Sam Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: Royals still lead the ALCS, a Cueto theory, sinking Chiefs, and chicken fingers

Johnny Cueto had a very bad night Monday in Toronto.
Johnny Cueto had a very bad night Monday in Toronto. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Last year, you might remember, the Royals won Game 6 of the World Series 10-0. It was less a baseball game than a party. Yordano Ventura was great, Mike Moustakas homered, the Royals put up seven in the second inning, and rolled.

They lost the next night.

Baseball history is full of turnarounds like this. It’s part of what makes the game fun. So unpredictable. It is such a daily grind that ballplayers who reach this level have to be able to leave one bad day behind. There is always a game the next day, or the day after.

So in the wider view, the Royals losing 11-8 to the Blue Jays in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series here is not a huge thing. They were a significant betting underdog last night, if you believe in that kind of thing. They are still a (slight) favorite to win the series, if you believe in that kind of thing.

There is a pattern to some series, particularly those that aren’t a mismatch. I mentioned this on Twitter last night, but according to WhoWins.com, baseball teams that win the first two of a best-of-seven series at home have lost Game 3 (on the road) 64 percent of the time, and they won the series 80 percent of the time.

Now, I don’t know what any of that really means for these two teams, in this series, in this moment. Maybe nothing. The point is that losing Game 3 is not a killer. Actually, if we’re doing metaphors, losing Game 3 is a bit like that foul ball that caught Eric Hosmer in the mouth last night:

Stung in the moment, left him bloody, but there is no lingering pain or side effect.

However, no starting pitcher in at least 113 years has done what Johnny Cueto did last night: eight earned runs while collecting six outs in a playoff game. It was an enormous failure by a pitcher too talented for this kind of thing. Cueto was, obviously, a hot topic among the questions, so let’s leave it there for now. Busy week.

The reading recommendation is Stephen Galloway on the strange saga of the Steve Jobs movie, and the eating recommendation is the chorizo fundido at Port Fonda.

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

It was fine. Nobody died. The series is not over. In fact, the Royals still lead the series. They were disappointed, obviously, but there have been much worse moods.

There are more positives to take from the game than you would expect after an “ace” gives a historically bad performance, actually. The Royals scored eight runs. They did not lie down. They had some great swings on Marcus Stroman and did enough to Toronto’s bullpen to force the closer into the game.

Those are small things, obviously, but if Toronto is in a position where it wants to use Roberto Osuna the next two days, it could mean something. If nothing else, they got a fresh look at him.

This is the kind of game that might’ve sunk the Royals before. There was a time that they didn’t have the internal swagger to deal with something like this. You can hear them admit that now, most clearly when Ned Yost talks about how the team had so much trouble performing in front of big crowds before last August or so. That feels like an incredibly long time ago now, doesn’t it?

The Star's Andy McCullough and Sam Mellinger discuss how Johnny Cueto fell apart in the Royals' 11-8 loss in Game 3 of the ALCS on Monday night in Toronto. Game 4 is at 3 p.m. Tuesday on FS1.

None of this means the Royals will win the series, of course. The Blue Jays are very good, particularly now that Troy Tulowitzki is swinging the bat better. It will be a tough series to win for either team. I happen to believe the Royals are the (slightly) better team and that they will win the series.

But more importantly, the Royals believe that. In spite of what happened last night.

At the moment, yeah. He’s hitting .583, actually, and slugging .917. I mentioned this in a video before the playoffs started, but I wonder if there’s something to the idea that he could mentally reset after the regular season ended.

That’s one of the things you hear a lot about Mike Moustakas last year. Teammates, coaches, even Moose. They say he put a lot of pressure on himself to perform in what he knew was a big season, and it started snowballing the wrong way on him. Once he got to the playoffs, he could forget about all of that, and just try to win a game. I wonder if the same thing is happening with Alcides Escobar now.

But if we’re talking about ALCS MVP, the series is, at most, only halfway done. Kendrys Morales and Ben Zobrist are hitting well, too. Edinson Volquez could make a case with another strong start. Wade Davis is still a cyborg.

In things like this, awards that deal with such a small number of games, I’m a big believer in moments. I thought Lorenzo Cain had the moments against Baltimore last year and deservedly won the MVP. I don’t know that we’ve seen the moment yet.

My theory, and I alluded to this in the column, is that his confidence is shaken. That’s a chicken and egg thing, because nobody’s going to be confident when they’re getting drilled, but I think something switched for him when he was traded, and to another league.

I think it got him out of his comfort zone, pitching to new hitters, with new teammates, new coaches, and he has struggled with that adjustment. I think he relies on deception and timing and winning the mental game, and he’s not doing any of those things right now.

He’s an easy guy to read on the mound. When he’s pitching with a quick pace, he’s usually feeling good. When he’s attacking the strike zone, he’s confident. When he’s not doing either of those things, his margin for error is smaller than someone like, say, Felix Hernandez.

After giving up eight runs in two innings, Royals starting pitcher Johnny Cueto said he couldn't adjust from the bullpen mound and left pitches up. He was charged with eight runs in the Blue Jays' 11-8 win that cut the Royals series lead to 2-1 wi

I also believe the crowd affects him. These are all just guesses, of course, but I have a hard time believing it’s total coincidence that his two playoff meltdowns were on the road, and his Game 5 masterpiece against Houston was at home.

Over his career, he has a 3.00 ERA at home and 3.56 on the road. At home, his walks are down, strikeouts up, and opponents’ batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentages are all down. He pitched virtually his entire career in Cincinnati, which isn’t exactly known as a hitter’s ballpark.

I don’t know. It’s a mystery. But Game 7, if it happens, will be at Kauffman Stadium.

The most annoying thing, and it’s not close, is that my cell phone doesn’t work here. Whatever is No. 2 on this list might as well not exist.

I know this is the part where I’m supposed to make a hosers joke, or say eh a lot, or make a reference to Canada not having an air force or something, but I like it here. The people are nice. Toronto is a great city, even if it looks like every building was built in the 1960s or 1970s.

I’m looking forward to walking through the hockey Hall of Fame and, if things fall right, smoking a Cuban cigar. I am entirely sure the Cuban cigar thing is overrated, like Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, but these are the things I look forward to, so get off my case.

And, actually, the cell phone thing isn’t that big a deal in 2015. I can still get on wireless, which means I can still call or FaceTime with the family, and I’m trying to be on my phone less anyway, so maybe this is the kick start I need.

So I guess it’s time to talk about the Chiefs. OK, fine. They should be better than this. Honestly. They won nine games last year, beating both Super Bowl teams, and improved. Rodney Hudson left, which hurt, but Ben Grubbs came in (that used to be a good thing!), Jeremy Maclin filled an enormous need, Travis Kelce figured to be ready for a star turn, and the team essentially added Eric Berry, Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito.

I don’t get it. We can talk about the offensive line, and it’s been horrible*. We can talk about Alex Smith, and he has regressed**. We can talk about the defense’s struggles (before the last two weeks, anyway) or Sean Smith’s suspension or any number of other problems. But the whole is much less than the sum of the parts, to sort of borrow a phrase.

* If I had some more time, toward the top of my to-do list is a video study to put a little more context around what’s going on there.

** This is No. 2 on the list.

The problems are many, and they are diverse. One thing you can’t help but wonder about is how this season might be different if they didn’t blow that Denver game in such spectacular fashion. This things are always diagnosed most often with hindsight, but maybe the energy and confidence of knocking off the AFC West kings could’ve inspired something.

Maybe that could’ve meant holding off the Bears, standing tougher against the Bengals, being better against the Vikings. Maybe not.

I tend to think the Chiefs would merely be 2-4 at this point, but it’s a fine thought exercise, I guess, until you get to the unavoidable conclusion that there is no good answer here.

Either the Chiefs are legitimately 1-5 bad — other one-win teams include the Lions and Jaguars! — or they are so mentally weak that one bad (OK, very bad) break essentially ruins the season. If it’s the first answer, the whole thing might need to be blown up. If it’s the second answer, then the season was going to be doomed by the next bad break, and there’s a culture problem to figure out.

I don’t know. My guess is the Chiefs finish 5-11, something like that. Which is far from good enough for this roster, in the third year of the leadership group’s time together.

So, yeah. This is the kind of season the Chiefs are headed toward. Not just disappointment, not just losing, but the kind of failure that fans find offensive.

There is a certain element of not just letdown, but of being fooled. Of being sold a proverbial bill of goods. The Chiefs were supposed to be over these kinds of failures. They have good players. They have one fewer good player than they did before Jamaal Charles got hurt, obviously, but still. They should not be this bad, but, well. Here we are.

Looking forward, barring a big turnaround, the Chiefs are likely to be the underdog in every game with the exception of the Lions in London*, and perhaps the Browns at home. That is an entirely depressing sentence. Maybe Landry Jones will be the Steelers’ starting quarterback this weekend and the line will end up pick ’em.

* Although, you know, if you’re a Lions fan you’re looking forward to a winnable game.

The Chiefs have had more experience than they’d like with lost seasons. They have had some where guys have given up, and some where guys have stayed together. I don’t know what the difference is, although my first guess would be the priorities and personalities of the most important guys in the locker room.

Dear Chiefs fans,

I know this season is not going like we all want, and for that I am both sorry and extremely frustrated. We are working hard to fix this, for a lot of reasons, none bigger than the fact that 21 (going on 22) years without a playoff win is embarrassing to me professionally and personally. We are all in this together, and as a very small token of my appreciation for your support, every ticket is now good for one free beer or soda. Also, I’m giving Sam Mellinger a lengthy one-on-one interview because he’s just the best.

Sincerely,

Clark Hunt

All of this would be handwritten, of course. Bill Snyder is slacking.

My guess is after the game in London. The Chiefs are on a bye the next week, which makes for easy timing.

The problem with this is there are no answers the owner can give other than winning games. Clark Hunt makes for an easy target. He’s the chairman, the son of the founder, and the team is both terrible at the moment and decidedly mediocre over the long term. That’s a wicked combination, and it would make for some easy, fun, well-read and popular columns to put him on blast.

The problem is I don’t believe he’s the problem. I just don’t. He’s hired two different leadership groups, and both seemed like good ideas at the time. Scott Pioli was the consensus top GM candidate when Hunt made that hire. Hindsight shows us that was a disaster, but at the time, it was the right move.

Hunt hired the best football man available, and then let him do his job. That’s what you want in an owner, right?

Now, again, with hindsight, we see some mistakes. Hunt was too deferential to Pioli. He stayed too far out of the way. He should have been able to see the corrosive culture Pioli had built sooner, and he certainly should have been able to see that Pioli and Todd Haley would be a terrible marriage.

Hunt’s second time through, he made some smart adjustments. He again hired the best man available — this time it was the most accomplished head coach — and paired him with a GM who had a strong personnel background with a model franchise. Now, the power structure is built so that both the coach and GM answer to Hunt, which means nobody has Pioli’s unchecked power. This is good.

And that, to me at least, is where an owner’s job starts. Hire good football people, then support them to do their best.

Like, with Jerry Jones, how is that working out? Is that the model for success? It would be nice to hear from the owner more often, but after a while, I would think the same rhetoric would grow stale. Also, I’ve never sensed that Clark Hunt is comfortable in front of cameras, and I don’t think he makes a strong presentation in broadcast media. So there’s that.

But, I know where this is headed, so let’s go ahead and deal with it...

It’s obviously not working, but I don’t know how you fire the chairman. His family is not going to do it, which means he’d have to step down, which means it’s not going to happen.

And, guys, I just don’t see how that’s the right move. If this thing goes south fast and far enough that Clark has to make some hard decisions after the season, don’t you want the next coach and GM to be the best and most qualified people available? That’s what Clark has done, twice.

I don’t want this to come off like I think Hunt is terrific, like I think he’s the best owner in the league. I think he’s fine. I think he’s not the strong leader and amazing man that some who work for him want you to believe, and I think he’s not the bumbling fool some fans think he is when the team stinks.

I do think he should be more visible, and vocal, but also respect that he sees his relative silence as respect for the men he’s hired.

Has to be, right? Given K-State’s putrid history before Snyder arrived, it is nothing short of remarkable that they just suffered their worst ever home loss. Barry Switzer and Tom Osborne each had cracks at a lot of terrible K-State teams. That this was the worst ever home loss is just stunning to me.

Now, acknowledgements have to be made. K-State has had horrendous luck with injuries. Every team has injuries, but injuries this deep and wide would sink a lot of programs.

All that said, K-State did not get whipped by the Green Bay Packers. They got whipped by Oklahoma, a good program, sure, but a program that will almost certainly not win the Big 12.

This is a problem, and a significant one. Snyder and K-State have built the kind of track record where they deserve the benefit of the doubt, but this is the kind of loss that should set off alarm bells.

First of all, chicken fingers are delicious and should be enjoyed with appropriate dipping sauces by children and adults of all ages. People who tell you otherwise need to take their misguided judgment and false righteousness and play in traffic. These people need not be tolerated.

We got some chicken nuggets for the boy a while back. At first, he didn’t like them. Wouldn’t touch them. But, as it turns out, Trader Joe’s makes delicious frozen chicken nuggets so we kept buying them. The only downside is you really need to do them in the oven, and that can take a while, but that is a small price for delicious chicken nuggets that we all now enjoy as a family.

Full disclosure: I also sometimes eat the corn dogs we get for him. But whatever. Those are good, too, you monsters.

Other than The Star, I can’t say I read everything that anybody writes. I’d like to, but it’s too hard to catch everything.

I can tell you some favorites, though, and in no particular order: Lee Jenkins, Kent Babb, Jason Gay, Kevin Clark, Mike Vaccaro, Joe Posnanski, Dan Wetzel, Jeff Passan, Tim Brown, Adrian Wojnarowski, Jenny Vrentas, Benjamin Hochman, Dan LeBatard, Chris Ballard, Michael Hamburger, Tim Layden, S.L. Price, Tom Verducci, Don Van Natta, Seth Wickersham, Gregg Doyel, Chris Jones, Eli Saslow, Liz Merrill, Brian Phillips, Dave Sheinen, Dan Sternberg, Adam Kilgore, and I know I’m missing some people.

Obviously, there’s not enough time in the day. But there are so many good writers out there. Some I read for their ideas, some their writing talent, some their reporting chops, and I want to steal something from all of them.

Ten percent.

He would have to be really, really, really bad. Like, he’d have to be as bad as he was against the Packers over and over again.

That’s my feel on it, anyway. I just think Dorsey and Reid are married to this. Chase Daniel is a free agent after this season. Smith is here for at least one more year. Also, benching Smith means essentially giving up on on the plan, or at least admitting that an enormous part of the plan was wrong from the jump.

They have so much invested here, financially and otherwise. I mean, it’s just hard to see. It’d be a fun column to write though!

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