Hot Stove #251 – Early Season – Small Sample Size – But Fun

Baseball has returned! Life is good.

The Royals are off to a great start. Life is better.

Caveat: Small Sample Size.

Opening Day and a Venezuela Story: Thanks to Butch Rigby (and his wife Christy who gave up her ticket), I was at the K on Opening Day.

The first Royals hitter provided some déjà vu. Maikel Garcia hit a home run to lead off the Royals first inning. This reminded me of his cousin hitting a lead-off home run for the Royals in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series. That would be Alcides Escobar who raced around the bases for an inside-the-park homer (video here).

Wait, there’s more. The two have another cousin in the majors – the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr., the 2023 NL MVP. But as Garcia told MLB’s Anne Rogers, “All my career, everybody always compares me with my cousins. Acuna, Esky. But I want people to know about Maikel Garcia. I want them to know me as Maikel.”

The three cousins are from Venezuela, and all have played for the Tiburones Sharks in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League. Below, Garcia, Acuna and Escobar. They come from a small area of Venezuela that has produced some 60 professional baseball players (MLB article here).

On Opening Day 2024, there were 949 MLB players, including 264 from 19 countries and territories. There are 58 from Venezuela, second to the Dominican Republic (108). The Royals current roster has three other players from Venezuela – Salvy Perez, Freddy Fermin and Angel Zerpa.

Twins and Orioles Series: After Garcia hit his leadoff homer on Opening Day, the Royals did not score again in the game, and Minnesota won. The teams split the next two games.

The Royals then went to Baltimore and lost two out of three. Season record at this stage, 2-4.

There were some bright spots, especially the starting pitching. But Royals fans might have feared some déjà vu. April has been a horrible month for the Royals in five of the last six full seasons. The Covid year also started poorly.

Check out this chart on Royals results from stats guru Jeff Nelson (like me, a KC retired lawyer with too much time on his hands). Green is good. Red is bad.

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Would 2024 repeat with another bad April?

White Sox and Astros Series: The next seven games were at the K. The Royals swept both Chicago (4 games) and Houston (3 games). The record was suddenly 9-4. Their April record is already better than those five years with seven wins.

The victories came from all phases of the game. Quality starts from each of their five starters. The batters were hitting the ball as hard as any team in baseball. The bullpen, after blowing leads to Minnesota and Baltimore in the first two series, had a streak of 19.1 scoreless innings.

The Royals became the early darlings of the season. A good example is this effusive praise of Bobby Witt’s explosive start, both at bat and in the field (click here).

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Another take on Witt’s hot start:

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At the beginning of this season, FanGraphs predicted the Royals would win 76 games, with a 13.2% chance to make the playoffs and a 7.5% chance to win the division. Fangraphs continually updates their numbers during the season, and after the sweep of Chicago and Houston, the FanGraphs numbers improved (a lot):

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One of the most impressive stats has been the run differential. In the 13 games, the Royals outscored their opponents by 39 runs, an average of three per game.

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 My favorite personal story in the seven-game winning streak came on Thursday afternoon in the game that completed the sweep of the Astros. I was renewing my TSA security status way out on College Boulevard. Got in my car for the 25-minute ride home. Tuned in Royals radio just in time to hear Brady Singer backed up by a double play to end the top of the first. The Royals came to bat in the bottom of the first and finished the inning as I was pulling into my garage. They had scored nine runs on 11 hits – a pleasant way for me to get home from Kansas.

 New York Mets Series: The Royals headed to New York for a three-game series. They lost the first game (last Friday) but generated a stat that showed just how well they had been playing since Opening Day.

Rany Jazayerli
This is the first game all season that the Royals will head to the 9th inning trailing by more than one run.
4/12/24, 8:14 PM

As Saturday began for the AL Central, Kansas City and Detroit trailed Cleveland by one game. Then the Royals beat the Mets. Detroit lost. And the Guardians lost a double-header. Royals fans woke up Sunday morning to find their team in first place.


 And then not. On Sunday, the Mets beat the Royals in a pitching duel. Cleveland won, so the Guardians were back in front by a half-game.

On Monday mornings, MLB releases its “Power Rankings.” The previous week, the Royals had been #12. Yesterday, the Royals jumped to #6.

Team Power Rankings: 04/15/2024
1 Los Angeles Dodgers
2 New York Yankees
3 Atlanta Braves
4 Baltimore Orioles
5 Texas Rangers
6 Kansas City Royals
7 Milwaukee Brewers
8 Philadelphia Phillies
9 Pittsburgh Pirates
10 Cleveland Guardians
Selected by a panel of experts
Pictured: Cutouts of Freddie Freeman, Aaron Judge and Ronald Acuña Jr. in their team uniforms.

That’s some rarified air.

Small Sample Size: Beware. Small sample sizes early in the season can be misleading.

The Royals 7-game winning streak was against the two teams at the bottom of the AL standings (White Sox and Astros). The Royals lost each of their other 3-game series (two-games-to-one) against the Twins, Orioles and Mets.

But be hopeful. All phases of the game show progress. Among the 30 MLB teams, Kansas City is 3rd in ERA (3.06) and 10th in OPS (.741; league average is .711). The defense has been good, and the team leads the AL in stolen bases.

 Enjoy the ride!

[Breaking News! The above stats do not include last night’s 2-0 victory over Chicago. The Royals are now 11-6.]

 Coke v. Pepsi: Remember the Olympia Café on Saturday Night Live. The restaurant that served only cheeseburgers, chips (no fries) and Pepsi (no Coke). Click here for guaranteed laughs from the John Belushi days.

At Kauffman Stadium in recent years, there have been many offerings of food and drink, but in the cola world, “Pepsi, no Coke.”

For 2024, there is a new game in town. Coca Cola has replaced Pepsi, and the “Pepsi Party Porch” in right-center field has been rebranded as the “QuikTrip Fountain Deck.” I’m a Coca-Cola guy, preferably Zero. Sorry Pepsi drinkers.

 Cola Wars' Movie About Coke Vs. Pepsi Rivalry Sells In Heated Auction

 There have been Coca-Cola years before at the K. Also, some players have been on Coca-Cola cards. Below, George Brett in 1981.

 1981 Coke Team Sets Kansas City Royals Baseball Card #74 George Brett   - Picture 1 of 2

 George must not have had an exclusive with Coke. He was also in a 7-Up ad in 1981 (below) plus a related video (click here).

7up ad from 1984 : r/OldSchoolCool

A year earlier, George and Pepsi:

Card of the Day: George Brett 1980 Topps Pepsi-Cola All-Stars #3 | Sports  Card Info

In the early ‘80s, George and Vess Cola (also at the end of this video with Ozzie Smith):

Early 1980's 2L Vess Cola Label GEORGE BRETT - KANSAS CITY ROYALS - AFDC |  eBay

U L Washington (RIP): Another player on the 1981 series of Coca-Cola cards was U L Washington who played eight years for the Royals (1977-1984) in an 11-year MLB career. U L died last month at the age of 70.


 Washington and Frank White followed the same path to the major leagues (attending Ewing Kauffman’s Baseball Academy), and they became the first Black double-play combo in the American League. The initials U L do not stand for anything, but he often put periods after the letters because it looked better. U L was known for his trademark toothpick, visible both at bat and in the field.

U L and George: U L was on base when George Brett hit his big homer off Goose Gossage in the 1980 ALCS and when George hit the pine-tar homer in 1983.

U L and Mookie: The only player having a better start this year than Bobby Witt is Mookie Betts. But for U L Washington, Betts might not be playing baseball today. In 2013, Mookie was at Class A-Greenville (Red Sox) and hitting .130. He was frustrated and was making plans to quit the game to attend college. The team’s hitting coach, U L Washington, started working with him to improve Bett’s swing and defense. Betts: “It was just me and him…I would go in early, and he would work with me. I had a big leg kick. He took out my leg kick. He moved my hands around a little bit. He’s responsible for really everything I became.”


Lonnie’s Jukebox – Jim and A. J. Croce Edition: Last Saturday night, Rita and I attended A. J. Croce’s show at the Kauffman Center. A. J. is a talented musician and singer who has mostly performed his own material for the last three decades. He has toured with artists such as Willie Nelson, B. B. King, Ray Charles and Earth, Wind and Fire.

Last year, he embarked on a 50th anniversary tour to play the songs of his father, Jim Croce, who died in an airplane crash in September of 1973. That tour has extended into this year.

Croce plays piano and guitar and was supported by a first-class band and two female backup singers. The two-hour show mixed in his father’s hits with some of A. J.’s songs and tunes from those who influenced Jim Croce (e.g., Sam Cooke). A. J. told many good stories between the songs, and there was a multi-media presentation that accompanied the music.


 The story behind the show and clips from performances are in an excellent episode of CBS Sunday Morning (click here; 8 minutes).

Most of those in the large crowd at the Kauffman were of an age like us who have fond memories of Jim Croce’s songs. A. J. is a versatile musician, singer and songwriter – good genes – and he puts on a fun show mixed with the poignancy we all feel for having lost Jim Croce so early (at age 30 in 1973).

One of A. J.’s stories was about how his father’s legacy was established in such an unbelievably short period. His father’s hits are in his only three studio albums: Don’t Mess Around with Jim (1972), Life and Times (1973) and I’ve Got a Name (1973). Rita still has her vinyl copies (below).


Here are the Top-40 hits from those albums:

“You Don’t Mess Around with Jim”

“Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels)”

“One Less Set of Footsteps”

 “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown”

“I Got a Name”

“I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song”

“Workin’ at the Car Wash Blues”

“Time in a Bottle”


 “Time in a Bottle” was on the 1972 album Don’t Mess Around with Jim, but it was not originally released as a single. It started getting substantial airplay after Croce died, so his record label released a single. It went to #1 in December of 1973, the third posthumous Billboard #1 after “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding and “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin.

To no one’s surprise, “Time in a Bottle” was the finale of the show by A. J. Croce. It has special meaning to him. Jim Croce wrote it for his pregnant wife and future son A. J. who was two years old when his father died. While A. J. sang the song, a home movie of Jim and A. J. played on the screen behind the band (above). Rita cried. I was on the verge. You see, it’s also our song.

 Nature Moment: The Loose Park heron is back for the season and presiding over the island in the park’s pond. On a recent walk, we got some good photos of the heron in a tree.