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.
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!