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View from the other side: Royals questions for Max Rieper of Royals Review

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We start our last series before the All-Star break tonight in Kansas City. 3 games against the Royals, then the players get a much much needed break.

The Royals are 49-33, sitting first in the AL Central, with a 4.5 game lead over the Twins. They have the best record in the AL.

The Royals are 7th in the AL in runs scored per game, at 4.34. They are second in the league in runs allowed per game, at 3.63, but they are at the bottom of the league in 'Quality Starts', with just 32, even the Jays have more at 38. Their starting pitching, as Max notes below, hasn't been good, but they have a great bullpen.

I sent off some questions to Max Rieper, who runs Royals Review, SB Nation's KC Royals blog. Here is what he had to say.

The obvious first question is about Alex Gordon. What is the injury, how long is he out and who takes his spot in the lineup? I'd admit reading groin muscle detachment made me kind of queasy, but it isn't as bad as that, is it?

Alex suffered a groin strain, which relieved everyone anticipating some sort of ACL injury. The Royals say he will be out eight weeks, but he may need some rehab time after that. Jarrod Dyson is one of the best fourth outfielders in the game, and while he doesn't provide the kind of pop Alex Gordon does, he gets on base, plays terrific defense, as evidenced by his amazing basket catch Thursday afternoon:

and provides a lot of value on the bases. He'll step in for Gordon in left-field, with outfielder Paulo Orlando spelling Dyson against left-handers. Orlando is one of the more interesting stories for the Royals this year. Raised in Brazil, Orlando came to baseball quite late after excelling in track and field. The Royals acquired him many years ago from the White Sox, and saw him as a late bloomer. Although he's never put up sensational numbers in the minors, he has steadily risen with his speed as his major asset. It finally seems to be paying off for the 29-year old rookie, and his walk-off grand slam on Tuesday was just the latest amazing tale of his career.

What did Royals fans think of the whole All-Star vote complaints? I kind of figured that MLB set it up this way, they can't really complain that a team made the system work for them.

It has been interesting that Royals fans were accused of gaming the system or possibly hacking into the voting, then all of a sudden in the last week, millions of votes poured in for other candidates like Josh Donaldson (who frankly is easily more deserving of a starting spot). To be honest, I think most of the voting was legit - the enthusiasm for the Royals has been sky-high this season, and the support for Donaldson in the last few weeks came from an entire nation, spurred on by actor Stephen Amell! Personally, I have found most of the hand-wringing amusing - I think the All-Star game is a silly exhibition game for the fans. I understand why other fans were upset, I wouldn't want to see my favorite players snubbed, but the people acting like Royals fans were disrupting the "integrity" of the All-Star Game or hurting home field advantage for the World Series because Omar Infante might get one at-bat was pretty silly.

I think MLB loved the whole episode because it got people talking about the All-Star Game, and they got millions of email addresses into their database that they can market to esurance.com and other potential vendors. I really don't think they cared who started the game. Why would they? The ratings for the All-Star Game have been in the toilet for a long time, having eight Royals starting might have actually gotten people to tune in out of anger or novelty. In the end, the system worked pretty much as it should - Royals fans got other fans to turn out in droves, and I don't think there are any embarrassing selections among the starters.

What do you think of manager Ned Yost? Strengths/weaknesses?

It was just ten months ago we published articles on our site about how it was time to fire Ned Yost. All it took to totally turn things around was for him to win one game - the Wild Card game, and everything changed. He gets standing ovations when he goes out to eat around town. The guy will quite possibly have a statue of himself at the stadium before too long. Its really remarkable.

Ned has been accused of playing small ball too much, but his bunting appears to be down slightly this year, and a lot of times the decision to bunt seems to be coming from the players themselves. With the offense looking better this year than last, the team has not had to grind out runs through small ball as much, although some fans want the Royals to get back to their base-stealing ways and be more aggressive.

Ned has done a pretty good job managing the bullpen - although it helps he has the deepest and best bullpen in the league. Still, he has done a good job not overrelying on the best pitchers. The Royals are dead last in the league in relief appearances on zero days rest. On the flip side, he is not as good about getting rest for his regulars. He has been chided for driving catcher Salvador Perez into the ground, and refuses to sit Omar Infante despite major struggles and injury concerns.

Ned's best attribute however, is that he seems to have the respect of the clubhouse. The Royals are a tight-knit unit who pick each other up, which is especially important now that Alex Gordon is out. I don't think clubhouse chemistry is that big of a deal, but I'd rather have good clubhouse chemistry than bad clubhouse chemistry, and Ned has run a pretty happy team, even going back to the days when they were losing 90 games a year.

Who is your favorite Royal to watch?

Alex Gordon has long been my favorite player. For one, he's the only Royals player who has any kind of plate discipline. He has also had a very remarkable path to stardom, going from highly touted draft pick, to disappointing third baseman, then through sheer will and determination, he made himself into the best left-fielder in the league. I was never a big believer in defense until I got to see one play every day. The way Alex Gordon perfectly plays caroms is amazing to watch. His arm has become such a threat, that runners dare not to test it anymore, saving the Royals runs. His reactions on hit balls are impeccable. He's an amazing athlete and I really hope the Royals are willing to hand out the biggest contract in franchise history to keep him beyond this year, because it will probably take $100 million or more.

What do you expect the Royals to do at the deadline?

The Royals could go in a number of different directions. The starting pitching has been a big weakness - they're 14th in the league in ERA for starting pithcers - but the rotation is very much in flux right now. Yordano Ventura, who has had a disappointing season, just returned from the disabled list this week. Danny Duffy, who has also been disappointing, returned recently and has looked better. Jason Vargas will return just after the All-Star break. Kris Medlen, an underrated free agent pickup last winter, should be ready in the next few weeks.

So the Royals may decide to gamble on their upside and instead look for a bat. Left field is now a concern with Gordon out, but right-field is arguably the bigger hole with former Blue Jay Alex Rios looking like a disaster this season. Second base has been a concern too with Omar Infante struggling, so a name that has come up a lot is Ben Zobrist of the Athletics, since he can play both positions if needed. The Royals have never really been in this position since the July trade deadline became a big deal, so it will be very interesting to see how they handle it.

A question just for me....what is it like to cheer for a team that exceeds expectations? Year after year I go into the baseball season thinking this will be the one that the Jays put it all together and play like we expect them too and year after year I'm wrong (though I'm holding out some hope that they will get things going for the second half). What's it like to have your team play great baseball? I can't imagine what baseball would be like when it isn't incredibly frustrating.

It really is like playing with house money. We've gone through a LOT of bad years, so I think we were always a bit reluctant to really allow ourselves to enjoy the good moments. We were always looking over our shoulder during last year's regular season run, thinking "when is the other shoe going to drop here?" Once we made the playoffs, most of us had the attitude of, "if the Royals can just win the Wild Card game, I can die happy now." Once the Royals got past the Wild Card Game, we were finally able to enjoy ourselves, because we were never supposed to get that far. I really did have a smile on my face for about a month. It was so great, that I don't think it has really hit us that we came THIS CLOSE to winning it all and failed. I suspect in a few years, if we haven't won it all by then, we may look upon Game 7 of the 2014 World Series with a bit more anguish.

To Jays fans, I know you have the longest post-season drought right now and it stinks when you're going through it. But man it feels so good when you come out the other end. In a weird way, having to suffer for so long makes it so much sweeter when its finally your turn. But god, I would never wish that kind of misery Royals fans experienced from 1995-2012 on my worst enemy. I take that back, I'd love to see the Cardinals fans go through that.

What do you guys think of Dayton Moore these days? He was laughed at a bunch, but he's put together a winning team now.

I think the Royals Review community has been slower to embrace Dayton Moore than the mainstream fans. He still makes moves that go against sabermetric orthodoxy, and by and large we panned his off-season moves. But you have to give the man credit where credit is due, and the proof is in the pudding. Whether he stumbled onto something through sheer luck or this is all his grand master plan, he has developed a very interesting philosophy of building a team around a sensational defense, an offense that puts the ball in play (the Royals are dead last in walks and strikeouts) and runs aggressively around the bases, and shuts games down with a dominating bullpen. I still wish he would find guys that can get on base more, and he didn't overpay for really mediocre starting pitchers, but he has built the best team in the American League so far this season, so I suppose he can do whatever he'd like so long as he keeps that up.

Thanks Max

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