ALCS can't get here fast enough for Royals
Aggressiveness on basepaths gives opposition another thing to address
Speed kills. Speed thrills. Speed rules. And these 2014 Kansas City Royals have speed in spades.
The Royals have stolen many a heart in their ascendance to the American League Championship Series -- which starts tonight at 7 p.m. CT/8 ET on TBS -- and they've also stolen many a base. Their matchup with the Orioles has a throwback feel to it, as neither club has advanced to the World Series since the 1980s.
But the Royals add a throwback style to the equation, too, generating runs on the run, using their legs to add legs to this October adventure, and taking all of us -- especially the Kansas City faithful who waited 29 years for an October this fun -- along for the ride ... with Jarrod Dyson revving up the motorcycle.
"That's what speed do," as Dyson once said. It can completely change a game and enthrall an audience. So if you don't mind doing a little speed reading, let's take a moment to appreciate these Royals for being both fleet and fierce of foot.
Four games into their first playoff appearance since 1985, the Royals have swiped a dozen bags -- one more than every other postseason participant combined. Their 92.3-percent (12-for-13) success rate is the highest by a playoff club with at least 10 attempts since the 2002 Angels went 13-for-14, and we know where all of that running took the Halos that year.
Furthermore, we're approaching the 10th anniversary of the most famous stolen base of any October -- Dave Roberts' game-changing and, possibly, curse-breaking swipe of second for the Red Sox in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Yankees. The Royals inspire belief that some other significant steals are still in store.
While Kansas City has certainly showed some promising pop in the playoffs to date, the main modus operandi of these two ALCS offenses could not be more distinctly different. The Birds hit a Major League-high 211 homers and stole a Major League-low 44 bases, while the Royals stole a Major League-leading 153 bases and hit a Major League-low 95 long balls.
This is a perfect yin and yang (and Yost).
"We've got to make stuff happen," Royals manager Ned Yost said earlier this month. "We have to be aggressive on the basepaths, and we have to try to take advantage of every situation to get into scoring position. When you do that, that's upsetting to the defense, it's upsetting to the pitchers."
And it's awesome for the rest of us, because the tension of that moment when a man is on first and the whole world knows he's about to try to run rampant is unlike any other.
That tension, in a way, has already begun. Orioles skipper Buck Showalter has a difficult decision on his hands. Caleb Joseph had the third-highest caught-stealing percentage (40.4) of any AL catcher with at least 200 innings behind the plate this season, but he hit .080 in September and hasn't logged a hit since Sept. 10. Nick Hundley was horrendous at stopping the running game (18.5-percent success rate), but his bat was considered dependable enough to get two starts in the three-game Division Series against the Tigers, and he's become sort of a de facto personal catcher for Game 1 starter Chris Tillman.
Showalter said earlier this week he's thinking about his options behind the plate, so, in that sense, the Royals' speed is already in the Orioles' heads.
"It's kind of what they do, and they're very good at it," Showalter said. "What do they say? Speed doesn't go into a slump?"
It certainly hasn't slumped on this stage. Left fielder Alex Gordon already has three steals, and so does good ol' No. 0, Terrance Gore, whose speed off the bench has made the September callup an essential roster member in the postseason.
Dyson, Nori Aoki, Lorenzo Cain, Christian Colon, Alcides Escobar and even Billy Butler all each have a steal so far. And few things in life are more entertaining than Butler stealing a base.
If this keeps up, the Royals might challenge the 2008 Rays' record for most stolen bases (24) in a postseason. And perhaps a lesson can be learned, for you could argue that both clubs -- the Royals in the present tense and the Rays in the past -- used their speed as an equalizer, given their lack of payroll clout or postseason experience.
For now, the Royals' stolen-base success rate is higher than that of those '08 Rays (88.9), and it's well higher than that of the rest of the postseason field (73.3).
Of course, speed isn't all about stolen bases. The Royals led the Majors in the FanGraphs.com-calculated "speed score," which incorporates not only stolen-base percentage but also the frequency of attempts, the percentage of triples and the runs scored percentage, with a 5.2 mark. They also, per Baseball Reference, scored more runs from second base on a single (128) than any other club not named the Dodgers (135). Of course, that stat also points to how much the Royals' offense relied on singles over extra-base hits, but that just demonstrates their main means of generating offense. This Kansas City club led the league in contact rate (71.2 percent), which gave it ample opportunity to showcase its speed with the ball in play.
A Dodgers-Royals World Series would have been interesting, from a speed perspective, as those clubs ranked first and second in speed score. Alas, L.A. had a speedy exit from this postseason showcase, and now the Royals are the last speedsters standing (or running, as it were). The Cardinals, Giants and Orioles ranked 28th, 29th and 30th in stolen bases this year.
Given the decline in offense in baseball in recent years, people will sometimes say speed is more vital than it's been in quite a while. That's not reflected in the way teams run, though. The 2,764 steals and 3,799 attempts this season ranked 15th and 16th in the 21 seasons of the Wild Card era, which obviously incorporates the 1990s power eruption.
So let's celebrate these Royals as the all-too-rare team that satisfies our need for speed. Run, Royals, run. Right through October.