Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Wild Card.

The time for analysis is over. The moment we’ve been waiting for these last 29 years, the moment Dayton Moore has been building towards for the last eight years, the moment that the Royals promised to deliver us from the moment they traded for James Shields two years ago is upon us. And it is just that: a moment. A single game. Three unforgiving hours that will shape the narrative of a trade, a season, and a franchise.

It’s not fair. But then, fairness was never the point. If the Royals didn’t want their season to come down to a single game, they should have beaten the Tigers one more time – I can think of a game – and they’d be resting up for the Division Series right now. If the Royals’ season ends tonight, they can’t blame that solely on what happens tonight. They didn’t have to be playing this game. They almost weren’t.

But if they are playing this game, at least they have the man they want on the mound to start it. I would have loved a Monday night tiebreaker game in Detroit – always better to have two chances into the ALDS than one – but at least it spared us the decision to start James Shields on three days’ rest for the first time in his life. I’m as huge a proponent of the concept as anyone – I’ve been advocating the four-man rotation for over 15 years – but you don’t go to that strategy at the last moment unless it’s a must-win game. Monday night wouldn’t have been a Game 7; it would have been a Game 6. But if the Royals had lost, they would have pitted Jason Vargas against Jon Lester in Game 7 tonight. At least we are spared that indignity, and at least I’m spared the 10,000 word column on Yost’s decision that I would have had to write.

- You may have read it already, but I wrote an apology column in the KC Star this morning for my original take on the Shields trade. Many have already complained that my apology was premature, that the Royals haven’t won anything yet, that they were lucky to make the playoffs with an 89-win team, that I’m a wuss for not sticking to my guns. Fair enough. But my apology wasn’t because the Royals have won the trade or that the trade worked to perfection; my apology was that, at the very least, no one can claim the trade was disastrous, and the tone I’ve taken these last two years was much too harsh if the trade turned out to be anything other than disastrous.

If Shields pitches poorly tonight and the Royals lose, that may be all the apology the Royals get from me; it will simply be too soon to evaluate if the trade was worth it until we see how these next few years play out – both in terms of how Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi develop, and whether the Royals narrowly miss the playoffs in seasons where Myers and Odorizzi would have made the difference. But if Shields pitches a gem tonight and the Royals win, well, I’ll write an apology that makes that one look tame. And I'll have a blast doing so.

- Yost has announced his lineup for tonight, and if it looks familiar, that’s because it’s the exact same lineup he trotted out there for the last week of the season. Yost gives his starting players a day off as rarely as any manager in baseball – not only did Salvador Perez catch 150 games this year, but Alcides Escobar became the first player in the history of the Royals to start all 162 games at shortstop.

The only question was whether he would go with Moustakas at third base or try somebody – anybody – who might actually be able to hit a left-hander. This is Yost, so of course he stayed with Moose. I would have started Christian Colon myself; I don’t think he’s a .333 hitter or a .293 hitter in reality, but I think his ability to put the bat on the ball makes him a superior option to a guy who hit .212/.271/.361 and would be facing a same-side pitcher.

I do prefer Moustakas to Jayson Nix, however, and that was a real danger given that Nix has gone 8-for-26 with 3 homers against Lester in his career – he has more hits, homers, and RBIs against Lester than any other player – and we know how much Yost loves pitcher-hitter matchup stats. To reiterate for the hundredth time: there is no evidence that what a specific hitter has done against a specific pitcher in the past has any predictive value on what will happen in the future. The sample sizes just aren’t large enough. 

What Nix did against Lester in years past has something to do with how Nix hit in general in years past. This year, he was 10-for-83 (.120) with one extra-base hit. He has zero career hits as a member of the Kansas City Royals. Tonight would have been a foolish time to see if he could get his first one, and if that was the alternative, I’m happy that Yost stuck with Moustakas. At least Moustakas gives you range at third base (along with the too-frequent error), and could get lucky and run into a ball.

The roster itself is hard to argue with. I’m surprised that the Royals are carrying three starting pitchers, but 1) they’re only carrying nine pitchers overall, and 2) all three starters are available for relief work – Duffy and Ventura, in particular, could be one-inning monsters, while Guthrie would be the guy reserved for a 15-inning game if and when all the short relievers have been used up. Duffy and Finnegan give the Royals two power left-handed relievers. Aaron Crow is not on the roster. Jason Frasor is. Hallelujah.

The Royals are carrying 16 hitters, including Terrance Gore, and just as importantly, including both Christian Colon and Jayson Nix. That’s important not because you’d want Nix to bat, but because having two backup infielders gives Yost the freedom to pinch-run for pretty much anyone with Gore in a situation where a run means everything. Moustakas is fair game; Infante is fair game.

The problem is the lineup itself, or specifically the cleanup spot, occupied by one Eric Hosmer. We’ve talked enough about Hosmer’s golden-boy status in the organization, but it’s hard to think of a better example of this than tonight: a guy hitting .270/.318/.398 overall, and .264/.297/.378 vs. LHP, is the Royals’ cleanup hitter in an elimination playoff game. Meanwhile, Josh Willingham, who hit .258/.380/.461 vs. LHP this year, and .248/.368/.486 vs. LHP for his career, is on the bench. At least Willingham can pinch-hit for Moustakas against Sean Doolittle. And then Gore can run. And then Colon or Nix can come in to play third base in extra innings. And then I will be overcome by the pressure and be rushed to the hospital with chest pain.

- My three biggest fears for tonight’s game:

1) That Shields will give up a four-spot in the top of the first and the Royals’ playoff hopes will all but expire about 15 minutes after they started. This isn’t a criticism of Shields at all; this is just an acknowledgment of the reality of being a Royals fan.

2) That Shields’ reputation will entice Yost to leave him in too long, and that Shields will give up a game-winning rally in the seventh or sixth or even fifth inning while the game’s best bullpen trio sits beyond the outfield wall, helpless to stop the bleeding. That, to me, is the dangerous flipside to the value of Big Game James: none but the very best starting pitchers remain being their team’s best option on the mound the third, or especially the fourth time through the lineup. If Yordano Ventura were starting this game, the Royals would get nearly the same quality, and at the same time Yost would be quick to turn to someone else if and when Ventura got into a jam. In the regular season, Shields has earned the right to pitch out of jams. This isn’t the regular season. This isn’t even Game 2 of the ALCS. This is a Game 7, and Yost HAS TO HAS TO HAS TO manage as if it’s a Game 7. I’m terrified he won’t.

3) Bunts!

And that’s all I got before I head to the park. If you’re at the game, stop by; I believe I’ll be in Section 116 [Edit: NOT section 119], Row U, although follow me on Twitter for confirmation.


Tonight’s the night I’ve been waiting for for a generation, and yet tomorrow baseball might leave us to face the fall all alone. It’s a brutal game. But baseball owes us nothing. Even if the Royals do.

27 comments:

Jonathan Reimer said...

Rany,
I started reading this amazing blog when the THE TRADE went down in December 2012. In response, I wrote this article that argued Moore made the right deal for Big Game James.
As a Blue jay fan, I can only dream (ugh) of the anticipation you and other life-long Royals fans may feel today. I truly hope they win. But I also know that as a fan, the Royals have already delivered, as they have provided hightened experiences and a season-long sense of anticipation that only comes with winning.

Tonight, I will be wearing blue and cheering on the Royals!

Jazzbumpa said...

Two of your biggest fears indicate that you still have little to no faith in Yost's ability to manage. A share your doubt.

I have to believe his bad decisions cost the Royals at least 2 to 3 wins this year. The pinch run - 2nd base pick off vs the Tigers stands out.

You can speculate how life might be different if the Royals had beaten the Tigers one more time. But if the Tigs hadn't, amazingly, managed only a combined 19-19 record against the lowly Sox and Twins, that possibility wouldn't even be on your radar screen.

On a happier note, on MLB tonight they just pointed out that Lester hasn't made a move to first since April 2013! Your guys should be running on him all night - if they can get on base.

I like both the Royals and the A's, so I don't really have a dog in tonight's fight.

But I'm pulling for the Royals just so you'll be writing a few more posts.

OTOH, I don't think a 90th victory this late in the year warrants an apology to Yost and Moore ,especially if you wouldn't give it if the Royals lose tonight. A one game result simply does not have meaning at that level.

Cheers!
JzB

Cheers!
JzB

Jazzbumpa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mick Unsell said...

Rany, glad you were able to make it to the game!!!

Jazzbumpa said...

Does bringing in Ventura make any kind of sense?

What a horrible outcome.

JzB

Mick Unsell said...

Yost "over-managing". My worst fear is coming true...

Mick Unsell said...

smh right now...

Joseph Sciara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph Sciara said...

We were just Yosted. If I was Dayton Moore I would fire Ned in between innings.

Ford said...

It was a great season. Really enjoyed the intensity at the end. They certainly exceeded my expectations. Mostly because I was cynical all year. Hopefully next year they build on their success from this year. And I will work on not being a cynical jerk.
Finally Rany thanks for all the great blogs! Really enjoyed the baseball geekdom with you and Soren on 810 as well. Best of luck! Go 2015 Royals!

Mick Unsell said...

I echo Ford's comment. Please comment whenever you can next year. If not, please continue your segments on 810!

Ryan Balsiger said...

This game is the Royals season all wound in to one game MY GOODNESS!!!!!! Dyson you are awesome. Enough with the Yost bashing, I dont even want to waste time thinking about him. These PLAYERS have made me proud. Incredible. I'm going Sunday if they win this game, forget my Monday responsibilities, COME ON ROYALS

Jazzbumpa said...

Extra innings.

Oh, my.

Ryan Balsiger said...

Finnegan is throwing straight GAS, HECK YES

Ryan Balsiger said...

GRACIAS AMIGO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Cali here we come!!!!!!

JRM said...

A's fan here.

Ow.

Congrats to the Royals. Game for the ages. I'll bet Rany will be able to open up and write perhaps even 100 words about it.

Ow.

But wow.

Congrats, Royals fans. You've had a long wait.

The Everlasting Dave said...

That is one strong team, to beat not only the Oakland Athletics but also their own manager. Holy baseball.

Bobinkc said...

Royals beat A's and Yost...good Lord he was horrible tonight. Congrats to the players though.

Mick Unsell said...

WOW, WOW, and WOW...

Rubinoz said...

The power of the Internet.

Never been a Royals fan, but checked in on the game from 10,000 miles away via ESPN Gamecast.

As the strandeds racked up in the final innings, my main thought was; I hope Rany's OK.

Looking forward to the f***in recap.

John said...

Funny to read a few of the comments where people gave up on the team before it was over. The Royals are better than I thought. They beat the A's and they beat Yost tonight...not sure which one was tougher to do.

Steve N said...

A great, great game. Alas, I fell asleep at 10 and missed most of it. Sigh.

John Craig said...

Rany,
You are the f'in man. Thanks for being the mouth of an entire generation of Royals fans that long ago formed a thick, bumpy callus-y scab over their agony of defeat. And yet keep coming back for more. Because we are geeky, simple and tolerable enough down deep in our core to keep peeking back at those box scores, year after year. I feel a bit like one of those bell-bottomed, rainbow wig wearing fans cheering for Julius Erving as Moses Guthrie in The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh. And most things I read from you make me say, "yeah, that's exactly what I think". So thanks. I can't wait to read today's recap.

Oh, and what's your take on us being Yosted...we did bunt 4 times and steal 7...does he get any credit for those moves, or does all the credit go to DM for assembling the team and just the blame goes to Yosted for Ventura?

Robert Birdsong said...

Not a Yost fan. He really did have a horrible night, but I will give him credit for sticking with the running game even when we were 3-4 runs behind. Don't think too many managers would have done that.

Wonder if the Angels will throw Perez anything within a foot of home plate. How can a supposedly intelligent ball player have the worst plate discipline I have ever seen. Being a catcher makes even harder for me to understand why he swings at the pitches he does.

Jayboid said...

My faith was really tested this season. Moved into the heart of Cardinals Nation, including a hour drive to watch the Redboids AA Team.

Expensive Redbird hats, T-Shirts everywhere, with a rare freebee Royals gear clad person every once in a while.

More importantly, the question...Am I wasting time, especially with my life goes into Fall. All those horrid years, including a Pale Hose afternoon game, no more the 1500 fans, cold rain, and Bob Boone's abusive language ruining this pitiful experience. Tried to follow the Cards, but just couldn't.

Of all years, the Royals brought me back to the fold. Direct TV, Internet Radio gives me the feel of being there again. And...of course reading Rany makes it a go for another run at being a Royals fan.

Maway said...

Rany,

Beautifully written account of the Royals 12th inning win against the A's.
As a lifelong fan of KC (being from SE Kansas)my last touch of Royal fever, in a playoff game, was in 1980 when the vaunted Yanks came to town. Was a great day, ending in defeat, but a lasting memory with my father. Reading your account of the game reminds me what sports means to so many people, myself included,and that it literally brought tears to my eyes. Memories, no matter how good or bad, are capsules in time, to be opened by the mind and heart and enjoyed again and again.
Blessed be the ties that bind.

Thanks
Mark Alexander

Adam Tharp said...

Rany,
Great stuff...but going back to the Ventura decision, I think Ned was reading your previous post " all three starters are available for relief work – Duffy and Ventura, in particular, could be one-inning monsters, " followed by "That Shields’ reputation will entice Yost to leave him in too long, and that Shields will give up a game-winning rally in the seventh or sixth or even fifth inning while the game’s best bullpen trio sits beyond the outfield wall, helpless to stop the bleeding."

Uncle Ned pulls Shields for a "one inning monster"...just didn't work out