Saturday, June 28, 2008

Yes, I Wish That For Just One Time

...You could stand inside my shoes/You'd know what a drag it is/To see you
(from "Positively 4th Street," Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits)

Dear Cardinal fans at the K on Saturday night,

You suck. You young ladies with the T-shirts calling the Royals "the best AAA team in the major leagues"--you suck. You drunken yahoos starting a "Let's Go Cardinals" chant during the Royals Hall of Fame ceremony--you suck. You stupid little kid hitting me in the head with the giveaway noisemaker and then banging two of them together right behind my right ear--your parents suck. You brainiac telling your kid the "AL has a designated hitter because they're afraid to let the pitchers hit"--you suck, and your manager apparently sucks too, since there's no rule requiring him to use a DH, so he could have had his pitcher hit all night. You fatass sitting on the stairs in your Pooh Holes jersey and blocking the way and then taunting my wife because your team just scored a run off Kyle Davies (whoo-hoo!)--you really suck.

Thanks for spending so much money here, though. And congrats on finally beating this team that you think is so inferior to yours. That makes you 1-4 against the best AAA team in the majors. Perhaps that means you are the best AA team in the majors.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Positively 4th Place

"You just want to be on the side that's winning…"

Well, who doesn't? For us long-suffering Royal fans, it's a nice change to be on the side that's winning. And it's a nice change to be out of the AL Central cellar, even if it is only by a ½ game over Cleveland.

I had planned to write about how nice it was to be out of last this late in the season for the first time since 2003, but then I discovered KC was actually in 4th in September last year. I had forgotten how close we came to holding off the White Sox. Perhaps we will have better luck holding off the Indians. Of course, there is so much baseball left that it is silly to get excited about that. However, all that baseball left—Saturday's game represents the halfway point of the season—brings up a question: Could the Royals actually contend for the division title?

Stop laughing. Entering play Thursday, KC was only 7 games out of first. That's close enough to dream. Let's assume KC continues playing well through this weekend and stays 6-7 games out. Just look at last year's division races: on July 1, 2007, the Mets were 4 up on Atlanta and 6 up on Philadelphia in the NL East. In the NL Central, the Brewers were 7.5 ahead of the Cubs. And in the NL West, San Diego was 1.5 ahead of Arizona and 8 ahead of Colorado.

So what happened? The Mets pulled a historic collapse in the final two weeks, and the Phillies captured the title. The Cubs won the division by 2 games. And the Rockies caught the Padres, won a one-game playoff for the wildcard, and ended up in the World Series.

Or go back to the 2006 AL Central race, when Minnesota was 11 back of Detroit on July 1, and ended up winning the division on the last day when the Royals knocked off the Tigers in Detroit.

Now, I don't want to get carried away. Deep in my heart, I know the Royals probably aren't really good enough to win the AL Central. The NL West, yes (KC would only be 4 out over there, and probably better, given how they've played against those teams in interleague play). But the AL Central is a tough division. The White Sox, who are giving up less than 4 runs per game, have underperformed their Pythagorean record by 4 games. They should be 46-31. The Indians, despite being in last place at the moment, have actually scored more runs than they've allowed. The Twins are always a good, solid team and the Tigers still have a lot of talent.

So what would it take for KC to win the division? The good news is that, as solid as the starting pitching has been, I believe that should continue, and possibly improve. I would argue that Gil Meche has been improving lately, and his numbers are still not where you would expect based on his career. I have no doubt that we are seeing the real Zack Greinke, and he is still learning and improving. Brian Bannister is probably about where he should be, although an improvement in his numbers is certainly possible. Luke Hochevar continues to improve, and last night's outing was his most impressive so far. The only concern I have here is Kyle Davies, who has mostly succeeded despite giving up more walks than strikeouts. That is probably not sustainable, but perhaps he can keep improving as well. The most exciting thing about this rotation is that Zack, Luke, and Kyle are all 24, so their primes are still ahead of them.

In the bullpen, I suppose we can't really hope that Ron Mahay and Ramon Ramirez can keep being this good. The Royals must hope that someone else will step up in middle/late relief to supplement these two. Perhaps when Leo Nunez returns, he can continue his solid work.

The bad news for KC's title hopes is on offense. Most of the recent surge can be chalked up to the hot bats of Jose Guillen, Mike Aviles and David DeJesus, among others. Guillen is probably going to cool off a little. DeJesus may as well. And Aviles, as much as I love him, is bound to cool off. Unless he really is the Second Coming (/dodges lightning bolt). On the other hand, even a cooled-off Aviles is going to be better than Tony Pena's Nightly Parade of Bad Hitting. If Billy Butler is called up soon and can apply what he's doing in Omaha, that would help pick up some slack. Another key would be if someone can convince Trey Hillman to keep Joey Gathright's noodle bat on the bench more. Joey's OPS+ is 48 (an OPS+ of 100 is average).

Look, I know this is more crazy talk. But indulge me. I have been a Royals fan for 25 years or so. This is the first time in the last five years I could make a case in late June that there was a chance for meaningful baseball to be played at Kauffman Stadium. And that, ladies and gents, should make all of us Royals fans smile. Maybe someday soon we will be on the side that's winning...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

It's Unbelievable, It's Strange But True

...It's inconceivable it could happen to you.
(From "Unbelievable," Under The Red Sky)

So, I wake up today, after a pleasant night at the K and a solid 5-3 win over San Francisco. I open the Star and am greeted by the following words of wisdom:

“We still (stink),” (Jose) Guillen says. “How about that? We still (stink), simple as that. We still (stink). You got it. If you want to know the truth, you got it.”

I was wrong about Jose. I thought it was a mistake when the Royals signed him, that he was a malcontent who was past his prime. Now it appears--after his memorable tirade, after he told the Star last week how happy he was after a KC win even though he went 0-4, and after he told the Star, "We still (stink)"--that Jose Guillen is a team leader. He is what this team needed: a fiery personality who will not accept shoddy play or poor preparation.

I loved Mike Sweeney. I never blamed him for getting hurt or for not blasting teammates; injuries happen, and by all accounts, Sweeney wanted to play. And it's not like he was surrounded by the '27 Yankees, or even the '80 Royals. But his personality became the team's personality, and I don't think that helped the dire situation KC was in the last few years. Now I am hoping that fire in Guillen becomes this team's personality. It seems like most of KC's youngsters are pretty quiet guys who could use a little fire.

So we were out at the K again today, and it looked like Guillen had an excellent point: "We still (stink)." Kyle Davies couldn't locate the postage-stamp sized strike zone, threw wildly on a pickoff at first, and couldn't get out of the second inning. The comedy of errors continued, with a bad throw from the outfield, a dropped popup that was generously scored a hit and two meek offensive innings against NL Cy Young contender Tim Lincecum.

What happened over the next 3 hours proved why baseball is the most fascinating of all our games. While the other major sports are governed by the clock, baseball is the sport where the only limitation is getting 27 outs, even if it takes all freakin' afternoon, like it did today.

Down 6-0, KC started chipping away, getting to within 6-3 after the fourth inning. However, the Giants were able to score four runs in the fifth inning, against the soft spot of the Royals' bullpen, the middle relief guys. So we packed up and headed home, as it was a warm day and we had spent a good five hours at the ballpark last night. Thus, we missed the second-largest comeback in Royals' history, an 8-0 run over the next three innings, more good relief work from Ron Mahay and Joakim Soria, and an unbelievable 11-10 win.

It appears KC's biggest pitching problem is that middle relief area. If the Royals' starter lasts into the sixth or seventh inning, we're in good shape. If the bullpen is involved in the fourth or fifth, we're in trouble. Yasuhiko Yabuta, or Ya-Brutal as I like to call him, is looking like a terrible signing. Jeff Fulchino hasn't done much impressive yet, and who knows about Carlos Rosa? Luckily, the rotation has been solid enough lately to minimize their workload, which is how the Royals will need to win until the offense is improved.

Up next, the defending NL Champion Colorado Rockies, who have had a terrible year but are playing better lately. It should be fun.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Odds and Ends, Odds and Ends...

Lost time is not found again.
(From "Odds and Ends", The Basement Tapes)

A few things I've been chewing over while enjoying a road sweep of the Royals' rival...

First off, Cardinal fans will undoubtedly point to Albert Pujols' absence as the main reason for the sweep. They have a case. But they should be more worried about their bullpen, if you ask me. Also, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick and Chris Duncan are all capable bats; their presence wasn't much help to the Cardinal offense.

Second, Brian Bannister kind of stole my thunder with his solid start Wednesday night. I had started kicking an idea around in my head. Given his career day/night splits (11-2, 3.48 ERA, .239 BAA in sunshine; 9-14, 4.66, .266 under the lights), I was prepared to offer a modest proposal: make Banny a Sunday/day game starter. Back in the days of doubleheaders and more frequent off days for travel, teams often used a Sunday starter. It seemed somewhat appropriate to me to try Banny in this role; he strikes me as a throwback type of guy--very intelligent about his craft (in Brian's case, very intelligent, period). It would take some juggling on the Royals' part, but this organization needs to try more creative problem-solving thinking than other teams with more money. In addition to juggling, the Royals would probably need a true swingman in the bullpen; now that Brett Tomko is thankfully gone, perhaps Carlos Rosa can fill that role, but I don't think the Royals are comfortable with him pitching meaningful innings just yet.

Looking at the schedule, if the Royals did this starting at the All-Star Break, Brian would start 7/20, 7/27, 8/3, 8/10, 8/16, 8/21, 8/31, 9/7, 9/14, 9/21 and 9/28. That's 11 starts; he would probably get 12 or 13 in a normal rotation. He could start in middle of the 10-day layoff in late August, too. He could also pitch an inning or two in relief in some of the longer stretches, if he were really needed. This would give KC the added bonus of being able to look at Rosa as a starter; let's be honest, we should have an eye on the near future, too.

I know this is a crazy idea. Brian's night struggles may just be a matter of small sample size. And it may not make sense to mess with the starting pitching, which has been the strength of the team so far.

Finally, I would like to say I believe the Royals are closer to being a good team than their record might indicate. Maybe the NL is weaker and therefore the Royals look better, but they have been playing some of the best teams in the NL. My summation of the Royals right now? They have the pitching to have nice winning streaks, but not the offense to prevent losing streaks. I believe that developing the offense is the next step to getting where we want to go. The pitching is already much improved from when Dayton Moore took over. The time to find some hitting is near.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Wild "Pitch"

I'm not sure why I feel compelled to answer this article. I mean, we in KC are blessed with an excellent sports section in our daily paper. Especially as baseball fans, when we get to read Bob Dutton's game stories, Sam Mellinger's features and blog, and the greatest columnist in America, Joe Posnanski. So why bother with an article from the "alternative weekly"? Well, it's wrong. The premise is wrong.

Royals-Cardinals is a rivalry. Kansas City-St. Louis is a rivalry. Sure, we may not be the Cards' main rival--that is and should be the Cubs. But they don't want to lose to KC. And we don't want to lose to them. It's definitely a stronger feeling than we have for say, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Orange County of California of USA of Earth.

Maybe it's a friendlier Midwestern version of a rivalry--no chants about Albert Pujols' sexual orientation, no chants about KC losing 100 games every year. But no mistake, it's a rivalry.

Why does the Pitch writer think more people will pay attention to these games than ones against the Giants or D-Backs? Sounds like a rivalry to me. As for the lack of meaningful games, the Giants and Dodgers are rivals. When was their last meaningful game? 1993, I guess, when the Dodgers knocked the Giants out of the playoffs in the last weekend.

Maybe I feel this way because, like most Royal fans, I am tired of hearing about how great Cardinal fans are. I know several Cardinal fans (heck, I married one) and they are all nice people. And it would be nice to live in a town where the local NFL squad is not Topic #1 on talk shows no matter how putrid they are. But give me a break. Royal fans are passionate about their team, too. The fact that anyone shows up at the K is amazing given how we have been treated the last 15 years. In 2003, when the Royals actually had a pulse, KC was a baseball town again. If the roles were reversed, I don't think the self-proclaimed best fans in baseball would be selling out Busch Stadium 3.0.

So yeah, I think this is a rivalry. The next three games mean a lot to me as a Royals fan. And next week's return visit is exciting. We have tickets for Saturday and I am looking forward to it more than just about any game this year. That's a rivalry in my book.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

So Happy Just To See You Smile

...underneath the sky of blue
(from "New Morning")

Smiles all around after the Royals scored 20 runs in two nights in Arizona. Twenty runs! Without a DH! Perhaps we should dump the DH and let Zack Greinke and Gil Meche hit...

OK, maybe not. It is encouraging that the Royals are scoring more runs lately. It's been overshadowed by the bullpen meltdowns, but starting with that brutal 9-8 loss to the Twins, KC has scored 89 runs in 18 games. That's almost 1/3 of their season total (273). Of course, thanks in part to the arsonists in the 'pen, the good guys are only 7-11 in that span.

But anytime you go on the road and win a series against a division leader, you have to feel good. The Royals have done that twice in two interleague series (Florida was in first when KC did it in May). Perhaps this will be a better building block than that one--it may help that the next stop is not Boston and Jon Lester's no-hit stuff.

I'd like to believe the Royals more closely resemble the team that got on the plane in Miami that night in May with a 21-22 record than the team that has gone 7-20 since. Yes, even after all we've seen the last few years, I guess I still have an optimistic streak. Or I'm not that bright...

OK, on to the first round of the I-70 Series. Should be fun, especially since we don't have to face that Pujols guy.

The Gimmick

OK, if you haven't figured it out yet, I'd better explain that I thought I could use this blog to pay tribute to two of my favorite things: the Royals and Bob Dylan. So far, all the posts about the Royals have used Dylan lyrics for titles. And of course, the very name of the blog is taken from one of my favorite Dylan songs.

So that's the gimmick. However, I do reserve the right to use lyrics from the Beatles or Neil Young, if necessary.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

You Took My Reality And Cast It To The Wind

...and I ain't never gonna be the same again.
(from "Never Gonna Be The Same Again," Empire Burlesque)

It was a beautiful night at the old ballyard. Pleasant temps, low humidity, nice breeze to keep the air moving. A decent crowd despite the lack of a name opponent or a giveaway of any kind. The Royals were getting some hits, scoring some runs and getting a good pitching effort from the 11 Million Dollar Man, Gil Meche.

And then the wheels fell off.

Ron "Mayday" Mahay, attempting to finish off his second good inning of relief, coaxed a grounder out of The Amazing Josh Hamilton. Shortstop Mike Aviles scooped and threw for the third out. Except. Mark Teahen dropped it. Simply dropped it.

What followed was a whirlwind of bad managing, bad pitching and bad luck. Rany Jazayerli has aptly described what happened, but I would like to add my thoughts. And hey, it's my blog!

First, when Billy Butler was playing 1B earlier this year, Trey Hillman never failed to bring in a defensive replacement for him in the late innings. The Royals know that Butler is not yet a good major league first baseman. So where was the defensive replacement for Teahen, who only recently started playing first?

Career games at 1B: Billy Butler 34, Mark Teahen 21.

This was Hillman's first mistake. To be fair, I did not think at the beginning of the inning that it would matter. But I'm not paid to think about these things. And it was hardly the most egregious error.

With runners now at 1st and 2nd, with switch-hitter Milton Bradley up and a lefty on deck, Hillman called on righty Brett Tomko, who was moved to the bullpen just two weeks ago. Sure, Bradley hits lefties better than righties. But David Murphy, the next hitter, kills righties this year (.314/.541/.899). Why not save Tomko for the start of an inning and keep Mahay in or bring in Jimmy Gobble?

So, on an 0-2 pitch, Bradley doubles to right. Now it's 5-3 Royals. But hey, still two out, no need to panic. However, you might want to warm up closer Joakim Soria, who has been nigh unhittable this year. Murphy, who never should have faced Tomko, singled to drive in Bradley.

Now Hillman makes a move. In comes Yasuhiko Yabuta. To face righty Gerald Laird. Yabuta has been Ya-brutal against righties this year. Laird promptly breaks his bat but singles to center. Pinch-hitter Chris Shelton singles in the tying run before Yabuta gets the last out.

For reasons known only to Hillman, Yabuta was allowed to start the 9th against the top of the Ranger order. Hillman got what he deserved—Ian Kinsler doubled to start things. Ya-Brutal managed to get an out, a grounder to second, but that put Kinsler at third. In comes Ramon Ramirez, who has been the Royals' second- or third-best reliever this year (Leo Nunez, on the DL, is the other effective guy). He strikes out Hamilton (who had a bad night). Then, after Bradley is intentionally walked, Ramirez uncorks a pitch that catcher John Buck whiffs on. The Rangers take the lead on the passed ball, the Royals can't score in the 9th, and defeat is once again snatched from the jaws of victory.

So where was Soria? According to this morning's KC Star, he had a slight tightness in his back. Plus, he had pitched in three of the past four games (the horror!) and Hillman didn't want to work him further.

Soria threw 18 pitches Monday against the Yankees. He did not pitch Sunday.

You want to give him the night off, or rest him as much as possible? Fine. Let him get the last out of the 8th and make Ramirez your closer for one night. Better yet, leave Mahay (who has been dependable) in to finish the 8th. The odds were still good that he would have gotten one out before giving up four runs.

This loss was eerily similar to the disaster that befell the Royals two weeks ago, when they blew an 8-3 lead with two outs and no one on in the 8th against the Twins. The scary thing for Royals fans is that it appears Trey Hillman learned nothing from his mistakes that night.

The primary mistakes that night? Putting Ross Gload, normally a first baseman (and a good fielder) in right field and leaving Teahen (who played right field last year and some this year) at first. Bringing in homer-prone Joel Peralta to pitch to the tying run, then leaving him in to face slugger Justin Morneau in the 10th. Not using Soria even for one hitter to stop the Twins' rally, because he had pitched two days in a row.

About the only good thing to say regarding last night's run of mistakes is, unlike that Twins game, they did not extend a long losing streak. But now the Royals have two more losses than they should. No one is arguing they would contend this year. But there is no excuse for losing that game last night, there is no excuse for losing that Twins game. And there is no excuse for repeating these kind of mistakes again.

At least the Gates BBQ was tasty.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking

...make myself a different set of rules.

I was going to fold this into my post about today's game, but I kinda got carried away with that one. Plus, these aren't really related thoughts. I wanted to weigh in on two recent developments in Royal land: the draft and the trade of Angel Berroa.

First up, the draft. Everyone knows the Royals have to have good drafts. They are never going to be able to purchase top free-agent major league talent. They will have to develop it. Of course, this means the Royals' eventual turnaround (please God, let there be an eventual turnaround) will take some time.

I'm no scout, but I am pleased overall with the Royals' 2008 draft now. Taking a player whose agent is Scott Bora$ and who reportedly will seek a $7 million signing bonus is another sign the Royals are finally willing to pay for talent in the draft. There was not one decision that got the Royals where they are today; it was a bunch of decisions, including drafting players who were not as good as others because they would sign cheaply. Today, I salute David Glass and Dayton Moore for being willing to find talent and pay it. Check back in 2018 to see if the Royals really did a good job, though.

Second, the Angel Berroa trade. In the glorious summer of 2003, it looked like KC had a long-term answer at shortstop, as Berroa ran away with the Rookie of the Year award. Sure, he struck out a lot, didn't walk and sometimes screwed up routine plays. But he hit 17 homers!

Then came 2004. Apparently AL pitchers spent the offseason watching tape of Berroa and realized they did not necessarily need to throw strikes to get him out. Angel never adjusted, and was finally, mercifully banished to the minors before the 2007 season.

(Not before running one manager out of town, though. I am convinced to this day that Tony Pena Sr.'s abrupt resignation in May 2005 was not due to the team's 8-25 record or his impending testimony in a divorce case, but to Berroa's inexplicable baserunning blunder in the 9th inning of that night's game. With the Royals down two in the 9th, Angel doubled to lead off the inning. When the next batter hit a routine fly to center, Berroa took off running and was easily doubled off. I think Pena decided he could not watch Angel play one more game.)

So Friday, the Royals traded Berroa to the Dodgers for nothing. Or close to it, an A-ball shortstop. Sure, the Dodgers were desperate for a body to play short while their regular starter recovers from an injury, but I like to think this is a positive move for the Royals. It's one less link to that fluke season of 2003. And it's one less link to the failures of 2004-2006. Plus, it removes the tempation to ever bring him back to replace Tony Pena Jr.'s toothpick bat. Dayton Moore said he thought Berroa needed a fresh start. I think the Royals needed one, too.

It's Hard Times In The City...

...livin' down in New York town.

Today's game is not actually technically over as I type this, but the Royals' offense has gone into shutdown mode since taking a 3-2 lead in the 3rd inning. Now down 6-3 in the 8th, it looks like another loss. Not much new to say about this one. It must be frustrating to be involved with a team like this, when you know the media will ask you the same questions they asked the day before and the day before that. What could Trey Hillman or any player possibly say after today's loss that would be different than yesterday's loss?

On the other hand, today's loss is merely a loss. Not one that sticks with you for days, like yesterday's brutal 12-11 downer. What sticks in my craw the most? Not the pair of blown 4-run leads, not Johnny Damon's 6 hits, not the blown lead in the 9th by the normally unbeatable closer Joakim Soria. No, my craw is stuck by the fact that the Royals' usually inept offense beat up Yankee pitching, especially longtime nemesis Andy Pettitte, for 11 runs. And still lost.

Yesterday was the first time this year the Royals scored 10 runs or more. The mark of a bad team is not being able to match up good hitting and good pitching. For the first 40 games this year, the Royals could not get good hitting to go with the very good pitching they were getting. Then they had a 12-game losing streak in which they could get neither. And finally, the one day they get great hitting, the pitchers (including two of the most reliable ones) could not get outs.

The Royals will attempt to get a split in this four-game series tomorrow. That would be a pretty good result, actually. Unfortunately, the pitching matchup doesn't look that promising--rookie Luke Hochevar against wily vet and longtime Royal-killer Mike Mussina. But hey, at least I have something to listen to at work.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


So I was thinking, what the world needs is another blog about a bad baseball team. In this case, that team is the Kansas City Royals. And so here we are.

A little about me, although I fully anticipate the only people who read this will be people who already know me. But in case any drunks google Bob Dylan lyrics at 3 am and find me by accident...

I am in my early 30s. I grew up in Topeka and now live in the Kansas City area. I have been a Royals fan since the early '80s, so I thankfully have some memories of the glory days to sustain me. I also root for KU, the Chiefs, Brigade, Wizards and, oddly enough, the Nashville Predators. So, except for KU, my mental trophy case is a little on the empty side.

That Predator fanship is thanks to my amazing wife, who introduced me to the glory of hockey. Yep, I was smart enough to marry a sports fan. That comes in handy when one of my teams does something stupid; it's always nice when your mate understands why you threw the remote at the TV.

Of all my teams, though, the Royals are still my favorite. I have come to look at them as a smoker might view cigarettes. I know they will kill me someday, but I am addicted and that is a hard habit to break. Let's face it, if 403 losses in the last four years haven't cured me, nothing will. As the man said, "It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you're gonna have to serve somebody."

So what I would like to do here is throw out some considered opinions about the Royals and hope you read them and think about them, then let me know what you think.