Month: April 2009 (Page 1 of 2)

R’s – Good First Month

Well that was more like it. Taking three out of four from the team that entered the series with one of the best records in the league does not suck at all. And the way it happened did wonders for my confidence as a fan.

The big news, of course, was the bats coming alive. Seven, 11, and eight runs in the three wins. Sure, they threw an old school, feckless, one-run game out there on Tuesday, but these are still the Royals we’re talking about. Billy Butler busting loose, John Buck thinking he’s Willie Wilson, Wee Willie B setting things up, and Alberto Callaspo continuing to rake were the difference makers. For a lineup that just last weekend seemed about as unimposing as one of those college teams that the MLBers trot out in spring training as ceremonial punching bags, it was quite the rebound.

The three wins show how close this team is to being a legit contender. All it takes is a couple guys providing good at bats and the runs will come. With this pitching staff, putting up 3-4-5 runs will be enough most nights. Put the ball in play, get on base, advance the runners, make smart decisions on the bases. It’s simple.

So they end April 12-10 and in first place. You can quibble and say they should be at least 14-8 with some smarter bullpen management. But it’s difficult to complain after some of the Aprils this franchise has offered up in recent years.

I have realized one shocking thing from watching most of the games this season: Coco Crisp might have the worst arm in the history of outfielders. I knew he had a minus arm, but most of his throws are brutal. I saw one this week where he came in on a shallow drive, Aviles went way out to get the relay, and Coco still bounced the ball to him. We’re talking about a 50 foot throw, too. Not some heave from the warning track. Dude must have really torn that thing up at some point. It’s depressing watching runners on first fly straight to third anytime the ball is hit to center because they know there’s no chance they’re going to get gunned. In a tight game late, I wonder if the Royals will pitch away/ inside in hopes of producing pulls or opposite field shots just to keep the ball away from Coco and the extra base he’s going to guarantee.

On to Minnesota.

 

The Going Gets Weird

The President is telling us to wash our hands and cover our mouths when we sneeze and cough.

The state health commissioner here suggests that we no longer shake hands, but rather bow to each other or bump elbows in greetings and goodbyes.*

Wacky wild times we’re living in, friends.

(What’s that? Bumping elbows? Is that like the fist bump the Obamas shared on national TV last year? Oh God, the terrorists really have won!)

We have a friend who was supposed to go to Cabo this weekend. She called for advice from S. on what she should do. After they talked, we talked over what we would do if we were leaving this weekend rather than two months from now. The last time I checked the outbreak map, Cabo seemed to be clear, and we have a relative that was in Mexico a couple weeks ago who came back fine. So we are both confident we could make it in-and-out ok. We agreed, though, we wouldn’t want to bring anything back and give it to either L. or a few other relatives who have compromised immune systems. We also talked to one of our friends who is traveling with us in June. I liked the way she summed it up:
<blockquote>”Hopefully things will get better by then and we can still go. But I’ll tell you one thing for sure: I’m going somewhere nice on June 15.”</blockquote>
<a href=”http://danielhernandez.typepad.com/daniel_hernandez/”>This is an interesting blog</a> that’s been linked to by a couple others that I read. If you’re interested in reading the view from Mexico, you might bookmark it.

 

Mixed

I’m more excited about the weather than I was last week. We had four very nice, if windy, days in a row. Even had to kick on the AC. It’s going to cool off a bit, but at least we’ve gotten into proper April temps.

I’m less excited about our up-coming trip to Mexico than I was a week ago. I’m hoping this flu scare blows over in a few weeks. But I’ve read <em>The Stand</em> and I know <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randall_Flagg”>Randall Flagg</a> is out there somewhere. Thank goodness for trip insurance.

 

R’s – Buzzkill

Man do the Royals know how to ruin what should have been a perfectly successful weekend. Last week it was the Farnsworth-offered bomb to lose in the 9th at Texas.* This week it was two pathetic offensive efforts after one of the greatest pitching performances in team history to begin the series with Detroit on Friday.

(Of course, it appears some slack is due to Trey Hillman, with the announcement Friday that Joakim Soria has some shoulder issues and is on the shelf for a couple weeks. Still, Farnsworth should not have got the ball last Sunday.)

Which is a shame because Friday was truly magical. Zack Greinke pitched what may have been the best game in Royals history since Bret Saberhagen’s no-hitter in 1991. Another complete game, 10 Ks, three hits, and only an unearned run crossed the plate.

I was struck while watching the game with how dominant Greinke has become. I remember his crazy genius days in his first couple years in the bigs, when he would throw all kinds of insane pitches. You never knew what he would throw next, which was both a weapon and a curse. Even when he was on, you never got the feeling that he was imposing his will on the batters. It was more a combination of great skill and bizarre choices that was throwing the hitters off.

Friday, though, he looked as masterful as anyone this side of Pedro in his prime. There was nothing Detroit could do to get to him. He was the only factor in determining who would win that game. Even watching on MLB.TV with the volume low to avoid waking any kids, you could feel the vibe in the stadium. As Bob Dutton wrote for the KC Star, there was a feeling this was the moment when things were changing for the Royals. They finally had a dominating player again. Indeed one so dominant that he could single-handedly change the fortunes of the franchise.

I was at a lot of games in the late 90s and early 00s, when the team was the inverse of the current one: tremendous hitting and no pitching. It was fun to watch Damon, Dye, Beltran, and Sweeney go out and mash every night, even if that meant they were losing a lot of 9-8 games because the endless string of Next Great Pitchers who came up from Omaha and Wichita were woefully unprepared for the bigs. There was always a sense of hopelessness with those teams. Even if the arms arrived one day, we thought, it would be too late and by then all of those players would have moved on to big money teams on the coasts. That ended up being true.** Of course, it ended up taking a decade for the arms to arrive.

(Except for Sweeney, that is. Remember when we were pumped that he signed the extension to stay? If only it had been Beltran instead of him.)

The difference between now and then is the margin for error. Back then, the Royals needed a whole fleet of arms. The starters sucked and the relievers sucked more. Now, though, it’s easy to imagine adding a couple legitimate bats to the current lineup and turning the team into a division winner. Greinke is good enough to make you believe those days are right around the corner.

And then Saturday and Sunday rolled around.

Blech.

Davies had a rough night on Saturday, but his overall numbers weren’t awful. And Ponson actually pitched fairly well on Sunday, dropping his ERA nearly two points in the process. But a combined ten hits and three runs over the two games meant the Royals have now lost five of seven, are back to .500, and in second place.

Three weeks into the season, when the flukiness starts to go out of the numbers, the offense looks like it is reverting to anemic rather than taking a leap many of us had hoped for. The team ranks 10th or worse in the AL in runs, hits, stolen bases, walks, average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. Other than Teahen, Callaspo, and Crisp, I don’t have much confidence in anyone to give the team smart at bats.

Listening to batter after batter either strike out or weakly ground out over the weekend sucked some of the magic of Friday night away. Knowing Soria may be less than himself for the rest of the year and that we won’t see Gordon back on the field until July doesn’t inspire much confidence, either.

But Zack pitches again on Wednesday and maybe he’ll be good enough, again, to bring back some of that hope.

R’s – Return To Glory

What a return to the bigs for Brian Bannister. Since he was so unimpressive in Arizona, we can’t think he’s going to be this lights-out every outing. But holy crap will the Royals be difficult to beat if he can consistently offer six innings of quality pitching.

Alberto Callaspo is a throwback. He reminds me of the Tony Muser Royals who hacked at everything early. Not sure what’s got into him, since he has generally been a patient hitter, but he sure loves him some first pitches.

Turning the double play has been problematic at times this year. I’ve seen the pivot man drop the ball on the exchange at least three times this year. And they haven’t made it easy on the first basemen at times.

On the other hand, I’m becoming increasingly comfortable with Billy Butler at first. He made a couple nice plays bailing out his infielders tonight.

Ryan Lefebvre toes the company line. He offered these two comments during The Mexicutioner’s appearance.

“The Royals have not had a true Joakim Soria situation in that period.”
“After missing eight games and nine days…because of no true save situations….”

THAT’S OLD THINKING, RYAN. FREE YOUR MIND, BURN ‘THE BOOK” AND ACCEPT THAT A CLOSER CAN GET MORE THAN THREE OUTS ON OCCASION.

Loved the effort from Wright in the 7th and 8th, and then seeing Soria stroll out to close things down. Not the best conditions to make your first appearance in that long – cold and rainy probably isn’t conducive to finding yourself – but he still kept the shutout, and more importantly the win.

I found a downside to MLB.TV: no local postgame show. Every game I get teased about the Boulevard Post Game Show that’s coming up after the game. Sadly I have neither a Boulevard nor access to the show.

8-6, still in first, Meche going tomorrow with an extra day of rest.

 

Unspoken Perils Of Catholic School

The preschool at our church is in a building separate from the main church built specifically to house the kids. The class for two year olds, however, is in the main church. So every Monday, when it’s C.’s turn to go to class, we drop off M., circle around to the church, and I walk her inside.

Yesterday we walked into the church and C. was her normal chipper self, jumping and cheering in anticipation of seeing her teachers and friends. Thank goodness she was distracted. We turned the corner to head to her room and parked in the sitting area next to the hallway was an open casket that was, err, occupied. I guess that’s what the hearse out front was for.

I hustled C. down the hall before she noticed and started asking questions. I was thankful she’s way too short to have been able to see inside. Then the questions would have been very interesting.

I’m assuming they don’t run into this problem at Kindercare.

R’s – Bad Announcing

I pretty much gave up on tonight’s game as soon as Fat Sid let the Indians recapture the lead in the third. As I was washing dishes, sweeping, getting laundry going, etc., I heard the Indians start to put the Royals away. Good decision.

I did hear an epically bad comment from Bob Davis, though. I’ve never been a very big Bob Davis fan, despite listening to him do KU games for 20+ years. So it’s not like I cut him any slack. But, as he and his partner (I still don’t know the other Royals radio guy’s name) were talking about the weather in Cleveland tonight, Bob said, “Would you look at that flag in right field!”

Apparently Bob has forgotten that he switched from TV to radio a couple years back.

Oh, and I’m a fan of bringing Brian Bannister up and starting him tomorrow rather than Horatio Ramirez. Kind of odd timing, but I like the idea of moving out the starter who has struggled the most. That might get Fat Sid’s attention and we can chalk up tonight to his historic poor record in Cleveland.

 

Thoughts On Parenthood

A couple links related to parenthood.

First, a funny list by the father of a young daughter. I think about stuff like this all the time.

<a href=”http://a.wholelottanothing.org/2009/04/conversations-ill-someday-have-with-my-daughter-that-will-make-little-to-no-sense-to-her.html”>Conversations I’ll someday have with my daughter that will make little to no sense to her no matter how much I try to explain</a>

Second, I liked this post on ShysterBall about buying a son his first real baseball cap. It got me thinking about how I’ve not pushed my sports teams on my kids. Yet. They know about daddy’s Jayhawks, but they’re either told by their mother to give daddy some space when he’s watching KU, or the games take place well after they’re in bed. Both M. and C. have KU shirts, but they’re not in high rotation.

M. will ask me who I want to win when I’m watching a game, but that’s about as far as her interest goes. After reading the hat post, I wondered if the old gender double standard was coming into play. Would I be more active in pushing my teams on my kids if I had boys? Would I be pushing sports in general on them more than I’ve done with the girls so far? Probably, a little. But the girls have shown interest in Disney princesses and Barbies, and I’ve supported that habit,* so it’s not like I’m neglecting them.

(Admittedly reluctantly.)

By the way, if you like baseball, ShysterBall is a must read each day.

<a href=”http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/shysterball/article/carlo-and-the-caps/”>Carlo and the Caps</a>

R’s – Gut Punch

Baseball is a funny game. You win some. You lose some. Sometimes it rains. Or something like that. As the only major sport that features series during the regular season, it also offers something unique to the game: a team can win a series, but if they blow the finale in spectacular fashion, it can seem like they actually lost the series.

Sunday I was only able to casually follow the Royals game. I got stuck on the couch with a sleeping baby and my iPhone in the other room, so I watched most of the Indians-Yankees game* on TBS and followed the score there. We ate dinner and S. took the girls upstairs to get baths and I fired up MLB At Bat to listen to the end of the game. The first words I heard from Bob Davis were: “Kyle Farnsworth in to start the ninth for the Royals.”

I should have turned it off then.

(Best thing about the economic meltdown? All those empty seats in prime locations at Yankee Stadium. I bet the Boss ain’t loving that, assuming he’s lucid enough to notice, of course.)

I said last week I wasn’t going to jump all over Hillman for decisions yet, figuring the players and manager all deserve some time to settle in at the beginning of the season. But if you have the best closer on the planet, and he hasn’t pitched since Wednesday, why in the hell doesn’t he come in during the eighth, when his bullpen compadres are pissing away Kyle Davies’ solid starting effort? So much for the outside the box thinking he promised.

And shoving Horacio Ramirez in when pretty much everyone in the baseball world assumed the Royals wouldn’t need a fifth starter until May is curious as well. Especially since he’ll be pitching against Cleveland ace Cliff Lee.

You don’t want to overreact to early season moves, but Trey’s not exactly building himself a reservoir of good will.

The rest of the weekend was fine. Two more great starts from Meche and Greinke. The offense busted loose on Friday. If the Royals lost by one on Sunday in any manner other than a walk-off offered up by Farnsworth, there was a lot this weekend to be happy about. The team has won 2-of-3 in three of their four series so far this year. That’s how you win divisions.

But now they get an off-day, then go to Cleveland, who may be finding themselves, and are running Ponson and Ramirez out for the first two games. Suddenly we’re looking at Meche taking the bump on Thursday hoping to keep the Royals from falling below .500.

Baseball is funny like that.

Sam Mellinger has <a href=”http://royalsblog.kansascity.com/?q=node/292″>already said</a> what I said far better and with more numbers and stuff.

Ed: Popular subject.
<a href=”http://joeposnanski.com/JoeBlog/2009/04/19/sunday-night-thought-of-the-week/”>Joe weighs in</a>.
<a href=”http://www.ranyontheroyals.com/2009/04/another-injury-to-overcome.html”>And Rany as well</a>.

 

R’s Off Day Respite

Finally an off day, so seems like a good time to take a look at the team and what they’ve accomplished thus far.

Truly a bummer that Alex Gordon is going under the knife. I sent an angry e-mail out Tuesday night suggesting he might need a stint in Omaha in the hopes it would kick start his career the way it did for Mark Teahen in ’06 and Billy Butler last year. To his credit, he hit two balls very hard on Wednesday, just at people. And now it looks like he’s going to be out awhile. I’m anxious to hear how serious the injury is and how soon he can be back on the field. Just another frustrating chapter in the story of his big league career.

I apologize for saying nice things about Kyle Farnsworth. He clearly isn’t one to take praise well, since he blew up again Wednesday. He’s eating up roughly 70% of the total money being paid to the bullpen. It’s not too much to expect mediocrity, is it?

He has a history of biting those that believe in him in the ass, but Fat Sid hasn’t been awful. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect a 4.50 ERA for the entire season, but if two of every three starts are in that neighborhood, you can’t complain about him filling a back-of-the-rotation spot, especially at his salary.

One of the great things about the age we live in is the abundance of resources for following the teams you like, regardless of where you live. There are dozens of blogs to follow even a traditionally crappy team like the Royals. The downside is every game is hyper-analyzed, and the second-guessing of the manager can be over-the-top. I’m not smart enough to know all the numbers that go into the arguments for who belongs behind the plate, at first base, and so on. But I am willing to give Trey Hillman some leeway for the first month of the season. I’m hopeful he’s using this month as extended spring training, in a way. Measuring the performances of his various parts in games that count in big league stadiums. I hope he’s smart enough to make changes, if warranted, as the season progresses.

That said, I know there have been some injuries, but it really bums me out that Tony Pena Jr. got two starts this week.

I know who Willie Bloomquist reminds me of: Jerod Haase. Both have that laudable quality of never, ever giving up on a play. And both also have the annoying habit of sometimes going too hard, and hurting their team in the process. Maximum effort is great, but sometimes 80% is the smarter, safer play.

So 5-4 through the first nine, tied for first. Not the ’84 Tigers, but exactly what they need to do to stay in the race through the summer. This weekend they head to Texas which will be a fine test for their big three starters. The Rangers hit the crap out of the ball. But they also don’t have much pitching and the ballpark is conducive to run scoring. Perhaps the Royals’ bats will heat up.

 

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