Sam Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: Royals clinching early, Alex Smith’s touchdowns, a Chiefs love story, and Maclin’s silly tweet

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (19) scores a touchdown ahead of Tennessee Titans safety Da’Norris Searcy (21) during Friday's football game on August 28, 2015 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (19) scores a touchdown ahead of Tennessee Titans safety Da’Norris Searcy (21) during Friday's football game on August 28, 2015 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. DEULITT@KCSTAR.COM

Jeremy Maclin is, by all accounts, a good man. Not just by the sometimes lowered standards for professional athletes, but a humble, hard-working, grateful man with an interesting story to tell.

He also said something fairly stupid the other day.

He did it on Twitter, which is where a lot of us go to say something stupid, so this is not a slam on Maclin as much as it is a simple point. Anyway, Maclin’s tweet:

It’s perfectly reasonable for Maclin to be annoyed by fantasy football, of course. He takes his job seriously, works hard at it, and it has be aggravating to hear strangers boil his work down to whether it helps them win a silly fantasy football game against Bob from accounting.

But there is an arrogance in the words that is unbecoming of Maclin, and a lack of perspective that might be fairly blamed on the limits of Twitter and social media. Football is Maclin’s life, but for millions of others, it is something to do for a few hours on the weekend. It is an excuse to connect with friends, or make memories in the parking lot, or a break from worrying about a leaky roof or a kid’s bad grades or how to pay the rent.

There are, quite literally, millions of people who don’t give a damn about the Z-receiver or how to beat a zone blitz or the finer points of a receiver creating space against press coverage. They care about whether their beer is cold and the queso is warm and whether the guy wearing No. 19 for the Chiefs scores enough points for them to win a fantasy football game.

That is perfectly legitimate, and in many ways, much more logical than the fan who puts in enough time to appreciate Maclin’s precise route running and versatility.

But, more to the point, those fans make up a huge portion of the gap in popularity and revenue between the NFL and other American sports leagues.

It’s fine for Maclin to be annoyed at his life’s work being oversimplified by people who don’t know the game as well as he does. It’s also quite reasonable for those fans to be annoyed at their harmless escape being misrepresented and mocked by someone who doesn’t know their lives.

This week’s eating recommendation is the chocolate cake donut at Fluffy Fresh, and the reading recommendation is Steve Politi on Donald Trump visiting a golf tournament.

As always, thanks for the help, and thanks for reading.

Those Yankees were quite ridiculous. They led the league in scoring runs and preventing runs, which is a pretty good start to building a good team. That was a machine. They won 114 games, and then went 11-2 in the playoffs. That was the team of a young Derek Jeter and an old Paul O’Neill; an ascending Andy Pettitte and a resurgent David Cone. So many good players. Jorge Posada, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, David Wells, Mariano Rivera. Then had 10 guys hit 10 or homers, and six steal 10 or more bags.

Most surprising stat, perhaps: they did not have even their division’s highest payroll. That was the Orioles.

Anyway, yes, the 1998 Yankees clinched the playoffs on Aug. 29. Nobody ever did it faster.

You asked about the division, though, and as far as I can tell that mark goes to the 1995 Indians. They clinched on their 123rd game of the season, but that’s a bit misleading since there were only 144 games that year.

That team was next-level, too. Albert Belle hit 50 homers and 52 doubles. Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Eddie Murray and Paul Sorrento each hit between 21 and 31 homers. Kenny Lofton stole 54 bases.

How about this: Manny Ramirez hit .308/.408/.552 and batted seventh in that lineup.

I took a wild guess a few weeks ago that the Royals would clinch on Sept. 18, at Detroit. That’s as good a guess as any, and would give them 15 games to play out the regular season, set up their playoff rotation, make sure the bullpen’s ready, all of that stuff.

I’m sure we’ll get into this more as the days and weeks go on, but there is, basically, no correlation between clinching early and having success in the playoffs. Some teams do, others don’t. Baseball, much more than the NFL or NBA, is about momentum and luck, probably not in that order.

The Royals will feel good about themselves headed into the playoffs, and they should. They worked hard for this opportunity, and this is a substantially better team than the one that represented the American League in the World Series last year.

That guarantees nothing, though, and depending on your perspective either provides more drama and interest or worry and heartache.

Holy crap, congratulations!

Some of you, depending on how long you’ve been reading here and how good your memory is, might remember Rachel. When the Chiefs made the playoffs after the 2010 season, she wrote what is still my favorite email since I’ve had this job. She told the story of going to Chiefs games since she was a little girls, one of these fans who misses so few games they can remember each one — a college graduation, a reunion, and the swine flu.

Anyway, the story picks up in 2009, when the Chiefs went a miserable 4-12, which was actually an improvement from the miserable 2-14 that got Herm Edwards fired, Carl Peterson gone, and began what we now lovingly remember as the Scott Pioli era. So Rachel and her dad had an extra parking pass that year, and they got in the habit of giving it to a random car on the way into the stadium, their way of encouraging fellow football masochists.

They did this every home game, but the Broncos game turned out a little different. The guys they gave the pass to followed Rachel and her dad into the lot, and parked next to them. They offered a beer as a way of saying thanks. Rachel and her dad got a good vibe, so they wanted to give the pass to the same group the next week. Rachel got one of the guy’s numbers, put it in her phone as “Jeff Chiefs,” and, well, they ended up hitting it off well enough that they were engaged almost exactly a year later.

And now they’re having a baby.

This is the best news I’ve heard today. Congratulations, guys.

Derrick Thomas, the year after he had 20 sacks, went down to 13 1/2. Michael Strahan went from 22 1/2 — the NFL record, even if Brett Favre took a dive for the last one — in 2001 to 11 the next year. Jared Allen went from 22 to 12, Mark Gastineau from 22 to 13 1/2, Chris Doleman from 21 to 11, J.J. Watt from 20 1/2 to 10 1/2, Lawrence Taylor from 20 1/2 to 12, and DeMarcus Ware from 20 to 11.

Reggie White followed up 21 with 18, so there’s that, but the point here is that there is a reason guys hardly ever have seasons like the one Houston just had. It’s really, really hard to sack the quarterback and a look through history will tell you it’s damn near impossible to do it 20 times in a season. How many pass rushers have played in the NFL? Hundreds, at least. Probably thousands. And nine have had 20 or more sacks.

So much has to go right. You have to not only beat your man, but pick the right moment to do it, because if it’s a run play or a quick pass you have virtually no shot. You have to not only beat your man at the right moment, but you have to hope your man does not get help, because even a chip block from a running back can ruin your chances. You have to not only beat your man at the right moment, and hope your man does not get help, but then you have to chase down or surprise the quarterback who is taught to do everything he can to avoid sacks.

It’s a daunting challenge, one that Justin Houston is supremely equipped for, but, still. Chances are he doesn’t get to 15 sacks.

The average of the 20-sack follow-up seasons is 12 1/2, so let’s go with that for Houston’s side of this. Hali had six last year, and has averaged about 8 1/2 over the last three. Let’s go with eight for him. That’s 20 1/2.

Smith has thrown 23 and 18 touchdowns in his two seasons in Kansas City. He’ll be working with the best set of skill position teammates of perhaps his career — I’d take Charles, Kelce and Maclin over Gore, Davis and Crabtree, but it’s close enough that we can disagree — and, for the first time in his 10 NFL seasons, will be working in the same offensive system for the third straight year.

Smith is a bit of a divisive figure in Kansas City, and it would make for easier and more fun columns if I was among those who think he stinks, but I believe he’s a solid quarterback who can be better depending on his supporting cast. The offensive line could still be a mess — we need a game or two to see the 1s together — but everything is in place for Smith to have the best year of his career.

I heard the joke you just made about that, and to be honest, it was pretty funny, but I think we’re looking at 25 or so touchdowns, eight or fewer interceptions, with a completion percentage in the mid 60s.

I hope you will allow me to completely go back on this if the offensive line is horrible again.

The fine folks at Baseball Prospectus — and I heard the PECOTA joke you just made, and it wasn’t as funny as your Alex Smith joke — give the Royals a 9.3 percent chance of winning the World Series. That means there is a 90.7 percent chance you will be disappointed. That is slightly less than Steph Curry’s free throw percentage.

For whatever it’s worth, the 9.3 number does seem a bit low to me. But not by a ton. BP gives the Blue Jays a 15.6 percent chance, and the Astros 14.8. Sam Miller, the funny and smart editor-in-chief at Baseball Prospectus, has said that BP’s projection formula has a hard time with the Royals. They are built in a way baseball isn’t used to seeing, and many formulas have a hard time valuing exceptional bullpens and defenses.

But, anyway, that’s enough nerdy talk. I believe that if Greg Holland can get his old form back, the Royals are the best team in the American League. If he cannot get his old form back, it’s closer to a toss-up between them and the Blue Jays and Astros.

I also believe that there is less than a 50 percent chance that the best team in the American League goes to the World Series. This is just the nature of baseball playoffs, particularly a baseball playoffs that does not involve the 1998 Yankees. Last year, that structure worked in the Royals’ favor. This year, it may not.

But, anyway, basically, at this point, I would give the Blue Jays, Astros and Royals an 80 percent chance at playing in the World Series between them. That’s a 27.7 percent chance for each, and if we say it would be a 50-50 proposition in the World Series, the Mellinger Formula gives the Royals a 13.9 — if we round up — percent chance at winning the World Series.

That’s pretty good.

Sure. Toronto is putting up video game numbers. Like, literally, if you had the time and inclination to build a baseball team and play with it every day in a video game, you would probably be 24-6 over the last month while scoring more runs than anyone in baseball and allowing fewer. Unless you were one of those kids who hit the rest button every time something didn’t go your way, in which case you would be 30-0, but you would also later look back on that time in your life with regret and shame.

Anyway, the Blue Jays are very good. But here is, roughly, how the pitching match ups would go:

David Price vs. Johnny Cueto

Mark Buehrle vs. Edinson Volquez

Marco Estrada vs. Yordano Ventura

Drew Hutchinson or R.A. Dickey vs. Danny Duffy or Kris Medlen

Price is better than Cueto, though it’s certainly close enough that you’d expect a close game. Volquez is better than Buehrle, though the same is true about it being close^. The third matchup depends almost entirely on which Ventura shows up, and the fourth is a toss-up, though Duffy (left-handed) and Medlen (throws a lot of strikes) could be awful matchups for the Blue Jays.

^ One thing to keep in mind about Volquez in the playoffs: He’s been mostly fabulous through the fifth inning or so, and then had his struggles after that. In the playoffs, the hook would come much faster with higher stakes and a full bullpen.

The Blue Jays have an absurd collection of hitters, but I do subscribe to the time-tested logic that you can’t mash your way through the playoffs. Toronto has a very good bullpen, though particularly if Holland is right, not as good as the Royals’. Kevin Pillar and Josh Donaldson are fabulous defenders, but overall you would expect the Royals’ defense to save more runs.

So, anyway, the way the Royals beat the Blue Jays in a playoff series: good pitching beats good hitting, the bullpen suffocates the late innings, and Cueto or Ventura or both rise to the challenge.

The Royals and their fans are in a weird place, and I tried to express that here, but there is some worry of a long fall down. That’s understandable. Nobody wants to win 98 games or whatever, and then be out in four in the Division Series. But part of what makes the baseball playoffs so great is the unpredictability. Baseball has become such a quantified game, and every time a team or player has a strong run, you hear someone say “small sample size.” But championships are won and lost on small sample sizes.

Again, last year that worked in the Royals’ favor. This year it may not.

But the Royals have enough that fans of other teams should be scared, too.

Love this question, and I hate my answer. I want the answer to be, like, 60 percent. I want NFL coaches to get over their fundamental fear of what’s been done, to see the reward behind the risk and maybe, just maybe, understand that the laws of mathematics and the history of the NFL prove that there are points to be had by going for two.

I went into this a little more after the last preseason game, but the Chiefs are supremely positioned to take advantage here. There are all sorts of ancillary reasons to go for two more. Blocked 33-yard PATs — much more likely than blocking the old 19-yard PATs — can be returned on you for two points.

A two-point conversion is essentially a coin flip, though a team like the Chiefs — with Charles and Kelce and Maclin serving as particularly dangerous options — would figure to up its chances a tick with practice and planning.

But even if it’s just a coin flip, you have a relatively good chance of coming out ahead or tied, because if you don’t get it the first time, you can get it the second time and then you’re even. If you get it the first time, then you can kick from there on out and stay ahead.

But, whatever. I know this is spitting into the wind of a risk-averse hurricane. My guess is that the Eagles go for two more than any other NFL team, and that they go for two fewer than 20 percent of the time.

I’m guessing, though, that the percentages will be higher next year, higher still the year after, and so on. The Chiefs should be on the front of this, though.

I don’t sense that Omar Infante has a particularly strong presence in there, good or bad. There is some good chemistry with him and Alcides Escobar, but for the most part, I don’t know that I’ve heard Infante singled out as being a leader or a pain.

Guys do watch how teams handle these situations, though, and in baseball more than other sports, longevity matters. Infante is in his 14th big league season. But Zobrist is in his 10th, and is actually a year older than Infante. It’s also Ultra HD 4K clear that Zobrist is the better player, and guys want to win.

Probably. I don’t know if it’s Missouri’s late arrival to the SEC, its 2-6 debut season, something cultural, or something else, but the consistent undervaluing of that program around the SEC is peculiar.

Blair got into this with a smart column over the summer, and makes some good points. If you want to, there are legitimate reasons to doubt Missouri every year. The one that likely makes the most sense, from the perspective of the SEC, is that Mizzou’s rise is as much due to dips by Florida and Tennessee. There are holes in that argument, of course, but the point is that if you’re predisposed to doubting Mizzou you can find sensible reasons to cling onto.

This is all good for Mizzou, of course. College sports and programs are built on perception as much as anything else, so it’s always nice to be highly rated — helps with recruiting and fundraising, among other things — but there is no more trusted motivation move than the no-respect card.

No. I think KU will go 1-11, the one win coming this weekend against South Dakota State. Guys, this really might be a historically bad season. Even by KU’s standards. The roster is rotten. The numbers have probably changed a bit since I wrote this, but as of mid-July they only had 64 scholarship players, and only 33 of them had offers from other power five conference schools.

Honestly, it’s more likely the Jayhawks win zero games than three.

I have no idea if David Beaty will succeed or fail there. I like his energy, and his positivity, though I do think he’s in danger of over promising at times. But, whatever. Let’s look back in a year.

As for K-State, I’d bet against them in each of those games, but if you gave me even odds that they could win of those three, I’d take that bet. Traditionally, K-State’s prospects have largely been determined by whether the starting quarterback is returning, and the fact that Snyder still has not named this year’s starter isn’t an awesome sign.

But, Bill Snyder, man.

I do, actually. I don’t think they will, but they certainly can.

The Blue Jays’ surge has overshadowed the fact that the Royals have been pretty damn hot themselves. They are 17-6 since Aug. 7, for instance, and the remaining schedule is one of the easiest in baseball.

They need a .625 win percentage to get to 100, and if you go through the schedule, there are a handful of times they’ve had stretches of winning at least 20 of 32.

Aside from the fact that teams just don’t win 100 games very often, one thing that could keep the Royals from doing it is a different set of priorities. They’re going to clinch the division with about two weeks to go, and if things keep up like this, they’ll clinch the best record in the league with about a week to go. That means that when they’re going for wins 97, 98, 99 and 100, there could be a bunch of Storm Chasers in the lineup. At the very least, guys like Holland and Perez and a handful of others likely won’t be in their regular or postseason roles.

But, yeah. It could happen. I just wouldn’t bet on it.

Well, I thought that was proven long ago. Sports are our greatest collective waste of time, other than whatever stupid thing is going on with Miley Cyrus or Kanye West or any Kardashian.

We spend an embarrassing amount of time and money watching, reading, listening, and analyzing adults playing kids games. There are a thousand ill effects here, not the least of which are a warped sense of what’s important, and a sometimes dangerous sense of entitlement given to too many athletes and coaches. The whole thing is so out of whack that even as bridges and roads and schools and a million other things need help, we give billions of taxpayer dollars to billionaires so they can more effectively make enormous profits.

All of that is true.

So is this: it’s better than real life.

My dog!

She’s in her prime. About eight years old, give or take, which means she still has a lot of energy but also has dropped most of the idiotic, over-the-top, break-your-lamps-and-your-arms energy of puppydom. She is amazing with our son. Just last night, she did this thing where she jumped in the air to catch a toy, and it’s the hardest he’s laughed in his 18 months. She sleeps perfectly between my legs, chin on my knee, so comfortable that I sometimes have trouble going to sleep when I’m traveling.

I know the answer here is supposed to be a snake or an elephant or something cool and different like that. But it’s my dog, Frankie. And it’s not close.

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

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