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Hok Talk: Never give up, never surrender!

When you’re re-building it only makes sense to give young, talented players every chance and then some.

Brandon Maurer prepares to throw a pitch.
Ladies, gentlemen, and gentlefolk I present to you: Brandon Maurer.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

There has been a lot of frustration with the state of the Royals bullpen, this year. This is understandable, to a degree. According to Baseball Reference, only one bullpen in all of major league baseball has given up more runs per game than the Royals’ 5.45. That dubious distinction, of course, belongs to the Baltimore Orioles who just squeak out ahead of the Royals at 5.47 bullpen-runs-allowed-per-game. Most of the ire has been, rightfully by the stats, directed at Justin Grimm, Blaine Boyer, and Brandon Maurer.

Blaine Boyer never made a lot of sense to have on the roster. By all accounts, he’s a great guy and he apparently saved lives or at least prevented injuries with his heroics in Toronto on a bus, earlier this year but he wasn’t ever likely to be a decent trade chip no matter how well he pitched. The Royals finally released him and I wish him luck in his future endeavors but I’m just as glad as anyone that he’s no longer employed by the Royals. Grimm was young enough and good enough recently to be a potential bounce-back/trade candidate in the vein of what the White Sox have been doing for the past few years. The Royals didn’t hang on to him too long after he showed them he wasn’t actually going to be that so you can’t really fault them for the effort.

Brandon Maurer, though, had a place on the roster at the beginning of the year that made perfect sense. And his place on the roster still makes a lot of sense. He’s 27 with a nasty slider, a high-90s heater, and years of team control remaining. Yes, he’s struggled mightily. And if the Royals were in contention and still allowing him to pitch in their bullpen it would be gross mismanagement. But they’re not, they’re rebuilding. And when you’re rebuilding it makes sense to give talented young players as much rope as you have. The only reason for a rebuilding team to ditch a young is if that player has failed multiple times to establish any sort of major league value and there is another younger and/or more talented player waiting for their chance in AAA. Richard Lovelady is about the only reliever who matches that description, currently, and this is still his first year at AAA. There’s no particular reason he HAS to be promoted, now. And, until Boyer was finally released the other day, there were more reasonable options for dismissal from the roster.

But Maurer doesn’t currently look like a DFA candidate, anymore, either. Yes, his season ERA is still 9.00. He’s still walked more than he’s struck out. He’s had six meltdowns as compared to only two shutdowns (score-independent measures analogous to blown saves and saves, respectively.) But in his last eight appearances, each resulting in one inning pitched, he’s struck out ten and allowed only a single run. Yes, he’s walked seven, but at least the ratio is headed in the right direction.

It is, of course, a small sample size. But the chance that he might turn into a viable part of the future or into someone that can be traded for others who can be a part of that future is why you keep him around. Grimm and Boyer could not have become either of those things so they were let go. Brandon Maurer could, so it’s good to keep him around. The same logic holds true for guys like Eric Skoglund, Burch Smith, Hunter Dozier, and Jorge Bonifacio. It’s why Cheslor Cuthbert was allowed to stick around for so long. We’ve even seen it pay off in big ways before with guys like Jermaine Dye and Mike Moustakas. Yes, it’s frustrating to watch these guys scuffle day in and day out. But if Maurer really has figured something out then all that time spent watching him struggle will be worth it. And all it cost the Royals was a few games that weren’t likely to make any difference in the standings, anyway. Speaking of Moose...

Picking your playoff team

One of the habits I got into as a long-time Royals fan was picking a team to root for in the playoffs. I don’t usually spend a lot of effort on this because we both know it’s going to be a simple October fling and I’ll always go back to the Royals when we’re done. I’ve picked playoff teams of every stripe and color, throughout the years. Except the Yankees. Screw those guys. Last year I was all aboard the Dodgers train. I’ve also rooted for the Padres and Diamondbacks in years past, too. This year, since things are easier to keep track of than ever with baseball’s internet presence being as strong as it has become and the advent of mobile apps since I last had to do this, I think I’m going to split my attention between the Phillies and Brewers.

I’m rooting for the Phillies primarily because I want to see Odubel Herrera prove people wrong about his ability to lead a team to the playoffs and because I specifically want to get back at our very own Shaun Newkirk for his mocking laughter when he realized I’d picked them to sneak in this year. His tears will taste so very sweet when I am vindicated.

The case, though, for rooting for the Brewers is pretty obvious for any Royals fan, I think. Half their team is made up of former Royals including fan-favorites Lorenzo Cain, Moustakas, and Joakim Soria. Soria is hurt right now but Cain is making another MVP case with a ridiculous .391 OBP (fourth in the NL and with fewer strikeouts than everyone above him except the OBP-Machine, himself, Joey Votto) and the best defense he’s played since 2015. Coincidentally, that’s tthe last time he got MVP votes. Mike Moustakas was having a pretty solid season for the Royals before being traded but since arriving in Milwaukee he’s reverted back to his 2015 form except that he’s hitting the ball the other way less than ever. If the Brewers can hang on it’ll be nice to watch Mike and Lorenzo deflate the opposition with their enthusiasm and skill once again.

Am I the only person who likes to pick a playoff sweetheart to follow? If you pick one, do you spend a lot of time following them or just check their scores? And most importantly, do you usually pick winners or losers?