Braves Astros

Normally I try to separate politics from sports since sports is my escape but this World Series is the exception. In the first four innings, no political references and Braves are winning 5-0.

It will be interesting to see what happens when the series shifts to Atlanta but the commissioner decided to move the All-Star game from Atlanta to Denver because he didn’t like the Georgia voting law. And moving from a heavily black city to a predominately white city in the name of social justice.

Now Commish may find himself back into Atlanta to award the trophy to the Braves. That will be Karma.

KC Season Over

Kevin of The Royal Reporter observed, “The Royals were projected by most experts to win anywhere from 70-72 games. They won 74, which was slightly above the pundits’ preseason predictions. Is it a monumental turnaround? Absolutely not. But remember: this Royals team lost 100-plus games in both 2018 and 2019, and finished with a winning percentage in 2020 that would pro-rate out to 70 wins.” He is right in that small improvements were made in the sense, we didn’t finish in last place or that we lost less than 90 games. More was expected.

We finished 38-35 after the All-Star break but still finished overall minus 14 games under .500. There were positive beginning with Nicky Lopez who hit .300 and played great defense. He played like the Lopez in the minor, get on base, steal an occasional base and played great defense. Merrifield hit only .277 but still managed 42 doubles which tied him for number one in the majors, number 4 in hits and number 2 in stolen bases at 40 plus played good defense at second.

Salvy had a great season 48 Hrs, tied for number one in Majors and lead majors in RBI. It may be too much to ask of him to have a similar year but he is still a major player. I have been impressed with Andrew Benintendi, who played good defense in left field and hit 16 homers. Michael Taylor will be back patrolling centerfield and can hit an occasional homer but is only a .240 hitter.

Isabel hit .280 in his brief time with Royals and will compete for an outfield position, and Hunter Dozier hit .277 over his last 30 games, but still wondering if in 2022, will we see the 2019 Dozier or the Dozier of 2020 and first half of the 2021 year?

Then there was the questionable, Ryan O’Hearn kept getting second and third chances but going in 2022, Royals need to say good bye. Here is a thought, McBroom had a nice season in Omaha but he spent only 7 games and 8 at bats. Why didn’t he get more of chance oppose to O’Hearn plus didn’t anyone notice that Frank “The Tank” Swindell had a nice year with Cubs who gave him a solid chance?

The real mystery was pitching where many of the leading minor league prospects came up. Lynch showed potential in the second half of the year but Kowar has yet to show if he is the real thing. Heasley and Zerpa showed potential in their brief stint in Kansas City but they will be in North West Arkansas and Omaha. Singer had some success but there were times that he regressed. He didn’t make the big jump I thought he would and Bubic had nice September. He showed me he is ready for the Majors but the question next year where to place him in the rotation? The best starter was Carlos Hernandez, who went 6-2 and was a pleasant surprise. The real disappointment was Brad Keller who regressed this season at 8-12.

The Royals have a ton of talent pitching in the minors and there was enough to say that we have potential starting rotation but the question is which pitcher survives the cut and which becomes trade bait for more talent?

Barlow, Staumont, Coleman, Bentz, and Tapia showed they could be a solid bull pen. (Bentz had a poor second half of the season so there is questions about him.) There are more talent in the minors to go with this.

Least I forget, Bobby Witt Jr. lead a group of sluggers coming up. He hit.290 in both double A and triple A with 33 homers and 29 stolen bases. He was joined by Pratto who hit 36 homers and a .265 average and M.J. Melendez who added 41 homers and a .288 average. Over the final playoff Triple A run, the Storm Chasers 7-2.

I had this feeling that this was going to be 2013 but alas, we had to satisfied with 74 wins and a fourth place finish.

As for the Central division rivals, Royals went 10-9 against White Sox, 11-8 against Tigers, 10-9 against Twins, and 5-14 against the Indians. They were 35-40 against their central division opponents. You can say that they won three out of four yearly series against Central division opponents but they were dominated by the Indians.

KC

As we end the season, I have to admit I have a little disappointment with the Royals. Maybe I was expecting too much but right now as we play our last game against the Indians,  I reviewed our record and find some interesting tidbits.

We were 10-9  the White Sox, 11-8 against the Tigers, 9-7 with three games left against the Twins but we did go 5-13 against the Indians. Overall we were minus 2 against the Central with winning records against three of the four teams including division leading White Sox. If nothing else, we nearly broke even with teams in our division and maybe it shows we are now competitive against team we need to beat next year.

As mention, we were 10-9 against the White Sox,  4-0 against Brewers, 4-3 against Astros plus a winning record against Seattle Mariners. With four games left, we are a plus 5 after the All Star break.    The reality is that overall we are 12 below .500 and that is also a fact.  The reason as I mention, inconsistent pitching in particular from the starting pitcher but we have a young staff that could develop.  The team is 12 games under .500.  That is a fact that can’t be denied since we play 162 games.

Iowa wins but it wasn’t Pretty

Iowa won and during the third quarter, look like the dominant defense and an offense that scored 17 points but the first half and even in fourth quarter, they didn’t look a 23 point favorite.

Iowa was down 14-7 to Colorado State at half time and as Iowa was driving near the end of the first half, a Petras interception, his first of the year, was nearly run back for a touchdown but the Rams manage to score to take the lead. In the first half, Colorado managed to make first down off third downs for nearly 67%, hardly Iowa defense like. Rams held Goodson to under 60 yards and one of those runs went for 27 yards. Goodson barely made 2 yards per run on the other carries.

But as they say, a win is a win. Iowa now begins the rest of the Big Ten schedule. They play undefeated Maryland at Maryland next weekend followed by Penn State, also undefeated. They have won their only road game at Ames against a good Iowa State and next week, they play a good Terrapin team.

The defense has not allowed 25 points in 26 straight game and in the second half, dominated like it should. The offense is serviceable but need to be more than that. Next week is another step toward a special year.

Royals more thoughts.

Royals where do we go for 2022?  With 9 games left, Royals are plus 4 since all star break but still 13 games under .500 so how close are the Royals?  My own view is that we are close to be a contender but a team with holes.

The failure of this year was young pitchers still learning how to pitch in the majors and the bottom half of the lineup often failed.  Carlos Santana is 35 who looked closer to 45 as he had a poor second half of the season. I have been critical of Hunter Dozier but he did play better in the second half and showed that maybe he can play a role next year, but Ryan O Hearn has not proven he belongs as a starter and time to say good bye.

Mike Minor was to be the veteran starter to stabilize the young pitching staff, but he finished over 5 ERA and only 8-12 record so do you bring him back?  Wade Davis and Greg Holland have been great in the past but not in 2020 and now it is time to say thank you for what you done for the past.  

Top four of the batting order is solid, Merrifield, Lopez, Perez and Benintendi and if Mondesi stays healthy, Royals have another offensive weapon.   The Royals have some young talent coming up led by Bobby Witt, jr who has hit nearly .300 and 33 homers, and you can add M.J. Melendez who has collabored 39 homers to go with his .281 average this minor league season.  In addition, Nick Pratto showed he is close, with 33 homers and .261 average and in Double AA, Vinnie Pasquantino has 24 homers and a .300 batting average.  Kyle Isabel is hitting .300 in his short stint with the Royals but he also had a good second half of the year at Omaha and Edward Olivares has potential with 5 homers in Kansas City but so far he is learning Major league pitching as his .224 batting average would show.

How aggressive will the Royals be?  I have stated before, if you are ready to contend then it is time to move aggressively.  From the Royals Review, “Sign free-agent Starling Marte as a free agent. Something like 2/$40M or 3/$45M should get it done. He probably won’t be entirely worth that deal, but I expect him to still be quite good in 2022. After that, hopefully, he declines gracefully, or the Royals have a breakout centerfield candidate and can relegate Marte to a vastly-overpaid fourth-outfielder…trade Scott Barlow, Jonathan Bowlan, and Edward Olivares to the Athletics for Chris Bassitt and some cash.The Royals’ young pitchers aren’t ready to go 200 IP and then pitch deep into the post-season. They’re going to need an experienced horse to lead the way. Bassitt fits this bill, and according to Baseball Trade Values, this is the kind of deal that could get it done. I know you don’t want to lose Barlow, but it’s sort of him or Jackson Kowar, and I think Kowar could be at least as good out of the bullpen if he can’t eventually figure out the whole starting thing.”  Granted these are aggressive moves but you have talent in the minors coming up and enough talent on the field now.

Royals are closer than their record shows for now and we will see what the off season brings.

Usyk Wins the Heavyweight Title

Boxing just saw a big shock in the heavyweight division as Oleksandr Usyk upset Anthony Joshua by out boxing him.   Usyk, in his third heavyweight fight since moving up from being a cruiserweight champion, fought a brilliant boxing match in out dueling Joshua. 

In the opening round, Usyk landed two left hands that rocked Joshua head back and came forward but staying mobile.  Joshua didn’t move as fluid and spent the first round being watchful.

During the second round and the third round, Usyk stayed out of Joshua reach and landed with his left. Joshua landed a couple of rights but got rocked by a big shot by Usyk, the smaller man.  Throughout the fourth round, Usyk appeared to dominate with his boxing skills but at the fifth round, Joshua nailed Usyk with a solid shot at the end of the round.

Through the first half, it was a technical fight which favored Uysk as he dictated the pace and both fighters keeping their distance.  During the sixth round, fans roared when Joshua landed hard shots and there even appear that maybe Usyk was moving backwards as Joshua moved forward.  One of Sky pundit had the fight four to two in favor of Usyk.

Joshua has a fighter who  had the confidence of a champion entering the seventh round.  Joshua snapped a body shot with his left but got countered with a shot that stunned Joshua but he recovered quickly.  Uysk looked back in charge the end of the seventh round.

The eighth and ninth round were more even rounds as far as scoring compared to the opening rounds where Usyk easily outboxed Joshua.  In the ninth round Joshua landed a couple of good shots but so did Usyk

A cut appeared on the Usyk’s right side of face as the tenth round began and both fighters showed the wear of the fight.  Joshua right eye was swelling up and Joshua appeared desperate while his corner tried to relax and ensure him the fight can be won.

Usyk came out flying at the beginning of the eleventh round and over the final six minutes of the fight, he looked the more mobile fighter.  While both fighters suffered from fatigue, Usyk movement indicated that he was the fresher the figher.  Usyk kept moving forward and throwing punches and while Joshua attempted one big right, it missed.  Usyk rocked Joshua as the round wound down.  The question was now would he win a decision fighting in Joshua’s backyard?

He won an unanimous decision, 117-111, 116-112, and 115-113. 

All reasonable scores and as one British sport writer observed, “It’s a shocking night for him and his fans but Joshua can have no complaints. He was outboxed and outclassed. He started slowly, and grew into the fight as it went on, but what a display by Usyk, who kept coming forward and mixing up his angles of attack. Joshua was slower – although clearly more powerful – and he did hurt Usyk at times. But the Ukrainian is now the new heavyweight champion. It’s the second defeat of Anthony Joshua’s career.”

Sky pundit Chris Eubank Jr: “I’m gobsmacked, flabbergasted … I didn’t see the fight going that way at all. It’s only his [Usyk’s] third heavyweight fight. It was a masterclass. One of the biggest statements in boxing for a very long time. Full credit to the guy.” 

Much of the boxing world  were stunned. No one thinks of Usyk as a official contender for the pound for pound champion as Alvarez or Crawford are often thought of the best pound for pound but now you have to put Usyk in the conversation.

And this put the entire heavyweight division on its ear as the anticipated Fury-Joshua fight has been put on hold and Usyk has most of the heavy weight belts.  Fury still has to fight Wilder and while I favor Fury in this fight due to his technical boxing skills, Wilder has a puncher chance with one blow.   Usyk was unknown before tonight but now he is king of the heavyweight.

When do you end a rebuild and go for it?

Going into the 2022, the Royals have to make a decision, when do you go for it and the rebuild?

Royals have both strengths and weakness. The top four in the batting order is a potent. Merrifield is hitting .279 with 171 hits and 40 stolen bases. While he is below his lifetime, still he is hitting close to .280 and playing solid defense at second. Nicky Lopez is hitting .300 and 20 steals along with solid defense at short. My own view is that Lopez .300 is for real and he has finally put it together. He knows his limitation and worked his strength. He was a .300 plus hitter in the minors and he is fulfilling his potential.

Perez is having a career year and showing why he is worth the long term contract given to him and Benintendi is hitting .280 with 15 homers. Here is the dilemma, both Merrifield is signed through 2023 and Benintendi through 2022. If they end their rebuild, both men are Royals next year. Benintendi has recovered much of his 2018 season and proved to be an excellent replacement defensively for Gordon. Do you take your chance that you won’t resign him but keep him for 2022. If you are not certain that you are close to contending, no but if you think the rebuild is not yet complete, then yes.

The bottom half of the batting order is problematic. Mondesi is potentially a star but he can’t stay on the field. Dozier got his contract but has hit poorly in 2020 and 2021. Ryan O’Hearn has yet to show he is a long term solution. Michael Taylor is a good defensive centerfield and has 12 homers. He is a .245 hitter and if you had other offensive players surrounding him, he is worth keeping but when you Dozier and O Hearn hitting .210 and .220, maybe he is a luxury you can’t afford.

The key is do you think Isabel and Olivares are ready to play, then you cut bait with O’Hearn. McBroom spent most of the year in Omaha and he has 30 homers so you have to wonder why wasn’t he on Royals as oppose to O’Hearn. As for Dozier, if he wasn’t signed to a long term contract, he would be gone. Next year you have Witt coming up to play infield, and he has shown that he has nothing to prove in the minors. Witt has the defensive skills, speed, and power to go with his hitting skills. Behind him is M.j. Melendez and Nick Pratto, both power hitters in their right. Those three hit nearly 100 homers this past year. Will they be ready for the show? If Witt shows his potential and Mondesi can stay healthy enough to play most games, then we are talking a potent offense.

Baseball is about pitching and the starting pitching is a mess. Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic have had their moments but they also had those games that reminded us they are still young. Brad Singer has taken a step backward from 2020 and needs to develop a third pitch and Kowar shown that he is not ready for the show. Carlos Hernandez made the jump this year as he is the only Royal starting pitcher who will end up with a winning record. Brad Keller took step a back and is now shut down for the year. Mike Minor second tour as a Royal was hardly a success and he is now on the IR. Keller and Minor were both 8-12.

Bentz, Staumont, Barlow had a decent year as relief pitchers and Bolanos, Tapia may have the potential to add depth of the bullpen.

The Royals are deep in pitching talent in the minors and the question is whether they would be traded for starters. If they think they are close, then minor league prospects will be traded.

Royals are close to be contenders with strong nucleus at the top of the order but pitching is 90 percent of baseball and that is Royals major issue. Pitching.

Sports for the weekend

The weekend in sports for my teams. You can say the weekend began Thursday when Washington “formerly known as the Redskins” Football Team squeaked out a victory over the Giants who did everything they could to give Washington the game and succeeded.

Giants Daniel Jones had a great game, nearly 90 yards rushing and 300 passing but he had one pass dropped in the end zone, and another touchdown call back due to holding. Both cases, the drive ended in field goals, a eight point turnaround. Also, a offside on the the last play gave the Football team a second chance to steal victory from the jaws of defeat as Hopkins missed a 48 yard field goal but a second chance five yard closer gave the Football team their victory.

Taylor Heincke had 330 yards passing and found a way to win his first NFL victory as a starter. Now the Washington offense is in his hands but the defense has been shredded two games in a row.

Iowa is now 3-0 and their defense so far has been dominating as they have limited opponents to 10 points per game. They limited Indiana to 6 points, Iowa State to 17 and Kent State, a potent offense to 7 points. The offense scored 30 points against Kent State and Goodson ha 153 yard rushing and 3 TD but Iowa offense has yet to hit their stride as Petras has so far been more a manger of the offense as oppose to a playmaker.

Royals went 2-4 in their homestand against the A’s and Mariners. They did win the year series against the Mariners but they are now 15 games under .500 with 13 games left.

There are questions about the Royals going into 2022. I will detail them in a later blog.

Royals frustration and potential for 2022

At the beginning of the season, I had high hopes for a potential .500 record and maybe if all worked out perfectly, a possible play contender. They have disappointed as they are minus 13 under .500 with 21 games left. Unless they go on a big winning streak, they will be under .500 again. (They are plus 4 since the All-Star break.)

Problems begin with pitching as young pitchers have exhibited growing pains but progress have been shown. There are times that Brad Singer have shown growth from last year and times that he has taken steps backwards as he struggles to develop a third pitch but his last game, he has pitched well over the last three games with a victory over White Sox. Daniel Lynch has pitched well since coming back from Omaha and a rough start early this year as he is 3-1. Kowar is still showing growing pain but getting better with each game but the gem of this young staff is Carlos Hernandez who is 6-1 this year but over his last seven games 4-0 and a ERA under 2. Kris Bubic has been inconsistent and may be a fifth starter in the future. Brad Keller was due to have a break through year but 8-12 this year. The good news is that he is under 4 ERA in his last seven games but still I expected more.

As one writer for Royals Review noted, “And the Royals still have some very interesting pitchers in the minors in Asa Lacy, Alec Marsh, Jonathan Bowlan, and Austin Cox to name a few. The fact that it is impossible to make a reasonably sized list of potential pitchers without leaving off several is a testament to the true depth the Royals currently have in their minor league pitching.” The bullpen is developing but again, this year a lot of potential but not yet developed and this point was reinforced by Royal Review writer, “In the bullpen the Royals have Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, Joel Payamps, Jake Brentz, Domingo Tapia, Richard Lovelady, and Tyler Zuber currently experiencing mixed levels of success at the big leagues. Of the starters I mentioned earlier some won’t pitch in the big leagues next year but more than five of them almost certainly will and there are plenty of reasons to think any or all of them could have at least as much success in the bullpen as they’ve had in the rotation.”

Hitting has been problematic but some pieces look strong. Every year, we hear about Merrifield needing to traded but since 2016, he has hit .292 and presently hitting .276 which for him is a down year. He is in top five in hits among both leagues and is number one in the American League. Nicky Lopez is hitting over .290 and now doing what he did in the minors, hit to all field and get on base. He is also 19 for 19 in stolen bases, never been caught. While he had a rough start in the majors as a hitting but in both Double A and Triple A, he hit over .300. So what he is doing now, he was doing in the minors. Salvy Perez has been great with his power and still a great catcher.

Andrew Benintendi was hitting well before he fractured his ribs but lately he has raised his average to .263 with 14 homers. He also played great defense and has replaced the great defensive skills of Alex Gordon. The problem with the Royals is number 5 thru 9. Mondesi has been injured most of the year and has been injured prone in his career. Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn has yet shown they are long term solution. In 2018, O’Hearn had a good year but nothing since then and Dozier had a good 2019, signed a long term deal but has disappointed since. Soler was the DH and occasional right fielder but while he had 13 homers at the break, he was hitting .192. (but is now hitting .285 with the Braves and 10 homers. He is looking like the Soler of 2019 who hit 48 homers and led the majors. ) Carlos Santana is only hitting .220 but does have 19 homers. Without consistent hitting behind the top four batters hurt the offense

The good news is that Royals have help on the way with Bobby Witt who has hit 31 homers and hitting over .300, M.J. Melendez with 36 homers and Nicky Pratto with 29 homers. They are others including Kyle Isabel who is hitting .271 with 15 homers at Omaha and Vinnie Pasquantino with 22 homers and hitting over.300 at high A and at Double A.

The question for the Royals, is how close are they? David Lesky noted, “Man, this Royals team is annoying, huh? They’re 10-9 against the White Sox, 4-3 against the Astros, 4-0 against the Brewers, 3-1 against the Mariners and you can even include 9-7 against the Tigers, who have been generally pretty good since the first month of the season. But even with the win last night, they’re under .500 against the Orioles, Rangers, Angels, Cardinals and Indians, all teams they should either beat or be competitive with. I talked last week about their record against mediocre teams, but the Orioles and Rangers are downright bad and the Royals weren’t able to win more than they lost against those teams this year.” Against the good teams, they have been competitive but to be a playoff team, you have to beat bad teams. They are 21-13 against White Sox, Mariners, Astros and Brewers but Indians and Cardinals have dominated the Royals.

David Lesky noted, “With the good, it means that they’ve got enough talent to beat these good teams. With the bad, it means that they probably aren’t treating all 162 as important. Maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world, but also if they’re ever going to actually win anything, they’ll need to find a way to bank wins against those teams.” He is right.

My own view is that 2022 can be like 2013, maybe 2014 but it comes down to the younger starters taking a step up. Hernandez looks like a top starter and Lynch has shown he can be a number two. Kowar and Singer have the skills and Keller is only 26 years. We are talking Kowar, Singer, Keller, Lynch, and Hernadez and if you want to go 6 man rotation, you have Bubic.

As for the offense, I don’t see O’Hearn or Dozier long term but Dozier has a long term deal but Witt, Jr is one of those one in a generation player who can play defense, run the bases and hit for power plus average. I am a homer for the Royals but there are holes in this team that need to be address. Michael Taylor is a great defensive center field but he is a .240 hitter. Can you afford a .240 center who plays great defense? Only if the other 7 or 8 hitters carry the load. If you have only 4 hitters, a good defensive center field who is a mediocre hitter is a unaffordable luxury. Mondesi is a good athlete who is now trying third base with Lopez staying at short and Merrifield at second. That could be a solid infield.

Pitching is the key and over the past three years, Royals drafting has drafted enough pitching potential. Royals Review concluded, “For all the criticism the Royals have borne in recent years for failing to develop enough talented pitchers to support their ambitions we must also give them credit now that they have begun producing valuable big league pitchers at such a high rate. Their recent success in drafting and development has opened up a path to contention not wholly-reliant on insane amounts of luck for the first time since at least 2017 and they must attack it with gusto. It is not an easy, simple, or safe path but it is a path. The saying goes that fortune favors the bold. The Royals were bold in drafting so many college pitchers at the start of the 2018 draft. They were bold in overhauling their development process to ensure these pitchers successfully reached the big leagues in a position to truly contribute to the success of the club. Now they must be bold enough to fill the remaining holes on the team with something more than cast-offs, bargains, or wishful thinking. If they do, we just might see the third Royals playoff team in the last nine years.”

Changing of the Guard

Jenson Booksby won the first set against Novak Djokovic 6-1. and while Djokovic won the next three sets but the 20 year old showed potential of being contender for a major. He is a grinder, similar to a young Nadal.

British Emma Raducanu easily beat Shelby Rogers who just took care of the number seeded Barty. She is now in the quarter finals along with Leyhla Fernandez, anotheer 18 year old.

Carlos Alcaraz is another 18 year old male who is also in the quarterfinals. Djokovic is 34 as he goes for number 21 and a calendar grand slam. In the women Tennis, we are seeing potentially two stars who can be the next super stars.