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.
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.