Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday, and you know exactly what this one is about (Chiefs, too)

After the Royals swept the Angels Sunday at Kauffman Stadium, catcher Salvador Perez celebrated with the fans, something the Royals players have made a point to do.
After the Royals swept the Angels Sunday at Kauffman Stadium, catcher Salvador Perez celebrated with the fans, something the Royals players have made a point to do. The Kansas City Star

Monday is trash day where I live, so yesterday I’m walking toward the curb with two tubs full of garbage — including a LOT of diapers — and I see a man in a Royals jacket walking his dog. Across the street, two neighbors are flying Royals flags outside their houses.

A van drives by, and the guy in the passenger seats leans out the window, points to his Royals hat, and high-fives the man walking his dog.

Later, I went for a run around Loose Park and saw, I’m guessing, maybe a dozen people in Royals gear. Not that I run every day, but I promise you it wasn’t like this a few months ago.

For a long time, the Star sent me to cover baseball playoffs that did not involve the Royals. I’ve been to places like St. Louis, Boston, New York, Detroit, and Oakland during the playoffs. In particular, I remember Tampa Bay in 2008. The Rays had been a sorry organization for their entire 10-year existence but that year broke through with a wildly talented group.

I remember going out for runs in the morning there and seeing a lot of (what looked to be brand-new) Rays gear. I remember the newspaper ran explainers — and I’m dead serious about this — of what different pitches like fastball, curveball and changeup did. Inside the sort of bizarrely charming Trop, people went crazy. They rang cowbells, which was ridiculous, but generally made so much noise I remembered the dome as the loudest baseball stadium I’d ever been in.

I’d always pictured what Kansas City would be like in a situation like this, if the drama of a pennant race and then the playoffs could infect my hometown.

We don’t have to wonder anymore, of course. It’s here, and it’s everywhere, and it’s pretty awesome. My favorite unexpected scene is the cars pulling over on the side of I-70 to watch the crowd at the K. My favorite part of this whole thing is the way this group of players truly seems to embrace the bigger impact of what they’re doing for a fan base that’s always deserved more.

I know I’m not telling you anything here you don’t already know, but it’s the only way I can think to open this silly little weekly get-together. I know so many of you have been waiting so long (and so hard) for a playoff run like this, and I know I’m among many who are incredibly happy for you. You deserve every bit of this.

This week’s eating recommendation is the burger at Westport Flea Market, sold at 1985 prices for as long as the Royals are in the playoffs. The reading recommendation is the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on Adrian Peterson.

The playoffs are usually decided by more luck and randomness than people would like to admit, especially people on the winning side, but the Royals sure have the look of a team benefitting from luck and randomness. The team that struggled to hit home runs all year just swept the best offense in the American League in large part by hitting home runs. Kelvin Herrera left a game after one pitch with the same diagnosis that often leads to Tommy John surgery, but was back the next game getting outs.

I mean, c’mon, Billy Butler stole a base and did the Jarrod Dyson dance back to the dugout.

The curse was always a bit of a joke, even if some people took it a little too serious, but at least as far as the Royals go it’s deader than disco.

I’ll take it!

I’ve actually thought about this, dumb as it may be, that my son has never known a world in which the Royals weren’t a winning baseball team, or the Chiefs weren’t a playoff team.

I’ve also thought about this: he’s seven months old, and will be in kindergarten before Salvador Perez’s contract is up.

That’d be a baller move.

By now, you’ve probably heard that Eric Hosmer and a bunch of his teammates went to party with fans at McFadden’s downtown. I took a cool scene from the party, along with some other pretty amazing things — did you know James Shields felt the ground shake before the Wild Card game? — to make a larger point about the bond between team and town.

That’s really the coolest part of all of this, I think. There have been times over the years that Royals fans have felt ignored or disrespected or taken for granted. Some of this has been justified, some of it just the natural byproduct of a losing team. But that’s changed in such a dramatic way here recently, the team and its players going out of their way to include fans in the fun.

The atmosphere in the Oakland game, and again in the clincher, combined with ridiculous TV numbers and a million great stories from around town, have made the fans as much a part of this story as Hosmer or James Shields or Alex Gordon.

If you’ve been around Kansas City for any length of time, that’s such a cool part of this run. So deserved.

Sports are the best, man.

I disagree, and part of this is in the column that ran in today’s paper. I see the context and history enhancing what this group is doing, not diminishing it. Every year, 25 guys on 10 different baseball teams make the playoffs.

But how many of them can be part of something like this?

The guys who pushed the Pirates into the playoffs after 21 years — a blink compared to the Royals — can relate. The 2004 Red Sox, who made the playoffs after 86 years, certainly can relate. At some point (you would think), some Cubs players will understand what this is like.

So I think in that way, this group of Royals will get more credit for doing this here than they would in Detroit or Chicago or Philadelphia or St. Louis. I think that’s the way it should be, too.

Now, I do have another thought about how this team relates to the sorry last few decades of this franchise. But I’m going to keep that to myself, for now. Working on it for a column I hope will run later in the week.

There’s no way to know this for sure, of course. Baseball and the playoffs in particular are about probabilities, not absolutes, so it’s quite possible a team could win a worse matchup and lose a better one. But to me, this is exactly who the Royals should’ve been hoping to face.

Some of that is because the Tigers were, as noted Ned Yost critic Pedro Martinez might put it, the Royals’ daddy. The rules of baseball prevent this, but if you were able to eliminate the games the teams played against each other, even before the playoffs, the Royals were 83-60 (.568, a 92-win pace over 162 games) and the Tigers were 77-69 (.527, an 85-win pace).

The difference was that the Tigers beat the Royals like a drum, fairly consistently^.

^ In typical Royals, there-goes-another-pitcher-off-the-mound-with-forearm-tightness-that-turns-out-to-be-nothing-instead-of-Tommy-John-surgery fashion, not winning the division turned out to be the most awesome thing that could’ve happened. Winning the division would’ve meant no Wild Card game, which would’ve meant missing out on the incredible night that nobody involved will ever forget.

The Orioles are a very, very good team, and I don’t mean anything I’m about to say as disrespect to what they’ve done. They won 96 games, have perhaps the game’s most respected manager, and the guy who led the American League in home runs.

But they’re also without Chris Davis (suspended), Manny Machado (hurt) and Matt Wieters (hurt). They have good pitching, and the fear of facing a lockdown bullpen (and a manager adept at getting the most of it) might be balanced by the fact that the Orioles have good starting pitchers but nobody as good as, say, Max Scherzer.

I’m not saying the Royals will beat the Orioles. I’m not sure who I expect to win, not yet. But I do know that if I was the Royals, I’d have taken an extra sip or two of champagne to celebrate not having to play the Tigers.

This is another one that I’ll expand on later, either this week or in the future, but the short answer is yes, of course it changes the team for next year. I haven’t had the conversations I need to have for a better idea of exactly what that means, but a run to the ALCS changes the finances and emotions around this team, and finances and emotions are two big factors in how baseball teams are kept together or broken up.

The Royals could use more power, obviously, and that’s true whether you think Eric Hosmer is the average hitter his numbers from 2014 show him to be or (like I do) a star in the making.

Nelson Cruz would be an obvious fit for that, but like every free agent, would come with warnings. He’ll be 34 next year, has a PED suspension on his record, and would be a downgrade defensively for a team that prides itself on defense. He also hit 28 of his 40 home runs before the All-Star break, though his numbers are, interestingly, better away from tiny Camden Yards (25 home runs, .584 slugging) than at home (15 homers, .463 slugging).

Like everything else, right field will come down to a lot of different factors for the Royals. Money, but also fit and timing. The Royals won some games because of Aoki, and in recent weeks really seemed to find a balance with him in the No. 2 spot in the order, and coming out in the late innings with a lead for Jarrod Dyson to do his thing.

I know I’m not answering your question directly, and I apologize for that, but I’d rather wait to have some conversations with folks and look at some different things so I can give you an intelligent answer^.

^ I heard what you just said there, and it wasn’t nice.

But, yes, it will change things. One possibility is that I wonder if the Royals will feel more able and motivated to keep both Wade Davis and Greg Holland on the team next year. They’ll cost about $15 million between them, which is far too much for a small-money club to pay two one-inning relievers, but the playoffs could change the calculus on that one.

Well, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect the Chiefs to be what they were against the Patriots every week. That was perfect, or at least as close to perfect as teams can be in the NFL.

The Chiefs were, well, much less than perfect against the 49ers, which our guys wrote about here, here and here.

They left one on the table, so to speak, which is especially frustrating because you can’t get those games back. These are the types of games you often look back on when you’re 8-8 or so and looking for that small margin that would’ve got you in the playoffs, instead of picking in the middle of the first round. The 12-men-on-the-field penalty, in particular, is just inexcusable. But there were other mistakes, all over the field, like Brandon Lloyd jumping over Sean Smith for a big gain late in the game, and of course the interception by Alex Smith on the last drive.

As a man who once coached the Chiefs would’ve put it, they did too many of the things that get you beat.

On the bright side, De’Anthony Thomas showed some things.

My favorite highlight, though, has to be Travis Kelce turning into Ric Flair after his touchdown catch.

Cooper had a rough game, for sure, and so far it’s hard to see much positive from his entire season. Like you say, he seems to be the guy quarterbacks are picking on. He was limited in practice last week, so maybe that’s part of this, but if you’re healthy enough to play you’re healthy enough to play.

It’s certainly something that Bob Sutton will have to continue taking into account with his game plans, and I’d imagine this is one of the things they’ll spend a little extra time on during the bye week.

When Cooper played so well at the beginning of last season, I was a big believer. I thought he had some nice physical tools, good instincts, and the kind of work ethic you’d want to see. I thought that there were signs he could be a steal, like that the Chiefs got him off waivers from a loaded team (the 49ers) that never really had time to give him a chance during training camp.

But this is a growing problem now, and one of the signs is that when the ball is headed his way you don’t have much confidence in him making the play. I’m not sure the Chiefs really have a lot of options for guys to play in front of him, at least not until Gaines gets his sea legs, so either Cooper is going to have to figure it out or Sutton is going to have to game plan around it.

That was, um, unfortunate.

Hard to know what happened there. I’ve heard from some people who think Ford was afraid of contact there, running away from blockers, but that doesn’t make much sense to me. I think he just got confused, as crazy as it looks there on video.

I have no idea what it’s like to be in the middle of all that violence on an NFL field, and you just can’t have guys do what Ford did there, but I tend to think of this as an isolated incident, not something that I think should affect him or his status going forward.

He’s still an important part of the Chiefs future, and one that will take a bit of time to develop.

Dan Wetzel is the best in the business, I think. So versatile, thorough reporting, great sources, extremely smart and able to clearly articulate his thoughts. There are others who I tend to read no matter what they’re writing about, and I know I’ll forget some, but on this morning the ones coming to mind include Liz Merrill, Dan LeBatard, Joe Posnanski, Gregg Doyel, Mike Vaccaro, Dave Sheinin, Jeff Passan, Greg Bedard, Jason Whitlock, Don Van Natta, and I can already tell I’m going to forget a bunch of names so I’ll just stop here.

You may or may not notice there that the list is slanted toward Kansas City Star alums, and I should’ve added others like Wright Thompson, Kent Babb, Bob Dutton and, if we can count him, Jayson Jenks. We’ve always been lucky to have so many great talents at our paper, and I hope guys like Terez, Andy, Rustin, Blair, Vahe, Randy and everyone else are appreciated.

For real. That’s a fact. I actually wonder — and there’s no way to know for sure, because the Royals aren’t planning like this — whether they’ll have a parade at this point no matter what.

In 1980, there was a parade for the Royals after losing to the Phillies in the World Series, mostly because people were so happy they finally got past the Yankees. I’d say making the ALCS this year is on par with that accomplishment, though I’d understand if it took a World Series for a parade.

Toward that end, the Royals are a slight underdog against the Orioles, but like I said before, this is the matchup they presumably wanted.

Pretty crazy, right?

I’ve been at the Star since 2000, and I believe this to be the biggest sports story in Kansas City in that time.

Tell me I’m wrong.

This week’s Knoda:

 

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

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