By Chad Rader
A few notes from Game 1 of the World Series, a deflating loss for Kansas City, but much more ahead in the World Series...
Key moment #1: Shields struggled with P3 in the first, as Posey laced a single, then Pablo Sandoval's RBI double put the Giants on the board out of the gates. Hunter Pence's two-run blast blew the game open before Royals fans even got their first beverage in their hands.
Key moment #2: With Kansas City appearing to have got to Madison Bumgarner in the third with second and third and no outs, Alcides Escobar repeatedly waved at pitches above his helmet for a strikeout, followed by Nori Aoki fanning on a ball in the dirt. After a walk, Eric Hosmer immediately swung at the first pitch. Frustrating.
The rest: Was just filler after those two innings
Shielding Royals fans: Shields has imploded in the playoffs with a 7.11 ERA this postseason. Unless Shields turns in a pivotal gem ahead, it'll be an easier pill for Royals fans to swallow when/if Shields jets in the offseason for a bigger contract. Now the question is, will this postseason cost Shields say $2-$3 million per year, as a team wanting an ace wants, well, big games from a Big Game pitcher?
Hope ahead: Though Giants pitchers seemingly turn into Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford and Andy Pettitte in the playoffs, these San Francisco starters are anything from that. Yes, big names with Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson ahead, but all three remaining starters held a record below .500 in 2014 (Peavy 7-13, Hudson 9-13, Vogelsong 8-13), the first time a team advanced to the World Series with three starters under .500.
Getting to the Ace: Kansas City finally got to Madison Bumgarner, snapping a 21-inning scoreless streak in the World Series and 32.2 in the postseason on the road. Barring a San Francisco sweep, KC will face Bumgarner again, so good for KC to get something on the board against the big lefty.
Who Thunk It?: Would anyone thought when Gregor Blanco was traded from Kansas City in 2011, after playing just 49 games in 2010, that he'd score two runs against KC in Game 1 of a World Series game?
Fire Extinguisher: The fear of the layoff was that Kansas City's momentum would be lost. In a bigger fear, once KC saw its winning streak snapped, would be how the Royals will react? Let's not hope its not the same as the 2007 Colorado Rockies, which won seven straight to advance to the World Series, then after its 7-0 streak was snapped, got swept, 4 games to 0 by Boston.
Deflating stat: In the last 11 years, only once (Yankees, 2009) have lost Game 1 and come back to win the World Series.
What's Ahead: Kansas City must win in Game 2. Good news, Peavy has just a 4.97 career ERA vs Kansas City.
By Chad Rader
So. there's been about 278 series previews so far, but this one will offer a bit of a different perspective for Royals fans.
27 years ago, as a young baseball fan already enamored with the Royals, I harmlessly decided to follow - and love - another baseball team in the National League. Will Clark became my favorite player after the Brett-White tandem retired, and I annually bought a new San Francisco Giants hate and other attire, as well as Royals gear.
Years went by, the Royals stunk, stunk and stunk some more. San Francisco seemingly advanced to the playoffs once every 2-3 years, with even a World Series loss after the turn of the century. I've seen the Giants play in four different ballparks. Then the Giants purged themselves of the Bonds era, and became an even more likeable team based on pitching, defense and timely hitting en route to two improbable World Series titles.
Sound familiar? Certainly does, and that's what makes this World Series - while perhaps not the name brands national fans originally wanted - very appealing.
Which will give? Kansas City going undefeated in the 2014 postseason with an 8-0 record? Or the Giants having won nine straight postseason series in a row?
Who will blink in the late innings, with both teams having small ball rallies or a timely homer to win in the final at-bat?
As a huge fan of each franchise over nearly three decades, here are the keys for the Royals to Take the Crown!
BUM OUT BUMGARNER
Kansas City needs to take one against Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, who actually has pitched better on the road than at AT&T Park in the postseason recently. Regardless, he's an ace in the playoffs with a 2.67 career ERA, and Kansas City needs to find a way to snag a win.
BIG GAME OUT OF BIG GAME
James Shields has surrendered a 5.65 ERA this postseason, but recent news that Shields passed a kidney stone during this past ALCS may have a bit to do with some of that. In the end, Kansas City needs one big game from Big Game, especially opposite of Bumgarner.
TAKE GAME ONE
Sure, Kansas City hasn't lost a game in the postseason, and not since October 1985. But odds are it will happen in the World Series at some point, and getting the first game is very crucial for the Royals, especially at home.
MAKE THE GIANTS HIT IT - AND FIELD IT
After watching umpteen Giants comebacks and rallies in the postseason, the formula for its rallies sounds familiar. A walk, a bunt, a muffed ball or misplay and a run comes in, with another runner on second. Then a hit and suddenly San Francisco has scored two on just one bloop hit.
Yes, does sound familiar, eh? Kansas City usually gets the defensive part right - I don't think Eric Hosmer will be confused with Matt Adams of St. Louis at first base (who botched consecutive plays to lead to a big rally in Game 5 of the NLCS). The Giants have a meager offense as well, so not giving walks to a Brandon Crawford or other light-hitting batters is crucial.
Posey, Pablo, Pence are the core of the lineup. None of them have blasted 30 homers this year, but have all had many postseason moment. And Buster Posey arguably is the game's best catcher, having an MVP under his belt (2012) and just 27. Who can forget Pablo's three-homer game in Game One of the 2012 World Series off Justin Verlander? And Pence, as quirky as he is, is one tough out and just a ballplayer.
Now, the Giants will get a likely boost in Kansas City, with Michael Morse returning from injury and limited to hitting duties, and can DH in the AL park. He blasted a pinch-hit homer in the Game 5 comeback, and will give depth to the Giants lineup in up to four games at DH.
NEED TWO HOT HITTERS
Kansas City obviously needs some hot sticks or key hits, and would go a long way if Billy Butler or Alex Gordon batted .520 for the series. In what likely will be a pitching and defense series, such a hitter as Hosmer, Mike Moustakas or Lorenzo Cain have been early on would carry Kansas City a long way.
QUICK NOTES FROM THE SF TO KC FAN
- Pablo Sandoval is like Yogi Berra, Kirby Puckett, Vlady Guerrero. He never saw a pitch he didn't like - or can hit. It may be in the dirt, may be a foot outside. But it can be a double either way.
- Hunter Pence is quirky, looks goofy - but is a ballplayer. No matter how horrible his swing and batting stance look, how oddly he runs after a ball in the outfield - Pence will end up dirty and can beat you.
- Looking in the mirror - Kansas City and San Francisco each put together the late rallies. It ain't over until its over...
- Posey can be run on. He's thrown out 30% of runners this year, and pretty much his career. Which isn't something like 45% or crazy. So it can be done.
- Let's not face Yusmeiro Petit. Usually it'll be in a long relief situation, whether a starter was tired, or extra innings. But he set broke Mark Buehrle's MLB record for most consecutive batters retired.
Starters: San Francisco with Bumgarner, Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy at the top. Ryan Vogelsong is nothing more than Jeremy Guthrie, but has risen to the occasion in the postseason - as Guthrie did in Game 4 of the ALCS. But the top three are tough, and what's scary is Matt Cain has been out the second half of the season on the DL. If KC can get another round of Jason Vargas and Guthrie stepping up, then the Royals will be fine. The key will be Yordano Ventura in the mix.
Advantage: San Francisco
Long-relief: Usually isn't needed, aside from either a blowout or extra innings. While Danny Duffy is strong, how long can he go? Meanwhile, Yusmeiro Petit set an MLB record for most consecutive scoreless innings in the regular season, fired 6.0 scoreless IP in the 2-1 NLDS Game 2 18-inning marathon and while he's stunk all year, there still is two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum hanging out, who has been blessed with postseason pixie dust in the past.
Advantage: San Francisco
Bullpen: Sure, San Fran has a decent pen with Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla. But Hunter Strickland and Jean Machi are used a lot in high-level situations and just stink. Let's cut to the chase: No one in the game is better than the Royals trio of Herrera - Davis - Holland. And even Jason Frasor has risen up.
Advantage: Kansas City
Defense: Losing centerfield Angel Pagan to injury hurt San Francisco. Sandoval, for how big he is, is surprisingly good at third. Either that, or he makes plays look better with diving and flopping around. Belt is strong at first base. Kansas City has the advantage, but not by leaps and bounds.
Advantage: Kansas City
Hitting: Neither teams is an offensive juggernaut. Usually its piecing together an infield hit, a bunt, a botched play or a bloop. The Royals have the edge with its speed on the basepaths however.
Advantage: Kansas City
Clutch: The Royals certainly have showed they can rise to the moment. San Francisco has shown it can rise to the moment.
If Kansas City can get beat Bumgarner once, knock around Peavy once and take advantage against Vogelsong, the Royals should be okay. But Kansas City will need strong starting pitching themselves, and the ALCS didn't see a starter go past five innings, which is a concern.
WHO WILL WIN
Kansas City, of course!
WHO I WANT TO WIN
I've been asked this many times, but obviously want Kansas City to Take the Crown. A no-brainer growing up on the Royals, having worked forthe ogranization for four years and still interaction with players and fans.
And while it will be hard to root against San Francisco for the first time in 27 years, the good news is, the consolation prize for my favorite team losing is my favorite team winning it all.
But let's make it a fun, memorable series, with the all-time favorite team since I was 6 beating the all-time favorite team since I was 14.
Listen to a montage of Royals highlights from the 2014 MLB playoffs ... so far!
By Chad Rader
Playoff baseball is all about pitching, defense and timely hits. That's certainly what Kansas City has been all about this week.
It would be fun to recollect the big plays and big hits but we all have them etched in our minds already. The Aoki twisting and turning catches. The Jarrod Dyson pivotal thrown out at third. And the two big game-winning homers from Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer.
Kudos can't be given enough to Dayton Moore for sticking with Hosmer and Moustakas, and really, there wasn't any other choice. But the two young players that Royals fans have bellyached about for the past two years, as the future faces of the franchises, who haven't produced up to the hype. Yeah, that's all forgotten now.
Hosmer has gone from a light-hitting first baseman to the face of the franchise and a poster boy for ads ahead - beyond Kansas City. And even though he was mic'ed up, Hosmer has appeared to be the leader of the team as well.
What's scary for all is that the Royals will likely be picked by many pundits to win it all next year - regardless what happens this postseason. All but Billy Butler, Aoki and James Shields will return, and surely, these playoffs will boost these players to even more greatness and confidence next year.
But back to this weekend:
- How tough is Salvador Perez? The biggest contribution from Josh Hamilton may have been knocking the KC catcher out. But he took the shot to the head and kept going.
- Anaheim a whopping 2-for-21 with runners on base, 1 for 13 with runners in scoring position. As frustrated as Royals fans may be, yelling "just score a RUN!"at their TVs, you can only imagine with three runs in 22 innings would be like for Anaheim.
- How you think Anaheim likes that Josh Hamilton contract?
- The bullpen for Kansas City vs Anaheim has been quite evident. The Royals bring in former closers in Jason Frasor and are able - even without Kelvim Herrera - to have the depth to save Greg Holland for the 11th inning shutdown, and not the wince and hope the team can hold on.
- What a run by Lorenzo Cain to beat out the throw.
- And was that the loudest homer you've ever heard, when Hosmer no-brained it into the bullpen?
- All to a 9-inning win and catching up on sleep ... naaaa.
A fun week, and very likely, another big week - or two ahead. The Angels certainly can wake up and bust out a 7-1 romp real fast. But until they do ... enjoy the Royal treatment.
By Chad Rader
There's not really any other way this Royals season should finish up.
Just when Kansas City looked on the ropes again, tripping at Detroit, fumbling against Boston and blowing a lead with Chicago, the Royals really looked like they were seemingly done. KC was going against Chris Sale, the Tigers just lost to Minnesota and surely wouldn't lose two in a row to the Twins.
But, in this wacky 2014, which has teased Royals fans into jumping off the ledge, or jumping for joy, Kansas City sure enough handled Sale, and Minnesota did likewise with Detroit.
So now Kansas City stands 1/2 game (or 1 game, Cleveland pending) entering a three-game series with Detroit.
We've talked about it all year, focused our collective eyesight on this series since April, and now, Kansas City will be playing for first-place in this series.
As this season has gone, wouldn't it be storybook if the Royals struggled against the mighty Tigers and when it counted the most, KC took 2 of 3 - or even swept?
But first things first, and that's keeping the offense going.
Suddenly, Kansas City has scored 4 or more runs in three of its last four games. Obviously if there was a time for the Royals offense to get hot, this last two weeks is it.
To do so, the Royals must keep putting out their best offense, and really, like many pennant winning teams, need a guy or two to heat up and carry the load.
A slap or singles hitter isn't that guy. You're not going to see two weeks of multiple games of 2-for-4 with a double and homer out of Nori Aoki or Alcides Escobard or Lorenzo Cain - wait, we just had that Wednesday night.
We'd be ecstatic if we saw 2-3 more of those down the stretch.
But realistically, the best candidates on the roster are:
1. Alex Gordon
2. Josh Willingham
3. Billy Butler
4. Salvador Perez
5. Eric Hosmer
Yes, Butler and Willingham pitched against the left-handed Sale. But stick both in there and leave them. Last night's lineup with Escobar-Aoki-Cain-Willingham-Gordon-Perez-Butler-Infante-Nix/Moustakas should be the one to trot out there, with Hosmer in the mix with Butler and Willingham.
So go down swinging, Ned. Keep writing in Butler's name, and Willingham if healthy, with Hosmer in the mix too. If Butler or Willingham gets hot, each can really jolt an offense. If both warm up, well, we'll be playing into October!
By Chad Rader
Kansas City, you now can enjoy being in a pennant race.
The talk over the past few days has reflected back to the 80s, perhaps the occasional talk of 1994 or 2003, of when Kansas City was last in a real chase for the pennant. But those were either stricken short, or fell way short on talent.
And no, last year when KC was 4 1/2 out of the Wild Card for a month or so, that wasn't a pennant race. It would be like walking the Plaza outside, window shopping and coming home to talk about your shopping spree.
But this season, the Royals are right in the middle of it. In fact, after Monday night's win - KC's eighth straight - they are in front of it, in first in the AL Central.
Hard to believe, considering on July 22, KC stood 7 1/2 out of first. Even just 12 days ago, the Royals were 5.0 games out, and Detroit had just picked up its third Cy Young winner, David Price, in a trade shortly thereafter.
We were content with fighting through the glorified greyhound race otherwise known as the Wild Card, which Kansas City took the lead in. But Detroit kept finding ways to lose while KC found ways to win.
Yeah, there's a lot of baseball left, and generally the pendulum swings back a bit. How many long winning streaks can Kansas City have in a year?
Now that Kansas City has done the unfathomable and wiped out a large lead in literally no time, its heads up with Detroit. Let's take a quick look at the pros, cons.
Pitching - Yes, its three Cy Young winners vs the Royals. But Anibal Sanchez was just placed on the DL, Justin Verlander exited Monday with a shoulder injury and in case you haven't noticed, Kansas City doesn't have a bad five-man rotation itself.
Advantage: Tie, but Kansas City if Sanchez and Verlander miss time
Bullpen - No-brainer.
Advantage: Kansas City
Offense - Detroit has outscored KC by over 50 runs this season. The Tigers scored six on Monday - and lost. No need to lie to ourselves during a hot streak.
Defense, speed - Kansas City
I'd love to spout how despite a lack of offense, which Dayton Moore grabbed Josh Willingham at a fraction of the cost of the asking price 12 days ago, how the Royals have a playoff-style team. Great pitching, good defense, very good speed. Aside from Pablo Sandoval's three-homer night, do you recall the Giants slugging their way to two World Series titles? Um, not even close.
But let's focus on getting there first. Obviously going for the division and playing a series instead of a coin flip game now is a realistic goal.
If Verlander and/or Sanchez are injured, Kansas City looks to have the advantage down the stretch, especially if BOTH are hurt. If they rebound swiftly, Detroit would seem to still have a bit of an advantage due to having been there, done that. And KC has whimpered to Detroit this season at 4-9.
But that was then, this is now, and if the Royals keep playing like this - and as they did in the second half last season - they may be the hunted instead of the hunters come September. Wouldn't that be fun? Correction - it WILL be fun.
There are no games scheduled for today.