A year ago today, Mike Moustakas hit a home run off Michael Pineda. Pineda is one of the American League’s most talented pitchers, and the solo homer was the only run he surrendered.
There was not much celebrating for Moustakas, though. The Royals lost 8-1 that day. He had been demoted to the No. 8 spot in the batting order, and only a few days earlier raised his batting average over .200. He had no way of knowing this at the time, of course, but it was the last home run he would hit during the regular season. Around baseball, some rival scouts and executives wondered how long the Royals could stick with Moustakas as their everyday third baseman.
I couldn’t help but think of all that last night, when Moustakas made a ridiculous diving stop-and-throw on Henry Urritia and hit the game-tying and rally-starting home run off Ubaldo Jimenez. It is astounding how far Moustakas has come in the last year, and his path will be used by other teams to keep confidence in struggling-but-talented players.
Reasonable people can disagree here, but among the Royals’ position players, there’s a good case to be made that only Lorenzo Cain and perhaps Eric Hosmer have been more valuable to the team than Moustakas.
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He has reshaped his swing, and recalibrated his approach. He is taking walks, making solid contact, and, after Manny Machado, Adrian Beltre and Josh Donaldson, could be the best defensive third baseman in the American League.
If you watch the Royals regularly, you know all of this, obviously. But, I don’t know, after last night I just think it’s worth saying again.
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Let’s be realistic here. The Royals are the best team in the American League. They play an exciting style, are by now proven winners, and have a core of stars who are under long-term control. They addressed their two biggest needs at the trade deadline. They are a demonstrably better team than the one that lost game seven of the World Series by 90 feet.
This paragraph is also going to be realistic. Greg Holland has shown vulnerabilities we hadn’t seen before this year. Ben Zobrist can play second base and right field, but not at the same time. Alex Gordon, no matter how many home runs he hits for Omaha, will have to work his way back into major-league rhythm. Also, and depending on your perspective, this is probably the biggest “worry,” but baseball’s playoffs, much more than the NFL or NBA, are about chance and momentum more than skill and finding the best team. That element worked for the Royals last year, and there is no guarantee it will again.
But, look. Nobody can tell you how to be a fan. If it’s your nature to worry, then worry. If it’s your nature to dream, then dream. The only bad fans are the ones who start the wave.
I just think there should be some room for realism here, too. If this exact team wore a different franchise’s uniform, Royals fans would LUST after this team. They are athletic, play with a lot of energy, have homegrown guys at most of the spots, and are winning in a relatively new way. Actually, Royals fans have lusted after that sort of team. It was the 2008 to 2013 Rays.
I want to be careful about broad-brush painting here. Of course not all fans feel the same way. There are many Royals fans who believe the team will not and should not lose another game, and there are people at every point in between.
But I know a lot of folks are having a hard time adjusting to life as the frontrunner, of cheering for a team with a 13-game lead in the division and seven in the league*.
*The Royals have a bigger lead over the Yankees and Blue Jays for the best record in the American League than any other team has in its division. I’ve triple-checked this just to make sure, and it turns out true every time. Bonkers.
And, again, we should all watch sports however we want. I just think that some people are going to feel like they missed a lot of fun by worrying about when or if it would end.
There’s a life analogy in there somewhere.
It’s weird, right? There are a lot of theories we could come up with, but the one that might make the most sense is a feeling that if this season caves in, it somehow makes last year’s run less real, more flukey, and you end up feeling like you’ve lost twice.
I mean, let’s be honest. Things don’t usually end well for the Royals. Things end in the strike of 1994, or in a trade for Mike Wood, or against Madison Bumgarner. If you don’t get your hopes up, you can’t be disappointed, and a lifetime of rooting for the Royals is a lifetime of knowing you’re about to be kicked in the face.
But that’s a sad way to go through life, right? Especially with something that’s supposed to be fun?
We’re staying on topic here, I see, and yes, the curse is over. If you root for a team that wins a Wild Card game like that, and then sweeps its way into the World Series, you are no longer allowed to talk about a silly curse completely made up by a brilliant museum director and publicized by a very charming sports writer.
Can’t do it. Don’t try.
Well, I’m not sure I can improve upon that, so I’ll just answer the question.
If it was up to me, Ben Zobrist is at second base, and the Royals use Jarrod Dyson in a platoon in right field. Rios and Infante have both played their way out of regular big-league duty. They’ve picked up lately, but still, Rios is slugging — SLUGGING — .322 and is somehow the better power threat of the two.
Doing those spots this way also maintains the defense. Infante is a fine second baseman, and the Royals don’t talk about this much, but his arm is mostly gone. That’s not his fault. Infante is a pro, and has played 995 big-league games at second base. There’s value in that. But I’m guessing the two are close to even defensively, and the difference offensively is enormous.
Also, and this is just a gut feeling, I think Rios is more likely to help the Royals offensively than Infante. Maybe he wouldn’t respond well to a platoon, I don’t know, but it’d be nice to get Dyson’s speed in the lineup and outfield more often. If you’re advocating for Orlando to be the other half of that platoon, that’s fine, and maybe this is a statistical anomaly, but Orlando has a reverse split — he’s been better against righties (.722 OPS) than lefties (.590 OPS).
Oh, and one more thing: I stand with Andy in thinking Alex Gordon should be the leadoff hitter.
Did you see where Brian Hoyer is going to be the Texans’ starting quarterback? True story. Also, Arian Foster is hurt. So, well, the Texans are going to stink. At least on offense. So that should be a win, even on the road.
I would like the Chiefs’ chances against the Broncos a lot more with Sean Smith. That’s a Thursday night home game, and I’m starting to wonder if the Broncos will be the NFL’s version of the Tigers this year, but the idea of Peyton Manning and Demaryious Thomas going against unproven cornerbacks is concerning. Also, how do you like Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Shane Ray going against the Chiefs’ line? I’m guessing the Chiefs lose this, but my mind could be changed.
The same Sean Smith thing applies to the third game, at the Packers. Jordy Nelson is hurt, meaning Randall Cobb is the only proven receiver, which is nice for the Chiefs, but it’s still hard to expect them to win this. Did we mention it’s on Monday night? In Green Bay?
So the Bengals game becomes the swing game. This will be Smith’s first game back, and the Chiefs will need him against a strong group of receivers. It’s interesting because, at least on the surface, the Bengals look like they’ll score a lot of points. I know you just made an Andy Dalton joke, and that’s fine, but between A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate, Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, there’s a lot of skill position talent there. Chiefs will also be coming off a short week. This is closer to a coin flip. But, again, on the road, hard to expect the Chiefs to win.
So, yeah. One win, three losses. Sounds reasonable.
I do want to say, and I can’t stress this enough: what we’ve seen in the preseason so far means nothing. Zilch. The third game, the one this Friday against the Titans, should be a little more of an indication. That’s the one teams always put the most into, the ones where the starters play past halftime. That will be true of the Chiefs, but they still are going to be working with a makeshift offensive line, and if it’s anything like the other night, I have no idea how you can make anything of anything.
This has to be broken down into four categories.
Fast food: In-N-Out is the answer, but that’s cheating, we should keep it to places that exist in Kansas City. Sonic is strong, and Taco John’s is criminally underrated, but the answer here is Chick-Fil-A. They are deducted points because the drive thru can be slow, and they’re closed on Sundays, which I find is a high fast-food craving day, but they get away with it by creating such delicious sandwiches.
Order-at-the-counter: Chipotle. I feel like we can just move on. And I feel sorry for fine, reputable places like Jimmy John’s, Five Guys, and Potbelly. Just ran into a buzz saw here.
Whatever we call the next price point up: Chili’s. Their chips and salsa are an American treasure. The fajitas are great. The buffalo chicken salad is strong. More than makes up for their burgers and fries being perplexingly mediocre.
You will spend at least $50 for you and your wife: Most people are going to tell you Capital Grille, and that’s fine, but I’m here to tell you the answer is J Alexanders. The Alex salad is delicious, they mix a good cocktail, and everything on the menu is going to range from solid to tremendous. So versatile. This is like the Ben Zobrist of highish-end chain restaurants.
Tal’s Hill is an affront to our freedom and it’s nice that the Astros are correcting that mistake. Here is the top five:
5. Apartment building rooftops at Wrigley. I hate that the Cubs have taken steps to diminish the feel there, but it’s also a reminder that we follow and root for businesses first, sports teams second.
4. Warehouse at Camden Yards: Reminds me of the night Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s record, which is still one of my favorite memories of being a sports fan.
3. Monument Park at Yankee Stadium: the new place isn’t as cool as the old place, but they did bring Monument Park over. Nobody has more history to celebrate than the Yankees, obviously, but they do a nice job with it.
2. Green Monster at Fenway. Old ballparks are the best ballparks. I love that there are a million autographs inside the Monster, and all the dents, some of which are from Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth and Ted Williams and Miguel Cabrera.
1. The view at AT&T Park. Absolutely incredible. True story, one of the most beautiful scenes in America.
So, about this fall guy thing. I mentioned on Twitter the other day that I thought Cris Carter had it right, that NFL players should have a guy around ready to take the fall when the cops come around.
I absolutely believe this, but Twitter is about the worst medium possible to make the point. First, we can all agree that the best thing is to not break the law or be arrested. That’s Plan A. And nobody’s talking about hiding bodies here, or otherwise getting away with violent crimes or felonies.
What I mean is that when a person gets to a certain level of celebrity, he or she should be smart. Pay a friend $100,000 per year to be your year-round designated driver, and take responsibility for any weed that may be found during a traffic stop.
Carter made a mistake in saying that with cameras around, and someone else made a mistake by posting the video on NFL.com. But there is a big difference between reality and what the NFL is comfortable with being in the public.
Just to take the local team, Dwayne Bowe and Sean Smith could’ve saved themselves a fortune in income and drama with this simple plan. It’s common sense, really, a sort of insurance plan that is openly talked about in certain circles. You can be naive and think it doesn’t happen, or you can be completely unrealistic and think that young men of any demographic — let alone celebrities with a lot of money — shouldn’t need to think about any of this.
Or, you can recognize reality. I guess what Carter said exposes what some see as an ugly side of fame or celebrity. But this kind of thing goes on, and has for years.
Again, nobody is suggesting it’s a good idea to break the law. Nobody is suggesting you frame your friends, or can someone get away with a string of felonies to blame on your payroll. But the consequences of being arrested are higher for professional athletes, particularly NFL players, and it’s perfectly logical for them to try to protect themselves.
Smith’s three-game suspension for DUI is costing him about a million dollars. Bowe was suspended one game in 2014, which cost him more than a half million, and also lost a guaranteed 2015 salary that was in the seven figures.
Obviously, the best thing would be for neither one to ever break the law. But realistically, what Carter awkwardly articulated (and stupidly said on camera) could’ve saved each a lot of trouble as a Plan B.
Here’s a thing that happened. Last year, during the playoffs, a tremendously kind Japanese baseball writer asked me what Royals fans thought of Nori Aoki. This is a bit of a loaded question.
Japanese people, and I know I’m generalizing here, are astonishingly proud of their major-league baseball players. I just don’t know that there is an equivalent in American society. Daisuke Matsuzaka’s first game was in Kansas City, and I was writing a story on the cultural part of it. I was supposed to have lunch with a Japanese writer, but he canceled at the last minute, because word leaked that Dice K threw a bullpen session at the K. Dozens of reporters went to the stadium, where they heard Dice K tell them that the mound felt good. The bullpen mound. Media outlets back in Japan were paying these fine people lots of money, plus expenses, for this.
Anyway, I’ve known the guy who was asking about Nori for a while. I like him a lot. He’s very nice, funny, and works hard. I did not want to be rude.
“Well,” I said. “I think Royals fans will always think fondly of him for driving in the run in the bottom of the ninth in the Wild Card game.”
Yeah? my friend asked.
“Mostly,” and here’s where I started to feel bad, “I think they think he’s a funny player.”
I talked about Nori falling down on swings, and going horizontal to the ground to get out of the way of pitches, and of course getting hit in the man region by a fly ball in Toronto, and, well, this is all a long way of saying I felt bad for bringing all of this up to my friend, and OF COURSE I miss Nori Aoki on the Royals.
The fact that a high school kid filled out an application to run for president and chose to create a candidate named Deez Nuts, who is polling at or near many serious candidates with campaign managers and volunteers and platforms on issues … well, that’s part of what makes this country great. That’s democracy at work, far as I’m concerned.
The best part of this story is when Rolling Stone interviewed him. They asked how far he was willing to take this.
“As far as America wants to take it,” the high school boy wrote back.
This kid is a hero.
Friend of mine has three kids, and she was sitting around with some other moms when one of them starts in on a story. It was something about a Little League baseball game, and the story had been going on a bit long, when my friend interrupted.
“Hold on,” she said. “Does this story involve your kid getting racked?”
“Does it involve your kid’s pants falling down?”
“Does it involve injury or embarrassment at all?”
“Then we don’t want to hear it.”
So, Brockway Porter, what I’m saying is this: you may have uncovered the exception to the rule that nobody wants to hear about your fantasy football team.
It’s been since Saturday, Ned. But before that, if we’re sticking strict to those innings and a save sitch, it was July 21.
One more time: the important thing is not today or tomorrow or the day after that. The important thing is Oct. 8, when the playoffs start. Particularly with Greg Holland, the Royals are getting far away from how they’ll use their bullpen in the playoffs. I’m all on board with this. Whatever they can do to get Holland right, they need to do. Nobody cares who closes out games in August. What matters is whether they can do it in October.
Let’s revisit this a month from now.
Moustakas, and I’m not just saying that because he hit another one last night. Moose had been slumping. Pretty badly, too. He is not the player he was in April, mostly because nobody is that player, other than Mike Trout, but he had backed that up with two solid months of being a productive big league hitter. Then July came, and he his .188/.271/.306 over 23 games.
To the amateur eye, it sure looked like he had reverted back to some bad habits. Lots of popups. Lots of grounders into the shift. Looked like he was back to trying to pull everything.
But baseball is all about adjustments, a dozen things going in different directions at the same time, and the guys who succeed over long periods are the ones who can navigate the constant change. Moustakas made a few minor adjustments, mostly simplifying his swing, and the results have been encouraging. He’s hitting .283/.389/.652 in his last 12 games. His home run in Boston was particularly promising – opposite field, against a lefty.
Moustakas will probably have more streaks than most players in his career. That’s just how his swing and skill set are. The key then, obviously, is to shorten the bad ones and lengthen the long ones. He can also make plays like this, which is a plus.
What Gordon did, honestly, I don’t think is that big a deal. He just needs to get his timing back, and to a point where he trusts his legs again. He can’t prove anything in Omaha.
I’ve put more thought into this than I should. I’m a grown man (technically, anyway) with a wife and son and mortgage. Why am I obsessing over a made-up hypothetical involving drunk hypothetical fans and who would have the best stories in a hypothetical bender?
Well, I’ll tell you why: because this is exactly the level of importance for which I am qualified.
I think it’s the Royals. The soccer fan’s stories are going to alternate. Some of them are going to be really weird, like, “No, seriously, we played home games in a tiny baseball stadium built for an independent league team. The pitching mound was in play.” Some of the stories are going to be exaggerated or misleading, like, “No, seriously, we beat Man U!” And a lot of them are going to be in song, or screamed, which might be fun in the beginning, but without a game going on, would get old pretty quick.
And the Chiefs fan is just going to depress everyone. He’s going to talk about the time they chose Elvis Grbac, and watched the backup quarterback go the Raiders and win the MVP. He’s going to talk about a season where a wide receiver did not catch a touchdown. He’s going to talk about Lin Elliott. He’s going to talk about Scott Pioli. He’s going to talk about how the Chiefs’ run of postseason futility is going to get more and more attention now that the Royals are good. He’s going to talk about Zubaz pants. Eventually, the others at the bar are going to tune him out.
But the Royals fan, that guy’s going to have some stories. Most of them end with sadness, but most of them are funny, too. Ken Harvey getting hit in the back. Emil Brown comparing his throwing arm to Roberto Clemente, and trying to make the case about why he would not be interested in Beyonce. Esteban German taking a fly ball off his face because he’s not wearing sunglasses, and then wearing sunglasses on the team flight to hide his shiner. Kerry Robinson climbing the wall to catch a ball that bounces in front of him. Buddy Bell muttering, “I’ll never say it can’t get worse.” The mascot being photographed getting lap dances.
This is gold, I’m telling you. If you’re going to be bad, at least be entertaining. And even at their worst, the Royals failed in some very entertaining ways.
It’s also nice that now that they’re winning, they’re doing that in entertaining ways, too. The McFadden’s bar tab is just going to be more and more awesome the further we get away from it.
If the Chiefs ever win a playoff game, Alex Smith and Justin Houston have a lot of beers to buy, is what I’m saying.