Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Should Chiefs’ Hill go deep every time? Plus Royals, Sporting KC

The full dress rehearsal is here, finally, this week in Chicago. The most important thing has always been what the Chiefs will look like Sept. 9 at my favorite NFL stadium*, and the closest thing will be Saturday afternoon at Soldier Field.

* Seriously, if you’re on the fence about going, you really should. NFL games in an MLS stadium. It sounds goofy, and it is, but it’s also awesome. And once the despicable Stan Kroenke** opens his gorgeous palace of an ATM machine we will never again see anything like this. Plus, LA has beaches.

** Yes, Arsenal fan here.

It’s the only time Patrick Mahomes and the starters will play past halftime, the only time Justin Houston might play more than one series, the only time all preseason that a small mistake will be worth more than a slow eye roll.

Let’s be clear: preseason football is meaningless, even on the relative scale of sports.

Let’s also be clear: the third preseason game is the only one that even smells a little like a real game would smell.

Here then are eight things to watch for on Saturday:

1. Patrick Mahomes, obviously. The pattern is to expect one jaw-dropper, like a 70-yard non-Hail Mary, but if you care about the Chiefs winning actual games you probably also want to see if he avoids the jaw-dropping mistake — the deep pass to Demetrius Harris that should’ve been picked in Denver, for instance, or the forced deep ball with no look off that was picked in Atlanta.

Chiefs coaches and club officials have been consistent in saying one of the most encouraging things about Mahomes is that he never makes the same mistake twice. They don’t mean that literally, of course, because he is not a programmable robot. But if the spirit of what they say is true those mistakes will become rarer.

2. Eric Berry’s availability. If this goes the way the Chiefs have been hoping, the treatments he’s been receiving will have him ready to at least get on the field. I don’t know why anyone would be overly concerned with how he performs — anything on one end of the spectrum or the other might be notable — but if he’s indeed available and plays actual snaps that would be significant in diminishing one of the biggest concerns on the team.

3. The inside linebackers. Will Anthony Hitchens or Reggie Ragland play? Basically, you can copy most of what I wrote about Berry and put it here.

4. Sammy Watkins’ effectiveness. Let’s not get crazy here in overanalyzing production, particularly at a position as situational as receiver, but Watkins has basically been an empty Starship so far in the preseason. If he’s healthy, there’s every reason to believe the production will come. But it would be nice to see him and Mahomes develop something that resembles a rhythm.

5. Breeland Speaks. The Chiefs are in desperate need of a wingman pass rusher for Houston, and Speaks may have the brightest future among the most likely candidates — plays the run better than Ford, more of a natural (and more of a Veach guy) than Kpassagnon.

6. Orlando Scandrick. Will be the first time seeing him.

7. Safeties. Between Leon McQuay and Eric Murray, in particular, it would be nice to see more consistency and reliability.

8. No injuries. Really, this is the most important thing.

This week’s eating recommendation is the Izabella at Brookside Poultry Company, and the reading recommendation is Sally Jenkins on “prehistoric” college football coaches killing players.

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">The Chiefs have been dominate against the AFC West under Big Red. Do you think this trend continues this year, or is it looking more like a 50/50 split kind of year?</p>&mdash; Shawn Gentry (@ShawnGentry26) <a href="https://twitter.com/ShawnGentry26/status/1031548423147728897?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 20, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Many of you probably know this already, or otherwise won’t be surprised, but the Chiefs were just 5-5 outside of the division in 2017. The Chargers were 6-4, which you might notice is better, but finished in second place because the Chiefs went 5-1 in the division.

In 2016, the Chiefs went 6-4 outside the division. The Raiders were 9-1 (!) and the Broncos 7-3, so when not playing each other, the Chiefs were actually third out of four AFC West teams (the Chargers went 4-6).

It’s interesting, right?

When not playing division games, the Chiefs are very average, and inferior compared to other teams in the AFC West. But because nearly 40 percent of the schedule is division games, and Andy Reid is the division’s daddy, the Chiefs have won the title outright in each of the last two years.

This is not a new thing. When Reid was hired here, his agent was particularly proud to note that the rest of the NFC East had fired 11 coaches while the Eagles employed just one. This isn’t a fluke, is the point.

Reid is tactically brilliant, adept at finding tendencies and sly about creating his own. It’s not just coincidence that he’s best against the teams he sees the most. That’s coaching.

Now, your question. I don’t see any clear reason to believe the trend won’t continue. I wouldn’t bet on 6-0, or even 5-1, but I’d be at least mildly surprised if the Chiefs aren’t at least 4-2 in the division.

This is interesting, for instance: the Chiefs gave up 22.7 points per out-of-division game, and just 18.7 against division opponents. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but that’s the difference between a rate that would’ve ranked 20th in the league and sixth. The division number is inflated slightly by a week 17 game against Denver in which many starters did not play.

The NFL is famously unpredictable, so maybe the Chiefs are headed toward 1-5 in the division or something. The teams feel mostly even — I’d be surprised if anyone’s better than 10-6, and completely unsurprised if the division winner goes 9-7 — so these small edges take on even more importance.

It’s just, particularly with how difficult their overall schedule is, you don’t need a lot of imagination to see the Chiefs going 9-7 with four division wins.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">If they send Tyreke deep on every single play, how does anyone stop them?</p>&mdash; Mike Frevert (@MikeFrevert) <a href="https://twitter.com/MikeFrevert/status/1031544779434328064?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 20, 2018</a></blockquote>

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One of the great things about sports is that somehow, through magic or something else, there’s a calibration that prevents any one play or player from being too dominant. The NBA is often thought to be the most predictable league, but remember when LeBron went to Miami and people went crazy, among them Jeff Van Gundy saying the Heat would beat the Bulls’ record of 72 wins?

They won 58, and lost in the Finals.

When the Bulls’ record did finally fall, the Warriors lost in the Finals.

We’re talking about football, and receivers, which makes me think about Randy Moss. He is probably the closest thing to a human cheat code in the modern NFL. But he caught 60 percent or more of his targets in just three of his 14 seasons.

As great as JJ Watt is — and he’s amazing — he averages less than one sack per game.

So, look, I believe Tyreek Hill is one of the best five receivers in the NFL and don’t believe a credible argument can be made that he’s not at least in the top 10. He is the fastest man in football, with otherworldly ability to track passes in the air and very secure hands — he’s a shorter (but stronger) Randy Moss.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t defend him. You can use zone coverage, you can put a safety over the top to cut off the deep routes. He’s good enough that he’s going to get loose, but no human is so good that they can break football.

The exception to this, obviously, is and always will be Bo Jackson. Don’t @ me.

But, speaking of Tyreek Hill...

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Inform us how good Tyreek’s ball tracking skills are. He made that turn and catch look easy 70 yards downfield when in reality I think most WR’s lose track of that ball. Is there anyone better in the league right now?</p>&mdash; Anthony Arton (@anthonyarton) <a href="https://twitter.com/anthonyarton/status/1031570287119216640?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 20, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Even more than his speed this is what made it so apparent so early that Hill was going to be a really good player. This is still incredible to me, that a talent like this was so unknown that even the Chiefs didn’t realize what they had.

They figured they had a return man, an upgrade over De’Anthony Thomas, and if he could catch a few deep balls then all the better.

But they had no way of knowing how strong his hands were, how naturally he could high point catches to nullify his lack of height, and in particular how he radars balls in the air without slowing down.

I watch a ton of tape on the Chiefs, and a fair amount on regular season opponents, but you will never hear me claim to be a league wide expert in comparing a specific trait like this.

I’m sure that if I watched a ton of Antonio Brown, for instance, I’d be even more impressed than I already am.

So I’m not going to say Hill is the best at tracking balls in the air, or third-best, or whatever.

What I’ll say is that I’m not exactly sure how Hill could be any better. I can’t think of a time where he’s lost the ball in the air, or even slowed down while tracking except when necessary to make the catch.

If anyone’s better, it can’t be by much.

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This is a great point, and something I think about all the time.

Because if you believe in Andy Reid’s opinion of quarterbacks ... if you believe in John Dorsey’s ability to draft ... if you believe in Brett Veach’s ability to evaluate ... then you have to think about why they drafted Mahomes over a guy who was ripping apart the league before a season-ending injury after six starts.

Watson was one of the few who came out OK on Jalen Ramsey’s machine gun fire across the league, and at this point it would be a mild surprise if he doesn’t win an MVP at some point, right?

This is the most important decision a franchise can make, and particularly with Veach saying Mahomes is the best college player he’s ever evaluated, well, unless Watson turns into a pumpkin there are two options:

1. Mahomes is a Hall of Famer.

2. Reid, Dorsey, and Veach were all very wrong.

Those are high stakes.

You may have noticed I am optimistic about Mahomes. He is more than a ridiculously powerful arm, but even in that one narrow view of his football ability you have to be impressed and consider that it’s more than a parlor trick. He uses the arm strength to throw from different angles, without needing the space and time to set his feet — basically, various ways to help his team win.

I liked Watson more than Mahomes in college. I thought what he did in leading and helping Clemson win, most obviously at the end of the national championship game against Alabama, was next-level stuff.

After watching the Gruden Camp stuff on each, I thought it was much closer, and after watching way more tape than necessary I believe he was the right pick for the Chiefs and is going to be a star.

But, whether you agree with any of that or not, you have to admit that waiting 34 years to take a quarterback in the first round and choosing the Air Raid guy over the one who beat Ala-damn-bama at the tape in the national championship game and then watching their own guy go bust and the other go get a bust would just about be the Chiefs-iest Chiefsy thing the Chiefs could ever do.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">You see Pete Schrager talk about Mahomes? What are the chances that Mahomes truly has a highlight reel type of throw every single game?</p>&mdash; Kyle Coffey (@kylecoffey11) <a href="https://twitter.com/kylecoffey11/status/1031548954754932736?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 20, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Didn’t hear what that fella said, so I’m not sure if I’m agreeing or disagreeing, but if the question is whether I’d bet even money on Mahomes making one WTF play per game ... yes, I would make that bet.

There will be games he doesn’t, obviously. There will be games he’s awful, I suspect.

But if you just think about what we’ve seen so far, you have the deep ball to Robinson while rolling right with a defensive end in his face against the Titans, the stiff-arm to the defensive end and side arm throw between three defenders off balance on the sideline against the Bengals, something like three or four absurd throws in Denver*, and now a 70-yards-in-the-air bomb that was neither a perfect spiral nor totally on balance in Atlanta.

* Blitzer around his hips, strike to Albert Wilson thrown before the break.

- No-look pass that froze Brandon Marshall and earned a first down.

- The first completion to Demetrius Harris, thrown 30-some yards down field into a window the size of a cereal box.

- The one against the sideline, thrown in the face of pass rushers, through something like three defenders to Robinson near the sideline for a first down on the last drive.

Let’s just be realistic here. I don’t know why we’d expect that trend to stop, or even slow down.

He’ll become smarter about when to take risks, which could affect what we’re talking about here, but he’ll also become smarter about what’s possible, which could just mean more highlights.

In some systems, or with some coaches, I’d be a little worried about the wow being coached out of the kid. This isn’t as true as it used to be, but football coaches are a conservative people, and there are men around the league who would buy a Ferrari and drive it like a tricycle.

I don’t think that’s Reid, though. I believe he’s gone into this with eyes wide open, and that part of what attracted the Chiefs to Mahomes was his ability to do the absurd.

Cleaning out some of the unnecessary risks will by nature mean fewer let-it-eat moments, but they’ll also scheme to this in some ways, so in real games that matter I absolutely believe we’ll see the following:

Left-handed passes, no-look passes, touch passes to defenders still two steps from their break with defenders nearby, four-seam fastballs through linebackers, passes thrown while falling down, passes thrown while fighting defenders to stay upright and, of course, 70-some yard missiles to the fastest receiver in football.

Here’s what else I’m sure of: Mahomes is good for business if you’re a sports bar or sports columnist.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">How would you describe Patrick Mahomes’ voice?</p>&mdash; Greg Adams (@G4D4MS) <a href="https://twitter.com/G4D4MS/status/1031568566708068353?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 20, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Kermit with a smoker’s raspiness and East Texas twang. It really is a treasure.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Let&#39;s play oddsmakers. % chance these guys make the Chiefs&#39; roster:<br><br>Ben Niemann --&gt; preseason darling but LB seems crowded<br>DAT --&gt; w/ Tremon Smith getting buzz, is he expendable?<br>Charcandrick West --&gt; feels like he may lose RB musical chairs<br>Patrick Mahomes --&gt; ... in 2028.</p>&mdash; Danny Lawhon (@DannyLawhon) <a href="https://twitter.com/DannyLawhon/status/1031545165020913665?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 20, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Niemann: 85 percent. I get that there will be difficult decisions there, but they need depth at that position and he can play special teams.

Smith: 85 percent. I’d have had this even higher before they signed Orlando Scandrick, but still, I think they’re encouraged about his future.

De’Anthony Thomas: 70 percent. Honestly, I’m surprised he’s lasted this long, but he’s likely no worse than the fifth-best receiver on a team that’s likely to keep six.

Charcandrick West: 40 percent. The team wants depth there, and he’s a beloved teammate, versatile player. Maybe that’s enough, and a lot of this depends on Spencer Ware’s availability, but at some point a good player is going to be let go.

Mahomes in 2028: 70 percent. Good quarterbacks don’t move, and I think he’s going to be a good quarterback.

Our beat writers Brooke and Lynn predicted the entire 53. They both had Niemann, Smith, and Thomas. Lynn has them keeping West, and Brooke has Ware. On this, I stand with Brooke.

They did not answer about Mahomes in 2028 because they are professionals, not some carnival sideshow like your boy.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Should the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Chiefs?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Chiefs</a> sign George Iloka and become even more cash strapped?</p>&mdash; Jared Stach (@JaredStach) <a href="https://twitter.com/JaredStach/status/1031551259927621632?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 20, 2018</a></blockquote>

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First, let me say that I expect this to be a moot point because I expect the Chiefs to be outbid.

But, man, he’s exactly the kind of player the Chiefs should be interested in.

His reputation is reliability, of being consistent rather than spectacular, and Pro Football Focus has some numbers that back up a scout friend’s analysis that he’s better in coverage than against the run.

That’s what the Chiefs need, if we’re honest.

I know there’s a lot of talk about Eric Reid, and he makes sense in a lot of ways. He’s a good player at a position of need, with a strong football IQ which would diminish some concern you’d have about a late start.

Reid’s part in the player protests is clearly part of this story, and the part that most are talking about when it comes to the Chiefs. But what I don’t know is how the grievance affects things. At this point, would Reid see an offer as legitimate? Would he reject an offer for less money than he’d like because he wants to see out the grievance process? Are teams being dissuaded from reaching out to stay out of the process?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, but neither do many of the people clamoring for the Chiefs (or any team, really) to sign him.

Now, I know we’re jumping around a bit here, but even without the protests* I believe Iloka is a better fit for the Chiefs than Reid.

* And, just so we’re clear: it’s very, very hard to believe Reid’s unemployment is strictly about football, even with the general market for safeties cratering this past offseason.

Assuming health, the Chiefs appear to want two inside linebackers on the field most downs. This makes perfect sense to anyone who watched them try to stop the run last year, but if you’re going with that strategy you’re more interested in your safeties covering over the top than helping with the run.

Generally speaking, Iloka is better against the pass, Reid better against the run — that same scout friend points out the 49ers essentially played Reid as a linebacker at the end of last season.

The Chiefs should be prioritizing coverage at safety, therefore Iloka is a better fit.

But, again. Plenty of teams could use him, and many will have more cap space.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Are the Chiefs coaches watching the same film on Cam Erving as the rest of us? And they’re still comfortable with that as opening day starter??</p>&mdash; Todd Ruback (@rufus5890) <a href="https://twitter.com/rufus5890/status/1031544052762767360?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 20, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Well, it’s not what you want.

If it were up to me, I’d take a longer look at Parker Ehinger there. He’s been moved (mostly) to tackle, listed as the backup on the right side in the latest depth chart. There are some rough edges with him, and his injury history means you can’t assume availability, but to me he’s worth a shot.

My assumption is that the Chiefs don’t believe yet that they can trust him to stay healthy, and that they like Erving’s drive a little more and, if we’re being honest, this isn’t a hill anyone should be willing to die or even be mildly injured on.

I don’t think Erving is a good answer at left guard, but if the Chiefs are I do think he might be the Chiefs’ best answer there.

But the main reason I wanted to include this question is to remind you that nothing happens in a vacuum. Offensive lines are overmatched, outmanned, and in many ways being legislated against in today’s NFL. The athletes they’re being asked to block are growing more freakishly talented every year, and the limitations on practice time mean they’re always climbing uphill.

The Chiefs’ offensive line isn’t great, but if you followed any of the other 31 teams as closely as you follow the Chiefs, chances are you’d feel the same way. Find a Seahawks fan, for instance.

The Chiefs have four lineman you’d at least consider average — I’d argue that Mitchell Schwartz and LDT are each above average, Morse is right there when healthy, and Eric Fisher is average.

That’s a pretty good place to start.

I don’t claim to be an offensive line expert, but to me the problems with the Chiefs’ line have come when those guys are asked to do things they’re not good at. Too many of the blocking schemes are overly complicated, and require perfect execution. That was an especially significant problem in the middle of last season.

This is also a group that’s better in space with athleticism than it is at the point of attack pushing forward, but too many times they’re asked to move the line of scrimmage in critical short yardages plays.

To me, start with that. Simplify the schemes, don’t ask them to move the line of scrimmage, let them get in space and use their athleticism and teamwork.

I believe the line will start to look better then, no matter who’s at left guard.

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Doubtful.

You probably know I think Sutton should’ve been fired, and I believe that even more now than when I wrote about it because the team is sending messages that the problem last year was one of “toughness” or “culture.” To me, those kinds of things start with leadership, and Sutton is the defensive coordinator.

But I digress.

Sutton will need Eric Berry to be healthy, and he’ll need to find a pass rush. He has no control over the first, and showed an unwillingness or inability to help generate pressure with stunts and blitzes last year.

I believe Sutton to be a smart man. I believe he’s a strong defensive mind, and in general believe there’s a lot of promise in his emphasis of versatility.

But, and I wrote about this more here, but there is very little reason to expect major improvement. They have a lot of injuries right now, and importantly for the most part the injuries aren’t believed to be serious.

But what evidence do we have that the defense will be good even if fully healthy?

You can point to Sutton’s first four years, and it’s true the Chiefs were generally good defensively then, but that was a different group. Derrick Johnson was dominant for stretches. Justin Houston was among the best to do it. Marcus Peters was intercepting balls at a higher rate than anyone else in the league.

That’s a lot of change, and a lot for Sutton to push through.

He might be able to do it, and if the Chiefs can somehow climb toward the top half in defense this will be a really dangerous team.

I just don’t know why you’d expect that to happen. Hope, sure. But we can hope for a lot of things.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Are the Royals still playing?</p>&mdash; Jason Fuehne (@jfuehne) <a href="https://twitter.com/jfuehne/status/1031544470511206400?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 20, 2018</a></blockquote>

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They are!

I get the disinterest from many, I really do. People are busy, and three hours a day to watch is a lot to ask. People have bills, and a night at the ballpark can be expensive. I get it. Truly, I really, really, really do, and this is something like the 3,153,395th of 8,489,390 times I expect to say this in my life:

It’s not up to fans to support a team. It’s up to the team to be worthy of that support.

All that said, if you’ve tuned them out, the Royals are actually showing some positive signs:

- Brad Keller continues to impress. He’s over 100 innings now with a 3.32 ERA — that would be 19th in baseball if he had enough innings to qualify — and his peripherals are improving. He’s figuring out a way to miss more bats without raising his walks. If nothing else happened this year, finding a 22-year-old with long-term and cheap club control who’s a candidate for a contender’s rotation would be a significant positive for a 100-plus loss season.

- Adalberto Mondesi is showing spectacular flashes — a 23-year-old switch hitting shortstop who hit a 437-foot home run, is one of the 10 fastest players in baseball, and has appeared on ESPN’s Web Gems. There are many rough edges, most obviously a red flag ratio of 39 strikeouts and four walks, but there’s also enough to believe in.

- Whit Merrifield, still very good.

- Brett Phillips needs to hit consistently, but he’s shown more than enough moments of the talent — particularly on the bases and in the field.

- You’re going to laugh, but Brandon Maurer has given up just one run with 13 strikeouts in his last nine outings (all one inning each).

- Jakob Junis has been mostly good since bottoming out against the Indians last month.

Look, there’s a reason this team is terrible. A reason they’ll probably lose their 100th game with weeks to spare* and will almost certainly be the worst team in franchise history.

* If my math is right, they’re currently pacing for loss No. 100 in game No. 144 — Tuesday, Sept. 11 at home, if you want to be there.

Some of that is stuff that’s irrelevant to the future, like Alcides Escobar being second on the team in plate appearances and DFL in baseball in OPS.

Some of it is disappointing, too — Jorge Soler’s health, Jorge Bonifacio’s .665 OPS, Sal Perez hacking his way to a career worst season while continuing to stress his knees behind the plate every day, and Danny Duffy’s inconsistency.

All in all, there are some positives here. This was never going to be a winning season, and the front office’s biggest miss was pretending otherwise.

But there are positives, too. Some pieces in place that might still be around for a good team in 2021, if you want to believe.

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I have no issues with how he’s managing, in part because I very literally could not care less whether the Royals win or lose. That is immaterial at this point other than draft position and bonus pool, so in some ways, Ned should be managing to lose even if the Royals will never operate like that.

The point right now isn’t to win games. It’s to figure out who can play, which necessitates some lineup juggling.

Jorge Bonifacio, for instance, needs as many plate appearances as possible. Brett Phillips should play. Rosell Herrera, same thing. Alex Gordon is still around, and maybe we’ll have a conversation sometime about that, but even with Brian Goodwin and Soler on the DL that’s four outfielders you want to have playing.

At times, they’re going to need to shift around.

If you’re talking about Mondesi, his last 10 starts have been at shortstop, and he’s started in 10 of the last 12. I know I’m in the minority, but I believe with all my heart the Royals have done the right thing in bringing him along somewhat slowly.

He was so overmatched two years ago, and really wasn’t hitting well in the minors this year, it makes sense to try to maximize his chances of success. I’m all for it. Escobar won’t be around next year, and I know you just rolled your eyes at that, but he won’t. It’ll be Mondesi’s turn to, um, take the diaper off.

But the kid already failed once when the Royals (mistakingly) threw him in the deep end.

Doing it again would be something like that definition of insanity everyone uses.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">3 in a row, 3 shutouts, last two against western conference contenders. What happens the rest of the season with the new additions? Has Diego figured out how to start a game AND score goals? Guess at final position headed into playoffs?</p>&mdash; John Bostwick (@JohnB_911) <a href="https://twitter.com/JohnB_911/status/1031576543745769479?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 20, 2018</a></blockquote>

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I’m going to have much more about Sporting Kansas City later in the week, and I hope you read it, so I’ll keep this part shorter.

But generally speaking, I believe in this team. I think it’s the best team Sporting has had since the 2013 MLS Cup champs.

There are a lot of reasons for the annual funk, most obviously injuries, and they’re now mostly healthy. There are reasons you can poke holes in the three wins — Houston’s red card, LAFC and Portland each being tired — but those are also excuses.

Everyone has stretches where they play three games in a week, and everyone is free to not take an early red card.

When this group is healthy, it can be as good as anyone in the league. They have scorers, they have defenders, they’re starting to gel around the possession style that Peter Vermes wants for this group.

The key, and again I’ll write more about this later, is whether they can play at home in the postseason.

Vermes and others will generally downplay this, but history shows this is important.

At the moment, they’re tied for second with a match in hand on LAFC. It would be a significant disappointment if they dropped lower than second, and if they’re as good as I think they are when healthy, they should be able to make a serious push toward Dallas.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">What advice do you have for anyone starting a sports blog?</p>&mdash; The Fitz (@FitzDaddy85) <a href="https://twitter.com/FitzDaddy85/status/1031544367247503362?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 20, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Three pieces of advice above all else.

1. Read as much as possible.

Read whenever you have the chance to read. There has never been a moment in human history when so much good writing is readily and freely available, and you can’t convincingly say you want to do this for a living if you’re not consuming large amounts of the good stuff.

Also, don’t just read the way your neighbor or friend would read. Do it as a student of the game. Analyze what the writer did well, what you’d do differently, and how you’d go about it. Pick out a handful of writers you really like, and read as much of their stuff as you can. Notice style differences, think about how they approached the writing and more importantly the reporting. Think about what they do that you can learn from, and what they do that you don’t like. Do this constantly.

2. Write as much as possible.

Steal from people you respect, and this is a very different thing than plagiarism. DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. But you can steal writing techniques. And you should. We’re all some combination of writing techniques we’ve taken and modified from others.

Also: fail. If you don’t write something that turns out terribly, you’re not taking enough chances. You have to push limits, especially when you’re young and/or just starting out. If you don’t fail, you won’t know where those limits are, and you’ll never get better. Failure is good, and should be welcomed in like a friend.

3. Don’t waste the reader’s time.

Readers are smarter than ever, and they CANNOT WAIT to not read whatever you’ve written. Seriously. I don’t mean that as hyperbole. They can’t wait to put it down, because if you’re writing about sports, this is an escape, and their life includes real stuff they need to get to. Their phone or computer also includes so much other stuff they can read, and time is precious, so if you waste their time not only are they going away but you risk them never coming back.

That means you have to give them something they’ll remember. Maybe it’s in pleasant writing, but more likely you’re going to need to tell them something they didn’t know, teach them something, make them laugh, make them think, make them do something.

I believe the biggest mistake that young writers make is thinking they can build a career with nothing more than opinion and good writing. We all have opinions, but especially when nobody knows who you are those opinions better have some evidence. You better be doing reporting, provide numbers, video, and if I didn’t mention it already you better be doing reporting. That will always get you read, and noticed.

Sorry. I know I said three points of advice, but here’s a fourth: please stay away from my job.

I have a family. Just let me be.

This week, I’m particularly grateful for a wife and familial support system that means we can usually absorb a setback. Our younger son started preschool yesterday* but my wife noticed some bumps that turned out to be Noah Syndergaard Disease. Obviously, less than ideal, but my wife has a flexible schedule and we have grandparents near so everyone can keep going. I’m well aware that this would’ve wrecked a lot of families’ weeks.

* (EXPLETIVE)!

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