Fridays during the season can be a mixed bag for Rumblings. Thursday’s a fairly common off day so that can often be helpful. Writers for major outlets like The Star will drop that feature story they’ve been working on for the past week because they know they don’t have a game recap and still have to fill up the sports page. Thursday day games are usually the worst as writers can’t even spend the morning working on stories, they just go straight to the ballpark and do the recap. But today, there’s just not a lot, especially for early in the season when interest is still higher than it will be later in the season.
The most popular story making the rounds is that, on Tuesday night, Bobby Witt Jr. hit a foul ball that his dad caught in the stands. That’s pretty neat.
“Hey dad, wanna have a catch?” - Bobby Witt Jr. pic.twitter.com/9dS03zlkq2— MLB (@MLB) April 13, 2023
Our first of three Blair Kerkhoff stories (as I think this one was missed a couple of days ago): “Why 2003 KC Royals team returned to the news this week: Thank the Tampa Bay Rays”. I loved that 2003 Royals team and it really got me into being a Royals fan so I can’t pass up a story about it.
But in 2003, magic happened. This was a team of top-notch players like Carlos Beltran and Mike Sweeney. Shortstop Angel Berroa won AL Rookie of the Year. Journeyman pitcher Jose Lima (“Lima Time”) regained his form for a few months, and hard-throwing closer Mike MacDougal’s first full season was his best with 27 saves.
Ryan Lefebvre, then in his fifth season in the broadcast booth, recalled an early season is-this-really-happening highlight: A Friday night April game drew a near sellout crowd that was rewarded with Ken Harvey’s walk-off home run in the 11th. “That’s when people started to think, they’re not only winning but they’re finding ways to win,” Lefebvre said.
Sidebar: The Rays won 9-3 yesterday to go to 13-0 but SP Jeffrey Springs left with an injury:
The Rays have matched the 1982 Braves and ‘87 Brewers for the longest winning streak to start a season in MLB’s modern era. The only team to win more games in a row at the outset of a season was the 1884 St. Louis Maroons, who went 20-0 before losing a game.
He also writes about how the Royals are struggling with runners in scoring position:
“Runners in scoring position success is very fluid,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “Failures come and go as the year goes on. We have to keep getting as many opportunities as we can.”
On the bright side, he also writes about Brad Keller and how his pitch usage is different than in year’s past:
In the bullpen during warmups, Brad Keller wasn’t feeling his curveball. In past years, that would’ve meant bailing on the pitch when he took the mound during a game.
But not anymore. Keller stayed with the pitch he focused on during spring training and it has served him well this season, including in Wednesday performance against the Texas Rangers.
Continuing good pitching thoughts, Anne Rogers talks about Royals pitchers and their success throwing strikes:
In 2022, the Royals ranked last in the American League in walks (589) and tied for last in walk rate (9.4%). They were second worst in baseball in strikeout percentage (19.1%) and last in first-pitch strikes (58%).
Entering Thursday, the Royals had a 22.4% strikeout rate and a 7.7% walk rate. The league’s strikeout rate was 22.7% and walk rate was 9.2%. The Royals’ first-pitch strike rate was 59.6%, and their starters ranked 10th entering the day at 62.9%. Last year, the rotation finished last in that statistic at 59.1%.
The Royals are filling up the zone. They rank eighth in the Majors in zone percentage (42.8%). League average so far this year is 41.3%.
Also, I didn’t realize this, but she has a newsletter. At the top of the story was this little blurb:
RHP Dylan Coleman has been optioned to Omaha (AAA).— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) April 13, 2023
Former Royal Richard Lovelady is on the move again:
The A’s have claimed LHP Richard Lovelady off waivers from Atlanta and assigned him to Triple-A Las Vegas. To clear space on the 40-man roster, the A’s transferred right-handed pitcher Freddy Tarnok to the 60-day injured list.— Oakland A's Communications (@AthleticsPR) April 13, 2023
Want some charming Zack news?
- Craig Brown wrote about Wednesday’s game
- David Lesky also wrote about Wednesday’s game
- Darin Watson at U.L.’s Toothpick concluded his series: 50 Greatest Kauffman Stadium Moments, #1: Royals Rout Cardinals For First Series Title (October 27, 1985)
Informal pulse check: A couple of weeks into the season, how many wins do you think the Royals get this year?
They’re officially 4-9 (.308) which puts them on a 50-win pace.
Their Pythagorean is 5-8 (.385), which is a 62-win pace.
Baseball Prospectus has them coming in with 62 wins, as well.
Fangraphs has them going 68-81 (.457) the rest of the way to finish with 72 wins.
Royals Review readers had the following breakdowns at the start of the season, so if they started 4-9 and then played at the median pace, they’d get to:
- 20.1% 80-84 wins (82-win .506 pace the rest of the way): 79 wins
- 31.0% 75-79 wins (77-win .475 pace the rest of the way): 75 wins
- 33.3% 70-74 wins (72-win .444 pace the rest of the way): 70 wins
So where are we at? Post in the comments where you think we end up
Today, we end our trip around the major Asian baseball leagues with the venerable NPB of Japan.
Opening Day: March 30
International Players: There are usually quite a few ex-MLB players in the NPB. Notable names include Trevor Bauer, Matt Davidson, Freddy Galvis, Marwin Gonzalez, Roberto Osuna, and Gregory Polanco. Full list from Wikipedia is not up to date despite claims to the contrary, but this list from JapanBall appears to be decent.
Former Royals: Nori Aoki (Yakult Swallows), Orlando Calixte (Chunichi Dragons), Maikel Franco (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles), Foster Griffin (Yomiuri Giants), Ryan McBroom (Hiroshima Toyo Carp), Frank Schwindel (Oriz Buffaloes), and former farmhand Elvis Luciano (Yomiuri Giants) - remember all the kerfuffle about him and the Royals losing him in the Rule 5 draft due to a technicality?
World Baseball Classic Result: If you watched any of the World Baseball Classic, you probably know how this turned out. Japan is the only team to medal in all 4 previous WBCs, winning in 2006 and 2009 and taking 3rd in 2013 and 2017. They rolled through Pool B play with a combined score of 38-8, scoring at least 7 in every game. They continued their roll in the knockout stage, thumping Italy 9-3. But then the drama started.
If you missed the semi-final game against Mexico, you might have missed the best game of the entire tournament. Roki Sasaki and his 102 mph ran into trouble in the 4th as he yielded a pair of 2-out hits before Luis Urias hit a bomb. Starter Patrick Sandoval threw 4.1 shutout innings and the Meixco bullpen bent but did not break until the bottom of the 7th when Masataka Yoshida tied the game with a 3-run home run of his own. Mexico answered with 2 in the 8th to retake the lead but another insurance run was thrown out at the plate. Japan picked up one in the 8th but went to the bottom of the 9th, down 5-4 with a trip to the championship on the line. With two on (including Shohei Ohtani who led off the inning with a double), Munetaka Murakami shook off his WBC slump and blasted a double to left center, scoring the tying and winning runs in a walk-off. Normally I only add one WBC video, but let’s do two this time. It was that good of a game:
In the Final, Japan faced Team USA, who had knockout round drama of their own with a comeback win against Venezuela, highlighted by Trea Turner’s 8th inning grand slam. This one would be more of a pitcher’s duel. Turner started the scoring with a 2nd inning home run. But Murakami would answer in the bottom of the inning. Japan picked up another run on a Lars Nootbaar ground out RBI. In the 4th, Japan extended its lead to 3-1 on a Kazuma Okamota home run. The teams traded zeroes until the 8th, when Kyle Schwarber drew USA to within 1 with a solo shot off Yu Darvish. The biggest at-bat of the game and of the tourney was WBC MVP Ohtani striking out Angels teammate Mike Trout to end the game and deliver victory to Japan.
Rooting Interest: The Tokyo Yakult Swallows have been our team of choice. Back in 2020, our initial season following the league, the team featured Nori Aoki and Alcides Escobar. Escobar is gone, having played for the Nats the last two seasons and now with Leones de Yucatán of the Mexican League. However, Aoki remains with the Swallows. He started his career with the team, playing 8 seasons with Yakult before going to the United States. He returned in 2018 and is now in his 6th season in his second stint. He has 1876 career hits, but Father Time will probably catch up with the 41yo before he can reach the 2000 milestone. When they finished last in 2020, we knew we had chosen well.
However, the team became a power the last two years, led by the aforementioned Murakami. He won Central League Rookie of the Year in 2019 and won the CL MVP in 2021. For an encore, in 2022, not only did he win the CL MVP again, but he also got the triple crown, and had a home run chase of his own. He hit HR #55 to tie him for second all-time with Alex Cabrera, Tuffy Rhodes, and the legendary Sadaharu Oh. However, with more than 2 weeks to go in the season, he went into a home run drought, not recording one for 48 ABs. However, in Yakult’s regular season finale, he homered to pass Oh and take the crown for a Japanese-born player (Wladimir Balentien holds the NPB record with 60, back in 2013, also for the Swallows). In the offseason, he signed a 3 year deal worth about $4.5M per year with the agreement that he will be posted to MLB after 2025.
Last Season: As Yakult has featured prominently the NPB story the last couple of seasons, I moved this section down. In 2021, Yakult beat the Orix Buffaloes in the Japan Series for their first title in 20 years. Last year, Orix had their revenge as they defeated the Swallows in the Japan Series. The aforementioned Roki Sasaki of the Chiba Lotte Marines, “whose father was killed in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan’s northeast coast”, made history on April 10th. He threw the 16th perfect game in NPB history and the first in 28 years. The 20yo phenom struck out 19 batters, including 13(!!) straight at one point, as he buffaloed the Buffaloes.
How to Watch: Back in 2020, Eleven Sports had a US station called “For the Fans” that offered English broadcasts. They became weekly games in 2021 and were condensed to a 2-hour run time, but they still had English commentary. The old website for FTF has been taken over by another business. However, the FTF Sportsr Facebook and Twitter pages link to Roku and advertise an English commentary game every day at noon Royals time. Honestly, it sounds like a guy watching the broadcast from his home and commenting over it, but we take what we can get stateside.
The NPB Subreddit has this to say in their FAQ: “No, NPB does not have an all in one streaming service for games like MLBTV. There are a few options listed in the wiki, but if you want to watch all 12 teams, you’re going to have to get cough cough creative. PacificLeague TV works without a VPN, and others require a VPN. We know it’s not an ideal situation, but it is what it is due to “creative differences” among the leagues and clubs... Please be careful out there when exploring the streaming services, and use an adblocker.” Here is a link to the aforementioned wiki.
- Yes, this is last year’s news, but I never really got to post much about it except for here, so you’re getting it now. Former MLB OF Tsuyoshi Shinjo made quite the splash last year. At CBS Sports, Shanna McCarrison wrote an article entitled: “Four ‘Big Boss’ moments that prove Tsuyoshi Shinjo is the most interesting man in baseball”. Yes, he asked reporters to call him “Big Boss” and said he asked the players to call him that, too. He even registered his league name as “BIGBOSS” so it looks that way on lineup cards, etc. For Opening Day, he rode around the stadium on a hover craft. Yes, you read that right.
- Unfortunately, his Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters finished with the worst record in the NPB. This 2023 Pacific League Preview from the Japan Times delivers sad news: “Shinjo has shed his ‘Big Boss’ moniker, giving himself a second chance to make a first impression as the manager. While the former star player is entertaining, the act will grow stale if the Fighters do not show some signs of going in the right direction.” Boo. We need more “Big Boss”es in baseball. Here is a link to the Japan Times Central League Preview.
- I talked about Roki Sasaki above in the WBC and “last season” section. After the first NPB perfect game in 28 years, he didn’t stop there. He threw eight perfect innings the next time out. He had thrown 105 pitches in the perfect game and was already at 102. However, the bigger factor was probably that the game was still scoreless and the Marines would go on to lose 1-0 to the Fighters in 10 innings. That meant he carried a 17 inning, 52-batter perfect streak into his next game against the Orix Buffaloes. But all good things must come to an end as leadoff hitter Shuhei Fukuda singled to lead off the game.
- Speaking of the Pacific League, we have yet to mention Yoshinobu Yamamoto of the Orix Buffaloes. He has won the Eiji Sawamura Award the last two seasons, which is kindof like the Cy Young award for NPB SPs. It has some quirks, though, as there are some specific criteria for the award and, occasionally, the award goes to two pitchers or even zero pitchers. There’s a lot of excitement today as Yamamoto will face off against the aforementioned Sasaki for the first time! FTF Sports chimed into a Twitter thread about the game with this note about how US fans can watch this game (no commentary) on a platform called WatchDingo. The game starts at 18:00 Tokyo time, which, if my time zone conversion is correct (probably isn’t), is 4:00am Royals time. So maybe the game will have just finished by the time Rumblings posts.
- Sadly, greedy Yankees fans are already salivating over the prospect of grabbing a number of these NPB players if and when they are posted to MLB. Pinstripe Alley mentions that Yamamoto can be posted after this season and Murakami and Sasaki can head over after 2025.
- Lastly, Reddit had a post a while back with the title “Former MLB player Randy Bass, has one of the most interesting Wikipedia pages I’ve ever seen.” Bass had 325 MLB at bats for 5 teams in 6 seasons (1977-1982), including going 0 for 2 for the 1978 Royals. But then he goes to Japan and “is often credited with single-handedly turning around the fortunes of the [Hanshin] Tigers, which ultimately resulted in the team’s pennant run and Japan Series title in 1985”. In 1985, his home run chase led him to 54 home runs, one short of Sadaharu Oh’s single-season record. In the final game of the season, he was intentionally walked every time by the Yomiuri Giants pitcher. The Giants manager? The legendary Oh. The next year, Bass challenged .400, a feat never accomplished in Japan, and ended at .389, still the record. He then came back to the states and was an Oklahoma State Senator from 2004-2018, retiring due to term limits. He was just elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this year. Finally, here’s three other tidbits from his wiki page:
Bass was released by Hanshin in November 1988 after he returned to the United States after his son Zach was diagnosed with brain cancer and was claimed to have “not given permission to return to the States” by the team, despite Bass having recorded evidence of the contrary. The general manager of the Hanshin Tigers, Shingo Furuya, committed suicide after negotiating with Bass over the company’s liability for the medical expenses for his son.
Bass is also famous in Japan for the “Curse of the Colonel”. Following the 1985 Central League Pennant victory, revelers celebrated by calling off the names of team members one by one. At each name, a fan who looked like that player would jump into the filthy Dōtonbori canal. For Bass, someone threw a life-sized model of Colonel Sanders, the mascot of Kentucky Fried Chicken and the only close-at-hand likeness of a bearded American, into the river. The statue disappeared and is said to have caused the team’s subsequent decade-long dismal performance in the Central League.
Although Bass’ surname would conventionally be transcribed Basu (バス) in Japanese, Randy Bass is known in Japan as Bāsu (バース, pronounced [baːsɯ]). The Hanshin Tigers requested the change because the corporate owner of the team, Hanshin Electric Railway Co., Ltd., directly owned a bus line (Hanshin Bus) during Bass’ playing career. Because “bus” is also transcribed in Japanese as basu (バス), the Tigers’ management worried that Japanese newspapers might create headlines such as “Hanshin Bus unstoppable” (if he made consecutive hits), “Hanshin Bus explodes” (if he hit a home run), or “Hanshin Bus crashes” (if he slumped), which would have a negative impact on the corporate image of Hanshin Bus
- https://npb.jp/eng/ - The Official NPB site has some parts translated into English
- https://www.reddit.com/r/NPB/ - NPB Reddit
- https://www.reddit.com/r/NPB/wiki/index/#wiki_news_links - The NPB Reddit wiki lists a number of other sites
- https://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/baseball/ - Japan Times is (per wiki) “Japan’s largest and oldest English-language daily newspaper”
While working the past couple of weeks, I’ve been on a Final Fantasy soundtrack kick, listening to all of the games from I thru IX, NES thru SNES thru PlayStation. I believe I’ve mentioned before that FF4 is my personal favorite of the series and Nobuo Uematsu’s music is exceptionally strong for a 16-bit game. Today we’ll do Golbez’s theme. For the longest time after playing this game, I thought all villains should have an evil pipe organ theme. Sadly, few do: The Phantom of the Opera, Davy Jones, and Golbez.