The Royals open up post-season play on Thursday for the second consecutive year. As bloggers, our post-season experience from last year should carry over to this year and allow us to give hot takes in clutch situations. We assembled our team full of Raul Ibanezes to talk about the prospects of our boys in blue in October.
How worried are you about the Royals lackluster play down the stretch?
Joshua Ward: Considering they ended the year on a four-game winning streak, I'm not really concerned. Had they faded out or saw struggles from Ventura and Cueto over the last two starts, then maybe. But a lot of the struggles came down to pitching, as the offense was still producing adequately. Now that Holland has been shelved and the rotation has put together one of their better weeks all season, it would be hard to expect more of the team going into the playoffs.
Matthew LaMar: Worried only in the sense that all that poor play is negative data points for how good this team is. They've been fantastic this past week, which should be enough to get some positive momentum for those that believe in it. I am most worried about the starting pitching, though. This team doesn't have an ace, at least not with this version of Cueto.
Josh Duggan: If the Royals had continued their dismal play through the last five games of the season, I'd probably be considerably more worried. I wouldn't say that I'm expecting them to win the World Series, but that's probably at least as much emotional protection as anything else. Ventura looking as dominant as he has lately helps to assuage some concerns. Furrrr sure.
Kevin Ruprecht: I am not at all worried. The team finished strong into the end of the season, but that doesn't matter much either. Baseball in September still has swings, and streaks near the beginning and near the end can be noticed more than midseason stuff.
Max Rieper: I was slightly worried, but the strong week to end the season reassured me that the poor month was just one of those random bad stretches that any team will go through. This team never had more than a four-game losing streak. Think about how amazing that is, especially in comparison to the team Dayton Moore inherited. The 2005 Royals had an 19-game losing streak. It boggles the mind.
Even with the poor stretch they had in September, they averaged 4.8 runs per game in the month, higher than their average for the year. The problem was clearly a poor stretch of pitching much of which was probably poor BABIP lucky anyway, and in any case seemed to get resolved before the season ended. The Royals are rested, healthy, and playing good ball. All seems well with the world.
Who should get the last spot in the post-season rotation, Kris Medlen or Chris Young?
Josh Duggan: I'd say it depends on ballpark and match-up. As I've said over and over again, looking at Young's DIPS are more or less worthless as he has such an extreme profile as to render these figures useless. If he's in Kauffman or a park similarly friendly to fly-ball pitchers, I absolutely go with Young. Medlen's been decent, but the command is a bit erratic, as should be expected this early in his rehabilitation. Next year, I doubt there would be any hesitancy to go with Medlen assuming health. This year, Medlen is the second-most groundball prone starting pitcher the Royals have. An extreme offensive environment like the Rogers Centre should absolutely see Medlen starting for the Royals.
Kevin Ruprecht: Both? I would be up for a piggyback.
Joshua Ward: Probably Kris Medlen? It's a toss-up for me, but I'd slate him as the fourth starter and have Chris Young on standby. I just don't like putting in a starter who throws in the upper 80s and works up in the zone, which can go wrong really quickly. That being said, Medlen is likely the better option out of the bullpen, because frankly he is the better pitcher, but Chris Young has performed very well this season. I don't necessarily think there is a wrong choice, but I would give the edge to Medlen.
Max Rieper: I love Kris Medlen, but its hard to deny what Chris Young has done this year. He looked fantastic in his last two starts against a couple of decent lineups with the Indians and Twins. Does it surprise anyone that his strikeout rate is nearly identical to Medlen's?
Young has really only had two bad starts this year, the same amount Medlen has in half the starts. I think if you set it up so that Young starts Game 2 in Kansas City, it makes a lot of sense to go with him considering what he can do in a big ballpark. I think the only hesitation would be how that alters things for the rest of the rotation.
Ned recently bumped Alcides Escobar back into the lead off spot despite a terrible on-base percentage. He had been building goodwill all season, how worried are you about Ned going into this October?
Joshua Ward: I wasn't worried at all until this happened. And now, I would say that I am marginally concerned. If he thinks it works, then maybe it does. Though I don't think Kansas City's struggles with Gordon and Zobrist at the top of the lineup had anything to do with the offense. So, I will say it is the wrong move, but Kansas City's offense doesn't revolve around Escobar being good at hitting. It comes down to what Zobrist, Cain, Hosmer, Morales, and Moustakas can do, and whether or not Perez can hit a home run now and then.
Matthew LaMar: The offensive advantage the Royals have with Gordon leading off instead of Escobar is quite slim over a 19 game stretch. The magical advantage the Royals think they're getting from Escobar leading off is probably more important. Psychology is very influential, and if the Royals think as a team they will do better with Escobar leadoff, even if it's not factual, then they will do better. Elsewhere, I'm mostly confident in Yost's ability to manage the bullpen correctly. He did well last year in the playoffs, and there's no reason to think he will do something different this year.
Josh Duggan: Pretty much every manager makes decisions that the sabermetrically inclined loathe. The real place where his decisions could adversely affect the Royals' chances to win would be in bullpen decisions, and the bullpen has again been idiot-proofed.
Kevin Ruprecht: With Greg Holland down, I am worried about Ned Yost's bullpen management algorithm malfunctioning. Not sure the engineers behind the scenes had enough time to adjust the code for the algorithm.
Max Rieper: I finally decided to stop thinking about Escobar leading off since it was angering me too much, and just go with the "the Royals are 40 games over .500 when he leads off, he's their lucky charm!" crowd. I'm surprisingly comfortable with Ned at the helm. He pushed some weird buttons last post-season, but somehow it all worked out.
My guess is the bullpen dominance will make him seem like a genius while other managers in the playoffs deal with more volatile late-game situations. It will be interesting how Ned arranges the new sequence of reliever. It seems like Herrera-Madson-Davis would be the new trio of dominance, with the sixth belonging to Duffy. I fear Luke Hochevar may end up pitching a high leverage, meaningful inning though.
Aside from Toronto, is there an AL playoff team Royals fans should be worried about? Who do the Royals match up best against?
Max Rieper: I am still not very sold on the Rangers and the Yankees seem like a good, not great team. Houston has been terrible the last month, but they still have a talented team and I don't think momentum counts for much. They have a terrific post-season rotation and some guys that can pop the ball out of the ballpark in Minute Maid Park. They took it to the Royals pretty good earlier this year, I'm a bit worried about a re-match.
Kevin Ruprecht: I am worried about Houston. They share some similarities with Toronto. They have really good pitching and hit dingers. They get on base less than Toronto, so that will play well in the Royals favor at Kauffman since dingers are harder there. I think the Royals match best against the Rangers. Their pitching isn't quite as good as other teams.
Matthew LaMar: I would rather face the Rangers than the Yankees or Astros, but that's not going to happen. Otherwise, all of the playoff teams are good. There isn't an easy matchup, and that's the way it should be.
Josh Duggan: If the Astros could put Keuchel out there twice in a series, they would be more intimidating. The Yankees look pretty pedestrian on paper. Then again, so did the Red Sox a few years back. Texas doesn't exactly have the makings of a championship team. Honestly, when you look at that team, you generally wonder from whence their wins came.
Joshua Ward: I am not sure they should be worried about anyone, but if you had to put a finger on one team, Toronto would be it. After that, I guess Houston, because they are reasonably the next best American League team. Texas poses many of the same problems that Houston and New York do, and every team in the postseason has a home ballpark that plays better for their style of offense than for the Royals. In terms of best matchup, it would have to be the Yankees. They are, by a lot of measures, the worst team in the postseason this year. They are also old, which doesn't bode well, and lack elite talent at any one position. Kansas City matches up well against them, but then again, so does just about every other team this postseason.
The Royals were able to secure home field advantage for the entire playoffs. How important is that?
Joshua Ward: I kept telling myself (and others) that it wasn't very important, but considering the field of American League teams, I think it matters more to Kansas City than any other team. I will say that it is certainly not crucial, but in terms of team composition, having home field helps Kansas City more than the rest. It really only matters if a series goes the distance though, so it is hard to put that in terms of importance. 5% maybe?
Kevin Ruprecht: Home field advantage is cool.
Matthew LaMar: I wrote about this recently. Basically, it probably won't matter at all. The Royals have home field advantage for the ALDS regardless. The only circumstance that home field advantage throughout the playoffs matters is in a seven-game ALCS versus Toronto, which is unlikely to happen. However, that seventh game being at Kauffman is definitely a positive thing. It's just unlikely to get to that specific point.
Josh Duggan: More than in any other year, it seems there are three teams in the American League that were built specifically for their parks. The Astros and Jays are both fueled by long balls, and the parking lot at the K is going to be a formidable foe for their offenses. While securing home-field advantage matters, it hardly assures victory. Still, every little bit helps.
Max Rieper: I come down on the side that its not that important generally in the post-season, but it may be a bigger deal this year because of the teams involved and how tailored they are to their home ballpark. Its nice to have though.
How do you see the Royals going all the way to win a championship? What needs to happen? Who is the most important player?
Max Rieper: I feel confident about the offense heading into this year's post-season. They have much more diversity in their lineup, allowing them to hit the long ball if needed, or scratch out a run with speed and small ball if necessary. The weakness, particularly in the last month, has been the starting pitching. Fortunately, in the post-season, Ned Yost can afford to have a quick hook. He also doesn't need a fifth starter, meaning Jeremy Guthrie will no longer be pitching. But the Royals need to have some solid performances from their starters, and I think the spotlight falls squarely on Johnny Cueto. He's been quite a disappointment thus far, but a fantastic October will make everyone forget about the home runs he gave up in September.
Josh Duggan: First and foremost, for the Royals to win the World Series, their rotation has to not be a dumpster fire. With Ventura finishing the season so strongly, the concern for acceptable performance probably lies at Cueto's feet, or more appropriately on his shoulders. No one person can carry the offense, though anyone is welcome to try. A dominant Cueto to pair with Ventura could mean big things for the Royals in the playoffs. The offense is much deeper than they were last year, so as long as the Royals can approximate a legitimate major-league offense, solid starting pitching can carry them to the promised land.
Kevin Ruprecht: The pitching needs to be at least mediocre so that the offense and defense and baserunning can do their thing. With that in mind, Lorenzo Cain is the most important guy.
Matthew LaMar: The biggest part of last year's success was the Royals' stunning and surprising display of power. They got their reputation for being fast and defending well, but they had more than their fair share of clutch homers. Eric Hosmer is therefore the most important guy. Hosmer at his best is Mike Trout. If he's not doing well, then it's a big black hole in the middle of the lineup that is a burden to overcome. But the whole lineup needs to display power.
Joshua Ward: A list:
- Cueto being Cueto
- Ventura throwing fire -The offense maintains production
- The bullpen does what it has all year
This isn't like last season, when Kansas City had to strike out on the road and make its name. This is Year Two, and everything is set up for them to succeed. They get the lowest seeded team after playing a one-game playoff, that has to travel and come into your stadium. After that, it's just playing up to their potential. They won 95 games for a reason. Now, they just need to win eleven more. It would be hard to argue against Johnny Cueto being the most important guy for this team. He has to perform. That's why he was traded for. He has to be the guy now, he and Yordano Ventura both. If they can give the Royals back-to-back starts like they did to end the season, then there is no reason why Kansas City can't win the World's Series.