Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Royals - Tigers Series Preview - April 30th -- May 3rd

Danville, Kentucky---Here it is, folks. The biggest series of the year thus far. The type of series a man takes his nephew to, to show him the wonders of baseball: the crack of the bat in the warm summer air, the sound of the ball loudly slapping the back of the catcher’s glove, the sound of a blue-collar white lady from Chanute on the wrong side of age 50 reminiscing about Billy Butler, the sound of a 23 year old Dominican with a mouth like a sailor inciting a brawl and in the process provoking a conversation with your nephew about sportsmanship and how to play the game right.

I’m talking of course about the AL Central clash of titans; a four-game set at Kauffman Stadium, the first meeting of the American League Champion Kansas City Royals and American League Central Division Champion Detroit Tigers. Both teams were victims of a criminal snubbing this winter. Nerds said the Royals were a fluke, and that the clock had struck midnight, turning Ned’s Cinderella boys into pumpkins. When it came to the Tigers, the nerds predicted a 2015 season that looked like the plot of Rocky III, with the aging veteran club succumbing to the cruel passage of time and finally relinquishing their division crown to a more talented, younger and hungrier Indians club, just as Rocky was supposed to have met his match with Clubber Lane.

Folks, I haven’t seen Rocky III since my ex-wife received my VCR and all my tapes in our last divorce settlement back in ‘98, and the season is still young, but the nerds are looking pretty foolishly wrong. For the record, this is how the “experts” called the AL Central:

You'll notice alot of C's and Sox. How could so many nerds be so wrong? It’s hard to say. TWTW saw the signs.

TWTW saw a Royals team that was 1 win away from popping champagne while Madison Bumgarner skulked back to a somber and dry clubhouse; a team with speed, defense, and the type of bullpen that can turn a 9 inning game into a 6 inning game.

TWTW saw a Tigers team with a middle-of-the-batting-order that gives pitchers nightmares: Miguel Cabrera, the undisputed greatest hitter in a generation, with MVP-runner up Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez and Yoenis Cespedes protecting him in the order. Not to mention Justin Verlander, ruthless competitor & autumnal legend, sidelined by an injury, but waiting in the wings, burning to once again reach the heights he scaled as a Cy Young & MVP winner. No doubt, as I write this, Verlander sips on bourbon and longs to take the mound, the X-factor in Detroit’s World Series dreams.

TWTW saw Cleveland and Chicago teams with talent, but also major question marks. Thus far, this lonely, broken man from Danville more accurately predicted the division than the ESPN liberal elites. As I write this, the Indians sit in the cellar of the AL Central at 7 games back, while the White Sox remain 5 games back.

But enough with what has happened – tonight I will attempt to predict what may come to pass. Even if Detroit or Kansas City were swept, the season would still be far from over. Yet, to win a division one has to beat their division. Here are TWTW’s predictions for this crucial series:

GAME 1 – Alfredo Simon (DET) v. Danny Duffy (KC) – April 30th

Detroit will enter Kansas City with both teams trending in opposite directions. Detroit will have a half-game lead and restored confidence after a triumphant comeback victory against Minnesota the previous afternoon. Kansas City’s doubts will resurface after Cleveland hung an L on young stud Ventura and their near-impeccable bullpen the night before. Tomorrow night, the hungry Royals will dine on the Big Pasta, Alfredo Simon. Like an over-cooked batch of fettucine whose boiling water was improperly salted, Alfredo’s arm will be soft and mushy, relinquishing 5 runs over 4 innings before the handsome Brad Ausmus decides to wave the white flag by bringing in the bullpen. Danny Duffy won’t be perfect; he’s been put on academic probation at the James Shields School of Poise. Nonetheless, the Duff Man will be sufficient, allowing 3 runs over 6 innings before Kansas City’s bullpen shuts down the Tigers like the city of Detroit shuts down water access on delinquent residential accounts.

Final Score: Royals 7, Tigers 3

Game 2 – Kyle Lobstein (DET) v. Chris Young (KC) – May 1st

The 2nd game of this series will represent a mini-milestone; the end of the first month of baseball, and the start of May. The cool mornings and pleasant afternoons of spring will gave way to the sticky heat and sultry nights of summer. While the Royals feasted on Alfredo in game 1, the story of game 2 will be Kyle Lobstein slicing through the Royals lineup like the meaty pincers of an angered Lobster. It was a strange path that brought Lobstein to the majors, a path that required an untimely injury to Verlander, one of the faces of the franchise. The Royals offense will look confused and off balance as he flashes his soft-tossing arsenal, teasing 89 miles per hour on the radar gun. The Tigers lineup will take advantage of the hittable Royals spot-starter, leading a certain Dominican stud and his mentor Volquez to reflect on the consequences of the actions they took a few nights prior during a game in Chicago where tensions boiled over and tempers flared. Joba Chamberlain will plunk Jarrod Dyson with an ill-placed breaking ball in the 8th inning, but nothing will come of it. The Royals know that the Tigers bullpen simply doesn’t have the command to intentionally hit a batter.

Feeling like Sheriff Woody when Andy gets Buzz Lightyear for his birthday, Verlander will feel expendable and watch from afar as Lobstein and the team celebrate the W, wondering where he fits in on this new-look Tigers team. Sleep will bring no closure or resolution to his insecurities, yet he will faithfully join his team in the dugout for the rest of the series, knowing that his very presence inspires confidence and hope in the clubhouse.

Final Score: Tigers 5, Royals 1.

Game 3 – David Price (DET) vs. Edinson Volquez (KC) – May 2nd

On paper, this pitching match-up looks to be the most clearly favorable to Detroit, with a Cy Young winner facing what the nerds would describe as an over-performing regression candidate. Yet, baseball is a game played on grass and in the dirt, not on paper or in spreadsheets, and the Royals live to thwart the projections of single men and their TI-83 graphing calculators. David Price will have a dominant, if inefficient, start and limit the Royals to 1 run on 2 hits and a walk over 6 and one-third of an inning.

With Price’s pitch count climbing, Brad Ausmus will roll the dice by putting in the Tigers bullpen. A defensive misplay on a funny-hopping ground-ball by the young Nick Castellanos will spark a Royals rally culminating in a 3 run blast by the new-and-improved MVP-candidate Mike Moustakas. Al Albuquerque will hang his head in shame, and Eric Hosmer will look on in wonder at Moustakas, wondering who this confident slugger is and what he did with the .180-batting under-performer of years prior.

The Royals always believed in each other, but doubt will begin to creep into the minds of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Anibal Sanchez, and Verlander, who will watch the Royals celebrate from afar and remember the feeling of squandering a game when victory seemed so near, so tangible, and so deserved. Verlander will sleep uneasily that night, disturbed by the image of a slightly-younger Torii Hunter flipping over the fence at Fenway Park, chasing the hung slider that David Ortiz crushed into right field and directly through the Tigers last-best-hope of winning the World Series in 2013.

Final Score: Royals 4, Detroit 3

Game 4 – Anibal Sanchez (DET) vs. Jason Vargas (KC) – May 3rd

The Detroit Tigers will come to Kauffman stadium on Sunday looking outwardly cool but feeling inwardly desperate. They remember the humiliation of losing a 4 game series and their division lead to the Royals back in 2014. Cabrera, the Martinezes, and Cespedes will be the first to arrive at the field that morning, eager to take batting practice and redeem themselves following the heartbreak of the night prior. Their angst will have been for naught, and they will chase the struggling Jason Vargas (another downtrodden pitcher named J.V. in the AL Central, eager to contribute) after tagging him for 6 runs in 4 and two-thirds innings. 

Indeed, the Tigers lineup, stacked as it is with right-handed power hitters, will bat against the lefty Vargas with the swagger and the confidence of a Danville High quarterback at his senior prom after a few too many glasses of Kentucky Deluxe. Anibal Sanchez will cruise through 7 innings of 2-run ball as Joakim Soria and the rest of the bullpen watch in awe as he baffles Royals hitters with his diverse arsenal. 

Having fought and battled hard for a series split against formidable opponents, neither team can feel too frustrated with the stalemated outcome, even as they yearn to once again pop champagne. The veterans in both clubhouses will help keep both teams focused and primed for the summer pennant race that lays before them. Jeremy Guthrie, in particular, will use his considerable intelligence and inter-cultural saavy to keep the young whipper-snappers in his locker-room under control.

Final Score: Tigers 6, Royals 2.

When the dust settles, the Tigers and Royals will part ways in a virtual tie, with Detroit maintaining a slim, half-game lead. Where the season goes from there remains to be seen, with many plotlines still in need of resolution. Will Ventura conquer his own youthful braggadocio, or continue to undermine his teammates? Can Moustakas continue to play like the player he was always supposed to be? Will Justin Verlander overcome his own self-doubt and lead his team to the ultimate triumph, or fade to irrelevance and prove the nay-sayers right? This man from Danville doesn’t pretend to have the answers. The only thing I can say is, I will sure as hell be watching the rest of these games, and you better be too, nerd.