Friday, October 30, 2015

Boys of Fall

Happy Halloween Eve to you all! And perhaps more importantly, Happy Let’s Throw Fire in the World Series Day! As the Royals prepare to take on the Mets in the Big Apple in Game 3 of the World Series tonight, the rest of us have to work boring jobs until we can go home and stuff our faces full of fun size candy bars. Bon appetit! (side note: I would totally go trick or treating tomorrow night if I lived close enough to a neighborhood. And if you have something against giving adults free candy, think of it this way: every piece of candy I eat is one piece of candy that a child does not eat. I am thereby saving lots of obesity and diabetes! So please feel free to join the cause to end childhood obesity/diabetes and send me your candy. I digress)

I decided to dress up this year as a baseball card, since I have recently started collecting those beautiful pieces of cardboard again. What a thrill that has been, especially since the Royals have had an amazing year. However, even though Topps (the only card company that can use MLB team logos on their products) has a Series 2 product that comes out in the middle of the season and an Update series that comes out in the postseason (the point of which is to create cards of rookies and traded players who do not have cards yet), there is no Royals card of Ben Zobrist.

This is a huge shame because Ben Zobrist has been a STUD for the Royals. He batted .284 with 7 HRs, 23 RBIs, 29 walks, and 16 doubles in 59 regular season games for KC, all while playing both infield and outfield positions (and ultimately taking the spot of the injured Omar Infante). He has been HUGE in the postseason as well, smacking 17 hits, 2 HRs, 6 RBIs and scoring 11 runs in 54 at bats (.315 batting average), helping all of Kansas City to forget about Infante in the process. 

So to remedy the situation of Ben Zobrist not having a Topps MLB card, I decided that my Halloween costume this year would be a 2015, limited edition, throwback Topps card of Ben Zobrist. I chose the 1985 Topps design to honor the 30 years that have passed since George Brett and Co. won it all. I added this year’s World Series logo to make this card a special edition. And most importantly, you will see Ben Zobrist’s bearded face adorning a Royals uniform. If you look close, you can also see the Royals tribute to “Trap Queen” by Fetty Wap, the rap song they fell in love with this year. Surely someone would give me some candy wearing this!?!
Tonight’s game marks Yordano Ventura’s 9th postseason start, which is the second most all time for a pitcher before their 25th birthday. The Royals have won 8 of those 9 starts. That is tremendously amazing. 

Even more amazing is that the Royals are 20-8 in the past 2 postseasons, good for a win percentage of 71.4, giving Ned Yost the highest win percentage of any MLB manager in the postseason OF ALL TIME. 

Not to mention that after Alcides Escobar hit his inside-the-park home run in Game 1, all 9 of the Royals regular starters have hit a home run in the postseason. No other team in this year’s postseason has accomplished that. Forget football, the Royals are the real Boys of Fall.
Have a safe and Happy Halloween and make sure you tune in for the game tonight!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Royals are GTA (Greatest Team Alive)

Wowee, what a game last night. The Royals emasculated the Blue Jays in front of their home crowd. The game included everything from new MLB and franchise records, Royals players mocking the Blue Jays fans, a position player pitching, and the Royals continuing to steam roll through anyone who dares to stop them. It was a fun game for Royals fans to watch, and brought them to the brink of their second straight American League pennant. A win today will send them to the World Series, a loss bring them back to Kansas City for two more chances at moving on. 

Let’s take a look at what it was like watching the game. Below is an inning-by-inning graphic depicting fans’ excitement on a 10-point scale while watching yesterday’s game:
And a quick recap:

1st inning: Alcides Escobar led off with a bunt, which was promptly followed by a Ben Zobrist 2-run homer. The Royals punched in 2 more runs. Excitement is VERY high. 4-0 Royals. 

2nd inning: Alex Rios smacks a home run and Blue Jays pitchers RA Dickey looks like total crap. Dickey is removed from the game, which is a shame because it was a joy to watch the Royals demolish him. Chants of “We Want Dickey” start up in various places around KC, mocking the Blue Jays fans, who chanted “We Want Cueto” after Royals Pitcher Johnny Cueto gave up 8 runs in 4 innings in Monday night’s game. 5-0 Royals and excitement is still boiling. 

3rd inning: Royals pitcher Chris Young, starting his first postseason game since 2006, gets into some trouble and allows 2 runs, thanks to Josh Donaldson and His Terrible Hair hitting a ground rule double.  5-2 Royals and excitement drops negative levels. Royals fans know that the Blue Jays could erupt for several runs at any time.

4th inning: Liam Hendricks, the former Royal from Australia, has miraculously turned into a Cy Young-worthy pitcher and has stifled the Royals deep offense. Royals can’t muster anything at the plate, but neither can the Blue Jays. Chris Young keeps his cool and excitement remains very low, as the game feels very tense. Still 5-2 Royals. 

5th inning: Luke Hochevar relieved Young to end the 4th inning, and pitches a nice clean 5th inning, but Cy Hendricks is still dominating. Look at how ugly Hendricks is in the 6th inning photo. 5-2 Royals, excitement is low and game is still tense. 

6th inning: Hendricks looks like the greatest pitcher of all time, throwing his 4th inning and only allowing the Royals only one hit in that span, to go along with 2 strikeouts. Game remains tense and excitement is non-existent.  

7th inning: For some unforeseen reason, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, who resembles Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs, removes Liam Hendricks and inserts 67-year old LaTroy Hawkins, thus opening the floodgates for a deluge of Royals’ runs. KC scores 4 runs and excitement explodes. Lorenzo Cain leads the charge by extending his franchise-record for consecutive games with a postseason hit to 13. 9-2 Royals. 

8th inning: Alcides Escobar, the greatest shortstop Kansas City has ever witnessed, continues his case to be the ALCS MVP by driving in a run. He has 9 runs scored and 15 hits with 5 RBIs this postseason. What a stud. Royals lead 12-2. Excitement is at fever pitch, as fans know this game is locked up. 

9th inning: Rather than use up any more of their bullpen, the Blue Jays bring in position player Cliff Pennington, a backup infielder who had never pitched in a major league game before. He promptly gives up 2 more runs from the bat of Escobar. Paulo Orlando, subbing in for Alex Rios, joins the hit parade and ends the day with 2 hits. Excitement has exploded through the roof. The royals are now 1 game away from the World Series and are looking like the class of the MLB. 14-2 Royals beat the Blue Jays.  

Here’s a look at some numbers from the series so far:

  • The Royals have had a playoff victory of at least 10 runs in each of their past 3 appearance (1985 World Series Game 7, 2014 World Series game 6 and 2015 ALCS Game 4). The Royals have also had a shutout in past 3 postseason appearances (1985 World Series Game 7, 2014 World Series Game 6, and 2015 ALCS Game 1).

  • The Royals have 46 hits (including 4 home runs) and the Blue Jays have 31 hits (including 3 home runs). The Royals have 22 strikeouts compared to the Blue Jays’ 35.

  • The Royals have 9 bases on balls, the Blue Jays have 16.

  • Lorenzo Cain has gotten a hit in 13 consecutive postseason games, a Royals franchise record. The MLB record is 17, which Cain can accomplish if the Royals move on to the World Series.

  • The Royals are 17-7 in the past 2 postseasons. 

  • Alcides Escobar has led off 4 straight games with a hit, the first time that has happened in MLB postseason history. He is a true magician:

Get your champagne ready folks!

Monday, October 5, 2015

AL Champs

Wow, what a season. What began as a defense of the Royals’ first American League title in 29 years last year turned into a season-long march as the best team in the AL for the majority of the 2015 season. Can’t help but be enormously proud of the Boys in Blue. The Royals secured home field advantage yesterday by beating the Twins. And also the Blue Jays lost. Below are how the Royals finished the regular season rankings in several stats (you can skip the next paragraph if numbers bore you):

Home runs (24th with 139; first place had 232); Runs (7th with 724; first place had 891); Triples (6th with 42; first place had 49); doubles (2nd with 300; first place had 308); hits (3rd with 1497; first place had 151); RBI’s (7th with 689; first place had 852); bases on balls (29th with 383; first place had 570); strikeouts (30th with 973, first place had 1518 and every team had at least 1000 K’s except KC); stolen bases (5thj with 105; first place had 134); batting average (2nd with .269; first place had .270); on-base percentage (11th with .322; first place had .340); slugging percentage (11th with .412; first place had .457); ERA (10th with 3.73; first place had 2.94); Saves (3rd with 56; first place had 62) and Walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP) (13th with 1.28; first place had 1.15).

In a sense, the Royals did not truly lead the league in anything except for having the fewest strikeouts, but as David Schoenfield points out here, the Royals are actually fairly well-built for postseason success thanks to their low strikeout rate, high contact rate, and excellent defense and bullpen. On the other hand, the Houston Astros squeaked into the playoffs this year after the Rangers defeated the Angels yesterday. This is despite the fact that the Astros LOST their game against the Diamondbacks on Sunday. The Astros haven’t made the posteason since losing the World Series in 2005 and their fans have been suffering awhile through some pretty poor seasons. I wanted to compare how I view Houston’s experience to Kansas City’s since I now live in “H-town,” and see which group of fans has had a more miserable time rooting for their team and thus is more deserving of the Long Suffering Loyalty crown. 

First and foremost, the Astros had a 10-year playoff drought which is nothing compared to the 3-decade wasteland that the Royals gave their fans. Ten years is peanuts to what Kansas Citians had to endure. 

Fan misery advantage: KC

Secondly, both teams have had their share of terrible teams and 100-loss seasons. Houston lost at least 106 games 3 seasons in a row (2011-2013), which included their worst ever season of existence in 2013 when they lost 111 games. Just for the record, the Detroit Tigers hold the AL record for most losses in one season with 119 (HAHAHA the Tigers suck) and the modern-day MLB record for most losses is 120 by the New York Mets. During their 10-year playoff drought, the Astros finished the season in 2nd place twice, 3rd place once, 4th place twice, and last place 4 times.
Kansas City also had 3 straight years of 100-loss seasons (2004-2006), which included their worst season in existence (2005, with 106 losses). During their 29 year playoff drought, the Royals finished in 2nd place 4 times, 3rd place 7 times, 4th place 7 times, and last place a whopping 11 times. Yuck. The Royals essentially spent over a decade in last place. 

Fan misery advantage: KC

Third, I don’t think a city has ever been so elated to exorcise its demons as Kansas City was in 2014. Although I was not there to witness it in person, that city exploded with baseball fever when the Royals clinched a playoff spot. Enough tears were shed to fill Brush Creek on the plaza and people partied like the end of the world was imminent. The Royals themselves partied so hard upon clinching a playoff spot after beating the White Sox in Chicago that the White Sox had to replace the carpet in the visitor’s locker room. Postseason gear was sold out in hours and the Royals were the top-selling team on websites. Fans had to drive all over the city to find what they wanted.
Meanwhile, in Houston, when it was announced they had earned a playoff spot in the Wildcard game, the following celebrations occurred (pics are from Astros twitter):
Houston fans shop in their team store after clinching a spot in the playoffs. This scene has the same serenity as a breeze blowing through a meadow.
Whoa! Don’t party too hard bro!
I have lived in Houston for 15 months now and even though there are plenty of fans here (Astros had over 2.1 million fans attend games this season), my perception is that they are apathetic and lifeless. I have attended about 15 games in my time here and have not seen anything close to a sell-out except on opening day. In addition, I had to put up with The Wave at every single one of the games. Barf. Houston is miserable but not because they suffer with the Astros. At least in KC they could fill the stands when Zack Greinke was pitching, even though they would lose 1-0 on those nights…

Fan misery advantage: KC

Finally, the fact that the Royals had any fans prior to 2014 is a shock by itself. In 2013, the team had traded away its star prospect (Wil Myers) and still employed Jeff Francouer and Chris Getz. Prior to that, the Royals kept trotting out Yuniesky Betancourt despite his inability to play replacement-level baseball, Billy Butler was snubbed in the Home Run Derby, fans had to endure one of the worst pitching performances in the history of baseball, and the Royals had 16 years with only one representative in the All-Star game, including 10 straight years (1990-1999). They also kept hiring inefficient and inept managers who were only notable for their postgame quotes. Prior to Ned Yost, there were 12 managers during their playoff drought. Awful. 

In contrast, the Astros have had 6 managers (3 were interim) in their playoff drought and have climbed out of their depths of despair by getting high draft picks that are performing very well (Carlos Correa, George Springer, Jason Castro) and signing foreign players (Jose Altuve), which is essentially the formula that GM Dayton Moore has brought to KC. However, Houston was able to copy GMDM’s plan and implement it in 10 years, whereas the Royals spent almost 30 years trying to figure it all out. 

Fan misery advantage: KC

The bottom line is that while it is nice to see Houston overcome its failures and poor seasons, their 10-year wait is overshadowed by the period of playoff dormancy that KC endured for 3 times as long. It is not a contest to see who is more miserable, or longer-suffering, or who might be more loyal to their team. I mostly just wanted to compare the two cities since they have both recently overcome playoff droughts using similar tactics in team building and I have lived in both cities in my lifetime. We should celebrate both teams, who might end up facing each other in the ALDS which starts Thursday. And no matter what happens, I will never forget these past 2 years. #ForeverRoyal