In the bad old days, I would think the Royals were cursed.
How else to explain getting off to a hot start – they’re currently tied for the second-best record in the bigs – yet still looking up at Detroit? The baseball gods hate the Royals, right?
But these aren’t the bad old days. This is the brave new world where every roster move Dayton Moore makes works out, every in-game decision that Ned Yost makes turns to gold, and the team gets clutch hits from the bottom of its lineup late in games to pull out wins.
The Royals, it seems, are actually good.
As much as I loved last October, I chalked a lot of it up to the flukey/luck-driven nature of the playoffs. Their pitching was solid, they got some huge hits in important moments, and caught everything that was hit. For 11 of 15 games, they played damn near perfect baseball, or at least in each game’s biggest moments they were perfect. In July, that’s just a nice little run. In October, that gets you to game seven of the World Series.
As I said in my preseason picks, I did not expect that luck to carry over. And I think I was right. Sure, the Royals have caught some breaks here-and-there in the first few weeks of the season. But they’re mostly winning because they are playing with a whole different level of confidence. Getting to the final game of the baseball season seems to have transformed the roster. Now they expect to find a way to work a walk when they need a base runner. They expect someone to come up with that key hit to bring the tying/go-ahead runs home. They play with a looseness that comes from being absolutely certain that if they can squeeze out one more run than the opponent sometime in the last three innings, a win is guaranteed.
What has impressed me most is how the off-season acquisitions have begun the year. Yes, we’re still in the extreme, small-sample-sized days of April. So we shouldn’t get too excited. But Edinson Volquez has been flat-out awesome through his first three starts, pitching better than he’s ever pitched in his career. Kendrys Morales looks completely rejuvenated. And Alex Rios seemed locked-in before he took a fastball to the hand that landed him on the DL.
Again, it’s early. Rios is already hurt and Volquez and Morales are both over 30 and more liable to break down than they were in their younger days. For now, though, I’m going to love every Volquez change up that makes a batter look silly, and every Morales double in the last third of the game that gets the winning run home.
Right now, the Royals are an absolute joy to watch. I’m not going to take a second of it for granted.
For the most part, I thought what went on at the K over the weekend was nonsense. I’m not big into retaliation in baseball. I think there’s generally too much at risk to throw at a guy, especially if it’s your #1 starter or a key member of your bullpen doing the throwing. Winning is the best payback, not putting a fastball in somebody’s ribs. (Or sailing one behind their head.)
That said, I understood the Royals’ frustration. They had been plunked with impunity through the first two weeks of the season. Rios is on the DL because a rookie couldn’t control his fastball. So when Brett Lawrie made an awful slide Friday night that Alcides Escobar was lucky to only limp away from, I knew it was going to be a long weekend.
Which is fine. But the way Yordano Ventura and Kelvin Herrera went about “paying back” Lawrie was all wrong. Ventura didn’t need to take steps toward Lawrie and yap at him. Herrera didn’t need to throw behind his head, or then point at his own head, no matter what message he was trying to send with the latter gesture. You have to be smarter than both of them were.
The Royals are built around young guys who are new to winning and play emotionally. That is mostly a good thing. But they need to learn to contain that emotion. Teams are going to start goading them into future altercations, knowing that umpires and the league office will not give the Royals much leash when things get testy. If it’s not already a distraction, it soon will be.
I kind of hate that I agree with long-time Royals broadcaster, and general grump about most things, Denny Matthews. But he was right when he said the Royals need to calm down, turn the other cheek, and just beat people. Let the scoreboard do the talking.
Oh, and that title? From an old Split Enz song. Here’s a version from 2001 featuring Eddie Vedder and Tim Finn.