By Chad Rader
It's hard to ever doubt Kansas City this year, or for that matter, for the last 365 days. But perhaps, perhaps after taking their lumps in Toronto, and then losing the opener to this weekend's series vs the Angels, maybe the Royals magic against playoff teams wasn't quite there anymore.
After the rest of the weekend - with two no-doubters and a classic Royals late-inning win on Sunday night in prime time on ESPN - any slight doubt by even the biggest skeptics has been erased.
The Royals still hold their late-inning savvy (despite the Friday night bullpen follies and Wade Davis allowing an 8th-inning homer on Sunday), and the starters are locking it down. Johnny Cueto has been everything as advertised (1.80 ERA, 0.93 WHIP in four starts), Edinson Volquez remains solid and now Yordano Ventura has posted two straight solid outings and of course, the defense and timely hitting remains.
It's not a given Kansas City will make the World Series, or even win a playoff series. But after this weekend's performance, and with Alex Gordon returning along with resting players down the stretch, the Royals should be on track for a long postseason run. It's just too bad there aren't more series or opponents down the stretch to give the Royals a tune-up before the postseason hits, as only three games with Baltimore and a makeup game with the Cubs are the only games left on the regular season schedule against teams more than two games over .500.
All said, I wouldn't mind if Toronto got picked off somewhere along the way before facing the Royals...
If Yordano Ventura keeps rolling, there's no doubt the four starting pitchers in the playoffs. Along with Kris Medlen, Chris Young and even perhaps a Wandy Rodriguez or Joba Chamberlain recently signed to minor-league deals, will Jeremy Guthrie even make the postseason roster? With breaks every 2-3 games with travel, the bullpens are usually rested. Barring injury, I don't see where Guthrie brings value to the team (and he'll get to travel with the team regardless for any "veteran presence" arguments, as usually there's 42 guys in the dugouts in the postseason).
Who will J-Guts beat out in the pen with HDH, Hochevar and Madson, with Young and Medlen also rounding the 11 pitchers? It would be more ideal to have another Terrence Gore appearance or with Gordon healthy, even Paulo Orlando or a utility infielder makes more sense than a 12th pitcher.
It's always hard to figure out much from early NFL preseason games - or any of them at all besides just staying healthy and avoiding injuries. But at least Kansas City can feel decent about Chase Daniel returning as its backup for 2015.
Ideally, there will be a few hookups from Alex Smith to Jeremy Maclin, nice plays from Marcus Peters and hoping he emerges as the season goes, just seeing Jamaal Charles take a few snaps - say 5-8 carries each preseason game - and Derrick Johnson back in the flow. Otherwise, we know a lot what Travis Kelce can do, the offensive line is what it is and who knows how the PAT situation will play out during real games.
Until the season kicks off, we can all evaluate Eric Fisher with a scrutinizing eye, if Alex Smith can hit a receiver for a TD - or a pass over 20 yards - and wonder how the defense will do against first-teamers.
Yes, its another three weeks of preseason football.
By Chad Rader
I don’t know if it’s the domino effect that one media member hears another talk about a topic, then picks up that drum and beats it to death. But as we approach June, its really time to quit talking about James Shields.
For the first two months, all we have heard in relation to the starting pitching is the effect of James Shields. What it meant to have a horse at the top of the rotation. The impact of Shields in the clubhouse.
I get it, and agree. But … its time to move forward.
The replacement in the rotation, Edinson Volquez, sports a 4-3 record with a 2.77 ERA and 1.066 WHIP. This comes on the heels of a 13-win season with a 3.04 ERA and 1.23 WHIP.
Shields posted 14 wins with a 3.21 ERA and 1.18 WHIP last year in Kansas City with 227 innings.
Obviously Shields had a longer track record, but also had ups and downs the previous years. 220+ innings is tough to replace, but Volquez should be in the 190-200 innings range too.
And I don’t think if Shields was here, he would’ve prevented Yordano Ventura’s performance early in the year. We can give Shields a lot of credit, but not EVERYTHING!
Long story short, let’s move on.
All that said, if Kansas City did land a No. 1 starter in a trade, then the top 3 in the rotation would be:
While the Royals have a nice stable of starters - which can lead to a nice 90+ win record, in the playoffs, having that horse (Bumgarner) or 1-2 dynamic duo (Randy Johnson-Schilling) will take a team to the promised land.
Probably by season's end, it would be best if Guthrie was the fifth starter or spot starter. With a Kris Medlen healthy and either Jason Vargas, Danny Duffy or Chris Young as the other starter.
But for now, the sky isn't falling... After all, it is the best record in baseball !
The NBA Playoffs have been a dud for the conference finals, barring major comebacks by the Rockets and Hawks. But it’s been great to see a very likeable star take his team to the finals in Stephen Curry, and should make for an enjoyable NBA Finals.
LeBron vs Curry.
As for LeBron, it has been impressive that No Kevin Love. No Kyrie Irving. No problem.
Its LeBron and a bunch of guys. Which is about how it was the last time LeBron took the Cavs to the Finals in his first Tour de Cleveland.
But now it truly is his team, and not him joining up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Even making the Finals again with the injuries should be enough to silence any critics.
By Chad Rader
The Madness is here, but with Kentucky such an overwhelming favorite, how mad will it be?
Vegas odds are even for Kentucky to win the NCAA Tournament, -130 for the rest of the field.
So when the next week, when everyone you know stops and asks your Final Four, save everyone the breath of saying you're picking Kentucky to win it - unless you're not!
A few tips while picking your bracket:
- Don't get swept in the "upset" thing, and pick off a No. 1 seed before the Elite Eight. Just isn't worth the risk vs reward.
- If your scoring system does reward upsets, say points for the seed winning, pick all No. 12's to beat No. 5's. Odds of a No. 5 making the Final Four - and you picking that one - are slim. Even slimmer a No. 5 wins it because it's never happened.
All but three years since 1985 has a No. 12 not beat a No. 5. So if you get 12 points for a first-round win, why not pick all four? If one is likely going to win, there's only 15 points for the No. 5's winning vs No. 12 if you only hit 1 of 4. If hit 2+ win, you're way ahead. And oh yeah - three No. 12's won in last year's tourney!
- On same token, seems like a No. 2 loses in the Round of 32 every year. Obviously Kansas did last year, and sure seems like a good candidate to this year. And get the upset points!
- Yes, the Big 12 is No. 1 in the RPI - for the second straight year. But last Big 12 team to go to the Final Four besides Kansas? 2003 with Texas. Ouch.
- Since then, Oklahoma has only escaped the second round once. And has lost in the first round both of the last two years.
- In Scott Drew's three NCAA appearances this decade, Baylor has two Elite Eights and one Sweet 16.
- 8 vs 9: Flip a coin. Ditto on 7 vs 10.
- Roy Williams has never lost an opening game.
- Rick Pitino is 11-1 in Sweet 16 games.
- Regardless of seed, Tom Izzo has made the Sweet 16 or beyond 7 of the last 8 year.
- Gonzaga hasn't reached an Elite Eight since 1999.
- Pick gut instinct and use your first entry. Sit around, research teams, matchups, yada yada and fails every time. Click or write in, boom, leave it. That'll be your best!
- And for fun, the last Final Four that didn’t include at least one team with an animal mascot was In 1987, the Final Four was UNLV (Runnin’ Rebels), Indiana (Hoosiers), Syracuse (Orangemen) and Providence (Friars).
By Chad Rader
When I flipped the calendar this weekend to March, a refreshing air swept as the page turned.
March brings a wave of eagerness and excitement to Kansas City. And definitely one wave that hasn't been felt in a while.
First, the obvious. March brings the Big 12 Tournament to Kansas City, and it should be wide open for 5-6 teams to win, especially with the recent injury (Perry Ellis) and NCAA (Cliff Alexander) situations for Kansas. Heck, for KU, it may be best to win the opening round, then fall in the semis and rest up.
But regardless, the tourney should be wide open. Not that its a good thing for the P&L and KC when KU or K-State isn't in the final - gets to be pretty dead on the Saturday when one of the two isn't in the final. Yet the Thursday and Friday sessions still should bring a fun weekend for many in March.
Then of course, the NCAA Tournament. For the locals, two may be sitting home in Mizzou and K-State. But KU and Wichita State should firmly be in the tourney and with full squads, have a solid chance to play into the second weekend. Then, who knows?
One part of March which Kansas City couldn't fully enjoy was spring training - until 2015. Now everyone has a skip to their step in talking about Spring Training. We actually listen to Ned Yost and don't perceive him as a grump. Royals fans know their starting lineup, rotation and bullpen - like real playoff teams do entering the season - and can focus on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th spots. And get excited for April!
And of course, one more month we can speculate on the Chiefs draft pick. Will it be a wide receiver in the first round? Best talent available? What offseason moves should the Chiefs continue to make? The NFL season certainly has its down months that are still very high in content.
Beyond that, there's chances to hit the golf course. The wrapping up of high school basketball state tournaments. A chance to step out occasionally and play in the yard with the kids or enjoy the weather.
Ahhh, March is here. It's time to get ready!
By Chad Rader
Royals fans and pundits befuddle me. Kansas City comes within 1-2 runs of winning the World Series, and people grumble about the offseason moves by Dayton Moore.
So Kansas City didn’t cripple themselves by signing Jon Lester or trading for Matt Kemp, who make more than the GNP of many countries. Sure, they didn’t come away with their top choices, but they still have plugged in two solid players into what will be a solid lineup from top to bottom.
Just a year ago, Alex Rios hit 18 HRs, 81 RBI while stealing 42 SBs. In 2012-13, he averaged 21 homers, 86 RBI, 34.5 SBs while hitting .291. So let’s see – more power than Nori Aoki AND more speed.
Funny – those stats are BETTER than Melky Cabrera, who many clamored for. Yeah, that’s smart. Sign a PED player to a three-year deal for $14 million per.
I’d rather take a chance that Rios rebounds for a year than obligated to three for Melky.
As for Billy Butler, I keep reading they didn’t read the market right with his $12.5 million option. No, they did. They saved $4.5 million with a switch-hitter and more power in Kendrys Morales, and afforded another typical 20/20 bat in Rios. They did just fine, and aren’t committed to three years of possible .285, 14 HRs, 74 RBI for $30 million.
Morales and Rios both had injury-riddled campaigns in 2014, while Butler also stunk. So let’s look if they rebound and all three match their 2013 numbers.
Morales: 23 HRs, 80 RBI, .277 average
Rios: 18 HRs, 81 RBI, 42 SBs, .278
Butler: 15 HRs, 82 RBI, .289
Each has more power than Butler. Both hit over .275. Good enough. And Kansas City saved money on Morales vs Butler, filled an outfield slot over light-hitting Aoki and…
Yes, the $11 million is about $6 million overboard. I'm not pleased with that. Perhaps the Royals panicked or that's what the market required for a bat. But at the end of the day, they have a solid bat and glove in right.
Let’s put it this way: For three years, $28 million (Rios, Morales) or three years, $30 million (Butler), which has the greater odds of rebounding – two players with more power and/or speed who can play in the field, or one power-lacking DH?
Overall, this is exactly what a small-market team should do. Have its core of players, sign a couple to long-term deals, trade the others about a year before their big free agency year. But for the 4-5 year window, then plug in the gaps with a bargain buy. If Morales or Rios rebounds to their previous status, the Royals still win this deal. If they both rebound – cha-ching.
Plus the Royals have options. They aren’t committed to three years each of Butler and Aoki. What if one or both of them tanked?
Kansas City basically just double-downed on letting Billy Butler go.
And as many have stated, this is about the Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain core taking the next step up, while having veteran players come in annually.
Good job Dayton. Now, time to find a starting pitcher and let’s get ready for another fun year ahead.
By Chad Rader
Thank you, Oakland.
Billy Beane and the A's offered such a no-brainer deal to Billy Butler that the former Royals designated hitter would be crazy to not accept it.
And kept the crazy factor from Kansas City being desperate or still loyal having him return.
Sure, we all liked Billy. But I feared the love affair with fans - and front office - that incurs after a playoff run. Fortunately, the process took a few weeks and allowed some space after the World Series. Otherwise, fans were clamoring that there weren't options and we need to sign Billy back.
Thankfully, that honeymoon is over. And shows that Dayton Moore is in a full all-business GM mode. Five years ago, the Royals would've made a mistake and "locked up" Butler for 3-4 years. Which, would've been a replay of Mike Sweeney's big contract that instead "locked down" KC financially when it could've had Carlos Beltran instead.
Anyway, what not signing Butler does is:
- allows Kansas City to pursue a cheaper option at DH
- pursue a DH / player with ability to play in the field
- use the extra funds towards a pitcher or RF
What the Royals need from their signing of this DH/player
- a player who can play some outfield and rotate an Alex Gordon or Lorenzo Cain or Eric Hosmer or Salvador Perez to DH
- a bat who can blast 25-30 homers and give Kansas City a true power threat in the lineup
- a contract in the $6-$8 million range, and not long-term, say two years
What Billy Butler has become:
- a middle-of-the-order bat with no power. Nine homers last year, 24 combined the past two years
- only one season with over 95 RBI
- a logjam on the bases
- decline in production
I don't know what Kansas City will do with the DH spot. Get by with Josh Willingham or a real cheap option and ramp up for an elite starter, that's fine. If the Royals go with a Michael Morse or Adam LaRoche or whomever, its way more power in one season than Butler offered in two. If KC nabs Torii Hunter with him being a DH and fourth outfielder, wonderful. All benefit the team in ways that Butler couldn't, salarywise, position wise and ability wise.
Yes, there are good memories for Butler. Just weeks after Butler was viewed as an idle bat in the lineup, he woke up and enjoyed a nice playoff run too. Scoring from first on a double. Revving it up after a stolen base. Fun times, and its better to go out on a high note and be remembered in that manner, than being a slow lug with limited power and a big contract that ate at the Royals.
Kansas City and Billy should be thankful for those moments, and more even thankful towards Oakland.