The other day, on the field before game four of the World Series, I was talking to a Royals official. They were up two games to one at that point, winners of two in a row. Momentum, if you believe it exists in baseball, was certainly on the Royals' side.
We talked a bit about the emotions he feels watching these games, of having so much invested but, since he's not playing or managing, so little he can do. It's a strange thing, sort of what I imagine it must be like watching your kids graduate high school or college. You've put so much of your lives into helping them, watching them grow, and then at some point all you can do is watch what happens.
I can't remember exactly what I said, but it was something like, hey, you're up two to one, gotta feel good, right?
There was no hesitation from this man.
"I don't think like that," he said. "I mean, I feel good because I love our team, but it's one inning at a time. The Rangers were one strike away from winning the World Series (in 2011). I think about that, too."
The Royals have lost two games in a row since then, of course, and now trail three games to two. There is a natural flow of emotion with that, being one game from disappointment, but the team official's words are just as true now as they were then.
The Royals will be playing at home, where they've only lost once in a month. One inning at a time. The Royals may win tonight, they may lose. But it should be fun.
As always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading. Let's do it:
That's a fact.
That's not a fact.
All of these games, basically, are coin flips. Except for the ones where Madison Bumgarner starts. Those are more like weighted coin flips.
I don't know what's going to happen, neither do you, neither does Bruce Bochy or Ned Yost or Alex Gordon or Hunter Pence. That's part of the thrill, the drama, all that stuff but I do think this: Yordano Ventura is going to be good tonight.
I'm probably putting too much into these things, but I think there was something real behind his start against the Angels in the Division Series. He felt like he had something to prove, to himself and a lot of other people, after giving up the home run when put into a bad spot by his manager in the Wild Card game.
The next time Ventura had the opportunity to pitch, he basically turned into Henry Rowengartner – more than half of his 95 pitches came in at 98 mph or faster; 22 were clocked at 100 mph. He wasn't just gas, either, striking out five and walking just one over seven innings. The only run came when one of his boyhood heroes, Albert Pujols, shortened his swing and punched a single through a hole in the infield.
"Everybody's an enemy," he said through a translator after the game.
I'm not trying to turn him into Curt Schilling with a bloody sock here, but I do believe that the way Ventura's mind works and with the incredible talent in his arm, he's capable of rising to occasions. Game six, his team facing elimination at home, is an occasion.
The Giants have a good lineup, particularly through the middle, but if Ventura get through it two or even three times without much damage he will have given the Royals an excellent chance to win the most important game that nearly any of them have been a part of.
When Bumgarner doesn't start, the pitching matchups are either even or lean slightly to the Royals. Having the DH back helps the Royals more than the Giants, and I'm expecting the crowd to do its October thing.
None of that means the Royals will win, of course. But being down three games to two isn't a death sentence, either.
Is this how people really feel?
Making it to the World Series is a good thing, no?
Oh, spare me.
The Royals will be disappointed if they lose tonight or tomorrow, and they should be. Only one team gets to finish each season with a championship, and everyone else thinks about something more they could've done, I get all that, but the whole if you ain't first you're last thing can go kick rocks.
The Rays have been a model franchise for everyone in baseball for most of the last 10 years, and they never won a World Series. The Royals could lose 8-0 tonight and this is still an incredible run they've made.
I get being disappointed without a championship, particularly when your team gets this close.
But if you can tell me you came into the season feeling like the Royals were a failure if they lost in the World Series, you're either a liar or just very sad.
You know who remembers the team that finished second? The city that's waited a generation for the last month.
I'm here to make dreams come true, you guys.
I haven't heard any of the broadcast during the World Series, obviously, but I've never quite understood the hate of Joe Buck, other than in the, "when you're on TV that much, talking that often about games and teams people LOVE, well, a decent number are going to be tired of you" sort of way.
I think Buck is smart, smooth, and has adjusted his style a bit after realizing what a self-righteous jerk he sounded like after Randy Moss scored that touchdown in Green Bay.
I also think that it's natural for fans to think that broadcasters don't talk up their team enough, and are in the bag for the other side. There's a man who emailed me every few days during the regular season saying that Steve Physioc and Rex Hudler aren't positive enough about the Royals, and I promise that's a true story.
When your team is playing a national broadcast, I think you just have to accept that it's not going to be shown the way you'd like. The broadcasters aren't going to be as intimately knowledgable about your team as the guys you're used to, and they're not going to be as excited about good plays as you'd like.
When your team is playing a national broadcast, you are not the target of the broadcast or broadcasters. They know you're going to watch no matter what, so they're trying to capture the more casual fan.
I'm on the other side of this. I like it. There are a lot of things that are different with baseball. They have two sets of rules, but this is also the only sport where the dimensions of the field/court/ice/pitch/whatever aren't uniform^.
^ With the notable exception of the time Sporting spent at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, playing with a pitchers mound on the pitch, a field that I believe Posnanski compared to a Chevy Equinox.
If I had to pick one, I'd pick the American League, and this is a change of mind for me. I do appreciate the strategy, both micro and macro, that comes with having pitchers bat. I like that you use the whole roster more. But I also think that a lot of times I like the idea of the NL style more than the reality. It's cool to think along with managers and go through all these scenarios, but it also sucks to watch a pitcher come to the plate with two on and two out.
Plus, Billy Butler deserves a place to play.
They were never going to steal seven bags a game like they did against the A's. The Royals led the league in stolen bases, yes, but it's worth remembering that they averaged fewer than one steal per game. A lot has to go right to get a bag, not just your guy getting on base, but doing it in the right situation against the right pitcher and getting the right read.
Last night, for instance, Madison Bumgarner is very quick to the plate, which makes stolen bases hard to get. The Orioles are one of the best teams in baseball at keeping runners close. I don't think the Royals have forgotten what they do best, but this isn't like Andy Reid forgetting to get the ball to Jamaal Charles.
You need some other factors in your favor.
Yeah, I believe he did. Unless we're allowing for the possibility he could pitch in relief in a potential game seven.
Shields will be a free agent, of course, but for all of the good memories he must now have about helping a team that hadn't been to the playoffs in 29 years make it all the way to the World Series, I can't imagine him taking less money to stay in Kansas City.
Remember that Shields already signed one of those extensions guys sign when they sell some of their free agent years for financial security. He turns 33 in December, and knows this will be the biggest payday of his life. He's from California, and pitched for many years in the American League East. The Dodgers and Red Sox will be among the teams bidding on him.
I'll also say this, again, and I've been saying this long before these playoffs: the Royals shouldn't match whatever offer Shields will get in free agency.
Big-money, long-term free agent contracts for starting pitchers almost always backfire on teams. Shields will probably be looking for a five-year deal, but even if it's just a four-year contract you're paying him between $15 million and $20 million (at least) approaching his 37th birthday.
If it was up to me, I'd much rather use that money to sign, say, Alex Gordon to another contract extension. Or maybe see if Lorenzo Cain is interested. Make a run at Eric Hosmer. Something like that.
It's not quite as simple as taking the $13.5 million that Shields is making this year and putting somewhere else, but the Royals should have enough money to improve their team for next year without putting it all toward a solid but aging pitcher.
Are we still doing this? Really?
Yost lost a game in Boston with the Jonny Gomes thing, made an egregious mistake in another game against the Red Sox with Aaron Crow, and should not have used Ventura in that situation in the Wild Card game. I think most of us agree on those things.
It's also true that there isn't a manager in the big leagues who can go a full season without a few moves they'd want back, and, I know I've said this a thousand times, but whatever: Ned's biggest strengths have always been in the things that are harder to see in the public view, and his biggest weaknesses have always been in the things that are obvious.
Royals fans seem to hate it when I write this – almost as much as they hate when I write that David Glass has been a very good small-market owner since 2006 – but Ned isn't a terrible manager. He's about average, and at times those weaknesses can push all of us to the brink, but the strengths are there, too.
I mean, he's in the World Series, and even as sergeant of the Managers Don't Matter NEARLY As Much As Most Media And Fans Think brigade, that's quite an accomplishment.
Some people are surely going to think that Yost held the Royals back, that somehow this was a powerhouse roster that would've surely won the World Series if not for their doofus manager. But, some people think a lot of things.
It was a dumb thing to say, but people are taking it far too literally. He hasn't lost a game on purpose in some bizarre effort to stretch the series to seven games, and the continued complaining about a manager who's in the World Series is getting really tired.
You know how Ned could've kept the Royals from losing game five? He could've hit Madison Bumgarner across the shins with a steel pipe. Other than that, they were losing, because the players matter far more than the manager.
There's so much that still needs to happen, obviously. We don't know who's going to need offseason surgery, or who's going to spend the offseason celebrating (at least) an American League championship 12-ounces and one Real World rerun at a time, and who might be unlocked by the success.
But it should be, basically, the same team. Shields will be gone. Billy Butler will probably be gone. Nori Aoki will be a free agent, and the Royals like him, he fits, but they'd also like to add some power. I still think Greg Holland could be traded – the Royals could re-sign Luke Hochevar and maintain a three-cyborg backend of the bullpen – but I think that's less likely after this run. Oh, and whether it's Kratz or someone else, the Royals need to get a backup catcher Ned trusts enough to make at least 20 and perhaps as many as 40 starts to keep from running Salvador Perez into the ground.
But, by big league standards, that's not that much turnover. The key, as it always is with the Royals, will be in what the guys already here do. I think Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer are turning into stars. Perez should be a much better hitter if he's not worn out by his manager. The rotation is probably in line for some negative regression, but this is still a very good team.
Again, there's way too much to happen still, but at this point I think you'd have to be surprised if they fall too far back. Anything from 81 to 95 wins seems possible, and I suppose you could say that about a lot of teams.
This isn't 2003, is the point.
One of life's great mysteries, right? And you're being very kind, saying using the word "lose" there, instead of "emasculate." This is like your kid coming home with a note that says they misbehaved, and you come to find out he called his teacher fat and spit on her.
I got fooled by that game, I know, which is why I wrote this stupid column that I wish the fine folks at the paper would destroy. The loss makes less and less sense the more that time goes on. Maybe we're going to find out that someone spiked the Gatorade with laxatives or something.
Because since that day, the Chiefs have lost at the goal line at Denver, destroyed the Dolphins on the road, DESTROYED the Patriots at home, come within a two-minute drive of beating the 49ers on the road, and then won at San Diego and against the Rams.
That's a pretty good resume, 4-3 and the messy Jets coming to Arrowhead this weekend. After that, winnable games against the Bills and Raiders (twice) could get the Chiefs to eight and then they'd need to scramble around a tough schedule to make the playoffs.
My only two theories about that Titans game:
Theory one: the Chiefs were so deflated by what were basically back-to-back season ending injuries to Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito that they lost their juice, as the kids say. The problem with this is they looked crappy from the start, long before Johnson and DeVito went out.
Theory two: the Chiefs did not know what they were, or how exactly to maximize their strengths and hide their weaknesses. There's a bit more logic in this one, because the Chiefs have played with very different schemes and emphases since the Titans game. Andy Reid, in particular, is doing a great job game-planning and play-calling around a weak group of receivers that needs to be John Dorsey's top priority going forward. Knile Davis and Travis Kelce have been the most obvious ways of compensating.
The problem with that theory is it implies that Reid didn't know his team until the season had already started. He's too good of a coach for that.
So, basically, if you're me you're left with, I have no freaking idea.
There's nothing enormously wrong with losing to the Titans. It's hard to go through an NFL season without losing to a team you think you should beat. It's the getting blow'd out part, at home, in the season opener, that's so perplexing.
The good news, for the Chiefs, is they sure seem to have moved on from it.
I'm enough of a traditionalist, even in a new-ish league like MLS, to not like the realignment. This isn't what we've seen in college sports, obviously, not even close, and there are new teams coming in and geographically it makes sense for Sporting to move.
But it will be harder for them now, going forward. That's two games against Portland, Seattle, Real Salt Lake and the Galaxy, just for starters. With Chivas folding – not a second too quickly, either – Sporting doesn't even get the benefit of playing that awful team more often. Houston moving with Sporting just makes it tougher. The last five MLS champions will be in the West, and if the Galaxy wins like everyone expects, that makes six.
There are good and bad parts of the later kickoffs, I suppose. I know more people will probably be inconvenienced than better off, but soccer games are quick enough that if it starts at 9 pm you can watch and still be in bed by 11. If you, say, have a baby, it's not a bad thing to have the game start after you know he'll be sleeping.
On a more practical level, I'm not sure it changes (or should) anything Sporting does. There's something to the iron-sharpens-iron thing, but I tend to think there's more to that in positional competition within a team than a more macro playoff race.
I wish they'd have been able to stay in the Eastern Conference, but I get the need to move them West, is what I'm saying. If nothing else, it'll make make for more good games.
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