If you are among those who felt their last hope for this Royals season die in a disheartening 16-3 loss to the rotten A’s Monday night, the causes of death are as frustrating as they are by now well-worn:
▪ The Royals’ worst month since Ross Gload was the first baseman gave this group an unmanageably small margin for error, to the point that any single loss — and, yes, especially a blowout loss to one of the worst teams in baseball* — feels like a fatal blow.
* The A’s are worse the closer you look. They are last in the league in runs scored, and second to last in runs surrendered. They have given 53 starts to pitchers with ERAs of 5.74 or worse. They traded their best pitcher and their best hitter. Their season is perhaps most notable for one player popping off to another, and then spending a week on the DL with a concussion from the ensuing fight.
▪ The Royals are next-to-last in runs scored, the pitching hasn’t been good enough to make up the difference — they are now 17-50 when scoring three or fewer runs.
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▪ Dillon Gee started, and was terrible. Chris Young came in relief, and was also terrible. This brings to mind the problems with the starting pitching, which we can curse in at least two different ways.
First, Danny Duffy has been excellent, and with a few notable exceptions, the Royals have been good when one of their first four starters is going — 63-46 with Duffy, Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura or Ian Kennedy starting. That’s a .578 win percentage, which works out to a 94-win pace. You might remember that the world champions won 95 games last year.
Second, we can update the #VomitIndex. If you’ve forgotten, the #VomitIndex is the Royals’ record when their starting pitcher fails to go at least five innings which, of course, is the equivalent of the guy who sits next to you at the office vomiting all over his keyboard. The Royals are 67-45 when their starter does not vomit, which is a 97-win pace.
Now, to be fair, all teams are better when their fifth starter isn’t going, and all teams are better when their starter goes at least five innings. The Royals’ problem is they’ve been worse than most with their fifth starter, and had to deal with more #Vomits than most.
Monday night was a good example of both. They’re not dead, yet. But we’re certainly past the point where when and if it happens, we’ll know what killed them.
As always, thanks for reading, and thanks for your help.
Oh, well, except for the part about there actually being a parade. But we’ll get more into that here soon.
Good morning to you too!
So, technically, the Royals do not have a magic number. They are chasing a playoff spot, not holding one, which means they have an elimination number — a tragic number, if you’re into cutesy wordplay — which I think is what you meant anyway.
All that said, the Royals’ elimination number is 16.
We did the Royals’ path to 90 wins (and presumably the second wild-card spot) last week, but they’re already off pace a bit, so let’s do it again. Starting with the column everyone loved, I’ve been using 90 wins as the goal because the second wild card has been on a fairly steady pace for 89 wins for a while now.
Baltimore’s loss Monday night means they are now on pace for 88.3 wins, so feel free to adjust as you must.
At the moment, the Orioles hold the second wild card and the Tigers lead a pack of five hopefuls at one game back. The Orioles play 12 of their final 19 games against contenders, and the Tigers play 10 of their last 19 against contenders. Maybe the second wild card will be taken with 89, or 88 wins. Maybe somewhere less.
Like I say, feel free to adjust down if you’d like, but for now, in the interest of staying in the moment and retaining some hope for the Royals, let’s use 89, which would require a 15-4 finish:
▪ Win the next three against the A’s. That was embarrassing Monday night. Now you’re 77-69.
▪ Sweep the White Sox. The Royals just took two of three in Chicago, and if they’re going to get back in this thing, they’re going to need to take care of the bad teams. 81-69.
▪ Lose two of three in Cleveland. The Indians have been tough on the Royals this year. 82-71.
▪ Win two of three in Detroit. These are more important than the Cleveland games, anyway. 84-72.
▪ Sweep the Twins. They stink. 87-72.
▪ Win two of three against the Indians, at home, in the final series of the season, and there’s your 89-73. As unlikely as all of this is, if the Royals are in position where two wins in that final weekend would put them in the playoffs, I would be surprised if they didn’t do it.
So, yeah. That’s the path. It was very unlikely when I wrote the column, and remains very unlikely as I write this timesuck today.
Mentioned this in the Insta-reaction — that’s coming at the final gun of every non-primetime game this season, by the way — but I think a lot. We should all keep perspective. Just as losing that game would not have sunk the Chiefs’ season, it should also be said that winning guarantees nothing.
There is obviously a strong intangible required to pull off something like that. It would be tempting to say that sort of stubborn belief is easier to find early in the season, when all possibilities still exist, and that’s true. But this is also a group that found that belief in the middle of what looked to be a lost 2015, when they started 1-5 and ended up with a playoff win.
I thought Mitchell Schwartz articulated it very well, both the desperate situation they made for themselves, and what was needed to get out of it.
“Normal human reaction, I think it probably takes the first score to kind of get the ball rolling and really believe it,” he said. “But if you’re just out there going through the motions, you’re not going to get that first score anyway.”
That’s the whole thing right there, isn’t it? You don’t go all-in with belief until there are results, but you have to be engaged to get those results in the first place.
I also think there’s an intangible benefit. One of the perceived limitations on this team has been the ability to come from behind, and at least outside of the building, Alex Smith’s limitations are seen to be a big part of that.
Both of those thoughts were destroyed the other day, at least temporarily, and in a sport that is so dependent on teamwork and sacrifice and a hundred quiet things during the week that nobody sees, it’s only logical that there might be some long-term gains made from one magical afternoon.
Now, there’s an important disclaimer here. The Chiefs were rotten for 2 1/2 quarters, at home, in a game they were heavily favored to win. There’s a lot to clean up — we got into this a little in The Rewatch — so any positive results going forward assume that focus on the negative outweighs reminiscing about the comeback.
That’s what the rest of the season is about, right?
I think the Chiefs have good players, and good coaches, so I tend to believe more in the positive than the negative. That said, I also picked them 9-7, which sure seems to be lower than most around town, so I do think there are some real problems to fix here.
Mostly, that’s on defense. The Chiefs generated very little pass rush. Their first sack was Dee Ford’s terrific play late in the fourth quarter, this against a team the Chiefs had 12 sacks against in their last two games at Arrowhead.
Some of this is natural, of course. Tamba Hali is clearly not 100 percent*, so the pass rush will improve if he gets his legs back. The bigger issue, obviously, is Justin Houston but with his return at least four games away — and I’d bet on more than that — this is a problem the Chiefs need to address now. I thought the defensive line could be better.
* From what I saw, it’s just a lack of explosion in his legs off the line of scrimmage. When he got engaged with the linemen, you could see the skill and strong hands, but without the burst off the line of scrimmage it didn’t matter and he was often beginning that engagement without the advantage.
The team should also be concerned about coverage. There was a thought before the season that teams might stay away from Marcus Peters, preferring to pick on the inexperienced guys behind him on the depth chart, but the Chargers threw at everyone. Keenan Allen beat Peters regularly.
Some of that, I believe, was Peters losing himself in emotion, but that’s something that needs to be cleaned up. Allen is a very good receiver, but I count at least nine more games against very good receivers*.
* Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins, Jets’ Brandon Marshall, Steelers’ Antonio Brown, Colts’ TY Hilton, Jags’ Allen Robinson, Panthers’ Kelvin Benjamin, Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas, and the Falcons’ Julio Jones — and this doesn’t count two games against the Raiders’ Amari Cooper, or one against Drew Brees, who can throw anyone open.
Sports, man. It’s just sports.
I mean, we can try. There are real football reasons, including the boring (the Chiefs are better than the Chargers), the mystical (the Chiefs have shown themselves to be stubborn against the wind), and the strategic (they got more aggressive on defense, and Keenan Allen got hurt).
Is it OK if I say they’re both real?
I actually think this is a lot of what we’ve been talking about before the season. They are a good team, the best Chiefs roster in a decade, and I do expect them to score points.
But they are also flawed, and not just flawed, but flawed in ways that will leave them exposed at times — weak pass rush, inexperienced secondary, and, I have to admit, I was slow to see the problems against the run coming.
This is where coaching comes in, particularly on defense, and I sense a split among fans when it comes to confidence in defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.
For what it’s worth, I think Sutton is — like a lot of people — mostly good at his job with a few flaws. In oversimplified terms, I think he’s good at getting guys to buy in, and good at designing defense in the macro — philosophies, matching player strengths with assignments, and sticking with a general plan. But I also find him to be lacking in the micro — not creative enough with blitzes, and bizarre little things like having Peters line up 8 yards off the line of scrimmage on 3rd and 5.
I think he has good assistants — Gary Gibbs, Emmitt Thomas, Al Harris among them — so together they should be able to figure out some big picture ways to hide the weaknesses and emphasize the strengths. One guess is to ask a whole lot out of safety Eric Berry, using him closer to the line of scrimmage, almost like an extra linebacker.
They also need to design some rushes for the d-linemen to get loose, because at least until Hali is fully healthy, and perhaps until Houston is back, that might be their best way to get into the backfield.
But, for now, I’m expecting a lot of what we saw on Sunday. Not necessarily to that extreme, obviously, but extreme shifts from good to bad and back.
We’re going to disagree here. That’s Peters, man, better and worse. And most of the time, it’s better. That’s just how he is. It’s how he motivates himself. It’s how he plays, how he works, how he does everything.
When he’s playing well, it’s swagger. When he’s getting beat, it’s “embarrassing.” But it’s all the same stuff.
I give Andy Reid a lot of credit here. Reid, as well as any coach I’ve been around, strikes a remarkable balance between “a players’ coach” and still demanding discipline and focus.
One of the first things he told his players after taking the job was that he wanted them to be themselves, and to have fun, because he believes that’s the only way to perform at this level. It’s a risk, because the line can be hard to draw and keep, but I believe this to be perhaps Reid’s greatest strength as a coach.
I think it’s part of why he’s drawn out the best in Sean Smith, Justin Houston, Travis Kelce and others.
Peters mentioned that he told Reid what he was going to do during the anthem, and that Reid was OK with it. I appreciate a coach who’s willing to sign off on something like that, but if there was a mistake, it was in not doing a better job helping Peters keep his emotions level once the game began. Maybe they tried, and it just didn’t work. Either way, nobody’s perfect.
I love Peters’ game, so maybe I should admit my bias here. But I’m thinking of two things here. The first is that the Chiefs’ — and, to be more specific, the Chiefs coaches’ — confidence in themselves is why they were able to get such a talented player 18th overall.
If Peters had Eric Berry’s polish, he’d have been a top 10 pick. And if the Chiefs had an insecure coaching staff, they’d have drafted a lesser player.
I also believe with all my heart that if the Chiefs somehow tried to muzzle Peters, they would get diminished production in return. Not that Peters would consciously give less than his best, but I think all of us are at our best when we’re comfortable and confident, and Peters is probably that way more than most.
So, yes, absolutely, there are going to be moments where you wish Peters would just settle the heck down, and not feel like he has to talk to EVERYbody. But those moments are going to be outnumbered by the rest of it, when he’s juicing his teammates, making plays, and generally alpha dogging it at a premium position*.
* And with four more years on his rookie contract, too, which will allow the Chiefs to spend bigger money elsewhere.
Yeah, so, this is going to be a thing, huh?
Spencer Ware was GREAT on Sunday. Spectacular. More than 6 yards per carry, and seven catches for 129 yards — he caught everything, and made more of it when he did. He was the best player on the field, in his third career start, and is better than the best back on many teams.
But, let’s slow down a bit. Jamaal Charles is averaging 5.5 yards per carry — over his whole damn career. As good as Ware was on Sunday, I’m not sure he was better than Charles against Seattle in 2014, or at Oakland in 2013, or in the snow in Washington in 2013, or, really, at least a half dozen more games over the years.
Charles is going to turn 30 in December, and there is an expiration date on all running backs, especially running backs with two major knee surgeries, but I’d like to make Ware take the title instead of having it handed to him after one awesome game.
Besides, if Charles is close to fully recovered, it’s going to be much more interesting to watch them together — yes, absolutely, they should be on the field at the same time — than debate about which one should get 40 percent of the usage and which one 35 percent.
Right guys? I mean...
OK, sorry Steve, you’re good people. I’m just spit-balling here, but why not something more like 40 percent for all of them? That way you have two on the field for one out of every five plays or so?
I noticed one point, in the second quarter, with Ware and West on the field together. I assume there was more than that. I wasn’t watching personnel closely, and only saw this one after being tipped off by someone on Twitter.
But whatever chunk of snaps the Chiefs are going to run three tight ends on the field, I’d rather see them take at least some of those and put two potential game-breaking backs on the field together. Especially with Charles, because I think you can line him up as a receiver, and his versatility would blend with with Ware’s.
I don’t know. Just a thought.
Yes. You should be concerned about that.
Woodhead and Gordon are each better players than they probably get credit for, and the Chargers did improve their offensive line, but that was really bad. I mentioned this in the Rewatch, but I counted 135 yards and two touchdowns in 28 carries up the middle for those two backs.
The Chiefs made some sort of adjustment late — or maybe the Chargers just went into a prevent offense — but at one point it was 109 yards in 20 carries. That’s inexcusable for runs between the tackles, particularly when the strength of the defense is supposed to be the front seven.
That’s some of what concerns me about the game this weekend. I need to watch the Texans’ comeback win over the Bears still, but from the highlights and stats it sure looks like they rode Lamar Miller, including between the tackles.
The Texans have to feel like they have a few different ways they can attack this defense.
Well, by now of course they are four games back with 19 to play.
The problem is they’re running out of time. The ugliness of Monday night’s loss aside — and, it can’t be said enough, to a rotten team — we are approaching the point where the Royals are going to need a miracle.
They have won just five of their last 12, and even if you assume a strong finish the rest of the way, they’re going to need teams ahead of them to fall apart.
Baltimore and Detroit each have 19 games left. Let’s assume they each finish 9-10. Below .500. That’s optimistic for the Royals, but fine, let’s do that. Just to tie them at 86 wins, the Royals would need to finish 12-7.
That’s doable, you might say. And it is! But the Royals have won just 10 of their last 19 ... and that includes the tail end of that hot August ... and Lorenzo Cain is hurt again ... and this strong finish would only put them in a three-way tie for the second wild-card spot ... and only if Baltimore and Detroit pull a Western Kentucky on the way out.
More likely, Baltimore or Detroit finish at least 11-8, and in that case, the Royals would need to finish 15-4 to win the second wild card, and 14-5 to get a play-in game for the second wild-card.
So, yeah. The Mellinger Projections have the Royals with a 4.71374183 percent chance of making the playoffs.
One of the subtle truths about American football is that the coaches, for all their seriousness and stature and self-importance, are mostly responding to incentives.
College coaches, for the most part, try to be fun and hip. They’ll tweet and scream and talk trash and promote. They have to, because everything they do with their team doubles as a sales pitch to recruiters, and to donors.
NFL coaches, for the most part, treat even the most basic parts of their job like state secrets. They are often robots in front of the public, uncomfortable until they can get back to watching film, or breaking down personnel groupings.
I bring this up because it is my firm belief that if Andy Reid were a college coach, he would be incredibly awesome. His sense of humor — usually self-deprecating, but not always — would make him a star. His willingness to let players express themselves would be a particular strength at that level, particularly with recruiting. He is funny and a bit of a closet renaissance man — he’s the son of an artist and a doctor — with a humble past that would make him popular with donors and the general public.
The point here, if there is one, is that he would be an amazing spokesman for Alex Smith. He gives us so little that people still think it’s clever when he talks about Smith’s “gigabytes,” but if the world around him pushed to open up instead of close off, I believe he would make Les Miles look like a stiff, and Jim Harbaugh like a recluse.
Free Big Red, is what I’m saying here.
This would surprise me.
Morales is 33 years old, and his 2015 season is the exception to his recent career, not the rule. It’s the best year he’s had since 2009, which was a long time ago, and a major surgery ago. In the cold calculations of the baseball world, he is simply not worth the money.
By FanGraphs’ calculations, he was barely worth the salary of a qualifying offer last year, when he was terrific. I’ll disagree with the computers here. If you could guarantee Morales would repeat 2015 — .290/.362/.485 — I would absolutely give him a qualifying offer. But he will be 35 years old next year, and here is the complete list of players 35 or older who are having 2016 seasons as good as Morales’ 2015:
David Ortiz, Nelson Cruz.
It’s just very, very rare. Morales is also a DH, in an organization that does not want a DH. His value is diminished in National League parks, and even in AL parks takes up a spot in the lineup that could be used to give Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and Sal Perez half-days off while keeping their bats in the lineup. You may have noticed that each of those players are very good, and important, and carry their own particular reasons for requiring increased rest.
The other part of this is that I don’t know the Royals can afford it. Just between Alex Gordon, Ian Kennedy, Sal Perez, Wade Davis, Joakim Soria, Yordano Ventura, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Mike Minor and Chris Young, the Royals are on the hook for about $30 million in raises. That does not include what amounts to a $3 million deferred payment for Edinson Volquez, and arbitration raises for Eric Hosmer, Danny Duffy and Kelvin Herrera.
And, speaking of Volquez, and qualifying offers, I think he’s a much better candidate. We’ve talked a little about this in the past, and I know it sounds silly on the surface to some, but there’s a lot of important if subtle value in Volquez, particularly on a one-year deal, even if he doesn’t rebound to what he did last year.
Unlike Morales, I believe at least some of Volquez’s struggles this year are the physical toll he took last year, when he threw a career high innings, many of them high leverage. Expecting Volquez to struggle was a common theme among scouts before the season.
But there is so much value in starting pitching, that even with the struggles, taking the ball and turning in innings is a valuable skill. Volquez is 33, so who knows, but I actually think there’s a chance he would turn down the qualifying offer with the expectation that someone would give him something better.
He’s probably right, too, considering how terrible the free agent class is going to be.
But at least then the Royals would get a draft pick.
I would expect so.
I know there are some KU fans mad at me for dismissing the win over Rhode Island, literally one of the very worst FCS programs in existence, so I’m not trying to spike the ball in the end zone here, but the Jayhawks were dominated at home by a team that the week before lost to one of the worst teams in the Sun Belt.
KU turned it over three times, was outgained 2:1, gave up two 120+ yard rushers, and generally showed a lot of the ineptitude you’d expect from a program at this stage of such a daunting rebuild.
We can all pick our own moments, but calling a slow-developing run play out of the shotgun from inside their own 1 was a particularly discouraging. Not just for the obvious reasons — in what world is that a good idea? — but also because David Beaty decided to take over play-calling this year when the head coach of a program with so many problems should have a heck of a lot more important things to focus on.
That decision was always going to open the door to more problems than opportunities. Credit Beaty for doing what he felt was right, I guess, but without a major turnaround it’s going to be read as panic from a coach who should’ve been assured he’d have time to see this through.
I don’t know, man. Looks like a hell of a challenge. Kansas is around a 20-point underdog against Memphis this weekend, which is probably the most winnable game until Iowa State comes to Lawrence on Nov. 12, and holy crap this is a depressing sentence.
I would make Saison Brett.
That’s it. Lots and lots of Saison Brett.
Look, I love delicious beer. I love dark beers and I love IPAs and I love pale ales and I love pilsners and I love bourbon beers. I love lots of beers, as long as they’re not too fruity, or sour, and I am 100 percent in favor of the professionals doing the work for me.
A friend gave me some beers his neighbor made in his basement, and to be honest, a few of them are pretty good but that is the exception to the rule.
I realize this is an arbitrary distinction to make, because I love cooking, even as I recognize that I can go to a restaurant and get often better food and always have more convenience. But cooking is fun, and it’s relatively easy, and is almost always cheaper. Making beer seems like it would be messy, and time-consuming, and endlessly frustrating, all so I can maybe, someday, with some luck, create a beer that tastes like the delicious beer I can buy at the liquor store.
But, since you asked. Saison Brett. So much Saison Brett.