I sit here on a lovely autumn evening, windows open, Upland Oktoberfest in a glass, watching MLB game #163. Not a bad way to spend a night, especially with David Price doing David Price things in the early going.
Since I can’t make full playoff predictions until this game is resolved, some final thoughts on the Royals’ season.
As I said last week, I’ve decided to milk the good from this season. 86 wins. Eric Hosmer finally figuring it out, having a monster second half, and ready to establish himself as a true star next year. James Shields was everything the Royals wanted/needed him to be after The Trade. Alex Gordon continued his quiet excellence. Danny Duffy tantalized after his return. Yordano Ventura was stellar in his first two big league starts. Greg Holland was the best closer in the majors, and most of the rest of the bullpen was outstanding as well. And then there were dozens of unforgettable moments, especially in the second half.
All of that was great. It took far too long for a Royals team do all that; it better not be another decade-plus before the next good Royals team comes along.
With that said, there is plenty to complain about. Where Hosmer figured it out, Mike Moustakas continued to look completely lost at the plate. His defense is good enough that he doesn’t need to hit .270+. But he does need to find a way to harness his massive power and hit close to 30 home runs while getting on base 30% of the time, at bare minimum. If he could become an Adam Dunn-type hitter, that would be great. Or even 2/3 an Adam Dunn. There are questions all over the Royals lineup, and Moustakas is the most likely spot where the answer is in place, if he can just figure it out.
We can pick apart Ned Yost all day. I’m in the camp that thinks he hurts the Royals if they’re going to contend for a playoff spot. But, with all the other warts on the team, I don’t think it’s fair to say he cost them a playoff spot. I don’t want him back, which sadly it seems he will be, but you can’t put missing the playoffs this year solely on him.
No, what cost them a playoff spot was the month of May. Throw out that brutal month, when the offense was horrid and the pitching spotty, and the team played at 99-win pace. Maybe that is on Ned, as a team good enough to play at division-winning pace for five months should not have a sixth month that poor. I put more blame on the players.
However, I mostly blame Dayton Moore. He put together a team that still ran Frenchy out most nights in May and Chris Getz most of the time when he was healthy. Most of Moore’s moves last off-season made the Royals better in 2013. But he still left too many holes and the team was far too prone to go on extended streaks where they would score 1, 2, 3 runs and get beat. Everyone understands that the Royals operate under financial constraints because of their market and owner. But for all the work Moore did to built a rotation around Shields, Santana, and Guthrie, he failed to find cheap parts that could have made a difference in a handful of games during their three long losing streaks. Find three more wins in May, one during their 0-5 run before the All-Star break, and two during their 2-10 run in August and the Royals would be playing a 163rd game, at minimum. And as hard as those last five wins are to get, I think smarter management makes them possible this season.
What would I do to put the 2014 Royals in a better position to make the playoffs? Find a serviceable second baseman, someone who has a decent glove but can get on base on a consistent basis. Offer Ervin Santana a two-year contract, but no more. Let him walk if he demands a 3-4 year deal. Do your damndest to find another quality arm in the free agent market, even if it is only a one-year deal. Move hell and high water to get one more legitimate bat, even if that means a package of a current position player, multiple arms from the pen, and a decent prospect.
The Royals are close. But not close enough that they can stand pat or rely on a couple bodies from the minors to fill in the gaps. They need to be aggressive and smart this off-season.
OK, Tampa closed out Texas, so prediction time
Cleveland over Tampa.
Each fall in the stat-head community there is discussion over whether there is such thing as September momentum that carries over to the playoffs. The numbers seem to point to no, but when a team like the 2011 Cardinals comes along, it’s hard not to believe the answer is yes. Cleveland roared through September. That momentum gets them at least through Wednesday’s game.
Oakland over Detroit.
I would have picked different a month ago, before Miguel Cabrera got banged up. Unless Max Scherzer can pitch every game, I think Oakland shocks the Tigers.
Boston over Cleveland.
For as well as the Indians played in September, the only good team they played during their run was the Royals, who took four of six from them. Cleveland is confident and damn near caught the Tigers. But that won’t be enough to get past Boston.
Boston over Oakland.
These teams have played a memorable series or two over the decades. This one won’t be, as the Sox win easily.
Pittsburgh over Cincinnati.
For whatever the Wild Card adds to baseball, when both Wild Card teams come from the same division, and those teams were hot on the heels of the division winner until the final weekend of the season, it ends up taking away from the pennant excitement. How great would the NL Central race have been if only one team got into the playoffs, not all three? Anyway, Pittsburgh deserves this, as much as I hate saying a team or city or fan base ever deserves anything.
LA over Atlanta.
I have no real feel for this series. I know the Dodgers were one of the hottest teams in the history of baseball in July and August, then fell off a bit. But the Braves seem like a bunch of douches with all their dumb protestations of violations of baseball’s unwritten rules. I hope Yasiel Puig hits seven home runs and stares at them for hours.
St. Louis over Pittsburgh.
I’ll be pulling for Pittsburgh, though. The team that gave hope to the Royals that there really is a light at the end of the tunnel.
St. Louis over LA.
Man, it’s been awhile since Cards fans had anything to cheer about, hasn’t it?
Remember back in 2004, after those two thrilling LCSes that resulted in a St. Louis-Boston World Series, and everyone kept going on-and-on about how even the teams were and how it was clearly going at least six games? Then the Sox swept the Cards.
Similar theme this year. The two most complete, and best, teams in baseball. Terrific rotations. Great arms at the back of the bullpen. The difference will be the Red Sox bats. Man, those dudes can just hit. They’re somewhat reminiscent of the ’03 and ’04 Sox, who had a couple superstars and then a bunch of no-namers who all hit like .305 and 25 homers.