1. Rise Of The Zombies
As much as it might seem radically different, the Royals have exactly the same record (60-53) they did at this stage a year ago.
The difference, of course, is that they enter Friday just 2 1/2 games behind American League-Central leader Detroit and still were 7 1/2 back last season.
They’ve been fickle all season, of course, with a truly uncanny knack for reversing direction just when you think they’ve declared who they really are.
Yet at least half of that equation is a very good thing and may turn out to be the most telling trait about them.
Count the number of times you might have said or thought they are dead and how many times it’s proven untrue:
Getting bashed by a cumulative total of 26-8 by Detroit over three home games in May … getting humiliated shortly thereafter by an aggregate score of 21-5 at home by a bad Houston team … losing six of seven after winning 10 in a row … losing seven of eight on either side of the All-Star break.
But there never was more pervasive certainty that they seemed doomed than eight days ago, when they were unable to execute a deal for an imperative big bat at the trade deadline … and hours later learned they’d lose first baseman Eric Hosmer for three to six weeks because of a hand injury.
Naturally, they’ve won six of seven since (and seven of eight overall), including two of three at Oakland, which has the best record in baseball.
Now it’s not like the Royals suddenly are without issues, because the offensive game has demonstrated it can disappear for weeks at a time.
So who’s to say you can count them in?
But maybe they’ve proven that you can’t count them out as fast as you’re reflexively inclined to, and that this team, this season, is an entity and a story in itself that has nothing to do with the weight and legacy of the 28-year playoff drought that’s preceded it.
2. Slamming The Door And Closing The Window
This won’t always play out according to Hoyle, of course. But given the strength and reliability of Royals starters and the emergence of Kelvin Herrera in the seventh inning to set up the remarkable eighth- and ninth-inning tandem of Wade Davis and Greg Holland, they sure seem to be shrinking games and variables more in their favor.
You can’t win if you don’t score, obviously, and that remains the Achilles’ heel of the Royals.
But as it stands now, opponents typically only have about a two- or three-inning window to take command before it’s advantage Royals.
3. Daniel In the Lion’s Den
Nobody knows better than Chiefs No. 2 quarterback Chase Daniel that he can’t make an ugly overthrow that turns into a pick-six like the one he tossed in the their exhibition opener Thursday at Arrowhead Stadium.
But Daniel also knows this is a “next play” league and that what he did after that was going to be the real testament to his night.
And he redeemed himself plenty by then leading the Chiefs on two scoring drives and completing eight of his next nine passes, including a 69-yard touchdown pass to tight end Travis Kelce.
That didn’t make the interception go away, and it lingered with Daniel after the game.
But he also was consoled, some, by the fact that he hadn’t been trying to jam the ball in or made a bad read. It just sailed on him, which is no more excusable but ultimately less damning than a mental mistake.
All of which speaks to why, $10 million contract and all, he is exactly what the Chiefs have to have in that spot.
It’s not just that Daniel, 27, has been in the NFL so much longer than his competitors, second-year man Tyler Bray and rookie Aaron Murray.
It’s also that he has a well-deserved reputation for fiendish preparation and that he is likely to convert that into execution when given the chance.
That’s how and why he completed 21 of 30 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown in the 2013 regular-season finale at San Diego, a 27-24 overtime loss.
Winning the game was secondary to the Chiefs, who used the opportunity to rest starters for the playoffs, but it was essential for the desperate Chargers, who had to win to make the playoffs.
So that was no mere mop-up action.
It was one game, yes, but it was telling and another aspect of a body of work that Bray and Murray simply don’t have.
The performance was a public illumination of what general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid knew about Daniel’s makeup even if he had thrown only nine NFL passes in three seasons with New Orleans when they signed him.
Now, it’s completely conceivable Bray and Murray have the capacities for bigger futures than Daniel.
Then again, as longtime coach George Allen liked to put it, the future is now.
So a lot would have to change immediately for the Chiefs to go into the season better off than having Daniel on-deck behind Alex Smith.
4. Paving The Way
Loved De’Anthony Thomas’ derring-do just fielding the punt with Cincinnati’s Dre Kirkpatrick in his grill, and I don’t understand the physics of how he spun out of getting smashed and almost instantly accelerated into what became an 80-yard TD.
The burst reinforced why even as a fourth-round draft pick Thomas is the most intriguing rookie on the team.
But it also was further testimony to the terrific special teams’ coaching of Dave Toub and the buy-in by Chiefs players. Because of their blocking, I don’t believe Thomas really had to make a move by the time he’d turned upfield just past his own 20.
5. That Was Then, This Is Now
Really enjoyed spending election day with former Royals star Frank White, who won the Democratic primary for an at-large Jackson County legislature seat.
We talked about a lot of things, and this was one that stood out:
The Royals Hall of Famer considered the differences between the game now and when he played (1973-1990), and said, “If I came into the game today, I probably wouldn’t have made it.”
That’s because, he reckoned, he had a chance to learn his craft in a backup role at the Major League level for a few years before he took over for Cookie Rojas at second base.
Money in the game now has put a higher premium on return on more rapid, if not instant, gratification.
Organizations “want faster returns when they get here,” he said, “when the reality is most times it still take 3-4 years.”
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him Twitter.com/vgregorian