Don't Kill the Mellinger

Columnist Sam Mellinger's thoughts on sports and other important stuff

Twitter Tuesday: Royals are (still) the hottest team in baseball, Chiefs are (still) a bag of questions, and fantasy football

08/26/2014 9:09 AM

08/26/2014 10:45 AM

There is a natural, embedded tendency around here to always think the worst. Especially with our sports teams. And ESPECIALLY with the Royals. The Royals, you certainly know, lost last night and it was ugly.

James Shields wasn’t sharp, Ned Yost left him in a little too long, and the only run came on a solo homer by Mike Moustakas^. The only good thing to come of the game, besides no injuries, was another day’s rest for Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland.

^ Moustakas is a dead-pull hitter and hit that home run to right field, of course, but if you look at this spray chart, I think it’s the black dot closest to center field. This is the kind of thing that only baseball nerds probably think or care about. I promise the rest of this won’t be as nerdy.

That loss came against the Yankees, in front of a big crowd, and on national television, so there are some — some — wondering if this is the beginning of the end. The Royals have lost two in a row, and looked fairly lethargic, especially with the bats, each time. But it’s also true that you are probably the envy of baseball if you lost your second game in a row and it’s your longest losing streak in a month.

Anyway, some perspective:

* Even with the losses, the Royals are 24-8 since July 21, the best record in baseball — by 3 ½ games.

* In that streak, they are 5-2 in Shields’ starts, 5-1 in Duffy’s, 5-1 in Ventura’s, 5-1 in Guthrie’s, 3-2 in Vargas’, and 1-1 in Bruce Chen’s. It’s not like they’ve been just riding one pitcher.

* Alex Gordon and Billy Butler have been the main catalysts offensively, with Jarrod Dyson providing an overlooked and very valuable contribution, but it’s not like any one hitter has been carrying the team.

* The Royals are a first-place team after 130 games while ranking 11th in the league in on-base and slugging, and ninth in runs per game. They are fourth in ERA. None of that is unsustainable, or tainted with that 2003 fluky stink.

I mean, let’s be clear. It’s entirely possible the Royals are in the beginning of a fall. If this season has shown anything, it’s that a wild swing is right around the corner. But so much of the pessimism is the came-by-it-honestly ghosts of Ken Harvey and Runelvys Hernandez and Mark Quinn. I thought Frank White made a good point in this column:

"Don’t look at what used to happen. Look at what’s actually happening now."

This week’s eating recommendation is the drunken noodles at Lemongrass, and the reading recommendation is Chris Ballard on a skydiving accident that created a lifelong bond.

As always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading.

I assume this is the sort of reference I would’ve understood and laughed at, say, 10 years ago. Sadly, it is the kind of thing I smile, force-laugh, and nod my head at now in hopes that nobody notices it went over my head. I’m starting to become more aware of these moments now in preparation of the Little Man making jokes about me to my face that I think are compliments while his friends laugh and high-five or whatever kids are doing in like 2028.

Speaking of the Little Man, we took him to the beach last week on vacation, and how come none of you people told me about taking a baby to the beach? Sand in his eyes, bugs swarming his face, a constant worry that you try to suppress about him getting sunburned.

I don’t know anything about anything, but I would submit "day at the beach" as the single activity most changed by having a kid.

This question is at least a column or four on its own, and probably will be soon, but what’s so interesting to me about Ned is that he is the same manager now as he was when the Royals were out of it, and the same manager now as he was when he was getting close to losing the clubhouse during that disastrous weekend in Boston after the All-Star break.

Now, if the season ended today, he’s the AL manager of the year.

There are still things I wish he’d do differently — particularly lineup construction, giving Sal Perez a day after he screws up his knee, and a double-standard with how he’s so much quicker to criticize Billy Butler than anyone else — but for the most part I still see an average manager.

I always said when the Royals were bad, it wasn’t Ned’s fault and if they got good it wouldn’t be to Ned’s credit. I believe that now more than ever, because it’s the players who have to do it or not. The Royals changed their season because Butler started hitting, Alex Gordon continues his undercover greatness, and the pitching has been fabulous, among many other factors.

But if this thing gets to October, Ned will get a lot of credit, which will certainly be due.

And I’ll continue to hope that after they clinch, he answers every question in the postgame with, We’re in the playoffs, boom, Yosted.

This will be a column later in the week, I think, but as a quick preview: yes, I do think these guys are belief-worthy.

I’ve made this point before, but there are no boats without holes in this playoff race. Only different sized boats with different sized holes. Miguel Cabrera didn’t play the other day after messing up his ankle, you know.

If the Royals go .500 the rest of the way, that’s 88 wins and, probably, a playoff spot. If they just beat the soft teams playing out the string and split against everyone else, that’s around 91 wins.

The Royals play legitimately great defense. Their pitching is very good. The three guys at the back of the bullpen are ridiculous. Before the last two games, they’d been finding enough offense, and they don’t have to find a lot. There are a lot of teams that would take those problems, though it’s also true that every letdown or mistake these Royals make will be amplified by a fan base trained to expect the worst.

That will be an interesting thing on a lot of levels, including the fact that the last time Ned got here he was fired with 12 games left and his team holding playoff position. That experience changed him, and he has to know that people will be watching his reactions to everything from a bang-bang play to an offensive slump to a pitcher getting rocked to a tough postgame question with a particularly close eye.

Well, I guess that’s where we are now, though I’d make the argument that losing a 1 ½ game lead for the second wild card spot in August would not be a collapse. I mean, that seems pretty self-evident, but I also understand that what Royals fans have been through over the years has made perspective hard to grasp.

So I get where you’re coming from, which is why I think it would depend on how it all played out. Like, if the Royals lost a playoff spot because Holland blew a lead and Carlos Beltran went walk-off for the Yankees on the last day of the season, yeah, that would be Chambliss.

But what if the Royals just lose their grip, what if they play just fine but other teams get hot and they’re never closer than a couple games in the last two weeks? I’m not sure that would be a Chambliss situation.

This is part of what I mean when I talk about a generation of suckitude robbing Royals fans of perspective. We’re not even to September yet. There are 32 more games left. That’s almost exactly 20 percent of the season. A lot can still happen. The 2003 Royals were in first place later than this, and they were a complete creation of funhouse mirrors.

But, to answer your question, yeah, the story of the Curse of the Shuttlecocks would need updating.

You guys are full of column ideas today, which I appreciate.

I had this conversation with a few people today. If I were Ned, I would bring Hosmer back slowly, and I wouldn’t hit him in the middle of the lineup when he played. In the beginning, I might even have what be in practice a platoon: against righties, Hosmer plays first and Butler DHs; against lefties, Butler plays first and Willingham DHs.

But if I had to guess, right now, I think Ned will play Hosmer and Butler, and use Willingham as a pinch hitter and twice-a-week DH.

But we’re still a ways from knowing that answer.

The money is complicated, because a lot of what almost certainly comes off the books with James Shields and Butler playing somewhere else next year will be sucked into raises for guys like Alex Gordon, Jason Vargas and Omar Infante.

The first thing I’d do is see where Gordon is on another contract extension. I was on vacation, so I’m not sure if this got the traction it deserved, but Andy had a really interesting piece in which Gordon said he would pick up his below-market-value player option for 2016 even over what would almost certainly be his agent’s disapproval. If you could add, say, three years and around $45 million to that deal to have Gordon locked in through 2019 (when he’ll be 35) you probably have to do it.

If not, you need to at least have internal discussions about whether you’d be better off trading him. Royals fans would flip out, I assume, but this is part of how teams like Tampa and Oakland stay winning with lower payrolls. This is not me saying they need to trade him, this is me saying they should at least discuss it if they decide they can’t get another extension done.

But after Gordon, I’d look hard at the back of the bullpen. Greg Holland and Wade Davis will probably make around $15 million combined next year, which is far too much for the Royals to pay two one-inning relievers. Ever since it became apparent that Wade Davis was a bullpen freak, I’ve been operating under the assumption that the Royals will trade Davis or Holland. Holland makes more sense when you factor in price, cost certainty, club control and trade value. Depending on where Luke Hochevar’s rehab ends up, and depending on what he would play for next year^, that could be a good solution.

^ I don’t know if people realize this, but Hochevar is actually the seventh-highest paid player on the team this year, at $5.2 million, and is scheduled to be a free agent.

I might also make some calls to see what kind of trade interest Yordano Ventura would generate — just a little exploration to see if I could get a power hitting right fielder — and I’d send Sal Perez a really, really, REALLY nice Christmas present, sort of a guilt-gift for that contract he signed.

I say this as someone headed to Green Bay this week in hopes of writing something compelling off the Chiefs’ final preseason game there on Thursday: not much.

I mean, there are things you can take, and reasons to watch, and football is always a good thing. But in terms of excitement, intrigue, importance … obviously, it’s not close.

I’m also not sure why people are surprised at this. Football is king. We know this. Old habits are hard to break, even if you want to break them, and we’re all very much used to watching every Chiefs game. There are far more football fans than baseball fans, and, generally speaking, football fans watch their teams much more religiously than baseball fans. The Royals have played 130 games and will play 32 more. The Chiefs, even counting preseason games, have only 17 more.

The Chiefs’ last preseason game is even more meaningless than their third preseason game, but it will also do a higher TV number than the pennant-chasing Royals.

That’s how history would remember him, certainly, but we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. The guy has not played a single game at his natural position, and even when he does, will do it after an offseason full of surgeries. He can be bad this year, and he’ll still get more time to prove himself. Teams don’t walk away from talent, and Fisher still has a lot of talent.

If we’re going to start framing the bust narrative, it’s also at least worth remembering that NOBODY wanted the first pick in the draft last year and that the guys in the mix for that top pick haven’t exactly distinguished themselves either.

In that way, I suppose — again, in the spirit of your question, we’re all assuming he continues to stink — Fisher could become the face of a draft class living down to its collective expectation.

And as long as we’re talking about Fisher, I know I’m far from the first to make this point, but: the Chiefs really need him to at least be serviceable this year. From what I could tell the other night, Jeff Allen actually looked decent at right tackle, and Stephenson can play left OK, but a shaky offensive line becomes a monster problem if Fisher stinks.

K-State will win 10, KU will lose nine, and the Chiefs will win six^.

^ I reserve the right to change this many times through the end of next week.

I should say at the start here that I’ve never been much of a seasonal eater or drinker, but there’s something going on with me as I get into middle-agey-ness. I’m changing, you guys.

I like Boulevard Wheat more in the summer, but not as much as I love Bell’s Oberon more in the summer. Whisky replaces vodka. Smoked chicken and ribs, summer pastas, steaks on the grill. I can eat all of that stuff any day of the year, but I do find myself changing with the seasons more than I used to as I get older.

So, with all that said, I don’t like pumpkin beers so here’s the list: Founder’s Harvest Ale, Bell’s Best Brown Ale, Brooklyn Oktoberfest, and Bob’s 47. I’m also into the Deschutes Hop Trip, and black IPAs like Widmer Brothers and also Firestone’s Union Jack (or double jack), even though those aren’t seasonal.

Yeah, it’s been a good run. Sporting’s MLS championship (not to mention Zusi and Besler playing in the World Cup), the Chiefs getting to the playoffs (even if it led to, well, you know), Mizzou’s push to the SEC championship game and now the Royals doing what they’re doing.

Not that the standards are all that high, but it’s as good of a collective run as we’ve seen around here in quite some time. And we won’t talk about Sporting falling out of first with a 30-0^ loss to D.C. United, or the Chiefs and Mizzou looking set up for a regression.

^ Typo, sort of.

OK, fine. We’ll talk about Sporting.

I do think there’s reason to be worried. I’m not saying the monster is coming from around the corner, not quite yet, but the defense (in theory a strength) was just craptastic.

"Absolutely horrendous," Vermes called the back four, and he could’ve been harsher.

Sporting hasn’t been as good as it should be at home all year, and some of that is legitimately the park-the-bus strategy of most opponents, but that can’t be an excuse and losing by three at home is just unacceptable.

I’m not saying anything here you probably aren’t already thinking, but Sporting has to get this figured out. It’s worth remembering that every team has peaks and valleys, and Sporting had some issues winning at home last year before getting it figured out when it mattered.

Sporting has earned the benefit of the doubt, is what I’m saying, but they’re testing that more than you’d like to see.

Yeah, I mean, I’m not trying to be Peter Panic here but I think pretty concerned if you thought this was a playoff team. They basically have to beat the Titans at home to start the season, or else a lot can go wrong very quickly, but even if they win that they’re looking at the distinct possibility of a 1-5 start without the right breaks.

The Chiefs won 11 games last year, and that was even with basically sitting out the regular season finale. But they also lost six of their last eight games, and lost Branden Albert, the equivalent of one more starting lineman, and Brandon Flowers. They basically did nothing but watch Dwayne Bowe get in better shape to improve their receivers.

If the last five games or so of last year were a reminder of how important the health of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are, this preseason has been a reminder of how important the health of Jamaal Charles is.

I don’t know, guys. I like Alex Smith as a top 10 or 15 quarterback, but he can’t do anything if he’s getting pressured all the time. Even if you’re optimistic, it’s hard to imagine them going better than 8-8 right now, and think about it like this: would you say they’re more likely to make the playoffs again or go, like, 4-12?

I’d say 4-12.

Here are the times it’s OK to talk about your fantasy football team to someone who’s not in your league:

* If the person you’re talking to is in a different league, and you’re asking whether they think you should make some trade, but even then, it’s gotta be no more than three minutes and lead into something else.

* If you’re talking to, say, a Lions fan and you say "Matt Stafford is my fantasy quarterback, so I watch him a lot, and I wish they’d figure out a way for him to stop making those dumb sidearm passes."

* If you’re buying drinks or dinner for the table because you won your league.

I do believe that’s the whole list.

This week’s Knoda:

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