Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Trying to believe Mahomes is this good, Royals’ real surge & more

My income is dependent upon providing stories and perspectives that are worth your time, which means your clicks mean my kids get to eat pizza, and as such I don’t like it when someone says something better than me.

This is particularly true when someone makes my own point better than I did, so with that in mind, I’ll show you why I hate Gabe DeArmond right now:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I’m gonna call this “Sam tries to make himself believe what he is seeing can’t be true” because that’s where we all are</p>&mdash; Gabe DeArmond (@GabeDeArmond) <a href="https://twitter.com/GabeDeArmond/status/1041487152767393795?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 17, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Yep. Pretty much.

I hope you read the game column, and Vahe’s piece that focuses more on Patrick Mahomes, and all our coverage — Lynn on the offense’s toughness, Blair on the defense, Brooke on the six touchdowns, and more.

But, really, Gabe’s right. I’m trying to force myself to believe reality, and I don’t think I’m alone.

Patrick Mahomes can’t be this good. He just can’t. He will not finish this season with 80 touchdowns and no interceptions (his pace through two games) or a passer rating of 143.3.

He is not Superman. He is not the modern version of Otto Graham, or the real-life version of Randall Cunningham in Madden ‘92.

Eventually Mahomes will play from behind. Eventually teams will figure out a weakness, but at the moment my best guess would be to blitz the dog out of him and hope you can knock him down and move his eyes but that also brings about a lot of potential problems.

We’ll get into this more later, but aside from everything Mahomes has going for him in-house — his own talent, good coaching, an absurd group of playmakers around him — Mahomes is riding a nice wave.

The average passer rating in Week 2 was over 100. Great as Mahomes has been — and he’s been dang near perfect — he’s 10th in yards, second in yards per attempt, and second in passer rating.

He may be a star already, in other words, but quarterbacks around the league are essentially playing this season on rookie mode.

But, there I go again. Trying to talk myself out of believing what’s in front of all of us.

Chiefs GM Brett Veach caught some grief — including from me — for calling Mahomes one of the best players he’d ever seen before he’d played even one meaningful game.

But, you guys.

What if Veach was just stating facts?

This week’s eating recommendation is the Why So Serious bowl at Freestyle Poké, and the reading recommendation is Greg Bishop and Robert Klemko on the unraveling of the Seahawks.

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Are you concerned the Mahomes bust in Canton wont do justice to how his hair actually looks?</p>&mdash; Rob Brenton (@FastTalkinRob) <a href="https://twitter.com/FastTalkinRob/status/1041687557803794432?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 17, 2018</a></blockquote>

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The best part of Patrick Mahomes’ start here is that nothing feels fluky. That’s the point I was making last week, and the thing that’s so dang intriguing. We’ve seen good moments before, but we knew Justin Houston wasn’t going to be a dominant pass rusher forever, for instance.

Here, with Mahomes, it feels like getting in on the ground floor for the biggest story of the next decade of Kansas City sports.

This is like watching the Royals’ rebuild begin in 2006, but with much more confidence in what the final product will look like.

We can temper the excitement as much as we want, and it’s absolutely true there will be some setbacks.

But it’s also OK to open arms and wrap this story up in a big ol’ bear hug.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Which is more likely to continue - the D playing comically bad, or Mahomes playing comically good? As much as I believe Mahomes is the real deal, I&#39;m afraid of the honest answer...</p>&mdash; Eric Wieberg (@ewieberg) <a href="https://twitter.com/ewieberg/status/1041689181376925696?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 17, 2018</a></blockquote>

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I actually believe both might happen, and some of it is a league-wide trend that affects both sides:

We are watching the NFL’s equivalent of baseball’s so-called steroid era.

Numbers are inflated to ridiculous levels. If you play fantasy football, you’re probably seeing it there, too, with weekly scores that would’ve won previous years now showing up as losses.

The NFL has pushed offense for a long time. This is nothing new, but what used to be extremes are now normalized. This is everywhere. Pass rushers are asked to double as magicians, the helmet rule has opened the middle of the field, NFL offenses are way ahead of defenses strategically, and offensive linemen are getting away with more holds:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">This is the Big Ben line of scrimmage play we were just talking about. But look at Justin Houston, rushing against the left tackle. The LOS call is really close, but the hold seems pretty clear. <a href="https://t.co/vbNUCI6oPa">pic.twitter.com/vbNUCI6oPa</a></p>&mdash; Sam Mellinger (@mellinger) <a href="https://twitter.com/mellinger/status/1041680746405089280?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 17, 2018</a></blockquote>

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The construction of the Chiefs’ roster and coaching staff means that they would be offense first in any era, but playing in this one has amplified the effect.

That’s good for Patrick Mahomes, bad for Bob Sutton, and something we should all keep in mind going forward.

Look at the numbers. Barry Bonds leads the league in yards, yards per attempt, yards per completion, yards per game, passer rating, and, I’m sorry ... did I say Barry Bonds?

I meant Ryan Fitzpatrick.

This is the most the league has ever advantaged offense and disadvantaged defense. Every team in the league will deal with this, on some level, but the Chiefs could be the most extreme example.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">As someone with Chiefs/Packers dual-fan hood, I think this question can be asked now: &quot;If there&#39;s a new franchise starting today, (who could pick any QB in the league to build their team around) would Rodgers or Mahomes be the pick? Rodgers is better, Mahomes has ALOT more years</p>&mdash; Chandler Wilson (@cjdub11) <a href="https://twitter.com/cjdub11/status/1041706181616705541?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 17, 2018</a></blockquote>

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So, yeah. This is a thing that people are now talking about.

Mahomes has a lot of advantages. Obviously. He’s 12 years younger, and I’m not sure if we’re supposed to be considering contract status in this hypothetical, but Mahomes will cost a grand total of $13.5 million of cap space through 2020 and is under team control through 2021. Aaron Rodgers will cost $113.5 million in cap space through 2021, and $37 million the next year, unless the Packers take a $11.5 million hit in dead money.

Rodgers has a lot of advantages. Obviously. He’s a Super Bowl winner, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, and even at that salary likely underpaid for what he’s worth. He’ll turn 35 soon, but he’s athletic, and in today’s NFL he could easily have five more seasons in him.

My choice would be Rodgers. If you have the chance to take the best player at the most important position, you do it, regardless of the other factors.

There are more factors, too. Mahomes has done this for two games, surrounded by a gluttony of talent, with one of the best offensive minds in football coaching him. Rodgers has done this for a decade with various receivers he’s made stars, and Mike McCarthy as head coach.

I can be swayed, however. The age and money are huge factors, and this comparison only goes so far, but it’s worth looking at what Rodgers did in his first season — at 25, after three years of learning:

Completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 4,038 yards, 28 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and a 93.8 passer rating.

I’ll take the over for Mahomes.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">What&#39;s up with all the flags? Are the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/chiefs?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#chiefs</a> really that undisciplined?</p>&mdash; KSchaser rooting for the Chiefs in NE (@kschaser1) <a href="https://twitter.com/kschaser1/status/1041694616406425600?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 17, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Well, yes. They are undisciplined. This isn’t new. They’re tied for second in most penalties, a year after finishing sixth.

It’s worth noting the Chiefs were generally in the middle third in penalties in Reid’s first four seasons here, but the point is this isn’t an aberration. And I’ll defend some penalties.

Aggressive penalties are fine. Sometimes, you commit a penalty just because you’re beat. That will happen. But the false starts, repeated mistakes, any basic miscues like formations or 12 men in the huddle ... those are the ones you need to clean up.

If this weekly time suck was focused on the Steelers, we’d probably talk about that last personal foul roughing the kicker. Can’t have that.

But this team will, generally, commit some penalties.

One thing that’s different is they have an offense that can make up for it. One penalty with the ball doesn’t have to kill a drive, and one penalty that extends a drive or leads to points on the other side doesn’t have to change the outcome.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">What was the percentage of offense drives ending in touchdowns with Smith the past 2 years (similar weapons)? I feel like Mahomes is making a huge difference there, which is gonna help the Chiefs win big-time games.</p>&mdash; Marco Marquez (@MarcoTaquito2) <a href="https://twitter.com/MarcoTaquito2/status/1041743884571893761?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 17, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Lets go to the numbers!

The 2017 Chiefs had 168 possessions with Alex Smith, resulting in 36 touchdowns and 40 field-goal attempts (36 made). That’s a touchdown percentage of 21.4, and a score percentage of 42.9.

The 2016 Chiefs had 162 drives with Smith, resulting in 31 touchdowns and 28 field goal attempts (25 made)*. That’s a touchdown percentage of 19.1, and a score percentage of 34.6.

*If you care, I’m not counting a possession in Indianapolis where Smith began and Foles ended it with a touchdown.

So far, the 2018 Chiefs have 23 possessions with Patrick Mahomes, resulting in 10 touchdowns and one field goal attempt (it was made). That’s a touchdown percentage of 43.5, and a score percentage of 47.8.

So, yeah. That’s a thing. Keep in mind, the Rams led the league in points last year, and they scored touchdowns on 23.7 percent of their drives and scored points on 45.3 percent.

With that perspective, what the Chiefs did last year was in line with the best in the league, so I’m not expecting this 43.5 number to hold up. And, if the point is to compare with Alex Smith, as we saw in Pittsburgh, Sammy Watkins is a significant addition.

But, still.

Mahomes changes how this team attacks, and changes what it is.

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Sing it, Dolores.

Look. I will point out a few things here.

The Chiefs forced three straight punts when they needed it in the second half. If not for Chris Conley’s fumble, they’d have likely given up just seven points in the second half.

I’ll get into this more later in the week, I think, but those trends generally match up well with an on-field adjustment, which makes it easier to believe in.

The Chiefs used a lot of three-man rushes in the first half, dropping guys back in coverage to blanket the Steelers’ receivers. That strategy can work, and is one teams have used with occasional success against Tom Brady. Roethlisberger picked it apart, though, and actually the Chiefs got lucky with some missed throws.

At halftime, the Chiefs used more blitzes, and different looks. All three of their quarterback hits and their only sack came after halftime. There were other times they hurried Roethlisberger, and once where a great call was ruined by a combination of Eric Murray missing an open lane and Roethlisberger being a Hall of Famer and difficult to sack:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Andy Reid talked about Bob Sutton making a halftime adjustment. Oversimplified, it was bringing more blitzes, different looks. Worked enough, could&#39;ve been more. This is a big miss by Eric Murray, sack would&#39;ve meant 3rd and long. Steelers scored a TD on this drive instead. <a href="https://t.co/NpAqndWva9">pic.twitter.com/NpAqndWva9</a></p>&mdash; Sam Mellinger (@mellinger) <a href="https://twitter.com/mellinger/status/1041713360713207809?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 17, 2018</a></blockquote>

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I’ll say this, too. I’ve been mildly concerned with Justin Houston. He was basically invisible against the Chargers, and watching live against the Steelers I didn’t notice much then, either.

But the second view was kinder on him, showing some snaps he won, some pressures he created, and a few really impressive run stops. The penalty on Scandrick wiped it out, of course, but that fumble-six was caused largely by Houston pushing the right tackle into Roethlisberger’s chest.

So, yes. The defense has given up more than a thousand yards while forcing just one turnover*, which is an astounding fact, but I’m not sure it’s time to freak out just yet for a few reasons.

*A second turnover was caused on special teams.

First, it’s just two games. Second, it’s just two games against Hall of Fame quarterbacks who lead offenses likely to each finish in the top 10. Third, they’ve made important stops. Fourth, if the creativity and more blitzes after halftime in Pittsburgh are a new trend, they could be a little more disruptive as we go along.

And fifth, and perhaps most important: the NFL is essentially dictating that defenders play with cement shoes.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Brett Veach has the once in a lifetime chance to hop in a time machine. Does he still trade Marcus Peters?</p>&mdash; Tyler Watterson (@thebiggszone) <a href="https://twitter.com/thebiggszone/status/1041691298942672896?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 17, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Probably, and this is a difficult thing to write about because I’m in the position of explaining a decision I disagree with but here goes:

The Chiefs traded Marcus Peters because they could no longer deal with him. They believed he had become too disruptive, too often freelancing the defense, too often on his own program both on and off the field. There was a thought within the front office about doing everything possible to make it Mahomes’ locker room, too. They believed the problems would only amplify as Peters neared a second contract, and there was a possibility of a holdout this year in camp.

Now, I disagree here. I believe that if you have someone that talented with — and this is important — a deep love for the craft and desire to be great, then you make it work. I believe this is particularly true when your head coach is known as someone who can get the most from so-called difficult personalities.

At the very least, it would be nice for a team to admit a fault here, to say something like, “You know, we pride ourselves on getting the most out of everyone, and we really got to like Marcus through the draft process and thought he could be here a long time. We’re sorry we didn’t do enough to make it work.”

But, all that said, I’m not in the meetings, or on the bus, or at practice. The Chiefs coaches and personnel guys believe they did everything they could, and that it just wasn’t going to work.

I can disagree with that — and believe that if the coaches and locker room were as good as they believe they could’ve found a way to move forward — while still respecting the fact that the people who lived it believed they did everything possible.

I know I took the scenic route to the answer here, but I’m trying to explain why I believe Veach would do the same thing again.

Now, all of this brings up a logical follow-up...

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Should/will the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Chiefs?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Chiefs</a> explore outside options for the defense? Obviously have the ability on offense, would be a shame for it to go to waste because the defense is atrocious.</p>&mdash; Alabaster (@yaboykstak) <a href="https://twitter.com/yaboykstak/status/1041687032748298242?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 17, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Bashaud Breeland is the most obvious answer here, but NFL defenses across the league are being torched and none have signed him. That’s worth thinking about.

We’ve talked about this before, but Breeland does not come without baggage, and for a team that’s committed itself to getting back to one message, this would be a potentially risky sign. Breeland lost a $24 million contract over the summer, it would make sense that he’d feel more like a mercenary, and less like a teammate.

Eric Reid has been mentioned, and I’ve made this point before, but here goes one more time: I don’t think he’s a good football fit for the Chiefs. He’s a little more of a box safety, almost a linebacker, really, and the Chiefs need much more help in coverage than they do against the run.

Because I didn’t mention it earlier, this is a good spot: I don’t think Peters’ protests during the national anthem were the reason he was traded, and I don’t think Reid’s protests would keep the Chiefs from bringing him in, particularly now that there’s no league-wide policy.

The other name I’ve heard some of you mention is Patrick Peterson. This would be an immediate and significant upgrade, scheme adjustments be damned — but I’m not sure it’s feasible.

Peterson is a $15 million cap hit, which is about twice what the Chiefs have available, even without accounting for teams generally protecting their last few million in case of emergency.

Now, the NFL salary cap is a bit of a flat circle, so there are probably ways around that, but even then the Cardinals aren’t going to give him away, and there would be more basic questions like how much the Chiefs should chase a 28-year-old cornerback on a big contract when Tyreek Hill, Chris Jones and Kendall Fuller will need to be paid soon — particularly when the front office always looked at 2018 as a soft rebuild.

It’s complicated, is what I’m saying.

And at least at the moment, I don’t think they will or should reach for a quick fix.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I refuse to invest in <a href="https://twitter.com/Chiefs?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Chiefs</a> hype until they win a home playoff game. Am I wrong to think the <a href="https://twitter.com/Royals?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Royals</a> could win NEXT YEAR with their current lineup (minus Escobar, plus Soler), current starters, and if Lovelady and Staumont could give decent relief innings?? I want to believe!!</p>&mdash; Jon Blumenthal (@JonBlumenthal) <a href="https://twitter.com/JonBlumenthal/status/1041699287233712130?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 17, 2018</a></blockquote>

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That’s ... a stretch.

I mean, look. Nothing’s implausible. One of the best things about baseball is the unpredictability, and it’s true that the Royals have only been outscored by one run since the All-Star break.

Pitching is a concern, which is why the Royals went so heavy on it in the draft, and I presume why you’re couching the optimism with help from two of the club’s better prospects.

A bidding benefit of young teams is that they’re generally healthy, which means progress can more closely resemble the optimistic view. But they’ll need more from Perez*, they’ll need Brett Phillips to hit, they’ll need Jorge Bonifacio to hit, they’ll need Hunter Dozier to hit, they’ll need the rotation to continue to improve, and they’ll need some spots in the bullpen to firm.

*There was a time that Perez’s mood was a concern. That’s an awkward way of saying it, but basically, there was worry that all the losing was sapping Perez’s energy. He’s passed that test, and that’s worth noting here.

I’d expect some of that to happen, but it’s crazy to think ALL of it will happen.

We’re going to talk more Royals below, in just a minute, but generally I view this as ground zero for the rebuild. There’s a chance the thing sticks much quicker than the last one, particularly with pieces like Mondesi and Merrifield and Perez already in place.

So, sure. I’m not here to tell you what to do. You can believe the Royals will compete next year, and I will tell you that’s swell. We should all be optimistic about things.

But this team is going to lose 100 games, and not change much in the offseason. Expecting that to result in a playoff chase the next year is a big ask.

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I’m bad at this game, but just superficially there’s some Case Keenum in there. Maybe a little Derek Carr-ish?

Sam Bradford?

At this point am I simply listing tall-ish, skinny-ish, athletic-ish quarterbacks in an attempt to answer a question I’ve been considering myself for some time?

You betcha.

Drew Lock is gifted, and has a chance to be the first quarterback taken in next year’s draft. He is smart, athletic, blessed with a big arm. He is, in a lot of ways, the prototype. He can throw with velocity, with touch, with distance. He’s competitive as hell, greedy enough to work, and I thought the decision to come back showed maturity and humility.

But — and I know this can be said about any quarterback — where he’s drafted is critical.

There are rough edges. Sometimes the reads are jagged, sometimes the accuracy is inconsistent. He may show a lot of these criticisms to be outdated this season, and the win at Purdue was impressive.

So, the hope would be that a strong offensive mind selects him, or that he’s surrounded by some strong playmakers or, in the best possible scenario, both.

Maybe Tennessee is ready to move on from Marcus Mariota. Maybe the Broncos think he’s the future. Maybe Bill Belichick falls in love and makes him the next Jimmy Garoppolo. At some point the Giants will need a new quarterback. The Saints, too.

There are a million ways this could turn, and most of them are out of Lock’s control.

But particularly early, I think it’s important that he find the right environment, because I just thought of another comparison: Jared Goff.

He was awful as a rookie, with Jeff Fisher as the head coach, then awesome in his second year, with Sean McVay.

I think Lock can be pretty good, in the right fit, but (and, sorry, here’s one more comparison) I thought the same thing about Blaine Gabbert.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Can Mondesi be an MVP player</p>&mdash; Cody Tapp (@codybtapp) <a href="https://twitter.com/codybtapp/status/1041693981019656193?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 17, 2018</a></blockquote>

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One hundred percent yes.

Will he be an MVP?

That would be more like 5 percent. Remember, as good as those 2015 Royals were, a rather distant third-place finish by Lorenzo Cain is as close as anyone got.

Mondesi is a comet. The thing I hear baseball people say about him the most often — and baseball people are talking a lot about him right now — is that he can change or even dominate a game in so many ways.

He can help win a game with a diving catch, or by throwing someone out from the hole. He can turn a cleanly fielded ball by the pitcher into a single. He can win by scoring from first on a double. He can also win in the obvious ways, like home runs into the fountains or stealing so many bases the opposing pitcher loses his mind.

The same as I’ve always been partial to basketball players who could win without scoring, I’ve always loved baseball players who can win without big offensive numbers. If guys can win a game for you with their glove, with their arm, with their speed, those types of things show up far more often than 3-for-4 with two home runs.

The great thing about Mondesi, of course, is that he is entirely capable of also going 3-for-4 with two home runs.

He is a switch-hitting shortstop with supernatural speed and enough power that if that was his only tool he would be a legitimate prospect or even a big-leaguer by now.

I wrote about this a little last week, but the key for him is going to be how he manages the strike zone. He’s struck out 59 times and walked just eight in 231 plate appearances. That’s problematic on its own, but according to FanGraphs he swings outside of the zone more than all but 29 regular big leaguers, and makes contact on those swings less than all all of them.

There are indicators — both from a scout’s eye and metrics — that Mondesi is improving recently. But, still, this is a significant potential problem.

He can improve here. The coaches compliment his willingness to work and listen. Scouts like his hands. He’s only 23 years old. This is not the finished product.

And, really, that’s the best part of Mondesi. He’s good right now — .291/.319/.481 with 25 stolen bases in 62 games, plus enough highlights to last a lunch break.

But he’s only going to get better. Chasing pitches outside the strike zone — it’s the low pitches that give him the most trouble — is the most likely thing to keep him from stardom.

But I think what he’s showing is that his floor is that can be a useful regular on a championship team, and his ceiling is that he can be the best player on a championship team.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I&#39;ve ignored the Royals pretty much since mid-April, but I keep seeing &quot;Hey Hey Hey&quot; Tweets from their Twitter account. What the hell is going on?</p>&mdash; AJ (@AJTrueSon) <a href="https://twitter.com/AJTrueSon/status/1041693749380886530?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 17, 2018</a></blockquote>

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They’re fun now!

They’re winning, and that always helps — 14 of their last 22. But they’re also doing it with guys who’ll either be around for a few years* or guys who MIGHT be around for a few years.

*Mondesi, Merrifield, Junis, Keller.

*O’Hearn, Dozier, Skoglund, Goodwin.

If you’re an optimist, maybe this is sort of 2008 of the last rebuild. Maybe 2009-ish, the part where a lot of the best players are either in the minors or yet to be acquired — remember, the Royals will likely pick second overall next year — but you’re getting the first look at some who will eventually be drenched in champagne.

We all have different ways of viewing things, and none of them are wrong. I respect and understand anyone who’s bummed that Mike Moustakas isn’t still around, for instance.

But at least for me, part of the fun of the last month or two is that the Royals no longer feel tethered to this past they were incapable of replicating without a complete reset. They’re building something new, instead of trying to salvage what’s left of something old.

Adalberto Mondesi’s occasional mistakes at shortstop might lead to something enormous and awesome. Alcides Escobar’s dependability there was a vestige of a bygone era.

If and when the Royals are ready to win again, it is entirely possible — and in some spots likely — that every member of last night’s starting lineup in Pittsburgh will be around with the exception of Alex Gordon.

You can watch the Royals with imagination now, is I guess what I’m saying.

For the first few months, you sort of had to do it with resignation.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">If DB wins 2 B12 games is he coaching at KU in 2019? What if one of those games is @ KSU?<br><br>If DB and the Fightin’ Hawks do pull off the Sunflower upset in November does BS return next year?<br><br>If the Big 8 was still a thing what would the final standings/records be?</p>&mdash; scottwildcat (@scottwildcat) <a href="https://twitter.com/scottwildcat/status/1041690695889760256?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 17, 2018</a></blockquote>

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I would think so?

Two wins would be four on the season, which would be more than the first three seasons combined. If you say you’re looking for progress, and you’re giving him a fair shot to keep his job, I think you have to keep him.

That Pooka Williams looks like a star is particularly important, not just because he’s a freshman, but because he’s a freshman from Louisiana — a tangible result of Tony Hull’s recruiting influence.

The decision presumably becomes more difficult if KU wins one conference game, and Kansas will probably be a betting underdog in each remaining game.

Three wins would represent improvement, but depending on how things looked — other than bodybuilding competitions there is no place in the world where optics matter more than college sports — you can imagine Jeff Long making a new hire.

I don’t want to talk about the Big Eight. I miss the Big Eight, you guys.

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I believe this is the best Sporting team since 2013, and you know that’s the last time the club won the MLS Cup.

That, to me, is the expectation.

I don’t know if Sporting is the best team in the league. Dallas is tough, LAFC hasn’t lost in more than a month. Whoever comes out of the Eastern Conference will be good.

But Sporting is better than it’s been, too, and not just historically but just in this season. They’re healthy, finally, and at full strength they are a wicked good fit for Peter Vermes.

Sporting has relied more on Tim Melia being Superman than you’d prefer from a championship seeker, but it’s nice to know that’s in the toolbox, too.

You’re asking about the last game, and the way LAFC is playing, who knows, there could be seeding on the line.

But if Sporting plays to its ceiling, there’s a chance seeding is a moot point by then, too.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">What’s your most important travel purchase? Noise cancelling head phones? TSA Precheck? In flight WiFi?</p>&mdash; Deiner (@DnrWnr) <a href="https://twitter.com/DnrWnr/status/1041688258109956096?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 17, 2018</a></blockquote>

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In-flight wifi can go play in traffic. Yeah, I said it, and I said it because it’s true.

It takes a while to get connected, and once you’re connected, the wifi runs with the reliability of a toddler asked to keep a secret and all the speed of a line at the DMV. Best case scenario, you can send some emails. More realistic scenario, you’ve spent $8 and 45 minutes of your life waiting for like two websites to load.

OK. Moving on.

Top five travel purchases*:

*A list!

5. TSA Precheck. Most people would have this higher on the list, I know, but here’s the thing: lines usually aren’t that long, taking your shoes off means an extra, what, 30 seconds? And once you’re through, you’re through. The exception to this rule is if you’re traveling with family. Anything that cuts the amount of time you spend in line with small children is a win.

4. Spotify. Truthfully, I spend more time listening to podcasts than music, but whatever your pleasure, it’s never been easier to listen to whatever the heck you want wherever the heck you are.

3. The biggest water in the airport. I drink a ridiculous amount of water. I’m like a marathon runner, without the hassle of all that running, and maybe it’s just in my head but traveling makes me thirsty. I’m typing these words on my connecting flight, so I’ve had a shuttle ride from my hotel, a flight from Pittsburgh, layover in Chicago, and now a flight home and I’ve had at least 120 ounces of water.

2. Movies or a book. The only time I ever manage to enjoy either is on a trip. Right now I have a couple LBJ documentaries waiting on my iPad, and I’m looking forward to those, but this weekly timesuck isn’t going to suck itself, you know?

1. Noise-canceling earbuds. I spent more money than I was comfortable putting on an expense report and more than I’m comfortable telling you here on a pair of amazingly effective noise-canceling beauties and they’re worth every penny. People talk about screaming babies, and I get it, maybe your view on these things change once you travel with kids of your own and have a more personal empathy for a parent dealing with that. But BY FAR the most annoying airplane passengers aren’t kids — they’re adults who won’t stop talking. They just wash away once you flip that little miracle switch.

This week, I’m particularly grateful for NFL Gamepass. Maybe you think that’s a weird thing to be grateful for, and maybe you’re right, but along with help from many in the game it’s the best way I know to study and learn more and come up with column ideas. A lot of us bash the NFL a lot, and for good reason, but this is a really helpful tool for those of us who love the sport. I wish college football offered something similar, actually.

Sam Mellinger

Sam Mellinger is a Kansas City Star sports columnist.

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