Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Not as early for Royals as it used to be, generational comedies and dumb comments

Jeff Bridges, Steve Buscemi and John Goodman star in “The Big Lebowski,” one of Sam Mellinger’s favorite comedies.
Jeff Bridges, Steve Buscemi and John Goodman star in “The Big Lebowski,” one of Sam Mellinger’s favorite comedies. photo

So, the Royals are in a mess. They are playing poorly. Very poorly. They are not hitting, and more than that, they are not having a lot of good plate appearances. They’re not hitting fastballs, in particular, which has been a staple of their rise from the ashes.

Their pitchers are walking far too many batters, a significant concern since so much of their approach the last few years was to make the opposition put the ball in play against the sport’s best defense. Only once in the last six games has their starting pitcher finished even five innings. Mike Moustakas, who was hitting well and is an important part of the team’s energy and personality, is on the disabled list.

The good news is there are some signs of progress, if you’re willing to look hard. Lorenzo Cain is swinging a little better. Eric Hosmer is playing terrifically, particularly with the bat. There are too many good track records on the roster to believe this can continue much longer.

But we are starting to get into the worry zone. Monday night’s loss dropped the Royals to below .500 for the first time since July 2014. Chris Young faced 14 hitters and gave up five home runs.

The Royals are very clearly not playing with the same energy that defined their 2015 season. Some of that is because that energy was almost supernatural, but low energy is closer to low effort than the Royals want to be.

The White Sox have a six-game lead in the division, and are seven games ahead of the Royals. The White Sox will certainly not keep their current 113-win pace, but they could play .500 the rest of the way and win 87 or 88 games.

The season is young, but it’s not as young as it was a week ago. The Royals’ funk is stretching the limits of being able to write it off as just a bad stretch.

Their first major decision may be in front of them. Young has a 6.68 ERA. He is giving up a .612 slugging percentage, which would rank sixth in the league for hitters. Put another way: Hosmer is on pace for by far the best season of his career and is slugging .560. His .949 OPS is one point higher than the league is hitting against Young.

The obvious move would be to flip Young and Dillon Gee, who’s been very good in the long relief role, and last night went 5  1/3 innings with one run surrendered, lowering his ERA to 2.61.

Young’s next start would be at home, where he is much better, and against the Braves, who stink. I wouldn’t be surprised either way, particularly since the Royals want to keep Young’s innings down anyway. There are other moves the Royals could make, some of which we’ll talk about here.

But without a turnaround soon — very soon — we are starting to get to the point where legitimate, fair, and real worry set in about the encore to the Royals’ world championship.

This week’s reading recommendation is Eli Saslow on LeBron the half-activist, and the eating recommendation is pepperoni and onion at Pizza 51.

If you don’t already, please give me a follow on Facebook and Twitter, and as always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading.

There are a thousand ways to answer this, starting with the broadest, which is that no Royals fan should be panicking about the Royals until at least three years have passed since the parade. Maybe five.

Honest. Maybe bookmark this page. Because if you find yourself frustrated, or ticked off, or feeling like your team is letting you down and you don’t know what to do about it, please come back here and watch the following video:

If the Royals go 75-87 this year, finish 16 games behind the White Sox or Indians or whoever, they will still have won two pennants in a row and last year’s World Series championship. Ticked off Royals fans will find little empathy in the world.

But in the more specific sense, yes, sure, absolutely, the Royals are underperforming so far. The rotation is unsteady, and the offense has been, with a few exceptions, consistently impotent. They need more production, and one of two guys hitting well is now on the disabled list. So that’s not awesome.

I do believe in the 40-game theory, which means we’re about a week and a half from the point where I think initial judgments can be fairly made. The Royals need more from the guys who are capable of more — Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Kendrys Morales are vastly underperforming so far, but they’re not alone.

In the meantime, I continue to believe the following:

▪ The Royals are a good team, with good players, and a very good track record.

▪ They are not playing well, at all, and are still 15-16. There’s value in that.

▪ The 2014 Royals were under .500 after the All-Star break, and I was not alone in laughing when Ned Yost brushed it all off by saying they were a second-half team. That group made the World Series.

▪ The 2015 Royals were one of the more consistent teams in recent baseball history, and even they had a miserable stretch of May and June where they lost nine of 11, scoring two runs or fewer in each of the nine losses. That group won the World Series.

▪ I don’t know if it’s a loud minority, or just the natural frustrations of fans spilling out with easier ways to communicate, but there seems to be a sort of race to be the first one to say it’s over, or to be the first one to say it loudly. The Royals might win another World Series this year, and they might miss the playoffs completely. Either is a distinct possibility. But to say you are sure that one or the other will happen is nonsense, and I’m happy to say this out loud and repeatedly.

Let’s review:

In the last 18 months, the Royals have ended a 29-year playoff drought, made a virtually impossible comeback in one of the most memorable do-or-die playoff games in recent baseball history, won consecutive pennants, and the franchise’s first World Series in 30 years.

In short, two years ago, many fans were ticked off because they’d heard nine years of “it’s coming, just be patient, trust us and our process,” with only one winning season to show for it. Now, many fans are upset that the team is at .500 in early May.

Also, the Chiefs won a playoff game.

Yes, the curse — and it was always a totally serious thing, which you can tell by the totally serious tone of this story — is broken.

Folks in Cleveland, Buffalo, Atlanta, San Diego, Washington DC, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Houston, Cincinnati and probably others do not have patience for your frustration over a slow start the season after winning the World Series.

Cubs.

Here’s why:

All of that anticipation, and confidence, mixed with fear and a history of coming up short, all of that, that wild and irrational bunch of emotion entangled in your body and brain and soul ... all of that is the fun of being a sports fan.

Being a Royals fan is awesome right now because your team is the reigning World Series champion. At any dull moment of your day, you can get on the Google machine and call up the eighth inning in Houston or the eighth inning against Toronto or Alex Gordon’s homer off Familia or Eric Hosmer’s sprint to the plate or the champagne party or the parade.

But it’s the struggle we all remember, the journey, much more than being there. We can sit in the homes we spent a decade saving for and remember the crappy apartment in sophomore year.

The Cubs — and let’s disclaimer this right now by saying it’s May freaking 10th, and if someone offered you a bet where they got the Cubs and you took the field, you should make that bet 11 times out of 10 — may be on that journey right now.

All of that euphoria that filled Kauffman Stadium after the Wild Card Game, and after the clinch against the Orioles, and the Wade Davis Game against Toronto, and of course around Kansas City and beyond after the World Series, that’s what Cubs fans will feel if this thing turns into a championship.

There is nothing in sports quite like a championship that transcends the routine, in other words. If the Warriors win the NBA title again, it won’t feel like it did last year. The Royals are the champions, and that’s great, but there is more fun to be had by Cubs fans this year.

Nineteen-oh-eight, you guys. And they haven’t even been to the World Series since 1945, which means nobody old enough to remember that is still working, and most of them are dead. That was so long ago that the National League included the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Boston Braves, and no divisions.

Thirty years is nothing to them.

Well, OK, so I’m already tired of prefacing things with “calm down folks it’s the middle of May and the Royals are playing badly and still just one game below .500” stuff, so when questions like this come up, can we just all assume they come with the disclaimer?

Anyway, I disagree here. The Royals have a lot of guys who can play right field. Brett Eibner is hitting the bejeezus out of the ball in Omaha, he would be an obvious candidate for a look. Raymond Fuentes could come back up. Jose Martinez. Travis Snider. Maybe even Bubba Starling. They have bodies there, is the point.

They’re in the process of seeing if they have an internal fix at second base with Christian Colon. I happen to believe Colon can be a guy who doesn’t hurt you, and particularly if Infante is going to have problems with his backhand, will be fine defensively. His footwork isn’t as good, but his arm is better. After that, Whit Merrifield has played primarily second base in Omaha. Raul Mondesi is having some pitch recognition struggles at Class AA, but the front office has been open-minded about him coming up at some point. Rustin had a timely look at whether Cheslor Cuthbert could play second.

And they have a lot of pitching depth. If someone gets hurt or needs to be replaced in the rotation, the most intriguing possibility is transitioning Danny Duffy. Maybe the Royals want him to concentrate on being the best reliever he can be. If that’s the case, they can try Dillon Gee, or Miguel Almonte (struggling in Omaha), or John Lannan (also struggling in Omaha), or Brooks Pounders.

They have depth. Depth is not the problem.

A Chiefs football question!

Schedule analysis is almost always a waste of time, but then again, so is this weekly post.

One of the biggest things that sticks out is the road schedule. Could be brutal. Houston, Pittsburgh, Carolina and Denver are all 2015 playoff teams. The Panthers and Broncos did quite well in the playoffs. The Falcons and Colts went 8-8 last year, and I assume the Colts will be better. Oakland might be very good. The Chargers stink, but as I’m thinking of it, I suppose there’s the possibility that it would be their final home game in San Diego.

That would be something.

Anyway, nobody likes hearing it, but I’m at 8-8, maybe 7-9 for the Chiefs in 2016.

I don’t. And I haven’t in a very long time, maybe not ever. There are a lot of reasons for this, I guess. Never been part of my routine, never been something I’ve felt compelled to do. Some of it is time, and a lot of it is I’ve never felt short on reader feedback.

I’m pretty open. I respond to every email (sometimes I get backed up, and I’m sure I’ve missed some by accident), many or most tweets, every voicemail that asks for a return call, and read everything left on my Facebook page.

When I’ve read online comments at the end of stories, it often seems to be a mess of fake bravado, shameless trolling, dishonest arguments, and worse. I find that when people contact me directly, it is much more thoughtful and productive. Especially the ones who disagree with something.

So, I haven’t seen anything people have said on the site about either of the Tyreek Hill columns, though I’m quite certain I have an idea of the general feedback.

Maybe this is a good time to mention, then: I love hearing from readers, no matter the feedback, and if you ever find yourself wanting to reach out, please email me at smellinger@kcstar.com or one of the other aforementioned ways.

One of the things I pride myself on here is emotional honesty. I don’t fake outrage, or joy, and sometimes that’s at the expense of what would make for a better column that day.

But I do that so that when something does tick me off, or make me happy, then you know it’s genuine. You may not agree with it, but at least it’s genuine.

So, with that in mind, I do not have the emotional energy or enough outrage to waste on Bartolo Colon being suspended for PEDs four years ago.

Actually, I don’t have the emotional energy or enough outrage to waste on any athlete being suspended for PEDs.

I assume a lot of them do. I assume athletes I know, and like, have used PEDs. I assume athletes you cheer for, and who have played for your team and provided you moments that made you happy, have used PEDs. The system incentivizes PED use, with the rewards far outweighing the risks, and the cheaters will always be a step ahead of the tests.

The system is rigged, you might say.

I also don’t think we’ve ever had a truly honest conversation about PEDs. The whole issue has been, in my mind, disingenuously presented and debated. This is not a boogyman.

Athletes who use a little artificial enhancement are not inherently bad people, and it is incredibly petty and dishonest and worse to act like our collective innocence is smeared by an athlete taking a drug that he or she thinks will make them better at the thing for which they’ve dedicated their lives, and for which they have fame and wealth on the line.

Apologies for the tangent. We can talk more about this if you guys would like.

In the meantime, you can find me on Team Bartolo.

Coincidence.

The problem with the Royals is that their offense stinks and their pitchers are walking too many guys.

The problem is not a controversy from two weeks ago.

I enjoy the powder blues, especially if they go full, head-to-toe powder blue. But the Monarchs look is also strong, particularly this one, and this one.

Rotate them, if you want. Fridays and Sundays, at home, powders-Monarchs-Monarchs.

Who would be against this?

No friend of mine, that’s who.

Yeah, that’s ... weird. They have the third-worst record in the American League, last place in the AL West, and have a worse record than some of the teams in the National League that aren’t even trying.

They’re getting nothing from Carlos Gomez and the DH spot, and they’re not scoring as many runs as they should relative to how they’re hitting overall, but the main problem is the pitching staff is a disaster. They’re last or next to last in ERA, hits, runs and home runs. The reigning Cy Young winner has a 4.70 ERA and is giving up more than a runner and a half per inning. It’s a mess.

If the Royals were playing like the Astros, the less well-groomed sports columnist would be writing with a bit of a different tone, is what I’m saying.

I still love that team, and its talent, and youth, and energy. I still say it’s early.

But it’s not quite as early for the Astros as it is for the Royals.

It’s interesting that both teams have had meetings in the last week to essentially admonish themselves for playing with low energy. Using the Winners Win And Losers Meet theory of life, which is a pretty good theory for life, both teams stink and stink bad.

But I think the answer is Sporting. They haven’t won in six matches, and have been called out for a lack of effort, and in some places ability or effectiveness, by their head coach. Monday was the one-month anniversary of their last win.

How did you celebrate?

With the caveat that every team goes through at least a funk or two in a season, Sporting has been through a long one. Not taking advantage of a man advantage is an Established Thing now, and some of the goals they’ve given up are just sloppy.

The Royals are obviously playing poorly, but theirs seems more a matter of simple disjointedness or consistency, rather than something more fundamental.

The good thing, for the teams anyway, is that it’s early in both seasons and both teams have a track record you can trust. The Western Conference is tough, and you don’t want to lose touch of where you want to be, but as bad as Sporting has been it still holds the sixth and final playoff spot.

The Royals have real issues. The intensity that defined 2015 isn’t quite there. They’re having bad at-bats. The rotation is getting beat around. But this is nothing a lot of teams don’t go through, and the Royals have come back from much worse.

The point with the Royals, and this is something I mentioned in the video with Vahe, is that they may lose 90 games this season and they may win the World Series. It’s all possible. But anyone who tells you they know what’s going to happen, or that either side of that isn’t still possible — and, right now, there sure seem to be more people saying the World Series is the side that’s not possible — is a fool who should be ignored.

Just means you’re doing it right, to be honest.

I know this makes me a cliché on a lot of levels — middle-aged man, dad, Midwesterner, Kansas Citian, etc. — but my favorite part about the weather being nice is being able to grill more.

It’s not that you can’t grill when it’s cold outside. That’s just a fallacy that people who don’t know what they’re talking about like to promote. You can do it. You just can’t enjoy it as much, or take your time, or stand there while the grill heats up with your favorite beer.

It’s a game changer for what you can eat, too. This may sound heretical, but I believe I’ve nailed a Chipotle meal that in some ways is more delicious than the original. The key is the chicken, with that charcoal flavor, plus more cilantro than they use at Chipotle. It’s delicious, and I will eat lots of it tonight, actually.

The only constant truth in this world is that everybody thinks the generation after them is soft, and that their music sucks, and that they don’t know funny.

For instance, I believe any list of the top 10 comedies of all-time that does not include “Dumb & Dumber,” “The Big Lebowski” and “Happy Gilmore” should go play in traffic.

If you’re older than me, you might make the case for “Blazing Saddles,” or “Spinal Tap,” or any of the Monty Python movies.

If you’re younger than me, bless your heart, but you might actually think “Zoolander” or “Borat” or “Anchorman” demand spots in the top 10, and, actually, you’d be right about “Anchorman.”

The point is, you’re right, there is likely no teenager on the planet who would think the Naked Gun is funny. I might also present the following hypothesis: if viewed for the first time today, very few of us in our 30s would think it was funny. Nostalgia is a hell of a thing.

And, actually, I will soon have a framed collage of 1980s baseball cards to prove it.

It would look exactly like the Mellinger Minutes.

Which reminds me: thank you guys for reading!

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