SHOWDOWN AT THE KC CORRAL

By:  Holly Horning

Who ever thought that the phrase “bad boys”, would refer to the KC Royals? But yes, in this changing baseball world where power has been shifting to the AL Central, there is one team seemingly bent on taking down the perennial division winner before the season ends.

So what is going on with the Royals? They have been brawling with their opponents in half a dozen games. Either the Midwest is now trying to keep up with the East Coast in attitude or they’ve adopted a new strategy. Conceivably, there are several explanations for their behavior.

Much of the media painted the Royals as that fluke team, leaving many of the players with chips on their shoulders. Feeling that they need to validate their talent, they’ve been battling the Tigers for first place since the first ceremonial pitch. Is it any wonder they came out of the chute so fast?

But others will argue that the team is simply responding to the rash of Royals being hit by pitches. Players have referenced feeling that there is now a target on their backs since being anointed as a top contender.

Others point to a very young team missing their older teammates who used to guide team behavior. Experts mention that some of their opponents were playing mental games with the Royals and baiting them into bad behavior. And yet others point to the Royals and their “hot dogging” attitude of over-celebrating great plays and hits. All valid arguments.

But here’s where the Tigers need to be concerned. The first is the obvious one – injury to a key player or two. Injury due to an accidental but aggressive brush-back pitch or hard slide. Injury due to a Tiger hitting a home run and the practice of payback which can easily be a season-and pennant-ending move for our boys. We all remember what happened to Zack Greinke last year. Let’s hope the recent suspensions will allow cooler minds to prevail.

But if you take away this factor, we are left with the issue of emotional energy. And all the former ball players now dotting the airwaves mention this as one of the biggest factors. Simply put, it is the level of focus, determination, “hunger” and sustained effort by a team every time they hit the field. Consistent levels of emotional energy help keep teams from having wild performance swings and rollercoaster win-loss streaks.

The Royals, obviously are showing great emotional energy. The Tigers also, to a certain degree. However, there was concern expressed throughout social media during the Yankee series where many thought the team appeared listless on the field and at the plate.

It’s impossible to quantity emotional energy other than what we see during the games. But, we can ask questions which may become useful as the season unfolds.

How badly do the Royals want that elusive division title in order to prove their worth?

Seeing that the Tigers have won 4 straight divisions, do the Royals see this as “game on”?

Given that the Tigers have won those 4 straight divisions, are they any less hungry for a fifth?

What is the Tigers’ incentive for winning that fifth title? Is it as important as the first one?

How powerful is the Royals’ incentive to get back to the World Series given that they came so very close to winning it all last year?

How capable is Ausmus at keeping team motivational levels high all season long?

How hungry are the Tigers to answer their critics about that “closing window” and return to the World Series?

Potentially, this week may give us a clue or two. Some exciting games on the horizon, so saddle up, everyone!