-yard run by Jamaal Charles and a 70-yard pass to Knile Davis. Only two teams had fewer.
Bowe said he wasn’t bothered by it either, grinning – almost chuckling – as he calmly dismissed the drought on a weekly basis, continually claiming that the wideouts were making plays to extend drive so that others could score. After the Chiefs’ win over Oakland in Week 14, Bowe said, “We are unselfish. We love to play football and we’ve been there before. I led the league before so it doesn’t matter for me to score; it matters for me to win.”
Reid, for his part, isn’t bothered by Bowe’s attitude concerning the lack of touchdowns. “He never complains that he doesn’t get the ball enough or (that) he wants the ball. He just wants to win and I appreciate that.” Reid praised the season that Bowe was having – he finished with 60 catches for 754 yards – so frequently that it almost seemed like he was doing it intentionally.
General Manager John Dorsey seemed equally un-phased by it. In a season-ending interview on “The Border Patrol” he called the lack of wide receiver touchdowns a “fluke”. I think the word he was looking for was perhaps “aberration” or “anomaly” but I understood his point. And I disagreed with it entirely.
Words won’t fix the Chiefs’ monster problem at the wide receiver position but why can’t someone – anyone – in their organization just come out and admit that it was a really, really bad thing to have happened and that it had better not happen again? How hard is it to say, “Yes, it was a problem that we didn’t get a touchdown from our wide receivers this year and it is a problem that we must address in the offseason”?
After the season ended, Bowe was asked about his team’s place in history as the first in 50 years to pull off the wideout whiteout. “It’s not a bad thing, if you think about it. We won the game today (against San Diego) and that’s a good thing. History is in the making and that’s part of history; it’s over now.”
Yes, it is over. Your season is over. And one of the biggest reasons that it’s over is a problem that is being dismissed – at least publicly – by the people whose job it is to fix it.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
The news began to filter down through various channels a few hours before it became official. The early, unofficial version of the story was that Chiefs safety Eric Berry had cancer and that the team was going to make it official at a press conference.
At 4 P.M., the official announcement was made. Berry has a mass on the right side of his chest. Doctors believe that it is lymphoma, although a definitive diagnosis has not been made.
If there’s one thing we know about cancer, it is that early detection is crucial. Few things determine a patient’s survival as much as the stage at which the cancer is detected. We all hope that, if it is cancer, it was caught early enough that Berry can make a full recovery. We’d all love to see #29 in red and gold run onto the field at Arrowhead again but, more importantly, we’d love to just see Eric Berry, person, live a long life.
Four years ago, I noticed a severe irregularity in my bowel movements. Bluntly stated, I had gone for about three days. I asked a friend who is a retired physician what it might be. He suggested several things, one of which was a colonoscopy. I was only 44 at the time and had not considered that before. I thought that was something you should do when you’re closer to 50.
But, I scheduled it anyway. And I’m glad I did.
The doctor found two benign polyps and removed them. He asked why I had chosen to have the procedure and I told him about my friend and his advice. He said I should thank that friend because he might have saved my life. Had those polyps not been removed, they might have – he thought they likely would have – become cancerous.
He said to come back in five years. I went back in four. I had the procedure done last Wednesday. That’s why I wasn’t on “The Program” that day. I didn’t tell anyone but I was scared. I had been experiencing some discomfort and, given that they found something the first time, I was afraid they might find something again.
And they did. Three polyps, all benign. All removed.
Since then, I have told a few friends near my age about it and all have said they know that they should get checked but are in no hurry because the procedure sounds so horrible. Well, I’ve had teeth cleanings that are more painful. And there’s this: Who cares if it’s not fun? You know what else isn’t fun? Dying, and 50,000 Americans will die from colon cancer in 2014.
So forget your fear. Forget your embarrassment. Get checked.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
High school memories.
No matter where you grew up, no matter how popular you were or weren’t, you have a collection of stories from your days at the old alma mater. Most of them involve things that happened at or around the school – the big game, the class ski trip, prom.
One of my most cherished memories of high school occurred during the first semester of my senior year. Sunday night, October 27, 1985. If you’re a Royals fan of a certain age, you know that date like you know your own birthday.
That night, Gary Barnes, Ken Haagensen and I sat at Ken’s apartment – Ken lived just a quarter mile up 43rd Street from the stadium – watching the Royals rout the Cardinals to win their only World Series. Later, we jumped into Gary’s Cadillac and made our way to Westport for the celebration. The next day, I was practically ordered by a teacher to get out of class and head down to the parade. Once I got there, I stopped into a shop at Crown Center and bought a white 1985 World Series sweatshirt. As I walked up Grand, against the flow of the parade route, a very drunk person ran into me with a glass of wine in their hand. The wine spilled onto my brand new sweatshirt, ruining it not thirty minutes into its existence.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told those stories. Sometimes they were told to others who were also around then and had stories of their own about 1985. More and more, particularly over the last ten years or so, those stories have been told to people who weren’t alive to hear, “No outs to go!”, or “To Motley… for the title” - the sons and daughters of my friends or interns at our station who listen to the stories the same way I listened to people talk about the Chiefs' Super Bowl win, with an expression that says, “Man, that must have been amazing!”
Now, these people, who have only known the Royals in the World Series through second-hand stories from 40-somethings like me or through yellowed newspaper clippings or grainy, standard-definition, 4x3 film clips and YouTube videos, have a World Series that they can call their own.
And if, by some chance, the Royals wait another 29 years before playing in another Fall Classic, they’ll be able to tell these stories to their kids and they'll receive the same, wide-eyed looks they used to give out themselves. They’ll talk about Salvy’s double against Oakland and Hos and Moose going deep in Anaheim and Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain catching everything and that sixth inning against the Giants and… who knows? The most amazing story in this town in three decades is still writing itself, stunning us at every turn.
The last one was for us; this one is for them. It’s not their father’s team; it’s their team, right in front of them, in bright, high-definition Royal blue.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
I remember it as if it was yesterday, even though it was nearly three decades ago. The Kansas City Royals and California Angels – almost sounds strange now, doesn’t it? – were about to begin a four-game series at then-Royals Stadium.
The Angels led the Royals by a game with seven to play but Bret Saberhagen tied things up in Game One, tossing a complete game five-hitter for his 20th win of the season. The Angels bounced back to win Game Two behind Mike Witt and were back up by a game.
Five to play. Still down one.
Bud Black tied it again with a sparkling three-hit shutout in Game Three and Danny Jackson put the Royals in first place to stay in Game Four, allowing one run over eight-plus in a 4-1 win. The Royals clinched a tie for the AL West the next night against Oakland and won it Saturday night when Willie Wilson’s line drive off Jay Howell’s glove brought KC back from a 4-0 deficit and put them, as the late Fred White so eloquently said, “in the throne room”.
But, even though the clincher came against the A’s, the biggest games were won against the Angels. The Royals faced down their main challenger and defeated them decisively.
The Royals will play a very similar series this weekend as the Detroit Tigers bring a half-game lead in the AL Central – let’s just call it a one-game lead and hope for the best – into Kauffman Stadium for the biggest series the Royals have played since I was a senior in high school.
Conventional wisdom says the Royals have to sweep, even though a mere series win would send them into the final week a half-game up. Or tied. Let’s say tied. A series sweep would also go a long way towards ridding the Royals of that feeling that the Tigers own them.
Detroit is 11-5 against the Royals this season. Since 2002, when teams resumed the unbalanced schedule, only three of 72 division winners won fewer than eight games against their closest pursuer. The 2010 Reds (6-12 against the Cardinals), the 2010 Giants (6-12 against the Padres) and the 2003 A’s (7-12 against the Mariners) pulled it off.
To this point of the season, the Tigers have been the Royals’ Daddy. This weekend the Royals can disown them. And perhaps own the AL Central.