Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: Royals threats, a vote/joke, the best sports sounds, and video games

Minnesota Twins’ Eddie Rosario (right) was out at second base as Royals second baseman Omar Infante threw to first base on Monday, June 8, 2015, in Minneapolis.
Minnesota Twins’ Eddie Rosario (right) was out at second base as Royals second baseman Omar Infante threw to first base on Monday, June 8, 2015, in Minneapolis. AP

The Royals are back in first place now, or at least a virtual tie for first place, the reward for beating the Twins last night. Today is June 9, and the Royals have 107 more games to play, which means it is way too early to be thinking about first place or playoff position, but this is also Twitter Tuesday so, you know, screw it.

I do not believe in the Twins. I do not believe they are a playoff contender. I do not believe that a team with just three above-league-average producers among the top 10 in plate appearances can compete over the long-haul in what might be baseball’s most competitive division. I do not believe that Mike Pelfrey is THIS good, and I do not believe that getting Ervin Santana back from suspension next month will be enough to keep the Twins at the top of the standings.

I believe the Twins are much more like the 2003 Royals than the 2014 Royals, in other words.

I believe that the Tigers are a bigger threat to the Royals than the Twins. I believe that Miguel Cabrera is an alien sent as a practical joke from some planet we’ve never heard of to make a mockery of the saying that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing in sports. I believe that Jose Iglesias is the best shortstop in the league, and that the Tigers have enough hitting and David Price to be better than the Twins.

I also believe that the Indians remain the biggest threat to the Royals in the division. Their biggest problem is a truly awful defense, but that weakness is lessened with five starting pitchers who are average around or more than one strikeout per inning. I believe that Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley and Brandon Moss make for a formidable lineup, and that Yan Gomes won’t be this bad of a hitter for long.

So, I believe that no matter what the standings say, the number I’m looking at is that the Royals are 5 1/2 games ahead of the Indians.

I also believe that whether you agree with any of this, all of this, or none of this, that we’re both just guessing and we should probably just enjoy the rest of the season.

This week’s eating recommendation is the carne at il Lazzarone, and the reading recommendation is Adrian Wojnarowski on LeBron turning a scrapheap into the Warriors’ nightmare.

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

I ride with Omar.

Honestly. I’m not sure where to begin with this. The All-Star voting, obviously, is ridiculous. Seven Royals are in position to start the game, the exceptions being Alex Rios (a one-year free agent who has played 14 games this year) and Omar Infante (who has been really bad).

I don’t know of even a Royals fan who thinks this on merit. They are the kind of numbers where, if you were doing the calculating, you’d keep staring over because, nah, THAT can’t be right.

In no particular order, the funniest parts:

* Mike Moustakas, who a year ago most Royals fans wanted shipped to Omaha if not the moon, is leading Josh Donaldson by nearly 2 million votes. Donaldson has three more doubles, 11 more home runs, 25 more RBIs, and an OPS more than a hundred points higher than Moustakas (who, obviously, is having a very good season).

* Eric Hosmer is beating Miguel Cabrera, the Triple Crown winner and two-time MVP, despite Cabrera having more home runs, more RBIs, and a better batting average, on-base, and slugging percentage.

* I used this line on Twitter, but … Royals fans, who would vote Omar Infante out of the Royals’ starting lineup if they could, nearly have him starting the All-Star game. Infante is having a mostly miserable season at the plate, hitting just .216 with a .225 on-base and .301 slugging percentage. He’s within about 150,000 votes of Jose Altuve, who is hitting .300/.340/.409 with 17 stolen bases for the first-place Astros.

* Christian Colon, a utility player, has 652,842 write-in votes, which is more than Albert Pujols, who is on the ballot.

* I totally made that last one up, but didn’t you believe it, just for a second?

It is an incredible thing that’s happening, a fan base rejuvenated from 29 years of having their teeth kicked in finally seeing something worth their energy and investment, motivated to show their support in any conceivable way.

The TV ratings continue to set records locally. The first month or so of attendance was so high that the business folks tore up their projections and made new ones. The Royals are on pace to draw more than 2.6 million fans. That’s around a half million more than they projected before the season, and would bust the franchise’s all-time record by nearly 150,000.

Those are local stories, though. The All-Star voting is what’s making national headlines, and if your goal is to make it known that the Royals have some incredible support, well, I can’t think of too many better ways.

There are, however, many different sides to this story.

Pretty much. You don’t have to think long to see how this is playing in other parts of the country. Annoying. Angering. Stupid. Even offensive. I’m getting emails from fans across the country, and other reaction is readily available on the internet.

It is, absolutely, in a basic sense, trolling on a grand scale. I mean, Omar Infante?

I do love the potential for Successful Ned here, though. Would it surprise anyone if he decided to make Wade Davis his starting pitcher for the All-Star game? Or if he managed it like a real game, and kept all his guys in the whole time?

During spring training, I thought he set the bar pretty high:

“There’s nothing traditional about our lineup. But we’re American League champions.”

This, though, is on a tee for him and I desperately hope that sometime soon he takes it to the next level by dropping a “they’re all All-Stars” in an answer or three.

Yeah. Pretty much. In certain circles, what Royals fans are doing is akin to how certain baseball circles viewed Yordano Ventura’s punk tour in April. I fully expect the guys at Bless You Boys to knock on Royals Review’s clubhouse door^ looking for a fight within weeks.

^ Quick poll: should I have gone “basement” door there? Felt too Skip Bayless.

This, of course, will make for an interesting dynamic. Because Royals fans and Kansas Citians — many of them brilliant, civically minded, innovative and good-looking people who are reading these here words — tend to care far more than they should what others think of them. You are probably tired of me mentioning Kansas City’s civic inferiority complex, but these are places where it tends to show.

Should be fun!

Yes. And that’s the other thing. Major league baseball made these stupid rules, and for far too long has tried to play on both sides of the fence, of keeping the All-Star game as an exhibition but also tying home field advantage in the World Series to the winner. It doesn’t work, and the issue is exposed every year, but not usually like this.

The timing came together like a bit of a perfect storm. There is massive support for the Royals, probably more in passion than in total numbers, which is the perfect kind of support to exploit MLB’s silly new voting system.

This is the first year the vote has been exclusively online. I have enough traditionalist in me that I miss the old paper ballots that you had to borrow your dad’s keys to do, but if you’re going to go with a completely online vote, 35 is far too many votes for each email address.

I am quite sure that MLB’s marketing folks pushed for a high number, both to increase activity with their website and to inflate all voting totals as much as possible. But by having a high number like that, you are essentially inviting something like this to happen.

Yep. We talk a lot about the 1957 controversy, when the commissioner stepped in after Reds fans had stuffed the ballot box. Seven of the eight position players voted in were Reds, but Ford Frick replaced Gus Bell and Wally Post with, um, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.

But I don’t think MLB can do that now. Part of the problem in 1957 was that MLB thought the vote was influenced by a newspaper in Cincinnati printing ballot mockups, distorting the vote. Unless there is some new information — and, just to be clear, I was joking about the IT guy at Garmin — this has been an honest vote.

But, yeah, I do think we’ll see some sort of change in how the starters are selected. Maybe it’ll be more like how the NFL does the Pro Bowl, with a combination of a fan, player, and media vote. Maybe they’ll give the vote over entirely to players, like they do with some reserve spots. Or they could limit the fan voting to, say, 10 or 20 votes per email address.

But I’d be very surprised if MLB did nothing, after seeing how this is going in the first year of this new system.

Well, the cover is dated June 1, and I know that can be misleading, because you can always get one of the magazines before the date on the cover, like some sort of Marty McFly trick. That story I linked to there is dated May 25, which happens to be the day of The Guthrie Incident in New York, so let’s use that date.

The Royals are 4-8 since then, and hitting .209 with a .260 on-base and .321 slugging percentage. In the 43 games before then, they were 28-15 with a .286/.336/.431 line.

Now, despite a story about badminton birdies that a surprising number of people thought was serious, I do not believe in curses or jinxes.

I believe, instead, that the Royals’ offense was not as good as it was before the slump^, and it is not as bad as it has been during the slump^^.

^ They were second in the league in runs when the slump started.

^^ They are last in the league in runs since the slump started.

The Royals are a team of free-swingers. No team in baseball swings at more pitches outside the strike zone, and no team in baseball swings at more pitches, period. This is a flaw, obviously, and in practical terms it means the Royals are likely to be streakier than most teams. When all of those swings make contact — they are a team of extremes, and no team is harder to strike out — they are hot, and when those swings don’t make contact, they look bad.

What makes this recent slump worse is that the offensive skid coincided with some problems in the rotation being exposed. I believe their rotation can be around league average, and that the offense can be around league average or perhaps a bit better. If those two things are true, then a dominant bullpen and one of the best defenses in recent league history will be enough to be in the playoffs and, probably, win the division.

I don’t know about that. Ann Coulter has a bizarre history of trolling soccer. She is in good company, actually. But I don’t know that this represents a huge segment of the mainstream media. I might just be projecting here, but I think most in sports media have a growing appreciation for soccer, and certainly a respect for the growing audience.

But I also think the days of “sports media gatekeepers” are long over. I can watch soccer on television virtually any day of the week, it’s certainly easier for me to find than hockey, and probably closer to “mainstream” sports like baseball and basketball. Every game of the English Premier League is on American television, for instance, as well as many games from other leagues.

The other day, I watched the Champions League final — Barcelona may be onto something with this whole “employ the best three strikers in the world and see what happens” approach — on Fox. Not Fox Sports 1, or a soccer-specific channel. But, Fox.

There will always be some — media, non-media, lots of people — who don’t get soccer, don’t like soccer, and don’t want anyone else to like soccer. That’s an easy column to write, and there is an audience for it.

But I just don’t see how that matters. Not anymore. If you’re a soccer fan, congratulations, you won. The war is over. Do not feed the trolls^.

^ That’s good advice for a lot of situations, actually.

First, isn’t it weird how Mount Rushmore became a thing? Like, if they put three or five presidents on there instead of four, we’d all be answering these questions differently. But, whatever.

This is really hard for me. I feel like I played a lot of video games when I was a kid, certainly more than my parents wanted me playing, but not nearly as much as a lot of my friends. Like, I could definitely waste an entire Saturday with a Nintendo, but in general would’ve rather been outside shooting as many jump shots^ as I possibly could.

^ OK, fine. Set shots.

I also don’t know exactly how to narrow this down. My video game career started with the 8-bit Nintendo^ and, for all intents and purposes, ended with the first PlayStation. Maybe the PS2.

^ There are many worse ways to mark the difference between Young Sam and Old Sam than this: 8-bit is now a delicious beer in my fridge, not the place I go to play Tecmo Bowl.

So, basically, we’re starting with Super Mario Bros. and ending with Grand Theft Auto. But for the purposes of this list, I’m going by two factors: the games I most enjoyed as a kid, and the games I most look back on with good memories.

Super Mario Bros. and Tecmo Bowl are no-brainers. The contenders for the other spots are, basically, Metroid, Contra, Sonic, Top Gun, Coach K, Double Dribble, NHL ’95, RBI Baseball, Baseball Stars, Duck Hunt, Tetris, Ms. Pacman, NBA Jam, and pretty much any of the Madden and NCAA Football series.

There are no slouches on this list, but only two spots open, so I think I have to go with NHL ’95 and Madden ’92 because those are the games I most remember having marathon sessions with friends, including many for money.

Baseball Stars was pretty sweet, though. First game I remember where you could make your own players, and build your own team. Man that game robbed me of some free time.

Eh, in some ways. It’s easy to forget this, because the story of the Royals’ season became whether they could score four runs, but they finished ninth in the league in scoring. That’s not awesome, obviously, but it’s middle-third, generally average.

The biggest difference between last year’s offense and this year’s is that the lineup is much, much deeper. A lot of that is that Moustakas is hitting so well^, but it’s also the 2015 version of Kendrys Morales replacing the 2014 version of Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer hitting better, Alex Rios replacing Nori Aoki^^, etc.

^ Moustakas got off to the incredible start, but what’s just as encouraging is that since May 1, he’s hitting .295/.333/.420. Especially with his defense, that makes for a damn good player.

^^ Though Nori is still a much funnier player.

The Royals are not a complete team, or a flawless team, in no small part because there are no complete or flawless teams in baseball. The Royals lack a true No. 1 starter, and they lack power in the lineup, and they lack a traditional leadoff hitter, among other things.

But they also have significant strengths, strengths that other teams would kill to have. One of those strengths is a general run prevention that means they’ve won three of their last six games, despite scoring just 15 runs.

There’s also this: we talk a lot about what the Royals don’t have, and we’re doing it while they’re in first place. A lot of that is that there are no truly great teams in the American League or the Central division, but that’s irrelevant, you play the hand you’re dealt.

This is in reference to this week’s hour with the Border Patrol guys — we’re generally doing it every Monday morning from 8 to 9 — when we talked about the NBA Finals. The Cavs path to the Finals has been much easier than it would’ve been in the West, for sure, and much easier than the Warriors. The Bulls didn’t play as well as they probably should have.

But the point is that the second best player on that team right now is Timofey Mozgov, who is a good player with an awesome name, but not a guy you want as your second-best player in the NBA Finals.

With Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, this is a good team, and worthy of a championship. Without either of those guys, LeBron is basically starring for the Knicks. I fully expect the Warriors to win this, but if LeBron somehow pulls it off, it will be one of the great one-man shows in basketball history.

This is a reference to Sporting’s updated partnership with Boulevard, which, really, looks like a plus for both brands. Each side is strengthened by the existence of the other. The demographics overlap. I actually think the partnership is better for Boulevard than for Sporting.

Boulevard is a Kansas City brand, but it is also a Kansas City brand owned by a Belgian company. Any association with popular local brands is good for business, and Sporting has always promoted its local ties, most obviously now with those “Made In Kansas City” ads.

But, there is little doubt that the partnership is also good for Sporting and, like too many things, this is something the Royals and Chiefs would do well to mimic.

People want to support local. This is true all over the country, but I believe is particularly true in places like Kansas City. The more that any local company can promote it’s local ties, the better.

I just … I just don’t care. I didn’t watch a second of the race, not even on highlights, and just can’t bring myself to care about the sport. That sport is just not for me. I love animals, but horse racing has an ugly side, and the entire thing just seems meant for people who aren’t me. It was a sport meant for gambling, and it’s never been easier to bet on sports that involve human beings. I don’t bet much, but that seems a lot more interesting.

But, you know. Good for the horse and the very rich people who will become very richer with this race result.

The best sound in all of sports is a packed stadium erupting with noise. Most obviously and recently and locally, that is Sal Perez somehow pulling that pitch down the third base line or, really, all of October. But it is also Justin Houston slamming the quarterback to the ground on third down, or Allen Fieldhouse when it’s late and close, or Shane Ray coming around the edge, or Tyler Lockett somehow making that catch, or Dom Dwyer doing something like this:

It is my favorite thing about sports, that unscripted, unplanned, spontaneous joy shared by thousands of friends and strangers.

But, maybe that’s not exactly what you’re asking here. If you’re asking a sound that comes from the playing area, the answer is a basketball swishing perfectly through the net. That’s the sound of precision, of focus, of reward.

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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