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

...you 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: http://www.shutuptimmccarver.com/. 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.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Nothing Is Better, Nothing Is Best

...Take heed of this and get plenty of rest.
(From "Nothing Was Delivered," The Basement Tapes)

Nothing is better than a walkoff homerun. So of course I missed David DeJesus's game-winner Saturday night, due to a family commitment. Silly family, get your priorities in order! Just kidding. I can only hope it won't be three more years until the next Royals' walkoff. Yes, that sums up recent Royals history nicely. Last walkoff homer--April 19, 2005.

On a side note, DeJesus's development this year is definitely one of the bright spots in this season. He has already set a career high in homers, and could have his first .300 season this year. He has also provided his usual solid defense and had played all three outfield positions, without complaining about being moved. And he does this for a relatively paltry $2.5 million. He has the highest OPS+ on the team (122), even better than Jose Guillen. Of course, this is the Royals we're talking about, so there has to be a black cloud for this silver lining. That would be David's age, 29 in December. Since most players peak between 26-29, it would seem that David will be declining over the next few years. This doesn't mean he won't be valuable in those years, but it is something the Royals will hopefully consider if they receive trade interest for DeJesus. If KC is really aiming for contending in 2010, it might be more helpful to receive a prospect who will be on the upswing then. I would prefer to keep him, because he is a fun player to watch and there is not a readily available replacement for him.

In today's game, it's too bad Trey Hillman apparently started his All-Star break early. Up 2-1 after the 6th, Hillman let Kyle Davies start the 7th. I have no problem with this move. Davies was pitching well. But after the tying run singled with two outs, it was time to bring in Ron Mahay to face lefty Jeff Clement (or whichever pinch-hitter was summoned; Mahay is effective against righties, too). Instead, Davies surrendered a homer to Clement. That would be .165-hitting Jeff Clement.

Trey, this is simple. You have a lead after 6 innings. Mahay. Ramon Ramirez. Joakim Soria. Win.

So when the Royals scored in the 8th, that should have made it a 3-1 game. Then the 9th inning's misplays (dropped popup, botched rundown) would not have mattered. Instead, they led to a loss to the AL's worst team.

So here we are, at the All-Star break. Due to a scheduling quirk, the Royals do not play again until Friday. That seems like a long time away. But the players deserve some time off, and I hope they will be able to come back and keep the weekend's momentum going. On the bright side, KC hits the break outside the AL Central basement, one game ahead of Cleveland. And at last year's ASB, the Royals were 38-50, 15 games back. This year, they are 43-53, 12 games back. So there has been a little improvement.

Fear not, loyal readers (both of you). I am planning to blog about the All-Star Game. Perhaps this year the Royals' representative will actually get to play.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Game Is The Same

...it's just up on a different level.
(from "Po' Boy," Love and Theft)

The Tampa Bay Rays are on a different level than just about anyone in baseball right now. They have the best record in baseball and are four games ahead of the mighty Red Sox.

This is a remarkable change from their short, brutal history. Since their inception in 1998, the Rays have managed to reach the modest 70-win mark only once. That was 2004, also the only time they did not finish last in the AL East.

Since 1998, the Rays and Royals have shared the role of American League doormat. Sure, the Royals had a brief, shining exception in 2003. But that only made the ensuing disasters sting more.

As a baseball fan, it is exciting to see a new team emerge in the AL East. Especially the ultimate underdog, the traditionally cash- and talent-poor Rays. As a Royals fan, it is heartening to see another young team rise up. But as a Royals fan, it is also a little frustrating to watch the Rays continue to rise in the East.

While the Rays were pasting the Royals last night and shutting them down tonight, I began wondering why my team was not the one in command of their division. Why my team was not the one being fawned over on Baseball Tonight, why my team was not thinking about the playoffs.

Questions like those are why God created baseball-reference.com. Using their draft records, I was able to see why Tampa is having a dream season. The Rays have built on a foundation of wise drafting, some good trades and a sprinkling of smart free agent signings.

I looked at the Rays' starting lineup, as listed on bb-ref, plus the next four position players with the most at-bats. Also, I looked at their starting rotation and two key relievers. The Rays have five players and two pitchers who were first-round picks at one time (not all by Tampa). They also have a second-round pick and a sixth-rounder. The rest are from the middle or late rounds, and three players were not drafted (international players who signed as free agents). By comparison, the Royals have three position players and three pitchers who were first-round picks.

Obviously, being a high draft pick does not ensure future success. But I think it is fair to expect that most first- and second-round picks will contribute something at the major league level. It is certainly difficult to win without those draft picks succeeding. The Royals had terrible drafts in the late 1990s and early 2000s, culminating in the 2001 disaster, when KC failed to pick a single valuable major leaguer in 50 picks.

The Rays supplemented their drafted core with some good trades, including one in which they traded a former first-rounder (Delmon Young) for a solid young starting pitcher (Matt Garza) and their starting shortstop (Jason Bartlett). Of course, the biggest deal they made was swindling the Mets out of ace pitcher Scott Kazmir, a swap which makes the Royals' Ambiorix Burgos-for-Brian Bannister deal look fair. Also, the Rays acquired catcher (and possible All-Star) Dioner Navarro, outfielder Gabe Gross and relief pitchers J.P. Howell and Dan Wheeler via solid trades.

Finally, the Rays had success finding veterans on the scrap heap. Closer Troy Percival, 1B Carlos Pena, DH Cliff Floyd and reserve Eric Hinske all could have been had by anyone. Now they are all important cogs in the Rays machine.

What lessons can the Royals learn from Tampa? Well, I believe the drafts have gotten better in the last couple of years. Unfortunately, those players will probably take a few years to be major league contributors. Dayton Moore has shown an ability to improve the team through trades, although not all of them have been winners (J.P. Howell for Joey Gathright looks bad now). And while Moore's big-name free-agent signings have been at least solid, he has not quite had the knack for adding the no-names that Tampa has shown. Incidentally, that was one thing Dayton's predecessor, Allard Baird, was actually good at (see Raul Ibanez, Paul Byrd, etc.).

Perhaps the main lesson is that it is OK to trade those former high picks to fill needs. Acquiring Bartlett and bringing up Longoria solidified the Rays' infield. While it's true defensive stats are sometimes misleading, TB's shortstops have increased their range factor from 4.00 last year to 4.21 this year. The third basemen have gone from 2.38 to 2.74 and their fielding percentage has risen from .975 to .979. This has obviously helped the pitching. Through 85 games last year, Tampa had allowed 517 runs. Through 85 games this year, that has fallen to 340. Meanwhile, Tampa's offense has been almost the same, 397 runs last year to 408 this year. Defense and the pitchers who benefit from it are why Tampa is having a great season. If the Royals are offered a trade for one of those high draft picks that would improve the defense, they should definitely be willing to listen.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight

...Yesterday's just a memory/Tomorrow is never what it's supposed to be
(from "Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight," Infidels)

When Tony Pena Jr. hits a home run, the Royals need to win that game. TPJ's bat has been a toothpick this year. KC can't afford to waste any offensive contribution he manages to give.

So it was slightly aggravating when Kyle Davies fell apart after receiving a 3-0 lead. OK, highly aggravating. OK, I unleashed a string of bad words.

Sometimes, though, strange things happen. Things like a 7-run inning from one of the worst offenses in the AL. Things like two nearly perfect innings from Joel Peralta, who has devolved into a mopup man this year.

Of course, there were also the things Royals fans have come to expect this year: perfection from Ron Mahay and Joakim Soria to close out a win.

The Royals needed this one badly. KC entered this series with a less-than-sterling 6-22 record against the Orioles since 2003. With four in Baltimore, four in Tampa (how 'bout them Rays? Best record in baseball!?!?) and three at home against the White Sox, I feared the Royals would undo all the good they accomplished in interleague play in less than two weeks.

If we learned anything about this team the last few days, it is that they have a resiliency that we haven't seen around here since 2003, at least. In previous seasons, a sloppy loss like last Sunday's home debacle against St. Loo or Tuesday's disaster in Baltimore would easily beget a double-digit losing streak. Instead, KC rallied for a win Monday, almost pulled one off Tuesday, and then got a nice win tonight.

While this is likely a function of simply having better players, I think a portion of the credit should go to Trey Hillman. I've ripped him before in this forum, but now I come to praise him for apparently creating an environment where this young team believes they have a chance to win. That's an important first step.

The End Is Nigh

Tony Pena Jr. just hit a home run.

I will now be in the basement, awaiting the apocalypse, which is apparently extremely fracking nigh.