Kansas City’s Current Rotation

The Kansas City Royals possess one of the most fertile farm systems in recent memory. In addition to top position prospects Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Will Myers, K.C. has unparalleled pitching talent — Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Danny Duffy and Christopher Dwyer are potential top-of-the-rotation lefties. From the right, there’s Aaron Crow and two of the four youngsters acquired in the Zack Greinke deal, Jeremy Jeffress (likely headed to the ‘pen) and Jacob Odorizzi. Pitching prospects are more volatile than their position player counterparts, so some of the arms listed above will almost assuredly flame out due to injury or attrition. But by sheer volume, Dayton Moore should soon be able to fill out the front of the Royals’ rotation with talented, cost-controlled pitchers.

Before the prospect cavalry arrives, though, things could get ugly. Post-Greinke, Kansas City’s Opening Day rotation figures to include Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies, Vin Mazzaro and Sean O’Sullivan, with Gil Meche a long shot to log significant innings due to a damaged shoulder (he may just stay in the bullpen). Chances are, the team adds a low-level free agent starter or two to compete for the fifth spot.

Dan Szymborski has released 2011 ZiPS projections for K.C. Here are the forecasts for the four guys currently penciled into the rotation, as well as Meche. I’d recommend that fans keep their noses buried in Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook this season, because Royals games might look like Charlie Brown‘s All-Stars running on a loop until those celebrated arms arrive:

Good grief. The best adjusted ERA among the Royals’ probable starters is nine percent below average. Is there any hope for these guys?

A look at Hochevar’s peripherals reveals some reason for optimism. The number one pick in the ’06 draft has hasn’t missed many bats (6.01 K/9), but he has shown decent control (3.11 BB/9) and has gotten grounders 48.7 percent of the time, compared to the 44 percent big league average. Hochevar’s career FIP is 4.47, and his xFIP is 4.46. Hardly great, but serviceable. Yet, Hochevar’s ERA is an AARGH!-worthy 5.60.

Hochevar’s career BABIP is .316, a figure that hasn’t been helped by a Royals defense that placed 17th in team Ultimate Zone Rating in 2008, 30th in 2009 and 28th this past year. Also, he has an ultra-low rate of stranding runners on base. Hochevar’s LOB rate in the majors is 62.6 percent. That’s the lowest mark among pitchers with 300+ innings pitched since 2007.

One might think that the 27-year-old struggles from the stretch, but it’s hard to find evidence of that. Our Splits section shows that Hochevar has a career 4.45 xFIP with the bases empty. With runners on, his xFIP is 4.47, and with runners in scoring position, it’s 4.61. His BABIP with no one on is .300. With ducks on the pond, it jumps to .335, and with runners in scoring position, it rockets to .371. His core skills don’t seem to change much with men on, and this predicted LOB formula developed by The Hardball Times’ Dave Studeman suggests Hochevar’s strand rate should be around 71 percent. Hochevar is never going to be an ace. But he’s not a lost cause, either, and he’s under team control until 2014.

Conjuring up enthusiasm for Davies, Mazaro and O’Sullivan is a more difficult task.

Davies is also 27, but he has long since lost the shine of being a touted Braves prospect who ranked as Baseball America’s #53 prospect prior to 2005. An optimist might point to Davies’ 4.46 FIP during a 2 WAR 2010 season, but that came with a home run per fly ball rate under eight percent and an xFIP about half a run higher, at 4.93. A below-average K rate (6.3 K/9 career), below-average walk rate (4.34 BB/9) and a below-average ground ball rate (39.2 GB%) makes for…a below-average pitcher. Davies’ career xFIP is 5.04. With one last season of arbitration eligibility left, Davies may be trying to latch on to another non-contender’s rotation this time next year.

Picked up in the David DeJesus trade with the A’s, Mazzaro could be a cheap back-end starter who helps bridge the gap until the prospects arrive. In 213.2 career MLB innings, the 24-year-old righty has 5.81 K/9, 3.75 BB/9 and a 4.88 xFIP.

Working mainly a low-90s fastball, a mid-80s slider, Mazzaro posted lofty ground ball rates in the minors, and Baseball America praised his “hard sinker” a few years back. Unfortunately, those grounders haven’t translated to the majors — Mazzaro’s career GB% is 41.2. According to Pitch F/X data from Joe Lefkowitz’s website, Mazzaro’s fastball (I’m including both four-seamers and two-seamers here) has induced a ground ball 38.8 percent of the time. There’s a marked difference in his heater’s GB% against right-handed and left-handed batters. Versus same-handed hitters, Mazzaro’s fastball has gotten a ground ball 49.3 percent of the time. Against lefties, just 30.9 percent. Mazzaro never posted high-octane strikeout rates or extremely low walk totals in the minors, so he’ll have to re-discover his earth-scorching ways to stave off big league drubbings.

O’Sullivan is a beefy right-hander acquired from the Angels last July as part of the Alberto Callaspo trade. He has 4.79 K/9, 3.13 BB/9 and a 5.13 xFIP in 135.1 major league innings. He is young, having turned 23 toward the end of last season. And as O’Sullivan’s ZiPS projection suggests, he’s got good control, with a minor league walk rate of 2.4 per nine innings. O’Sullivan’s changeup has been solid — according to Texas Leaguers, the pitch has a 14.3 percent whiff rate (12-13 percent MLB average).

But O’Sullivan’s fastball and breaking stuff don’t fool anyone. According to TexasLeaguers, he’s got a 3.6 percent whiff rate with his fastball (5-6 percent MLB average), and a 6.5 percent whiff rate with his upper-70s curve/slider (12-13 percent MLB average). Also, his ground ball rate fell sharply at the Triple-A level and sits at 39.2 percent in the majors. Unless he shows Maddux-esque touch, it’s hard to see O’Sullivan succeeding with few Ks and ample fly balls. He looks like a filler to me.

With the exception of Hochevar and possibly Mazzaro, Kansas City’s 2011 starters might look like this…

On the positive side, they Royals won’t lose any of their starts by a score of 123-0. And by 2012 or 2013, the likes of Montgomery, Lamb, Duffy and Dwyer will make this sordid staff a distant memory.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

42 Responses to “Kansas City’s Current Rotation”

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  1. B N says:

    Royals rotation: Worst of the decade? ;)

    (I kid, I kid. It’s probably one of the ones that Nationals trotted out there in their early years)

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    • UZR is a Joke says:

      Mark Redman, Scott Elarton, Runelvys Hernandez, Luke Hudson and Odalis Perez. 2006. Redman made the All-Star team. That was a terrible rotation. 2011’s is bad, but I’ll take it over 2006 all day.

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    • 05Astros says:

      Yea, Royals are always “rebuilding” When will they be “built” again. They will only sell off pieces when they start to mature, before they start to cost money. Gil Meche, c’mon man. Really?

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      • MikeS says:

        That’s what I wonder. Having the Best. Farm System. Evar! (TM) is only a building block. Unless you can have all those guys develop and be succesful at the same time, sooner or later you have to be willing to spend a little money to keep a key piece (like Grienke) a few extra years or willing to trade some of those prospects for a proven (more expnsive) guy to fill a hole when you feel you are close.

        I’m not sure KC has shown a willingness to spend or an ability to identify veterans that are useful to add.

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  2. Moore and Moore, it looks like the 2011 Royals might be in competition with the ’62 Mets & ’03 Tigers.

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    • Daniel says:

      Nah, they significantly upgraded the defense by getting rid of Yuni and adding Cain and Escobar. Add to that a potentially best-of-division bullpen and you’ve got reason to think they can crack 68-70 wins. It’s not all doom-and-gloom.

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      • NEPP says:

        No way in hell they crack 70 wins. Not this year at least. Its going to be a tough year in KC yet again.

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      • Nats fan says:

        I agree I have them at roughly 70 wins. The much better defense, nearing league average offense, and the bullpen all look strong enough. They could beat 72 maybe 75 if one or two of the better pieces in the minors shows up early. But 69-70 is what I would bet on.

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  3. Jason B says:

    Good grief indeed! Fantastic pictures.

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  4. woodman says:

    So with all the positive talk about their farm, the Royals as of now simply suck so much that even such a good farm they probably won’t be an important team anyway. No, it should be much more exciting to look at the Rays, Rangers and Blue Jays, who have solid bases to build on.

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    • bSpittle says:

      I’m betting the arrival of an actual shortstop will benefit the royals more than many are figuring on. The rest of their defense will still be weak, though.

      I bet they clear 70 wins.

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      • Dwight S. says:

        I’d be really surprised if they won 70 games. They’re pythag win total last year was 65 and not only have they probably gotten worse their division opponents have gotten better. The White Sox should be better with the addition of Dunn and a better year from Beckham, the Tigers got Benoit and V-Mart, the Indians should be better this year because I doubt they get hit with the injuries they got last year, and the Twins will probably have a full season of Morneau instead of only 1/2 like they did last year. I think 70 wins is almost a best case scenario for them and more than likely they’ll be fighting not to lose 100.

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    • Daniel says:

      Yeah, it’s armchair ‘analysis’ like this that makes me question FanGraphs sometimes… are you guys getting through? ;)

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  5. Paul says:

    Best Use of Cartoons in a Fangraphs Article goes to… Dave Golebiewski!

    While they have been terrible, look at how bad they were with Greinke last season. I think we’ve actually seen worse projected rotations than this one. Jeff Suppan was their ace for something like four straight seasons. We would have been pumped to have Hochevar in the rotation at all for a long span early in the decade. I think they’ll actually be better than last year, although admittedly that is not saying much.

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  6. DIVISION says:

    Do KC fans have an inferiority complex when they look across the state and see their big NL brother St. Louis Cardinals routinely in contention while the Royals are generally out of the race before it even begins?

    Always wondered that.

    ……….or do most KC fans harken back to the days of Bo Jackson?

    Was that “as good as it gets” for a Royals fan?

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    • Paul says:

      Um, so you’re aware of the championship they won – over the Cardinals – before Bo Jackson got there? The culmination of playoff and competitive teams every year for a decade? That guy who is in the HOF, and who would have easily put up the numbers to have the best 3B of all time discussion not worth having had he not played in Yosemite Park? Yeah, it’s been that long.

      Not trying to be curt, but you obviously have no idea about the city. The last thing Kansas Citians feel is inferior to St. Louis in baseball or anything else. Understanding this is to understand “The Process”. Dayton was a boy during that run in rural Kansas.

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      • DIVISION says:


        I’m well aware of that tainted KC victory over St. Louis in the WS. We’ve seen the replay over and over regarding the horrible call at 1st.

        I’m thinking bigger picture here, so stay with me. In a broader context, what does the average KC fan do when they realize their team is out of contention on day one of the season?

        Sure you’ve have had minor forays of success throughout the 80’s culminating in one championship, yet when you look across the state at your NL neighbors, you have to feel a bit ashamed don’t you?

        They compete every year, even on a limited budget and have a few great players on their team. You guys just traded off your CY pitcher and your best position player is now Billy Butler. Wow.

        If I’m ignorant regarding KC, it’s because no one in the civilized world EVER HEARS ANYTHING ABOUT KC, so forgive me.

        I hear the Chiefs are doing good, though.

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      • Paul says:

        So we have here a Cardinal fan whose team is clearly the bees knees, jumping into a conversation that has nothing to do with the cross-state rivalry, and claiming that it must be Royals fans who feel insecure?

        Insecurity based on your own success must be a killer, DIVISION. Kansas Citians don’t give a crap about St. Louis and never will. I hope you can sleep at night knowing that.

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      • dakomish says:

        Very well said Paul.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      KC was pretty much THE team in the AL West from the mid 70s to the mid 80s.

      Look it up.

      What has happened in KC is that rather than develop an inferiority complex, like say BOS has with NY, they’ve simply become a football town … at least that’s how it was when I lived there (mid 90s to early 2000’s).

      One of the joys of my life … wearing a powder blue McGee 51 throwback to the 1st interleague series between KC-StL.

      After showing Denkinger’s call on the scoreboard, the crowd chanted “get over it. Get over it”. Pretty funny.

      Before that KC was the minor league home of the NYY, so most of the older fans tells stories of Mickey and others doing wild and crazy stuff all over town.

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      • DIVISION says:

        So, in other words, KC has given up on “competing” in MLB and converted over to being a NFL city?

        That pretty much backs up my point.

        The Royals are basically perceived as a AAAA team masquerading as a MLB franchise then?

        If that’s not depressing, I don’t know what is…

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      • Daniel says:

        Looks like FanGraphs isn’t immune to trolling, either. Great work, DIVISION. You’re a class act and a great ambassador to St. Louis.

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      • Paul says:

        I’d say Kansas City has more passionate fans than Kansas City has. DIVISION’s own insecurity kind of proves the point. To CircleChange’s point, it’s true that it is a “football town” to the extent that football is popular right now, or I should say is becoming popular again. When you’re good, your stadium fills up with a lot of people there for the event, not because they’re fans to the core.

        You’ll see the roughly 8,000 die-hards at the K cheering like crazy in a 12 inning game in mid-April when they’re nearly frost-bitten, and on Thursday afternoons in September when it’s unbearably hot, and yes, the team has had another terrible season.

        I remember regularly having to settle for standing room only back in the day. That kind of fan excitement is great, but it’s guaranteed when you win in any market MLB is in, it has to be. What’s not guaranteed is the level of die-hard fan commitment, and these are the people I’m referring to. Frankly, those are the people Dayton wants to win a championship for, and I believe him that that’s a strong motivator.

        In other words, DIVISION, we root for the Royals because of who we are, not because of who they are. I don’t expect you to understand.

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      • Paul says:

        … than St. Louis has.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I wouldn’t be the first one to point out the great number of sabermetric-based writing that comes out of KC. Bill James & Joe P as two of the most well known.

        KC fans know their stuff. I lived there during the “DT” and “Marty” days, and football was king by a long shot.

        KC is an interesting city as it resides in two states. On one side, basketball is everything (Thanks Naismith). On the other, a small market is divided up into baseball, football, and college sports. A small population area (comparatively) is pretty darn sports crazy.

        StL has baseball tradition on it’s side, with ~100 years of existence and at one point, the furthest team west. So, it was for quite a while the only game in town as far as baseball goes. Throw in the most WS titles in the NL, and it’s pretty easy to gravitate toward being a Cardinals fan.

        KC has seen the A’s go to OAK and have a dynasty in the early 70s. KC had its own reign in the 70s and 80s, but now reality has set in.

        It does appear that KC is moving more towards a MIN philosophy. Rather than being stuck in the middle of trying to be competitive and trying to whole-heartedly rebuild, they’ve finally taken the plunge into the rebuilding side … where getting as many prospects as possible and seeing which ones stick is the idea.

        Once the figure that out and see where they’ll be, then it’ll be a matter of figuring out which FA’s can sustain the improvement.

        Natural resources are not fair. There’s no “good” reason for why the Cubs continue to lose and lose, yet they make a ton of money. Wheras KC has pretty much just been lowly for the past 20 years, and they’re viewed as a 4A team (I’ve made the same comment before). The difference is one resides in a city of 9M people (counting surrounding area), and the other is closer to 2M.

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      • DIVISION says:

        I like all the assumptions that are bandied about due to my comments.

        For all interested parties……….I LIVE IN PHOENIX and could really care less about Missouri as a whole, it’s just that on a general sports sociological level, I wondered about a possible inferiority complex among KC fans regarding their neighhors to the West.

        Some of your rather passive-aggressive responses have pretty much solidified my perceptions.

        KC is basically a AAAA team masquerading as a MLB team in a small market, which makes the Royals baby brother to St Louis in terms of baseball tradition.

        I pity the fans who support a sub-standard product.

        Will KC ever win or will they be best known for having the promise of a young Bo Jackson and winning a tainted WS due to Denkinger?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        If you live in Phoenix, why even poke this hornet’s nest?

        Leave this one alone. There is nothing to gain by making fun of the Royals. If are not a StL resident or a Cardinal fan, then you really have no reason to get something started.

        This is simply picking an easy target and tossing some medium grade insults.

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  7. JR says:

    Good grief

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  8. MetsKnicksRutgers says:

    Why in the he’ll do you post here? You do realize that this site aims at real discussion, not racial slurs and baseless attacks?

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  9. The dog says:

    I like having sex with women.

    Oh I like to touch them a lot.

    Sometimes I get wet dreams in my sleep and then I put on women’s panties.

    Then I make real happy self with them touching boobs and vagina.

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    • The cat says:

      I agree with you wholeheartedly dog. I think you make some interesting points and am really glad you had the courage to post here your feelings.

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  10. Delino's Ghost says:

    Great speller and geographer as well.

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  11. Good Old Jr says:

    To quote Road House … “It’s gonna get worse before it gets better”

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  12. darkstorm says:

    The “tainted” call at first. What a bunch of spoiled babies you cardinal fans are. I suppose you forget that was the first out of the inning, not the third. I suppose you forget Jack Clack couldn’t catch the pop up. I suppose you forget that earlier in the game, Frank White singles… is clearly safe stealing second (replays show this) but is called out. A few pitches later, the next hitter hits a single that would have scored him. I suppose you forget that you had a game 7, but failed to show up. And I suppose you forget that meager .186 batting average you had that week. .186? Yeah, sounds like champions to me.

    And then theres this other clown who only wants to talk about Bo. Fact is, Jackson isn’t even among our top 10 favorite Royals. He didn’t do alot here other than hit homeruns and strike out… alot. When you speak of Royals heroes, speak of Brett, White, Otis, Saberhagen, Sweeney, ect. As a matter of fact, if you think we don’t care abut comepeting, or care about the cardinals, don’t speak at all.

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    • BMH says:

      calm down. if it had been the other way around, kc would get to be the ones to complain about the illegitimate championship they lost. it’s just a way for cards fans to cope with the fact that our juggernaut of a team went down. geography makes it a much bigger deal than it normally would be, because cards and royals fans cross paths so often. it doesn’t help that royals fans cling to that championship as one of their last memories of success (yes, i know they were good up to 1990), so they always bring it up like it was yesterday, when in reality it was a quarter of a century ago. what needs to happen is for kc to finally put together a quality team and start a real rivalry with st. louis. the ’85 series needs to be settled, since we clearly have a legitimate grudge about it. the cards have had a team ready to do this for the better part of 15 years, and what have the royals been doing? and their fans just enable them by clinging to the past.
      sorry if this is inflammatory, just a (hopefully insightful) cardinals fan’s opinion.

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    • Cidron says:

      Tainted call? or, human element. Its been a part of sports since sports have been around. For every good luck call, there is an equal bad luck. Is it a ref or umpire that blows it? Not always. Plus, the only reason that call meant something was that StL put themselves in a position to let it be meaningful. Thats what always gets me on stuff like this. Get a bigger margin, to absorb a bad call. Regardless of the sport.

      Agreed. There is more to KC Royals than Bo. You mentioned a few, but Tartabull, Dye, Splittorff, Wathan, Montgomery, Quiz, Patek, …. could go on more and more.

      Competing against the Cards? Nope. They are the Cubs rivals. KC competes more routinely against the “still in division” rivals Twins, and White Sox.

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  13. Micah says:

    I think taking all of Kawakami’s contract could make a horrible staff a little better…well at least a little more expensive and a little more full of Brave rejects. Moore might do it as obsessed as he is with former Braves. Dude can build a farm system, don’t get me wrong, but it’s hard to take him seriously with the crazy number of ex-Braves he signs…although he got us back a little last year with the Farnsworth, Ankiel trade.

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  14. Chris says:

    To the people that like to ridicule the Royals by comparing them to the Cards, you just don’t get it. We don’t care about the Cards. The only time we talk about StL is when we play them. No inferiority complex here. Around KC, we compare ourselves more to the Twins and how they do things to be competitive despite low payrolls. We now have the best farm system is baseball and one that may be considered one of the best ever if it develops as we hope. The only reason Greinke was traded and not signed to an extension is that HE wanted out. Yes, some players in the future may have to be let go to keep others but most teams have to make that decision also. Its been a rough go for quite a while but things are looking up. For those that wonder why we cheer a team when we’ve been down so long only makes me wonder. Are you only suppose to cheer your team when it wins? Only sounds like fair weather fans to me.

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    • DIVISION says:

      I think it’s natural for fans in other cities to look at your situation in Missouri and ponder…….whether there is some rivalry between St. Louis and KC. Although, both sides have to win consistently for it to be a true rivalry.

      Outside of the WS win and Bo Jackson making highlight plays in the outfield, I don’t have any other memories of KC. The Cardinals have more highlights from playoff series in the last decade than KC does in its entire existence…..and this is coming from a Phoenix fan who doesn’t even care about St. Louis nor KC.

      My only personal experience with St. Louis or Missouri for that matter is from 2001 when my D-backs smoked the Cards on the way to the WS.

      Unit/Schill…….that was domination.

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      • BMH says:

        your dbacks, or dbags? i can never audibly hear a difference. the latter is pretty accurate when you consider schilling

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