Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Moose and the Royals' rare pace, Chiefs' draft, and one more Bud Lathrop story

After an uncertain offseason, Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas, left, is hitting like a champ so far in his return to KC.
After an uncertain offseason, Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas, left, is hitting like a champ so far in his return to KC. John Sleezer

Anything written in April about a baseball player being #OnPace for something should be taken in context, but with the disclaimer out of the way, Mike Moustakas is having himself a whale of a start.

He's hitting .318/.341/.612 with six homers, five doubles, a triple and 17 RBIs. That's a pace for 49 homers, 41 doubles, and 138 RBIs. George Brett's 1980 masterpiece is the only season in club history with a higher slugging percentage. Brett and John Mayberry are the only players with a full season's worth of higher adjusted OPS.

The Royals are 5-15. That stinks.

Neither Moustakas or the Royals are likely to keep up this pace, but his Benny "The Jet" routine here got me thinking.

In this century there have been 25 individual seasons of 48 or more home runs. Only seven played on losing teams. Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez did it twice each, Jim Thome once, Todd Helton once, and Giancarlo Stanton with the Marlins last year.

If you take the next 25 highest totals, 11 came on losing teams. That's 18 of 50, and it's worth noting that only three of those teams managed to lose 95 or more, which this Royals team is certainly capable of.

Point being: Even as homers are being devalued across baseball, Moustakas' current level of brilliance and the Royals' current level of stink are a truly rare match.

For a frame of reference, there have been 49 no-hitters thrown over the same period of time.

The good news for Royals fans is that Moose is unlikely to join the list. Even (especially?) if he clubs 45 or so homers and even (especially?) if the Royals lose 95 or more games, Moose would likely be traded at the deadline to a contender.

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This is one small example of the awkward place the Royals and their fans find themselves in. The team is even less likely to compete now than at the beginning of the season, but these individual successes take on a different meaning.

We'll talk more about the tradeability of some of these players below, but if Moose can raise his value and the Royals have no reason to hope it could end up the best thing for their future. The same can be said for Whit Merrifield, Kelvin Herrera, and yes, Danny Duffy and Sal Perez.

The Royals beat the Detroit Tigers 8-5 on Sunday, April 22, 2018, at Comerica Park with the help of home runs from Mike Moustakas, Whit Merrifield and Abraham Almonte.

It's a strange situation. Each home run Moose hits does less to help the Royals win than it does help generate interest around the league for Moose, which would, at least in theory, help the Royals win sometime in the future.

Sports are weird.

This week's reading recommendation is SI's excerpt from Chris Nashawaty's book on Caddyshack, and the eating recommendation is the P1 at Vietnam Cafe.

Please give me a follow on Facebook and Twitter, and as always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sounds like Veach wants to move up in this draft (seemingly 25-32 range, at least for day one if the right guy is there). Any thoughts on who the right guy may be?</p>&mdash; Joseph Boeding (@JoeBoeding) <a href="https://twitter.com/JoeBoeding/status/988429191615041536?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 23, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Let's start here: I don't believe the Chiefs will trade into the first round.

We talked a little about this on the Border Patrol, but last year's trade made perfect sense. The Chiefs had more picks than could make the team, they knew the cap situation and Alex Smith's contract pointed toward a new quarterback in 2018, and the draft class was full of talented quarterbacks who could probably benefit from a year of watching.

The Kansas City Chiefs Brett Veach discusses the process of draft picks making the Pro Bowl in their rookie year.

The context is just so different now. They don't have the same inventory of picks, and particularly on defense they have some spots they could use depth. They have an extra third this year, and an extra second next year, but getting from 54th overall to the first round would take a lot.

I'm not saying it's impossible, or won't happen. I'm sure Veach and the Chiefs will keep their options open. That's what a competent organization does. I just think it'll be hard.

None of that answers your question. If they were to pull something off, I'd assume it'd be for defense and they have three major needs: defensive line (particularly the interior), cornerback and edge rush.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Who are the Royals most valuable trade pieces and what should we expect to get back as compensation?</p>&mdash; Seth Atkins (@SethAtkins) <a href="https://twitter.com/SethAtkins/status/988427104550313984?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 23, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Sal Perez is the most valuable, the one who would bring back the best return. The injury doesn't help, obviously, but he's been durable and there just aren't enough good catchers to go around.

He's a power bat and good defender at a premium position, a central part of a world champion, and a July trade would mean owing him $43 million or so through 2021. In baseball terms, that's an enormous bargain.

He's not a perfect player, of course. He's molasses slow, struggles to get on base, some scouts question his ability to stay behind the plate long term, and he has a reputation for being overly stubborn about certain things.

All that said, this is the player who would bring back the biggest package. The Royals would probably need to be overwhelmed, and would weigh Perez's expected value in 2021. If the team was all in on rebuilding, they probably would've dealt him this past offseason, but with the cost and control the Royals should expect multiple strong prospects.

Danny Duffy is next on the list. Pitchers are always in demand, particularly talented starters, and particularly talented left-handed starters, and PARTICULARLY talented left-handed starters with long-term club control.

A midseason trade would mean the new club owed Duffy about $53 million through 2021, when he'll be 32 years old. He's never made more than 26 starts, or thrown more than 179 2/3 innings, and he's off to a less-than-spectacular start: 5.26 ERA while walking a batter every two innings. Various metrics show he's giving up more hard contact than recent years.

But his velocity and strikeout rate remain high, and it's still early enough in the season that statistics can be explained away. Duffy's profile is hard to find: hard-throwing lefty with developing stuff, strong work ethic, some leadership traits, and history with winning.

He could improve the middle of a contender's rotation, with cost-effective controllable years, so the Royals should expect multiple projectable prospects.

Mike Moustakas, Whit Merrifield, and Kelvin Herrera make up the next tier. Moose is pacing for the year of his professional life. You never know how injuries will affect things, but his trade market would still be limited by the soft demand on third baseman we saw in the offseason.

He could also play first, or DH, and a power bat like that can always find a spot on a contender. He's a two-month-plus-the-playoffs rental at the deadline, so the package back wouldn't be overwhelming, but the Royals can't tie him to draft compensation again so they should be open to get what they can.

Most of the same things could be said about Herrera. He's been terrific in limited work, his stuff sharp and his focus dependable. Relief pitchers are always needed, somewhere, so his trade value would be limited only by his pending free agency.

Merrifield is an interesting case, because while he's club controlled through 2022, he's also 29 years old and would be into his 30s by the time the Royals are ready to win again. Even with the low cost at the moment, is he more valuable to the Royals, or to a team with a hole at second or in the outfield where he could help right now? I wouldn't expect a huge return, but maybe two prospects with a chance to be productive?

Really, that's about it. Most everyone else the Royals either want to hold onto (Jorge Soler) or would bring back a very modest return (Lucas Duda, Jon Jay).

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I did something terrifying because the NFL draft is coming up: I looked at the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Royals?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Royals</a> 1st-rounders since Moose/Hoz ... I like GMDM, but I fret, my man.</p>&mdash; Patrick M. Obley (@PMOWriter) <a href="https://twitter.com/PMOWriter/status/988423459373043712?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 23, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Yeah, it's not pretty:

2009: Aaron Crow, RHP.

2010: Christian Colon, INF.

2011: Bubba Starling, CF.

2012: Kyle Zimmer, RHP.

2013: Hunter Dozier, INF; Sean Manaea, LHP*.

2014: Brandon Finnegan, LHP; Foster Griffin, LHP; Chase Vallot, C*.

2015: Ashe Russell, RHP; Nolan Watson, RHP*.

2017: Nick Pratto, 1B.

* Compensation picks, so not among the first 30, but could be considered first-rounders.

It's probably too early to judge anyone after 2014, though it's worth noting that Russell (21st overall) has not pitched since taking what was at the time termed "a mental break" from baseball last summer.

I would argue that the Manaea and Finnegan picks were terrific. Finnegan helped the Royals get into and then advance in the 2014 playoffs, and keyed the Johnny Cueto trade in 2015. Manaea — who just no-hit the Red Sox — was the centerpiece of the Ben Zobrist deal.

I would also argue that Christian Colon over Chris Sale remains this leadership group's single biggest mistake, but I'm also sympathetic to the argument that Colon came up with two of the biggest hits in franchise history, so, ¯\_(?)_/¯.

But, yeah. Even accounting for the awful success rate of most first round picks, that's an underwhelming record. Starling and Zimmer have stalled for different reasons, but mostly these are guys who simply haven't been as good as the Royals hoped or expected.

It sets up a fascinating thing for the summer, because while the Royals don't pick until 18th overall they have four picks in the top 40. This draft is enormously important to whether the Royals go back to 2015 or 2005. Without hyperbole, if they nail those four picks — even two of them — it will be a boon for their future, and if they whiff, the future pushes back a year or two.

The nature of baseball's draft is that we won't know anything for a few years. There was a time a lot of people thought Moose and Hosmer were busts, and a time a lot of people thought Zimmer and Starling were stars.

Lonnie Goldberg is the Royals' scouting director. This is the draft of his life.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Was John Dorsey as good of a GM as the draft experts are making him out to be?</p>&mdash; Michael Riedl (@michaelriedl) <a href="https://twitter.com/michaelriedl/status/988420882153594886?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 23, 2018</a></blockquote>

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I don't mean this flippantly, just honestly — I don't pay a lot of attention to the draft expert industry. I read it, I familiarize myself with names, and watch film of guys connected to the Chiefs. That's part of my job.

But I don't necessarily watch the shows, which is where I assume a lot of this hype is coming from. So this isn't meant as a response to any of that stuff, only my thoughts from covering John here and knowing him a little.

He was the muscle and brains behind the improvement of the Chiefs' roster, particularly in the middle and at the bottom. He inherited some good players, but shamefully little depth, and he was the guy in charge as the Chiefs improved their overall talent.

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I think he was a very good general manager here, though with a bit of an uneven skill set. His greatest strength was in running a draft, and evaluating talent, which is why he was such a smart hire in Cleveland and (I assume) why he's being talked up at the moment.

I would generally be pretty sad if I was a Browns fan, but if I were a Browns fan, I'd feel legitimately optimistic that things were (finally, maybe, could be) getting better. That's an absurd stack of draft capital, with some young talent already on hand, and a general manager with a history of running good drafts.

Now, the draft is the most important part of a GM's job, but it's not the only part, and the other parts are where John went awry. Terez had the foundational reporting on this stuff, but John had a reputation for going rogue on his staff.

"John does stuff and eons't tell people why," is how one of Terez's sources put it. The more you hear, the more it sounds like he's a terrifically talented scout who was put in a management position without the background or, frankly, interest in being a traditional manager.

I believe that smart people who care about their craft learn from mistakes. I'm sure John feels like he got a raw deal here, which is dangerous for his future in Cleveland if he considers himself blameless.

He has a lot to be proud of here. If he can smooth the rough edges, learn from those mistakes, well, he'll be very successful in Cleveland.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">On what date should I schedule my <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DFAORLANDO?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#DFAORLANDO</a> party?I need to book a conference room at the airport Hilton Gardens, but I don’t want to lose my deposit.</p>&mdash; Chad Holmes (@Hoonmar) <a href="https://twitter.com/Hoonmar/status/988429735947579394?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 23, 2018</a></blockquote>

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One of my favorite things about sports in general and baseball in particular is that we care so much about things that truly do not matter.

I mean, look: I believe he's hanging by a string here. He's a 32-year-old outfielder with no proven production on a team that's realistically building for two or three years down the road. The outfield will be crowded when Alex Gordon returns from injury, and then Jorge Bonifacio from suspension. Orlando doesn't have the history and contract of the former, or the age and future of the latter.

But, really? Orlando?

The Royals have much bigger problems, perhaps best highlighted by the fact that when compared to the rest of the roster their outfield is both the most crowded and still has room for Orlando to play more center field than anyone else so far.

But I do mean this sincerely: it's terrific that sports and baseball in particular get into your blood enough to care about this type of thing.

Speaking of...

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Why is Ned still managing? Meaning, he nearly died in the off-season. He&#39;s got a massive rebuilding job. What&#39;s the payoff here? And who is his successor?</p>&mdash; G Low (@KCPRGuy) <a href="https://twitter.com/KCPRGuy/status/988425823534252034?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 23, 2018</a></blockquote>

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I actually believe it's in the best interests of both the Royals and Ned that he manage this team, and I say that as someone who suspected Ned would retire after last season.

Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost talked about his fall from a tree stand on his Georgia farm that nearly killed him. Yost was at Royals FanFest on Friday Jan. 26, 2018.

Let's start with Ned, and the most obvious reason is that he makes a lot of money. I don't know his salary, but it's certainly in the millions. He's presumably been smart with his money, and has investments to keep him going beyond baseball, but if someone is paying you, say, $3 million to do a job you enjoy you're probably going to keep doing that job.

I don't think it's strictly about money, though. Ned is a baseball lifer. He spent six years in the minors before a big league promotion, and never played more than 80 games in a season. You have to love the dirty part of the game — the travel, the hours, the failure, the monotony — to grind through all of that.

This is the life he knows, in other words. The life he loves. He's already won. He has scoreboard on Brewers owner Mark Attanasio for firing him, and on anyone who criticized him before the parade here. So what if he loses 100 games this year*? The checks still clear, and he still spends his days at the ballpark.

* Which I don't expect to happen, mostly because it's HARD to lose 100 games, despite what the 2004-06 Royals taught us.

If he gets to be part of building the Royals up one more time, all the better.

I'd also argue it's best for the Royals. They're going to lose a lot of games this year no matter what. He's better positioned to absorb the losses and criticism and frustration than someone else, and his experience with the first wave could be helpful in the current wave.

As for the successor, my bet would be Pedro Grifol. He's smart, committed, comes with a wide variety of skills, and is deeply respected within the organization.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">With both NHL and NBA playoffs going on, if you where to choose which league to bring a team to KC which would you choose?</p>&mdash; Brett Garten (@Garten87) <a href="https://twitter.com/Garten87/status/988465499305644033?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 23, 2018</a></blockquote>

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The real answer is EITHER PLEASE EITHER THAT WOULD BE AMAZING PLEASE WHY DID AEG HAVE TO BE A BUNCH OF MISLEADING SNAKES WHYYYYYYYYYYYYY?!?!?!?!?!?!!?!?!?

But, you asked the question, so if I could literally choose one — and I believe this would be the highlight of my day if it happened — I would choose the NBA.

Mostly, I just like basketball more than hockey. It's what I grew up with, it's what I'm familiar with, it's what I know better, and it's what I love. The NBA is so damn good right now, too.

The quality of play is higher than people who don't watch give it credit for. The officials are good, the product is terrific, the league is full of interesting stars. Even if the team here was mediocre, there would be enough storylines, enough personalities, enough to be interested in.

Now, all that said, there's a compelling argument to be made for hockey. I believe Kansas City would have a better chance at a Stanley Cup than an NBA title. We don't have much history or familiarity with hockey, but it's also a strong product, and the in-stadium experience is impossible to fully explain. I do believe a team would do well here.

But, come on. This is all fantasy. We're not getting a team in either league.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Given the litany of references to Azubuike as “prehistoric” or a “dinosaur,” and his admittedly suspect shot, is it even possible that he could develop a shooting skill set sufficient to break into the First Round? Even w/ another year at Kansas? <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/kubball?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#kubball</a></p>&mdash; Böyce (@samuraihawk) <a href="https://twitter.com/samuraihawk/status/988424082482966529?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 23, 2018</a></blockquote>

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So, this is just me talking, but it'd be great if he could develop a shot, obviously, but I have my doubts. More to the point here, I don't think he needs to develop a jumper to have a viable NBA career.

His value needs to be in rebounding and rim protecting. He's gifted enough to be strong in both areas, but also raw enough that he needs to improve. You can do that in the NBA, but right now I'm just not sure there's a spot for him on a roster next year unless someone wants to do a redshirt or stash him in the G-League.

The way I've always expected this to go is for Azubuike to get a more complete and direct feel for what the NBA wants him to be, come back for a year, then go to the league assuming everything progresses.

One thing he has in his favor: he won't need to be a scorer for Kansas next season. They'll have plenty of that. His role at KU would, really, be a lot like his theoretical and future role for an NBA team.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Who do you think is coming out of the Eastern Conference?</p>&mdash; Carrington Harrison (@cdotharrison) <a href="https://twitter.com/cdotharrison/status/988421715146563584?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 23, 2018</a></blockquote>

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So, the 4 year old and I did brackets, same as we did with the NCAA Tournament and I picked the Cavs* so you should take anything I say in that context. I didn't realize just how broken the Cavs' roster is, and I mean no disrespect to the Pacers, who are loads of fun.

* Little man went with the Bucks, which I loved.

But if I could make the pick again today, I'd be on the 76ers. They look like the best team to me.

Nobody else has LeBron, obviously, which is what I was thinking about but it's also true that nobody else can match 76ers' depth and diversity of talent.

It's objectively hilarious that Ben Simmons played 81 games and led his team in minutes and had the ball in his hands more than anyone else and did not make a 3-pointer the entire season. But he is almost supernaturally gifted, and the Sixers have shooters all over the floor, and who else has Joel Embiid?

Anyway, they look like the best team to me. But, if history holds, someone's about to get hurt and then LeBron will be able to lose the Finals in five games.

No matter what: this is the most interested I've been in the NBA playoffs in years.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I don’t have a question. I’m just giving you a chance to tell another Bud Lathrop story.</p>&mdash; Clinton Thomas (@ClintT13) <a href="https://twitter.com/ClintT13/status/988447448749301762?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 23, 2018</a></blockquote>

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You probably end up writing about 250 pieces or so a year in my job, so obviously you like some more than others, and you enjoy doing some more than others.

Straight up, writing about Raytown South coaching legend Bud Lathrop is among my favorites in the last few years.

Hundreds of friends and former players of Bud Lathrop, former basketball coach at Raytown South High School come out to honor him on April 21, 2018.

I must've met Bud 15 years ago, something like that. Even in a room full of successful coaches, Bud would stick out because of his temperament, his almost accidental charisma, and for sure his voice. His teams won every conference championship but one from 1967 to 1994, which is hard to really grasp.

There are some who speak of him the way you speak of a god, and there are others who dislike him, and not simply in the petty way that successful people are always disliked by some.

He could be overbearing, even to those he didn't coach. He had a big ego. His methods were, well, controversial. There are some who believed the ends did not justify the means, in other words.

I always liked him, and that was true even when I walked into the gym one day in December 2003 and saw him using a wooden paddle on the backsides of his players as part of a free throw drill. It wasn't malicious, the kids were not in tears, but it was just so out of place in 2003 and I think Bud probably knew that.

Bud was suspended. A lot of people around Ray South blamed me, and to this day, even eight years deep into being a sports columnist, I'm not sure I've written something that generated as much anger.

I know I mentioned this part in the story from the weekend, but here's the director's cut. I'd been in touch with Bud and some in the administration in the reporting for the paddling story, but when I called him after the suspension he initially hung up on me.

I assumed that was the last I'd talk to Bud. He wouldn't be the first to stop talking with a reporter over a story he didn't like, and one of the criticisms you'd hear from people about Bud is that for all of his coaching success, he could be immature. In an oversimplified sense, he was a high school version of Bob Knight.

But, a few hours after he hung up on me, Bud called back.

"I don't blame you," I remember he said. "I know some do, and I've talked to them, but I tell them, 'This isn't Sam's fault.'"

He invited me over to his house the next day. I don't remember how long I spent there, but it was a good chunk of the day. I rode in the car with him as he picked up and drove Tyrone Young, the star of that year's team, to the game, offering bits of advice along the way.

The phone hardly stopped ringing at Bud's house that day. When it did stop ringing, it usually meant his wife was on the phone with someone (they didn't have call waiting). I'll never forget one call. Bud let the machine pick up, and we heard the voice of another reporter in town just trashing me on the message.

"I can't believe Sam did that to you," is the part that sticks in my memory, and Bud looked over at me, and it was the only time all day he laughed.

On Sunday morning, my cell phone rang. Bud. He said some nice things about the story, and then got to talking about AAU basketball, which somehow led to a story about how Adolph Rupp used to buy him lunch at Final Fours, which somehow led to a story about playing summer ball with Bob Gibson.

I hadn't heard that one before, but Gibson was a star basketball player, and the same age as Lathrop.

Bud said they were in a hotel, prepping for a game, when someone came in and told Bob he couldn't play because by that time he had signed a professional baseball contract. Years later, Bud said, he saw Gibson again. This was after he was a star pitcher, but Bud mentioned the old basketball story and Gibson's face went serious.

"I should've killed that guy," Bud remembered Gibson saying.

I don't know how many conversations I've had with Bud over the years. A hundred, at least. They're almost always around an hour long, often include a mention of his first job at Mound City, and usually something nice about his wife.

But with few exceptions, I also hear something I never knew before. Had no idea about the Gibson story.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">The best game for a Chiefs for a fan to travel to and watch home or away in 2018<br>?</p>&mdash; Donnie Mane (@DONNIEHUSSLE) <a href="https://twitter.com/DONNIEHUSSLE/status/988433264443617283?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 23, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Hmmm. A list?

A list!

1. Nov. 19, against the Rams in Mexico City. Never been to Mexico City, and have always been intrigued. I hear the food is amazing, the culture unique, and this is one of those places I'd probably never go without an excuse but with the game will want to spend an extra day or two. Also, even if this was being played in St. Joe, it would be the one I was most looking forward to. That it's a Monday night in Mexico, well, come on.

2. Sept. 9, at the Chargers. Full disclosure: I'm a recovering LA hater. Had a blast there last year. Stayed near the beach, ate some great food, walked along the ocean, and I'm telling you. The StubHub Center is a GREAT place to watch a game. It's only 25,000 or so, but just as loud as anywhere else you'll go, and the crowd will be split.

3. Dec. 2, at the Raiders. If you haven't been to a game at the Black Hole, and you're the traveling type, it's worth seeing when you still can. When the Raiders are good, the parking lot is unlike anywhere else in the NFL. Oakland is underrated, but if you want to stay in San Francisco you can. The weather is usually good, even that time of year.

4. Oct. 1, at the Broncos. Rivalry game, Monday night in Denver when it should be early enough in the season that your hands don't go numb. Sounds pretty good.

5. Sept. 16, at the Steelers. Weather should be good, Pittsburgh is another underrated city, and there's a lot of history there.

6. Dec. 23, at the Seahawks. This would be at least a few spots higher if it wasn't two days before Christmas. Seattle is a great American city.

7. Oct. 14, at the Patriots. Most people would probably have this higher, but I haven't found a way to enjoy Boston yet, and Gillette Stadium is the most inconvenient in the league with the possible exception of Lambeau*.

* But Lambeau is objectively awesome.

8. Nov. 4, at the Browns. I like Cleveland more than most, but this is the wrong time in the calendar and the game could be a dud.

The Kansas City Chiefs will play in primetime six times in 2018. Once on Thursday Night Football, three times on Sunday Night Football and twice more on Monday Night Football.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">With SKC off to a great start which of the two new signings has the better season overall?Felipe Gutierrez or Johnny Russell.Do they sign a new #9 in the summer window and lastly how far in the playoffs do they go (please no first round exit, again)?</p>&mdash; Tom Hoffmann (@countzerokc) <a href="https://twitter.com/countzerokc/status/988425565790244864?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 23, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Sort of funny to think about the biggest question of this team being whether it could find enough goals.

As it stands at the moment, Sporting has scored three more goals than anyone else in the league. Now, that's skewed a little from clowning Vancouver 11-on-9 last weekend, and nobody else has played more matches than Sporting.

But, still. Goals are goals.

I don't know how to separate Gutierrez and Russell. They've been terrific, both. Russell had perhaps the goal of the season, but Gutierrez has had his share of shine, too.

You could argue that Gutierrez has been a better all-around player, but Russell's impact has been undeniable. I have no way of knowing how the pace will keep up, but his talent and dynamism is essentially a Weird Science creation of what Sporting needed.

It's fun to have that element back. Sporting hasn't had it since Dom Dwyer, and if we're honest, hasn't had it since back when Dwyer was still a great fit for what Sporting did as a team.

You can come up with reasons to be concerned. Depth is the most obvious. They're running the same squad many nights, and particularly as the weather heats up you wonder if we're setting up for another late season fade.

But this certainly looks like a better team than a year ago, and among Sporting's best teams in the recent run. If that keeps up, there is no competition they'll be in that they can't win.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">What are the top five non-BBQ foods/restaurants KC area residents should be bragging about but aren&#39;t?</p>&mdash; Cody Hughes (@cody_w_hughes) <a href="https://twitter.com/cody_w_hughes/status/988431526173073408?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 23, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Another list? Another list!

Let me first offer two disclaimers: your idea of what restaurants Kansas Citians brag about might be different than mine. Also, I haven't been to Sailor Jack's, but it looks delicious and my expectations are sky high.

Here is a partial list of restaurants I'm taking out of consideration based on the "aren't bragging about" clause: Garozzo's, Beer Kitchen, Rieger, Novel, Bluestem, Rye, Room 39, and all barbecue places.

1. Brewery Emperial. Breweries don't often have food this good, and if they do, they don't often have beer this good.

2. Extra Virgin. It's an Occasion Restaurant, and best if you're in a group of at least six or so. I've never had something I didn't love there, and I never understood why Michael Smith's was the one people talked about.

3. Pigwich. All of their sandwiches are basically perfect. Might be my favorite burger in town. Also: I cook spare ribs for Christmas every year, and have used at least six different butchers, and Local Pig is the best.

4. Bay Boy. The Cuban might be my favorite sandwich in Kansas City.

5. Westside Local. Nothing fancy, nothing pretentious, nothing complicated. Just really, really good, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">How well do you feel like you know your readers based on interactions/questions on this time suck/personal feedback? My guess is we all have an idea of what you’re like based on reading you each week. Do you have ideas of who we are and what we’re like?</p>&mdash; John Bostwick (@JohnB_911) <a href="https://twitter.com/JohnB_911/status/988433664450158592?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 23, 2018</a></blockquote>

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I know I've said this before here, but it's true, so here goes one more time: the best part of this job are the connections built. That comes in all sorts of forms, often with specific memories and games and athletes or coaches or others who live sports, but the most meaningful are with strangers.

Or, at least, they start out as strangers.

I could list 100 people off the top of my head who I know only because they've reached out after reading something I wrote. This includes youth coaches, lawyers, doctors, teachers, psychologists, carpenters, mechanics, Uber drivers, bartenders, counselors, pilots, restaurant owners, farmers, students, cops, and one very special nun.

When my mom died last year, some sent cards and books and poems. When I mentioned I was buying a smoker last week, one said he will send some rubs.

So, I suppose there are two ways to answer your question. In the micro sense, there are dozens and perhaps even hundreds of individual people I feel like I know. I've read or heard about their kids, their memories, their hopes, and their thoughts on the bullpen or offensive line or ball movement.

In the macro, I feel absurdly privileged to have what I consider to be the best access to people who care about sports in Kansas City. Maybe I'm overstating it, but I feel like I know when people are generally reluctant, or hopeful, or disinterested, or obsessed with more intimacy and accuracy than any other job I can imagine.

I've had these talks with people over email, Facebook, Twitter, and in grocery stores and restaurants and bars and barbershops and hardware stores and everywhere else in town.

Kansas City is such a good place to have my job, and a lot of that is because of those connections.

Not everyone likes me Speaking Power To Truth, though...

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">After your outrageous, insane and unapologetic declaration last week that pulled pork &quot;can go play in traffic&quot;, I am staging a walkout of the Minutes, and encourage others to do so.</p>&mdash; AJ (@AJTrueSon) <a href="https://twitter.com/AJTrueSon/status/988436596742639619?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 23, 2018</a></blockquote>

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I stand by my reporting.

If your stance is that pulled pork is acceptable when you're cooking for a bunch of people, because it's good enough and dirt cheap and there is a certain joy in turning a bad piece of meat into something better, then I can respect that.

But if your stance includes any disagreement to the notion that pulled pork is vastly inferior when compared with smoked ribs, brisket, chicken, sausage, turkey, or salmon then you are objectively wrong and I hope you get the help you so clearly need.

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Sports are the absolute best, you guys.

This week, I'm particularly grateful for the weather being nice again. Kids are happier, exercise is easier, and it means more evenings on the deck with some sort of meat in the grill and beer in my hand.

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