We continue our "burning questions" series because, well, its a winning formula. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? So here are your six burning questions as we approach the new "biggest game in Kauffman Stadium history in 29 years" which seems to happen every week now.
Is this real? Is it at all sustainable?
It is real, and it is spectacular.
Whether its sustainable or not who cares? The Royals only have to be good for, at most, seventeen more games. Forget winning "ten of their next fifteen", if they win nine of their next seventeen, in a big way, they'll be World Champions. Fangraphs says we're the odds-on-favorite at this point. In a small way, we have already won the World Series.
Every win seems to increase the team's confidence, and while we joke about domes, that probably does have an effect on an inexperienced playoff team like this. The team looks loose, confident in its pitching and defense to keep it close until a baserunner late can wreak havoc on the bases and come around to score. Even better, their running ways and extreme small ball seem to have caught teams off-guard. I would wager the Royals are the team other playoffs least want to face right now.
The Royals are starting to feel comfortable and playing as they belonged. If you ask me who the best team in baseball is the Royals.— Pedro Martinez (@45PedroMartinez) October 3, 2014
Pedro doesn't seem so crazy now, does he?
How have the Royals been able to keep Mike Trout from doing damage?
As this Fangraphs article by Jeff Sullivan clearly demonstrates, the league has figured out "high and hard" is the way to pitch the probable-2014 MVP. Sullivan notes that Trout has a tendency to lay off the first pitch of the plate appearance, so it will be important for James Shields to be aggressive with Trout and try to get ahead in the count. Its been a small sample size so far, and even Babe Ruth had stretches where he went 0-8, but Trout does seem a bit off so far.
I love that the Royals have kept Trout in check thus far, but I am already rolling my eyes at the future sports columns decrying how baseball is in trouble because its future stars like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Yasiel Puig can't handle post-season pressure the way Derek Jeter did.
The Royals have kept the league's best offense in check by shutting them down with runners in scoring position, and the Angels have just one hit in nine such opportunities in this series. I wouldn't expect that to continue, so it is important they keep Trout off his game so we don't see a repeat of this incredible performance.
How concerned should we be about Salvador Perez?
The only people that know about Salvador's health following him getting nailed in the head by a Josh Hamilton swing are Salvador Perez and the Royals medical staff. We can speculate as to his condition and likelihood of a concussion, but none of us really know.
My sincere hope is that they are erring on the side of caution, but have found no reason to keep him out. I tweeted last night that I was okay with pulling Salvador Perez upon his injury, primarily because if he has suffered a concussion its the right thing to do. Additionally, with the way Salvy has been swinging the bat, Erik Kratz may not be a downgrade offensively. Salvy hit .232/.237/.357 with 2 HR 12 RBI over his last 114 plate appearances, Erik Kratz hit .218/.243/.391 with 5 HR 13 RBI in 115 plate appearances all year. Salvy obviously brings intangibles on the field and is a better player defensively, but we have a long-term player to worry about, and preserving his health should be a paramount concern. Let's hope Rany Jazayerli's trust in the Royals medical staff is warranted.
Will Kelvin Herrera be available tonight?
The Royals have been pretty mum about his condition, only saying he has a flexor strain, but could possibly be available Sunday night. Pitching coach Dave Eiland said he played catch with Herrera, and it hurt his hand, but we don't know Eiland's tolerance for pain. The Royals, like most teams, always seem to be publicly more optimistic about a player's condition than they perhaps should be, but it would really surprise me to see Herrera used Sunday night. My guess is they'll try to keep him from pitching as much as possible, and with James Shields starting and a rested bullpen, he likely won't be needed.
James Shields has the nickname "Big Game James", yet has a career post-season ERA of 5.26 in seven starts. Should we be concerned?
Post-season career stats should be taken with a grain of salt considering their small sample size and the fact they take place over several years. How James Shields pitched as a 26-year old with the Tampa Bay Rays against the White Sox has little bearing on how he will pitch Sunday night as a 32-year old with the Kansas City Royals against the Angels.
Shields has been pretty nails down the stretch for the Royals, with a 2.93 ERA in six September starts that includes the Wild Card game against Oakland in which he pitched better than his numbers suggest. James has been a bit worse at home since joining the Royals than he has pitched on the road, and he gave up four runs in six innings of work against the Angels back on May 24, including home runs to Erick Aybar and Mike Trout.
To conclude, James Shields has been a very good pitcher for a number of years, and has a high probability of turning in a very good performance tomorrow night.
What will Kauffman Stadium be like tonight?
Oh boy, I can't even imagine. The city has been waiting 29 years for this, and it was absolutely raucous for the Wild Card game, a game that was not even be a playoff game. Remember that meaningless Royals-Twins game back in August of 2006 when the Royals were about 40 games out? Yea, it will be like that except times a million billion quadrillion times louder. The entire baseball world is watching, and Kansas City will be up to the challenge. And we don't need no stinkin' thundersticks to do it.