Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Banny's Wild Night and A Scare

So Banny went seven strong allowing only a single to Adam Lind. Oh. And there were the six walks. I'll not say too much about this statistical oddity (apparently he throws a no-seam fastball and the ball was slipping a lot on him, but he didn't care too much since its movement was unpredictable) other than that he'll likely not be too successful if he were to carry that 2:6 K:BB ratio (or 3:8 on the season) through to the rest of his starts. Still, his WHIP does sit at a mere 1.00 and his ERA rests at 0.69 through 13 innings of work, and so far his wildness seems to have actually worked in his favor as hitters continue to struggle to get good wood on his pitches.

I will say that the Royals' pitching staff's newfound propensity for giving up free baserunners is starting to concern this fan. The walks allowed are starting to really mount up lately, and these extra base runners are going to start killing this team as the season drags on.

The Royals actually managed to get some runs on the board, seven to be precise. Of course, the following day, the offense is once again nowhere to be found. In the past week, they have made Zach Miner, Armando Galarraga, and now Scott Richmond look like world beaters. At least they are drawing some walks... It's just that those walks aren't turning into runs because the Royals aren't actually hitting the ball.

Not that this is the biggest concern today, as Gil Meche left with two outs in the fourth after giving up five runs. Meche struggled with control for his second straight start, this time the lack of control manifested itself in walks rather than troubles with pitch location as fatigue set in--which is what seemed to happen in Cleveland last Thursday. A control freak (his K:BB going into the game was 25:4), Meche walked an astonishing five batters in his 3 2/3 innings. His five walks went along with seven hits. He struggled to keep his pitch count down (he threw more than 30 pitches in a laborious second and had 83 pitches when he motioned for the trainer and took himself out of the game). Earlier in the season, he had complained of back stiffness, which Yahoo is saying caused his early exit, although there seems to have been no word sent up to the booth yet. In the eighth, Lefebvre confirmed that it was lower back stiffness, so hopefully a little rest gets him back to normal.

Hopefully this is just back stiffness, which I believe Meche has dealt with early in the season for spots since coming to Kansas City. So far there have been no trips to the DL, let's hope it stays that way because the Royals cannot make it without an effective Gil Meche.

If anything encouraging happened today, it happened before the game, when Soria had another bullpen session.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ponson, Number Four Starter

If there is one thing that you can expect from a Sidney Ponson start, it is that you should prepare for the unexpected. Despite hanging a breaking ball to Brandon Inge early which was promptly deposited over the fence, Ponson had great movement on his pitches today. He worked efficiently against the respected Tigers lineup, allowing six hits and zero walks in eight innings pitched. Yes, he gave up three earned runs, but he really only got hit hard on the Inge homer. Ponson exited after the eighth having thrown 101 pitches, in the process striking out seven while throwing a mere 28 balls.

Had the Royals managed a modicum of offense today, Ponson would have gotten the win he deserved. Instead, finding themselves facing the third sinkerballer in three days, the Royals struggled to score runs, despite drawing six walks. Much of that had to do with the four hits the Royals managed against the Tigers staff, three against Galarraga and one a solo shot off of Fernando Rodney by the previously ice-cold Mike Aviles.

The Royals offense simply is not scoring enough runs to win consistently. This weekend they also had the misfortune of facing pitchers heavily reliant upon sinking two-seamers* with the wind blowing out. Ponson, also a sinkerballer, performed well today and the wind effect was marginalized as a result, but flyball pitcher Kyle Davies got hit very hard, surrendering two two-run shots in his start. While the Royals had a shot this afternoon, Davies's flyball tendencies left the meager Royals offense without a puncher's chance.

*Great pregame with Frank White, by the way. As a result of the HD-less nature of some of the recent Royals broadcasts, I've been watching some of the opposition's broadcasts out of HD-dependence. Frank White is worlds better than the other color commentators out there. Rick Manning in particular seems shockingly ill-informed, knowing very little about the other teams, and the Indians are in-division. He has repeatedly referred to Kyle Davies as Kyle Davis, which is simply ridiculous, and he asserted that Hochevar didn't pitch well enough in spring training to earn a spot over Horacio Ramirez. The Hochevar bit I can understand because who really gives a damn about Spring Training stats and you have to talk a lot over the course of a broadcast, but "Davis"? He can read the roster sheet, right?

I would imagine the wind won't be blowing as hard later in the summer as the jet stream moves further north neutralizing weather systems fairly significantly, but early signs post renovation are sort of scary for Davies if this wind creeps up again on the day of one of his starts.

Kyle, Stop it. You're scaring me.

I intend to keep this short, as there will surely be another entry later today.

The early inning issues on display in Kyle Davies's previous start were present from the second inning on. He was not hitting his spots, and his pitches were getting tagged. Nevermind that Jose Guillen took a leisurely stroll to get to the Josh Anderson "triple" in the sixth--I know there is catcher's indifference on stolen bases, but when the right fielder is casually trotting to a gapper, can that be scored differently as well?--that ball was hit hard by a guy with middling power.

I would say that the Royals are lucky in that none of the competition in the Central is playing particularly well to set themselves apart, but I have to say that I do not like the Royals chances of holding onto a share of first place this afternoon with Sidney Ponson taking the mound. If he gets shelled, I guess we have a certain call-up of a certain #1 pick to look forward to. If only the bullpen were playing as well as we all thought it would be heading into the season...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

ZacK GreinKe: The Best Post-Game Interview in Sports

After yet another dominating performance, I have to say I don't think I've ever had the pleasure of watching someone have complete control over the outcome of the game as Zack Greinke has thus far in 2009. There is only one way to describe what he has done so far this season. It can be said in one word: Dominant.

The month of April has almost come and gone, and Zack Greinke has one start to go to make it through the month without having allowed an earned run.

He has had his way with nearly every batter he has faced. If not for an unfortunate throwing error tonight (and while I certainly like to dole out blame, I'm not actually going to blame Aviles here), Greinke would be carrying a 43 inning scoreless streak into his next start.

He has now pitched two straight complete games. In the two games combined, Zack has allowed a total of ten hits and walked one. In 18 innings. He has back-to-back 10 strikeout games. At no point this season has there ever been a doubt as to whether he could pitch himself out of any jam he got himself into, but in these past two starts, the jams have been few and far between.

So, after four starts, his ERA sits at 0.00. After four starts, he has struck out 36 in 29 innings of work. His WHIP, if my calculations are correct, is 0.86. He is 4 - 0. And in this young season, he is the early front-runner for the AL Cy Young. If he doesn't get that honor, at least we have more post-game interviews to look forward to.

Here's to hoping that they need to lower the mounds next year, but only for when Zack is pitching. Dominance is pretty sweet to watch.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Is This The End?

First, Guillen. All right, maybe that's not crippling...

Then, Alex Gordon.

Now, Joakim Soria is unavailable to pitch this weekend with shoulder soreness?

According to Dutton's column, there has been no revelation of structural damage, so that's an encouraging sign, but this is not good. Hopefully, Trey has figured out that Juan Cruz is their next best reliever because I am very afraid right now.

An extended trip to the DL means that I am biting my nails at the end of every game, hoping that the starter is going nine.

Worse, and I'm pencilling the Royals in for out of contention in the division, and I think the deficiencies of the bullpen thus far would support the contention that I am not overreacting here.

Defense? Where?

Rather than focus on another bullpen implosion, I am going to focus on the defense. The general consensus is that the best defensive second baseman on the Royals is Willie Bloomquist. In the eighth inning of the final game against divisional foes, the Cleveland Indians, Alberto Callaspo, he of limited range and dubious glove, was sitting in the game to help protect a one-run lead with Gil Meche on the mound. I don't have a problem with letting Meche come in and try to get through the eighth, but why not equip him with the tools he could need to win.

Yes, Alberto Callaspo is one of the hottest bats on the Royals. I get why his bat should be in the lineup.

The problem here is that in the past week, while his bat has been hot, he has misplayed at least three fairly routine grounders in the past week all of which have occurred at vital times in the game, two of which arguably kept the opposition in the game to burn the Royals for a come-from-behind win.

Maybe Callaspo had come up too far on the grounder he fielded in the eighth yesterday to be able to turn two, but with one out and runners on the corners, Callaspo was unable to get a grounder into his glove that could quite possibly have gotten the Royals out of the inning with a lead. Remember, it was the slow Travis Hafner on first, and Asdrubal Cabrera is surprisingly slow for a middle infielder, so a double play is on the table.

Yet, for the second time this week, Alberto Callaspo found himself manning second base in the late innings, where he proceeded to blow a playable groundball that ultimately cost the Royals the game.

At this point, Willie Bloomquist has played second in exactly one game. He was sitting on the bench last night (Maier finally got the start in right), available to come in as a defensive replacement in the eighth with a lead. Granted, Callaspo was fourth in the order in the ninth, but after a relatively brutal week with the leather (that web gem no-look flip hardly outshines the otherwise abysmal week at second) wouldn't you rather take the chance with the best second baseman on the team stepping onto the field? No one even needs to be shifted (something Trey Hillman may not even be aware is a managerial option in Major League Baseball). Moreover, while Bloomquist may not be great with the bat, he's not TPJ '08 (or Mike Aviles '09) bad. You have these players on your team to be able to align yourself best defensively. Is it going to take Jose Guillen's return to get you to play Bloomquist at second? If that's the case, what is stopping you from doing that now? You've had Mitch Maier, who was tearing it up at Triple-A, cooling off on your bench for a week now, while you could have had a versatile piece on your bench (who is much more valuable to the team in one of those super-utility ways where he can come in for five different guys in the late innings if he has to) coming in to do what you had Mitch Maier and his eight at-bats in six games doing. Trey, you have defensive replacements to be defensive replacements.

And while I'm harping on defense, both John Buck and Miguel Olivo have been brutal so far. I'm roughly recalling four runs scoring on passed balls/wild pitches. Another scored yesterday on John Buck's throwing error trying to catch the runner at third. When baserunners are stealing third on you, there might be a problem, John. We do have a third catcher on the roster. Would it be wrong to see if maybe he can't do better defensively? I know you want him to pinch-hit in the eighth only to leave him on the bench afterwards despite his versatility that is said to be so valuable, but with the defense of Olivo and Buck costing the Royals a run or two a series (if not more) it can't hurt to see what Brayan can do. It's hard to imagine someone being worse than these two have been so far.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Welcome Back, Your Dreams Were Your Ticket Out

Yesterday's loss was not exactly the most palatable, so I refrained from spewing venom, electing to relax and not ruminate on the loss. It was the first bad Ponson start. I'm willing to cut him a little slack, since his first two starts were not horrible. Five years ago, this incarnation of Sidney Ponson would have been the staff 'ace', so these are steps in the right direction.

Moving on.

I didn't see any of the first four innings, but Brian Bannister looked good in the fifth and sixth innings, so he couldn't have looked any worse in the first four. Six scoreless. Besting the reigning Cy Young Award winner. Giving Gil Meche (who had shown some loss in velocity towards the end of his outing in Texas, as an astute commenter--I think over at Ball Star--had pointed out earlier this week) an extra day. All of those were positive aspects of Banny's first Major League start of the 2009 season. It appears as though Horacio's damage may be limited to one start, also, and this has to be viewed as a phew moment. If he makes his way back into the rotation, it will likely be out of necessity. Let us all hope it does not get to that point.

Jamey Wright pitched well out of the pen. Hell, anything less than a bullpen meltdown is welcome at this point...

And then there was Jack. He pitched out of a jam, thanks in large part to another motherfucking passed ball, to get the save. Nice K, but where have those 1-2-3 saves gone dear Mexicutioner?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

#1 Defense?

So I am watching the HD feed of the Indians broadcast, and they said the Royals have committed the fewest errors in baseball (and of course, because most broadcasters pay little heed to other defensive metrics, and really, it can be a little difficult to rate a defense as a whole to be fair). Now maybe watching these Royals day-in and day-out makes this harder to believe, but I was shocked.

Granted, the Royals are the Major League leader in strikeouts as of Sidney Ponson's strikeout in the first tied Atlanta at 112 (the Braves have played one more game than the Royals and are in the middle of a rain delay), and his strikeout of Asdrubal Cabrera moved them ahead at 113 in the second inning. To add to the obscene strikeout totals, the Royals had walked the third fewest batters in baseball heading into action tonight. More strikeouts mean fewer chances on the field and fewer walks put less pressure on the defense, but the Royals sit at a mere four errors, which still doesn't feel like enough.

Obviously, they have been recipients of some fairly kind scorekeeping with quite a few iffy defensive miscues not having been ruled errors. There have also been occasions--two separate Callaspo plays come to mind from Sunday's game: the grounder he knocked down ranging to his right, and the feeble attempt to tag the lead runner, both of which were in the horrible eighth--where the Royals poor execution has cost them dearly.

There is also the inexplicable defensive lineups that have featured their best defensive second baseman garnering six games played in right to his one game played at second. Mike Jacobs has played fairly poorly at first, but his lack of range (and for that matter, Bert's as well) doesn't show up in errors. Weird little hiccups like Butler jumping off first to catch a ball that could be caught without jumping and missing out on a double play doesn't show up (and, yes, I know that play was irrelevant because Billy had an unassisted double play the next play).

Passed balls/wild pitches have also felt more prevalent this season. At least twice, runs have scored on passed balls--in the first tonight, and in the first at the K on the Sunday game against the Yankees two weeks ago.

To be sure, the Royals are not the only team to have had gaffes that were not ruled errors, but are they the best defensive team? I find that hard to believe.

Regardless, Brian Bannister will need that Number One defense tomorrow when he starts in the slot Horacio Ramirez was supposed to take before Doug Waechter's elbow strain landed him on the DL. Ramirez thankfully remains in the bullpen.

Monday, April 20, 2009

One More Start for Horacio

If we are to take anything from Trey Hillman's statement about Horacio Ramirez starting to give everyone rest, it is that he is batshit crazy, and his baffling mismanagement of the bullpen on Sunday lends credence to this theory. But as Bob Dutton stated, it seems as though the Royals are setting things up in Omaha for either Hochevar or Bannister to come up and join the team over the weekend.

Banny was limited to two innings of work Sunday afternoon in a pre-determined limiting of his pitch count. Hochevar was mentioned in Dutton's article as the possible (and logical) candidate for the rotation, but that his current schedule put him on track for a start on this coming Saturday, when that rotation spot was initially going to open up.

Either are obviously preferrable to Horacio Ramirez, but from a management perspective, it would probably make more sense to call up Banny (who was solid when I saw him on pitch this week) first in the hopes of delaying Hochevar's arbitration clock by doing whatever they can to leave him out of that Super Two echelon of players. Every little bit helps here, and there is always hope that Bannister can recapture some of that 2007 magic.

Is it too soon to hope that they just call both up and jettison Horacio Ramirez and the Evil Kyle Farnsworth? I tried to remain open-minded, especially about Farnsworthless, but as long as either one is on the roster, Trey Hillman can misuse them, so they probably need to go.

Does Frank White still want that managerial job he interviewed for?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Blown

Infield defense unravels (Why was Bloomquist not subbed in at second when TPJ entered the game?), and fucking Kyle Fucking Farnsworth gives up a fucking walk-off because of course he should be in the game/on the team/in the majors.

Fuck!

Davies Scare

The first two innings of the final game in Arlington had me very worried about Kyle Davies. In the first, he walked in a run on his last of four walks in the inning. He was absolutely unable to throw strikes until he struck out Taylor Teagarden looking to get himself out of the first. Then in the second, the smoking hot Ian Kinsler eviscerated a ball, driving it deep to left. I was starting to wonder if this was the Davies of old, having mysteriously forgotten how to pitch.

As I start this post, he has righted the ship and has retired 11 of the last 12 batters he has faced since the Kinsler bomb with one out in the bottom of the second. His 30 pitches in the first likely will limit him to five innings, as his pitch count sits at 96 after five innings, but the ease with which he has plowed through the last three innings, maybe Trey lets him come out in the sixth.

More to come later, I'd imagine.

Rangers, Get In Line. You've been Greinked.

One of the drawbacks of living in Austin is that not every Rangers game is broadcast on Fox Sports Southwest. The Astros often find themselves televised in Austin over the Rangers, and Saturday night was one such occasion in which that was the case. Of course, the Royals broadcast was blacked out because they were the out-of-market broadcast of an "in-market" non-televised game. Luckily, the MLB Mix channel was feeding the Royals game through one of its eight boxes, so I got to watch the game (kind of) but it was like I was watching the game on a Game Boy.

So, not that I could see any movement on pitches or anything, Greinke thoroughly dominated the Rangers. A complete game shut-out featuring ten strikeouts running his scoreless innings streak to 34. The win ran his record to 3 - 0. He leads all of baseball with a 0.00 ERA. He is second only to Johan Santana in strikeouts, trailing him 26 to 27.

Perhaps the most striking peripheral stat on Greinke's line is that he is allowing a .345 BABIP, so hitters are actually getting lucky off Greinke right now. Obviously, this is a small sample size, but man alive is he dominating. When he gave up that lead-off triple to Hank Blalock, I thought for sure the streak was over, but he induced a grounder to third, holding Blalock to the bag, and proceeded to strikeout the next to batters. He really has it all going on right now.

Perhaps the funniest part of the day came in the post-game when Greinke stated that he didn't know about the scoreless streak. How can you not love this guy as a Royals fan?

Even if Davies comes back to earth, Meche and Greinke have imposed their will on hitters thus far, and the one-two punch at the top of the rotation is to be feared.

As Rany stated heading into this start (can't remember if it was the radio show or the blog), it is now time to grease the wheels for the Zack Greinke for AL Cy Young bandwagon because it is about to get underway.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Who Doubled?

There really isn't a lot to say about a 12 - 3 blow-out. The Royals got to warmer climes, faced a green pitcher, and feasted on him. More importantly, they worked counts, hit to the opposite field early and often, and actually drove in base runners.

The most pleasant development of this early season has probably been the patience of Mike Jacobs. He has three walks and three home runs early. Sure, he has struck out a ridiculous 10 times in 35 plate appearances and three of those were today, but he also has all three of those homers this week. His first week was marked with poor swings, but this week he has looked good. He is starting to justify the acquisition (and my initial openness to the idea). He has also been working counts in non-walk plate appearances. Last season, he saw an average of 3.68 pitches per plate appearance. Heading into the first game against the Rangers, that number was up to 4.38. Obviously, we're dealing with a small sample size, but I can live with Jacobs (as a DH) if he's attempting to work counts and smacking the shit out of the ball once or twice a game.

Miscellany:

Meche seemed to be struggling a little with command getting deep into counts more often than I feel comfortable, but obviously his effort was good enough and he worked out of the jams he created for himself.

Callaspo's flip to Aviles was pretty sweet to say the least.

Teahen should go 5-for-6 every game for the rest of the season. It'd make his and our lives easier.

Not going to bother talking about Horacio Ramirez or the hopefully atypical outing from Doug Waechter after such a ridiculously lopsided game.

And it only took Willie Bloomquist six games in a Royals uniform to get an extra base hit. Is a home run to follow?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Day to Reminisce

With the Royals enjoying a day off, we fans have been allowed an extra day to bask in the glow of the sunlight of Spring optimism.

Sitting in a tie for first-place heading into the second weekend of the season is nice. For the most part, the pitching has been top-notch. The rotation has looked solid four pitchers deep. Sir Sidney looked good against the Indians Wednesday and was serviceable in his start against the Yankees. Davies has picked up where he left off last season, and his less dominant second start was marred by a handful of suspect defensive plays in his support. Regardless, the Royals are 2 - 0 in Davies's starts. Gil Meche and Zack Greinke have performed to all expectations, which were very high to begin with.

Their bullpen has been mostly overpowering (more on that in a second). Soria has had two uncharacteristically rocky outings, but he remains a perfect 4-for-4 in save opportunities. Juan Cruz has looked like the best free agent middle reliever on the free agent market this past offseason. Robinson Tejeda has looked particularly filthy. Doug Waechter has been effective, as has Jamey Wright, who I declared was "Triple-A fodder" during spring training, laughing off the idea that he would break camp with the team. Sorry, Jamey. If it's any consolation, I am glad you're proving me wrong.

The most frustrating part of this young season has undoubtedly been Kyle Farnsworth. The Royals have four losses to their five wins, and Kyle Farnsworth has had a hand in two of those losses. In his most recent implosion, he allowed one run while in the game and left with two runners on, who scored on a hit allowed by Ron Mahay (who hasn't exactly been lights-out either). In their opening day loss, Trey Hillman's usage of Kyle Farnsworth was criminal, with Trey bringing the Professor in to face the top of the White Sox order in a close game and when he got into trouble was allowed to face Thome, who has shredded right-handed pitching for the past 15 years.

In the most recent loss, Hillman brought Farnsworth in to begin the seventh inning of a tie game. Granted, we would all like Trey to only use Farnsworth when the Royals had a ten-run lead, but he had used Juan Cruz for two-innings the night before (not that Cruz would have pitched in the seventh, but the bullpen was weakened by Davies's inability the night before to get through the sixth), and Hillman only allowed Farnsworth to give up one run while in the game. Part of the onus for the second and third earned runs in the seventh rests on the shoulders of Ron Mahay, who allowed those inherited runners to score. As for the balk, what the fuck, Farnsworth? Not cool. Welcome to the Official Shit List of Royalscentricity, Farnsworth. You're currently the only person there. Enjoy the penalty box; you have some work cut out for you if you want to make it out of there.

Now the Royals head off to face the formidible lineup of the Texas Rangers, with Alex Gordon taking a seat next to Jose Guillen on the disabled list, and he is requiring arthroscopic surgery to repair some torn cartilage in his right hip. Without a time table on his return, Mitch Maier will make the long trip from Round Rock (where the O-Royals have been playing the Express) to Arlington to join the club. He had been tearing it up at Triple-A thus far (enough to warrant two intentional walks when I saw them Tuesday) and luckily gets eased into things by facing what amounts to a Triple-A pitcher in Matt Harrison Friday night. Moreover, Gordon had looked absolutely horrible at the plate since his return to the lineup, so not having his bat in the lineup right now is not the worst thing in the world, as he probably wasn't healthy to begin with.

It is a little worrisome to head into a stadium where the home team's offense has been firing on all cylinders, but the Royals do have Meche, Greinke, and Davies going this weekend. They're matching up against Matt Harrison, Kevin Millwood, and Vicente Padilla, respectively, and you have to like those matchups, even if you're biting your nails to the quick at the prospect of facing the likes of Hamilton, Kinsler, and Cruz in what has been an atrocious park for pitchers to throw in thus far this season.

If there is solace to be taken from the trip to hitter-friendly confines of the Ballpark at Arlington (fuck whatever corporate sponsor bought the naming rights), it is that Mike Jacobs seems to be swinging the bat well now, and if Buck (the new best friend of Royalscentricity) can maintain his momentum, there are at least two guys who should enjoy hitting in Texas for a weekend.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Banny Update, Eating Crow, and Lubanski!!!

My Tuesday was even more chocked full of Royals action than it usually is, as I seized the opportunity to see the Omaha Royals play the Round Rock Express and then came home and watched the tivoed Davies start (which was unintentionally recorded on the STO HD feed, which did enable me to watch that interminably long game in a much shorter amount of time).

In Round Rock (a shitty suburb of Austin--which doesn't really have suburbs like most cities its size--for those not in the know), I walked in to find Brian Bannister toeing the rubber, a pleasant surprise to say the least. I watched from the left field bleachers, so pitch location and movement were not things I could accurately ascertain, but Banny's control seemed to be there, as 60 of his 96 pitches went for strikes. He allowed three hits and zero runs, earned or otherwise, on his way to seven innings pitched. He did only strike out four, which was not impressive, but there weren't many well-hit balls, so perhaps he has resigned himself to having to fall back on inducing weak contact and letting the defense do its job.

Mitch Maier got good wood on a double, and drew two intentional walks, the first puzzlingly coming with two outs and a man on third in a 1 - 0 game, and a switch hitter in Tommy Murphy coming up after him. Clearly the Express did not want to face Maier, who was only one-for-three, but is hitting .429.

Carlos Rosa came in and blew the save in the Royals 2 - 1 loss. In the eighth, a long Edwin Maysonet drive glanced off Chris Lubanski's glove as he was about to step on the warning track, putting Maysonet on second, who was driven in two batters later by Yordany Ramirez. Lubanski's blown play on the warning track was difficult enough to not be ruled an error, but that earned run was certainly a hard-luck one.

In the ninth, Rosa began to get hit hard again (and the Maysonet double was hit hard, to be sure), and before a second out could be recorded the Express were walking off the field victorious.

As for the Kansas City Royals game, despite some dubious defense behind him (Callaspo's blown over the shoulder catch, Aviles's throw in the dirt that got by Butler at first, a hot grounder or two that were too hot for Butler to handle) Davies escaped with a win. It seemed like Davies was nibbling at the corners a lot and the strike zone was a little smaller tonight than his last start. The patient Indians drove his pitch count up, and Davies exited with two down in the sixth, handing the ball over to Tejeda (who probably should have face the Indians in the seventh with as nasty as his stuff was) whose first called strike seemed low and in a place that many Davies pitches were called balls but prompty bailed Davies out. Juan Cruz was then extended for two innings, despite running some counts up a little.

And then there's John Buck, who I was perhaps prematurely hard on (positively no pun intended there) Sunday after he failed to throw out Brett Gardner stealing second and struggled to corral a Meche wild pitch with Gardner on third, leading to an entirely manufactured run in the first. Buck's work with the lumber in his at-bats thus far this season pretty much necessitate his inclusion in the lineup as long as Olivo continues to go up there and wildly rear back and swing without even seeing the ball. The three dingers Buck has socked in three games this season are too much for the offensively starved Royals to ignore right now. It is no coincidence that the games in which Buck has played have been KC's two highest scoring games. He simply needs to be in there right now, at least as long as guys like Gordon go up to the plate and strike out three times (the walk he drew was a four-pitch walk if memory serves me correctly, and none of the pitches were close enough to have to lay off of) in a night.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Preseason Favorites

Now that the Royals are facing slightly more pedestrian pitching, I think a truer form of what we can expect to see is on display. Sure, the Royals are not going to put up ten-spots on the board every day, but this team would seem able to get to lesser pitchers, like Fausto Carmona*.

*Perhaps Royals fans would like to console themselves with the idea that Fausto is actually good, but Carmona's control has absolutely abandoned him. For someone without the ability to overpower hitters** (even in his solid 2007 campaign, he struck out a mere 137 batters in 215 innings), control issues are insanely destructive, and 2008 saw those issues come to the fore, walking more batters (70) than he struck out (58) in his 120 innings. Even his FIP in his impressive 2007 season indicated a high degree of luck was involved in his success, as it sat at 3.94 while he managed an ERA of 3.06. His BABIP in 2007 only supported that, as his .281 BABIP in 2007 corrected itself in 2008 (.297), which just happened to coincide with an astronomical rise in ERA and WHIP--5.44 and 1.62, respectively. Even his FIP of 4.89 in 2008 suggests mediocrity and not simply bad luck was largely responsible for his substantial backslide. Maybe his control returns, but that did not look to be the case this evening.

**See: Zack Greinke this evening, whose control was not always there, but he still managed zero runs allowed because of his domination when it mattered.

Carmona struggled with control all night, and the Royals were actually very patient, earning four walks, working counts full left and right, and driving his pitch count up to 106 through five innings. Unlike with Greinke (whose pitch count rose as he struggled with location, but at no point seemed especially hittable, as his nine strikeouts in five innings would support), Carmona was forced to work for every out. It seemed like Coco Crisp was especially diligent in his duty to get on base, drawing two walks off of Carmona, fouling off pitch after pitch until he got something he could let by.

The Royals patient approach at the plate led to a three-run first, and it was smooth sailing from there.

More importantly, the seemingly universal preseason favorites in the Central, the Indians, would appear to have fairly major issues with their pitching staff, which I certainly thought to be the case from Jump Street, as they were relying on Cliff Lee and a bunch of also-rans--and Cliff Lee was a year removed from being less than an also-ran. The Indians' solution to this glaring deficiency in the offseason was to bring in Carl Pavano to flesh out the rotation. Seriously? It didn't work for the Yankees in a very public way. (Note to Cleveland brass: You are not the Red Sox. You do not have the luxury of taking a chance on a pitcher or two, hoping for a rebound while your staff consists of almost-weres and has-beens. Trust me, I'm a Royals fan.) You should have signed another one of Alyssa Milano's exes if you wanted a chance to see her because she has long since forgotten about your new oft-injured third starter who requested to have a DL signifier stitched onto his jersey.

Maybe the Carl Pavano-led Indians prove me wrong, but I'd be surprised.

Back to the Royals, though, I hope these two control-challenged outings from Soria are merely byproducts of the cold and having to wear sleeves. That seems to have been the common denominator, but I don't know if I can take many more of these rocky ninths, but ultimately, he has Mexicuted nonetheless.

How about that slow curve, Jhonny?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Rollercoaster Sunday

As can be determined by the four posts today, today's game was a series of peaks and troughs.

Jacobs play in the field was less than impressive. It is a long season, so I am going to forgo getting upset about any individual offensive deficiencies, but one does have to hope that Jacobs will start to put some balls out of the park. That rip down the right field foul line was encouraging.

The Royals finally put some runs on the board, and a lot of that was thanks to John Buck, who maddened me enough in the first to fire off that first blog entry of the day. He drove in three runs today and had quality at-bats all day long. He certainly redeemed himself for his first inning gaffes behind home plate with his offensive output today.

Meche pitched better than his four runs allowed (three earned, although the boxscore on Yahoo! is saying that Meche had four earned which couldn't possibly be the case as Swisher scored on Jacobs's errorat first). The Yankees were not exactly crushing the ball, and there were countless at-bats in which Yankees hitters looked absolutely flummoxed. Swisher was utterly fooled by a curveball on a two-strike count. Cody Ransom looked lost at the plate all afternoon.

Juan Cruz pitched a one-two-three eighth to keep the Royals within striking distance. The Mexicutioner came in and struck out the side in the ninth to record the save, alleviating any slight concerns that may have arisen after the rocky save he recorded Thursday.

Their offense was oddly sparked by a two-out Billy Butler walk earned from Jose Veras, who struck out Butler the night before, followed by a Brayan Peña double scoring TPJ (pinch-running for Butler, of course. Then Bert Callaspo drove in Brayan and advanced to second on the throw home. With a one-run lead, Buck doubled home Bert, and there was your offensive rally.

If you had told me before the game that those five players would have been the key cogs in the Royals offensive machine today, engineering a come-from-behind win against the Yankees, I'd have likely laughed at you. But I don't care where the runs come from, just that they appear on the scoreboard.

And A New Goat Tosses His Hat Into The Ring...

Mike Jacobs, everybody!

Not only was he charged with an error leading to an unearned run, but the Matsui grounder that got by Jacobs seemed within the range of an adequate first baseman upon review with slo-mo replay, even with Jacobs playing at relatively shallow depth. Instead of at least getting the lead runner from his knees (Swisher had to jump to evade the ball mere feet away from a diving Jacobs) and possibly having a double play, both Swisher and Matsui scored, and Meche will likely be charged with a loss with four or five runs scored by these Royals seeming more and more to be a pipe dream.

So That Happened

Does John Buck read this blog during the game?

My argument remains the same, but that home run certainly helps his cause...

First Inning Frustration

After a first inning in which the throw on John Buck's attempt at catching Brett Gardner stealing second came in high and to the third base side of the bag and Buck is unable to handle a ball in the dirt allowing Brett Gardner to score from third, I cannot help but ask, why are they carrying three catchers? And more importantly, why did Buck get offered arbitration in the first place if Olivo (who can at least throw base runners out) was always going to be the starter?

I know I am not a pitcher, so I cannot understand the appeal of having a rapport with a catcher and liking the game he calls, but John Buck is just a lesser version of Miguel Olivo--who at least thus far has looked serviceable defensively, closing on fouled off balls with some pretty impressive speed from the catcher position. Granted, Olivo has zero patience at the plate and seems to care little about just putting balls in play, always swinging exaggeratedly for the fences but is that anything that Buck doesn't do?

The Royals are not scoring runs right now. They cannot afford to give one away in which a player steals second off of the only hit in the inning, steals second, advances to third on a ball in play, and then takes home on a wild pitch that Buck is unable to corral.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Meeting Expectations

Perhaps the crappiest aspect of the one-day opening day delay is that Gil Meche should have been starting this evening. I certainly feel bad for anyone who bought tickets for the second game at the New K* before last Sunday only to end up getting the gift of having seen Horacio Ramirez start.

*I actually missed yesterday's game as a result of assuming that since it was a Friday game, they'd be playing a night game. Stupid home openers. From what I can decipher, there was some dubious play on the field behind Ponson, and he didn't actually look that bad. Is this true?

In all fairness to Horacio, the Royals defense behind him was not exactly sterling. In the first inning, it seemed like Coco Crisp got a bad read on the first ball hit to him that ended up dropping for a hit, and then with two on defensive whiz kid* Wee Willie Bloomquist froze on a ball he too lost in that netherworld between the shadows and the glaring sun, having a two-out hit drop just out of his reach on the warning track. Both miscues were mostly defensible in the first, but later Willie Bloomquist tried to dive for a Nick Swisher-hit blooper in shallow right with Jeter on third, and Swisher ended up sliding into third as the ball got past Bloomquist in right. Swisher scored with ease, and the Yankees were granted three preventable runs thanks in part to the play in right of Willie Bloomquist.

*And, not that Bert is a defensive whiz, but it seemed like the single that squirted through the infield (I think in the fourth) between Callaspo and the bag was at least reasonably expected to be reached by the second baseman. Callaspo was at least two steps away, but that play along with his lateness at getting to second on the DeJesus single to shallow center were harrowing reminders as to how disturbingly slow he actually is. It was a long offseason, and we didn't really get to see much of Bert last year, but I was shocked at how slow he truly was.

Ramirez certainly is not without blame. The ball Posada hit in the first that drove in the first two runs, while playable, was hit to the warning track. Swisher did crush that home run ball in the fifth authoritatively. Hell, Cody Ransom got a hold of a ball that went just foul that looked like it landed about 25 rows back down the left field foul line. Ramirez was not able to get ahead early in the count and didn't work inside enough (although does someone whose fastball tops out at 91 have the luxury of being able to work inside and throw for strikes? probably not) to be effective.

We all knew this was likely to happen. A pitcher without an out pitch is going to struggle to get hitters out. If there is something to be taken from this start, it is that Monday's season opener being pushed back to Tuesday may end up getting Horacio dumped from the rotation sooner rather than later.

On the encouraging front, Robinson Tejeda flashed dominant stuff before struggling with control at the end of the seventh. Doug "Hannibal" Waechter (liking that nickname, Doug, even though Silence of the Lambs is a grossly overrated film) pitched well in the eighth and ninth as well. For the last 4 1/3 innings, Royals pitching returned to the lofty heights all pitchers not named Kyle or Horacio had reached thus far this season.

As for the offense, well, it didn't really show up. Again. Granted, this is maybe a little unfair. Thus far the Royals have faced Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, Andy Pettitte and now CC Sabathia. Of those pitchers, Buehrle is probably the only one who could be expected to give up more than five earned more than a handful of times this season. Pettitte and Floyd both have their shortcomings, but Pettitte was insanely unlucky last season (his FIP was 3.71 while his ERA ended up at an undesirable 4.54--this due in large part to his unsightly .339 BABIP allowed), and while Floyd's season was the antithesis of Pettitte's (BABIP of .268 in 2008 with an ERA of 3.84 to a FIP of 4.77--the fourth largest negatively connotated disparity between the two ratios of all pitchers in baseball last season) he has the capacity for being dominant, at least on occasion.

Maybe once the Royals bats get to swing at more pedestrian pitching the runs will come. For right now, though, all we have gotten to see is them being largely overpowered by opposing pitching, with the impression of improved patience not yet manifesting itself on the scoreboard.

That is not encouraging.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Kyle Davies: Savior?

Well, it wasn't without some anxiety (Joakim, I don't expect to have to hold my breath while you're on the mound...), but behind a great outing from Kyle Davies, the Royals' third starter, the Royals prevailed, taking their second of three from the White Sox at US Cellular.

Davies' start was very encouraging. He completely overpowered the White Sox. His 8 Ks in 7 IP were impressive, and as the game went on he seemed to have more control over the Sox. He did seem to get behind in the count early on, but that seemed to taper off as he kept on trucking. If Davies can continue to allow three hits and two walks per seven inning outing while allowing no runs, I think his name will likely be engraved on the Cy Young Award. In all seriousness, he may have been even more impressive than Meche was Tuesday afternoon.

If Davies seriously joins Greinke and Meche at the top of the rotation, then things are looking pretty good. Even with fairly strong pitching performances by the opposition (Danks was nothing if not solid today, although not as impressive as Davies and left after the sixth), the Royals top three starters outpitched the top three starters of the defending division champions (by virtue of tiebreak, I know). This has to be a good sign.

It's too bad Ponson's going to take all the wind from our sails tomorrow night...

Coco Crisp had a nice play on the warning track to go along with that Jenks pitch he ripped over the wall for the go-ahead two-run shot in the top of the eighth. Good game from him, and good late inning at-bats from off the bench by Callaspo.

Three games in: Who's leading the division?

That's right. The Royals.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

That's more like it

Great pitching was clearly the key here.

Greinke was absolutely lights out. Three hits and three walks allowed through six innings and a batter into the seventh. Seven Ks. It seemed like he might have been missing his spots here and there, but he wasn't hanging any pitches. Every single he allowed was relatively softly hit. Much of what he threw seemed to baffle the Sox hitters.

I also loved that he threw at Quentin twice. There was a point last year that it seemed like Royals pitchers simply wouldn't throw at players. Quentin notoriously stands on the plate, and his crouch is so aggravating to me personally, so Greinke hitting him is no surprise. If memory serves me correctly, Zack hit him at least once last year, too, because I seem to remember Zack incensing the White Sox twice last year (one time was obviously when he hit Swisher). Also loved Olivo walking Quentin towards first. Say what you will about his work behind the plate, but no one is going to fuck with Olivo. Having him as an enforcer is pretty nice.

Cruz was a stud for two innings, and there was a lot of movement on his pitches. If memory serves me correctly, no one got good wood on any of Cruz's pitches. What I'll be curious to see is what will happen on Friday or Saturday when Trey has both pitchers at his disposal and a lead to protect.

And Soria mexicuted the lot of 'em. Nothing new there.

I'm assuming everyone noticed that Mike Jacobs walked today. In two games, Jacobs has been on base twice, yet he has not recorded a hit. He has seemed a lot more patient at the plate than I had expected.

The Royals as an offensive unit on the whole have seemed to be working more counts. Despite all of the strikeouts today--and, yes, 13 Ks is more than I'm comfortable with even with Greinke on the mound--it has appeared as though even the freer swingers in the lineup have been watching more borderline pitches go by. Or maybe I'm fishing for something on far too small a sample size of casual observation.

Letting Scott Linebrink strike out the side, however, is a little depressing. It's Scott Linebrink, guys, not Bob Gibson on a higher mound.

Regardless, great win on great pitching.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Mostly Bitter Bittersweet Opening Day

There were certainly some encouraging things to be taken from Opening Day, but it is hard not to focus on the bad. Namely the eighth inning.

It surely is not fair to focus entirely on the eighth inning, as the Royals did not get the job done on offense. Leaving eleven men on base is not palatable under any circumstance. If you have thirteen baserunners and manage a mere two runs, much of the onus for a loss falls on the offense's inability to plate those baserunners.

But those two runs were enough until the bottom of the eighth when Kyle Farnsworth entered the ballgame. I was reticent to pile on the negativity before games had actually been played because it is far too easy to go all blowhard in the offseason and then have your words blow up in your face. I will gladly put The Professor atop the Shit List right now.

Kyle, I know you're reading this. I don't want you to stay on this List, Prof. This is what I need from you. Eight straight scoreless one-inning outings. Starting with your next outing.

Now, as for Trey opting for Farnsworth over Cruz or even Mahay, who had been warming up, I have to say I was immediately on edge when I saw Farnsworth on the mound. I understand that it may take a couple of weeks to get the bullpen sorted out (although, I could certainly have told your that Juan Cruz should have been toeing the rubber if he was available). Pulling Meche--who looked great, even in the inning he struggled on paper he wasn't missing his spots at all--on Opening Day coming out of the seventh with 91 pitches thrown is something I can start to understand, even with Alexei Ramirez looking foolish on that curve ball that struck him out to end the seventh. But if Farnsworth is trotted out there with every able-bodied pitcher at Trey's avail, it won't take long before I lose patience with his inability to manage a bullpen. If nothing else, Farnsworth's blown lead on a three-run homer after struggling to get anyone out (except for Quentin, who looked like a fool--and I'm not just talking about his bullshit batting stance that I hate more than anyone's in baseball) should signal very early to Trey that Farnsworth cannot be trusted in a game that tight.

I have to go back to work, but I should say that I was encouraged by the Royals' collective approach at the plate. Their patience did Mark Buehrle in early, with everyone working counts, especially Mark Teahen, who managed to get on base via a walk and a hit-by-pitch. More on that next time, hopefully*.

*Unless of course someone else chaps my ass off like Farnsworth did today.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Delaying the Misery?

So we've all spent this offseason on an emotional rollercoaster, reacting to the slightest bits of information and projecting entire alternate universes of events that contain Zack Greinke biopics, Mark Teahen growing a mustache and becoming roommates with Jeff Kent only to injure himself playing on his motorcycle in his driveway coming off an MVP season, Sidney Ponson strangling stray cats and punting infants, and Alex Gordon retiring to become a Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist and accomplished concert pianist. Or maybe that's just me.

The fact is without games we have projected our hopes and fears onto the preseason minutae that generally means very little. Just think of how certain we were that Ryan Shealy would be snatched up if not kept on the 25-man roster or the fear that accompanied our certainty that Ross Gload would somehow weasel his way into 350 plate appearances.

Given all this fretting over what this season holds for the Royals, perhaps the delay of the season opener is a good thing. After all, even the most negative of us Royals fans are holding on to a glimmer of hope driven by the perception of parity in the AL Central. One more day without implosion, without the utter destruction of all the hope that lies within our hearts, one more day without an intensely painful letdown that we have become accustomed to in April is one more day in which we can hold onto hope.

Maybe our hopes of a division title can be realized, but the most pragmatic of Royals fans have been bludgeoned into a state in which this does not seem likely, and a lot of things need to break right for our wishes to be fulfilled.

Now if only I can manage to stay away from anything in which I might see the score of the game until I get home from work.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Walking in Memphis

For roughly the past year, much has been made of walking (or a complete lack thereof) in the Royal Kingdom. In case you just crawled out from under a rock, the Royals were a bit deficient in the On-Base Percentage Department. They had the fourth-worst OBP in baseball last year--better than only Oakland, Seattle, and San Diego. All the talk coming from Moore's office was that Kansas City needed to commit itself to working counts, drawing walks, getting on base. Moore went so far as to nab Kevin Seitzer to be their hitting coach.

Then, they went off and acquired Mike Jacobs (he of the .299 OBP in 2008) and Coco Crisp--a career .331 OBP man--who was then expected to bat leadoff.

Now, I generally like to be largely dismissive of Spring Training numbers, but as I peruse the league leaders in bases on balls, I see one Covelli Crisp with exactly three names sitting above his on the Spring leaders in walks. In 82 plate appearances, Crisp has worked his way on base 14 times via the walk.

Perhaps more surprisingly, Mike Jacobs (who to be fair was very unlucky in 2008 in terms of BABIP when comparing it to both the Hardball Times' revised xBABIP figures release a few months back or simply in comparison to his career figures in that area) has drawn nine walks, which ties him for 29th in baseball this spring. This is the same Mike Jacobs who put up a shocking 36 walks in 513 PAs last season.

To be sure, both Crisp and Jacobs have faced their share of non-ML-ready pitchers, but the increased shows of patience have to be encouraging, especially after Jacobs assertion that as a power-hitter, his job was to put the ball in play, hard. Maybe this trend does not continue, but one can hope this signals a sea change in K.C.

Or Memphis.

Ass End of the Rotation

I could sit here and feign indignation at the fact that Hochevar was sent down today, but Sam Mellinger is definitely more plugged into the Royals machinations than myself and his explanation for the motives behind the move makes perfect sense to me.

Ponson needing to be on the big league roster before May 1st to avoid an opt-out clause kicking into effect necessitates his initial placement on the 25-man roster and in the rotation, at least for the time being. His presence with the big league club may not be desirable, but once he is sent down* he remains a warm body that can make a spot start in a pinch. I do agree with Moore's desire for organizational depth, especially insofar as having starters who are ready to step in and at least eat some innings up. I can stomach ten starts from Ponson if I have to. I think

*We do all think he'll get sent down, right?

The Ramirez rationale makes sense to me as well. While they may not be ideal for the rotation from a fan's standpoint, I do get keeping one's word to signees as being a good business practice for a team that already struggles to get players to sign with them, even after having put together the best offer. For that reason, Ramirez will likely get a chance to pitch his way out of the rotation, and sadly we'll have to sit through that for a while.

With the slightly arguable exception of Luke Hochevar (he's been fairly solid, but by no means dominating), there really hasn't been a candidate to authroitatively emerge for either of the final two rotation spots. If Ponson can indeed be sent down once his contractual criteria have been met, then I really don't see any way that a healthy Hochevar doesn't make more starts than Ponson.

Furthermore, I am not entirely convinced that the Royals are done acquiring pitching. Dayton Moore is nothing if not active in the pursuit of pitching. As rosters shake themselves out, potential acquisitions will make their way to waivers and the open market. The glut of Major League-ready catchers in the Royals stable also makes a trade plausible.

So, while we could justifiably take issue with the signings of this offseason (and really, we're just talking about Horacio Ramirez here because Ponson is a minor league deal that I still think is as filler moreso than anything else), the Royals are probably doing the right thing here given the lay of the land today, especially if it pushes back the arbitration-eligibility of Hochevar.

And, yes, I am wearing my Nikes in my black sweats with my phenobarbital-infused vodka, and I'm writing this from my bunk bed with my trusty plastic bag at my side.