What current Royals will crash the all-time KC team (or have already)?

28 11 2015

A while back on Facebook, my Kansas City cousin, Doug Worgul, asked me if any current Royals have already made my all-time Royals team.

I gave him a quick assessment, off the top of my head, before this year’s team reached the post-season. After the Royals won their first World Series in 30 years, here’s my updated, detailed assessment early in the careers of some current Royals and their chances for being Kansas City’s best ever at their positions:

Catcher


The Royals have had some good catchers, but no great ones. You could have argued for three or four different catchers here before Salvador Pérez arrived. I give Pérez the nod here already. At age 25, he has only three full seasons behind the plate. But they have been three All-Star and Gold Glove seasons. And now he has a World Series MVP trophy.

No Royal catcher ever could match Pérez’s collection of hardware.

You can argue over whether Darrell PorterJim SundbergBob BooneJohn Wathan or Mike Macfarlane is second. But none of them has come close to matching  Pérez’s achievements.

It says something about the Royals’ catching history that a three-year starter is their best ever already. But Pérez is.

First base


Mike Sweeney, the best hitter on some bad Royals teams, made five All-Star teams in six years from 2000 to 2005. He is the only position player from what my son Tom called the “lost years” between the early 1990s and 2014 who makes this team.

But Sweeney gave Kansas City 11 strong years. It will take a while for 2015 first baseman Eric Hosmer to catch him, but I think he’s in reach.

Before Hosmer came along, two-time All-Star John Mayberry  was probably No. 2 at first base, ahead of Steve Balboni and Willie Aikens.

George Brett might be No. 2 or 3 here, ahead or behind Mayberry, even though he played only four seasons (1987-90) primarily at first base. Brett was an All-Star in 1987 and ’88 after moving to first base, and won his third batting championship in 1990. And, after all, he’s George Brett. So he doesn’t go at first base on a Royals’ all-time team. More on him shortly.

Hosmer, like Pérez, is finishing his fifth year, and he’s been a starter all along. He hasn’t made an All-Star team yet, and hasn’t approached any of Sweeney’s best single-season numbers, but I like where he’s heading. With three Gold Gloves already, he’s a better fielder than hitter, but he’s solid offensively, too. His 14th-inning game-winning sacrifice fly in Game One and his dash home with the tying run to send Game Five into extra innings this year push Hosmer into second place, in my view, but if you want to say Mayberry’s still a shade ahead, I won’t argue.

Another few years, and I think Hosmer will pass Sweeney, but he’s not there yet.

Second base


This position is a one-man race for the Royals: Frank White. No one is within 10 years of reaching him. I sat with White at a Royals’ banquet many years ago. A pleasant man, a great fielder, a good hitter.

Shortstop


Freddie Patek is the gold standard for Royals shortstops, with three All-Star games in nine seasons and a .306 batting average against the Yankees in three post-season series in the 1970s.

Angel Berroa was a Rookie of the Year and gave the Royals a good seven-year run. Based on regular-season play, you could argue that he’s No. 2.

But I give Alcides Escobar the edge over Berroa in his five years in Kansas City. He was closing on Berroa before this post-season, his MVP performance against the Blue Jays, followed by an inside-the-park homer on his first swing of this World Series. He needs another two or three years to pass Patek, but he’s on his way.

Third base


MooseI love Mike Moustakas. My cell phone is loaded with “Mooooose!!!!” messages among my sons and me, celebrating his post-season heroics the past two years (and some regular-season ones as well. But I don’t expect the Royals to have a third baseman better than Brett in the next century. Seriously, major league baseball is well over a century old, and the only team that can claim a better third baseman is the Philadelphia Phillies. Maybe two or three can argue that they have had a third baseman as good as Brett.

I think and hope Moose will be a longtime star, hopefully a career Royal. But I can’t see him ever passing Brett as No. 1 at third base for Kansas City.

Left field

Among the people you think of as Royals left fielders, Alex Gordon appeared a likely winner initially. He’s spent nine years in Kansas City, moving to left from third base five years ago. Bo Jackson was spectacular, and watching him was a real treat of our time in Kansas City. But Bo played only four full seasons for the Royals before getting injured on the football field. His most memorable homer was in an All-Star Game. Gordon’s center-field shot tying Game One of this World Series in the ninth inning wasn’t as amazing as Bo’s, but it was bigger. With five straight Gold Gloves and three All-Star appearances, Gordon beats Jackson out.

But I’ll tell you this: Bo would have scored on that error in Game Seven last year.

And I’ll tell you this: I have to go with Willie Wilson in left field over either Jackson or Gordon. I think of him as a center fielder, and he covered ground amazingly and gracefully once he moved over there. But with 676 games in left, Wilson has more than Jackson and just 100 fewer than Gordon. And he’s one of the Royals’ best ever, having led the American League in batting, hits, runs, stolen bases and triples (five times), most of that when he was playing left. He had more hits and runs than Jackson and Gordon combined.

Johnny Damon had a nice five-year start with the Royals, but played more than 100 games in left only one of those years.

Center field


Amos Otis gets the nod here. If Gordon sticks around and passes Wilson in left, I might move Willie to center ahead of AO, but that would be a tough call. Otis was as important to the 1970s Royals as Brett was. This has been a strong position for the Royals. The current team’s Lorenzo Cain has been awesome, especially with the dash home to beat the Blue Jays and get into he World Series, but also with some spectacular fielding in last year’s post-season. But I think he ranks behind Otis, Wilson and Carlos Beltrán.

Cain has a strong start, but only three years. He can pass Beltrán soon, but he’s several years from catching Otis and Wilson.

Right field

Right is tougher. AO and Wilson played just a few games each in right, so I couldn’t move either over here to ease the traffic jams in center or left. Right field was a platoon position on the ’85 championship team and the weakest spot on the ’15 champions. Al Cowens finished second in the 1977 MVP race and  played six years in right field, including the 1970s division championship seasons. Jermaine Dye was an All-Star but played only two full seasons in right for Kansas City. Both won Gold Gloves. Danny Tartabull made an All-Star appearance and had three 100-RBI seasons as the Royals’ right fielder from ’87 to ’91. I’d probably rank Cowens, Tartabull and Dye as the best right fielders, in that order. But I wouldn’t quarrel if  you wanted to place Tartabull first.

Designated hitter


Kendrys Morales had a great year for the Royals this year, but Hal McRae was the first successful DH and played more than 1,400 games at the position for the Royals, leading the league in slugging and RBI in separate seasons. Morales is easily a decade from becoming the Royals’ best DH. Billy Butler, who left after the 2014 World Series, has four seasons as the Royals’ primary DH and certainly ranks ahead of Morales, too.

Starting pitchers


None of the current Royals is near joining the all-time starting rotation, however you might choose such a rotation. Bret Saberhagen is easily the best KC starter ever and would lead any all-time Royal rotation.

I tend to value peak performance over longevity (though I value both), so I would follow Sabes in the rotation by two more Cy Young winners, David Cone and Zack Greinke; a three-time 20-game winner from the ’70s, Dennis Leonard, and Paul Splittorff, the franchise leader with 166 career wins.

If you prefer longevity to a single or a few spectacular seasons, Kevin Appier and/or Mark Gubicza might edge out Cone and/or Greinke. I’d guess that unless the Royals can sign Johnny Cueto as a free agent, Yordano Ventura has the best shot to cracking this rotation. But he’s several years or a Cy Young season away from joining this discussion.

Relief pitching


Usually when I’m picking an all-time team, I pick a closer rather than a full bullpen (I also don’t pick a full bench of position players and didn’t here).

Dan Quisenberry is clearly the Royals’ best all-time closer. Wade Davis has less than a full year as a closer. But his two years as an eighth-inning reliever who moved into the closer role have been dominant, maybe better than Quisenberry at his best.

I’d say that Davis’ excellence here justifies naming Quiz as the all-time Royals closer, and Davis as the all-time Royals set-up man, with a shot at unseating Quiz from the closer role in a few years.

Jeff Montgomery, with 304 career saves for the Royals, merits mention.

Manager


Four managers have led the Royals to the post-season: Whitey Herzog, Jim Frey, Dick Howser and Ned Yost. A manager’s job is to win championships. Only Yost and Howser have won World Series. Only Yost has led his team to two World Series. I think Yost tops the list of Royal managers, much as I loved Howser.

How did the ’15 Royals do?

Pérez is the only position player from 2015 I would put on the all-time Royals team. Escobar and Gordon, if they stay with the team and continue to play as they have, are probably the closest to crashing the team. Hosmer is farther away, but appears on track to become the Royals’ best first baseman.

Davis is the only pitcher from 2015 yet who belongs on the team, but not as closer.

Yost would manage, but at this point, his lineup card would be heavy with Royals from the 1970s and ’80s.

Source note: Unless noted otherwise, statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

 

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Comparing the 1985 and 2015 Kansas City Royals

9 11 2015

How do the 2015 World Series champions stack up with the 1985 Kansas City Royals?

During the World Series, I compared these Royals to the 1986 Red Sox, who also took a 2-0 Series lead but eventually lost to the Mets in seven games. The Royals won most comparisons to the ’86 Red Sox. Then, after Game Four, I compared this year’s Mets to the 1985 Royals, who fell behind St. Louis 3-1 before roaring back to win. Royals won that comparison, too.

The Royals will win this one as well, but which Royals?

I didn’t do the other comparisons in identical ways, and I won’t do this one either. The first comparison was based on some research because I truly didn’t know (and had a travel day and some insomnia induced by drugs used in my stem-cell harvest to give me a little time for that research). The second comparison was shorter (but still long), based on less research. Each of those started with a position-by-position comparison, but my son Mike covered that well in yesterday’s guest post.

This comparison will be based mostly on memory, supplemented by quick research.

Superstars: ’85


Advantage ’85 (for now). This year’s team doesn’t have a superstar of George Brett‘s caliber. Brett had one of the best years of his Hall of Fame career, leading the league in slugging and OPS and finishing second (to Don Mattingly) in the MVP award. Brett won the award in 1980 and is still the only Royal to win it.

Returning to ’85, Brett was the MVP of the Royals’ comeback win over the Blue Jays in the ’85 ALCS and hit .370 in the World Series with just 1 RBI because the Cardinals (like most of the American League) refused to pitch to Brett with men on base (he drew four World Series walks).

No one on the ’15 Royals will finish second or even very high in this season’s MVP race. But as the current players blossom (and if the best stick around), I expect Royals’ fans 30 years from now to include at least one of this year’s players in their best-Royal-ever debates. But Brett wins all those debates now and for at least the next decade. It would take a run of multiple MVP awards for one of the current Royals to catch Brett faster than that.

Depth of quality: ’15

The 2015 Royals blow ’85 away with the depth of their greatness. Brett will be the only ’85 Royal ever to make the Hall of Fame. I’ll write later about the chances of these Royals to reach the Hall of Fame. Just within the seasons in question, maybe six or seven of the ’15 Royals had better seasons than whoever was the second-best position player for the ’85 Royals. The quality depth of this team is illustrated in the next comparison.

Batting lineup: ’15

Comparing the Game One World Series lineup for the ’15 Royals to the Game Seven ALCS lineup for the ’85 Royals (since they couldn’t use DH’s in the World Series):

  1.  Alcides Escobar had a great post-season and somehow worked in the leadoff spot, despite a low on-base percentage (.293). But Lonnie Smith of ’85 gets the advantage, with more runs and stolen bases (despite playing only 120 games for the Royals) and getting a .321 OBP. ’85 wins.
  2. Hard to compare their regular-season performances, since Willie Wilson played the whole year for the Royals and Ben Zobrist was a late-July trade. But Wilson’s 21 regular season triples and 43 stolen bases give him the advantage, plus he hit better in the World Series. ’85 wins.
  3. Lorenzo Cain had a good season and post-season, but George Brett wins most comparisons, including this one. ’85 wins.
  4. Eric Hosmer is at the top of his game (or rising). Hal McRae was on the decline. ’15 wins.
  5. Kendrys Morales drove in 106 regular-season runs, including 46 RBI with two outs, and added four homers and 10 RBI in the post-season. Pat Sheridan, the ALCS Game Seven starter, platooned with Darryl Motley, and together they didn’t approach Morales’ offensive production. ’15 wins.
  6. Steve Balboni had his best season in ’85 with 36 homers and 88 RBI, but he also led the league with 166 strikeouts. Mike Moustakas gets the edge on better overall hitting and better post-season hitting. ’15 wins.
  7. Salvador Pérez is a feared hitter in the 7 spot, better in every offensive aspect than Jim Sundberg, except for drawing walks. ’15 wins.
  8. Frank White moved up to the clean-up slot for the World Series, because he had more power than the right fielders and catcher and didn’t strike out as much as Bonesy. He wouldn’t even be close in this matchup at clean-up, and he’s only close at No. 8 because an injury limited Alex Gordon to 104 regular-season games. Gordon had better season offensive averages across the board and a game-tying ninth-inning homer in the World Series. ’15 wins.
  9. Even with Buddy Biancalana‘s strong World Series performance, Álex Ríos was a far superior hitter, though this wasn’t his best season. Here’s a comparison: That Buddy Biancalana Hit Counter that David Letterman had fun with the year Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s career hits record stopped at 113 hits in Buddy’s six-year career. Ríos has had 11 seasons with more hits than Biancalana’s whole career. ’15 wins.

The batting lineup comparison really illustrates the strength of the ’15 Royals. The ’85 Royals win the top of the order (where the ’15 Royals were solid), but the ’15 Royals were just relentless and far superior 4-9. “Keep the line moving” was not just a slogan. It was the offense that resulted in all the comebacks.

The ’85 Royals had a huge offensive weakness (Biancalana), a platoon combos that was average at best (Motley/Sheridan), a declining DH (McRae) and a feast-or-famine player (Balboni). The ’15 Royals didn’t have anyone as dangerous as Brett, but were dangerous whoever was hitting.

Starting pitching: ’85


This isn’t even close, either in context of the full season or the World Series. The ’15 Royals didn’t have that year’s Cy Young Award winner and the ’15 Series MVP didn’t come from the pitching staff. Bret Saberhagen won both and went on to the best pitching career of any Royal starter ever.

Add a Danny Jackson complete-game win and two strong outings (but no wins) from Charlie Leibrandt, and this was a dominant starting rotation. Bud Black pitched well, losing in his only start. Mark Gubicza, won more games in the regular season than any of this year’s Royals, 14, added a key Game Six win in the ALCS over Toronto and didn’t even pitch in the World Series. He could have been a Game One starter for the 2015 Royals.

Johnny Cueto‘s Game Three gem was the only win by a ’15 starting pitcher (and he was inconsistent during the regular and post-season). No other Royal starter pitched in the seventh inning. The ’85 Royals pitched three complete games (Sabes twice and Jackson once). And Charlie Leibrandt took a scoreless game into the eighth inning before losing the lead in Game Six and came within a strike of a 2-0 shutout in Game Two before losing in the ninth, 4-2. Jackson also pitched seven innings of two-run ball in a Game One loss. With the exception of Game Four, when Black gave up three runs in five innings, every ’85 start was better than the non-Cueto starts of ’15.

I’m not saying the ’15 Royals didn’t have good starting pitching. They kept teams in the game and pitched the six strong innings (sometimes five) that the Royals needed. But the comparison of starting pitchers was not even close.

Bullpen: ’15


Here’s how good the ’15 Royals’ bullpen was: The ’85 Royals had a guy who outpitched three Hall of Fame relievers in their overlapping primes. And the ’15 bullpen was even better.

Dan Quisenberry‘s dominance as a closer from 1980 to ’85 was one of the best stretches ever from any reliever in baseball history. In fact, Hall of Fame relievers Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage were in their primes for some or all of that stretch and Quiz was the very best of that time. And I’m not counting Dennis Eckersley, who hadn’t moved to the bullpen yet.

But Quiz was nearly at the end of his run, and Manager Dick Howser was losing confidence in his bullpen ace against left-handers. He didn’t turn to Quiz in the ninth inning of Game Two because left-handed hitter Andy Van Slyke was on the Cardinals’ bench and Howser had lost confidence in Quiz against left-handers. As I recounted earlier, Howser outmanaged Bobby Cox in ALCS Games Six and Seven, starting right-handers Gubicza and Saberhagen, then relieving with left-handed starters (the ’85 Royals had no left-handed relievers), so that Cox would pinch-hit his right-handed DH Cliff Johnson, removing left-handed Al Oliver from the games, so he couldn’t bat late against Quiz.

Ned Yost had full confidence in his bullpen in any situation. Wade Davis hasn’t had a full season as closer yet, but his two seasons and post-seasons in the eighth inning role before moving to closer late this season were as dominant as Quiz at his best.

Greg Holland was a dominant closer last year and good this year before an injury ended his season (he had Tommy John surgery). And without him, this bullpen continued to close out games strong, with Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar and Ryan Madson pitching strong. And Game Four starter Chris Young split time between starting and relieving, and won the 14-inning Game One marathon.

Even with Quiz, the bullpen comparison isn’t close, and the ’85 bullpen was otherwise forgettable: Joe Beckwith was the only other regular-season reliever other than Quiz who even pitched in the World Series. I already mentioned how the lack of a left-hander forced Howser to use starters in relief in the ALCS..

I haven’t done the research to prove that the ’15 Royals had the best bullpen ever. I fondly remember many bullpens with Mariano Rivera in the closer role and even the season he set up for John Wetteland. But I doubt any other bullpen was as dominant in a World Series. The Mets outscored the Royals 18-12 in the first seven innings, but the Royals prevailed 9-0 in the eighth and ninth innings and 6-0 in extra innings.

Offense has to do the coming back, but bullpens make comebacks possible, and the ’15 Royals’ bullpen didn’t allow comebacks.

Comebacks: even

Both Royal teams refused to die (sometimes you use a cliché because it just applies better than an original phrase). The Blue Jays and Cardinals both had the ’85 Royals down 2-0 and 3-1, and they just kept coming back. The Astros, Blue Jays and Mets all had the ’15 Royals down by multiple runs in multiple games, and they just kept coming back. Need a run in the ninth to keep Game One going? Gordon obliges. Need two in the ninth to keep Game Five going? Cain and Hosmer deliver. Think you have the Series wrapped up? Watch out for Balboni and Dane Iorg.

Call this a push: Two of the best comeback teams ever.

Power: ’15

Brett and Balboni gave the ’85 Royals two guys how hit more than 30 homers playing their home games in a big ballpark, and their team had more homers, 154-139. But the ’15 Royals slugged better (.412 to .401) and drove in more runs, (689 to 657). In the post-season, the ’15 Royals had 17 homers in 16 games, compared to nine in 14 games for ’85. Slight power advantage for ’15.

Defense: ’15

White may have been better than any 2015 Royal defensively. But I think six of the current Royals are better than the second-best ’85 defender. Sundberg was past his Gold Glove prime. Brett won his only Gold Glove that year and Wilson won only one, before moving from left field to center. I think Perez, Gordon, Hosmer (already multiple Gold Glove winners), Escobar, Cain and Moustakas were all better defenders in ’15 than anyone but White in ’85. Since Sundberg won his Gold Gloves for the Rangers, I think the ’15 version will surpass ’85 in career Gold Gloves for the Royals this year, with many more in their future. Clear edge for ’15.

Speed: ’15

I think Escobar and Cain were probably as fast as Wilson and Smith, but the ’15 team doesn’t steal bases as much (perhaps because Ned Yost bunts too much). I loved Mike’s line yesterday about Jorge Orta‘s speed from home to first. But I have to give the edge to ’15 here for multiple reasons:

  • Cain’s race home from first on a single to win the ALCS.
  • Escobar’s lead-off inside-the-park homer to get the World Series rolling.
  • The ’85 team didn’t have a pinch-runner as good as Jarrod Dyson.
  • Hosmer’s ninth-inning dash home on a ground ball to send Game Five of the World Series into extra innings.

The ’85 team might have a slight edge on actual speed, but the ’15 team used base-running more to win the World Series.

Memorable moments: ’15

Each of these World Series will be remembered and savored by Royal fans until death or dementia. For ’85 fans, the memory of the ninth-inning comeback in Game Six is the memory fans will always cherish. (I’m not counting memories of opponents, such as the ugly Game Seven meltdowns of the Cardinal pitchers and manager.)

We remember the celebration, too: Brett heading to the mound with two outs in the ninth inning of an 11-0 blowout to tell young Saberhagen that he’d better run toward third base after the last out, then Brett embracing Bret after Motley squeezed the final out.

As vivid as the Game Six comeback remains, the ’15 Royals provided more moments (in the World Series alone) with potential to last as long in Kansas City memories:

  • Gordon’s game-tying ninth-inning homer to send Game One into extra innings.
  • Hosmer’s 14-inning sacrifice fly to end that game.
  • The eighth-inning comeback, two-inning save and game-ending double play to win Game Four.
  • Hosmer’s dash home to tie Game Five.
  • Maybe the five-run 11th inning to win Game Five had too many highlights for any of them to stand out as iconically.

Of course, ’15 has a huge advantage over ’85 where memories are concerned. Those memories are all fresh and we don’t know which will endure. But I can’t imagine memories of Gordon’s homer or Hosmer’s dash home fading.

Managing: ’15

Mike covered this well. Both are excellent managers, but sometimes frustrating (what manager isn’t frustrating?). I give Yost the edge here for bringing his team back from last year’s Game Seven heartbreak to a dominant regular season and an 11-5 post-season against tough competition.

Front office: ’15

I agree with Mike that Dayton Moore‘s achievement in putting this team together through player development, trades and free agent signings has been masterful. John Schuerholz was good, but not this good.

Context: ’15

The ’85 championship capped a decade of disappointments and improvements: three ALCS losses to the Yankees in the 1970s, then finally beating the Yankees in 1980 only to lose to the Phillies in the World Series, then post-season sweeps by the A’s in ’81 and Tigers in ’84 before the championship season in ’85.

We don’t know the context of the ’15 championship. If the Royals return to years of mediocrity (which I doubt), I’ll amend this someday. But back-to-back World Series (and losing in seven games) are achievements the Royals of the 1970s and ’80s didn’t match. I give ’15 the edge here.

Overview

The ’85 team was great and fun to watch. But I have to say this year’s team is even better. I hope we don’t have to wait until 2045 to make this a three-way comparison.

Goggles: Who wins?

Final comparison: I don’t know whether this reflects toughness or preparation, but the 1985 Royals didn’t need (toughness) or use (prep) goggles to protect their eyes from champagne:

Bottom line: Both teams celebrated. They share a spot in Royals’ fans’ hearts, and this is only a fun argument. Whichever team you favor, you love the other.

Sam Mellinger’s comparison

Sam Mellinger also compared the 1985 and 2015 Royals for the Kansas City Star.





Mike Buttry compares the 2015 and 1985 Kansas City Royals

8 11 2015
Mike Buttry and Susie Burke at Kauffman Stadium for Game Two

Mike Buttry and Susie Burke at Kauffman Stadium for Game Two

This continues my family’s posts on the Kansas City Royals and their 2015 World Series victory. Because I had a busy week last week and wouldn’t have time to share all my observations on this year’s Royals as quickly as I wanted to, I invited my sons to write guest posts.

I told them I was working on a comparison of the 1985 and 2015  Royals. I will publish that shortly. I wasn’t planning on including a position-by-position breakdown, since I did that in comparing the 2015 Royals with the 1986 Red Sox (both got 2-0 leads on the Mets) and the 1985 Royals with the 2015 Mets (both fell behind 3-1 in World Series).

Mike, who watched Game Two this year in Kauffman Stadium (we watched Game Two there last year with his brothers), took the position-by-position approach to a comparison, so that’s today’s guest post (with editing links, visuals, editing and occasional commentary in italics from Dad):

Manager: Dick Howser vs. Ned Yost

Both had great runs, but I’d go with Howser because of how he played Bobby Cox in the ALCS. He won games for them. He might have lost Game Two of the ’85 World Series by leaving Charlie Leibrandt in too long.

Ned is fun to kick around but he really did almost cost them Game 6 against Toronto and the Wild Card game last year. Ned has to get a lot of credit for:

  1. The stuff you can’t see on the field. He has to be central to this team’s resilience and ability to show up to play every day.
  2. Making changes to the way he managed in the playoffs (e.g. Davis for two innings, he was tremendous in Game 7 last year).

Dad comments: I may address managing in my own comparison of the teams. Both were outstanding, and I echo Mike’s analysis here. For details on how Howser outmanaged Cox, click the Bobby Cox link above, where I explained in detail.   Read the rest of this entry »





Were the 1986 Red Sox better than the 2015 Royals?

30 10 2015

My good friend Jim Brady’s Mets are having a better season than my favorite team, the Yankees. But my second-favorite team, the Royals, are having a better season (so far; it’s long from over) than Jim’s Mets.

As the Royals were surging to Wednesday night’s victory (with my son Mike in the crowd), I remembered that both the 1985 Royals and 1986 Mets won after trailing those World Series 2-0 (and the 1981 Yankees lost in six games after taking a 2-0 lead). I was thinking I’d note those facts in a semi-gracious Twitter message to Jim after the game. But then I saw Jim had noted one of those historic facts himself:

Well, it ain’t over, we agree on that. I quoted Yogi Berra, former Yankee legend and Mets manager, on that topic in a post just Wednesday.

I’m hoping for a sweep (son Tom, who will be in New York for Game Four, shares that hope). But I love the ebb and flow of a World Series. I’ll love a seven-game Series, too, especially if the Royals win.

But, in the trash-talking spirit of good friends sharing sports fun and the fact-checking practice of this blog, I couldn’t let Jim get away with that “better team” BS:

Jim dropped some nice names and I responded:

Red Sox fan Matt DeRienzo (Red Sox fans are still paying attention to baseball?), a mutual friend, weighed in:

I probably should have declared victory when Jim tried to compare the Red Sox’ star right fielder to a Royals pinch-runner and fifth outfielder:

But a drug being used for my stem-cell harvest woke me up in the middle of the night Wednesday. And I really wondered which team was better, the 1986 Red Sox or the 2015 Royals. Jim, Matt and I all were reacting from emotion, memory, loyalty and hope, not research. So I thought I’d see who really was better. I ended up doing way more research than I originally anticipated. And way more writing. (On another blog, I posted in the middle of the night about writing under the influence of drugs this week.)

I won’t bother with comparing the 1986 and 2015 Mets, but I welcome Jim to do that in a guest post, if he’d like. I doubt the comparison would boost his confidence. I don’t expect Jim to do a guest post (he’s a busy man and not using my drugs), so I’ll entertain offers from other Mets fans, baseball-research geeks or insomniacs who would like to do a guest post comparing the two Met teams. Update: Jim did respond on Twitter to this post. I shared some of those tweets in a follow-up post on friendly baseball arguments.

But I know a team that swept the Cubs in four games can win this World Series in six. Or seven. This is a good Mets team (reminds me a lot of last year’s Royals), and I’m not over-confident.

And if the Mets win, I’ll blame this whole post on the drugs.

Comparison by position

Position-by-position breakdowns are never the best way to compare baseball teams, but sportswriters and fans do that, so I’ll start here:

Catcher

Boston’s Rich Gedman was an All-Star twice, including the 1986 season. He never won a Gold Glove. The Royals’ Salvador Pérez is 25, a year younger than Gedman was in ’86. But Pérez has already had a better career in five years (just three full-time) than Gedman had in 13 years (just three of them playing more than 100 games). Pérez has three All-Star appearances, including this year, and two Gold Gloves. And he hit better this year than Gedman in ’86 in every significant offensive category.

Big advantage for the Royals.

First base

Jim really dropped Buckner‘s name here? (OK, I can see why a Mets fan would drop Buckner’s name a lot; it’s not like you’d want to claim Mookie Wilson drove in the winning run.) Well, Eric Hosmer did have a key error at first base in Game One, but it was on a tough hop, not an easy ground ball between the legs. And Hosmer atoned that night with the winning RBI in the 14th inning.

Buckner might have had a better career than Hosmer will. Billy Buck was a former batting champion who would retire with 2,715 hits. But Buckner never won a Gold Glove in 22 major league seasons. Hosmer should win his third this year. Red Sox fans’ continuing complaint about Game Six in ’86 is that manager John McNamara should have sent Dave Stapleton in to play defense for Buckner in the 9th inning. No one ever goes in as a defensive replacement for Hosmer. Designated hitter Kendrys Morales played only nine games at first this year.

Offensively, Hosmer had a better year in ’15 than Buckner in ’86, measured by runs, hits and batting average. They both hit 18 homers. Buckner had an edge in RBI that season, 102 to 93. But, as I noted Wednesday, Hosmer has more post-season RBI than George Brett. Hosmer drove in as many runs in the first two games of this World Series as Buckner drove in during the whole 1986 14-game post-season, four.

Clear win for the Royals at first base.

I will concede this point to Matt and Jim: The Red Sox had stronger depth at first base. Stapleton closed out all three Red Sox wins in 1986.

If you like (or can’t yet forgive) Buckner, and don’t want to wade through this analysis, scroll to the end for a couple of fun anecdotes.

Second base

Marty Barrett sizzled in the 1986 post-season, winning the ALCS MVP and getting 13 World Series hits, tying a record he still shares. He would have been the World Series MVP if Buckner had fielded that grounder. So I’ll give the Red Sox an edge here.

But Ben Zobrist is a two-time All-Star whose career has already surpassed Barrett’s (10 years each, but Zobrist is still going strong). Zobrist in ’15 and Barrett in ’86 were comparable. This is close, but I value post-season play highly, so Barrett wins.

Shortstop

We’ll blame Twitter’s 140-character limit for Jim’s and Matt’s failure to mention Spike Owen, who started all seven games for the Red Sox in ’86. Alcides Escobar is an All-Star this year (Owen never was in 13 seasons). Escobar was the ALCS MVP and is well on his way to being the World Series MVP. (Obligatory acknowledgment here that the Series is far from over.)

Third base 

OK, Jim, I gotta give you Wade Boggs, a Hall of Famer who led the league in ’86 in batting, on-base percentage and walks, on top of getting 207 hits. (Since this is a blog that’s usually about the Yankees, I’ll add that he wasn’t a World Series champion until 1996.)

But this isn’t as big a win as Jim probably thinks. Mike Moustakas hit more homers and drove in more runs this year than Boggs in ’86 (admittedly, Boggs was a leadoff hitter). In the first two games of this Series, Moose is hitting .444 and slugging .944 with two RBI. Boggs hit .290 and slugged .371 in the ’86 Series with three RBI in seven games. Moose also is a better fielder.

I give Boggs the nod here for his career and the great season he had in ’86, and because I’d really have to be trolling Jim and Matt here to argue that Moose is better than a Hall of Famer in his prime. But I think I’d rather have Moose in my lineup in October. And I say that with fond memories of Boggs riding a horse in October.

Left field

The Red Sox have another Hall of Famer here, Jim Rice, an All-Star for the eighth and final time in ’86. He hit 20 homers, drove in 110 and hit .324. Those numbers are all better than Alex Gordon‘s numbers for this season (13, 48, .271, but he was injured and played only 110 games). Rice was 33 in 1986, at the end of his prime. Gordon is 31, just two years younger and still in the prime of a career that includes three All-Star appearances so far.

Argue for Rice if you want, Matt and Jim, but Gordon wins this. He’s a four-time Gold Glove winner. Rice never won one, and this Series is certainly showing how important defense is. As strong as Rice’s advantage in the regular season was, Gordon is better in October. Rice got a respectable nine hits in the ’86 Series, but no homers and no RBI, hitting just two slots behind Barrett, who was on base 18 times in the seven games. Gordo has three RBI already in this Series. And I’m pretty sure Jim (and all Mets fans) remember his homer:

Center field

Dave Henderson is remembered for his game-winning homer in the 1986 ALCS, and he continued his hot hitting with 10 World Series hits and two more homers. He was a good player, better in the post-season than the regular season, but he was never a great player. He made one All-Star team in his 14-year career.

Lorenzo Cain, born in 1986, made his first All-Star game this year and will probably win his first Gold Glove (Henderson never did). Cain has emerged the past couple years as a great player, especially in October. Like Henderson, he propelled his team to the World Series with a great play to win the ALCS.

Here’s an illustration of why Cain is better in ’15 than Henderson in ’86: Henderson was known for his power, not his speed. Cain is known for his speed, not his power. He stole 56 bases the past two years, more than the 50 Henderson stole in his career. But in the 1986 regular season, Henderson hit 15 homers. Cain had 16 this year.

Clear advantage for the Royals.

Right field 

I’ll give the Red Sox the advantage here, but it’s closer than Jim thinks.

Dwight Evans had a solid offensive year in ’86 (26 homers, 97 RBI), but he was nearing the end of his prime at age 34. Álex Ríos is past his prime, also 34, and his prime was not as good as Evans’ (but he’s made two All-Star games, as many as Evans had in ’86; Evans made his third two years later).

But Ríos is hitting .308 this post-season, with 13 hits and three RBI in 13 games. Evans got 14 hits and three RBI in 14 post-season games in 1986.

The right field comparison is not just Evans vs. Ríos. Evans played every inning in the 1986 Series. But rookie Paulo Orlando replaces Ríos in right field regularly in the late innings, playing in nine of the Royals’ 13 post-season games. He’s added three more hits and another RBI, along with excellent fielding and base running (he’s also used as a pinch runner). So the Royals have gotten more offensive production from their right fielders this post-season than the Red Sox did in 1986.

Evans was a seven-time Gold Glove winner, so I’m not going to suggest that any Royal ever was as strong defensively in right field. But the Royals have played well in right. And I bet Orlando covers more ground.

Evans gets a slight clear advantage here based on his full season and my respect for his career. But in October, the Red Sox didn’t outplay the Royals in right field.

Jarrod Dyson, the player Jim compared to Evans, had two at-bats as designated hitter after pinch-running Tuesday night. He has not played an inning in right field in this World Series. Update: I initially called this a “slight” advantage here, but “clear” later on when I summarized the match-ups. I changed that in this section. For more discussion of Jim’s and my debate about Evans and Ríos, see my follow-up post.

Designated hitter

Speaking of DH, Don Baylor was one of the best ever at that role. He should be on anyone’s top-10 list of best DH’s ever, and he’s certainly on mine. (I have fond memories of watching him play for the Yankees, including two grand slams, one against the Royals.) In his 19-year career, Baylor had well more than double the career figures of Royals DH Kendrys Morales in nine years by any important measure.

But we’re talking ’86 vs. ’15, not career vs. career. Both were excellent DH’s in those years, but Morales beat Baylor in batting average (.290 to .238), on-base percentage (.362 to .344), slugging (.485 to .439), RBI (106-94), hits (165-139), doubles (41-24) and even triples (2-1). Baylor beat Morales in homers (31-22), runs (93-81) and walks (62-58). Morales was clearly the better hitter in the two seasons, and that’s about all DH’s do.

Well, not quite. They also run the bases. Baylor stole 285 bases for his career and 52 in one season when he was young. In the ’86-’15 comparison, Baylor stole three bases and Morales stole none. But Baylor was caught stealing five times and Morales never attempted a steal. Dyson or Orlando will pinch-run for Morales if he gets on base in a situation where the Royals need speed to deliver a run. The ’86 Baylor was a bigger liability than Morales on the base paths.

As clutch as Baylor was, Morales’ hitting with two outs and men on base has been amazing this year:

Here’s where the ’15 Morales blows away the ’86 Baylor: in the post-season, and that’s what this whole post is about anyway. Morales has four homers and 10 RBI this October (none in the World Series yet, and he’s just 1-for-7). Baylor had 1 homer and three RBI in the ’86 post-season.

I respect and like Baylor too much to call this a huge advantage for the Royals, but it’s a clear advantage.

Starting pitchers

I’ll introduce the World Series rotations, then I’ll compare:

  • Roger Clemens, 23 that season, was younger than any of the Royal starters this year. And better. He was the MVP with the best season of his career and one of the best ever by any pitcher. The big numbers: 24-4, 2.48 (both leading the league), 238 strikeouts. The Royals have never had a pitching season that good, even Bret Saberhagen‘s Cy Young seasons. I don’t think any current Royal pitcher will ever match Clemens’ ’86 season. And, of course, he had one of the best pitching careers in history (not going to detour into the performance-enhancing drugs here). More on Clemens later.
  • Bruce Hurst, 28, was a good pitcher for the season (13-8, 2.99, 167) and for his career (145-113, 3.92, 1,689). He was an All-Star in 1987 and finished fifth in the 1988 Cy Young voting. And he was on a roll in the ’86 post-season, going 3-0 in five starts, including 2-0 in three starts against the Mets, Games One, Five and Seven. If he hadn’t blown a 3-0 lead in Game Seven, he could have beaten out Barrett as the Series MVP. (More on Game Seven later, too.)
  • Oil Can Boyd (given name Dennis) had perhaps his best season in ’86 (16-10, 3.78, 129). But he had a mediocre 10-year career (78-77, 4.04, 799). He started Game Three and gave up six of the runs in a 7-1 loss. In the tweet early in this post, Matt remembered Oil Can fondly, and I do, too. But Matt will not recall that tweet fondly after reading this post. (Don’t delete it, Matt; I already screen-grabbed.)
  • Al Nipper, 27, Boston’s Game Four starter in ’86, didn’t have either as good a nickname or as good a career as Oil Can. He was 10-12, posting a losing record for a team that finished 29 games over .500. I checked to see if some sort of injury forced the Red Sox to pitch him in the World Series, but he got 26 starts during the season, one more than Hurst. He was the No. 4 starter. He just sucked, with a 5.38 ERA. He had a seven-year career, with a 46-50 record and a 4.52 ERA.

OK, let’s look at the Royals’ starting rotation. Of course, career numbers are all works in progress.

  • Edinson Vólquez, 32, the Royals’ Game One starter, was 13-9 this year, with a 3.55 ERA and 155 strikeouts. In an 11-year career, he’s been an All-Star once and is 79-68, 4.29, 1,090. He left Game One after six strong innings, tied 3-3. I addressed the ethics of media reports announcing the death of Vólquez’s father in a post on my journalism blog, The Buttry Diary.
  • Johnny Cueto, born in 1986, was an All-Star and 20-game winner last year, finishing second to Clayton Kershaw in the Cy Young vote. He won 19 games and finished fourth in 2012 (losing to R.A. Dickey, who amazingly isn’t part of the Mets’ powerful rotation three years later). Cueto was 11-13 this year (4-7 after the Royals got him from the Reds in a trade). As in the regular season, Cueto has been inconsistent in October. In Game Two against the Astros, Cueto settled down after a rocky start and left the game tied 4-4 after six innings. A run in the seventh inning delivered the win for the Royals. Cueto retired his final 19 batters in eliminating the Astros from the Division Series, 7-2. Then he gave up eight runs without getting an out in the third inning against the Blue Jays in Game Four of the ALCS. Then he pitched a two-hitter Wednesday night, the first World Series complete game by an American Leaguer since Jack Morris in 1991.
  • Yordano Ventura, 24, scheduled to start Game Three tonight, has 27 wins in his first two seasons as a Royal, going 13-8, 4.08 and 156 this year. He gave up only three hits in seven shutout innings last year as a rookie in Game Six to tie the World Series. He hasn’t won yet this post-season. He lost Game One to the Astros in the Division Series and would have lost Game Four, but a late-inning comeback bailed him out. He gave up six runs in two starts against the Blue Jays, but got no decisions. The Royals won both games.
  • Chris Young, 36, who won Game One Tuesday after taking over in the 12th inning, is still scheduled to start Game Four Saturday in New York. He had one of his best seasons this year. Young has battled various injuries in 11 seasons for five teams, including the Mets (for whom he was only 5-9 in two seasons). He’s been good when he could pitch, 76-58 for his career. He was an All-Star for the Padres in 2007, but this year was only his fourth season with double-digit wins. He was 11-6, 3.08, with 83 strikeouts in 18 starts and 16 relief appearance this year, his first season as a Royal and his only year with much bullpen work. He pitched well against the Astros in relief and in a start against the Blue Jays, with no decisions or saves.

Barring developments such as extra innings and injuries, I’d expect Vólquez, Cueto and Ventura to pitch Games 5-7 if needed. (Vólquez is expected to be return from his father’s funeral in time for Game Five.)

So here’s how the pitching rotations compare:

  • No one on the Royals matches or even approaches Clemens, either for career or for the regular season leading up to the World Series.
  • No one on the Royals was as bad a pitcher for the season or career as Nipper. I’m usually dismissive of WAR as a valuable stat, but I’ll use it here: Nipper’s ’86 WAR was -0.9 in ’86. The Red Sox’ Game Four starter wasn’t even a replacement-level pitcher (that’s the R in replacement). Young’s WAR this year was 2.5.
  • No Red Sox pitcher other than Clemens had Cueto’s potential to dominate a game. You can’t count on that domination, but he’s already delivered magnificently once in this Series, plus a deciding game earlier in the post-season.
  • Hurst’s and Boyd’s ’86 seasons were pretty similar to Vólquez’s and Ventura’s ’15 performances.
  • It’s too early to say whether a Royal will match Hurst’s two-win performance. But Young and Cueto certainly could.
  • The Red Sox had no one comparable to Young, either in mixing starting and relief during the regular season or in starting after a relief appearance in the World Series. He’s a far better pitcher than Nipper, and I’d take him over Boyd.
  • Speaking of Boyd: The Mets torched him for four runs in Game Three of the ’86 World Series, starting their comeback. McNamara stuck with him and he pitched five scoreless innings before giving up two more runs. The Mets won 7-1 and dominated the Series from there. Boyd is the reason that Jim has confidence in this year’s Mets, but I can’t fathom why Matt would cite him positively in a comparison with this year’s Royals. Usually your Game Three starter pitches in Game Seven. But a rain delay between Games Six and Seven allowed McNamara to pitch Hurst, his hot starter, on three days’ rest in Game Seven. Matt, you don’t win an argument by citing a guy your manager didn’t trust to pitch Game Seven. Whatever happens to Ventura Friday, Yost will have confidence in him for Game Seven. Boyd was 26 in 1986. And he never pitched as well again. Few things are as unpredictable in sports as the futures of young pitchers. By the time “Bull Durham” was released just two years later, it was already laughable for Nuke LaLoosh to call Oil Can one of the “great ones.”
  • Matt’s proud memory of Hurst also overlooks or forgets Game Seven. As heart-breaking as Game Six was for Red Sox fans, Boston staked Hurst to a 3-0 lead in the second inning. They were back in control of the Series. Hurst had a lead and an opportunity to become the 13th pitcher to win three games in a single World Series. After five shutout innings, the Mets tied the game against Hurst. That’s not an embarrassment or a bad game. He left the game in the same circumstance as Vólquez did Tuesday. One guy’s teammates won the game after he left, the other guy’s teammates lost it.
  • Finally, while recognizing Clemens’ greatness (the flaws, we think came later), he wasn’t as special in October. He was 12-8 for his career in the post-season: a good record, but not dominant. He did leave Game Six in ’86 as the apparent winner, leading 3-2 after seven innings. Playing in the National League park, McNamara pinch-hit for Clemens in the top of the eighth inning.
  • Clemens wins almost any comparison to the current Royals, but not this one: Cueto pitched a complete-game two-hitter in the World Series, just a shade better than a couple of Clemens gems for the Yankees. But better.

Summing up the matchup of starting pitchers, Clemens is a clear winner at the top of the rotation and Young is the clear winner in the four slot. At the second and third spots, both Royals are at least as good as Hurst and better than Boyd. I think starting pitching is probably a push, but I’ll be generous and give the Red Sox a microscopic edge based on Clemens.

One interesting fact about the 1986 Red Sox pitching staff: I haven’t mentioned Boston’s only starter that year who’s in the Hall of Fame: the Mets’ all-time best pitcher, Tom Seaver. Like many great players, Seaver tried to wring every last drop from his career. He started the season 2-6 for the White Sox, then was traded June 29 to the Red Sox for Steve Lyons. (More on Lyons later.)

He finished the season and his career 5-7 for the Red Sox, but an injury kept him from pitching in the post-season.

Bullpen

I was at Carl Yastrzemski‘s Hall of Fame induction ceremony (will have to blog about that someday) in 1989, three years after the ’86 World Series. The lawn outside the museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., a short drive from New England, was packed with Red Sox fans. Yaz gave a gracious speech, thanking his many coaches, managers and teammates he had played with. When he mentioned Bob Stanley‘s name, boos rippled through the crowd. Stanley’s wild pitch allowed Kevin Mitchell to score the tying run in Game Six in ’86 and moved Ray Knight into scoring position for the Buckner error.

Stanley had a respectable 13-year career for Boston, saving 132 regular-season games and Game Two in ’86. He deserved better from the Cooperstown crowd.

Calvin Schiraldi (who was a Met the previous year) had a worse World Series out of the bullpen for the Red Sox in ’86, getting the losses in the final two games (Yaz, who retired in 1983, didn’t drop Schiraldi’s name at Cooperstown). He gave up the tying run in the eighth to squander Clemens’ lead. For some reason, McNamara left him in not only to start the 10th inning with a 5-3 lead, but didn’t bring in Stanley until Schiraldi had given up a run and put the tying and winning runs on base on consecutive one-out singles.

Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera the past two years have been better than Schiraldi and Stanley ever were. And the Royals have better bullpen depth, too. This may be the best bullpen ever (and I’m literally writing those words wearing my Mariano Rivera jersey). Davis had a 1.00 ERA last year for the whole season, then improved it this year to 0.94. His career post-season ERA in 29 innings and 21 games is even better, 0.92. And his career World Series ERA in six innings over five games is 0.00. Herrera’s post-season ERA in 25 innings over 20 games is 1.44.

And the Royals have great bullpen depth, too, even after the injury to last year’s closer, Greg Holland, moved Davis from his eighth-inning role to closer.

The bullpen mismatch between the ’86 Red Sox and ’15 Royals was colossal, not just in the gap in quality, but in the importance to the Series (even though this Series is just two games old and one of them was a complete game).

Bench

I didn’t examine the game box scores in any detail, but on a quick glance at the ’86 Series summary, I don’t see any bench use by McNamara, except using Stapleton and pinch hitting for Owen and pitchers in the National League park (Mike Greenwell was 0-for-3 in four plate appearances, Stapleton and Tony Armas both 0-for-1).  Ed Romero, Owen’s backup, played in three games, going 0-for-1. So the only positive contribution from the Red Sox bench in ’86 was from Stapleton. And he was on the bench when it counted most. Armas was on the decline and Greenwell hadn’t played enough yet to qualify ’86 as his rookie season.

The Royals’ bench, on the other hand, is always in play. Orlando singled and moved to third in the 12th inning. Even though he was stranded, delaying the victory a couple of innings, Orlando had more offensive impact in that one game than the Red Sox’ bench in the whole ’86 series. Orlando scored two runs against Toronto and hit six triples and seven homers as a role player this season.

Dyson pinch-ran for Morales in Game One, but was stranded. He stayed in the game as DH and lined out to deep right-center in the 11th and flew out again in the 12th. He’s a dangerous pinch-runner: He averaged more than 30 steals the past four seasons without ever playing more than 120 games.

Orlando and Dyson surpass anyone the Red Sox had on their bench in ’86. I expect both to contribute to victories.

Manager

I think Royal Manager Ned Yost bunts too much and should have challenged the bad call at first base Wednesday night. (Replays showed Hosmer’s foot returning to first base before the runner arrived, and that play allowed the only Met run to score.) I’m not sure about Yost’s heavy use of defensive shifts. They clearly hurt Tuesday, but helped Wednesday.

But somehow Yost is a hell of a manager. He handles the pitching staff, the lineup and substitutions artfully. And his teams execute masterfully.

Yost is not remembered fondly in Milwaukee, where he had a losing record in six seasons. And he still doesn’t have a winning regular-season record for the Royals (468-469 in six seasons). But the last two seasons, especially in October, Yost has made the right moves. Or he makes the wrong moves work.

Just one example of Yost’s effective use of his pitching staff: Cueto is 5-1 at Kaufman Stadium, including the stellar post-season wins, since joining the Royals. So Yost pitched him in Game Two, meaning he won’t pitch on the road this Series. The first part of that worked spectacularly, and I like his chances at home in Game Six.

And Yost is just magical in his management of the bullpen.

My memories of details of McNamara’s managing in ’86 are less clear. McNamara was manager of the year, but I think Yost will probably win the award this year, so I don’t see an advantage there. Yost has led his team to two World Series in 12 years managing, and 1986 was the only time for McNamara. Like Yost, McNamara had a losing record as a manager (1,160-1,233).

The rain delay helped McNamara avoid using Oil Can a second time, but I don’t think he managed his pitching staff as well, especially the bullpen. And I’m pretty sure Royals fans won’t be cursing any Yost moves 29 years later, the way Red Sox fans respond if you ask why he didn’t send Stapleton in to close out Game Six at first base.

Position-by-position summary

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Absolute ass-kicking: Royals in the bullpen and shortstop
  • Clear advantage: Royals at catcher, first base, center field, DH, bench and manager; Red Sox at second base, third base, right field.
  • Slim advantage: Royals in left field; Red Sox at starting rotation

That’s nine advantages for the Royals, four for the Red Sox. And the Royals’ advantages are bigger.

Other measures

If you can remember a few hours ago when you started reading this, I admitted that position-by-position was not necessarily the best way to measure teams against each other. It’s not like basketball, with the shortstop pitching to the shortstop or anything like that. So here are some other ways to measure these teams (somewhat shorter, I promise):

Batting order

Both managers used set lineups, but the switching between league rules resulted in some changes so let’s compare AL lineups, then look at the pitchers:

  1. Boggs vs. Escobar. Esky led off the Series with an inside-the-park homer and has a triple, single three runs and three RBI in the first two games. He’s already matched Boggs’ run and RBI totals for the ’86 Series and, if the Series goes long enough, Escobar looks likely to beat Boggs’ nine hits (which included three doubles). Based on actual hitting in the Series, Escobar’s almost certain to win this on hitting and he’s much more dangerous once he gets on base. But Boggs, one of the most disciplined hitters in baseball history and certainly one of the top five leadoff hitters, did walk four times in the Series. Escobar walked 26 times all year, just once in the post-season. I think Escobar will end up with a better Series than Boggs. But for now, the Hall of Famer barely gets the edge here.
  2. The second basemen both batted second, so Barrett beats Zobrist again.
  3. Buckner hit .188 in the ’86 Series. Clear advantage for Cain.
  4. Hosmer has four RBI already, including a game-winner. Rice didn’t drive in a run in the ’86 Series. Clear advantage for the Royals. Actually a huge advantage in the Series, but I knocked it down a notch out of respect for the better regular season and Hall of Fame career.
  5. DH vs. DH. Morales already beat Baylor slightly.
  6. I love Moose, and he might end up having a better Series. But Evans hit .308 with two homers and nine RBI in the ’86 Series. And he had a better regular season. Clear advantage for Boston.
  7. Gordon matched Gedman’s ’86 World Series totals for runs, homers and run production (1) in the ninth inning of Game One. Royals in a landslide.
  8. Henderson had a good ’86 World Series, but Pérez had a better regular season and is off to a good World Series start. Slight advantage for the Royals.
  9. Spike Owen (and pinch-hitters) vs. Ríos. Clear advantage for the Royals.
  10. Pitchers and pinch-hitters. As noted, the Red Sox pinch hitters went hitless (including one New York at-bat by Baylor, whom I didn’t mention in the bench analysis). The Red Sox pitchers also were hitless. The Royals can’t do worse, and they have good pinch hitters. And you can count on seeing Morales more than once in three New York games. (That Baylor pinch-hit just once in four New York games adds to the Yost advantage over McNamara.) Clear advantage for the Royals.

The lineup breakdown:

  • Royals: Huge advantage at 7. Clear advantages at 3, 4, 9 and pitcher. Slight advantage at 8
  • Red Sox: Clear advantage at 2. Slight advantages at 1 and 5.

Again, the Royals had more and bigger advantages. They hold their own at the top of the order and dominate 6-9.

Season record

The Royals ran away with their division, winning by 12 games with a 95-67 record. The Red Sox must have had a rainout they didn’t make up. They were 95-66, 5 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees. Dead even here.

Base running

This Royals’ advantage is almost as big as the bullpen blowout. Cain’s dash home from first on a single won the ALCS clincher over Toronto. Escobar’s inside-the-park homer started off the Royals’ World Series.

Fun speed fact No. 1: Both teams were caught stealing 34 times in the regular seasons we’re examining. The Royals stole 104 bases and the Red Sox just 41. Was Boston the worst base-stealing team ever to make a World Series?

Fun speed fact No. 2: The Royals legged out 42 triples in the regular season, twice as many as the Red Sox.

Fun speed fact No. 3: The Red Sox didn’t attempt a stolen base in the entire 1986 World Series (McNamara gets a little credit there for not sending them). The Royals have stolen four bases this post-season and been caught twice.

Team batting and pitching stats

The Red Sox scored 794 runs, hit 144 homers, batted .271, slugged .415, with a .346 on-base percentage. Those numbers were all better than the Royals (724, 139, .269, .412 .322).

Both teams’ pitchers actually gave up more homers (169 for Boston, 155 for KC) than their hitters slugged. Boston pitchers gave up 696 runs. Their team ERA was 3.93 and they struck out 1,033 batters. The Royals were better across the board: 641 runs, 3.73 ERA, 1,160 K’s.

Clearly the home ballparks account for the differences in both sets of stats.

Defense

The Buckner play aside, I don’t recall the Red Sox being bad at defense. But they had no Gold Glove winners in 1986. Two players on their team did combine for 10 career Gold Gloves:

  • Evans won eight Gold Gloves, but he won his last one in ’85.
  • I had forgotten that Wade Boggs won two Gold Gloves late in his career with the Yankees. That surprised me. He was a good fielder, staying at third base his whole career. His 107 games at DH were scattered over 12 seasons. But he wasn’t a great fielder.

And that’s all the Gold Gloves that the members of the 1986 Red Sox will ever win. The Royals, of course, are still playing, most of them quite young. And they already have three Gold Glove winners and eight total fielding trophies. If only two of the six contenders win this year, they will already match the career Gold Glove total of the ’86 Red Sox.:

  • Gordon, 31, has four Gold Gloves. If he doesn’t win his fifth this year, it will because of his time on the disabled list, not because his defense is declining.
  • Pérez, 25, already has two Gold Gloves and is a lock to win his third this year.
  • Hosmer, 26, has two and appears sure to get his third, too.
  • Escobar, 28, is a Gold Glove contender.
  • Cain, 29, got the attention and reputation that help win Gold Gloves with his sensational defense in the 2015 post-season.
  • Moutakas, 27, has been outstanding defensively in the post-season and also a contender for his first Gold Glove.

At six positions, the Royals have Gold Glove winners or contenders who could break through this year and win for several years to come. I don’t think all six would win. But I expect four and wouldn’t be surprised by more.

Right field and second base are strong, too, even though those players won’t contend for Gold Gloves. I wonder where the Royals stack up among the best defensive teams ever. I won’t do the research on that, but defense is another blowout for the ’15 Royals.

Context of their times

The Red Sox made the World Series in 1986 for the first time in 11 years. And they wouldn’t play in another for 18 more years. The Red Sox finished fifth in a seven-team division the years before and after their World Series run. As teams on a roll go, the Red Sox were no better than the 10th-best championship team of the 1980s. They reached one World Series that decade and lost it. These teams of the ’80s played in more World Series than the Red Sox and won at least one (counting appearances in the late ’70s or early ’90s if a team made a World Series in the ’80s):

  1. The Twins won World Series in ’87 and ’91.
  2. The Dodgers won World Series in ’81 and ’88.
  3. The A’s won the ’89 World Series and lost in ’88 and ’90.
  4. The Cardinals won the ’82 World Series and lost in ’85 and ’87.
  5. The Royals won the ’85 World Series and lost in ’80.
  6. The Phillies won in ’82 and lost in ’83.
  7. The Orioles won in ’83 and lost in ’79.

Two teams won their only World Series appearances of the ’80s:

  1. The Mets, of course, in ’86.
  2. The Tigers in ’84.

As  you might expect of a Yankee fan, I value championships highly. But I could entertain an argument that a Red Sox team that lost in seven games was more formidable than a one-time World Series winner if the loser had several other division titles and near misses.

But the Red Sox don’t prevail over either of these teams on that basis either. They won their division in ’88, too, and, since I counted 1990 for the A’s and ’91 for the Twins, let’s give the Red Sox ’90, too. But they were swept both years.

The Mets returned to the playoffs in 1988 as well, losing a seven-game series to the Dodgers. The Mets won 11 post-season games in the ’80s (four over the Red Sox, of course).

The Red Sox also don’t stack up to the Tigers of the ’80s. The playoffs were only best-of-five in 1984, so the Tigers didn’t have a chance to win as many games in their division-title years as the Red Sox did in their three post-season appearances.

But the Tigers swept the Royals in three games in 1984, then blew out the Padres in five in the World Series. Detroit won only one game against the Twins in the 1987 ALCS. But their 1980s post-season record was 8-5. The Red Sox post-season record in the ’80s was 7-13.

The Red Sox did have a better decade, I think, than the other four teams that lost their only World Series appearances of the ’80s: ’81 Yankees, ’82 Brewers, ’84 Padres and ’89 Giants.

Of course, we can’t do a full-decade analysis of the Royals, and counting records of early rounds of playoffs would be fair against other teams of this decade, but not against the ’86 Red Sox.

The Royals are not (yet) the best team of this decade. They certainly have not passed the Giants (three-time winners and likely the team of the decade) and Cardinals, who won a World Series and lost one. But Kansas City is closing fast on St. Louis: The Cardinals have been in 58 post-season games this decade and won 30, but the Royals have a much higher winning percentage, with a 20-8 record.

If the Royals win this World Series, they clearly move ahead of the Red Sox, who won in 2013 but haven’t played in another Series this decade, and the Rangers, who lost two World Series.

With a World Series win, the Royals are the third-best team of this unfolding decade and gaining on the Cardinals. With a loss, they’d be no worse than fourth.

Here are ways the Royals of this decade have already blown past the Red Sox of the ’80s (leaving out the extra early rounds of playoffs), with four years of the decade remaining:

  1. They’ve made it to a second World Series.
  2. They have a 13-6 record in World Series and LCS play, both more wins than Boston in the ’80s and a far better winning percentage.
  3. They didn’t blow a World Series that they were in position to win. When they lost, they fought back to win Game Six and fell just 90 feet short of tying Game Seven.

In the context of their times, the Royals are already ahead, with plenty of time to pull away this week and beyond.

Organizational strength

Both franchises built their World Series teams similarly, developing a core of homegrown talent from their farm systems, adding key free agents and making shrewd trades in the off-season and during their championship runs (Henderson, Zobrist and Cueto all joined their teams mid-season in their World Series years).

Admission to my sons: I was wrong about Zobrist. I minimized this trade as not being that big a deal at the time, when General Manager Dayton Moore traded for Zobrist in July. He’s been valuable down the stretch and in the post-season. Moore’s personnel moves created the wonderfully balanced team I’ve described at such length here.

But here’s the biggest organizational difference: The only two Latino players who played for the Red Sox in the ’86 World Series, Romero and Armas, came up with other teams. I don’t know why the Red Sox weren’t developing major league talent from Latin America in the ’80s (if you do, please fill me in). Even the Latino superstars of recent Boston history, Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz, started with other teams.

Key players on this Royals team came through scouting, signing and developing players from the Caribbean and South America: Pérez from Venezuela, Ventura and Herrera from the Dominican Republic and Orlando from Brazil. I’d be surprised if the Royals’ diversity wasn’t also attractive to the Latino free agents they’ve signed: Vólquez from the Dominican Republic, Morales from Cuba, Ríos from Cuba, Omar Infante (who hit a big homer in last year’s World Series) and reliever Franklin Morales from Venezuela. Escobar, also from Venezuela, came to Kansas City from Milwaukee in a 2010 trade for Cy Young winner Zach Greinke.

That diversity from so many sources might be a factor as well (along with money) in whether the Royals can sign Cueto, a Domincan free agent.

Home-field advantage

Both the ’85 Royals and ’86 Mets fell behind 2-0 at home. They faced the tough task of going on the road and winning two games just to stay alive. But they also got to close out the Series at home. The ’15 Mets have  more remaining games at home than those teams, which is an advantage of sorts. But I’m not sure that it’s a bigger advantage than being up 2-0 and knowing that if you stumble on the road, you’re coming home with a chance to close.

Hall of Famers

Well, the Red Sox win this one. Boggs and Rice are already in Cooperstown. If voters ever forgive players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs, Clemens will join them. Evans might be attractive to a Veterans Committee someday.

The Royals, of course, won’t have anyone eligible for the Hall of Fame for years, so we can only speculate. Gordon at 31 and Cueto at 29 have strong starts to their careers, nine and eight years in. I think Cueto has a better shot than Gordon, but both have to have more good years ahead of them than they’ve already played. Neither is halfway to Cooperstown, and I doubt either will make it.

Cain blossomed too late to have a shot at the Hall of Fame.

At first glance, you might think that Davis, 30, moved from promising starter to dominant reliever too late in his career to make it to Cooperstown. Dennis Eckersley was a better starter than Davis and for longer. But Eck’s in the Hall of Fame for his relief work. And Davis is two years younger than Eck was when he moved to the bullpen.

Pérez, Escobar, Hosmer, Moustakas and Herrera are all 28 or younger, with strong and promising starts to their careers. It’s too early to predict how their careers will unfold. I’d guess Pérez and Hosmer have the best shots at Cooperstown.

I’m confident one of these Royals will make it. I predict that two will, and more wouldn’t surprise me.

I remember in 1998, when the Yankees won 114 games and spurred best-ever talk, sport broadcasters and writers marveled that they were doing it without any certain Hall of Famers in their prime. Less than 20 years later, everyone knows what I was saying then: Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera were certain Hall of Famers beginning their primes. We could look back on some of these Royals the same way.

All we can say about Hall of Famers on these Royals is that they are two behind the ’86 Red Sox, with potential to close that gap.

What have I missed?

Every way I can think to measure this, except people already in the Hall of Fame, the 2015 Royals are equal or superior to the 1986 Red Sox. Tell me, Jim and Matt (or any other Mets or Red Sox fans), where am I wrong? Can you make a better case for the Red Sox than those late-night tweets?

Steve Fehr: How can you compare?

I told Steve Fehr, a Royal fan and former colleague who prompted my post about Don Denkinger’s bad call, that I was working on this post. He had seen my Twitter exchange with Jim and emailed me about how incomparable the ’15 Royals are:

The Royals are so different from any team we’ve seen recently that comparisons are silly in the first place. Who do you compare them to? I can’t think of a team quite like this, even the 1976-85 Royals who were similar in tailoring their game to their stadium.  If we win this, there will be a lot of articles to that effect: the most unusual (and lovable) champion of recent times (who on Mets is as lovable as Sal Perez, America’s Catcher?).

’86 Red Sox footnotes

If you’re a Red Sox fan (or even a Met fan) who has endured to the end of this post, I must reward you with a few fun nuggets, a couple on the man you remember most from the ’86 Series and one from a guy who left Boston during the ’86 season (in the Seaver trade, as you may recall from many words ago).

Bill Buckner 1

We are the socksMy brother Dan was a pastor in Boston in 1986. He planned his sermon and Scripture earlier in the week and settled in Saturday evening to watch Game Six. Dan vividly recalls the next morning:

The entire congregation was the most depressed congregation I’ve ever seen (and remember, Game Seven was to be played later that day, but everyone knew it was over) — everything was flat.

Dan sat and listened as the worship leader and congregation read responsively from Psalm 19. No one noticed this passage but Dan:

Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.

Sometimes pastor has to lead a congregation in healing. Dan continues:

I got up immediately after and said with great intensity and passion, ‘The Word of God has spoken to my heart today: “O Lord, who can understand his errors!”‘  Everyone laughed a cathartic laugh, and after that we could have church!

I don’t think the healing started by that laughter was finished until 2004, but this is (usually) a Yankee blog, so enough about that.

And since Dan helped out on this post, I should include a plug for his latest book, We Are the Socks. I asked Dan if he had a misspelling in the title, but it relates to an anecdote about footwear.

Buckner 2

The bad knees that hindered Buckner in the field in ’86 didn’t force him into retirement because he could still hit. He played part-time for the Royals in 1989 and ’89, mostly at DH but also at first. After a double in 1988, Manager John Wathan sent Jamie Quirk, a backup catcher who stole one base in six attempts that year, in to pinch-run for Buckner. The fiercely competitive Buckner threw up his hands in disbelief when he saw who was running for him and later told reporters it was “the most embarrassing moment of my career.”

The item, of course, made the Boston newspapers. I thought the headline I remembered was the Herald-American, but the only online mention I could find of the story says it was the Globe; if you have it, I’d love to add a visual and clarify the newspaper. Bonus points if you know the copy editor’s name. Home run if you were the copy editor. But this was the headline:

We Can Think Of Another

Steve Lyons

Lyons is kind of a goofball who spent a few years doing those annoying in-game interviews from the stands for Fox Sports. In the only such interview that I can recall enjoying, he interviewed Bucky Dent during one of those Yankees-Red Sox games of the late ’90s or early 2000s and asked something like: “I’m sure a lot of Red Sox fans don’t know your actual middle name. What is it?”

Bucky deadpanned: “Earl.”

Source note: Statistics in this post come from Baseball-Reference.com.

 





The Kansas City Royals’ amazing 9-game post-season winning streak

12 10 2014

Update: It’s an 11-game winning streak now. While I blogged about making it to the World Series, I won’t be updating this one further. But I’m glad no one has reason to think I jinxed the winning streak by writing about it.

 Time for another post on the Royals (maybe not the last of this post-season).

The Kansas City Royals are on an incredible nine-game, 29-year post-season winning streak. Let’s take a look at those games:

1985 World Series

Game Five

The Royals trailed 3-1 and Game 5 was supposed to be the Cardinals’ chance to celebrate their World Series championship on their home field. But this Royals team has also trailed 3-1 to the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series. It was a scrappy team that didn’t give up when it fell behind.

Danny Jackson, a 23-year-old lefthander who won 14 games for the Royals, faced off against 35-year-old Cardinal veteran Bob Forsch, who would win 163 career games for the Cardinals, but only nine that year.

Each pitcher gave up a run in the first. That was the last run Jackson would give up, and the last full inning Forsch would pitch. An RBI single by Buddy Biancalana and a two-run triple by Willie Wilson chased Forsch in the second inning. Jackson scattered five hits and three walks in pitching a complete game for the 6-1 victory. The Royals got a chance to play again back home in Kansas City.

Game 6

Ah, Game Six.

This game should not be remembered for a bad call, though it had a couple of them, neither of which had a significant impact on the outcome of the game.

In the bottom of the 4th inning, Frank White got a one-out bunt single for the Royals. He then stole second, possibly on a busted hit-and-run play. The throw beat White easily, but Ozzie Smith tagged White high on his chest, after his foot was safely on the base. But White was called out. You can see it at about the 57-minute mark of the game video below. The replay clearly showed he was safe, and announcer Tim McCarver, a former Cardinal whose St. Louis favoritism always showed, noted casually that Smith had tagged White high, after his foot reached the bag. But Royals manager Dick Howser didn’t argue and TV showed only one replay. Pat Sheridan, who was at the plate, hit a groundball single to right field that almost certainly would have scored the speedy White, who stole 10 bases that year and 178 in his career (a guy who can bunt for a single can score from second on an outfield single). Tough luck. Bad calls are part of baseball. Play on.

Instead of being tied 1-1, the Royals trailed 1-0 when they came to bat in the bottom of the 9th inning. Charlie Leibrandt of the Royals (the hard-luck loser of Game Two, which I watched) matched zeroes for seven innings with the Cardinals’ Danny Cox, an 18-game winner. The Cardinals scratched out a run in the eighth on a single and a walk, followed by Brian Harper’s RBI single, pinch-hitting for Cox. Lefthander Ken Dayley pitched a scoreless eighth inning for the Cardinals.

The bottom of the ninth started innocently enough, with Jorge Orta hitting a ground ball to first baseman Jack Clark. Cardinals reliever Todd Worrell (more on him later) covered first base and the throw clearly beat Orta in a bang-bang play. But umpire Don Denkinger blew the call. Herzog, Worrell and Clark argued vehemently, but with no replay, they couldn’t change the call any more than Howser would have been able to change the fourth-inning call if he’d argued. The calls were examples of two of the most-blown calls in baseball: throw beats runner so he’s called out even though the tag was high and ball beats runner to the bag by an instant (or vice versa) and umpire misses it because it’s almost impossible to watch a ball hitting a glove and a foot hitting a bag at the same time when they are about eight feet apart.

A USA Today review of this year’s replays midway through the season showed that 318 calls had been reversed on review after being challenged by managers. So bad calls happened a lot before replay. Good teams played on and won games.

It’s also worth noting that, as bad calls go, this one was about as inconsequential as you can get on multiple accounts:

  • It was the lead-off hitter, rather than the potential third out. A potential third out means you should have gotten out of the inning. Whether the lead-off hitter gets on or out, you still need to get more outs to end the game.
  • The winning run scored with one out, so if you replay the inning without Orta’s bogus single, the Royals have still scored the tying run, with Lonnie Smith coming up. He hit .333 in the series.
  • The bad call was at first base, rather than at home plate, where it costs you a run, or at second base (as the bad call on White was), where it costs you a runner in scoring position. When you’re screwed on a bad call at first base, you have to give up an extra-base hit, a huge error or multiple little things (singles, walks, hit batters, errors, wild pitches, sacrifices, etc.) for the bad call to result in a run. And by the time those other things happen, the bad call is never the main reason the run scored.

And those little things that happened after the bad call were an amazing, exhilarating (for a Royals fan or neutral baseball fan) mix of good and bad plays by the Royals’ role players. The Royals had a stellar, if young, pitching staff that year, but no pitchers hit in the inning. Their offensive superstar, having one of his best seasons, was George Brett, who didn’t come to bat in the ninth inning. White, Smith and Wilson were all All-Stars in multiple seasons and none of them hit in the ninth either. Hal McRae was another multi-year All-Star, and perhaps the best designated hitter of the 1970s and ’80s, and he would come to the plate, but he drew an intentional walk, playing a minimal role. The only All-Star who would play an important role in the Royals’ ninth-inning comeback was a defensive star, Jim Sundberg, a six-time Gold Glover and three-time All-Star who hit only .245 for the 1985 Royals. And he botched his assignment in the ninth. As did some Cardinals All-Stars. Both managers tried different maneuvers, some that worked, some that didn’t.

Let’s go through that inning, play by scrappy play:

Orta was not scheduled to lead off the ninth. Sheridan, who platooned in right field with Darryl Motley, was the scheduled hitter. Sheridan, who hit lefthanded, had started against the righthanded Cox. So Howser sent the righthanded Motley in to hit against Dayley. But Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog countered with Worrell, a righthanded rookie.

The Cardinals had no single closer that year. Jeff Lahti saved 19 games and had an ERA under 2.00. He had already saved Game Two and warmed up in the ninth inning of Game Six, but never came in. Dayley had 11 saves and a 2.76 ERA and two saves against the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. Herzog had become enamored with Worrell, a late-August call-up who would still be eligible for (and win) Rookie of the Year in 1986. Worrell saved five games in September of 1985 and had saved Game One and pitched briefly in Game Five. So Herzog brought him in with an opportunity to be on the mound when the Cardinals won the World Series. Howser countered with Orta, a left-handed batter who had platooned at designated hitter with veteran McRae for much of the year. Orta got his only hit of the series on the bad call.

The next batter, Steve Balboni, had led the Royals with 36 homers, but he was also a likely strikeout candidate, leading the American League with 166 strikeouts. Worrell got Bonesy to loft a high pop foul over by the Royals’ dugout. Clark should have caught the ball, but misjudged it, then was distracted by Porter, who also came over to see if he had a play. The ball bounced harmlessly on the top step of the Royals’ dugout.

Both the Denkinger and Clark mistakes gave the Royals extra chances, but the Clark mistake, which was not scored an error, was more costly. Denkinger’s mistake put the potential tying run on first base. When Balboni used his second chance to send a ground-ball single to left, Clark’s error allowed the potential tying run to move into scoring position and put the winning run at first. Instead of bases empty and two outs, the two mistakes combined left the Royals with no outs and runners at first and second. Backup shortstop Onix Concepcion pinch-ran for Bonesy.

McRae was on deck to pinch-hit for Sundberg, but Howser decided he wanted a bunt to advance the runners. McRae had only two sacrifice bunts all season. Sundberg had only four. Howser sent Sundberg up to bunt. I’m not a big fan of the sacrifice bunt. Outs are precious and I prefer to make the defense work for them. My preference would have been to take three shots at getting the tying run home from second. But Howser stayed with the bunt, even with two strikes. Sundberg laid down the bunt, but Worrell fired to third to force Orta. This time he was correctly called out.

Sundberg was not a fast runner. He had been thrown out stealing on his only two attempts in 1985 (no doubt on busted hit-and-run plays). For his career, he had 20 stolen bases and 621 runs in 16 seasons, less than 40 runs a year (and 38, in fact, in 1985). The Royals’ backup catcher, John Wathan, had three years earlier set the single-season stolen-base record for catchers, with 36, a record that still stands. I fully expected Howser to send Duke in to pinch run, but he didn’t. Yet.

The next scheduled batter was shortstop Biancalana, whose name and weak hitting had been mocked by David Letterman in his Buddy Biancalana Hit Counter (a take-off on the hit counters used to track Pete Rose’s chase of Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record). Biancalana, who split time with Concepcion during the season, reached the peak of his career in the 1985, getting most of the time at shortstop in the post-season, with 43 plate appearances to only one for Concepcion. His .278 World Series batting average was nothing special, but it was 90 points higher than his regular-season average.

Even with his meager batting average, Biancalana had only five sacrifice bunts during the 1985 season and only 15 in his major-league career. I don’t think Howser would have used him even for a squeeze play if Sundberg’s bunt had worked. Which makes the bunt even more puzzling: If it had succeeded, first base would have been open for the Cardinals to walk Hal McRae (maybe Howser would have pinch-hit someone else).

But McRae came up with the tying run on second, with 1,000-plus career RBI, 70 in a platoon role in 1985 and an RBI crown just three years earlier. From 1976 to 1985, baseball followed a ridiculous practice of alternating years with and without the DH in the World Series. Pitchers hit in the odd years, so McRae had come to the plate only twice in the World Series, grounding out with the bases loaded in Game Four and being hit by a pitch in Game One. As a Royals fan, I was ready for him to jump on the opportunity and bring Concepcion home.

But Porter and Worrell apparently got crossed up on a pitch. The ball got away from Porter and the runners advanced, giving Kansas City the same result as they had sought with Sundberg’s bunt: runners at second and third, one out. The umpire’s mistake had just put the potential tying run on first base. Porter’s passed ball put the winning run in scoring position and advanced the tying run to third. Again, a much bigger part of the inning than the bad call.

Herzog chose to walk McRae intentionally, which set up a possible series-clinching double play. McRae’s run wouldn’t matter, though loading the bases raised the risk of walking in the tying run. Still, Herzog preferred to take his chances with the next pinch-hitter.

The next scheduled hitter was Royals closer Dan Quisenberry, who had relieved in the eighth inning, after Leibrandt gave up the Cardinals’ only run. Dane Iorg came to the plate as the Royals’ fourth pinch-hitter of the inning, including Motley, who didn’t actually hit.

And now Wathan went in to pinch-run, but for McRae, instead of Sundberg. If the thinking in using Wathan to run for McRae was because he could break up the double play, that certainly overlooked McRae’s famous 1977 slide into Willie Randolph in a Yankees-Royals post-season showdown. But this McRae was eight years older, and maybe Howser thought Wathan could get down to second base faster. Fine, run for McRae. Lynn Jones and Greg Pryor also were available to pinch-run, both undoubtedly faster than Sundberg. Jones had a triple and a double in his three World Series at-bats and undoubtedly would have hit if Howser needed another pinch-hitter. Howser left his catcher at second base with the potential winning run.

At the plate, Iorg was familiar to the Cardinals. He had played for the Cardinals from 1977 until being sold to the Royals in May 1984. He’d never played more than 105 games in a season and never had more than 80 hits in a season. But he was a respected role player. He’d hit 9 for 17 in five games of the 1982 World Series for the Cardinals.

Iorg wasn’t a great pinch hitter, but he pinch-hit a lot, 69 hits in 282 career pinch-hit at-bats. In 1985, he was only 4 for 27 as a pinch-hitter for the Royals, a worse batting average than Biancalana, the guy he probably hit for most often, since pitchers never hit then in the American League. But he’d hit respectably as a spare outfielder, with a couple games each at DH and first base. With a .255 average, 60 hits and 30 RBI for the year, he was the logical pinch-hitter against a righthander.

Iorg won a special place in Royal lore forever with his single to rightfield against Worrell. Concepcion raced home easily with the tying run and third-base coach Mike Ferraro waved Sundberg home, too. Andy Van Slyke had a gun in right, and I thought he’d nail Sundberg at the plate. But he got a good jump from second, chugged home hard and slid home head-first, ahead of Porter’s tag.

In just five plate appearances, 11 Royals were scheduled to hit, announced as pinch-hitters, actually hit or pinch-ran in the ninth inning. The bad call was not as important to the outcome of the inning as the two legitimate singles Worrell gave up, the pop foul Clark misplayed or Porter’s passed ball. But the Cardinals and their fans whined loud and long about the call, exaggerating it in baseball legend way beyond its importance to the outcome of the game or the series.

The call most certainly didn’t cost the Cardinals the World Series. However big the bad call was to Game Six, the Cardinals had a chance to come back. The Big Red Machine was devastated by a Game Six loss a decade earlier, when Bernie Carbo’s three-run pinch-hit homer tied the game for the Boston Red Sox and Carlton Fisk’s extra-inning homer stayed fair to win it. And the Reds regrouped to win the next night.

Watch the ninth inning here:

Watch all of Game Six here:

Game Seven

The Cardinals were set up perfectly for Game Seven. Herzog had his choice of 21-game winners. John Tudor had held the Royals to one run in Game One and shut them out in Game Four. Tudor was 21-8 in the regular season, with a 1.93 ERA and a league-high 10 shutouts. He’d have won the Cy Young Award, if not for the historic season Dwight Gooden had for the Mets. Joaquín Andújar was 21-12 in the regular season, his second consecutive 20-win season, but had not been effective in the post-season. He had lost to the Royals’ Bret Saberhagen in Game Three. Though Tudor would be pitching on short rest, Herzog went with his ace, who was on a roll.

Game Seven should have been, and appeared likely to be, a pitching duel for the ages. Saberhagen also was a 20-game winner and would win the A.L. Cy Young Award (Ron Guidry probably should have won, but Sabes had a great year and was the exciting 21-year-old breakthrough star). Saberhagen had given up just one run on six hits and a walk in the Royals’ Game Three win in St. Louis, getting the Royals back into the series after two losses in Kansas City. His wife gave birth to their first child, a son named Drew, the night of Game Six.

The umpires’ clockwise World Series rotation moved Denkinger behind home plate.

Through the first inning and a half, both pitchers looked sharp, Tudor just giving up a single to Brett, Saberhagen giving up a single to Clark. Balboni walked in the bottom of the second. Then Motley, whose only involvement in Game Six was to be announced as a pinch-hitter, blasted a homer to give the Royals a 2-0 lead.

In the third inning, Tudor began to unravel. He walked Smith, gave up another single to Brett, then gave up a double steal. After Frank White walked, the bases were loaded. Then Tudor walked Sundberg to give up the third run. In the regular season, Herzog might have given Tudor time to work through his wildness, but with Saberhagen looking dominant, he had to use a quick hook. He brought in Bill Campbell, and Tudor took his frustration out on an electric fan in the clubhouse, cutting his finger. Campbell gave up a single to Balboni and the Royals led 5-0. Biancalana got the only intentional walk of his career, bringing up Saberhagen with the bases loaded and two outs. Sabes struck out swinging, about the only thing that went wrong for the Royals.

Saberhagen put two more zeroes up on the scoreboard and Lahti came in to replace Campbell after Sundberg singled leading off the fifth. After singles to Balboni and Motley, the Royals led 6-0 and Saberhagen was batting. He tried to advance the runners with a bunt, but Clark threw to Ozzie Smith to force out Motley. Lonnie Smith followed with a double, scoring Balboni and Saberhagen. Then Wilson drove Smith home and the Royals led 9-0.

Ricky Horton replaced Lahti and gave up a single to Brett, his fourth hit of the game already. After Horton threw two balls to White, Herzog turned to Andújar. I was puzzled by the move at the time, but I guess he thought he couldn’t keep burning through his bullpen in the fifth inning. He needed his best remaining pitcher, someone to stop the bleeding for a few innings, just in case the Cardinals could mount some sort of offense against Saberhagen.

It didn’t quite work out that way. After fouling off several Andújar pitches, White singled home a run. The Royals led 10-0. If it were a softball game, they would have won by the 10-run rule. But the Cardinals had to keep playing.

Denkinger called ball three on a pitch that was clearly inside, with Sundberg checking his swing. Andújar angrily charged toward the umpire to protest. Herzog charged out of the dugout to take the lead in the argument, while teammates restrained Andújar. Pretty quickly, Herzog turned the argument to the night before. He had seen enough and dropped f-bombs in an obvious intentional move to get thrown out of the game. Even after leaving the field, Herzog returned to continue the argument. Surprisingly, Andújar was not ejected for his initial reaction to the call.

When order was finally restored, Andújar threw ball four, also inside, and again immediately reacted angrily. His Wikipedia entry says Denkinger “misread a gesture by Andújar” to Porter. But that’s BS. The video shows Andújar reacting immediately to the call, the same way he did after ball three. He was furious, perhaps more at Herzog than Denkinger, and didn’t have any intention of sticking around any longer in this blowout. Teammates and coaches restrained him and it took about three of them to pull him off the field.

Forsch came in to pitch, and his wild pitch allowed Brett to score the 11th run. Finally Forsch and Dayley shut down the Royals’ offense, but the Cardinals could muster only five singles off Saberhagen. Van Slyke was the only Cardinal to reach second base, when he and Terry Pendleton singled back-to-back in the seventh.

With two out and an 11-0 lead in the ninth, Brett came over to the mound to talk to his pitcher. He wasn’t talking strategy or trying to settle the young pitcher down. He instructed Sabes to come his way after the final out. Brett wanted to be the first to embrace the winning pitcher. And he was. The Kansas City Times front page with that photo hangs in my office wall this month, until the Royals’ season ends.

You gotta love it

Here’s a short video of Saberhagen’s pitching and the celebration:

Watch all of Game Seven here (Jim Sundberg’s at-bat in the fifth inning starts at the 1:37:55 mark):

1986-2013

The 29 years between post-season games were mostly miserable for Royals fans. Saberhagen had another Cy Young season in 1989 and Brett won another batting title in 1990. The Royals were good and still exciting in the Bo Jackson years, but then wasted good years by Kevin Appier and Mike Sweeney. David Cone, Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltrán and Zack Greinke teased Royals fans with their talent before moving to better teams. Wathan and McRae (and a lot of others) took their turns as managers, without success. McRae’s son, Brian, played five years for the Royals.

Baseball expanded the playoffs, from two teams in each league to four and then five. But the Royals were never good enough to make the cut. Twenty-eight seasons passed without a post-season game. Then came …

2014

OK, I won’t go into as much detail on the 2014 games, because anyone who’s made it this far has fresh memories of all the games. Just a quick comment on each:

Wild-card game

I feared I would bitterly blame Ned Yost for losing the one-game wild-card playoff with the A’s for wasting too many outs on bunts (when his base runners were perfectly capable of stealing their way into scoring position). But the Royals prevailed. My oldest son, Mike, flew down from the Twin Cities to watch the game in person. My youngest son, Tom, wrote a guest post on what it meant to finally watch the Royals play and win a post-season game.

The A’s led this game 2-1 after one inning and the Royals came back to take the lead. The A’s led 7-3 after six innings and the Royals came back with three runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to tie. The A’s led 8-7 after the top of the 12th. And the Royals got two runs in the bottom of the 12th to win, with a Salvador Pérez base hit bringing home the winner.

I wonder how many teams have come from behind three different times in a post-season, including in the ninth and extra innings. As incredible as this post-season run has been, that might have been the best game. Mike says it’s the best game he’s ever attended, and I took him to a lot of good ones.

For Kansas City fans, which my sons are (I’m a Chiefs fan and cheer for the Royals if they’re not playing the Yankees), this was the first post-season win in any pro sport since 1994.

Angels series

Game one

Because the Royals are the wild-card team, both of their American League playoff series this year have started on the road. Game One of the Division Series in Anaheim was a well-pitched game, with starters Jason Vargas of the Royals and Jered Weaver of the Angels each giving up a run in the third and fifth innings and the bullpens pitching scoreless ball until Mike Moustakas, batting ninth in the Royals’ lineup, started his incredible post-season run with his 11th-inning homer.

Game Two

Starters Matt Shoemaker of the Angels and Yordano Ventura of the Royals were even better in this game, each giving up just one run. Game Two also went to extra innings, tied 1-1. Eric Hosmer delivered another extra-inning homer, following a Lorenzo Cain single. Pérez continued his extra-inning success with an RBI single and the Royals won, 4-1.

Game Three

This game was, on a smaller scale and with no ejections, a counterpart to Game Seven in 1985: an easy win following a nail-biter. The Royals led Game Three 3-1 after one inning, 5-1 after three and 7-2 after four. They cruised to an easy 8-3 win in front of the home fans. Hosmer and Moustakas homered again and Alex Gordon had a three-run double. Cain made back-to-back amazing catches.

2104 A.L. Championship Series

Game One

OK, it was back to extra innings: Both starters, James Shields for the Royals and Chris Tillman for the Orioles, were ineffective and neither made it to the sixth inning. The Royals blew a 4-0 lead and a 5-1 lead. But again the bullpens were strong, each pitching scoreless seventh, eighth and ninth innings to go to the 10th with a 5-5 tie.

Gordon opened the 10th with a homer, the third different Royal to homer in extra innings this post-season. After a walk to Perez, Moustakas added his second extra-inning homer. Closer Greg Holland, who’s been stellar this post-season, finally allowed a run, but still nailed down an 8-6 win. (Like Saberhagen in 1985, Holland and Cain have welcomed new babies during the 2014 post-season.)

Game Two

The Game Two win took only nine innings, but it took the full nine. The teams were tied 4-4 going into the ninth. Moustakas had homered in the fourth, so I was miffed that Yost had him bunting after Omar Infante led off with a single (Terrance Gore pinch-ran; as in 1985, pinch-runners have played a role for the Royals). Moustakas successfully advanced the runner, though. Then Alcides Escobar doubled Gore home. Lorenzo Cain, who’s made brilliant plays in the outfield throughout the playoffs, added an RBI single. Holland nailed down the win and the Royals go home with a 2-0 lead in the series.

Tom has made it to both Baltimore games. Tom, Mike and their brother, Joe, and I have been texting like crazy during this incredible run (just the last six games; none of us had mobile phones in 1985, of course).

What’s next?

Of course, the Blue Jays and Cardinals each had two-game leads in 1985, so any Royals fan knows it’s not over. But I like the Royals’ chances. This scrappy team reminds me of the 1985 Royals. Each had lots of heroes, rather than just riding the back of a dominant player. And, whatever happens, this nine-game winning streak has been a delight: four extra-inning wins, two ninth-inning wins and a ton of memories for two generations of deserving fans.

Source note: Statistics and some game details for this post came from Baseball-Reference.com.





Guest post: Tom Buttry reflects on his life (and last night) as a Royals fan

1 10 2014
Tom Buttry, right, with his brothers, Joe, left, and Mike, visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.

Tom Buttry, right, with his brothers, Joe, left, and Mike, visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.

I’m enjoying this year’s post-season as much as if the Yankees were playing. The reason: All three of my sons are Kansas City Royals fans, dating to my days at the Kansas City Star and Times, when I would take the boys to ballgames. I tried to turn them into Yankee fans, but utterly failed. They fell hopelessly in love with the team they kept seeing on the field. Well, the past quarter-century-plus has been kinder to Yankee fans than Royal fans, but the boys remained loyal KC fans, even though we all moved away.

So I am celebrating with them as the Royals get their first taste of post-season play since 1985, our first season in Kansas City. The boys and I exchanged multiple messages — text messages, tweets, Facebook messages — through last night’s incredible game.(They’re all grown men now, but still my boys, especially when we’re watching baseball.) Mike was at the game the best he’s ever seen. Tom sent me a guest blog post today. Below is Tom’s explanation of why last night’s game was so special, with minimal editing from me (I even left his excessive use of asterisk footnotes in place). I’ll add a comment or two at the end. But first, here’s Tom Buttry:

I’ve been wondering all day today why something as trivial as one game of baseball can make me so so gleeful for so long. Why I stayed so excited last night that I had a hard time falling asleep, but am still be able to walk around with a grin on my face and a spring in my step all day today. Why I am being so self-indulgent in sharing these thoughts and why I’m willing to rub salt in the very fresh wounds of any A’s fans who might read this. But here goes nothing.

As a kid I’d regularly go to Kansas City Royals games with my dad.  Despite his being a Yankees fan*, he loves baseball too much to pass up the opportunity to regularly watch games, and in the days before he could follow the Yankees on the MLB package, he went in with some co-workers on Royals season tickets. From there, my two older brothers, my mom and I took turns going to games with him. In other words, I got to see a lot of Royals games from a very young age.

Sometimes the whole family would go, but most of the games I saw, it was just me and my dad.  I know it’s cliche, but it was really a formative bonding experience with him.  I’d be excited because I’d get to stay up late, spend time with him, get a cheap plastic mini-baseball helmet full of soft serve and sprinkles and see this team and these players I was absolutely falling in love with on a regular basis. I’m sure my dad was also thrilled to spend time with his kids in a way he could really have fun with, rather than seeing the same cartoon or reading the same book for the 100th time, even if I made him take me on too many runs for snacks or to the bathroom.

It was at these games that dad taught me to groan every time the Royals bunted the ball** and shout “HE STRUCK HIM OUT!” when the Royals got a big K***.   He also snagged a foul ball for me after the guy behind us dropped his cup of beer trying to get it, and would tell me all about the great players I was seeing.

One game I distinctly remember happened April 7, 1989**** against the Boston Red Sox. An exciting, fireballing rookie named Tom “Flash” Gordon blew a lead for the Royals, and in the bottom of the ninth we were down three with Lee Smith coming in to close the game. My dad explained to me that Smith was one of the best closers in the game and it would be tough for the Royals to come back from such a big margin against him.  A few minutes later, the Royals loaded the bases and George Brett rocketed a line drive that cleared the bases, tying the game and forever cementing his status as my favorite Royal. A few batters later we scored the final run,***** and I celebrated with my Dad, letting him know that I knew they were going to win. That season the Royals won 92 games, but before the Wild Card existed, a loaded Oakland A’s team kept them out of the playoffs.

On July 6, 1991, my heart got broken in a game against the Oakland A’s when Danny Tartabull hit three home runs, but the Royals still had somehow fallen behind before the ninth inning and had the heart of their lineup coming up against Dennis Eckersley. I reminded dad about the Lee Smith game, and perhaps hoping I was a good luck charm, he seemed slightly more optimistic about my predictions of an upcoming Royals comeback, even though we were up against an even better closer. Down two, with one runner aboard and two outs, Brett stood at the plate as the tying run with Tartabull in the on deck circle as the winning run.  With a thunderous crack, Brett lined another rocket into the outfield, but this time right at the center fielder, ending the game without giving Tartabull the chance to make baseball history and win the game.

From the time I remember living in Kansas City, the Royals were always good, but never good enough to make the playoffs.****** We had legends like George Brett, superstars like Bo Jackson, and were truly relevant. The two games I just described represent particularly noteworthy episodes from a huge series of childhood memories that I will always cherish.# The only thing I really missed as a kid was the chance to see the Royals in the playoffs.

In the intervening years my family moved away from Kansas City, the Royals have stunk and have been next to impossible to see on television, which further complicated following them over the course of 162 games a year. While I never gave up on the Royals and put up with a lot of trash talk for continuing to support such a lousy team when it would have been so easy to bolt for better teams at nearly any point, it is safe to say that the Royals had slipped behind my favorite football and basketball teams in terms of my attention.

Then came last night.

Seeing the excitement and energy at Kauffman Stadium brought back powerful memories. Crunching peanut shells under my feet (something I still do almost every time I go to a ballpark). The helmet bowls of soft serve. Kauffman’s gorgeous fountains. The giant Midwestern insects buzzing around the light towers. The smell of cheap beer. And something new: the roar of a crowd that has finally seen their support of this team validated.

I’ve always been an intense sports fan, but watching the game last night was something different. Instead of the caveman-like bellowing I do for a Kansas City Chiefs game, or alternating fast rhythm and cavalcade of timeouts of a Marquette basketball game, I was standing on my feet nervously shuffling back and forth, turning my cap inside out for good luck, pouting on the couch when things were bad, jumping, yelping and laughing with joy every time the Royals did something good. I never even thought to grab a beer until my fiancée asked me if I wanted one.  In short, for one night, I was a kid again. For 29 years I had been waiting for this very moment, and I managed to turn back time to enjoy it. And oh my goodness, what a game to turn back time for.*******

I don’t know if the Royals have a magical run in them.  For one night, Eric Hosmer did a passable George Brett impersonation.  However, the incompetence of Ned Yost will probably catch up to us at some point.********  But this one game created that childhood memory that I had always been missing.  And that is why I am still so deliriously happy.

Let’s go Royals!

* While under almost all circumstances being the progeny of a Yankees fan should be a great source of shame for the entire family, it is semi-mitigated by the fact that my dad was an Air Force brat and the Yankees were the only team he could follow no matter where in the world he was living.  He also taught my brothers and me the #1 lesson of being a real sports fan: that you always stick with your team no matter what (no amount of cajoling from his three sons ever got him to nudge the Royals past the Yankees).

** Something that happened a lot last night.

*** Also something that happened a lot last night.

**** The dates and a few specific facts come from Baseball-Reference.com, but the bulk of the next two paragraphs are my actual recollections. In fact, I was really shocked by how accurate my memories were the first time I dug around on Baseball-Reference trying to find particular Royals games I went to, with these two being the standouts.

***** Baseball-Reference says it was Bob Boone who drove in the winning run. Somehow he doesn’t stick out as much as George Brett.

****** My family moved to Kansas City in time for their World Series run in the fall of 85, but I was barely three years old and don’t remember a thing of the Royals from back then.

******* Oh, and getting back at the A’s for keeping what had previously been the best Royals team I can remember out of the playoffs and ruining Danny Tartabull’s big game also felt pretty good.

******** Seriously, Ned? A double steal with Billy “The Slowest Man in Professional Sports” Butler and Hosmer?  Four sacrifice bunts? Bringing a rookie starter on one day’s rest out of the bullpen with two on and nobody out?

# Since this is an extra self-indulgent aside, I’ll put it at the very bottom. I also really enjoyed singing along to Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” which the Royals would regularly play between innings when I was a kid and dancing to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” when the Royals would win.

Dad comments: 

    • Tom loved “Minnie the Moocher,” running around our family room chanting “Hodie, Hodie.”
    • How is Lee Smith not in the Hall of Fame? He was a Yankee only eight games, but might deserve a post here someday.
    • I missed a Steve Balboni grand-slam homerun once while in the restroom with Tom.
    • Watching George Brett play for parts of seven seasons was an absolute treat.
    • I ranted quite a bit myself last night in our living room and on Twitter about Yost wasting outs on bunts, prompting someone to tweet me a link to this tweet:
  • At the time, it seemed like a lot of money we spent on tickets, parking, and all those peanuts and helmet sundaes. But the experiences I gave my sons were priceless.