Friday, February 5, 2016

Top Moments of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals: #160 - #151.

Among this group of ten are some plays you undoubtedly remember. All of them are worthy of your memory.

Moment #: 160
Date: October 25, 2014
Game: 2014 World Series Game 4, @ San Francisco Giants
Score: Kansas City 4, San Francisco 3, Bottom of the 5th
Situation: One out, bases loaded
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Juan Perez vs. Danny Duffy
Result: Line out to center field, tying run scores
WPA: -1%

Summary: Jarrod Dyson makes a circus catch in center field with the bases loaded, but can’t prevent the tying run from scoring.

Link to video: Here.
The Giants had already begun their comeback in The Game That Got Away, having scored a run in the bottom of the 3rd to make it 4-2, and having chased Jason Vargas in the bottom of the 5th, had already scored one run and had the bases loaded with just one out. On the first pitch from Danny Duffy, the Royals’ third pitcher of the inning, Juan Perez hit a liner into shallow center field. Had there been two outs in the inning instead of one, or if the Royals had gone on to win the game, Jarrod Dyson’s diving catch would be remembered as one of the best defensive plays – maybe the best – of the last two years. His jump, his acceleration, his speed…look how shallow he is when he catches this ball. It’s an amazing catch. 

But, alas, it was a Pyrrhic one, as Hunter Pence tagged and easily scored the tying run after Dyson had to dive to make the play. Duffy would then strike out Brandon Crawford to end the inning, and Dyson would lead off the top of the 6th with a single. That would be the last time they were favored to win the game, however; Nori Aoki would ground into a double play, and the Giants would score three in the 6th and four in the 7th to put the game away.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Top Moments of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals: #170 - #161.

We’re still in the realm of “Moments you may have forgotten about”, but we’re moving closer to the lands of “Moments you really should never forget”.

Moment #: 170
Date: October 27, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 1, vs. New York Mets
Score: New York 4, Kansas City 4, Top of the 12th
Situation: No outs, bases empty
Count: 2-2 (+2 fouls)
Matchup: Daniel Murphy vs. Chris Young
Result: Strikeout, 2-3
WPA: 6%

Summary: A lucky bounce and a good play by Salvador Perez prevents a leadoff strikeout/wild pitch in extra innings in the World Series opener.

Link to video: Here.
It’s always better to be lucky than good. As Game 1 of the 2015 World Series went deeper and deeper into extra innings and the Royals were forced to turn to Chris Young in the 12th inning, he struck out the first batter he faced, Daniel Murphy – who had just become the first player in history to hit a home run in six consecutive playoff games – on a slider in the dirt, only the ball bounced through the legs of both Salvador Perez and the home-plate umpire. Fortunately, the ball hit the backstop on the hard green border – ensuring a solid, true bounce – just below the rotating sign, which instead presumably would have led to the ball dying with a thud near the backstop. Instead, Perez used his impossibly quick reflexes for a 6’4” catcher to corral the ball and throw behind the umpire to get Murphy at first base; the play wasn’t even that close. Young would go on to strike out the side and retire seven of the next eight batters, and then…

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Top Moments of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals: #180 - #171.

These moments are important, and in some cases crucial, and I can’t believe there are 170 even better ones. But there are.

Moment #: 180
Date: October 22, 2014
Game: 2014 World Series Game 2, vs. San Francisco Giants
Score: San Francisco 1, Kansas City 0, Bottom of the 1st
Situation: Two outs, men on first and second
Count: 0-1
Matchup: Billy Butler vs. Jake Peavy
Result: Single, tying run scores
WPA: 11%

Summary: The Royals finally get on the board in the World Series and erase the Giants’ early lead.

Link to video: Here.
After winning eight consecutive playoff games to get to the World Series, the 2014 Royals ran into the buzzsaw that was Madison He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named in Game 1 of the World Series, which is pretty clearly the worst of the 31 postseason games the Royals played the last two years: they fell behind 3-0 in the top of the 1st and trailed 5-0 by the middle of the 4th. (I believe it is the only one of the 31 playoff games that doesn’t have a single entry in the Top 218.) So when Game 2 started and the first batter of the game, Gregor Blanco, homered off of Yordano Ventura, it was easy to assume the worst:

And then, after Alcides Escobar led off the bottom of the 1st with a single, he would be erased on a stolen base attempt after Nori Aoki flied out, emptying the bases with two outs. So it came as a relief as much as anything else when Lorenzo Cain doubled, Eric Hosmer walked, and then Billy Butler came through with this bullet just past the outstretched glove of Brandon Crawford at shortstop. The ball was hit so hard that, even with two outs and Lorenzo Cain at second base, it wasn’t a sure thing that he would score…until we got our first good look at Travis Ishikawa’s arm. Cain scored with ease, and we had ourselves a ballgame. The 2014 Royals weren’t going to be the 2007 Colorado Rockies after all, especially when…

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Top Moments of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals: #190 - #181.

These plays are not so memorable that you probably remember them all. But they are memorable enough that you probably should.

Moment #: 190
Date: October 12, 2015
Game: 2015 ALDS Game 4, @ Houston Astros
Score: Kansas City 2, Houston 6, Bottom of the 7th
Situation: One out, men on second and third
Count: 1-1
Matchup: Luis Valbuena vs. Ryan Madson
Result: Flyout to left field, runners hold
WPA: 1%

Summary: With the season seemingly lost anyway, Ryan Madson stops the bleeding. Not that it really mattered. Right?

Link to video: Here.

This very moment represents the nadir of the Royals’ odds of winning a world championship in 2015. Most everyone remembers that the Royals had the tying run on second base in the top of the 7th with one out, and Terrance Gore stole third base with room to spare, only to be called out on review because his foot may have come off the bag for a split second as he bounced up (possibly because Luis Valbuena pushed him ever so slightly, and in any case on replay it’s not clear that Valbuena’s glove was in contact with Gore’s body for that split second). And most everyone remembers that after the Royals’ rally fizzled, the Astros seemingly put away the game, and the series, in the bottom of the inning, when Carlos Correa homered off Ryan Madson with a man aboard to make it 5-2, and Colby Rasmus followed with his 37th home run of the postseason.

What most do not remember, however, is that after Correa and Rasmus went back-to-back, Madson allowed a single to Evan Gattis, and then a single to Carlos Gomez, on which pinch-runner Jake Marisnick advanced to third base, with Gomez moving up to second on the throw. And yet after allowing the last four batters to go homer-homer-single-single, Ryan Madson stayed in the game. Maybe Ned Yost was having one of his genius moments. Or maybe he was thinking about how to congratulate the Astros after the game, and forgot to pull Madson. Or maybe he just gave up.

We’ll call it genius. Because at that moment, the Royals’ odds of winning the game were about 1.6% – translating to 1 in 60 – which means their odds of winning the World Series were about 1 in 500. The Royals had six outs left and trailed by four, but they were about to trail by five or six. Instead, Madson got Luis Valbuena to hit a shallow fly ball to left field, much too shallow for Marisnick to even think about tagging against Alex Gordon. Madson would then strike out Marwin Gonzalez on three pitches to get out of the inning. The Royals’ odds of winning the game had doubled to 3.2%, or to two snowballs’ chances in hell.

But that’s the thing about these Royals. You give them a snowball’s chance, and they’ll run with it. You give them two snowballs’ chances, and you might as well pack it in right then and there. The Astros left the Royals the tiniest crack in the wall to escape from. The Royals did the rest.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Top Moments of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals: #200 - #191.

Some of these plays are memorable but didn’t have an enormous impact on the Royals’ two World Series trips; some of these plays had a sizable impact but aren’t particularly memorable. But they’re all worth documenting for posterity. If you’re a little underwhelmed by some of them, remember: we still have 190 to go.

Moment #: 200
Date: April 6, 2015
Game: 2015 Regular Season Game 1, vs. Chicago White Sox
Score: Chicago 0, Kansas City 3, Bottom of the 5th
Situation: One out, bases empty
Count: 1-1
Matchup: Mike Moustakas vs. Jeff Samardzija
Result: Home Run, one run scores
WPA: 5%

Summary: On Opening Day, Mike Moustakas hits the first opposite-field home run of his career, setting the tone for both him and the Royals in 2015.

Link to video: Here.

Don’t expect a lot of moments from the 2015 regular season on this list; it’s hard to create a lot of drama when you lead your division by 14.5 games on the morning of August 20th, and have a 99% or better chance to win the division at every point during the last six weeks of the season. Which is why the most symbolic moment of the regular season didn’t come at the end of it, but at the very beginning, on Opening Day in fact, when Mike Moustakas – seemingly inexplicably batting 2nd in the lineup for the first time in his career – homered to the opposite field for the first time in his career. (Bonus points for doing it off of Jeff Samardzija.)

I went into last season nearly as pessimistic about the Royals’ chances of defending their AL pennant as most pundits were, but by the time they had started 7-0, I had fully bought in. I took some grief from friends and colleagues for letting myself be swayed by such a small sample size, but it wasn’t the fact that the Royals were winning that swayed me: it was how they were winning. Specifically, it was this: Mike Moustakas, who had hit .212/.271/.361 in 2014 and was sent to the minors for a time and batted 9th throughout the postseason, had completely revamped his approach at the plate in spring training, showing such an improved opposite-field approach that Ned Yost had named his #2 hitter (risking the typical public mockery that he gets for being Ned Yost), and this home run provided the ultimate validation and positive for reinforcement for Moustakas from Day One. I didn’t need a large sample size to know that Moustakas was hitting the ball to left field, and that teams would have to choose between giving up tons of hits to the opposite field or abandon the shift and open up his pull side. I didn’t know on Opening Day that Moustakas was going to hit .284/.348/.470 in 2015, or that his bWAR would jump from 0.4 in 2014 to 4.4 in 2015, meaning that his improvement alone would be worth four wins to the Royals. But I wouldn’t have been surprised either. It was clear from that one swing that Moustakas had a new approach at the plate. And it was clear from the results of that one swing that he was going to stick with it.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Top Moments of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals: #210 - #201.

The hits don’t stop ‘til we reach the top. And we got a looong way to go to reach the top. So moving on…

Moment #: 210
Date: October 17, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 2, vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Toronto 1, Kansas City 0, Top of the 6th
Situation: No outs, bases empty
Count: 2-1
Matchup: Josh Donaldson vs. Yordano Ventura
Result: Foul ball, no play

Summary: Salvador Perez makes a nifty bare-handed catch on a foul ball, but a wire in the field of play nullifies it.

Link to video: Here.
I attended this game with my daughter, and sitting down the third base line, we couldn’t see the wire and thought Perez had made an amazing bare-handed grab. It was an impressive catch given that the ball was re-directed on the way down, but the re-direction also nullified the catch. Given new life, Donaldson beat out an infield single, which proved to be crucial because Ned Yost chose to stick with his starting pitcher in the 6th inning, and – I know you’re as shocked as I am – the decision backfired. Yordano Ventura allowed five of the six batters he faced in the inning to reach base. By the time Yost finally pulled him, the Royals were down 3-0 and the bases were loaded with one out. How did the Royals win this game? Well, there’s a reason we still have 209 moments to go.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Top Moments of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals: #218 - #211.

Ok, here we go. I have managed to unearth video of every moment on the list, and if everything goes according to plan, each moment should have that video embedded in this post. (If everything doesn’t go according to plan, please let me know.) For whatever reason, the embedded videos from are not nearly as high-resolution as the videos native to their website, so above each embedded video I have included a link to the original video if you want to see a better-quality version.

I have also tried to embed tweets that I wrote in real time for each moment that such a tweet exists. I hope there won’t be any glitches, and if there are, I hope that you will let me know so that I can fix them as soon as possible. (Also, I had to update the formatting of the blog to accommodate the size of the videos. I hope you will be adjust to my blog no longer looking like something out of the Precambrian Era, and closer to the Cretaceous Era instead.)

Without further ado: the 218 biggest moments of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals.

Moment #: 218
Date: October 27, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series, Game 1, vs. New York Mets
Score: 4-4, Bottom of the 11th
Situation: None out, bases empty
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Jarrod Dyson vs. Jonathan Niese
Result: Lineout to right field
WPA: -6%

Summary: Jarrod Dyson nearly hits an inside-the-park walkoff home run in the World Series.

Link to video: Here.
I figure I should start with the play that inadvertently sparked this entire project. Jarrod Dyson, who was batting for just the second time in the postseason after pinch-running for Kendrys Morales in the 8th inning, hit the first pitch from Jonathan Niese – who had buzzsawed through the heart of the Royals’ lineup in the 10th inning – deep into the right-center field gap. Curtis Granderson caught up to it, but very nearly overran the ball – on slow-motion replay, you can see that the ball hit the pinky edge of his glove before nestling into the webbing. If that ball slices another half-inch, it probably bounces off the edge of Granderson’s glove in a random direction, which means Dyson winds up at third if the Mets are lucky. If they’re not, well, not only would this be the first playoff game that ever ended on an inside-the-park home run, it would be the only playoff game ever to witness two inside-the-park home runs – and incredibly, they would have been the first and last hitters of the game for the Royals.

I can’t say I regret anything about the 2015 Royals, but that would have been cool.