Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Brief Chiefs Interlude

OK, I have to say something here about the Chiefs. Obviously, this season has been pretty horrible, and talk is already moving to next April's draft and what direction the Chiefs should take. Of course, the big question is whether the Chiefs should take a quarterback with their almost-certain top five pick, or look at another position.

If you had asked me in October, I would have said PLEASE take a QB. Brodie Croyle was handed the starting job despite last year's abundant evidence that he a) could not stay healthy and b) sucked. When the inevitable happened and he was knocked out for the 2008 season, Damon Huard came on and showed that he was perhaps washed-up. With nowhere else to turn, KC offensive coordinator Chan Gailey tweaked the offense, making it into more of a college-style spread offense. This was a smart move and allowed last-man-standing QB Tyler Thigpen, who looked absolutely horrible early in the season, to be more comfortable in the offense. The transformation of the Chiefs' offense from early September until now has been remarkable.

KC's offense first six games: 75 points, 1,544 yards, 84 first downs, 10 turnovers.
KC's offense next seven games: 137 points (the defense has scored 21), 2,406 yards, 130 first downs, 8 turnovers (five of those were in one game).
Thigpen's stats for the last seven games: 134 completions in 225 attempts (59.5%), 1,534 yards, 12 TDs, 4 INTs, and 224 rushing yards.

Now, the Chiefs still need help on offense. Even if you extrapolate the offense of the last seven games to 13 games, the numbers are still roughly league average:

KC extrapolated: 254 points, 4,468 yards, 241 first downs, 15 turnovers.
League average: 290 points, 4,247 yards, 240 first downs, 21 turnovers.

Of course, with a young QB running it, you would expect the offense to get better over the next few years. Even better, the Chiefs have a collection of young talent on offense to grow with Thigpen--the Thigpen to Dwayne Bowe connection should only get better, given a chance to keep playing together. Still, KC could use a better offensive line, another wide receiver or two, and maybe even another running back.

But the Chiefs real problem is on defense. KC is giving up 397.3 yards per game. That's 32nd, last, worst, whatever you want to say, in the NFL. Worse than the winless Detroit Lions. Worse than the miserable St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks. They are next to last in rushing yards allowed and all the way up to 29th in pass yards allowed. Finally, they are 30th in points allowed. And of course, there is the oft-discussed topic that the Chiefs have 6 sacks for the year, when the NFL record low for a 16 game season is 13.

Now, when you're 2-11, you obviously need help everywhere. The Chiefs might be best served to pick whoever they feel is the best player, regardless of position, when their turn comes. But they should definitely emphasize defense over offense in the draft. A pass rusher or a stud linebacker would go a long ways to improving the defense for 2009. Despite the lousy pass defense numbers, I think rookie cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr have played decently this year. Most of the problem is up front and the complete and utter lack of a pass rush. And that is KC's most pressing need.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tell Me That It Isn't True

(From Nashville Skyline)

Kyle Farnsworth. Two years, $9 million. Really, Dayton?

In general, I think Dayton Moore has done a solid job since he took over as Royals general manager. By all accounts, the farm system is better, especially the pitching, than it was in 2006. The major league product has gotten better, going from 62 to 69 to 75 wins. It certainly looks and feels like the Royals are building something, and there will be some exciting baseball here in Kansas City soon.

But Dayton is human. Humans make mistakes. Mistakes like giving Kyle Farnsworth $9 million over the next two years.

First off, I don't like Farnsworth's personality. He's the sort of guy who, in a rather famous 2005 fight between the Royals and Tigers, ran around the scrum in the middle of the field to pick up and bodyslam Jeremy Affeldt, who had in no way been involved in the fight. He's had a couple of other on-field incidents. Of course, it will be nice for the Royals to have a pitcher who isn't afraid to throw inside once in a while.

Second, I just cannot see how Farnsworth is worth $4.5 million for the next two years. This is a guy whose lifetime ERA is 4.47. As a reliever. Just for comparison, Joel Peralta's lifetime ERA is 4.45. Both of these gentlemen are 32 years old. Both give up about 1.4 homers per 9 innings (1.37 for Farnsworth, 1.45 for Peralta). Even better, Peralta's lifetime strikeout/walk ratio is 2.98 K/BB. Farnsworth's is 2.25. Now, it is true that Farnsworth has a 1.00 K/IP ratio, while Peralta's is .77. But Peralta's lifetime WHIP is 1.267, while Farnsworth's is 1.404. I'm willing to bet a large sum of money you would not find a Royals fan anywhere who would give Joel Peralta $9 million over the next two years. Despite his 95 mph fastball, I'm not sure any Royals fan would give that money to Kyle Farnsworth, either.

My third objection to this deal is that, as always for the Royals, dollars must be spent wisely. If the Royals really intend to sign SS Rafael Furcal this winter, they are going to need to do some major maneuvering to keep their payroll under control. Already, they will be spending $75 million next year, when they have stated they intend to have a $70 million payroll. I'm already sure Farnsworth will not be worth the money; if the Royals miss out on a real chance at an upgrade in Furcal or 2B Orlando Hudson, or if they have to deal a useful player like Mark Teahen, this signing will be terrible.

Now, to be fair, I have to say that so far Dayton has been very good at building a talented, useful bullpen. That is why I did not mind the trades that brought Mike Jacobs and Coco Crisp to KC. But he hasn't been perfect--see Yasuhiko Yabuta and Brett Tomko, essentially a combined waste of $9 million or so. And this move seems destined to be more like those signings.

On a somewhat related note, the Royals added relief pitchers Horacio Ramirez and Doug Waechter at the winter meetings. I like both of these moves better. The Royals say Ramirez will be a starter, but I just don't see it. He was a fine reliever for the Royals last year before they traded him for an outfield prospect, Paulo Orlando. My guess is he starts the year as a long reliever and only sees the rotation if Brian Bannister or Luke Hochevar falter. Waechter is intriguing, a one-time starter for Tampa Bay who had a successful season as a reliever for Florida last year. I'd guess right now that, for $2.4 million, these two will have a more positive impact on the Royals' 2009 season than Kyle Farnsworth.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Time Will Tell

...just who fell, and who's been left behind.
(From "Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)," Blonde on Blonde)

Back in September, Dayton Moore promised changes to the Royals' roster for 2009. He wasn't kidding, apparently. First, there was the trade of reliever Leo Nunez for 1B Mike Jacobs. Now he has dealt relieve Ramon Ramirez for OF Coco Crisp. And it seems unlikely that that will be all the moves he will make this winter.

I liked the Jacobs trade. I'm a little less convinced that this latest move is a good one. I would characterize myself as 60% in favor, where I was 90% in favor of the Jacobs trade, if that makes sense. Nunez was a little injury-prone, and trading him was a relatively small price to pay for someone who can hit 25 homers next year. But trading Ramirez makes one of the Royals' 2008 strengths (the back end of the bullpen) something of a question mark for 2009.

And for what? Well, Crisp is a good center fielder, with good speed which will come in handy in Kauffman Stadium's large outfield. Crisp's arrival means David DeJesus will play left field a lot. Theoretically, this will improve KC's outfield defense. But Joey Gathright is probably faster than Crisp, and he played 100 games in center in 2008. So I'm not sure it will improve the defense a lot.

However, Crisp is a better hitter than Joey Jumpcars. Crisp hit .285/.344/.407 last year, while Joey hit .254/.311/.272. Clearly, Crisp is an offensive upgrade. Heck, the one are where Gathright makes a solid contribution (stolen bases), Crisp pretty much equaled him last year. Joey had 21 steals and was caught 4 times; Coco had 20 and 7. The fact that Gathright will be at most a fourth outfielder and more likely a fifth outfielder or even Omaha's starting center fielder means the Royals are improved.

But there is a more intriguing possibility here: will Crisp be an improvement over Mark Teahen? In my mind, that's really who Crisp replaces. With the logjam at first base (Jacobs, Ryan Shealy, Billy Butler, Kila Ka'aihue), there is going to be spillover at the DH spot. That means Jose Guillen is probably going to be in right field a lot, even though the defense would certainly be better with Teahen out there.

Teahen is a solid player, but he has never really put up the offensive numbers the Royals needed from a corner outfielder (or infielder, back when he was a third baseman). Last year, he got 572 at-bats. Will the Royals be better with Crisp getting most of those and Teahen taking over for Gathright as the fourth outfielder?

To test this, I extrapolated Crisp's and Gathright's 2008 numbers to 572 at-bats (Crisp had 361 at-bats last year; Gathright had 279). Remember, Teahen hit .255/.313/.402; Gathright hit .254/.311/.272; Crisp hit .283/.344/.407. Yes, Teahen and Gathright had pretty much the same OBP...not good.


As you can see, if Crisp can do what he did last year for a full season (and he certainly could; those numbers are very similar to his 2007 season, when he had 526 at-bats), he would be an upgrade over Teahen. Slightly less power, but on base more often and stealing several bases. And let me just add that while some of Gathright's numbers look good, giving that many at-bats to someone slugging .272 is a terrible idea. Let me also add that Crisp's 55 walks would have been second on the Royals last year.

That leaves Teahen out of the starting lineup. But there are some good reasons to keep him on the roster: he is a versatile defender who can be plugged in at any outfield spot or either corner infield spot. He has decent speed and excellent baserunning skills, and he hits left-handed with occasional power, so he would be a valuable bench player.

Will he stay on the roster, though? Dayton Moore said after the latest trade that he knew he needed to work on the bullpen some. He's right; now the bullpen outside of Joakim Soria and Ron Mahay is a question mark. Teahen is relatively cheap (he should make $3 million or so next year) and could bring a decent relief pitcher in a trade. Or the Royals could deal him to fill the hole they have in the middle infield; they need a second baseman or shortstop and could then move Mike Aviles to whichever spot they need.

I would like to see Teahen stick around. He seems to be a good guy, and he does bring a variety of skills to the table. Let's hope the Royals can get what they need some other way.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Something Is Happening Here

...but you don't know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?
(From "Ballad Of A Thin Man," Highway 61 Revisited)

Dayton Moore wasted no time trying to improve the Royals this offseason. Day after the World Series ends, BAM! He trades relief pitcher Leo Nunez to Florida for first baseman Mike Jacobs. OK, I'm a little late to the party on this trade. I think I'm glad I waited to weigh in on it, though. When I first heard about the trade, I was slightly opposed to it. But as I've thought about it for a couple of days, I like it. There seems to be some handwringing around the Royals blogosphere about this deal. However, I'm thinking many people are focusing on what Jacobs can't do, not what he can do.

It is true Jacobs had a brutal on-base percentage (.299) in 2008. He doesn't walk (36 in 2008, with 10 of those being intentional). His 32 homers last season might be a fluke, since his previous high was 20 and he just turned 28 on Thursday (27 is considered the prime age for hitters). Also, the various defensive stats say he's not a good first baseman.

I note that Jacobs's batting average dropped by 18 points from 2007 to 2008. That's also how much his OBP dropped. Since Mike hit .262 in 2006 (his first full season) and .265 last year, I think his average will rebound some in 2009, meaning his OBP will likely rebound some too. It won't make him an on-base machine, but it should be a better number.

As for the walks, there is no doubt that is a problem. I would point out, though, that the Royals as a team were only intentionally walked 31 times this year. And it's been a long time since the Royals had someone other teams feared enough to intentionally walk that often. The last Royal to be intentionally walked 10 times in a season? Mike Sweeney in 2002. Sure, IBBs are more common in the NL, but Jacobs wasn't hitting in front of the pitcher's spot, either. In fact, none of Jacobs's IBBs were dealt to get to the pitcher's spot. Clearly, this is someone other teams did not want to deal with.

What I really don't understand is people declaring that Jacobs has no chance at 30 homers next year. Sure, Kauffman Stadium is hostile to home runs. Dolphins Stadium wasn't a total homer haven, either, ranking 8th in NL parks for HR/game. Going to a worse home run park in a tougher league will probably cut down on Mike's HR total some, but when is the last time the Royals had a hitter coming off a 30-home run season?

Concerning defense, well, first base isn't exactly a premium defensive position. And I think every Royals fan should be sick of the team running out guys who could field but not hit at the position. A while back, I analyzed all the Royals' first basemen since 1985, and realized one of KC's many problems has been light-hitting first basemen, especially in a league where offense has traditionally been emphasized. For once, the Royals might have a legit power hitter over there.

Now, another reason I am not opposed to this trade is that I believe the Royals are not done dealing yet. Even before adding Jacobs, the Royals had a logjam at first, with Billy Butler, Ryan Shealy, Kila Ka'aihue, and our favorite whipping boy, Ross Gload. I think we'll have to wait to see how KC resolves this situation before really passing judgement on the Jacobs trade. Perhaps this means the Royals don't believe Shealy is ever going to be a consistent big league hitter. Perhaps they intend to let Kila start the year in Omaha and prove his excellent 2008 numbers in the minors were no fluke. Perhaps they intend to trade Gload for a bag of baseballs.

The most intriguing question is what they intend to do with Butler. Will they make him a full-time DH? Or will they set up a platoon at first with Jacobs and Butler? In his career, Jacobs has hit .269/.329/.521 against righties; Butler has hit .340/.398/.585 against lefties in his. That would be a good first baseman.

One final thing about this trade: the Royals got someone who will probably hit 20-25 homers next year for a middle relief pitcher. Originally, the Marlins wanted prospect Carlos Rosa, but backed off because he had a sore right forearm and did not pitch after mid-August. Instead, the Royals gave up Leo Nunez, who missed almost two months this year with a right lat strain. Yes, Nunez was a valuable member of the Royals' bullpen this year. But Dayton Moore has definitely shown an ability to find quality relief pitchers for practically nothing: Ramon Ramirez, Horacio Ramirez, Robinson Tejeda, and of course, Joakim Soria.

Giving up a middle reliever who has a slight frame and violent delivery (read: injury risk) for a guy with solid power potential is a good move for the Royals. And it looks like more moves will be coming.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Part VI: If I Could Only Turn Back The Clock when God and her were born.
(from "Shelter From The Storm," Blood On The Tracks)

Recap: The Royals woke up on the morning of Sept. 1 with a 57-79 record. They were 20 games out of first place and had just suffered through a 7-20 August, a pace that would make them 42-120 for a full season; yes, that is 1962 Mets territory. No one could have imagined that this same team would put together the franchise's best month since the glory days of April 2003. Yes, the Royals would go 18-8 in September, the best record in the majors for the month. That pace would get them somewhere around 110 wins for a full season. The hot September allowed the Royals to avoid a fifth straight last place finish. KC ended up 75-87, in fourth place, 13 games out of first.

Highlight: So many to choose from...two doubleheader sweeps, seven-game and five-game winning streaks, six wins by five or more runs...but the highlight might very well be a single game in Detroit on Sept. 24. After winning the first two games of the series, the Royals went for the sweep. Even better, a win in this game would put KC ahead of the Tigers and their $137 million payroll with three games left in the season. The much-maligned Brian Bannister got the start and pretty much mowed down the offense that was supposed to score 1,000 runs this year. Banny finished his year on a high note, scattering seven hits and only walking one in six innings. The Royals exploded for seven runs in the fifth inning and cruised to a 10-4 win. With wins in the next two games, the Royals wrapped up fourth place.

Lowlight: Um...the Royals lost three in a row from Sept. 7-10. That's about it.

MVP: David DeJesus had an outstanding month, hitting .388/.443/.565. His 1.008 OPS was only the second time this season a Royal regular (more than 50 AB) had an OPS over 1.000 for a month. The other? David DeJesus in June with a 1.039.

Cy Young: You could argue that Zack Greinke, Joakim Soria, Ramon Ramirez and even John Bale had slightly better months, but I am giving this to Kyle Davies. In one of the most promising developments of the whole month, Davies appeared to be a completely different pitcher than the one who scuffled through his previous major league stints. Davies went 4-1 in his five starts, with a 2.27 ERA. He struck out 24 while only walking seven; his prior K/BB ratio for 2008 was 47/36. On Sept. 15, he tied a career high with eight strikeouts, then tied it again two starts later. One of the most intriguing questions the Royals will have in spring training next year is whether Davies finally figured out how to pitch, or if he just had a good stretch. If it is the former, the Royals' rotation suddenly looks, dare I say, formidable.

LVP: Probably Miguel Olivo. Splitting time at catcher with John Buck (each played 13 games), Olivo only hit .231/.231./.346. Yes, his on-base percentage and batting average were the same. That's because he struck out 15 times and did not walk once. Heck, even Tony Pena Jr. managed to draw one walk in September. While Buck did not post outstanding numbers either, he clearly outplayed Olivo. Of course, the Royals could still stand an upgrade here, although there probably isn't any available in the free agent market.

Cy Yuk: Probably Brian Bannister, who finished a disappointing season with an up-and-down month. He was 2-2 in five starts, but his ERA was 5.86. Basically, he had three decent starts and two lousy ones. But the rest of the rotation was doing such a good job, Banny kind of stood out.

Reason to be excited for 2009: Such a solid effort, coming off such a terrible August when it would have been easy to pack it in for the year, is promising. Even though an 18-8 pace isn't really sustainable for a whole season for any team, it is something you wouldn't expect from a bad team. The best part is that the month was built on the success of guys like Davies and Ryan Shealy, not just the usual players who had success this season. For the Royals to advance and develop into a contender, they need more than Greinke/Soria/Aviles/Gordon; they will need Shealy and Davies and Luke Hochevar and, a little further down the road, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer to become good players.

Reason we should have been worried about last place: Well, a good portion of the roster is still filled with dead weight like Tony Pena and Ross Gload, Kip Wells and Yasuhiko Yabuta. With a limited payroll, the Royals need everyone on the roster to be a contributor if they are going to have sustained success.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Part V: If I Could Only Turn Back The Clock when God and her were born.
(From "Shelter From The Storm," Blood On The Tracks)

I think I put off writing this one for a while. August was a brutal month to be a Royals fan. It looked like they would never win again, would certainly finish last again, and might even manage to lose 100 games, despite starting the month with a 50-59 record. It got so bad that we noticed heading into a game late in the month that the statue of Mr. and Mrs. Kauffman which sttod outside the stadium had packed up and left:

Recap: The Royals actually started the month well. They took two of three at home against the White Sox, including the 14-3 bombing that featured Miguel Olivo charging the mound against D.J. Carrasco and smacking A.J. Pierzynski in the back of the head. The Royals then took the first game of a series against the Red Sox before the bottom fell out. Lose four, win one, lose three, win one, lose seven, win one, lose four, win one, lose one. Yes, the boys in blue went from Aug. 5 into September without winning consecutive baseball games. A grim month, indeed. For August, the Royals were 7-20, ending the month in last place at 57-79, 20 games out of first and 8.5 out of fourth.

Highlight: Outscoring the White Sox 23-10 in two games was pretty sweet. Having one of those games on Fox's Saturday afternoon coverage (even if it was regional) and having a brawl in the other was even sweeter.

Lowlight: Well, those two wins were 29% of the Royals' total for the month, so there are plenty of lowlights to choose from. I think the lowest point was Sunday, August 17 at Yankee Stadium. The Royals, who of course have a rather tangled history with the Yanks, were playing their final game at the Stadium, which closed at the end of the season. Could the Royals summon up one final memorable game with the hated Yankees, a game worthy of those playoff meetings so long ago? No. This was the day when Brian Bannister hit rock bottom, allowing 10 runs (all earned) in only 1 inning pitched. Banny gave up six runs in the first, including the Yankees hitting for the cycle in that inning, before allowing four more in the second without recording an out. In all, he faced 16 hitters and only got three of them out. Yikes. The Royals ended up with a 15-6 loss.

MVP: Despite all the losing, there are some good candidates for this coveted award. Mike Aviles continued his solid season, hitting .339 in August with a .789 OPS. Before he was injured in mid-August, Alex Gordon compiled a .377 OBP, despite a .268 average, showing an increased grasp of the strike zone. Even the much-maligned Ross Gload put up a solid month, hitting .303 and driving in 10. Gload even became the answer to a trivia question: Who was the last Royal to homer at Yankee Stadium? But this honor should go to Billy Butler, who hit .330/.340/.466 for the month in 26 games. Billy also had three homers and 13 RBI, both second on the team. Not bad for a guy who was sent to Omaha in May.

Cy Young: Once again, this is pretty much a decision between Gil Meche and Zack Greinke. Joakim Soria actually looked human this month, so he's not really a factor here. Zack had a better ERA (2.48 vs. 3.49), but Gil pitched more innings (38.2 vs. 29). Gil did have one more start, though. Zack had fewer strikeouts, but a better strikeout-to-walk ratio. Let's call it a tie.

LVP: As you might expect, there are plenty of candidates here, too. Mark Teahen only hit .231 for the month, yet managed to lead the team in RBIs with 14. John Buck was brutal, hitting .116 and slugging .203 and striking out 24 times in 69 at-bats. But I think this has to go to Jose Guillen, because his bat was so important to the lineup, and when he struggled, the Royals did too. In 26 games, Jose hit .212/.275/.374. His .649 OPS was lower than Teahen's, Gload's, and even Mitch Maier's. Except the Royals weren't depending on any of those guys to bat cleanup every day.

Cy Yuk: Sorry, Banny. But 0-5 with a 7.76 ERA is not good. Giving up nine homers in 26.2 innings is terrible. Thankfully, this month was the last straw, and Banny seemed to realize his new style of trying to strike out everyone wasn't working.

Reason we should see an awesome summer ahead: Well, beating up on the White Sox (literally and figuratively) was nice.

Reason we should see last place coming: Everything that happened after Aug. 4: the injuries, the terrible offense, the terrible pitching, the questions about clubhouse chemistry and Trey Hillman's lack of respect in the clubhouse. By the end of the month, the Royals seemed about as far from being a contender as they did when they were losing 106 games in 2005.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

My Eyes They Saw A Better Day

(From "Paths Of Victory," The Bootleg Series Vol. 1)

Now that there's been a little time to reflect on it, I thought I'd explore What Fourth Place Means To Me. The Royals blitzed through September with an 18-8 mark, and managed to escape the cellar by one game over Detroit. It was the first time since the magical season of 2003 that KC did not finish last. Closing the season with such a good month allowed the Royals to reach the modest 75-win mark for the first time since 2003, only the second time since 2000, and only the third time since 1996.

Of course, most fans do not celebrate finishing fourth in a five-team division. But most fans have not endured the unending parade of suck that Royals fans have over the last four seasons. This team lost 310 games from 2004-2006, and 403 games from 2004-2007. Yep, an average of 101 losses over a four year period. The Royals finished a total of 138 games out of first in those four years. Heck, they finished a total of 48 games out of fourth place those four years! Damn right I'm happy not to finish last this year!

So there are two things to get excited about if you're a Royals fan: modest improvement to 75 wins, and an 18-8 September. I'd like to think that these both mean certain improvement in 2009, but I'm not sure I can say that. I looked through to find all the times since 1995 where a team improved by 20 games from one season to the next. I picked 20 because if the Royals want to win the division next year, a 20-game improvement is probably needed. OK, I found 19 such seasons. In only two cases did those teams have a winning September the year before their big leap: the 1997 Cubs went 13-12 and the 2000 Astros went 17-12. The 1998 Cubs were helped by Sammy Sosa's 66 homers; I can't imagine any Royal hitting 66 bombs next year. That Astros team was another oddity: their pythagorean record was actually 81-81, yet they only went 72-90. It's not a big surprise that they bounced back strongly the next year. The Royals' pythagorean record was 72-90, so I wouldn't expect a big bounce next year based on that.

Only two more of those 19 teams had even a .500 record the previous September: the 1998 Diamondbacks and the 2003 Cardinals. That Cardinal team ended the year at 85-77, then went 105-67 in 2004. The Royals aren't close to that caliber yet, so throw out that comparison. The Diamondbacks went 65-97 in 1998, their first year as a franchise. Then they added Randy Johnson, Steve Finley and Luis Gonzalez in the offseason and went 100-62 in 1999. I think Dayton Moore will do something this winter to make the Royals better, but I don't believe he'll be going on a shopping spree like that.

The road to where the Royals want to be will not be paved with quick fixes in the free agent marketplace. They will have to develop a lot of talent, and use surplus talent to trade for positions of need. For now, we have to hope that the excellent September the Royals had is a sign that the talent is developing at the major league level.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Part IV: If I Could Only Turn Back The Clock when God and her were born.
(From "Shelter From The Storm," Blood On The Tracks)

Finally continuing on with our 2008 month-by-month recap. The season is half-over, and it's now time for July.

Recap: The Royals struggled at the start of July, losing five of six in Baltimore and Tampa. The Rays certainly looked like the team that would win the AL East, outscoring KC 23-4 in the first three games of the series. The Royals got some payback in game four, scoring four runs in the 1oth after a rare blown save from Joakim Soria. The Royals split the next six games to reach the All-Star Break at 43-53. After the break, they won a series in Chicago, then were swept at home by Detroit, including a 19-4 loss in which Jimmy Gobble pitched one inning and allowed 10 runs. A split with Tampa and a road sweep of Oakland allowed KC to close out the month with a 12-14 record, and 50-59 overall, in fourth place in the division and 11 games back of first place.

Highlight: The Royals had some nice moments in July, with the sweep in Oakland, a series win in Chicago and even Tony Pena's scoreless inning pitched in that Detroit blowout. But the game I mentioned above in Tampa might have been the best. This was one of those weird "wraparound" series, where the teams play Friday-Monday rather than the normal Friday-Sunday. So this Monday game was also a day game. Gil Meche started for the Royals against Matt Garza. Meche allowed two runs in the first, but the Royals immediately tied it in the second on a David DeJesus triple, then took the lead in the third on a Ross Gload single. Meche kept getting in trouble, allowing seven hits and four walks before being pulled in the sixth inning. Ron Mahay came in to strike out two hitters to close that inning. Ramon Ramirez finished off the eighth inning after Mahay allowed a double. When Soria came in for the ninth, the game looked to be over. After all, the Mexicutioner was 23 for 24 in save chances coming in. But Tampa's Carlos Pena slammed a one-out homer to tie the game. Soria worked around a single to preserve the tie. In the 10th, the Royals got two on against Tampa's Dan Wheeler. John Buck stepped to the plate and promptly launched a drive down the left field line that was good for three runs. Mike Aviles followed with another homer, and the Royals were able to survive a solo home run in the bottom of the inning for a hard-fought win against a team that frankly had made the Royals look like a minor-league team for three games.

Lowlight: Well, those first three games in Tampa were pretty bad. But when you lose by 15 runs at home, that's downright awful. On the 21st, KC returned home from a series win in Chicago, and were pounded by the Tigers, 19-4. Luke Hochevar was pretty good for the first two innings, then gave up five runs with two outs in the third. The Tigers tacked on two more in the fifth and one in the seventh before Gobble was called in with the bases loaded. Gobble walked Pudge Rodriguez to force in a run, then got the last out. But, oh, how horrible that eighth inning was for Jimmy Gobble! Single, single, double, wild pitch, single, single and a three-run bomb by Gary Sheffield to make it 15-0. Gobble seemed to settle down, getting the next two hitters out. But then Hell started back up, as Gobble's control vanished. Walk, single, walk, walk, and Gobble was mercifully pulled. Leo Nunez came in and allowed a double and single before getting the final out, making Gobble's line 1 IP, 10 R, 10 ER, 4 BB, o K. This outing also caused Gobble's ERA to jump from a lousy 7.99 to an unbelievablly bad 11.31. After this outing, Gobble went on the disabled list with a bad back, although you'd be forgiven for thinking extreme suckitude was the actual problem. As a side note, Tony Pena pitched the ninth inning, retiring all three hitters he faced, including a called strikeout on Pudge Rodriguez.

MVP: John Buck had a good month of July, but Mike Aviles was far and away the best hitter the Royals had in July. In 25 games, he hit .330 and slugged .524. He had three homers, 13 RBI, nine doubles, a triple and scored 14 runs. The only downside was that he only got three walks.

Cy Young: Ron Mahay was almost unhittable in July, but since I gave this to him and two other relievers over Gil Meche for June, let's give it to Meche this time. In six starts, Meche was 3-1 with a 3.05 ERA. In 38 1/3 innings, Meche struck out 24 and walked 11.

LVP: Well, as hot as Jose Guillen was in June, that's about how bad he was in July. In 21 games, he only hit .162, with one homer and 10 RBI. Of his 12 hits, nine were singles. And of course, Jose wouldn't walk--that's what wimps do. Guillen walked twice in the whole month. His .446 OPS was lower than Mitch Maier's, Ross Gload's, and Joey Gathright's. Of course, it was still better than Tony Pena's, but by this point in the season nobody expected Pena to ever get on base again.

Cy Yuk: An ERA of 27.00 for the month is hard to ignore, but we've picked on Jimmy Gobble enough. Let's go with Luke Hochevar, who went 1-3 in his five starts with a 7.67 ERA. In 27 innings, Hochevar gave up 32 hits and only struck out 12.

Reason we should see an awesome summer ahead: The continued hot hitting of Mike Aviles, the continued excellence of the back end of the bullpen, and the continued solid pitching of Gil Meche.

Reason we should see last place coming: Seriously, those first three games in Tampa were awful displays of baseball. Outscored 23-4. Outhit 35-15. Three errors in the first game. Those three games made it seem like there was a vast difference in the talent level between the East-leading Rays and the Royals.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Part III: If I Could Only Turn Back The Clock when God and her were born.
(From "Shelter From The Storm," Blood On The Tracks)

We continue our month-by-month recap of the 2008 Royals with a look at their best month, June. It was an especially fun month because it came on the heels of a horrific May that left KC with a 22-34 record and in last place.

Two important events happened to the Royals in June: the interleague schedule gave them a chance to play some teams more their level, and Mike Aviles forced his way into the lineup, boosting the lineup from pathetic to simply below-average (actually, the Royals scored 140 runs in 27 June games, which translates to 840 for a full season, which would be good for second in all of baseball right now).

Of course, this blog also started in June. So for a while there, it looked like a good luck charm of sorts...

Recap: KC struggled the first half of June, getting swept in Chicago, splitting a 4-game series in Yankee Stadium and losing a home series to Texas. After a 1-0 loss at Arizona on June 13, the Royals were 4-8 in the month. Then came the turnaround, as KC scored 20 runs in the next two games in Arizona, swept the Cardinals in St. Louis, won a home series against San Francisco, swept the Rockies and split the last four games. A 16-11 record (that's a 96-win pace)--not too shabby. And this month managed to pull the Royals out of last place.

Highlight: When KC rolled into St. Louis for a 3-game series with their instate rival, the Cardinals were hot on the Cubs' tail in the NL Central, 3.5 games back. Three well-pitched games later, the Cardinals were still 3.5 back, but they had lost a chance to gain ground. Kyle Davies, Brian Bannister, Zack Greinke and Joakim Soria took turns shutting down the Cardinal lineup (it did help that Albert Pujols was injured), while the offense did just enough to win. It was the first time KC swept the Cardinals since 2001.

Lowlight: Being swept by the White Sox in early June. Although the games were close (one went 15 innings), it was still unpleasant.

MVP: With such a good performance by the whole offense, there are plenty of candidates. David DeJesus put up a 1.039 OPS in 26 games. Mike Aviles, once he got in the lineup, hit like crazy (.910 OPS). Mark Teahen and Alex Gordon each socked five homers. But this was the month when the Royals' big offseason acquisition, Jose Guillen, looked like the player Dayton Moore was willing to pay $12 million a year. Guillen followed up his "babies" rant in late May with a sizzling June. A .345 batting average, seven home runs, nine doubles and 25 RBI in the middle of the lineup. On the downside, he only walked twice the whole month, which is a little hard to believe. But this was still an excellent performance, and it made the Royals lineup...dare we say, fearsome.

Cy Young: Gil Meche had a solid month, but I would give this to the three-headed bullpen monster: Ron Mahay, Ramon Ramirez and Joakim Soria. In 40 combined appearances, these three were 3-1 with 10 saves. They struck out 37 and walked 16. Their combined WHIP was an even 1.00. Basically, when the offense got a lead, the Royals got a win thanks to these three.

LVP: Joey Gathright did not have an especially good month at the plate. He hit only .203 in 26 games. His 14 hits were all singles. His on-base percentage was a robust .276. It tells you just how hot the rest of the lineup was that they could put up runs at a pennant-contending pace with a hitter like this getting regular playing time.

Cy Yuk: The guys who put up the worst numbers didn't pitch much, so I suppose this goes to Zack Greinke, even though he wasn't horrible. Looking back, this must be what it's like to root for a good team--when you are casting about to find awful performances, the ones you find aren't too bad. Greinke was 2-2 in six games; his WHIP was rather high at 1.42 and his ERA was an untidy 5.25. But he still struck out 36 batters in 36 innings while only walking 15. So perhaps he was a bit unlucky this month.

Reasons we should see an awesome summer ahead: No matter if the National League competition was not as tough as some of the AL teams who had been beating up on the Royals, a 16-11 record is still a contender's pace.

Reasons we should have seen last place coming: No more National League teams on the schedule.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Part II: If I Could Only Turn Back The Clock when God and her were born.
(From "Shelter From The Storm," Blood On The Tracks)

As I explained in the previous post, this is a month-by-month account of the rather disappointing 2008 season our boys in blue put together. At the end of April, KC was 12-15, but only two games out of first place. Now, we look at May, and how the Royals managed to make sure any optimism that was generated in April was destroyed...

Recap: The Royals scuffled at the start of the month, dropping six of the first nine games. This was mostly thanks to an offense that totalled 29 runs in those games (KC gave up 34 runs in that stretch). But then things turned around! On a gorgeous May afternoon, Brian Bannister shut out Baltimore. Then the Royals swept Detroit again, leaving the poor Tigers in the odd position of wondering how to beat KC. Interleague play began with the Royals winning two of three against the NL East-leading Florida Marlins. At 9-7 in May, the Royals flew to Boston with a 21-22 record, good for third in the AL Central and only 1.5 games out of first. Royal fans were perhaps starting to dream a little about not finishing last, flirting with a .500 record, and possibly competing for a division title in a division where everyone was struggling.

Then came the turning point of the entire season.

For years, Royal fans had looked at their team's weak offenses and expected to be no-hit at almost any time. Cy Young candidates like C.C. Sabathia, Justin Verlander, and Johan Santana lurked in the Royals' division, getting multiple starts against KC each year. And hey, they were due--they hadn't been no-hit since Nolan Ryan did it in 1973.

So it was a surprise and yet not a surprise when Boston's Jon Lester completely befuddled the Royals on May 19. A 5-run third inning, built largely on a dropped popup, gave Lester the cushion he needed. And when Lester struck out Tony Pena Jr. (and I still don't know why there was no pinch-hitter for Pena--perhaps Trey Hillman wanted to see a no-hitter), he had done it. For the first time in 35 years, KC was on the wrong end of a no-no.

It seems this put the Royals into a funk. KC dropped the next three games in Boston, including a sterling performance in the finale, when Bannister gave up a grand slam to J.D. Drew and Hillman left Jimmy Gobble in the game to face Mike Lowell with the bases loaded, resulting in the second grand slam of the game.

The Royals would end up with a 12-game losing streak, barely putting up a fight in four losses in Toronto, then returning home to lose a pair of extra-inning games to Minnesota, then one to Cleveland before snapping the streak on May 31.

Highlight: Zack Greinke's excellent outing on the 18th against the Marlins. Zack pitched six solid innings in the heat, struck out five and gave up only three runs. He even had two hits, including a double, lifting KC to that 21-22 mark that was the calm before the storm.

Lowlight: Oddly enough, I don't think it was the no-hitter. Rather, I look at the 10th loss of the losing streak, at home against the Twins. On this pleasant evening, Greinke pitched like the ace we hope he will be someday. He held Minnesota to three runs in his eight innings, with eight strikeouts and two walks. The Royals went to the ninth inning with an 8-3 lead, and the streak seemed over for sure.

Nope, instead it was meltdown time for the Royals' bullpen and manager Trey Hillman. First, Hillman moved his favorite first baseman, Ross Gload, to right field, leaving Mark Teahen at first base, where the Royals had been experimenting with him. This was a dumb move. Then Hillman brought in Ramon Ramirez, who had been solid as a setup man, in to pitch. This was a good move--you know, shut them down, end the streak, etc. Ramirez sandwiched two strikeouts around a ground ball single. One out to go for a win. Ramirez threw a wild pitch and gave up a single, making the score 8-4. Still two out, still only one runner on. No need to panic.

Minnesota's Brendan Harris lofted a fly ball to short right field. Gload charged, charged, charged and then pulled up, letting it fall for a single while the faster, more experienced right fielder still playing first base could only watch helplessly. Now with the tying run on deck, it would be a good time to warm up your closer, right Trey? Just in case, right? Nope. Joakim Soria had pitched the previous two nights, throwing a total of 46 pitches. There is no way he could be expected to face even one hitter, apparently.

Another Twins single made the score 8-5 and brought the tying run to the plate. Now might be a good time to see if Soria can just get one out. Just one. Instead, Hillman brought in the homer-prone Joel Peralta to face free-swinging Craig Monroe, the exact kind of hitter Soria's pinpoint control and devastating curveball should carve up.

Predictably, Monroe belted one into the construction area behind the left field wall to tie the game. Peralta managed to get the third out, but Hillman unbelievably let him start the 10th, where he gave up another homer, this time to Justin Morneau. That was the difference, and the Royals would extend the losing streak two more games.

This game also inspired Jose Guillen's first rant of the season, as he exploded after the game, memorably saying, "We've got too many babies here."

MVP: Miguel Olivo, playing a lot of DH when he wasn't catching, hit .333 for the month, with an OPS of .939 in 20 games. He had three homers, 14 RBI and even a couple of stolen bases.

Cy Young: Joakim Soria was his usual unhittable self: 11 games, 3 runs, 13 Ks, a .163 batting average against. The Royals won 10 games in May; Soria saved six of them.

LVP: Tony Pena Jr. Again. In 26 games, he had a rather astounding 12 hits. Perhaps he could get on base by having good strike zone judgement? Nope, 15 strikeouts and only two walks. Two walks in 79 plate appearances! At least this finally convinced the Royals that Pena couldn't hit, and they called up Mike Aviles.

Cy Yuk: Lots of candidates, but let's give this to Brett Tomko. In six games (five starts), he couldn't even total 30 innings for the month. That's probably because his ERA was 6.37 and his WHIP was 1.25 for the month.

Reasons we should see an awesome summer ahead: Hey, the Marlins are a first-place team and we won a series at their place! And we swept the Tigers again!

Reasons we should have seen last place coming: Well, it takes a lousy team to lose 12 in a row. Especially when that team already lost seven in a row last month. Also, the manager obviously has no idea how to use a bullpen.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Part I: If I Could Only Turn Back The Clock when God and her were born.
(From "Shelter From The Storm," Blood On The Tracks)

The cooler weather of September is upon us, and the season is drawing to a merciful conclusion. A season that began with modest hope has become yet another Royal disappointment. Rather than hash out details of the latest griping player, the latest reminder that future glory is far away, or the latest rumbling on Trey Hillman's struggles to command respect, I thought I would start looking back at the season, month-by-month. So, here's the cruelest month, April...

Recap: The Royals started the season strong, in contrast to their normal ineptitude in April (26-67 over the last four Aprils). For the first two weeks, the Royals actually led the division, dropping into second with an April 15th loss in Seattle. KC then went on a seven-game losing streak, dropping into last. They closed out the month with a 3-2 stretch, ending up 12-15 and in last place, but only two games out of first as the rest of the division started slowly.

Highlight: The season-opening sweep of Detroit, back when everyone thought they would run away with the Central Division, was pretty sweet. A comeback win on Opening Day, a Brian Bannister shutout in game two, and an outstanding Zack Greinke outing in game three made us think we had a real actual major league team in Kansas City. Of course, no one knew then the Tigers would stink for much of the season. Honorable mention goes to the home opener, with our first look at the new scoreboard and some of the other improvements to Kauffman Stadium, with the added bonus of a win over the Yankees.

Lowlight: The losing streak was a painful reminder that yes, these were still the Royals. The first four games of the streak were all on the West Coast, so there was some hope that returning home would help halt the streak. Instead, the Royals put forth one of their worst efforts of the year, a 15-1 loss to the Indians. The previously struggling C.C. Sabathia (13.50 ERA before this game) struck out 11 in six shutout innings, while Gil Meche gave up eight runs in four innings, bringing his ERA to an even 8.00, his high-water (or low-water, depending on your point of view) mark of the year. Throw in some outstanding bullpen work by the usual suspects (Joel Peralta, Yasuhiko Yabuta and Jimmy Gobble combined to give up the other seven runs in 4 1/3 innings), and you have a brutal beating. The Royals would lose two more games before ending the losing streak.

MVP: Alex Gordon, who hit .306 and had a .799 OPS. Alex scored 15 runs, although he only drove in nine. He also had two homers and two steals. David DeJesus had an excellent month (.341 average, with a .412 OBP and .477 SLG%), but was injured on Opening Day and only played in 12 games.

Cy Young: Zack Greinke, who was 3-0 with a 1.25 ERA. Zack struck out 19 in five starts and 36 innings.

LVP: Esteban German was barely used, so Tony Pena Jr. wins this one. Playing nearly every day, TPJ put up a solid .153 average, with an almost-unbelievable .173 OBP and an equally mind-boggling .208 slugging pct. He also struck out 15 times in 72 at-bats, great numbers if you're a power hitter, which TPJ certainly is not.

Cy Yuk: Hideo Nomo was terrible, but he only pitched in three games. So this "award" goes to Yasuhiko Yabuta, who celebrated his two-year, $6 million contract by posting an 8.31 ERA in nine games and 13 innings. He also posted a sterling 8/9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He gave up at least one hit in every one of those nine appearances. Oh, and he allowed three homers. Other than that, and the fact Trey Hillman was still using him in important situations, he was great.

Reasons we should see an awesome summer ahead: Solid months from Greinke, Gordon, Joakim Soria and Billy Butler. That and not being completely buried in the standings by May 1.

Reasons we should have seen last place coming: Good teams do not normally lose seven games in a row. The middle relief is a wasteland, and the back end of the rotation is not good. And 100 runs in 27 games is good for last place among AL offenses.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Have To Quit Your Mess And Straighten Out

(from "Slow Train," Slow Train Coming)

The disaster continues unabated. Your Kansas City Royals (take my baseball team, please!) have put together an August for the record books. Not in a good way, either. KC is 6-19 so far this month. "Fun" facts about the Royals' August:
  1. That is a 39-win pace for a whole season. That's 1962 Mets (40-120) territory.
  2. Back in May, the Royals had a 12-game losing streak. They finished that month 10-19. So this will be a worse month than that one.
  3. The Royals actually won three in a row Aug. 2-4, scoring 27 runs in those games. It took them the next 11 games to score 27 runs. For the month, they have been outscored 149-88.
  4. Of the 149 runs, 22 have been unearned. In the previous four months, KC allowed 31 unearned runs.
  5. After beating Boston 4-3 on Aug. 4, the Royals were 9.5 games out of first. They were in fourth place, three games behind Detroit and three ahead of Cleveland. They are now an even 20 games out of first, nine behind Detroit and 9.5 behind Cleveland, who passed the Tigers for third.

Perhaps this helps explain my more infrequent posting lately. As Mom always said, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all*.

*I really don't remember Mom saying this very often. I guess I was cliche-deprived.

The thing is, this recent stretch is more disapponting than just about anything in recent Royals history. This was supposed to be a franchise on the upswing, but now it seems to be a franchise that can't do anything right or catch any sort of break. The pitching has stunk, the hitters seem to be in a hurry to swing at every pitch they see and get home for the 10:00 news, and the fielders can't catch or throw. The training staff can't keep anyone healthy (six players have been put on the DL in August). MLB has told the Royals' top draft pick, Eric Hosmer, he can't play until the contract of the freaking Pittsburgh Pirates' draft pick is sorted out. The backup catcher is publicly complaining about playing time, a rant that might carry more weight if he hadn't let loose a day after his throwing error let the winning run score. The right fielder and highest-paid player is ready to go into the stands and fight the fans.

I don't generally believe managers make a lot of difference to a team's won-loss record. Pick any manager in baseball history, give them this roster, and perhaps the best ones win 70-75 games. But to me, this situation is where a manager can make a difference. He can set the tone, encourage the players, let them know that sloppy baseball will not be tolerated. As far as I can tell, Trey Hillman has not done any of that. The Royals still make the same dumb mistakes they have made all season; they are pretty much the same dumb mistakes they have made my entire adult life. I don't expect Hillman will be fired; Dayton Moore is not a knee-jerk reactionary, so Hillman will certainly get another year at least. But Moore should think about whether he wants the promising youngsters in the farm system to be exposed to this manager when they get to the bigs.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ain't No Use Jiving, Ain't No Use Joking

...everything is broken.
(From "Everything Is Broken," Oh Mercy)

I don't really intend for this blog to pay much attention to the Chiefs. But I am a Chiefs fan as well as a Royals fan, so I am interested in the doings across the parking lot from Kauffman Stadium.

Nights like tonight make me question rooting for both teams. The Royals put up no fight whatsoever in losing 4-0 to Detroit, while the Chiefs looked pitiful in a 24-0 loss to the Dolphins. That's right, Kansas City's two main teams both failed to score even a single point. Excellent work, fellas!

At least the Chiefs can say, "It was just a preseason game." Of course, it's still not a good sign to lose by 24 points and be shut out by a team that was 1-15 last year. The Royals have obviously given up on the season, perhaps disheartened by the four players who were put on the disabled list in the last five days.

At any rate, this is not a fun time to be a sports fan in KC right now. At least a week from tonight, college football will be underway, which should help us KU fans feel better. It should help Mizzou fans, too. Not so fast, K-Staters.

And on the bright side, the Wizards managed to get on the scoreboard tonight. They even got a draw. Too bad they are also in last place...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I'm Back, We Can Start It All Over (Part I)

...get it back on the track.
(From "What Was It You Wanted," Oh Mercy)

I can't believe it's been so long since I posted anything. Unfortunately, real life intervened in the last couple of weeks and made it difficult to find time to write. Also, this hasn't been the most inspiring stretch of baseball lately. KC getting outscored 22-2 and scoring in only one of 27 innings in Chicago makes me want to punch things, not write about baseball.

Since I picked on Ross Gload a while back, I got to thinking about the first basemen the Royals have run out there over the years. I've come to the conclusion that Gload is an OK player, a valuable guy to have on the bench. I've also concluded that the Royals have some weird organizational fetish for his type of player, the first baseman who hits lots of singles, a handful of home runs, doesn't walk much and basically doesn't provide the offensive oomph you need from that position.

When I was a kid and the Royals were good, my favorite player was Steve Balboni. I mostly identified with him because he was a fat guy who struck out a lot. Sadly, I had nowhere the power he did. Of course, Balboni still owns the Royals' single-season home run record, with 36. Of all the damning statistics the Royals have amassed over the last 20 years are so, that may be the worst--they got through the entire Steroids Era without anyone passing a home run mark set during the Reagan administration.

Balboni was KC's regular first baseman for four years, 1984-1987. He was never much of a hitter, but when he did connect he usually hit the ball a long ways. In those four seasons, he hit .230 but slammed 119 homers, often the Royals' only source for power besides George Brett.

When Balboni's career fell off the cliff, Brett took over at first, moving across the diamond to make room for Kevin Seitzer at third. Of course, George was a tremendous hitter, even in the latter stages of his career, so the Royals were still getting good production out of an important offensive position.

When Brett was ready to move to DH full-time, the Royals acquired Carmelo Martinez and Todd Benzinger to play first. You can see in Part II how that went in 1991. Not bad, but not very good, either.

After the 1991 season, the Royals signed free agent Wally Joyner, who put up pretty good numbers for four seasons, despite not having as much power as you would hope for at first base.

After the strike in 1994, the Royals were a little more cost-conscious, so they traded Joyner away and got Jose Offerman to play first. Offerman had come to the majors as an error-prone shortstop, and the Royals showed some abnormal out-of-the-box thinking, moving him to a position where his defensive shortcomings would not be as damaging. But Offerman only hit five homers, so he was moved to second base the next year. That paved the way for Jeff King.

King didn't hit for much of an average, but he did hit 52 homers in his two years as KC's first baseman. Unfortunately, this was the late '90s, so hitting 25 or so home runs was barely enough to get one noticed in the AL.

When King retired rather suddenly in May of 1999, the Royals were left without a regular first baseman. So they took a young catcher who had shown a little promise with the bat and put him at first. Thus began the star-crossed career of Mike Sweeney.

I could do a whole series of posts on how much I like Sweeney, how unfairly some of the media treated him, and how badly some fans treated him at the end of his time here. But this post is already too long, so just look at Part II for his numbers for 1999-2002, the time he was the starter at first. Admire them the way you would a painting at the Nelson-Atkins Museum...

This was the oasis in a desert of single-digit home run and 100 OPS+ numbers Royals first basemen have put up since 1990.

Sweeney moved to DH in 2003, opening the door for Ken Harvey. Even though he was the Royals' token all-star in 2004 (he probably deserved it; he was leading the league in hitting at the break), Harvey put up OPS+ marks of 84 and 95 in his two seasons, with a total of 26 homers.

As the franchise bottomed out in 2005 and 2006, they struggled to find a decent first baseman. Matt Stairs held the job in 2005, actually having a good year with 13 homers but a 118+ OPS. Then in 2006 came Doug Mientiewicz, who could only hit 4 homers in 91 games. 2007 saw Ross Gload ascend to the starter spot.

Balboni hit 119 homers in his four years as the starter. It took the next nine seasons for Royals' first basemen to pass that mark. Sweeney, for all the great numbers he put up, only hit 104 homers in his four years. Since 2002, KC's starting first basemen have hit 52.

Don't believe a slugging first baseman is vital? The last World Series winner to have their primary first baseman hit fewer than 15 homers that season was the 2002 Anaheim Angels. Before that, you have to go back to the 1990 Cincinnati Reds, who platooned...Todd Benzinger and Hal Morris, another no-power first baseman the Royals employed in 1998 (he backed up King, and played some outfield and DH).

Of course, late last night the Royals made a move that may end this string of first base futility, signing first-round draft pick Eric Hosmer right at the deadline. Now, we won't know for a few years, but Hosmer was said to be the best power prospect in the draft. In the meantime, here's hoping Kila Kaaihue gets a look in September and a chance to prove himself next spring.

I'm Back, We Can Start It All Over (Part II)

I thought it might be easier for you if I presented the Royals' first basemen's stats in a separate post. Here they are, from 1991 to 2008. Remember that an OPS+ of 100 is average.


*Strike-shortened season; Royals played 115 games
**Through Aug. 15

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The T.V. God

...and all the pain that it invokes.
(From "T.V. Talkin' Song," Under the Red Sky)

A rare treat today, as the Royals played before the FOX network cameras for the first time all season (treating FOX as separate from Fox Sports). This was an actual, honest-to-God appearance on broadcast television. Sure, it probably had more to do with the opponent (the dreaded and despised White Sox), but it was nice to see the powder blues, even if it was just a regional telecast.

Ever since today's game was picked a few weeks ago to be televised for FOX's Saturday coverage, I had been excited. It is another little sign that things are getting better.

But I also started thinking about baseball on TV. Even before this blog existed, it was a long-held belief here at Tangled Up In Blue headquarters that baseball needs a better TV policy. Specifically, it needs a better policy in regards to the crown jewel of baseball on TV, ESPN's Sunday night game.

Baseball only has two real regular national TV windows: TBS on Sunday afternoons and ESPN on Sunday nights; FOX normally shows regional coverage on Saturdays. The TBS telecasts just started this year; the ESPN telecasts have been on for almost 20 years (which makes me feel old, but that's another story). There is no question ESPN Sunday Night Baseball is the biggest regular-season game broadcast of the week.

It has always seemed to me that baseball should take advantage of that platform to market the game. It's true that the Sunday night game is not an event on the order of Monday Night Football in the '70s. But it is a great vehicle to market the game and old and new stars. If only baseball would pressure ESPN to show all of those stars.

In the first four months of the season, we have seen the Red Sox five times, the Yankees, Mets, Angels, White Sox and Cubs four times. That's 25 of the 38 spots so far. The Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers, Phillies and Tigers have all been on twice each. Then there's the Rockies, Twins and Nationals, who have all been on once. And the Nationals were only on because they opened a new ballpark. One wonders if the renovated Kauffman Stadium will be featured on SNB. But one doesn't wonder that very long.

We have been treated to consecutive weeks of Cubs-White Sox games. We have seen the defending NL champs once, while teams who missed the playoffs in 2007 have been on 18 times. We haven't seen the best story of the season, the Tampa Bay Rays, although that could change when ESPN decides what games they would like to show in September (ESPN can pick games three weeks in advance in the second two months of the season and two weeks in advance during the final two months). We haven't seen the Diamondbacks, even though they have led the NL West since Opening Day. We haven't seen Milwaukee or Florida, two contenders this year who feature some of the game's best young players. Even worse, the Brewers were in the playoff hunt until the last week last season, so it's not like they came out of nowhere.

Of course, ESPN is concerned about their ratings. And yes, the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Angels, Cubs and Dodgers are the most popular teams. They should be--they're on ESPN every other Sunday night. It's time for MLB to insist that all teams have a chance to be showcased. There are 26 Sunday night games a year. That gives ESPN plenty of chances to show everyone. I'm not saying they have to show the Pirates playing the Nationals; they could show a Pirates-Cardinals game and a Nationals-Mets game.

The best way for MLB to ensure continued success is to let fans meet the new generation of stars. The best way to do that is to get them as much exposure as possible. Showing games from the same pool of 12 teams every week on baseball's best showcase game is not helping.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Got Nothing For You

...I had nothing before
(from "Mississippi," Love and Theft)

Trade deadline came and went, and the Royals chose to stand pat. I must confess I have mixed emotions. On one hand, the main trade chips the Royals had to offer are valuable contributors (of course, since they probably wouldn't be trade chips otherwise). But it would have been nice if there had been some resolution to the organizational logjams at first base (Gload, Butler, Shealy, Stodolka, and Kaaihue) or in the middle infield (Pena, Aviles, Grudzielanek, Callaspo). And let's face it: the Royals still need improvement. A 50-59 record is not where you want to be at the beginning of August.

It would have been especially nice to trade Mr. True Grit, Ross Gload. The Royals have stubbornly started him at first for 43 straight games now. Gload seems like a good guy, and he certainly has some value. But his value is more as a spare part, a reserve 1B/OF who can be a good pinch-hitter. This is essentially how the White Sox used him in 2005, and he did help them win a World Series. The problem with the Royals using Gload everyday is twofold: he is blocking the development of a first baseman for the future, and he just does not have enough offense to play first base in the American League.

Billy Butler is 22 and is apparently a full-time DH. The average age of the other 13 DHs in the AL is 33.9. Also, Billy is hitting .274/.361/.384 as a 1B this year (in only 21 games) and .244/.295/.363 as a DH. It would be nice if the Royals showed even a little curiosity as to whether Billy can play first.

Ryan Shealy has thrown a .286/.371./488 line on the board for Omaha this season. He will also turn 29 this month. It would be nice to find out if he can play like he did in 2006, or if he really is as bad as he looked last year. And this is the time to do it. There are two months left and the Royals are only playing to stay out of last. Why put this decision off until next year?

AL first basemen this year have put up a .263/.345/.428 line with 192 HRs and 783 RBI this year. Gload's numbers? .262/.313/.333 with 2 homers and 25 RBI. In a sense, the Royals are taking a knife to a gun fight every single night they run Gload out there. There is no way his defense is good enough to offset that poor offense. First base is a premium offensive position; Gload is not a premium offensive player. It is entirely possible that Butler and Shealy aren't either, but the odds are that they are much closer than True Grit.

Almost any deal that got Gload off the roster would have been a good move for the Royals. Failing that, the Royals need to get him to the bench and find out what they have in Butler and Shealy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ain't Talkin', Just Walkin'

...I'll burn that bridge before you can cross.
(From "Ain't Talkin'," Modern Times)

ESPN reports that Jose Guillen is already ready to be traded.

Guillen has a long history of being a butthole. But this has to be a new low. Not even eight months after signing a three-year contract, Guillen apparently can't get along with his manager. Guillen apparently believed Dayton Moore had some magic wand that would make the Royals contenders next year.

Talk about impatient.

One wonders what moves Guillen was expecting in eight months' time that would make KC a contender next year. Perhaps a Jimmy Gobble-for-Johan Santana deal? Maybe Joey Gathright for Josh Hamilton? Tony Pena for Hanley Ramirez?


So Jose feels like promises were not kept? How do you think the Royals feel, Jose?

Here's what Jose said when he was introduced as a new Royal: "I'm excited to be here, excited to be a Royal. I can't wait to get to Spring Training and meet all my teammates. Let's go, Royals. Let's win a championship here. This is a new start."

And: "I got a pretty good chance to be a leader of that team, to be the man there, so why not?"

And: "Wherever they put me, as long as I can drive in some runs that'll be great. I batted third and fourth pretty much the whole year in Seattle. It doesn't matter where [Hillman] is going to put me. It'll work out the right way."

Jose Guillen, by his own admission, showed up for spring training way out of shape. He spent all of April and most of May getting into game shape, had a hot June, and has had a lousy July. Now, two days before the trade deadline, he (presumably through one of his minions) demands a trade and gives the Royals no leverage?

Guess what, Jose? No one feels sorry for you. Take your $12 million, shut up and play. I imagine the Royals can't live with this situation in the clubhouse, but they should not, under any circumstance not involving two top prospects, cave in and trade him now. In the offseason, maybe. Let Jose deal with the boos he will get here at home. If he were in an East Coast city pulling this crap, he'd be dodging batteries. Let Jose deal with his teammates and coaches, who have to be getting sick of this too.

We have to suffer with you, Jose. Now you'll have to suffer with us.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Buckets Of Rain

..buckets of tears, got all them buckets coming out of my ears.
(From "Buckets of Rain," Blood on the Tracks)

There is something perversely beautiful about a rain delay at Kauffman Stadium, or I suppose at any MLB park. But in my limited travels around the majors, The K is the only place I've experienced one. This week, we got a two-fer. Two games, two rain delays. And two losses, which had me rethinking the optimism expressed in previous posts.

Saturday night started off well enough, with Dan Quisenberry's son throwing out the first pitch (in honor of Dan Quisenberry Bobblehead Night). It was warm, but a pleasant breeze blew in from the east, making it a fairly enjoyable summer evening. The skies were overcast, and about the fourth inning we could see darker clouds in the west, through the openings between the top of the upper deck and the roof. Members of the grounds crew assembled behind the tarp. Taking all these factors into account, we moved to higher ground, under the roof that covers the back third of the upper deck.

It wasn't long before the rains came, the grounds crew sprinted out to cover the field (after having some practice Tuesday night in our previous rain delay) and play was halted. All we could do was watch the rain fall, in heavy sheets illuminated by the stadium lights. Seats just two or three rows in front of us were getting drenched, and even pelted by some small hailstones. Yet we remained mostly dry, except for the occasional wind gust spraying us with a fine mist.

The Royals soon put that lovely new hi-def scoreboard to good use, showing us the Tigers-White Sox telecast (without announcers). There we sat, watching baseball, listening to the rain pelt the roof and enjoying the cooler temperatures.

But all good things must end. The rain passed and the game resumed. The Royals managed to tie the score in the fifth, then let the game slip through their hands, almost literally, when they failed to catch a popup in the eighth. Given new life, Tampa Bay scored two runs, tacked on one more in the ninth, and got themselves a much-needed win.

One of the more frustrating things about the Royals this year is that, in spring training, there was supposed to be a renewed emphasis on fundamentals. Now, I don't really believe fundamentals are that helpful in today's game, especially in the American League. They can't hurt, but the best way to win is to have good players. If you don't have good players, then you start talking about fundamentals. The emphasis on fundamentals would be OK if the Royals could actually execute them. But this year has been a steady stream of bad baserunning, dropped popups, terrible bunts, and of course, no strike zone judgment whatsoever. Perhaps the Royals would have a few more wins if they were fundamentally sound, but that still wouldn't be enough to get them a division title. But it's the principle; we were told this would be a fundamentally sound team, and it is obviously not.

Forget fundamentals, the way for the Royals to get good is to develop good players. The jury is still out on many of these current Royals, although I have heard a lot of hand-wringing about Alex Gordon and Billy Butler. They have had disappointing years, after showing some promise in 2007. I think Royals fans need to take a step back and realize they are 24 and 22, respectively. Butler especially has shown more flashes of his talent since the All-Star Break, hitting four homers in the last 10 games after having two before the break. And it's true that Zack Greinke is also 24, but he is also in his fourth full season, so his development should be a little further along.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Loser Now Will Be Later To Win

..for the times, they are a-changin'
(from "The Times They Are A-Changin'," The Times They Are A-Changin')

There's nothing good to say about the last three games, except the possibility that the Royals found a pitcher in Tony Pena Jr. The Detroit Tigers are hot right now, and the Royals did nothing to change that.

As a result of that sweep, KC now has the same record they did through 102 games last year, 45-57. And last year, the Royals won those next two games; I suspect this year's team will have a tough time matching that with the AL East leaders, the Tampa Bay Rays.

I spent my last post making the case that the Royals are better, even if it is only a little, than last year. This is important; if the Royals aren't getting better, then even the most loyal fan should start wondering if there is hope for the future. The Royals certainly looked as bad as they have the past few years in the last series. So do I still believe there has been an improvement?

I do. My contention (or new straw-grasp, if you prefer) is that the rest of the AL has improved over last year, so a team in a similar situation this year must be better, even if it is just a little.

When KC hit that 102-game mark last year, the AL had six teams over .500, two at the .500 mark, and six under .500. That's the sort of distribution you would expect. But this year, the AL has nine teams over .500 and five under .500. Two of those under-.500 teams are Toronto and Baltimore, and they are two and three games under, respectively. Last year at this time, no under-.500 team was that close to breaking even (Oakland was five games under).

Just look at the difference from last year to this one. Obviously, the biggest improvement has been Tampa Bay, 38-64 at this time last year. But Chicago has gone from battling KC for fourth last year to leading the division this year, Texas has gone from last in the West to the fringe of contention, and the A's and Twins have also improved some. On the other side of the ledger, only Seattle and Cleveland have really fallen off.

Of course, most of this is due to the AL's interleague record, which improved by 12 games this year. But this is one way I find a ray of hope: KC had the second-best interleague record this year, going 13-5, a three-game improvement from 2007. And that means so far, they are three games worse against the AL than last year. So the league is better, and the Royals might be slightly better, too.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Winds Of Change Are Blowing Wild And Free ain't seen nothing like me yet.
(From "Make You Feel My Love," Time Out Of Mind)

OK, it's probably not a sign of real change, but it is nice to write about a Royals' blowout win for once. Last night's 9-1 win over the White Sox is only the seventh time this year KC has won by more than five runs. In contrast, the Royals have been blown out 14 times. This is surely no surprise to anyone familiar with the Royals' offensive struggles this year; KC simply does not have the offense to win many games by large margins.

I feel personally, and sense this from most other fans I talk to, that the Royals are having a better year this year than last year. I did hear a local radio person wonder why people would feel that way. There is a point there; through 98 games last year, KC was 43-55. This year, they are 44-54. Run differential is a good way to measure a team. Through those 98 games last year, the Royals were outscored 487-455 (-32); this year, the run differential is 468-411 (-57). So, even though the runs allowed are down slightly, the runs scored are down. So yes, why does it seem like this year is better than 2007?

First, the Royals got off to a much better start this year. Before the 12-game losing streak in late May, KC was 21-22. Through 43 games last year, they were 16-27. That sense that things were better this year has carried through the season.

Second, that 12-game streak has been the exception this year, not the rule. Since that streak ended, the Royals have not lost more than three in a row. Last year, Royals fans suffered through a pair of 7-gamers, a 6-gamer and a pair of 4-gamers. I think most fans feel that if you could just remove that 12-game streak, or change a few of those to wins, you would have a team right around .500.

Third, I think that those run differential numbers above are skewed by KC's poor offense. In blowouts this year, KC has been outscored 141-87 (-54). That is most of the overall -57 this year, and one more sign that fixing the offense should be the top offseason priority. It's also a sign that the pitching still needs some work, although I suspect, based on Trey Hillman's normal bullpen usage, that most of the damage in those blowouts was done by guys like Yasuhiko Yabuta, Hideo Nomo, Jimmy Gobble, Joel Peralta, and the other pitchers who have made up the unreliable part of the bullpen. The good news is those guys are easily replaceable, much like the Royals came up with Ramon Ramirez, Horacio Ramirez, Ron Mahay and even Joakim Soria for very little in return.

The interesting thing about last year is that the Royals were actually an OK team, based on run differential. They scored 706 runs and gave up 778; that should have given them a 74-88 record, based on pythagorean winning percentage. Of course, they ended up 69-93. This year, the Royals have an expected record of 43-55, so they are actually one game better. Not underachieving also makes this season seem better.

Does this season seem like an improvement to you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

All-Star Game Running Diary Extravaganza

Welcome, loyal reader! I'm going to do something tonight I've always wanted to try—a Bill Simmons-style running diary. And what better event than the All-Star Game? After all, This One Counts!!!!!! Actually, I thought it would be nice if someone did something to offset tonight's Yankee slobberfest. So here we are. I am joined tonight by a special guest, The Amazing Michelle!

Some things I hope to see tonight:
1. The Royals' representative (Joakim Soria) get in the game. That would be the first Royal appearance since 2005.
2. A Josh Hamilton at-bat without a reference to his checkered past. If ESPN's broadcast last night was an indication, there is no chance this will happen.
3. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver in a brawl.
4. Eric Byrnes on a raft in the Hudson River.
5. Ben Sheets's arm staying attached to his body (for fantasy team purposes).
6. Soria getting the save. That would be a Royal first.
7. Soria picking up the win. That would be KC's first since 1997, when the immortal Jose Rosado did it.

7:27 pm: Player introductions wind down. I'm surprised the Tampa Bay players weren't booed more. In 2003, the ASG was at Comiskey Park, and the two Royal reps were roundly booed. It was incredible. Another team's fans cared enough to boo the Royals!

7:32 pm: The corpse of George Steinbrenner is driven around Yankee Stadium. The cheering seems surprisingly subdued.

7:34 pm:
My mistake, he's still alive and ready to throw out the first pitch. Actually, he is handing out the baseballs for the first pitch. Ten bucks says Hank Steinbrenner was secretly hoping the old man would kick it before this so he could be in the limelight.

7:40 pm: Look, the 3-4-5 hitters for the NL have the three best averages in the majors! Are they awesome, or does the NL have crappy pitching? Let's find out.

7:44 pm: Did you know the NL has a higher ERA than the AL? This is weird; the AL is supposed to be the offensive league. Yet there it is, 4.25 to 4.12. I imagine interleague play had something to do with that, but still…

7:49 pm: Chase Utley's at-bat brings up Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins' back-to-back MVPs and the possibility Utley could make it a hat trick. How would you feel as a Phillies fan if you had three straight NL MVPs but hadn't made a World Series yet? Of course, this Royals fan would trade them positions in a heartbeat.

7:52 pm: This State Farm commercial with the two kids outside Wrigley confuses me. What exactly is State Farm insuring for this kid? His bike?

7:55 pm: How is it the Yankees have never had anybody get 3,000 hits? That is an amazing stat if you ask me. Which you did, since you came to this page.

7:57 pm: Well, number 2 on my above list is done for this at-bat.

7:58 pm: Fox shows some Yankee fans practicing their Heil Hitler salutes.

7:59 pm: A-Rod pops out with Captain Clutch on 2nd and two out. He's still not a true Yankee. No score after the first inning.

8:02 pm: Heh-heh, Pooh Holes.

8:05 pm: Ryan Braun took third in the home run derby last night, Joe Buck tells us. This time next year, only Ryan Braun's mother will remember that fact.

8:13 pm: This seems like as good a time as any to drop this in: You can thank me later.

8:15 pm: McCarver's short-term memory fails him, as thinks Milton Bradley's steal is the first of the game, then remembers Jeter's steal which happened about 15 minutes ago. The Amazing Michelle suggests a running tally of Timmy's screwups. I don't believe I can count that high.

8:19 pm: "There is no hotter hitter in the game than Dustin Pedroia," Buck informs us. You know, Ian Kinsler of the Rangers has a 25-game hitting streak. I think that might qualify as hotter. And you know I mean it, since Kinsler went to Missouri.

8:20 pm: Pedroia flies to center, stranding two runners. 0-0 after two innings.

8:26 pm: Yogi Berra is in the booth with Buck and McCarver. He's too nice to admit he thinks Sarah Jessica Parker looks like a horse.

8:32 pm: On the internet between innings, I discover Matt Sussman of Deadspin is doing a live blog of the game. At least I know I had a good idea, although there is no way I can execute it as well as he will.

8:33 pm: Captain Clutch grounds into a double play.

8:34 pm: Number 2 on the list is obliterated, as Buck rather gleefully describes Josh Hamilton's troubled past. Hamilton makes an out, and we are through three scoreless innings.

8:39 pm: Fox shows earlier footage of Mariano Rivera showing Roy Halladay and Scott Kazmir how he throws a cutter. As a baseball fan, I have to imagine that is one awesome conversation.

8:40 pm: Ichiro makes the play of the game so far, playing a Pooh Holes line drive off the wall perfectly and firing a strike to second for the out. I wonder how the Best Fans in BaseballTM reacted to that.

8:44 pm: Carlos Zambrano carves up A-Rod, who will not be abused that badly again until his divorce proceedings.

8:47 pm: Milton Bradley reaches on an error by Hanley Ramirez. The play was close, and Bradley was thankfully called safe. Although Bradley killing an umpire with his bare hands would spice this game up.

8:48 pm: I'll be hiding in the Kauffman Stadium press box with Ryan Lefebvre. Please don't let Milton up there.

8:48 pm: Bradley is picked off first, ending the inning. Still no score after four.

8:49 pm: A preview of Pineapple Express. The Amazing Michelle forbids me from seeing "a stoner movie." Guess I'll have to find a chick flick to sit through as payback. Or some good bud to mellow her out.

8:53 pm: Matt Holliday homers to right to break the scoreless tie.

8:56 pm: For some reason, A-Rod comes out of the game in the middle of the inning. I guess it was to let the crowd applaud him, but they didn't seem to care. Why? BECAUSE HE'S NOT A TRUE YANKEE YET!11!!!!!11!

9:08 pm: Captain Clutch comes up with two on and two out. Here's your chance to be MVP, Jeter.

9:10 pm: After clutchily working the count full, Jeter grounds back to the mound, ending the inning. If that had been A-Rod, the boos would have been audible in Newark.

9:12 pm: Holiday Inn uses Cal Ripken Jr. to illustrate consistency. I think Joe Morgan would have been a better choice.

9:19 pm: Lance Berkman drives in a run with a sac fly. 2-0, NL. Captain Clutch is removed from the game, signaling the AL's desire to surrender.

9:21 pm: Joe Buck pushes George Steinbrenner for the Hall of Fame. Please. Any idiot could have spent all that money to win games. If he's such a great owner, what happened to the Yanks in the 1980s? Tim McCarver opines "it's never been easy for the Yankees." Poor Yanks, I wish the Royals had $5 billion to spend on players. I don't want to use money as an excuse for the Royals' problems, but let's be honest. The Royals and Yankees are not on an even playing field. Steinbrenner could have helped that, and he would not.

9:28 pm: Josh Hamilton singles to center before Buck can start in on his amazing backstory. Undeterred, Joe talks about Hamilton's background through most of Joe Crede's at-bat.

9:34 pm: The AL still can't score, leaving Hamilton at second base to reflect on his past. 2-0 NL after 6.

9:39 pm: With Joe Nathan in, Jonathan Papelbon begins warming up. Sigh. Perhaps next year the Royals' representative will get to play. Hoping the token Royal gets in the game makes me understand how my parents must have felt when I was in Little League.

9:47 pm: Justin Morneau leads off the bottom of the 7th with a double that just gets past Corey Hart. Must resist urge to make hacky "Sunglasses at Night" joke…

9:53 pm: J.D. Drew homers to right to tie the score! Maybe The Mexicutioner will get in this game after all. If that happens, I will take back all the bad things I have said about J.D. Drew. To be fair, most of them were said in my bad Boston accent as a joke.

9:59 pm: Papelbon was surprised that Yankee fans were mean to him last night? Does he not understand that he plays for Boston? Oh, and does he not understand Yankee fans are idiots? To prove my point, those fans start chanting "Mariano" at him. Imagine how mad these morons would get if Rivera pitched the 8th and Papelbon got a save opportunity...

10:02 pm: Adrian Gonzalez hits a fly ball just deep enough to get Miguel Tejada home for a 3-2 lead. Tejada had stolen second and gone to third on a bad throw by catcher Dioner Navarro. Things are looking good for the NL to get their first win in this game since 1996.

10:19 pm: Grady Sizemore singles with two out in the 8th, then steals second. Evan Longoria follows with a double, and we're tied again at 3-3. But Justin Morneau can't bring him home, and we go to the ninth.

10:27 pm: With one on and one out in the top of the 9th, Terry Francona brings in Rivera. There are only three pitchers left in the AL bullpen, and one is a starter (Scott Kazmir).

10:32 pm: Strike-em-out/throw-em-out double play ends the top of the 9th. Will a Yankee get the win in the final All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium? ESPN and Fox hope so, I'm sure.

10:38 pm: I have to admit, Buck and McCarver haven't been nearly as annoying tonight as I thought they would be. Maybe it's just because it seems like the Fox games we've had here in KC this year have mostly had different broadcast teams, so my tolerance for these two is higher than normal.

10:40 pm: J.D. Drew comes up with two out and no one on in the 9th. If you hit a home run here, J.D., I'm afraid I will have to take back taking back all the mean things I've said about you.

10:42 pm: Extra innings! Drew strikes out looking to end the 9th.

10:46 pm: Soria is warming up!

10:51 pm: Rivera gives up back-to-back hits, putting runners at 1st and 3rd with one out. Dan Uggla has a chance to be the hero.

10:53 pm: No dice, Uggla. Rivera induces the double-play grounder.

10:57 pm: Now Uggla kicks a grounder, letting Michael Young reach leading off the inning. Proving it's not a fluke, he then lets Carlos Quentin's grounder get under his glove. 1st and 3rd, no one out. Your All-Star Game MVP, Dan Uggla!

10:58 pm: Aaron Cook intentionally walks Carlos Guillen to load the bases. It doesn't look good for The Mexicutioner getting in this game.

11:00 pm: Grady Sizemore up. I'm trying to figure out how to tie-in a joke about Uggla, who graduated from the University of Memphis, and the national championship game. This is a delicate subject because The Amazing Michelle went to Memphis. I like sleeping in a bed. Maybe I'll just let this joke go.

11:01 pm: Sizemore wisely hits it to Uggla, but this time it's caught and turned into a forceout at the plate.

11:02 pm:
Longoria up. This seems to be Tampa Bay's year. Let's see…

11:03 pm: Nope, he grounds into another forceout. Now the bases are loaded with two out and Justin Morneau up.

11:04 pm: Morneau grounds out to Tejada, who makes a terrific play on a slowly-hit ball. On to the 11th!

11:07 pm: Here we go! Soria enters the game, facing Adrian Gonzalez. Please do well, Joakim. I don't want to hear about how the Royals shouldn't have a representative because it's not fair he might help decide home-field advantage in the World Series when the Royals have no hope of getting there.

11:08 pm: Gonzalez singles to left. David Wright at bat.

11:09 pm: David Wright is Mexecuted!!!!! Cristian Guzman up. Not to jinx it, but Soria should blow this guy away.

11:10 pm: Guzman flies to center. Corey Hart up. Now Corey, when I was voting for Jose Guillen in that Final Vote thing, I voted for you in the NL. Be kind.

11:12 pm: Hart flies out to right. This Royals fan breathes a sigh of relief. Now let's hope the AL gets a run.

11:15 pm: Ian Kinsler leads off with a single.

11:18 pm: Kinsler is gunned down trying to steal second. Fox has a great replay showing he should have been safe. When this game ends up a tie, this play might end up being big.

11:19 pm: Dioner Navarro walks.

11:20 pm: Drew singles, Navarro to second. That call at second hurt.

11:22 pm: Now that call really hurts, as Michael Young singles but Navarro is thrown out at home by Nate McLouth. Carlos Quentin hits with two out and the winning run at third.

11:24 pm: Quentin grounds out. On to the 12th.

11:27 pm: Top of the 12th, Soria still on the mound to face the Cardinals' Ryan Ludwick.

11:28 pm: Soria walks Ludwick.

11:29 pm: McLouth attempts to sacrifice, but Morneau's throw to first is late. Here we go.

11:30 pm: Russell Martin bunts the runners to second and third. One out.

11:31 pm: The first blithering idiot in the media who says it's not fair that a Royal decided the All-Star Game is getting my fist in his nose.

11:31 pm: Soria walks Tejada intentionally to load the bases for Uggla. This is officially the longest game in All-Star history, time-wise. Somebody remind me of this the next time I decide to try one of these diaries.

11:32 pm: Soria buckles Uggla's knees with a curveball for strike three.

11:32 pm: Francona calls on George Sherrill to face Adrian Gonzalez.

11:36 pm: Sherrill strikes out Gonzalez. Soria is off the hook for the loss. Now, please score a run, AL, some of us have to work in the morning.

11:39 pm: Carlos Guillen doubles to left to lead off the bottom of the 12th. If the AL, can't score here, I may have to give up on this here diary.

11:40 pm: Sizemore grounds to second, moving Guillen to third. Longoria is up.

11:43 pm: Longoria strikes out. Morneau is up and will get an intentional walk. Ian Kinsler is up next. I feel dirty, I am about to root for a Missouri Tiger to do well.

11:45 pm: You can take the boy out of the Missouri Tigers, but you can't take the Missouri Tiger out of the boy. Kinsler grounds out to end the inning.

11:50 pm: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

7:00 am: I see on SportsCenter that the AL won, 4-3 in 15 innings. I have learned a valuable lesson tonight: Do not do a running diary unless you do not have to work the next day.