The Chiefs made some significant news yesterday, and the smart thing is to applaud them for it.
Andy Reid announced that Eric Fisher will start the season at right tackle, and Donald Stephenson at left. Fisher’s NFL career will always be defined through the lens of being the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, which isn’t entirely fair to him, and Reid has always been very protective.
Even yesterday, in announcing what is effectively a slight demotion, Reid complimented Fisher’s versatility, saying he can play any position on the line “at Pro Bowl caliber.” That is, at the very least, a massive stretch, and I say that as someone who is higher on Fisher than most. Fisher has not shown he can play any position at a Pro Bowl level, let alone all five, and his struggles as a rookie were in part blamed by the team on his position switch.
This is exactly how the Chiefs should be playing it. Expressing confidence in their guy, and painting this as a positive. Also, I think Reid should be complimented for going with what he sees as the best solution. A lot of teams, and a lot of coaches, would ride with Fisher at left tackle simply because of the investment of the No. 1 pick. That kind of thing happens a lot, and in all sports.
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So good on Reid.
But this is also disappointing on some levels. The Chiefs picked a horrible year to have the No. 1 pick, and look through the top of that draft before you slam them too hard, but nobody uses the first pick on a guy they expect to play right tackle.
I still believe Fisher can be a good player, and it’s true that Stephenson is much better on the left side than the right. But if Fisher was coming along the way the Chiefs hoped, this move would not have been made.
It’s encouraging that Reid has the guts to do it. It’s discouraging that he had the reason to do it.
Also, did we mention the Chiefs are five days away from trying to block J.J. Watt?
This week’s reading recommendation is Richard Deitsch on ESPN’s attempts to revitalize SportsCenter, which I haven’t made a point to watch in well over a decade. I do think Scott Van Pelt is fabulous, though. The eating recommendation is the chile relleno burrito at Manny’s.
Also, we’re adding a new feature this week. I’m going to be mixing in more quick videos for our website. Some will be like mini columns, others with a quick point to make that don’t fit as well in typed words for whatever reason. If there’s something specific you want me to address, please send me an email (email@example.com), or reach me on Twitter or Facebook. Hopefully we can have some fun with these.
At the very least, it’s one more way you can ignore me. Here goes:
And now, as always, thanks for reading and thanks for your help.
There are so many ways to answer this, and I’ll use two. The first is, to me, almost no matter what, this season is a success. That probably makes me a bad city sports columnist, because the columns calling the local teams out are always fun and well-read, but I like to save those for when they deserve it, like, for instance, if they employ Scott Pioli.
When the regular season is over, the Royals will have set a new franchise attendance record. They will have had seven All-Stars. They will have emphatically ended Detroit’s stranglehold on the division. Fans will have seen Mike Moustakas bounce back, Lorenzo Cain emerge as a star, Alex Gordon do Alex Gordon things, Wade Davis continue to perform like a Martian, and so much more. They will have likely won their most games since 1980, maybe longer. They will have made a complete mockery of preseason doubts, not just about whether they would win the division, but whether they were a fluke of last October and had spent too much energy or luck or whatever on a run to the World Series.
No matter what, a new flag will fly at Kauffman Stadium next year. That is a success.
But the other way to answer this question is, I think, more in the spirit of how you’re asking it. How far do they need to go for fans to be happy? What needs to happen in the playoffs for this season to not be a disappointment in the end?
And the answer to that is harsher. They have to win the World Series.
The non-waiver trade deadline acquisitions of Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist made clear the Royals’ goals and intentions. The Royals were disappointed to lose game seven of the World Series last year, and that was after being below .500 in July and all but beat in the Wild Card game. The arithmetic is starkly different now.
This is the way sports are set up. One team goes home happy, and everyone else is disappointed. The only exception is if Nick Saban’s team wins, and then he’s disappointed, too, because he’s a miserable human being.
Nobody wants to admit this, but the end result is determined by luck as much as anything else. You have to be good to get into the playoffs. You have to be good and lucky to win the playoffs.
Alex Gordon, LF
Ben Zobrist, 2B
Lorenzo Cain, CF
Eric Hosmer, 1B
Kendrys Morales, DH
Mike Moustakas, 3B
Sal Perez, C
Jarod Dyson/Alex Rios, RF
Alcides Escobar, SS
And Johnny Cueto is pitching.
A couple disclaimers here. This assumes that Alex Gordon is back at full strength, and there is every reason to believe this will be the case. Also, this assumes that Alex Rios makes a triumphant return from chickenpox. This is likely, though not a lock. And, lastly, this assumes that Johnny Cueto pitches well enough the rest of the regular season that we mostly forget about his four consecutive turds. I expect him to do that, but I also expected him to be much better on Sunday.
Also, and this can’t be stressed enough, today is Sept. 8. The Royals have a full month before they have to make these decisions.
Eleven. I am of the belief that the 2015 Denver Broncos have some 2015 Detroit Tigers in them, that they are due for a fall, and if I’m right — stop laughing! — this might be high.
I say all of this with full recognition that Peyton Manning could take a step back from last year and still be great, and that the questions about his age and health seem to be overshadowing a horde of terrific players on defense.
The Chiefs, to get to 11 wins, must have much more go right than the Broncos. Most obviously, the offensive line has to be at least adequate. But there is more to it than that. They need to be healthy, they need Alex Smith to be the 7.5 a lot of this think he can be, they need Jeremy Maclin to make a smooth transition, they need Marcus Peters to be good right away, they need Dontari Poe to be effective (not just play), and they need to navigate what at the moment looks like a very difficult schedule.
In the last few days, I’ve talked myself into a scenario where the Chiefs win 12 games. It’s really not that hard. The defense has better personnel and more experience in the system than last year, when it finished second in points surrendered. Alex Smith has never had this much talent around him, and he’s been 13-3 and within a fluky special teams play of the Super Bowl.
Some are at the beginning, some at the end, but the list of players who are ostensibly in the best years of their career is quite impressive: Jamaal Charles, Travis Kelce, Jeremy Maclin, Justin Houston, Sean Smith, Dontari Poe (depending on his back) and Derrick Johnson (depending on his Achilles). Tamba Hali is still effective, Eric Berry could be in the previous sentence if he gets his strength back, D’Anthony Thomas is a terrific weapon for this coaching staff, on and on. It’s a very good team.
Then, in the last few days, I’ve found reason to believe the Chiefs will win only seven or eight games. The offensive line could be terrible again, and if that happens, everything else takes at least a half-step back. The defense is loaded, but you can find reasons why any number of guys won’t perform: maybe Tamba starts to get old, maybe Poe’s back is a big problem, maybe Justin Houston loses some nasty after getting paid, maybe Sean Smith doesn’t get in rhythm after the suspension, on and on.
But, like I always say, there are no perfect teams. Everybody’s got problems. Chiefs feel like a nine win team to me, at least, with a good chance at 10 and maybe even more if things fall in place.
The correct answer is you should do what you want. Nobody can tell you how to be a fan. If you want to worry, worry. If you want to dream, dream. Like I say, the only bad fans are the ones who start the wave.
For me, I don’t think it’s time to worry. Some of that is logistical. Today is September 8. There are 25 mostly irrelevant regular season games left. That is more than enough time to get out of this current skid, get hot again, and even get cold again. The Royals’ lead for home field advantage (more on that in a minute) is down to four games, but that’s double Houston’s lead in the AL West.
In no particular order, the reasons for Royals fans to be concerned include Greg Holland^, Johnny Cueto^^, Alex Gordon^^^, who should be the fourth starter^^^^ and Ryan Madson^^^^^.
^ Walks are up, strikeouts are down, and he hasn’t pitched in 11 days.
^^ Please read!
^^^ Not really a concern, just making sure he’s at full strength by the playoffs.
^^^^ It’s probably going to be matchup dependent.
^^^^^ Pitched for the first time since Aug. 22 on Sunday, and gave up three base runners and a run.
As it happens, the Division Series starts on October 8, and there is nothing on this list that can’t be fixed in a month. The Royals have collectively earned the benefit of the doubt over these last 13 months or so, and they have the benefit of being able to address these concerns outside of the daily fire of a pennant race.
If you’re freaking out about this team right now, well, first, you’re not alone. I sometimes want to turn my email inbox and Twitter mentions into a retreat for the afflicted. But you should also recognize that you’re freaking out about a team that is a lock to make the playoffs, has shown a remarkable resiliency, has fixed or overcome problems more significant than anything on that list, and has a full month to do the tinkering.
I’m not saying the Royals will win the World Series, or make the World Series, or do anything other than play in a Division Series. The baseball playoffs are far too unpredictable for that. I am saying that the Royals have earned the benefit of the doubt, and that, perhaps more to the point, freaking out a month before the next relevant game is a waste of energy that could otherwise be used exercising, playing with your kids, or smoking a delicious brisket.
Not very, and, I don’t know, somewhat?
A year ago, the Royals were very clear that they wanted to do everything they could to win the division rather than wild card. But that’s a real competitive advantage issue, because the wild card essentially grants a one-game playoff, where the division grants a real, actual, playoff series. The difference between the top overall seed and the other two division winners is, basically, symbolic.
Last year, you might remember, the Royals lost the only playoff series in which they had home field advantage. I’ve said this before, but the fraudulent part of This Time It Counts for the All-Star game isn’t tying home field advantage to an exhibition; it’s the idea that home field advantage in the World Series is a huge deal.
You’d rather have it than not, but this is not football or even basketball. The advantage for teams playing at home is slight at best.
It just doesn’t matter all that much. Not nearly as much as whether your bullpen is strong, or whether your ace is still leaving too many pitches up in the zone.
The biggest thing, and this is not insignificant, is that one city gets to have the experience of a potential game seven at home. Didn’t work out for Kansas City in the World Series last year, obviously, but that would’ve been the biggest party in decades.
The only way I will criticize that trade is if we find out Cueto’s time with the Royals is sunk by an injury the Royals should’ve known about or been able to reasonably predict.
Otherwise, they made a relatively small gamble — nobody knows anything, especially about pitching prospects, but I don’t think the Royals gave up a whole lot — for a guy with a remarkably consistent track record to fill the team’s biggest hole. For as long as anyone can remember, the Royals have been about the future first, second, and third, so the shift to going all-in on a particular season is drastic.
But I don’t know how to fault a franchise for being bold, for maximizing today’s chance because tomorrow is not guaranteed.
At the moment, Cueto is scuffling. He’s never had four starts in a row like this, and if you’re not at least concerned you’re not paying attention. But, again, assuming there isn’t a major structural problem that the Royals should’ve known about, it seems more likely than not that Cueto will regain the form that’s defined 98 percent of his career.
And, speaking of the trade …
… Brandon Finnegan needs to shut up. The rest of this answer would’ve been harsher, but Finnegan did walk back his stupid words. Also, I probably would’ve skipped calling him out on this if he hadn’t originally claimed to be “very” misquoted, only to take that back, too, after the reporter produced the recording of Finnegan saying the Royals “kind of screwed me over this year.”^
^ That’s the reporter version of “scoreboard.”
The problem for Finnegan is that this hints at an immaturity or lack of focus that some around the game have suspected.
Finnegan’s stance isn’t without merit, it should be said. The Royals’ baseball ops department was split on whether he should be a starter or reliever, and their handling of him showed that. But most of the reason they were split was his fault. He showed up to spring training out of shape — or, to be more accurate, in a different, rounder shape — and did not make a convincing case to be in the rotation.
It’s also worth noting that the Courier-Journal story in which Finnegan is accurately quoted saying the stupid thing, his new coaches don’t seem to be entirely convicted in what to do with him, either, and particularly not as a starter.
The minor-league pitching coach: “I just think he needs to pitch, and whether that’s in relief or as a starter, I don’t think it matters.”
The minor-league manager: “Honestly, I see him as a power arm in the bullpen. I see him as a guy who can pitch seventh and eighth inning of ball games — lefty who can be a setup type of guy. I think his stuff will play better in that role. But we’ll see. He’s a young guy. He hasn’t pitched a whole lot. This is really his first year of pro ball, so it’s probably too soon to label him.”
Indeed, it appears they did.
My reaction, in four parts:
1. That’s funny.
2. If you are offended by this, you should probably consider the fact that you are being offended by college kids in a marching band.
3. It’s Kansas’ turn to respond in kind.
4. It’s football season, so that might be difficult.
5. I did not expect that silly sportsmanship pledge to be so clearly proven a waste of time this quickly.
Well, let’s go to the tape.
First, the Hail Mary:
Now, the fumbled snap:
I’m taking Nebraska. You can make the argument that both schools lost because of their own failures, and that Nebraska’s loss is worse because the fans there care far more about football than Kansas, but my goodness, this was David Beaty’s first ever game as a head coach, and I just don’t know that I’ve ever seen a team lose like that.
If you’re searching for positives, I liked how Beaty took responsibility afterward, but there’s so much to clean up there I just don’t know if we can make anything out of the program until next season. At least.
The 78-yard touchdown to Tyler Hunt was the biggest highlight, but let’s be honest, that was blown coverage and a throw that any college quarterback could make.
The play that jumped out at me came much earlier, in the second quarter:
There’s so much calm there, a quick read, strong throw on an out pattern that’s more difficult than it looks. This is superficial, but the kid just looks the part. Now, obviously, this is just one game, against the worst team on Mizzou’s schedule, but there is so much to like here. Fans and media tend to push the quarterback controversy narrative faster and harder than it needs to be pushed, but if this is what Lock really is, right now, at the beginning of his true freshman season, then this is something we’ll be talking about all season.
Also, Anthony Becht might consider familiarizing himself with the teams before he broadcasts his next game.
I like everything. I know that’s not really an answer, but it’s true. I like the privilege of expressing an opinion in a column. I like the privilege of telling a story in a feature or profile. I like not taking any of it too seriously in this weekly time suck. I’m starting to get more comfortable doing video and, actually, this week, we have plans to start a weekly podcast — I’ll have more details on that soon.
I don’t think I could do my job if I could only do one of these. If everything had to be a column with a hard take, or if everything had to be a long feature, or if everything had to be any specific form, it’d be a race between you and me to see who’d burn out first.
The trick, of course, is to find the right mix. Like, here in the last week or two, it would’ve been a complete missed opportunity to waste the Rex Hudler piece on my opinion of his broadcasting. The Johnny Cueto thing would’ve been misplaced as a feature. I do enjoy the times when a piece can have elements of both, like the Marcus Peters thing from Sunday’s paper or Justin Houston from the football section, and jeez, if you’re as sick of me linking old pieces as I am we should all just move on.
Hopefully that’s an answer. That’s the truth. At the extreme ends of the spectrum, I love writing both. When you get time and access for a feature, it’s a pure joy to really be able to tell a good story. And when the opportunity presents itself, it’s a thrill to write an opinion (whether thumbs up or down) that’s backed with reason and helps explain a team or person that fans care about.
I have a great job, in other words, and I hope I do it justice.