Royals on the brink of ending drought

By Steve Sell
September 24, 2014

Wednesday’s ramblings...

• ROYALS DO IT AGAIN — I guess I’m not going to believe in the Kansas City Royals until they actually clinch a spot in postseason play for the first time since 1985.

But I’m starting to get pretty darn close.

I was really expecting the worst Monday when the Royals rolled into Cleveland, a place where they have turned in more than their fair share of clunkers.

Discount the suspended game on Monday as to me that was a foregone conclusion, though the Royals did make things interesting in losing by just one run. That still goes down as a home defeat, even though the game was finished in Cleveland. That meant the Royals were just 42-39 at The K, which is not a home record that generally signifies a playoff team.

But back-to-back electrifying beauties by young guns Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura have sparked the Royals to a pair of key road wins and basically knocked Cleveland out of the wild-card race. With Oakland losing last night, the Royals and A’s are now tied for first place in the wild-card and Kansas City actually is still just a game back of Detroit in the AL Central, but you don’t get the feeling among baseball people that the Tigers will blow it, even though they gave up a 3-0 lead in the top of the ninth last night to the lowly White Sox before Miguel Cabrera bailed them out in the bottom of the inning with the winning hit.

Seattle’s pitching has suddenly tanked, giving up 24 runs in two games and last night its ace, King Felix Hernandez, was bombed by Toronto, which may have been the beginning of the end for the Mariners, now three back of KC and Oakland. A Kansas City win tonight against Cleveland and it will practically be home free. The Mariners have two more games against the slugging Blue Jays and given that Toronto is hot, that bodes well for the Royals.

When you look at Kansas City, it’s done all this without a single offensive player having what could be considered a breakout year. The lineup is littered with guys who have driven in about 50 to 60 runs and, of course, there’s very little power. Alex Gordon was in the MVP hunt heading into September, but the bottom has fallen out for him as he’s been an offensive ghost. Ditto for hack-away Salvador Perez, who very seldom swings at strikes, yet had been productive until this month. Old reliable Billy Butler, the forgotten man earlier this month as he couldn’t get the ball out of the infield, suddenly has found his stroke at the right time, but for the most part he’s had by far the worst year of his career and may not be back next year as he’s too expensive to keep.

Kansas City being this close to the playoffs is a testament to its pitching, both starting and relieving. If the Royals can get to the seventh with a lead, they’re basically nails No team has a shutdown group like Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, who own the seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively.

While I’m of course a diehard Cardinals fan, the long-suffering Kansas City fans deserve a playoff berth, even if it’s a one-game wild-card game. To be honest, if that develops, it probably would be better for the Royals to play on the road given how much better they play there than The K.

• SUPPORT CROSS COUNTRY — They toil in anonymity. There are no thousands of adoring fans on Friday nights, no stories splashed six columns in the newspaper above the fold, no lead story on television broadcasts.

Yet, no athletes probably work harder at their craft than cross county runners.

Day after day, sometimes in temperatures hovering around triple digits, these runners push themselves to the limit. Their workouts generally end in being physically exhausted.

McPherson High will be hosting its annual meet Thursday at Rolling Acres Golf Course. This is one of the most challenging layouts the runners will compete on all season. If you can master the hills of Roly, you can run any course.

The JV races are at 4:30 and 5 p.m., with the varsity races at 5:30 (girls) and 5:50 (boys). If you’ve never been to a cross country meet, you’re missing an experience. I’ve seen some amazing photo finishes down through the years as the runners close the race by running up a hill through what is basically a chute. Sometimes it’s that last lean that can produce the champion.

Let’s give our cross country runners the support they deserve on Thursday. They are just like football, soccer, volleyball and tennis players. Make plans to be at Rolling Acres to support the Bullpups.

• TOILET BOWL? — Given the way the season is playing out, Saturday’s football matchup in Lawrence between Kansas and Texas could be for ninth-place bragging rights in the Big 12.

The Jayhawks are clearly the least-talented team in the Big 12 (by light-years) and it’s generally been regarded by football “insiders” that they’ll go winless in conference play.

But Texas, which probably has more recruiting resources than any school in the country, is in such a free fall that it could lower itself to KU’s level.

New coach Charlie Strong has tried to instill discipline in the program, which has resulted in an exodus of players either leaving or being tossed. Injuries also have hit the team hard, including quarterback David Ash as he’s given up the game after a series of concussions.

Neither team will be in a bowl game this year, so maybe the winner could be crowned the “Toilet Bowl” champion.