Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: the biggest week of Kansas City sports in quite some time

The Royals' Jarrod Dyson celebrated with teammates after the Royals defeated the Cleveland Indians 2-0  Monday in Cleveland.
The Royals' Jarrod Dyson celebrated with teammates after the Royals defeated the Cleveland Indians 2-0 Monday in Cleveland. AP

The standings make more sense now. If nothing else, finishing off the suspended game from August last night simplifies the often panicked act of translating baseball’s standings into an answer for the only question that matters around Kansas City sports right now:

Will they do it?

The Royals are 85-71 with six games left. Two more at Cleveland, then four at Chicago. They are one game behind the Tigers for the division, one game behind Oakland for the first wild card, and two games ahead of Seattle for the second wild card.

The Tigers have two more against the White Sox, then four against the Twins, all at home. It’s worth noting that Chris Sale will pitch against the Tigers on Wednesday, then shut down for the season.

If the Royals and Tigers tie for the American League Central lead, they would play a 163rd game (a one-game tiebreaker for the division title) on Monday in Detroit. The winner would move on to the division series. The loser, if in wild-card position after 162 games, would play in the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday.

If the Royals and A’s tie for the top wild-card spot, there would be no 163rd game. Instead, the Royals would host the A’s in the Wild Card Game because the Royals won the season series. If the Royals and Mariners tie for the second wild-card spot, the Royals would play the 163rd game at Seattle.

That particular scenario opens up an especially wild possibility for the Royals: in theory, they could finish the regular season in Chicago, go to Seattle for the one-game tiebreaker, then go to Oakland for the Wild Card Game, then start a division series in Anaheim. They would actually be fairly lucky that the last three games of that are all on the West Coast, but that would be four games in four days and four cities.

Anyway, this week’s eating recommendation is Little Bill’s Pimento Cheese, and the reading recommendation is old but I just found it this past week: Pamela Colloff’s incredible story about a father wrongly convicted in the murder of his wife.

Let’s get to it. As always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading.

Every day I come to work, I’m just trying to give this city what it deserves.

You know, it’s quite possible that there has never been a time where there is more happening between two Twitter Tuesdays than this one and the next.

Right?

By the time we meet here again, we will know whether the Royals are a division winner, a wild card winner, or an enormous disappointment. We’ll know whether the Chiefs are 1-3 with two losses at home, or 2-2 with two wins in a row, including against the Tom Bradys.

My guess, by the way, is we’ll be previewing a wild card game and talking about a 1-3 team. But that’s all it is, a guess.

As of this morning, MLB.com has the Royals at 69.2 percent, ESPN.com at 96.2 percent, and Baseball Prospectus at 87.6 percent.

The DKTM calculations — and I promise I had this number in my mind before looking those up — is 80 percent.

To miss the playoffs, at this point, the Royals would have to be three games worse than the Mariners over the last six games. So, for instance, if the Royals go 3-3 from here out, the Mariners would have to win all six. Or, if the Royals go 3-3 and the Mariners go 5-1, Seattle would still have to beat the Royals in a one-game playoff. Seattle’s chances are helped a bit by the fact that the Angels have clinched are now focused at least as much on keeping their guys fresh and healthy as winning games.

But, still. The Royals are very much in control of their own playoff chances.

If you’re aiming for the division, the math is a bit tougher, but still not close to impossible. The Royals would have to be one (for a one-game playoff) or two (to win the division outright) games better than the Tigers over the last week.

No. Absolutely not. I mean, we’re all free to think of these things in whatever way makes the most sense to us, and I understand a lot of fans will agree with you. But I can’t get there, and honestly, looking at a playoff appearance as a failure after 29 years is crazy to me.

I understand it’s one playoff game instead of a series, and there is a bit of a feel of a Tuesday night in Dayton for the NCAA Tournament with that.

But, guys. That’s a playoff spot. The last time the Royals did that, a lot (most?) fans watched on TVs that did not have remote controls. If the Royals get in, they will have given their fans an incredible ride of 162 (or 163?) games, ups and downs that alternately made it feel like the whole thing should be blown up and that they might never lose again. They would have crashed baseball’s playoff party with fabulous defense and the kind of lockdown, 98 mph bullpen that the sport rarely, if ever, sees.

They will have made the playoffs with a team built almost entirely from the ground up, with two homegrown starting pitchers as fixtures for the rotation for years to come. They will have given fans every reason to, finally, let go of the Myers trade, even without pointing out that he hit .220/.296/.321 this year.

Again, we’re all free to cheer and follow sports in whatever way makes the most sense to us. That’s one of the great things about this silly obsession. But if you’re a Royals fan and you can’t find any pleasure in the team winning a wild card spot this year, then I just don’t know what the point is.

Basically, yes. And there’s only so much space on the internet, so I’ll keep the Ned portion of this important piece of journalism relatively short…

… well, we could talk about this, but …

… there’s also this. Now, to be fair, part of the reason the Royals’ season run differential is so thin is that the Royals have a lot of "white flag" games, where they’re behind and Ned puts in bad relief pitchers he knows will probably give up some runs but will also keep his good relievers fresh.

To me, Ned has made some inexcusable mistakes. The Scott Downs Incident is the worst, but there have been a few others. There’s no telling for sure whether the Royals would have won The Scott Downs Game (or any other others you might blame on the manager) with a better handling of the pitching staff, but, sure, those games are there.

The problem I’ve always had in determining Ned’s value to the Royals is that I firmly believe that all of his biggest faults are the ones in plain view (strategy, lineup construction, double standard for Billy Butler, communication to fans and media) while all of his biggest strengths are behind the scenes and harder to tie into for wins and losses (positivity, covering for his players in public, general "team-building").

I think, generally, that Ned is an average big league manager but also one that, even his critics have to acknowledge, is the manager for the two best Royals teams since 1989.

As a big league manager, he’s very much behind someone like, say, Terry Francona (the guy he’s managing against tonight). Very much ahead of someone like, say, Trey Hillman (the guy he replaced). I do think he’d benefit from a stronger bench coach or, more perhaps more accurately, a bench coach he trusts more.

The Orioles are the better matchup, for the Royals and probably anyone else. The Angels are a machine. Every single one of their regulars has an adjusted OPS above league average, and Mike Trout is — maybe you’ve heard this before — the best player in baseball. The rotation is very strong, even with Garrett Richards’ injury. And the bullpen is also very good. Not a lot of weaknesses to poke around on.

The Orioles are a good team but, honestly, it’s hard to see exactly how they won 93 games. And that’s even without considering they’ll be without Manny Machado, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis for all or part of the playoffs.

I also think this: the Royals are a tough playoff matchup, if it gets to that. Playoff games are usually lower scoring, and the Royals thrive in that sort of game. Depending on what they do with their rotation, they can really turn it into a five-inning game for the opposition. And if they do their boa constrictor outfield — Alex Gordon, Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain, left to right — scoring against them becomes even more difficult.

I think if you’re the Tigers or A’s or whoever, you’d rather face the Orioles than the Royals, is what I’m saying.

Well, James Shields is gone to the highest bidder. Billy Butler is probably also gone. My sense is that Greg Holland (or Wade Davis) will be traded, because it does not make sense for a team like the Royals to pay $15 million for two one-inning relievers, especially not with Kelvin Herrera around to inherit the eighth inning (and, who knows, perhaps Luke Hochevar returning).

But that paragraph is true whether the Royals make the playoffs or not. I think what you’re asking is who would be the fall guy if the Royals fall short and you’re probably not going to like my answer but it’s both what I think is true and what I think should be true: nobody.

The Royals are going to end up winning, probably, between 87 and 91 games. Anything in that range would be their most wins since 1991. Their home attendance is already the most since 1991. You’re telling me you want people fired for that?

Come on.

You guys are just trolling me now. Ned gets fired for leading the Royals to the playoffs for the first time in 29 years?

Listen to yourselves. This is getting crazy.

Let’s talk Chiefs.

OK, that’s not bad.

Hell of an impressive win for them, no matter how bad you think the Dolphins are (and they are a bit of a mess right now). The Chiefs, of course, won a game on the road without Derrick Johnson, Eric Berry, Jamaal Charles and Donald Stephenson. They scored 34 points without the benefit of their defense or special teams setting something up. They allowed just 15 points, and, really, you can blame the defense for probably three of those points.

I still don’t think they have a great shot at the playoffs, and, the further up the decision-making ladder you go they should be thinking more about the future than the short-term, but this is a good sign for a team that really needed a win going into Monday night against the Patriots.

If nothing else, it’s a strong reminder that Andy Reid is a damn good coach.

You’re joking, I’m pretty sure, but there is an element here where a lot of us — and I’m very much including myself here — might want to rethink the whole without-Jamaal-the-Chiefs-are-super-screwed thing.

Charles is still their best player, and it’s probably not even close. If given 32 carries against a defense that’s both in turmoil and unsure of what it means to wrap up a tackle, Charles might’ve rushed for 332 yards. Actually, he wouldn’t make it to 32 carries because he would’ve broken at least one or two for long touchdowns.

But, however you look at it, the Chiefs scored 34 points in large part because of their running backs (Knile Davis had 32 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown; Joe McKnight caught two touchdown passes) on a day where Charles was inactive.

That’s a hell of a thing, and, again, a pretty strong point for Reid.

When I was 14, I had some friends over. We tried cigarettes for the first time. We did not properly cover our tracks, and my older sister took the blame. That’s what I did.

Bowe will probably not be with the Chiefs next year. If he is, it’ll be on a renegotiated contract that will reflect that he’s probably a No. 2, at best, at this point in his career. The Chiefs have some weapons with their running backs and tight ends, but to get where they want to go, wide receiver is perhaps the position group most in need of an upgrade.

I was surprised they didn’t take a receiver in the draft, though I also understand the strategy of taking a pass rusher to replace Tamba next year in the season you really expect to do some damage.

The answer is probably some of both, but there’s enough talent up front for the Chiefs that you have to give them the benefit of the doubt. I was especially encouraged by Dontari Poe. It’s important for him to back up his very strong 2013 season, and watching the game again, he was constantly disruptive.

The harder tests will come with time, of course, but if you’re just thinking about the pass rush I think you have to feel good about the Chiefs right now.

Depending on how old your son is, I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself. The important thing here is that you’ve got your son liking barbecue. Take the victories where you can find them.

This week’s Knoda:

 

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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