Can the Royals stay in first this time?

By Steve Sell
August 12, 2014

Tuesday’s tidbits...

• ROYALS TO STAY IN FIRST FOR A WHILE? — I am beginning to think all the stars are aligning for the Kansas City Royals.

After edging baseball’s best team, the Oakland A’s, 3-2 Monday night for their eighth straight victory, you can now call them the first-place Kansas City Royals.

And unlike the last time when they were in first place for a cup of coffee, they may have some staying power this time. When they last took over the top spot in June, they immediately went into a 9-18 nosedive that dropped them as many as eight games back. They perhaps didn’t know what it took to handle success.

We’ll see if they learned from that.

The Royals’ pitching is beyond phenomenal and the bullpen triumvirate of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland has shortened games. If the Royals can get just a decent six innings from their starters, they can basically slam the door the rest of the way.

The hitting is sporadic, but timely. A big move was made Monday when the Royals acquired power-hitting Josh Willingham for the rest of the season and he’ll be a nice addition. The Royals were desperate for a veteran right-hand hitter with some pop and while he hasn’t had a great year the excitement of a pennant race may energize him. He’ll be a definite upgrade at DH over Raul Ibanez, who is still hitting well below .200.

It also helps the Royals that the once seemingly uncatchable Detroit Tigers are all of a sudden being socked with injuries. Longtime Royals killer Annibal Sanchez and Joakim Soria are now on the disabled list and there’s great fear that longtime ace Justin Verlander could be shut down with a bad shoulder. Verlander didn’t even make it past the first inning Monday night as the Tigers were shelled by Pittsburgh.

In addition to their pitching being ravaged by injuries, the Tigers have stopped hitting. Ever since they traded Austin Jackson to Seattle, Detroit’s offensive engine has been misfiring.

Kansas City and Detroit still have six games remaining head-to-head and that could tilt the final standings.

• SWEDES HAVE NUMBERS — While McPherson College has mandated that football practice can’t start until next week, county rival Bethany College is off and running.

Second-year coach Manny Mataskis is beginning practice today after some orientation sessions on Monday.

Matsakis and his staff wore out the recruiting trail, as the Swedes have approximately 90 new players in camp to go with the 40 or so returnees.

Bethany may be the most intriguing team in the KCAC. Mataskis arrived in Little Sweden with much pomp and circumstance, but his young team wilted to a 2-9 record, though one of those wins was over nationally ranked Tabor.

Matsakis probably has as many recruiting contacts as any coach in the KCAC. He has players from coast to coast and goes for those who will fit his heralded “Triple Shoot” system that was scrubbed after the first game last year when then-quarterback Justin Bane went down for the season. Matsakis really didn’t have another experienced quarterback and the Swedes’ offense was downright offensive at times. 

But last week at Media Day he said he has 12 quarterback candidates, some of them transfers. You can bet competition will be fierce at the position.

KCAC coaches and the media certainly are drinking the Kool-Aid as the Swedes were picked to improve by three spots in the preseason polls.

• KU TO DOMINATE BIG MONDAY — ESPN apparently knows where its bread is buttered.

The “World Wide Sports Leader” announced on Monday that the Kansas Jayhawks would appear on four of its eight “Big Monday” games.

KU’s opponents in those games include Oklahoma, Iowa State, West Virginia and Kansas State. That will be Kansas State's only Monday nighter, which is surprising since I think it could be right there with KU in the Big 12 race.

Despite the departures of two of three top picks in the NBA draft, ESPN is banking on the Jayhawks’ tradition and its drawing power. There’s no question KU will still be a top-notch team, but you have to wonder if it can maintain its lofty standards.

Surprisingly on the TV slate, there’s no Oklahoma State, which is expected to fall off this year following the early departure of Marcus Smart and some other key losses. However, ESPN must consider OU a team on the rise as it’s on three times, perhaps four as the last week is an and/or game.

Baylor probably feels a little slighted as it’s rating only one appearance. The Bears are often a TV favorite just because of their outlandish uniforms.

Expected Big 12 cellar dwellers TCU and Texas Tech also have been shut out of the prime-time spot.

• HAWKINSON NEWS — on Monday released its projected roster for the Cincinnati Bengals.

It was good news for McPherson's Tanner Hawkinson as the report indicated he should again make the team.

Hawkinson had a solid performance in Thursday night's exhibition opener against Kansas City. The report indicates the Bengals probably will keep 10 linemen, which is even better news for the former Bullpup.

Hawkinson was a fifth-round draft choice out of Kansas in 2013 and was active for five games last year. Various reports have indicated the Bengals like his versatility as he can play several positions.