Close your eyes and clear your mind for a moment and, well, actually, don’t close your eyes because then you can’t read the rest of this. But clear your mind. Please, yes, clear your mind.
Imagine there is a baseball team that by at least one metric plays the best defense in its league. This team allows the third-fewest runs, because it has one of the league’s best rotations and perhaps its league’s best back-end of the bullpen. This team is relatively young and very athletic, among the league leaders in stolen bases and one of the game’s hardest to strike out.
This team has bright young stars, particularly a charismatic catcher who stars both behind the plate and in the batters box, but also a bright shortstop, brilliant closer, strong ace, and dynamic left fielder. Their weakness is hitting, particularly with power, but they have five hitters who conservatively could hit 20 or more homers without it being a surprise.
I know you figured out a few paragraphs ago that I’m talking about the Royals here, but indulge me long enough to read that the team our imaginary group is chasing in the division has three terrific hitters, some very good starting pitching, and other than that, basically, a bunch of guys named Fred. Our imaginary team is also in a league with only one great team (so far, at least), six or so bad ones, and two available playoff spots to the six others that don’t win their division.
Wouldn’t you at least think this team had a chance at the playoffs?
Wouldn’t you want to hope, especially if you haven’t had any reason to hope in so long?
Again, by now the mystery is gone here, but the point remains that in a flawed division and league, the flawed Royals are four games above .500, within a good few days of a wild card spot and a modest (if fortuitously timed) hot streak of the division lead.
I understand every bit of pessimism about the Royals. My boss is so sick of me saying "Royals fans come by their skepticism honestly" that I can picture his eyes rolling as I type this sentence.
But if you’re checked out now, there’s not much reason to ever bother checking in.
This week’s eating recommendation is the cannelloni at Osteria Il Centro, and the reading recommendation is Flinder Boyd with the bizarre story of Javaris Crittenton.
One quick programming note. We’re going to try something new this week, and if you like it, we’ll keep doing it. There’s a website called Knoda, you’ve probably heard of it, started by some local guys, basically, to help you call out your friends on their b.s. Instead of just spewing nonsense over too many Miller Lites, you put your words onto the internet, where they live forever to be mocked or bragged upon. So what we’ll do here is include one prediction per week, for as long as you guys are into it, sometimes from me and sometimes from one of you.
Anyway, let’s get to it. As always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading.
Absolutely nothing, provided you live with your parents and haven’t graduated high school.
Look, I love celebrations. Love emotion. Major league baseball and the NFL, in particular, would do well to embrace more of this not less. We need more Yasiel Puigs and fewer Brian McCanns.
But that doesn’t meant that any celebration should be celebrated. Make me laugh. Make me think. Make me cry. Don’t make me roll my eyes.
I’ll give you five:
5. Grab the ball out of the net and run around with it like a football, like I’m Tecmo Bo, stiff-arming teammates until I score a touchdown.
4. Eat soup.
3. Crawl around the field and lift a leg like I’m fertilizing the grass, like Bennie Thompson.
2. Shadow box with a teammate, but make sure to intimate various characters in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. I’d save King Hippo for a big game.
You can go on this water death trap with the rest of these nutjobs when it never opens, or you could shed the fears of the no-cell-phones-for-scouts days and think of the Royals as an actual Major League Baseball team.
I mean, guys, if you think about it, there’s a damn good case for optimism the rest of the way. The Royals are four above .500 and other Escobar and Cain, nobody is hitting better than expected. And other than Gordon and Perez, really, nobody else is even hitting to a D+ expectation.
If Butler can be what he was in June (which is still significantly less than what he was in 2,702 plate appearances of a sample size from 2009 to 2012), or Hosmer can be what he was last year, or Infante 90 percent of what he’s been over his career, or Moustakas what he’s been since returning from Omaha, or right field can be filled by some productive combination of Nori Aoki, Cain (via Jarrod Dyson playing center) and what’s left of Raul Ibanez, then the Royals really have something.
I know everyone wants to crown the Tigers, but they have flaws, too. The Royals don’t have to be their 10-game-win-streak best selves. They just have to be better than 10 teams in a mediocre American League.
It can be done, no matter what a generation of never-say-it-can’t-get-worse has taught you.
Wait. Is this really a thing? Please tell me this isn’t a thing. People think Gordon isn’t good?
First, the notion that any Royals player is overrated nationally is silly. That just doesn’t happen. And the notion that Gordon is the overrated player is especially silly. Gordon was voted in by the players, who, with flaws of their own, have a damn good idea of what they’re watching. This is one of the best outfielders in baseball, particularly left fielders, and his work ethic, athleticism and wide skill set makes him a good bet to be valuable for a long time. He is, basically, a model for what teams hope their prospects can grow into.
With Gordon, I often think back a few years when the Royals (and their broadcasters) were making a silly push for David DeJesus to win the Gold Glove. The campaign had no chance, for a lot of reasons, and I heard a lot of pushback from the organization when I pointed out the ridiculousness of the whole thing.
This was 2008 or 2009, when the Royals were losing a lot of games and disappointing a lot of people. Among the sentiments I heard from the organization, basically, was "we have to hang our hat on something." That’s a pretty weak argument.
With Gordon, you can point to superb defense, very good baserunning, power, and the ability to take a walk, among other strengths. You may think it’s nuts, but whatever, he is legitimately among the league’s best outfielders, whether you want to think it or not.
But I still am struggling with the idea that a Royals fan thinks Gordon isn’t any good. You might just have a friend asking for help.
First question: Perez. I mean, the backup is Brett Hayes, who is a fine gentleman but also a fine gentleman who is a significant defensive downgrade and so far a 4-for-39 hitter this season. Honestly, if Perez suffered a significant injury, I might write the season obituary on the spot. This is both why it makes me cringe how much Ned Yost plays Perez (who for all his strengths hasn’t played an injury-free big league season yet) and why I understand why Yost plays Perez so much.
Second question: Also Perez. But that’s a boring answer, so among the non-All-Stars, the answer is Alcides Escobar. Sort of the same theory here. Escobar has actually been the team’s fourth-best hitter this season, but much more importantly, he’s one of the game’s best defensive shortstops^ on a team that doesn’t really have a good plan B.
^ I pause for a moment to both recognize that Defensive Runs Saved — my most trusted defensive metric — has him at a -2 this year and to politely say that I disagree with DRS, even as I acknowledge the guys who put it together are way smarter than me.
If Escobar goes down, you’re probably looking at Christian Colon as your everyday shortstop and you probably don’t want to look at Christian Colon as your everyday shortstop.
And speaking of Escobar…
No. And yes.
I might write more about this later in the week, but I’m not sure what being an All-Star really means anymore. If we’re taking it literally, and looking at this as recognizing the very best in the game, sure, Escobar is better at the moment than Jeter but if that’s the context of the award then we should wait until the end of the season, not start the voting after a month or two.
As much as MLB continues to push This Time It Counts, the All-Star game is an exhibition for fans. And there are, literally, millions more fans who want to see Derek Jeter one more time in the All-Star game than Alcides Escobar for the first time.
If the Royals continue to putz along like they are, they will win 85 games, the second-highest total since 1989. And you are insinuating that this would be cause to fire the front office?
I understand that Shields will be gone, Butler too, and that Dayton Inc. favored sons like Moustakas and Hosmer have yet to prove themselves as top-level big leaguers. But we can also have some perspective, right?
I’m the last person to say this front office has done everything right, but Dayton Inc. has also (with the help of appropriate investment from David Glass) dragged the organization from punchline to model. They beefed up a comatose international scouting department that produced not just Salvador Perez but Raul Mondesi. They drafted Greg Holland, and gave Alex Gordon every opportunity to reach his potential. They got Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar out of two years of Zack Greinke. They consistently build good bullpens, and finally appear to have the makings of a good rotation.
This whole thing has taken way longer than anyone should defend. If you want to rip them, there is plenty of evidence, from Mike Jacobs to Jose Guillen to Jeff Francouer and others. But they are also on pace for the best two seasons in a generation, with the possibility of a real playoff race.
And you want to fire them?
I do, actually. I mentioned this in the column, but his spot in the lineup is being evaluated. I don’t know exactly what that means, if he’s set to be moved down today or tomorrow or in the next week, but I do know that the legitimate appearance of Hosmer having birthrights to the top of the lineup isn’t the way the organization views it.
If it was me, I’d have moved Hosmer down instead of Butler. If the insinuations are true that Hosmer wouldn’t be able to handle moving down^, then you’ve got bigger problems. Track record should mean something, and Butler’s is much better than Hosmer’s.
^ I don’t believe this, by the way. Hosmer is a $6 million Boras bonus baby, but he’s also faced his share of adversity. He had a broken thumb and eye troubles that basically washed away his first full pro season, and the next year came back to dominate higher levels. He was awful in 2012 and bad in the beginning of 2013, but recovered to have a very good season. He’s proven he can handle a bump in the road, so I don’t really understand if there’s a feeling he has to be babied.
But Butler’s also been pretty terrible this season, and a good June doesn’t erase that, so you can’t argue for either of them as much as you argue against one of them.
Is that what we’ve decided to call it? The Magic Fumble Game?
I’m still not sure about this. In Indy, I’m sure they’re calling it the T.Y. Hilton game. Or the Luck-y Fumble. I’m sure there’s been an internet agreement on this that I’ve missed.
My neighbor drove out to Indy for that game, and we were going to meet up after for a beer. He texted me right after the game, something like, "F*&$ this, I hate this F*#(*&$ place, we’re out of here."
I actually think that would be a good name for the game in Kansas City: The F*&$ this, I hate this F*#(*&$ place, we’re out of here Game.
Vahe and Teicher, by the way, were stuck in Indy for like six weeks after that. Vahe ended up bussing tables at a Waffle House in Indy. One of those sentences is the absolute truth. The other is merely exaggerated by about five weeks and four days.
This is another that I’m planning to write more about as we go along, but for now, I say he can’t make a bad decision. This is a very personal decision for him, weighing two very important things.
If he decides to stay, good for him and great for Sporting. He can have a real legacy here, if that’s a real thing, a homegrown kid who turned down bigger money and bigger global fame to build something more important.
And if he leaves, good for him, too. The opportunity to grow and compete against the very best in your profession, in the best league your sport has to offer, is inherently appealing. If he leaves, he’s not denouncing his Kansas City card, or spitting on Sporting, and if anyone takes it that way they need to grow up.
He’s worked most of his life to get to this point, and I don’t think anyone has the right to tell him what he should do. I’m sure this will be a very difficult decision for him^, and like he said the other day, it could be the only opportunity he has to do something like this. But either way, he can’t make a bad decision.
^ I say this understanding that if Sporting doesn’t receive what it feels is a legitimate transfer fee, this is all a moot point and we’ll have this same discussion when Besler’s MLS contract is up after next season.
What’s interesting here is the attention has been mostly on Besler, but really, Zusi is at least as important to Sporting going forward. It seems to me that both guys will try to keep their feelings and thoughts close, but Zusi especially so.
As long as we all understand we’re all making wild guesses here, mine is 37.278301 percent that both players will be with Sporting next year.
They can’t do anything wrong, it seems like, even with a ridiculous string of injuries, bad luck and USMNT call-ups that should have Sporting much lower than second in the East and just two points behind DC United.
If Zusi and/or Besler leave, that’s a significant hit. But winning is the most important thing, obviously, and as the reigning MLS Cup champions there is a certain grace period and benefit of the doubt built in. My guess is that if the team missed the playoffs and started off badly the next year they would begin to see who’s in for real and who’s in for the wave.
At this point, I just hope there are a couple season tickets I can buy when this little guy turns three or four.
As a follower of sports, I suppose I am contractually obligated to have an opinion about this. And I hate my opinion, because it’s that I hope he leaves Miami even while thinking he’s almost certainly returning to Miami. I have no dog in this fight, other than a long appreciation for LeBron’s game and a fascination in watching the defining player of this generation. To that end, I just think it would be more interesting if he left, especially if he left for Cleveland.
But he’ll probably go back to Miami and try to drag what’s left of Dwayne Wade back to the NBA Finals.
I can’t improve on this.
Let’s end with this week’s Knoda: