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ELECTION DAY!

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ALCS Preview: Royals vs. Orioles

We’re just a few short days away from knowing who will be representing the American League in this year’s World Series. Four Royals wins and they get that title while Ned Yost will be the manager of the 2015 All-Star game. Four Orioles wins and…nah, we won’t even entertain that possibility just yet. The Royals and Orioles are two franchises that have had to wait for a trip back to the Fall Classic. You think it’s been awhile for the Royals? The Orioles haven’t been since 1983. Of course, they have made the playoffs between then and now, so let’s not have too much sympathy for their fans. In the regular season, the Royals faced the Orioles seven times and beat them four of those times. I know I’d take a repeat of that.

The two teams are pretty evenly matched. They’re even quite similar in some aspects of the game, but one of those is not offensively. I guess that’s not entirely true. Neither team walks much and neither team strikes out much, so that’s an interesting subplot if you’re into that sort of thing. The Orioles hit the long ball, though, while the Royals definitely do not. On the flip side, the Royals steal bases while the Orioles definitely do not. In fact, the Orioles led baseball in homers while the Royals were last and the Royals led baseball in steals while the Orioles were last. The Orioles have a couple guys to be careful of in Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce. Adam Jones also had a really nice year, but I don’t put him quite on the same level of those other two. That’s not to say that the Orioles don’t have a good offense, but those are the two guys to pay close attention to.

The pitching is where the two teams are really similar. They both have very solid rotations top to bottom. The Orioles young ace, Chris Tillman, might even have a slight edge over James Shields the way Tillman is pitching right now, but I think the Royals have the edge in much of the series. The two bullpens are two of the very best in baseball, especially when you take away some of the lesser used guys from each club. The Orioles do probably have more depth in their bullpen, but Tommy Hunter, Andrew Miller, Darren O’Day and Zach Britton compared with Jason Frasor, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland is a pretty good matchup of “big fours” in the bullpens. The Orioles do have the edge in being able to match up with two lefties and two righties, but the Orioles don’t have much in the way of lefty threats anyway.

Let’s get to the matchups with the understanding that the playoffs are wacky and the matchups could change at a moment’s notice.

Game One – James Shields vs. Chris Tillman
Tillman was once a top prospect sent to Baltimore by the Mariners in a trade that netted Seattle Erik Bedard. He’s finally broken out over the last few years and is now a very good starting pitcher. Tillman threw a five hit shuotut against the Royals earlier this season, and he’s been awesome in the second half of the season. Shields is Shields. I think we have a pretty good idea of what we’re getting with him.

Game Two – Yordano Ventura vs. Bud Norris
I think there’s a good chance Wei-Yin Chen actually starts this game, but I’ve seen Norris mentioned by others, so we’ll go with that for now. Norris had a really nice season for the Orioles this year, but a lot of it was probably luck driven. He doesn’t strike batters out like he used to, but he uses an excellent Orioles defense to his advantage. Norris is hittable, though, so this could be a good one for the Royals offense. He also doesn’t do a great job of controlling the running game. You might recall Ventura threw eight shutout innings in Baltimore in May, so that’s a nice memory to have, but I’m interested to see how Ventura responds to a career high in innings pitched.

Game Three – Jeremy Guthrie vs. Wei-Yin Chen
Chen isn’t your classic soft-tossing lefty. He throws fairly hard and gets some good movement on it. He does have some fly ball tendencies, so not pitching him in Baltimore is probably a good idea. The Royals have hit him pretty decently in the past with Eric Hosmer especially seeing the ball well off him. Guthrie will be facing his former team will pitching for the first time in awhile as he didn’t throw in the Wild Card game or in the ALDS, so he’ll either be great because he’s strong or rusty. I’m hoping for the former.

Game Four – Danny Duffy/Jason Vargas vs. Miguel Gonzalez
The Royals are still undecided on their game four starter, but I think they’re being coy and it’ll be Duffy. They’ll be facing a very lucky pitcher in Miguel Gonzalez. Nothing about his repertoire says that he should be this good, but he gets the results. Gonzalez was picked up from the Mexican League a couple years ago and is a nice story, but I think the Royals can hit him. Vargas pitched well in the first game of the ALDS, so I’m not panicked over the prospect of him starting, but Duffy carried a perfect game into the seventh against the Orioles earlier this year and he’s simply the better pitcher.

If It Rains
There’s rain in the forecast for game one, and that could mean that the game gets postponed and moved to Sunday. That would mean the two teams play Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday which would mean the teams would need to go to a traditional five man rotation for the series. If that’s the case, the Orioles would go with Kevin Gausman, the young pitcher who has been outstanding.

Prediction Time
I think the Royals continue their run and win this series in either six or seven games. My guess is they go back to Baltimore up three games to two and close it out in Baltimore and head to their first World Series since 1985.

Follow me on Twitter @DBLesky

ALDS Preview: Kansas City Royals vs. Los Angeles Angels

On the heels of one of the most exciting games in recent memory, the Royals will try to take their momentum to the American League Division Series where they take on the Los Angeles Angels. This is the Royals first trip to the playoffs since 1985 (you knew that) and the Angels first trip since 2009 when they lost in the ALCS to the New York Yankees.

Tale of the Tape:

Royals Angels
2014 Record 89-73 98-64
Head-to-Head Wins 3 3
World Series Titles 1, 1985 1, 2002
Average Leader Lorenzo Cain Howie Kendrick
Home Run Leader Alex Gordon Mike Trout
RBI Leader Alex Gordon Mike Trout
Wins Leader James Shields, Yordano Ventura Jered Weaver
ERA Leader Danny Duffy Garrett Richards
Saves Leader Greg Holland Huston Street

Game One: Jason Vargas vs. Jered Weaver
The Royals send their much maligned lefty to the mound to face the Angels ace. Weaver has lost a bit off his fastball, but he’s still a successful starting pitcher. The Royals can beat him, but the concern in this game is if Jason Vargas can overcome his 9.00 ERA from his last four starts of 2014. From my eyes, it appeared that he was fatigued, so maybe seven days of rest will help him in this one. One thing to note is that Jered Weaver struggles to control the running game, so look for the Royals speed guys to take off as soon as they get on base.

Game Two: Yordano Ventura vs. Matt Shoemaker
The Angels send their 27-year old rookie to the mound in this one coming off an oblique injury at the end of the regular season. He went 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA, but it remains to be seen what he will do coming off that injury. The Royals send Yordano Ventura to the mound after his rough outing against the A’s on Tuesday in the hopes that he can rebound a little bit. I imagine one of Danny Duffy or Jeremy Guthrie will be ready to go in case Ventura struggles out of the gates again.

Game Three: James Shields vs. C.J. Wilson
Wilson struggled this season from about June on, and was hit pretty hard by the Royals this season, so there’s hope in this game for Kansas City. Wilson is a solid lefty, though, and has a chance to get the job done in any given game. Wilson performs far better in Anaheim than on the road, so the Royals have that going for them in this one. Shields gets a second chance at his first postseason win for his new club after giving up four runs in five plus innings in his start in the Wild Card game against Oakland. Personally, I’d start Christian Colon over Mike Moustakas in this one since Wilson is tough on lefties.

Game Four (If Necessary): Jeremy Guthrie or Danny Duffy vs. Jered Weaver
The Angels are bringing Weaver back on three days rest if they need to play this game as they seem to have more confidence in him than they do Hector Santiago. That’s, of course, subject to change as the series continues. The Royals, having seen Weaver just a few days prior might be able to put together some good at bats against him. They’ll need to. It appears the Royals will start whoever isn’t needed in relief in the early part of this series. If it’s Guthrie, I worry about him against a powerful lineup like this, but if it’s Duffy, you worry about his health as he struggled with his shoulder late in the year.

Game Five (If Necessary): Jason Vargas vs. Matt Shoemaker or Hector Santiago
Hector Santiago might get the nod in this one if Shoemaker struggles in Game Two of the series. He gets lefties out quite well, but tends to struggle against right-handed bats. He also tires quite quickly, so the key for the Royals in this one is to run the pitch count up as much as possible and wait him out. I have concerns about Vargas in this one, but at least he’d have six days of rest between starts.

I think the Royals somehow pull this series out and win it in five. Call it a hunch, though, because all the numbers indicate the Angels should win this series.

Things To Do In Branson

So fresh off of my family trip to Branson, I wanted to highlight some…highlights of Branson, MO. Since moving to SEK, I have been to Branson almost annually. Atleast making a trip to Silver Dollar City for a weekend. So now with a wife and 2 kids a long for the ride, here are some quick things that are a must for your next trip.

TITANIC MUSEUM

– It is what it says it is. Honestly, you can’t miss this thing. If you’re traveling down the strip, you’ll first notice the 2 huge stacks towering from the building resembling the “face” of the Titanic. Once you enter, you’ll get a chance to put your hand on an “iceberg” to get a sense of how cold that block of ice was that doomed the ship. Here are my positives and negatives of the Titanic Museum in Branson, MO

+ Education, informative, and fun. If you’re looking for something on the educational side, this is it. Even our 3 year old had fun looking at some of the exhibits. For the kiddos, I recommend the audio tour add-on since there’s quite a bit of reading.

+ 2+ hours. You might think this is a bad thing, but honestly, on a day that it rained, it was great to spend it inside learning about a piece of history. If you’re planning a trip to Branson and need a filler, this is a place to stop. Plus…you really owe it to your self to take your time to marvel at the attention to detail in a lot of the exhibits, including the famous stair case.

+ Hands on and interactive. Not only was this educational, but it was entertaining. One of our favorites was the 3 levels of elevation the ship reportedly went through on it’s sinking and you had the opportunity to “climb” on the side railing and hold on for dear life. (FYI – I was the only one in our family to make it to the top). Also – you could stick your finger (or if you’re dumb and brave like me your whole hand) in water that was as cold as the ocean was that fateful April evening and see how long you could last. (1 minute with my whole hand…which I don’t recommend BTW).

- No pictures. Because of copyright law and legal mumbo jumbo you couldn’t take pictures.

- The price. This one will cost you a pretty penny…or quite a few. But honestly, I would much rather spend my money on this exhibit than some dinner and show.

THE HOLLYWOOD WAX MUSEUM

You’ve probably seen these on the travel channel or something similar. Wax figures that eerily resemble your favorite Hollywood actor or actress. This was a lot of fun for the adults…and the kids too.

+ Price is family friendly. Honestly, this one didn’t set you back too much, especially with a family of 4.

+ Interactive and can take pictures. You can stand next to the figures and take your picture with them. They just ask that you be respectful and don’t get too frisky. I had to remind that to the wife about Robert Downey Jr….

- Too short. I think we spent maybe 30-45 minutes walking through. I would have liked to have seen more, but again for the price I couldn’t complain. My wife was happy too…again RDJ.

 

If you made it this far…in conclusion, these two places are well worth the stops in Branson. We did some other stuff too…but I won’t go into boring details about that. If you’re planning to go to Branson soon, tell them Zoel from Hot 105 sent you. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

3 Reasons the Royals Road Trip is Huge

As the Royals come off a very successful 5-2 home stand that saw them vault into second place in the American League Central, they’re now faced with their most important stretch of games of the 2014 season. They head to Chicago to take on the White Sox in a three-game set and then will go to Detroit to do battle with the division leading Tigers. By the time the Royals get to Detroit, they could have switched places with them, but that seems unlikely, so we’ll work under the premise that they will still have some work to do in catching the Tigers rather than putting distance between the Royals and them.

Here are three reasons why this trip is so important:

1. Any games against division foes are very important to come out victorious. It’s obvious, but every game won against them provides a two game swing in the standings. The Royals haven’t been so good against their division rivals this season. Even with a two-game sweep against the Indians, the Royals are just 8-15 against the AL Central. I’m no math major, but when you see how far back they are from first place, you start to realize what could be if they were just 11-12 against the division, let alone having a winning record. They need to get things going against the AL Central if they want to have a real shot at this thing.

2. The White Sox are a team that is just good enough to think they have a chance. If they think they have a chance over the next few weeks, they might go out on the trade market and try to pick up a pitcher or even a bat who could help them to really have a chance. I don’t have to tell you that this scenario is not good for the Royals. The White Sox, right now, are not the best team in the division nor are they even one of the best two or three teams in the division, but when you let a team hang around for long enough, they start to believe it. It’s sort of like the upsets in the NCAA tournament. That number 13 seed might not actually be better than the number four seed, but when it’s 55-53 with 11:08 to go in the second half, they believe they are. The difference here is that the White Sox actually can get better if they think they need upgrades. The Royals need to send them to the bottom of the division this weekend to help avoid that fate because if the White Sox upgrade, they may very well end up better than the Royals.

3. To be the best, you have to beat the best. The Tigers have shown over the course of the last few seasons that they are the absolute class of the American League Central. The Royals are currently 0-5 against them this season, and that has to change in a hurry. Since starting the season 27-12, the Tigers have really taken a tumble, so they are beatable, but being beatable and being beaten are two separate things. The Tigers have shown some weakness over the last few weeks, and while they’re still very good and probably the class of the division, they are a team that can be beaten right now. If the Royals handle the White Sox, it’s important that they head into Detroit and make a statement in this series. It’s not just a statement to show that they’ve “arrived” or anything like that, but a statement to potentially show the Tigers who the top dog is now. Hopefully when it’s all said and done, it will be the Royals.

This is unfamiliar territory for the Royals. Last year’s team made their move late in the season, so they have the experience of a race, but there haven’t been too many Royals teams in a good position in mid-June. This year is different so far. This road trip needs to be different too.

 

Royals Slow Start Won’t Preclude a Fast Finish

In the first few weeks of the Royals 2014 season, fans have been subjected to an array of emotions ranging from anger to depression to joy to despondence. The first two weeks of the season have probably not gone according to plan, but the good news is that there’s a whole lot of time left to turn things around. Getting swept by the Minnesota Twins is a bad look for the Royals as the Twins are a team expected to finish in the basement of the American League Central and are a candidate to finish with 90 or more losses for the fourth consecutive season. I noted on Twitter that last season, eventual playoff teams were swept just eight times all season by a team that went on to finish below .500. Three of those sweeps were of the Tigers, though, so there’s some hope for the Royals yet.

The bulk of attention has been on the offense, and with good reason. The team has scored the least runs in the American League and has done it while hitting for next to no power. The good news is that they simply can’t be this bad the rest of the season. If they were, their offense would be similar to a dead ball offense, and that’s just not the game anymore. Sure, offensive numbers as a whole are down, but not that much. So they have that on their side. The important thing is to remember that the Royals just aren’t a team that is going to hit for very much power. They have to get their runs by getting on base a lot, which they seemed to be doing a better job of in the first week and a half of the season, but then lost that ability while in Minnesota.

What scares me is that the starting pitching has been so good, but I’m not sure how long that’s sustainable. Bruce Chen has also shown what can happen when he isn’t completely in control, and Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie are the same type of pitchers. They both get by mostly with location and aren’t really able to blow hitters away. That can get the job done, but when it isn’t working, that’s when things get ugly and starts like Bruce Chen had on Friday in Minnesota happen. Vargas has been sensational and Guthrie has been okay, but both will have starts like Chen had. James Shields is James Shields and I’m not really worried about him, but Yordano Ventura is a rookie and he’s going to have his rough starts. His first start of the year against Tampa Bay is what we hope for every time, but very few rookies can do that with consistency. I hope he can because I’m not in love with this rotation.

And finally, the bullpen has been cause for concern in the first few games, but a deeper look shows that it’s probably nothing more than a small sample. With as few innings as they’ve thrown this season, a good run for three games could completely turn their season around. They’ve had a really hard time of stranding runners, and that’s something that will correct itself over time. Their strand rate currently would be the worst among bullpens in the expansion era (1969 to today). They’ve walked far too many batters, so that’s something to watch, but as the bullpen gets some consistency (the seemingly weekly off days are now over), I think they’ll settle in and be just fine.

For now, things look ugly, but this is still fundamentally the same team people were so excited about just a month or so ago. The offense will tick up, the bullpen will get better and the starting rotation will fall back a little bit. Before the season started, I predicted an 86 win season for the Royals and a slow start out of the gate isn’t going to get me to change that. There are warning signs that there could be trouble, but at this point, it’s far too early to alter your predictions unless you had them winning all their games. Unfortunately, that ship has sailed. Luckily, every other ship has yet to leave the dock.

Sub-State & Region 6 Basketball

Here’s the list of Basketball games on Hot 105 for March 6th, 2014:

St. Paul Boys v. Leroy-Southern Coffey Co. @ 6PM

Neosho County v. Seward Co. in Wichita @ 7PM

 

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