By Chad Rader
Kansas winning a Big 12 title. Yawn, what else is new, right?
For the rest of the league and common basketball fans on the outside, this seems like old news, like another seasonal Boulevard beer coming out or brash Donald Trump quote.
For many Jayhawks fans and media, most seemed astonished that the season has flipped and KU likely clinches a share of its 12th straight league crown on Saturday.
Yes, 12 straight conference titles is still a laughable, amazing feat. For weeks, discussions of Kansas on-air or online have been prefaced how its "not one of Self's most talented teams", as if its with a hodge-podge of players or Bill Self took a roster of middling players and turned them into a winner.
Maybe its because KU trailed in the Big 12 race just three weeks ago. Maybe its because there isn't a lottery pick - or two - on the roster.
But like Self told the media at Thursday's weekly press conference, there's more to a team than a superstar or two that makes a great team.
"We don't the great prospects as we've had in the past," replied Self, when asked how they've won without a top 15 projected NBA draft pick this spring. "We've had some pretty good prospects run through here, as evidenced where they're drafted. But what we have are many good players. Sometimes that creates balance and creates a lot of things that's fun to coach."
"Sometimes when we say that, it's discrediting how good your players are. We have good players, and a bunch of them. We don't have the projected NBA top lottery picks as have in some of the years in the past."
"And they care, and they care a lot. They try real hard and are competitive. And we've also been fortunate, knock on wood, we've stayed away from injuries. Won some close games that could go the other way."
And that's not to say there aren't future NBA stars on the team. Self reminded the media that eventual No. 5 pick Thomas Robinson sat behind three NBA lottery picks (Marcus and Markieff Morris, Cole Aldrich). Or Jeff Withey was the sixth best post player on the roster, before setting a NCAA Tournament record for most blocked shots in 2012.
Self talked about Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg and even freshman LaGerald Vick, and they'll eventually be good. But it doesn't benefit Kansas to play them right now.
"It's not an easy thing when you get humbled and highly recruited to come in and buy in, that's difficult to do, but our three freshman have been great," Self said. "The thing that's been important to us is that this team also has to win. It's such a balance that you want to do what's best for the kids, but on the flip side, what's best for the kids is playing the guys that's best for our team."
Self was also asked if he's most proud of this team (likely) winning the Big 12. I thought earlier this season of writing a column, ranking Self's most talented teams, and this certainly is far from the bottom. Heck, the 2012 team had Justin Wesley as the first man off the bench (referenced later, below). Christian Moody started on some Big 12 title teams. No offense, but Brady Morningstar and Tyrell Reed were the starting backcourt and KU still won the league and were a No. 1 seed.
If it wasn't for Buddy Hield, Perry Ellis may be the Big 12 Player of the Year. Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham would star at point for most teams. Wayne Selden Jr and Lucas are experienced, older players, as well as Traylor and Greene off the pine.
Maybe it's the glamorous high-scoring offenses of an Iowa State, or star power of an Oklahoma that had KU fans and media offline, but seriously? And with a two-game lead with three to go, beating Oklahoma and Baylor - and most teams - twice, its hard to fathom how Self doesn't win Coach of the Year.
It's funny how the season started and evolved, and how short fans and media's memories become. First, Kansas wins the World Games in South Korea, and all that was discussed was how the Jayhawks have a veteran roster, two good point guards and an elder tandem of Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden.
Then the Cheick Diallo / NCAA fiasco lingered, and everyone expected greatness immediately the freshman. Then it was that Self wasn't playing Diallo and Bragg, and he should've taken losses to advance their progress for the NCAA Tournament. Those murmurings got louder after KU lost three of five in mid-January, and now KU wasn't going to even win the LEAGUE!
So Self kept playing Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor with toggling Brannen Green and Svi Mykhailiuk and Hunker Mickelson (when healthy). Gradually, Lucas found his role inside and now has averaged 8.4 ppg and a whopping 10.8 rebounds in the last five games - a span which includes three road wins.
And a team that did seemingly fold once the road team got the lead now how flipped that and been the veteran team, like it showed in South Korea, that rises up in the final 3-4 minutes, and makes the plays. At Oklahoma, at Kansas State, at Baylor - all within single digits and 1-2 possessions, and KU made the plays to win.
"Intangibles have played a role in it. Certainly toughness is one of those big intangibles," Self said.
The recent eight-game win streak, seven in Big 12 play to slam the door on the league, all started with the Kentucky win on January 30, in which KU showed the same moxie down the stretch as it did in the fabled Oklahoma triple-overtime classic. Since then, well, it may have been the jumpstart KU needed.
"I thought the way the schedule was, we had a chance to get the wheels back on if we played well. But I don't think down the road that far and think one or two games at a time... I haven't thought about we can get on a serious roll right here when have to go to OU, have to go to Baylor, still have to go to Manhattan."
But Kansas showed then - and since - it is the more veteran team down the stretch.
"We close the (Baylor) game out 13-2, I think is a sign of toughness. Not necessarily physical toughness, but mentally tough."
Which may equate to what KU fans want the most - a long NCAA run. The last elder team KU has was the 2012 and 2013 tourney teams that went to the NCAA Final and then the Sweet 16 (with a near walk to the Elite Eight before Elijah Johnson implosion). The team wasn't the highest on talent after Thomas Robinson in 2012, but won every game down the stretch in the final minutes.
With just a few weeks before the NCAA Tourney, that's what KU resembles - a better version of the 2012 team. And that team has Justin Wesley and Conner Teahen as the first off the bench. Not Diallo's and Bragg's and Svi's and Greene's and Traylors.
While there may not be a Jayhawk called on the NBA Draft's first hour - or first round - that doesn't matter when it comes to this season and what still remains. Maybe it wasn't Diallo and Bragg, but Lucas instead. Who cares?
And KU has a few things that fans and media can't measure. And to reference baseball as Self does in pressers, its much how the Royals don't project to high win totals in that desire and toughness and know their roles and handling late-game pressure aren't measured. And what everyone seemingly forgot - KU basketball just knows how to win.
"It's their last go round, Self said. "They just want to win."
By Chad Rader
For the past two years, Royals fans have clamored for Kansas City to sign one of its World Series heroes, or else Kansas City will have failed in the offseason.
Last year, it was Billy Butler. Then around July, there weren’t any more cries for Billy Butler to be in the Royals lineup anymore when his replacement, Kendrys Morales, was the anchor of the offense.
Now this offseason, its Alex Gordon who Kansas City must sign for the offseason to be a success. And for the second straight offseason, I’m telling Royals fans to forget the memories and look ahead.
The latest going rate for Gordon is five years, $85-$105 million. Which puts Gordon still collecting $17 million when he’s 37 years old. Do you think the Royals will get ANYWHERE close to $17 million in value when Gordon is 37? Or 36? Or even $7 million in value?
Look at it objectively, not with your heart. Just like when you took the memories of Butler cranking the wheel during the World Series and cataloged them. But then enjoyed Kendrys Morales belting in over 100 RBI - which Billy Butler accomplished just once. Fans already posted that we are forgetting Game One of the World Series and Gordon's heroics in the bottom of the ninth. Hey, that’s great, but its in the books. Kansas City has a ring. Thank you Alex, we’ll see you at the reunion in 10 years.
To strap a small-market organization with a player making $17 million for each of the next five years, they better:
a) Win a Cy Young or be a perennial Cy Young contender
b) Be a consistent 25/25 player with strong defense
c) Hit 30 HRs with 100 RBI every year
Gordon is none of the above. Instead:
A) He’s suffered injuries in the past two years
B) Is getting older
C) Has yet to hit 25 HRs or drive in 90 RBI
This is a hitter who batted eight in the postseason. I can recall the days when we'd disclaim a Royals cleanup batter as saying "Jeff King would bat 7th on a World Series team". Well, the Royals were a championship team, and Gordon batted eighth. Should the Royals shell out $15M+ for a No. 8 batter?
The Royals timeline for spending and winning is the next 1-2 years. Dayton Moore needs to continue to work financially around the core of Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Yordano Ventura, with Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez along the way too. A one-year reclamation project in left field for $7-8 million, and another in right field is better than shoving all-in on Gordon. Or trade for Carlos Gonzalez, who will rake $17-$20M for two more years, during the Royals time of contention, but not for FIVE years.
Then in 3-4 years, say 2018 or 2019, be prepared for Kansas City to reboot and endure a rebuild mode with perhaps just 2, maybe 4 of the aforementioned core around. At that point, Gordon at $17 million will be an albatross killing the organization and untradeable.
Now if the market dries up and if Kansas City can snag Gordon at say four years, $55 million ($13.75M per year) with a option for the fifth (which KC will decline, but give Gordon a free $2-3M), then sure. Otherwise, get into five years – ugh - and getting into another Mike Sweeney contract.
And if a team signs Gordon, Kansas City gets a Type A draft pick. The Royals will land a player for this year eventually AND garner another chip for the future too.
Yes, its tough to swallow a homegrown player, a hometown hero, not returning to Kansas City. And at what point are Royals fans going to just trust Dayton Moore's moves? And also realize its baseball, and players will come and go - even your favorite ones. And also realize - its Alex Gordon's choice as well.
So Royals fans – put all your Alex Gordon memories down in your Kansas City scrapbook, continue to enjoy the greatest era in Royals history – and turn the page.
By Chad Rader
Not all good things last forever, and a few things were likely to end:
1) Johnny Cueto wasn't going to repeat his ALDS Game 5 performance again
2) Kansas City couldn't silence Toronto forever
3) The Royals nine-game ALCS win streak
A return home to
Skydome Rogers Centre and Cueto reverting back to the Cueto of Aug-Sept was just what the doctor ordered for the Blue Jays.
The good news? No matter had Toronto won, 20-4, Kansas City still stands up, 2-1, in the ALCS.
But hate to say, Game 4 feels like a must win for Kansas City. Otherwise, if Toronto can win the Slow Pitch Softball game, otherwise known as Chris Young vs R.A. Dickey, the Jays sit at 2-2.
The biggest bronze medal of Game 3 was Kris Medlen's outing, eating up 5 innings and not leading Game 3 into a carousel of pitchers being burned off.
Kansas City surely will sneak out a win either Tuesday or Wednesday, but it sure is scary to see Toronto win Game 4, then if the Jays win Game 5, they sit with David Price in Game 6. Yeah, he's 0-6 in postseason starts, but do you really want to go against him in an elimination game?
As for Cueto, well, you figured the pendulum would swing back. And would it surprise, if in a Game 7, he came out with another stellar outing? And think of this, you'd rather have the great effort in Game 5 of the ALDS and the turd in Game 3 than the alternative - KC wouldn't be playing now.
The key for Kansas City is to somehow keep Joey Bautista down, but feel like he's going to break loose at some point. And keep either Tulowitzki and Donaldson within limits. With the Toronto bats awakened, the Royals are going to have to win a wild slugfest in Toronto. And KC still hung 8 on the board and made the Jays get out their closer on Monday night.
It'll take quite an outing from Chris Young in Game 4 to pull it off, but with Kansas City, its a new day and can expect the unexpected.
And oh by the way, its still Kansas City up 2-1.
By Chad Rader
Could Kansas City fans have drawn up Game 5 of the ALDS any better? Only a no-hitter by Johnny Cueto could've topped his two-hit lockdown effort in an exciting, but fun, 7-2 clincher on Wednesday night.
All day, everyone talked if Kansas City could grab the lead, the Royals would close it down. With Cueto locked in, and a few weapons in the bullpen, that certainly was the case when KC took the lead in the fifth. And if the ball stayed in the park, the Royals defense would clamp it to maybe a run - tops. Sure enough, Alex Gordon makes a sliding snag on a foul ball. Ben Zobrist snared a leaping grab at second base. All kept any baserunner from getting on base to even think of warming up a pitcher or taking out Cueto.
Meanwhile, Cueto was simply locked in. He retired his last 19 batters in a row - the most in an AL postseason game since Don Larsen's perfect gaem in 1956 - and really only made one bad pitch - if even that. Ned Yost commented during the broadcast that the pitch was a good one and yes, it happens, hitters can smack good pitches out of the park.
It was good to see Yost send Cueto out in the eighth, as he wanted Cueto to keep the swagger and get him "unlocked" for many big games ahead. If KC runs out deep into the next rounds, Cueto still could get three, maybe four starts. But none bigger than tonight - so far.
And this start makes everyone forget about the previous two months. Or had Cueto fired seven no-hitters in August and September, but got torched in Game 5 in the ALDS, fans would be livid. Instead, we can play the Johnny Cueto song repeatedly on-air - and want to turn it up.
Usually an unsuspecting player in the lineup can be the postseason hero and with all his troubles in 2015, Alex Rios capped a run of four straight at-bats with hits, including the go-ahead two-run double in the three-run fifth inning. Which was capped by a sacrifice bunt and a fly ball by Zobrist to give KC the cushion they needed.
The inning capped Kansas City's battling at the plate. After swing at pitches early in the game, the Royals started working longer counts by the fourth inning and chased Collin McHugh before the end of the fifth.
Finally, let's look at Dayton Moore's pickups this year:
Kendrys Morales: HR, 3 RBI (3 HR, 6 RBI in series)
Johnny Cueto: W, 8 IP, 2 H, 8 SO
Alex Rios: 2-for-3, 2 RBI
Ben Zobrist: sac fly, .333 in ALDS
And last, but not least. All we heard about giving up so much in Wil Myers in the James Shields trade, but after the last two years and the 2015 ALDS, it should be forever remembered as the Wade Davis trade. Is there any pitcher better in the league right now?
So now Kansas City enters the ALCS with its ace unlocked, its bats busted out with 16 runs in the last two games and its swagger back. It'll need all of it against Toronto, but hey, it'll be another exciting ride ahead!
By Chad Rader
The weekend finished on highs for area college football and the Royals.
First, the Royals notched a win in Detroit and showed signs of life with better pitching, hitting and late-inning rallies that appear Kansas City is ready to take the roller coaster back upwards. Obviously a team will hit highs and lows during the season – though current Royals fans who suddenly realize there’s regular-season baseball and expect the Royals to win every game or every series. When in fact, if you win 100 games and are the best team in baseball, you still lose 62.
So the Royals have hit a major dip – if the Royals win their next game, it’ll mark the first time Kansas City has won back-to-back games in nearly three weeks! But I’d rather KC hit a funk, get a few things back on track and hit the playoffs on the way upwards than having come off a hot streak into the playoffs.
I don’t know how many times a school has won its conference tournament in basketball and flopped in the NCAAs. Heck, there used to be a number in the early ‘00s that a team who won its conference tourney hadn’t won the NCAA Tournament in over 20 years. It since has happened, but the point is there. Just because you’re hot in September doesn’t mean it’ll carry over into October. Last year, San Francisco was 13-12 in September.
In 1985, Kansas City lost 9 of 13 after September 16, including streaks of losing four (4) and three (3) in a row. Yet we know how that turned out.
Obviously the biggest note of the weekend, aside from Kendrys Morales almost making MLB history with nearly four homers in one game, was the pitching of Johnny Cueto. It’s hard to say he’s 100% back, but another start like that and KC will feel much better about its rotation of Cueto-Ventura-Volzquez-Medlen into the postseason.
As for the closer role, as Nate Bukaty mentioned on The Border Patrol on Monday morning, it was better for Greg Holland to have such an incident now than in October, and you couldn’t make the move on what you believed would happen. Now, there’s a concrete case that Greg Holland isn’t Greg Holland, and Ned Yost can make the move.
For me, and as discussed by Nate and Steven St. John with the Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellinger, to go into the postseason and use Greg Holland in the final innings is chancy. The quartet of Luke Hochevar (6th), Ryan Madson (7th), Kelvin Herrera (8th) and Wade Davis (9th) is still dynamite and less risky. Plus Danny Duffy could be in the mix, with either a Chris Young or Duffy in long-relief in the event a starter is getting rocked or injured, and in any playoff run, there is that one game that you have to pull a pitcher after 2 or 3 innings, whether you like it or not, and don’t want to exhaust the entire bullpen.
So to emerge out of the weekend with the bats warming up, Cueto looking like he’s returning back to Cueto and getting resolution to the bullpen’s inevitable dilemma, we’ll call it a good weekend!
As for K-State, a win is a win. The ‘Cats always endure one game that’s to the wire with a non-power conference opponent. And its good to win a game late and needing the late dramatics. Will K-State win the conference? Doubtful. Will KSU enjoy a 7- or 8-win season in just a “normal” year? Very likely.
As for Mizzou, well, see K-State on the annual “just-get-out-with-a-win” game. The 9-6 win wasn’t pretty by any means. Defensively, it was great. The late interception on the fake field goal was stupendous. But offensively, just a bunch of stalling out. Maty Mauk’s numbers weren’t bad, but 9 points is atrocious. Drew Lock came into the game late, and aside from swing passes, didn’t connect downfield and avoided a potential interception (which in hindsight, would’ve been a great punt inside the UConn 10). It’s early in the year, and MU also will grab its mandatory 7-8 wins for the year. To get to 10 wins and another SEC conference crown may be a bit more challenging than ever. But never know…
And a great weekend for Kansas – the Jayhawks didn’t lose!
By Chad Rader, Sports Radio 810 WHB
As the final month of the season starts, Kansas City has been on cruise control and fans can daydream as the clock ticks away toward the final bell.
Then the real season begins – the playoffs. Until then, we wonder “Did we trade for a dud in Johnny Cueto, or will he get his stuff back?” “Can Yordano Ventura keep this up?” “Will the chickenpox linger to other players late in September?”
Great issues to worry about, rather than white knuckling the remote or madly clicking refresh , cursing the service on the phone for a score during a tight playoff race.
But another question looms: “Who will be on the Royals playoff roster?” “Who will the starters be?”
Let’s take a look:
Starting Lineup (9)
SS Alcides Escobar
2B Ben Zobrist
CF Lorenzo Cain
1B Eric Hosmer
DH Kendrys Morales
LF Alex Gordon
C Salvador Perez
3B Mike Moustakas
RF Alex Rios or Alex Rios/Jarrod Dyson
2B Omar Infante
OF Johnny Gomes
OF Jarrod Dyson/Alex Rios
C Drew Butera
OF Terrance Gore – seemed a last-minute gimmick last year, but really did put some pressure on the pitching. Nice to have a second pinch-runner late
But what about Paulo Orlando? Before the acquisition of Gomes, was a sure-fire bet. Now, with the flexibility of moving Infante to 2B and Zobrist to OF, or Cain and Dyson in the OF, which is more of a late threat – Orlando at the plate or Gore on the basepaths? Easy answer.
And really, which will happen more, in an AL series:
Number of pinch-hitting opportunities vs number of pinch-running opportunities. Is Ned Yost going to pinch-hit for any of the top 8 batters? Only time is after a pinch-running opportunity, then the game is extended and needs a bat for player.
Now, as for a UT man. Again, this is where Zobrist comes into play vs a Cheslor Cuthbert. Infante can play 2B, Zobrist to 3B if needed.
So really, the case of it being down to Paulo Orlando vs Terrance Gore. WIth Zobrist's flexibility, there is the insurance for an injury in the series, and really, is this that big of a debate? For that matter:
ALDS, ALCS: Terrance Gore
World Series: Paulo Orlando
When you're cruising in the AL, it is...
We can juggle these as you wish, but the four are set. Prediction will be Johnny Cueto returns with 2-3 strong starts at the end, and places himself at the top of the rotation.
P Johnny Cueto
P Yordano Ventura – Would be better, assuming KC has home-field advantage, to pitch Ventura at home
P Edinson Volquez
P Danny Duffy / Kris Medlen – Depends if it’s a lineup such as Toronto’s that would murder a lefty, then Medlen is the guy
Pretty standard here, and with a day off on travel days, not as important to stockpile 8-9 relievers. Kansas City will have two long relievers with either Medlen or Duffy, along with Chris Young. And perhaps just having one lefty with Morales may move Duffy to the bullpen. Though as we know with HDH, lefty and righty doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, as it shouldn’t, with Kansas City’s decisions on pitchers. Though Morales as a LHP makes it over Hochevar for that exact reason.
And yes, Jeremy Guthrie is missing.
RHP Chris Young
RHP Ryan Madson
LHP Franklin Morales
RHP Kelvin Herrera
RHP Wade Davis
RHP Greg Holland
Overall, this is a very strong postseason roster. The lineup is steady from top to bottom. The bench has power in Gomes, a savvy clutch batter in Infante, weapons on the paths in Dyson and Gore. And the staff has various options, of course.
Last year, Yost kept:
Catchers - 2
Infielders - 5 (Zobrist over Nix as the change. Um, okay)
Outfielders - 6 (Rios for Aoki; Gomes for Willingham)
DH - 1 (Morales for Butler)
Pitchers - 11
I’d rather have the extra player to decide on the bench with late-inning situations and flexibility, especially in extra-inning affairs, like last year. Is this the playoff roster to put in the books for October? Barring injury, I’d like to have it and likely Ned Yost will as well. Heck, its pretty much the same as last year, and if it ain't broke, don't fix it.