1- Gordon For MVP: As terrible as the Royals’ offense has been of late, Alex Gordon continues to be the one glaring exception. Gordon got off to a hot start this year, and he has simply continued his hot hitting deep into the month of May. It’s to the point where, not only is Gordon making himself a near lock as an All Star, but he should be getting some talk for the MVP race. And I’m not talking about team MVP honors, I’m talking about the Americal League award. Think I’m exaggerating? We all know how popular the WAR stat has become, after there were so many making a case for Mike Trout as MVP above a Triple Crown winner a year ago. This year, according to fangraphs.com, Alex Gordon trails only Trout among AL outfielders in WAR, 1.9 to 1.7. And, among all position players in the AL, Gordon ranks ninth. Clearly, Miguel Cabrera is the runaway favorite to take home the award again this year, as he’s threatening for another Triple Crown, but after that, you have to say that Gordon is right in the mix.
2 - The Revamped Rotation, Part II: Back on April 16th, I had ‘The Revamped Rotation’ as one of my Three Up, as the Royals’ starting rotation at that time ranked 5th in the AL with an ERA of 3.66. While we’ve been waiting for the rotation’s production to drop back to earth slightly, it’s actually movedup in the rankings since then. The Royals’ starters are now 4th in the AL with a 3.72 ERA. The Royals starters even did their jobs during the trip to Oakland, as Shields, Santana and Mendoza combined to pitch 24 innings, while allowing just six earned runs. Amazingly, the Royals came away from that series with nothing to show for it.
3 – Salvy as a 23-year-old: I have fun on twitter reminding people that Salvador Perez is a #GrownMan every time we see him do something special. The funny thing is, he’s actually pretty young for a grown man. In fact, Perez celebrated his 23rd birthday just 11 days ago. The day after his birthday, Salvador went one for four, and his season batting average dropped down to .277. But from that day until now, Perez has hit .389, and raised his season average from .277 to .307. During that stretch, the #GrownMan had a nine game hitting streak, which was only broken up yesterday when he went hitless in a pinch-hit appearance.
1- The Offensive Offense: This one is all too obvious. Sure, the Royals’ offense has struggled virtually all season, but it has taken a turn for the worse as the Royals have dropped from seven games over .500 on May fifth to an even .500 today. Through May fifth, the Royals ranked 12th in MLB at 4.48 runs scored per game. During this three and 10 stretch, they have scored just 3.85 runs per game, which ranks 22nd in baseball. While we notice all of the times the Royals have been leaving runners in scoring position, the biggest culprit is actually the fact that they simply haven’t put enough runners on base to begin with. Through May fifth, the Royals ranked ninth in MLB with an OBP of .329. Since then, they have an OBP of just .286 which is 25th best in baseball. Yikes.
2- The Third Base Tree: Surely everyone by now has seen the quotes from Ned Yost in his spirited defense of the struggling Mike Moustakas. While there might not be a 3rd baseman tree out there, the fruit from that position is looking pretty rotten right now for the Royals. After going zero for five and leaving six runners in scoring position yesterday, Moustakas’ season average is down to .178. He is currently mired in a one-for-34 slump, which equals a batting average of .029 over that stretch. While Yost might publicly bristle at the idea of sending Moose to the minors to get his swing back in order, it is of note that Johnny Giavotella has played 3rd base in Omaha for the last 3 games.
3 – Royals pitchers keeping it in the park: If there’s one thing the Royals’ “Big Three” starters have failed to do this year, it’s limit the long ball. It was two home runs that cost Shields in another frustrating loss on Friday. Jeremy Guthrie was stung for 4 home runs by the Angels during his last outing. Only one pitcher has given up more home runs so far this season than Guthrie, who’s given up 11 long balls this year. Shields and Santana have each given up six apiece this year. But of course the worst of it has come at the expense of reliever Kelvin Herrera. After giving up the game deciding long-ball against Oakland yesterday, Herrera has now been tagged for eight homers over the last 14 innings. That eye-popping stat is all the more remarkable when you consider that Herrera allowed just four home runs in over 84 innings all of last year.
Nate Bukaty discussed with Billy Butler about his Hit a Ton charity...
By Nate Bukaty
1. The Moose is Loose: Ned Yost proclaims that Moustakas is back. “He’s there,” the manager says. The previously struggling third baseman has finally gotten his season average above the Mendoza line, and while that might not seem like much, it is at least progress. The upward trend for Moose started on April 19th, the last game of the Royals’ last road trip, when he doubled and walked in his last two at bats. From that point, Mouse has gone 6-for-13, with two doubles, a home run, four walks and four RBI. He’s added 50 points to his batting average during that span. Now, it’s only six games. Time will tell if this is just a small uptick for Moustakas, or if his skipper is correct.
2. The Comeback Kids: Before Wednesday night, the Tampa Bay Rays had won 70 straight games when they held a lead of 5 runs or more at any point in the game. On Wednesday night, the Rays held two different 5-run leads over the Royals, yet the Royals fought back to win, 9-8. This whole comeback routine has become old hat for the Royals. 10 of their 15 wins on the season have been in come-from-behind fashion, which leads the American League. It’s getting to the point where no deficit seems too big for this group.
3. “Clutch” Hitting: Most sabermetricians are hesitant to believe in “clutch” statistics, as these numbers can vary wildly through the course of a month, a season, and a career. So maybe these “clutch” numbers the Royals had in April are a fluke…or just maybe they are indicative of a team that is finally learning how to win ball games. I suppose time will tell. But check out some of these numbers.Credit to Buster Olney for pointing this out to us: The Royals lead all of baseball with an OPS of .819 from the 7th inning-on. And, with runners in scoring position, the Royals lead the American League with a .327 batting average. During the first two games of this series against the Rays, the Royals were 10-for-22 with runners in scoring position.
1. The “Other” Two: There’s no doubt the Royals’s "Big Three” starters have been as good as any 1-2-3 combination in baseball. But the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation haven’t quite been so good. In the old days it was “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.” With the Royals, it might be “Santana, Guthrie and Shields, and pray for soggy fields.” OK, that was bad. But the point remains that the Royals just haven’t gotten production from their fourth and fifth starters. Wade Davis has had three bad starts in his first 5 outtings, for an ERA of 5.55. Luis Mendoza, to be fair, hasn’t had a chance to settle into a 5-day rotation yet, but he has a 7.00 ERA so far. Will Smith got called up for one start, and that didn’t exactly go well either. Bottom line: the Royals will need more production out of the back end of their rotation if they are going to contend all season.
2. The Cleanup Spot: Quick, name another team in baseball, besides the Royals, that has yet to get a home run out of the cleanup spot in the lineup. There actually is one: the Milwaukee Brewers. But that’s it. The Royals have the worst OPS out of their cleanup spot of all major league teams. If you want to know why Billy Butler is third in the American League in walks, this is it. The Royals’ cleanup hitters are simply not forcing opponents to pitch to Billy. Someone, anyone, needs to take over that roll of protecting the team’s best hitter.
3. This stinking weather :I’m typing this blog during another rain delay. As the Royals and Rays try to do whatever they can to squeeze in at least 5 innings of the final game of this series. The Royals have already had two rainouts on the season, plus a “manhunt-out” in Boston. The Rays don’t have another scheduled trip to Kansas City this year, so a rainout would mean a one-day trip back here on a mutual off day later in the season, and nobody wants that. The good news is that tomorrow’s forecast calls for temps in the 30’s and snow. This is May, right?
By Nate Bukaty
We are back in the swing of baseball season, which means a return of “Three Up, Three Down,” where I chronicle three things that are trending upwards for the Kansas City Royals, and three things that are heading in the opposite direction. Since the Royals started off 7-5, coming up with the “Three Up” is a bit easier than it has been in the past.
1. The Royals’ Revamped Rotation: When you think about it, the Royals have totally overhauled their starting rotation. Not a single member of last year’s original rotation is a part of this year’s. Mendoza was on the staff, but he started in the bullpen. Guthrie, of course, was brought in late in the season. Last year, the Royals’ rotation finished 11th in the American League with a 5.01 ERA. 12 games into this season, the Royals’ starters are 5th in the AL with an ERA of 3.66. The peripheral numbers are equally impressive, as they rank 4th in strikeouts (67) while walking the third fewest batters in the league (19.)And, unlike last year, they’re actually keeping the bullpen fresh. In 2012, the Royals’ bullpen lead the league with 561 1/3 innings pitched. This year, they’ve thrown just 29 1/3 which is the fewest innings in baseball. If you want to find one reason the Royals are in first place in the Central, you don’t need to look any further than the starting rotation.
2. Herrera Heats it up: It’s only his second year in the big leagues, but Kelvin Herrera is already reaching that point where he deserves a nickname. The guy is just flat out nasty. Last year, he clocked the fastest average fastball in the majors, and he’s backing it up this year. But it’s not just the velocity that makes Herrera so impressive. He’s throwing that heater with great command, and mixing in an absolutely filthy change up. And the numbers back it up. In five and a third innings, Herrera has not allowed a run. He’s given up just two hits, and just one walk. Of the 16 outs Herrera has recorded this year, 11 of them have been strikeouts. Just think about that for a second.
3. Gordon’s Good Start: Where would the Royals’ offense be right now without Alex Gordon? It’s great to see Gordon get off to a hot start this season, especially considering how his year started in 2012. It’s amazing to think that Gordon ended up batting .294 and leading the league in doubles after the April he had last year, when he hit just .232 with four doubles. This season, Gordon has gotten a hit in every game since going hitless on Opening Day in Chicago. He entered the Braves series hitting close to .400. Back to my original question about where this offense would be without Gordon. Through 12 games, Alex has either scored or driven in 18 of the Royals’ 52 runs this year. That’s 35 percent of the Royals’ runs scored.
1. The Power Promise:Coming into tonight’s game, there were 22 individual players in baseball who had hit as many or more home runs as the entire Royals team. Of course, tonight the Royals got a power surge from the unlikeliest of sources, Chris Getz…who hadn’t homered in 954 at bats before tonight. So, we know not to get used to the Getz long ball, but the Royals did tell us they wanted more home runs this year, remember? That was the big reason they gave when they fired Kevin Seitzer last year. The two likeliest candidates to increase their power output are Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, but both are homerless so far on the season. This has to improve dramatically for the Royals if they are to be true contenders this year.
2. Suddenly Slumping Defense: Through the first 8 games of the season, the Royals’ Defense was getting a lot of pub around the league, and deservedly so. To that point, Royals defenders had not committed an error. But over the next four games, they’ve committed SEVEN. Now, errors aren’t the only way to measure defense. In fact, they aren’t even the most telling measure. Still, 7 errors in 4 games is nothing to be proud of.
3. My ability to put a hex on a guy: As I typed before. I was literally typing this blog while watching this Royals/Braves game. I mean, I seriously couldn’t get through typing a blog about how awesome Kelvin Herrera is without him getting shelled for three home runs in one inning. This is unbelievable. It’s a magical power. I mean, I went out and bought a JoakimSoria jersey a few years ago, and the guy was never the same. Tell you what, I promise not to say anything nice about Herrera on this blog the rest of the year. Deal?
By Nate Bukaty
It's funny. We all have our different ways of dealing with grief. Last night I basically was philosophical. You win some, you throw some away at the end for no good reason. Heck, KU’s been on the opposite end as recently as the Iowa State game, and in bigger games like the National Championship against Memphis. Eventually you’re going to end up on the other side of those miracles. Happens to everybody.
But this morning, I'm having a much tougher time than I was last night. Just keep shaking my head. How in the world did Kansas throw that game away? Don’t answer that. I know how they did it, I just still can’t believe that they did it. I alternate from being superangry at Elijah Johnson, and feeling bad for him. I mean, I’m sure he didn't want to be the goat. He didn't want that type of performance to be last thing every KU fan will remember about him.
I'm sure he doesn't want a sack-tap to be the last thing that everyone else in the country will remember about him. For whatever it's worth, he claims it was an accident, and that when Self asked him if he did it, he didn't even know what "it" was. I don't know if I believe him. It looked intentional to me, but of course I've watched it 15 times in slow motion. Only Elijah will ever know what was really in his mind at that moment.
Either way, to the rest of the nation he'll always be the “punk who tried to sneak in a crotch shot against Michigan, then choked a game away.” That's unfortunate for a guy who came in as a 5-star recruit, sat the bench for most of his first two years, all the while never complaining the way many other players have, then started and was a key contributor for a team that went to a National Championship game, then took all sorts of abuse as a senior playing out of position, never once complained about it, and had one of the greatest performances in Hilton Coliseum history when the ninth straight conference title was on the line.
I know what it's like to live with regret. Regret for stupid things I've done, and regret for sometimes just not being better at what I do. I imagine Elijah will deal with regret over last night's game the rest of his life. Sure, there are heavier burdens to bear, but I wouldn't wish it on somebody. I feel bad for him. He's a Jayhawk, and I think Jayhawk fans should be loyal to him.
By Nate Bukaty
The consensus seems to be that the Midwest region is by far the toughest in this year’s NCAA tournament, and I would tend to agree. Eric Prisbell from USA Today told us on the Border Patrol this morning that he is referring to the Midwest as “The Bracket of Death.” But the consensus is also that KU probably has the second toughest bracket, behind the Midwest. So it figures to be a difficult road for the Jayhawks if they want to make their second straight Final Four. With that in mind, here are five observations about KU’s draw for the 2013 Big Dance.
1. Championship Coaches Play Here: If you’re looking for coaches with polished NCAA tournament resumes, you’d be hard pressed to find a better bracket than the South Region. Five of the last eight National Championships belong to coaches in this region (two for Billy Donovan, two for Roy Williams, and one for Bill Self.) Out of the 16 teams in this bracket, 10 are led by coaches who have been to the Final Four. Tubby Smith and Steve Fischer have also won National Titles, and Ben Howland had a stretch of three-straight Final Four appearances at UCLA.
2. Familiar Faces/Familiar Foes: While I am not one of those who believes the folks on the selection committee do this stuff on purpose, there are certainly some entertaining potential storylines in the South. The first one that jumps out to most people is the potential rematch of Kansas and North Carolina in theround of 32. This one is slightly played out already, as Self and Williams have already met twice with their current schools, and the stakes were higher in both of those games (one was a Final Four game, and one was for a spot in the Final Four.) Also, Kansas could face a Sweet 16 matchup against VCU, the team that knocked the Jayhawks out in the Elite 8 two years ago. But, before Shaka Smart gets another potential shot at KU, he must first face an old mentor in the first round…errr…second round. Sorry, still can’t get used to that. VCU faces Akron in their first game. Smart spent three years as an assistant at Akron under Head Coach Keith Dambrot, who this week referred to Smart as his “best friend in the NCAA tournament – or ex-best friend.”
3. Premier Point Guard Matchup: Should VCU knock off Akron, they will then face one of the nation’s elite point guards, no matter who wins the game between Michigan and South Dakota State. In fact, if you like good point guard play, make it a point to tune in on Thursday night at 6:15 pm to see No. 4 seed Michigan take on No. 13 seed South Dakota State. Trey Burke for the Wolverines is a National Player of the Year candidate, and Nate Wolters for the Jackrabbits probably should be. Wolters is fourth in the nation in scoring, at 22.7 points per game, and he contributes 5.6 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game. Burke isn’t far behind, at 19.2 points and 6.7 assists per game. Of course, Burke put up those numbers in the juggernaut of the B1G this year, while Wolters has been doing his thing in the Summit League. But in case you’re wondering if Wolters can produce against top level teams, just look at his 28-point, seven-assist performance in a five-point win at New Mexico (who is a No. 3 seed.)
4. A not-so-upsetting upset special: Of the 32 games set to take place on Thursday and Friday, Vegas has only picked two lower seeded teams as favorites, which probably says something good about the job the selection committee did in seeding. One of those favored lower-seeded teams resides in the South Region: the Minnesota Gophers. The Gophers are the No. 11 seed in the South, matched up against No. 6 seed UCLA. This might be an indication that the odds makers are even more concerned about the Bruins’ loss of Jordan Adams than the committee was. Adams, UCLA’s second leading scorer, broke his foot during a 24-point performance against Arizona in the Pac-12 semifinal game, and he will miss the entire tournament. Without Adams, the Bruins lost in the Pac-12 Championship game to Oregon, 78-69.
5. Don’t get all Defensive: According to Ken Pom’s defensive efficiency rankings, four of the top 10 defensive teams in the nation are in the South Region: Florida (2), Georgetown (4), Kansas (5), and San Diego State (10). Conversely, the only two teams in this bracket who make Pom’s top 10 on offense are Michigan (1) and Florida (5). In case you’re wondering, Pom has KU ranked as the 25th most efficient offense in the nation. VCU (19) is the only other offensive team that even ranks in Pom’s top 25 on offense.