Don't Kill The Mellinger

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

Twitter Tuesday: the reason the Royals can make the playoffs that nobody’s talking about, trading Greg Holland and World Cup TV ratings

06/10/2014 9:54 AM

06/10/2014 10:56 AM

The most popular case for the Royals making a postseason push this year usually revolves around the offense picking up. Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Omar Infante, Nori Aoki and, yes, Mike Moustakas, each have track records better than they’ve shown through the first 63 games.

The Royals are next-to-last in the American League in runs scored and still just one game under .500. They are scoring 3.87 runs per game so far, and you figure if they can get that to around 4.3 runs per game (that would be ninth in the league) they will be hard to hold back.

All of that is true, and some of that we’ll get into later.

But there is another real reason the Royals can make a run here:

Nobody else is very good.

Look at the division. Detroit is 6-15 since May 18, and aging in dog years. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are terrific hitters, but other than that, shortstop is a huge mess, the bullpen is a wasteland, and there are reasons to believe the pitching (eighth in the AL in ERA).

The Indians have given half their starts to pitchers with ERAs of 5.89, 5.53 and 4.61. And that’s just earned runs. Their defense is atrocious; nobody has given up more unearned runs.

Speaking of crappy defense and pitching, hello White Sox. Chris Sale can’t pitch every game, and this year has missed about five starts. The White Sox are 13th in the AL in ERA, and 14th in runs given up.

Among the other teams in the wild card picture, the Mariners struggle scoring, the Orioles have two starters and their closer with ERAs above 5.00, the Yankees aren’t particularly impressive outside of Masahiro Tanaka, and the Rangers have the league’s worst pitching staff and no Prince Fielder.

There’s a sports writer friend of mine who’s fond of saying: never underestimate the (crappiness) of the other team.

The Royals have their weaknesses, but every time you focus on that, remember that the other teams have holes, too.

This week’s eating recommendation is the asada taco at Bichelmeyer Meats (only on Saturdays, of course) and the reading recommendation is my guy Sam Borden on Jurgen Klinsmann (it’s much more than the we-can’t-win quote).

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

Have I mentioned lately that copy editors are the best people in the world?

I’m still willing to be naïve with this team. I thought about 85 wins or so before the season, and I’ll stick with that. At least for a while longer.

Their biggest problem, as I’ve written, is mental toughness. That’s no small thing, and I’m not sure there’s a way to break though that other than by, well, breaking through it. If this season ends up in a face plant, we’ll be talking about how they didn’t have the chutzpah.

But I still think they have a run in them. Think about it like this: they basically have four position players living up to even a baseline expectation and five who are just incredibly behind … and they’re still 31-32, 3 1/2 games back of the Tigers in the division and three back of the wild card.

I don’t know much about anything, but the struggles of Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, Omar Infante and Nori Aoki just make no sense. Even looking at the struggles last year of Mike Moustakas, I don’t know anyone who could have seen this.

What I’m saying here is that the Royals have already dealt with a lot, and they’re still standing on their feet. They’re a game ahead of where they were at this point last year, and that season ended with 86 wins. This is about the time of year that Hosmer got hot last year, and Butler has always been better in the second half of seasons than the first.

Over the years, the Royals have given their fans every reason to be cynical. It’s the Show-Me State, and good for Ned Yost and others in the organization publicly saying they trust the fans will show up when it’s warranted.

I still think they can win, and get into contention. But they’re past the point in the season where you can say it’s still early.

And if they’re going to get going, they’re probably going to do it with Hosmer and Butler hitting line drives all over the American League. Now would be a good time for that to start.

It’s not just that Gordon and Cain are leading the team in OPS. Look at the margin. Gordon is at .822, Cain at .811, and Sal Perez is third at .748. After that, you have to go all the way down to, ahem, Alcides Escobar at .706.

If anything, I have the feeling that Perez will drift a bit as the season goes on, depending on how many days off Yost feels he can give him. If that happens, I’m not sure who’s going to catch Gordon or Cain. Like I said before, this is about the time that Hosmer got hot last year — he hit .315/.363/.499 after June 10 — but he was also about 30 points higher a year ago.

It’s boring to say that the guys at the top after 64 games will be the guys at the top after 162. But that sure is how it looks at the moment.

It’s worth pausing here for a moment to recognize that Gordon is back to being what a lot of us have come to expect, but in a way that most of us wouldn’t have expected. His strikeout rate has been between 19.4 and 22.8 percent every year of his career, and is now down to 13.7 percent. But he’s not sacrificing good at bats; he’s seeing as many pitches per at bat as any season of his career, and his walk rate is higher than it’s been since 2010.

Also, he’s playing his customary amazing defense.

I’m not sure it’s at the trade deadline, but I do think the time is coming that Greg Holland will and should be traded. I touched on this here, but he’s going to get a really big raise — he’s making about $4.7 million this year, and will probably make $8 million or so next year. Davis is due about $7 million on a team option, and the Royals aren’t in a position to pay two one-inning relievers $15 million.

Davis will likely be cheaper, has an extra year of club control with more certainty, and Holland will have more trade value. Unless the Royals want to give Davis another try as a starter — which would be a whole other column — it just doesn’t make sense.

Trade proposals are nearly always worthless, but you could look at a guy like Casey McGehee as a free agent after this season to play third base. The Royals will be hesitant to trade or sign a guy they expect to DH.

It’s a virtual lock that the Royals won’t pick up Billy Butler’s option for next year, and the Royals would love to free up the DH spot. That’s especially true if Sal Perez continues to hit, to be able to give some of their guys days off in the field without taking the bat out of the lineup.

I should say here that I don’t expect a big move during the season, even at third base. You’re seeing what Lonnie Chisenhall is doing — 5-for-5 with three home runs and 9 RBIs last night, and .385/.429/.615 for the year — after three rotten seasons which is a hell of a case for why teams are so hesitant to give up on players.

Also, give the Royals credit for this: they identified the thing that Moustakas does worst (hit left handed pitching) and traded for a guy who kicks ass at that (Danny Valencia). They went into this season with a contingency plan for if Moose struggled. It’s just that the contingency plan is hurt.

I’m not going to pretend to know my World Cup enough, but according to this website, it’s 3/10 that the US will be eliminated in the group stage. If you run that through the calculator, it says “very likely.”

Meanwhile, FanGraphs gives the Royals a 13.3 percent chance of making the playoffs. Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com are each at 10.2 percent^.

^ Those were the odds going into last night’s games, anyway. If you need them updated after last night’s game, you can click the links and then reassess why you need them updated.

Partly because of the reasons we went over at the start of this, those Royals numbers seem a bit low to me. I’d have guessed around 15 to 18 percent, but I suppose we’re all in the same ballpark, and all in agreement that the Royals have a better chance of ending major North American sports’ longest playoff draught than the US has of making it out of group play.

Well, here’s the thing. I don’t pay, except in a beer every now and then (you’re 21, right?) and some wings. And most of the day will be spent in mesh shorts and a t-shirt, typing and talking on the phone at home. When we go to a stadium, you won’t believe how much standing around and waiting there will be.

And I’m probably only going to call you Darren.

In order: Royals home run record (Raul Mondesi), Chiefs Super Bowl win (after the 2018 season), horse racing triple crown (2031) and a Sprint Center tenant (but it’ll be in 2081, the building will be called the “Softbank Center,” and the tenant will be “Team MMA,” which by then will be the country’s third most popular sport).

So, I couldn’t find the ratings for Kansas City in the last World Cup. They’ve gotta be out there, I just ran out of patience. But the top 10 US markets for the 2010 World Cup, in order: Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, New York, DC, San Diego, Bay Area, Norfolk, West Palm Beach, Vegas, Boston and Baltimore^.

^ Those are for the English language broadcast. Spanish broadcast: Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, LA, Houston, Vegas, DFW, San Antonio, New York, Bay Area, Sacramento and Austin.

What’s interesting is that only four of those markets have MLS teams, and that’s including San Jose with the Bay Area. I bring this up because the passion that many in Kansas City have for Sporting does not necessarily mean big World Cup ratings. The only markets you hear about with big MLS support include Seattle and Portland, and obviously neither of those cities made the 2010 list.

Now, a lot has changed with soccer in Kansas City since 2010. Back then, they were the Wizards and they played their home games at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, which was just a joke. I think it was Joe Posnanski who had the great line about it being like playing soccer in a Chevy Equinox. The team rebranded itself as Sporting KC in 2011, moved into the beautiful new stadium that same year, and has built a loyal following and won last year’s MLS Cup.

But I also look at those 2010 markets, and I’m not seeing much correlation between MLS passion and World Cup ratings. Maybe I’m missing something. That’s entirely possible. But in those World Cup markets I see more of an established soccer culture and international presence in those cities.

Plus, and I don’t know how much this really impacts TV ratings, but I know there are a ton of watch parties around town, particularly at the Power and Light District (if you’re into such things, you should go, it’s fantastic).

Anyway, long way of saying: I’ll take the under. Or over. Whichever means Kansas City will be out of the top 10.

All of them. I want all of the Saisons.

I’ve been so bored I couldn’t finish a column. I’ve been so disappointed in the words on my screen that I couldn’t finish a column. I’ve been unable to finish a column because my computer died. And I’ve been unable to finish a column because halfway through I realized my whole premise was garbage.

But the worst injury I ever had on the job came when my boss bullied me into trying out for the Brigade, the old Arena Football League team. I ran the 40-yard dash twice, and I promise you this is true: my faster time came on the second try, when I ripped my hamstring at about yard 34 or so.

And, by “faster time,” I mean “the time that would be more difficult to measure with a sun dial.”

I’m on Team Ball Boy here. I mean, sure, he screwed up. But who among us has not screwed up at our job? Especially when we were (I’m just guessing) 19 years old?

He got a little discouraged after the first mistake, as coaches like to say, and let one loss turn into two. But he’ll come back from this, and besides, it didn’t affect the game at all. Brian Roberts hit the ball, and he was going to be on second base no matter what the ball boy did. He’s definitely not the first ball boy to field a fair ball, and he won’t be the last.

My favorite part of what happened is that between innings, Royals first base coach Rusty Kuntz made a point to talk to the kid. If you don’t know Rusty, he’s probably the happiest, most positive person I’ve ever met in my life. Definitely top five.

It’s not how many times you’re knocked down, it’s how many times you get up.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow twitter.com/mellinger.

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