Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: The Royals’ great day and Claire McCaskill’s dumb moment

Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas and first baseman Eric Hosmer celebrated a 10-1 win over the Chicago White Sox on Monday at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas and first baseman Eric Hosmer celebrated a 10-1 win over the Chicago White Sox on Monday at Kauffman Stadium. Kansas City Star

The Royals won their season opener in a game that had a week’s worth of storylines, from Mike Moustakas’ debut as a No. 2 hitter to Jeff Samardzija going heel and beaning Lorenzo Cain to the amazing day of Yordano Ventura, who was alternatively a dominating pitcher and then scaring the guts out of Kansas City with his reaction to what was deemed a thumb cramp.

We’ll get to all of that here in a bit, but I wanted to start with college basketball’s national championship game, won by Duke, which is fine, except that the game’s mix of Duke’s freshmen and Wisconsin’s senior star have proved to be too much for some people’s sensibilities, and here I am talking about Claire McCaskill, who should probably lie to everyone and say her twitter account was hacked.

Because, well, here’s a stupid thing she wrote:

There is so much to dislike here, starting with a politician going over her skis and talking about something that she obviously doesn’t know about, continuing with a decision to go in full pander mode here, and extending with the nonsensical nature of the entire thought.

We talked about this on the Border Patrol this morning, and if you missed it, Nate had a beautiful rant that starts here around the 20 minute mark. I’m not completely psyched about defending Duke, because Duke, but the idea that Wisconsin’s players are true student-athletes who wouldn’t give their left foot to have the opportunity Jahlil Okafor will have in the NBA draft this year is laughable.

Being good enough at basketball that an NBA team is willing to pay you millions doesn’t make you a bad guy any more than not being good enough and having to stay in college makes you a good guy. It’s great to have rooting interests, and we all come by ours in our own way, but it’s a fairy tale to start painting Wisconsin (or Michigan State or Gonzaga or whoever) as a program that does it “the right way” because they don’t have star freshmen like Duke (or Kentucky or Kansas or whoever).

Nate made some good points in that rant, too, about the romanticism of a college degree and the implied disrespect toward those who haven’t graduated college. The point, for most of us, is for college to set us up with a good job. There are a lot of ways the NBA and college basketball could work together to improve how guys transition into the pros, but the rest of us could do some good by calling out the brain-dead vilification of young athletes who are stuck in a system they had no voice in creating.

This week’s reading recommendation is Tim Brown rightly calling out the Angels’ treatment of Josh Hamilton, and the eating recommendation is the chicken shawarma at Tannin.

As always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading.

Getting cocky now, huh?

All the disclaimers are important here, about this being just one game, less than one percent of the season, the football equivalent of the 9-minute mark of the first quarter of the first game, but, yeah, hard to imagine it going much better for the Royals or worse for the White Sox.

I do believe that the beginning of the season is more important for the Royals than most teams, and specifically more important for Mike Moustakas than most players — for the reasons Lee writes about here and more.

So, yeah. Onward.

Did you guys realize Dayton was hired with the Royals when Carl Peterson was general manager of the Chiefs? And before Herm Edwards had coached a game for the Chiefs? When Dayton was hired with the Royals, Larry Johnson was still a good and relatively young running back. Derrick Johnson had just finished his rookie season.

Man.

No, and not just for the reason that virtually nothing is crazy, because baseball, and who had the Giants and Royals in the World Series last year?

The Royals aren’t being given much of a chance by pundits^, but I don’t know anyone who thinks anyone KNOWS what’s going to happen so I think we’re all adults here and can take this with the appropriate gravity. That includes the rest of this answer.

^ There’s a word that’s never used in a non-derogatory way.

I happen to believe the Indians will win the division. I love their rotation, and like the combination of age and potential and productivity and talent. And I happen to believe the Tigers are ready to get old quick, especially without Max Scherzer, and especially with some awful contracts and injured players and the trade for Yoenis Cespedes that I still don’t think for them. Oh, and that bullpen. It still stinks.

The Royals’ path to the division championship includes more bumps, but it’s plausible. They need to stay as healthy as they were last year, particularly in the rotation — though they’ve prepared themselves well for trouble there, padding the rotation depth — and need Eric Hosmer to take that star turn.

But it’s all there. I put the win total in the Over-Under at 85 1/2. Nothing in the 80s would be the least bit surprising, and nothing between, say, 76 and 93 would be shocking. There are just so many unknowns. I know this is sports, and 2015, and it’s a lot of fun when people are sure about their #HotTake but there are just so many unknowns.

I think they’ll win 85 games. I think they’ll compete for but ultimately fall short in the race for the second wild card. I also think people who are dead sure about their predictions at this point are entirely annoying.

Speaking of over-unders…

Waaaaaaaaay under.

And for a few reasons.

We all have short memories. I don’t know of anyone who credits Ned with the postseason run. He still presents an easy target, because he’s gruff and doesn’t much seem to care for explaining certain things, and does things like putting Mike Moustakas second in the order, so honestly, I’d have taken the under on this if you said May 1.

Which is a very different thing than saying the serious, non-ironic question for Twitter Tuesday should be taken seriously. But the question is coming, because look here…

…and it’s a valid question.

If I can start with a caveat or two here. First, analysis of lineup construction is WAY overdone. Generally speaking, it means 10 percent as much as a lot of fans and media think. Also, if batting Moustakas second unlocks something in him mentally — in a similar way to what’s apparently happened with Alcides Escobar in the leadoff spot — then this is a perfectly defensible move.

Now, all of that said, this is really strange, and it’s still strange even after Moustakas had a fabulous season opener. It’s fine to try this, and I’m all for going outside the box, but this intangible shoot-some-confidence-into-Moose thing seems outweighed by Moose being a .236/.290/.379 hitter. The Royals have better hitters than Moose, and if nothing else, it makes sense to pack the top of an order with your better hitters.

I mentioned this on Twitter yesterday, but my lineup:

Gordon, LF

Cain, CF

Hosmer, 1B

Perez, C

Morales, DH

Rios, RF

Moustakas, 3B

Infante, 2B

Escobar, SS

I do buy the argument to alternate left- and right-handed hitters in the lineup, and I like having speed in the No. 9 spot, especially if there is some pop in the leadoff spot. I understand the case that Gordon’s wrist may not be fully recovered, but he’s the best player on the team, and if he’s THAT injured then maybe he needs some time off.

But lineup construction is not something I have a big passion for talking about, particularly this early in a season, particularly about a team that won the American League pennant with, um, less-than-conventional means.

All of that said, the really great news about Moustakas batting second is it pushes us just a little closer to the point where he answers a question with some form of, “Because we’re American League champs, that’s why.”

If any of us watched any of last season, we shouldn’t be the least bit surprised that Mike Moustakas responded to hitting second in the lineup with THE FIRST OPPOSITE FIELD HOME RUN OF HIS CAREER, because Ned is either bowling with the bumpers in the gutters or crazy like a damn fox, depending on your perspective.

I still don’t like Moustakas hitting that high in the order, but Yost still has scoreboard on any criticism, so, you know. Whatever.

I do want to say something here. Hitting in the big leagues is at least as mental as it is physical, and by the team’s own admission, that part of it has been among Moustakas’ struggles so far. He puts a lot of pressure on himself. There are mechanical reasons he’s struggled, and teams have found a consistent way to attack him that he hasn’t adjusted to, but part of the equation is mental, too.

So, again, if moving up in the order to a spot where Moustakas won’t necessarily feel like he’s chasing numbers as much unlocks something mentally where he’s able to hit with a clearer mind and different perspective, then, hell, crazier things have worked. Starting the season with a home run and a walk, not to mention the brooding, menacing, I-got-your-back thing after Cain got plunked, well, the Royals could not have created a better way for Moustakas to begin the season.

Again, it’s just one game, blah-blah-blah, but if the bad start snowballed Moustakas’ season last year maybe a good start could do the opposite.

Cuban breakfast.

I have a feeling we’re going to do a lot of comparisons between Kendrys Morales and Billy Butler this summer. The first semi-serious ones will come toward the end of next week, when Butler and the A’s come to Kansas City — the first game of the series will be on Butler’s 29th birthday — but will continue through the summer.

I don’t know how this will all shake out. I believe in Butler as a hitter, and think he’ll be better than he was last year. But I also think Morales is going to have a good year for the Royals. There is a lot of room in those gaps, and he should be able to drop a lot of doubles there. Certainly had a good start to the season.

Look, even on a day where Moustakas hit his first opposite-field home run in more than 2,000 big-league plate appearances (including the playoffs), Dave Bliss being hired to coach college basketball is the shocker of the day.

I just can’t imagine how you defend this. In his last job, he was the driving force behind the biggest scandal in the history of the sport. One of his players was murdered by a teammate, and then Bliss tried to cover it up by attempting to get others to paint the dead teammate as a drug dealer. It’s just, I mean, incomprehensible.

I’m all for second chances, and none of us want to be remembered for our worst moment, but c’mon. He didn’t even win at Baylor, actually. They never made the tournament. And the prep school he’s been working at the last five years has run crosswise with the state’s governing body.

Bliss wrote a book about his mistakes. It’s scheduled for release later this month. Must be a hell of a book.

But this is disgusting. I hate this.

Because complaining about sports is a lot more fun than complaining about our lives.

Did we just get a little too real here?

Maybe let’s move on.

I’m substance over style, fine sir.

Bonkers.

The first thing I thought of was those win-probability formulas. This probably exists for MLS games somewhere, but I know they have them for college basketball and major league baseball, and that the win probabilities for KU against West Virginia and the Royals against the A’s were each around 2 percent at one point.

Down a goal into stoppage time, I’m guessing Sporting’s win probability would’ve been around 2 or even smaller.

After the game, Vermes said something to the effect of, “Anything’s possible in this stadium,” and that’s a great line and a terrific thing for fans to hear, but I think we all know Sporting needs to clean it up a bit.

Stealing that win the other night means they’re collecting points even when not playing their best, which is great, but as the season goes on they’re going to have pull it all together more than they’ve done so far.

Well, I think it’s terrific, but I’m also a sports writer in Kansas City. If I was a K-State fan in Manhattan or Salina or Junction City or Hays I would have a very different view.

But on the whole, I think it’s a sign of an athletic department willing to go outside the box, and motivated to market itself. I don’t think you want to do it every year, but as a once-in-a-while change, it makes sense on a few fronts.

There are a lot of people who drive from Kansas City to Manhattan for home games; why not take the spring game closer to them every now and again?

Well, the Tigers kept pace with the Royals by beating the Twins 4-0 yesterday, which clearly means the division champs aren’t ready to give up the throne just yet.

Royals magic number: 162.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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