Saturday, June 30, 2007

Five wins in a row for the first time since 2003

In the past, it seems you'd almost expect, going into a game like yesterday's, that the Royals would do something to screw up all that sweet momentum. Things were going too well, and yes, with this team, historically speaking, there is such a thing as too well. With stopper/No. 2 ace Brian Bannister, winner of four of his last five, on the mound against a struggling Jose Contreras, loser of four of five, in a weekend homecoming, longtime Royals fans could be excused for thinking a disastrous loss was imminent. Around these parts, when life gets good, all it really does is put us on a tee for the real world to swoop down and smack the sense into us.

Ah, if only these were those Royals, programmed to believe last place is an inevitability. This year's version takes the extra base, gives up their bodies (two more HBPs makes it 51 for the season), executes gutsy pitches, and makes opposing managers regret keeping their starter in for too long (Contreras in the 7th? Seriously, Ozzie?).

Ozzie Guillen, alas, also had this to say:

"To me, what's the difference between last place and first place?" said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. "Maybe pride? Nobody wants to finish last, especially with the ball club we have. How much money we're spending with this ballclub, it shouldn't finish last."

Sometimes we too wish money could cure the world's problems, Oz. Of course, your expensive, shiny little ballclub is now clinging onto fourth place by a thread.

"I think it would be huge mentally. It's a small little mental hurdle," [Bannister] said. "To most teams, it probably wouldn't be that significant. But to us, I think it's a big deal. For a bunch of young guys playing their hearts out right now, I think it's a good short-term goal for us. The team's right here in front of us. It's a small little challenge for us to step up and win the series."

Alex Gordon, Shane Costa, Billy Butler... the future all came out and performed yesterday, two hits each... just like Joey Gathright, Esteban German, even Tony Pena Jr. And Zack Greinke, again, was brilliant. It's the fault of this blog to have neglected him too much this past month. He pitched 2.2 innings to collect the save. In his last seven appearances, he's given up just two runs, throwing more than an inning each time.

"Zack was outstanding again," said manager Buddy Bell. "He was really efficient. He looks like he's having fun. I'd have fun, too, if I had that kind of arm with that kind of stuff."

20,525 came out for the two-hour, 33-minute game last night. I only wish I were in the city. Someone who was there want to share what it was like?

UPDATE: Ozzie Guillen on Zack Greinke: "One of my favorite pitchers."

Friday, June 29, 2007

Caps off dance off

I don't usually get overexcited about a Royals promotion -- okay, that's not true, I get overexcited almost every time there is a promotion -- but these are just too good:

Are you bald? Do you sport constant bed head? Bad haircuts pretty much a guarantee? Not happy with the latest dye job? Is too much gray seeping through? Or, maybe you are simply just a hat collector?

Well, whatever the reason, you are in luck this weekend when the Royals host the Chicago White Sox and fans are treated to a hat-a-night at Kauffman Stadium!

That's right, the Royals are giving away a hat a day! Friday (visor), Saturday (cowboy hat) and Sunday (Buck O'Neil tribute cap)... take it from one who's gotten a hat from one of these giveaways (see right), you're getting high quality merchandise here.

And if that's not motivation enough to go to the ballpark, how's this: a four-game winning streak and fourth place on the line. The AL Central standings as of today:

Tigers 46-31
Indians 46-32, 0.5 GB
Twins 40-37, 6 GB
White Sox 33-42, 12 GB
Royals 33-46, 14 GB

Oh, and All-You-Can-Eat seats debut tonight. I think the Dodgers were the first to come up with this idea, and other teams in baseball have picked it up as well, but it's never too late for Kansas City to join the party. There's an obesity joke here somewhere, especially since KC cracks the fat list at No. 9, but I'll let you come up with it.

I don't work for the Royals, I promise.

POSTSCRIPTS 1, 2 and 3:
  1. Frank Thomas (vastly underrated career) hit HR No. 500 yesterday, but he was overshadowed by Craig Biggio, who picked up his 3,000th hit in a 5-for-6 day. But that's not the best part. In the bottom of the 11th, after the Astros, playing at home, fell behind 5-4, Biggio came up with two outs. If Hollywood hadn't written this script, he would have grounded out and the game would be over. But Hollywood obviously had a hand in this, because, at age 59 or whatever, he legs out an infield single, kind of like Jake Taylor of Major League. Three batters later, with the bases loaded and still trailing by one, Carlos Lee hits a walk-off grand slam. An improbably dramatic ending.

  2. Billy Beane, here, performs one of the most professional public eviscerations you'll see anywhere. He was responding to a newspaper columnist who said, in no uncertain terms, that Milton Bradley -- you remember Milton Bradley, right? -- was released because he's black. Beane absolutely tears him a new one.

  3. I absolutely hated Chris Benoit when he "stole" a female promoter named Woman from Kevin Sullivan -- the woman's real-life ex-husband -- in a WCW storyline way back in the day, and I mean that as a compliment. Benoit was, until he became massively popular with the fans, one of the greatest wrestling heels I'd ever seen, always performing, it seemed, on the edge of some dangerous precipice. Well, as you may of heard, he leapt off that edge recently, murdering his wife Nancy, who was Woman, and their seven-year-old son before hanging himself. Now this incredible twist: an anonymous poster on Benoit's Wikipedia page announced that Nancy Benoit was dead 13 hours before authorities found her body. Amazing. Read about it here. The post came from Stamford, Conn., too, which is where the WWE is headquartered.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Don't forget to vote for your favorite Royals All-Stars

That's quite possibly the lamest post heading I've ever written, but then again... it's fitting, isn't it?

Remember: it still counts! The health of the nation is at stake! Forests! Prevent tuberculosis!

You may have heard -- or maybe not, I don't know why I presume such things -- that All-Star voting closes at midnight ET, so if you haven't already but would like to, go here and cobble together a couple of ballots. I voted for the AL All-Stars (my ballot below) and got so far as casting a vote for Derrek Lee for the National Leaguers before deciding it just wasn't worth my time. I mean, Eric Byrnes or Barry Bonds... must I really choose?

By the way, the AL has won nine straight, 10 if you count ties. Without further ado....


c: Victor Martinez
This is kind of funny: Joe Mauer, who has only 3 HRs and 25 RBIs because he missed 29 games, actually has more at-bats than John Buck, who has 14 home runs and 27 RBIs. Hmm, why is that?

Also, Mauer's No. 2 in catcher voting, behind Ivan Rodriguez. Buck... well, he's nowhere near the top 5. If I were to guess, I'd say he has about 16 votes, give or take 20. That's far from Pudge... heck, even far from No. 5 in balloting, Martinez, who has 140,000 votes. (Martinez's stats: .318 with 14 homers and 62 RBIs. Pudge has him doubled up. But you didn't hear that from me.)
1b: David Ortiz
I thought pretty hard about voting for Ryan Shealy, but then I read what Poz had to say about it:

"If enough fans decided they would rather not see Fielder or Pujols, if they decided they would rather see Ryan Shealy start because they think it would be funny to see him strike out against Jake Peavy, hey, it’s the fans' game.

"The Ryan Shealy scenario, I realize, is pretty unlikely. Well, the part about him striking out against Jake Peavy is quite likely."

I'm not sure why, but that made me change my mind.
2b: Brian Roberts
Roberts is having a nice year, leading all second basemen in stolen bases and batting .322, just behind Placido Polanco's .324. You could make a decent argument for Polanco, or B.J. Upton, who was tearing it up before he got hurt, or Ian Kinsler and his 14 home runs, or even Dustin Pedroia, the young Boston second baseman who's batting .322. But no way -- no way -- should the starting spot go to Robinson Cano of the Yankees.

I'll give you one guess who's leading the balloting.
ss: Angel Berroa
I'm just kidding, I didn't actually write in Angel Berroa. But it doesn't matter, really. From now until the day he retires, unless he bats below .113 or is crippled, Derek Jeter will be the AL starting shortstop in the All-Star game. Thus is his popularity in New York.
3b: Alex Rodriguez

of: Magglio Ordonez, Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Teahen
Yup, I did it. I shilled for the hometown star. Ichiro and Grady Sizemore both deserve to be starters, and Gary Sheffield's having a nice, quiet All-Star year, but... okay, I can't really justify voting for Mark Teahen, except to say the Royals pushed me to do it. I mean, not directly, but I figure if the outfielder who's batting .377 with 13 HRs and 68 RBIs can't crack the top 6 in voting (that's Magglio, trailing even Bobby Abreu, who New Yorkers are really beginning to disfavor), then why does my vote matter?

See, this is why I could never make it in politics.

Hey, I'm just glad baseball's popular enough that a Vote for Rory-like campaign could never possibly work here in the U.S.A.

...It couldn't, right?


California sucks. Go Royals!

Well East coast girls are hip,
I really dig those styles they wear.
And the southern girls with the way they talk,
They knock me out when I'm down there.

The Midwest farmers' daughters really make you feel alright.
And the northern girls with the way they kiss,
They keep their boyfriends warm at night.

I wish they all could be California,
I wish they all could be California,
I wish they all could be California girls...

Ahem. Those Californian skanks really took one on the nose, didn't they?

Let's do a retroactive poll: who thought, before the recent series, that our stalwart Royals full of Midwestern humility and virtue would emerge out of Orange County -- the place where ethics goes to die -- with a sweep? The Angels, if you need reminding, are the best team in baseball (they were tied with the Red Sox for the best record three games ago, and since the Sox also dropped three straight, the Angels still hold that "best team in baseball" label). And the Royals... well, they're streaking.

Four in a row for the first time since July 4-7 of last year and assurance of a winning month for the first time since 2003. That's right, it says so here. The 1-0 shutout was the first of its kind since May 4 last year, and, get this, the Angels have lost five straight to KC. Makes you wonder why Buddy Bell was so eager to get out of Dodge:

"Hit and get out of here," Bell said. "We played about as well as we could the last three days and we caught them at a time where they weren't playing so good. I would prefer not to have to play these guys a whole lot. They're just a little bit ahead of us experience-wise."

Ah, striking baseball's bell of karmic balance. It's delicate and tenuous, as one man's good day is always another man's bad, and it just as easily could be the other way around. Consider: yesterday, the Angels lost three runners on the base path -- two caught stealing and another picked off second -- and grounded into two double plays. Somehow they managed 10 hits off Jorge De La Rosa -- whose name, pronounced dialectically by FSN West's fine play-by-play announcer, is deh'a-rRrOsa -- but couldn't push across a single run.

The Royals, on the other hand, scored thusly in the 3rd:
  • Joey Gathright gets on with a bunt, this after Tony Pena Jr. just bunted out.
  • Steals second.
  • David DeJesus walks, and Esteban German flies out to right, advancing Gathright. (Speed, baby!)
  • Two-out bloop RBI single for Mark Teahen.

That's it. Five hits, one run. Then the bullpen, which has been -- how should we say this... -- masterful lately comes in and shuts it down. David Riske, Joakim Soria and Octavio Dotel each put in an inning of no-run, no-hit ball.

Now, Riske, having worked out of an inherited two-on, no-out jam in the 7th, would have been the star of the day on almost any other day. But somehow, his performance got eclipsed by the two who went after him.

From Soria's first pitch in the 8th to the third out, a harmless fly ball to Emil Brown, just 197 seconds (3:17) passed. If every inning was played at that pace -- and one factors in 90 seconds for commercial breaks -- the game would be over in an hour and 25 minutes.

Dotel, in an effort to beat that time -- maybe they had a bet going -- sent down the Angels in the 9th in just three minutes and 40 seconds. A huge strikeout of Vladimir Guerrero pretty much set the tone: a nasty breaking ball that dropped through the zone and managed to avoid Vlad's big bad bat. Howie Kendrick was the final out: a grounder handled by Alex Gordon.

Royals sweep. Boos emanate from the displeased (and large) crowd. Rejoice around the Midwest, where true American heroes live. California can keep their soy and white peaches.

(Actually, a soy white peach sounds kind of good...)

POSTSCRIPT: In my search for Barbie images, I found this relevant-to-KC blog post. "Olathe Barbie -- This Barbie now comes with a stroller, infant doll and Bible. Optional accessories include a G.E.D. and bus pass on the Jo." Haha, so true.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Pure bliss: beating up on the best team west of Boston

And I thought Monday night was fun. Last night we were treated to about as entertaining a late-June baseball game as we'll ever see. This is partly because Angels manager Mike Scioscia gets a little antsy in the dugout -- he's bored by stagnant AL-style ball, I feel -- and partly because, simply, the Royals and Angels are both playing great right now. Don't let the final score fool you: short of fireworks and magic, it was exciting, competitive for the most part (before the Royals hung a five-run 8th), and thoroughly enjoyable.

In the first four and a half innings alone, we were treated to a caught-stealing (of third, no less... you can't run on John Buck!), a well executed hit-and-run, a play at the plate (Joey Gathright thrown out), a triple (the most exciting play in baseball), a suicide squeeze (!) turned into a bunt single, a Billy Butler home run (the first of his career), an HBP (a Royal, of course), a sacrifice bunt turned into a single, a run scored on a wild pitch and a bloop-single RBI. Can we get more variety in there?

Later, KC supporters could cheer a Buck home run, a sacrifice fly, two stolen bases for Gathright (he went 3 for 3 with two runs and stretched a single into a double in the 9th... who says he's not part of the Royals' future?), a ground-rule double, an absolute moonshot home run for Alex Gordon... I know I'm just cataloging here, but the Royals won 12-4 (13 hits to 10) in just a little over three hours, in front of 44,002 people in gorgeous SoCal weather, and I'm finding it difficult to express how lovely it all was. Simply lovely is all.

Oh, and Gil Meche went six with six strikeouts for the quality start and win. I love this team.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

John Thomson, Royals' new No. 3 ace

Riot! Fight! John Thomson's debut a success! Aghhhhh!

(Incidentally, this puts Duke's Cameron Crazies to shame, and not for the typical reason that Cameron Crazies are spoiled brats who whine a lot and are pretty much the biggest tools in the universe.)

A very useful four-run 2nd for the Royals gave Thomson all the breathing room he needed to carry his team to a 5-3 win. Seven innings, three runs (two earned, though it could have been fewer if Joey Gathright hadn't been so eager to chase after a fly ball that David DeJesus clearly had tracked down), six hits and no walks. No strikeouts, either, which means he threw just 81 pitches. It all made for a brisk two-hour, 23-minute game, the kind that makes me love baseball.

Joakim Soria and Octavio Dotel pitched a scoreless innings each to end the game. Soria and Dayton Moore and Buddy Bell and everyone else already knows this, but I'll say it anyway: Soria's better than Dotel, and if this were a perfect world, he'd be closing. Alas, Dotel's getting paid the money and performing admirably, if not great, so Soria's just going to have to wait -- kind of like Rafael Soriano, Rafael Betancourt and Akinori Otsuka.

Dotel walked the leadoff batter in the 9th, and as the crowd rose to its feet to welcome Vlad the Impaler to the plate, my heart searched for a place to hide. "Big Daddy Vlady," the Angels' color commentator said, just as Vlad uncorked an unhumanly massive swing on a 1-0 pitch. If any part of the ball touched that bat, it would have been smoked into the gap or over the waterfalls. Luckily, Vlad grounded out on the next pitch. Alex Gordon then made a tremendous diving stop on Casey Kotchman's hot shot and threw him out at first, taking the breath out of a crowd of 43,895. The next batter fouled out to end the game.

A solid win all around.

POSTSCRIPT: Gordon got plunked again, tying him with Grady Sizemore for the league lead at 11. Gathright also recorded an HBP, giving the Royals 46 on the season, most in the Majors.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A wrap on interleague

Critics of interleague play offered their normal round of critiques, from "who cares about Royals-Brewers?" to "who cares about Royals-Rockies?" but personally I think it was great this year. Yankees in San Fran, Red Sox visiting San Diego (where a good 15,000 were Sox fans, I believe), Griffey back in Seattle (did you hear the ovations? You skipped out on a good thing, Junior), Thome back in Philly (and cheered, too)... sign me up for another round of this next year, cause it's a good thing.

The final count:

Batting average: NL .281-.268
Home runs: NL 271-267
Runs: AL 1,352-1,172
Wins: AL 137-115

I'm more of an appreciate-from-afar kind when it comes to sabermetrics, not all righteous about it like these guys, but the above numbers shows how unimportant batting average really is to baseball offense. The interleague stats page doesn't include OBP or walks, which is weird considering much of the baseball establishment has come around on OBP as the more useful stat, but a little digging turns up these facts: The Red Sox and A's -- Moneyball teams -- lead the league in walk rate, and the top five teams in OBP are from the AL (nine of the top 12). This is all petty dot-connecting, and I'm sure I could be using my time doing more productive things, like planting trees, but bear with me. We can debate the reasons the AL has dominated the NL in recent years, but in my opinion it still comes down to the simple fact that the DH in the American League has forced its teams to play a different style of ball, one that doesn't sacrifice outs or automatically plug Juan Pierre into the leadoff spot. Contrary to misconception, AL teams don't necessarily rely on the long ball all the time, either.

So to review -- the formula:

Get on base however you can, drive the ball into the gap, fall back on solid pitching. Apply to large sample size, win 58 percent of games, get in playoffs.

Well, 94 wins would get you in the playoffs in the NL, anyway.

Unfortunately for the Royals -- who finished 10-8 in interleague and put up 17 runs twice -- reality hits tonight in the form of the Angels of Anaheim, Los Angeles, Orange County, California, USA, currently 49-27 and -- raise your hand if you knew this -- tied for the best record in baseball (one game behind the Red Sox in the loss column). Not to worry, intrepid Royals fans: newly acquired John Thomson -- yes, formerly of the Atlanta Braves (Royals Review offers a pretty hilarious line about this in this post) -- is slated to take the ball. Chone Figgins won't be getting six hits tonight.

Before we leave Milwaukee behind, I'd like to point out how deeply I envy the Brewers for their bevy of great young talent, including rookies Ryan Braun and Corey Hart, two guys who might be household names if baseball knew how to market its young stars. Braun went 4-for-4 on Friday with a HR and two stolen bases and Hart hit a game-tying home run last night in the 9th. If there's one team the Royals could hope to imitate -- besides the Braves, who Dayton Moore's trying to imitate -- it's Milwaukee. We'll revisit the Brew Crew periodically throughout the season.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Do not deal with this man, for he is the Devil

I will never forgive this man for introducing us to Neifi Perez
By now you've probably heard that Dayton Moore's proposed trade with Billy Beane -- Leo Nunez (0.87 ERA in six appearances in Double A) for outfielder Milton Bradley (.292 in 19 games this season... both players have recently dealt with injuries) -- fell through. It probably wasn't the A's fault that Bradley is God's personal smite-practice target -- "He apparently suffered [an] oblique injury on a swing in his final at-bat Wednesday against the Reds," reports the KC Star -- but does it really matter? That velvet curtain behind Beane's head may as well be the flames of Hell, since no man who's openly robbed so many franchises can possibly end anywhere but the pit of eternal suffering.

Here's a short list of the general managers he's fleeced over the years (I'm leaving off one particular name for later):

Mark Shapiro
Brian Cashman
Brian Sabean
Steve Phillips
Dan O'Dowd
Jim Hendry
J.P. Ricciardi
Kenny Williams

We all know Beane's had all his success despite consistently having one of tightest budgets in baseball (Oakland: bad baseball town), and you can read all about it elsewhere (Kansas City's friend, Rob Neyer, wrote that article; there's also this list, which might be underrating Beane at No. 4). For his unlikely success, he's called a genius. But you don't guide a team to the most second-half wins ever, in 2001, and come within one win of tying that record one year later -- after losing your best hitter, Jason Giambi -- without some help from other teams. Silver platter stuff. And no one's served bigger helpings to the Oakland A's than this man:

Allard Baird

If you mention "Billy Beane" to Allard Baird, there's a good chance you could find a pencil lodged in your larynx within five seconds. Here's what Michael Lewis wrote in Moneyball:

[Beane] came close to getting Kansas City outfielder Raul Ibanez, but then Ibanez went on a hitting tear that led Kansas City to reevaluate his merits and decide that Billy Beane was about to pick their pockets again. (The year before, at the trade deadline, Billy had given Kansas City nothing terribly useful for Jermaine Dye, just as, the year before, he'd given them next to nothing for Johnny Damon.)

Let's be honest: Neifi Perez was not "nothing terribly useful." He was a pile of fetid crap. And for Johnny Damon, the Royals got Angel Berroa, Roberto Hernandez, A.J. Hinch and cash. I mention the cash -- you know what, I'm going to capitalize it... Cash -- in the hopes that it makes the trade look a little more palatable. Maybe it was $10 million. In any case, the Royals also gave up Mark Ellis, who's been Oakland's everyday second baseman since 2002 (missing 2004 with a torn labrum) and recently became the sixth player in A's history to hit for the cycle.

Really, if Beane had been in charge of the Iran hostage crisis, he could have pulled off a much better deal.

POSTSCRIPT: Clark Fosler at Royals Authority has a very interesting point: perhaps Bradley was just a smaller piece in another deal. Merely speculation, but I certainly wouldn't put it past our hero to be thinking a few steps ahead. Personally, though, I'd rather have Nunez, who could develop into a dominant reliever, especially now that Beane's expressed interest in him.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Gil Meche is better than Barry Zito

I started live-blogging last night thinking there was a decent chance the game could go 18. I even resisted typing, "This could be a great win for the Royals" when they had the go-ahead run on third with one out in the 14th, but my attempt at not jinxing them didn't matter. As it happened, it was a disheartening defeat, in which Gil Meche lost a 3-0, then 4-1 lead, and the bullpen couldn't hold a 6-4 advantage, with heretofore perfect closer Octavio Dotel blowing the save in the 9th. The offense couldn't cobble together enough runs against rejects Todd Wellemeyer, who started, and Kip Wells, who finished. Oh, and Ryan f'ing Ludwick delivered the coup d'etat.

So now what? Now we take the off-day to get out of baseball a bit, check out Tony's Kansas City (more exciting than your Kansas City, probably), the famous dramatic chipmunk in the "best five-second video on the Internet" and this squirrel catapult. Most of the time you can't go wrong with the Onion, either, especially if it's about Pac-Man Jones.

Not to get completely away from baseball: Scott Elarton is DLed, so let the debate begin over who to make an emergency start. Your candidates:
Tyler Lumsden, AAA (5.40 ERA)
Billy Bucker, AAA (4.15 ERA)
Luke Hochevar, AA (4.63 ERA)
Carlos Rosa, AA (5.76 ERA)
Danny Christensen (5.57 ERA)

Speaking of pitchers, there's always room to discuss Lord of 'em All, The Meche. Royals Authority has charted Meche's performance against that of other free agent pitchers from last year's class. The short answer: he compares very well. The slightly longer one:

So far, signing Gil Meche has been the absolute best move made by Dayton Moore and the Royals. Ted Lilly has given the Cubs roughly ‘Meche-like’ numbers, but he is three years older. Jeff Suppan has logged the innings, but will never be more than a number three starter. It is also likely that Barry Zito’s numbers will improve and that monster seven year deal will work out for the Giants, but the Royals never even got a call back from Zito. As for the rest, Meche has clearly outperformed them all.

Meche may not be as skillful on the guitar, and I don't think he's ever written a feature for ESPN The Magazine like Zito, but when it comes to baseball, he's proven so far the superior.

Live blogging from the top of the 14th...

The title explains itself -- I'm live blogging now because has FINALLY started working again, after going out in the bottom of the 1st...

1:23 a.m. ET: The FSN Midwest color commentator tells us that the Royals have had some clutch pitching. I'll take his word for this, even though if he told me, in that dreary voice, that my couch was on fire, and I could feel the fire, I'm not sure I'd be properly motivated to move.

St. Louis is down to Tyler Johnson in the pen.

1:24 a.m.: Three times had the bases loaded. Couple times winning run on third and couldn't bring him in...

(I just resisted typing something potentially disastrously jinxing.)

1:25 a.m.: Shane Costa chops out to second, with the infield in. David DeJesus is just going to have to steal home.

1:27 a.m.: Two quick strikes on John Buck, who's not having a good game. They intentionally walked Mark Teahen for this.

Color guy redeems himself: "The crowd, for maybe the first time all year, gets behind Kip Wells..."

1:28 a.m.: Buck strikes out. Not even close. Damn.


It was the Cardinals that thrice had the bases loaded, by the way.

1:30 a.m. Tomorrow's starter, Jorge De La Rosa, is now in the game...

1:31 a.m...

Ludwick? Are you f'ing serious? F'ing Ludwick?

I'm never f'ing doing this again.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Guess who's back, back again...

Billy's back, tell a friend.

But before we get to that...

My roommate has kindly informed me that the Sports Guy over at ESPN wrote a column about two years ago saying essentially what I said in my last post about the Pujols joke,
specifically that women seem to be the only ones who seem to notice the great Cardinals slugger has a name that sounds a lot like the plural form of a certain sphincter.

I just want to get it on the record right now that I did not mean to echo the man whom many bloggers consider to be, well, the thing that comes out of that thing that sounds like Albert's last name. College columnists think poorly of Mr. Simmons as well.

Now, normally I'd provide a link to the subject here, but I won't because a) it's an Insider piece, which means you need a paid subscription, and b) I really don't think mouthpieces for pop culture need my endorsement. And if you need to know, I don't even think he's that noxious an influence.

Anyway, onto Royals business...

With veritable nice guy Mike Sweeney on the DL with knee ailments, the Royals have recalled Billy Butler from Triple A to fill in as the DH. Obviously he's just a backup/pinch-hitter now until the team swings back into AL ballparks, but the kid seems to think he can play first base:

"I've already felt 10 times more comfortable over at first than I did in the outfield. I felt comfortable in the outfield, but I'm not a natural outfielder. I just feel playing first is more of a natural position.... I know what I'm doing over there (at first). It takes me back to what I've been doing all of my life -- playing in the infield." (KC Star)

So maybe, when (if) Sweeney returns, Butler will retain a place in the lineup. I doubt it though. It's kind of funny that the Royals, not so long ago believed to have no future, now can't find a place for one of its future Major League-ready pieces. In 57 games in Omaha this year, Butler's gone 59-for-203 (.291) with 13 home runs, 46 RBIs, 43 walks and 32 strikeouts. He was 9-for-37 (.243) with no home runs in 10 games in the bigs, but then again, he wasn't exactly getting a fair chance to prove himself. It'll be very interesting to see what he does in the two weeks he gets to be an everyday DH.

Right now, my only concern with Butler is that he presses and tries to do too much. His last time up, he drew just one walk and struck out seven times, which makes me think he felt he really had to make an impact to keep his job. If he's under the same mindset this time around, one can only hope he goes on a Tony Pena-like streak, where his hits find holes and gaps, as opposed to an Alex Gordon-in-April/May-like streak.

Speaking of Gordon... it's been two weeks since Bob Dutton of the KC Star wrote, "Rookie third baseman Alex Gordon lugged a zero-for-19 skid into Tuesday's series opener against the Indians that prompted renewed questions regarding the need for a remedial trip to the minors... Gordon's average is down to .172 -- it has never topped .195 -- and he has just three homers, eight RBIs and 50 total bases in 52 games." What has he done since then? 19-for-52 (.365), including last night's 2-for-4, two homers against just six strikeouts (he had 54 previously). His average is now up to .216. Maybe it's too early to say he's out of the woods completely, but it looks like he's at least regained his feet.

As opposed to Scott Elarton. A quick word on him: as good as the bullpen as been lately, I wouldn't put it past Elarton to single-handedly kill it. He's recorded an out in the 6th in only two of his eight starts, and last night, after giving up five runs in 2 and 2/3rds, he left it to the bullpen -- actually, just Neal Musser and Joel Peralta -- to finish the game (four hits, no runs... of all duos to be able to pull off this feat...). The four-man rotation doesn't sound like a bad idea right now.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bullpen shuts down win for Odalis Perez in St. Louis

Here's a pretty incredible stat for you: entering last night, Albert Pujols was 13-for-19 with 5 HRs and 15 RBIs against Odalis Perez. That's a football stat: 13-for-19 with five touchdowns sounds more like it. But rest assured, I mean what I typed: 13-for-19, five homers. Pujols indeed.

(By the way, is it just me, or has anyone else heard the joke, "Pujols? More like poo holes."

Lest you're wondering, the joke came from a girl, the more perspicacious sex. Fitting. I honestly can't picture a guy watching Albert Pujols at the plate think out loud, You know what Pujols kind of sounds like? I mean, it sounds exactly like poo holes. Get it? Pooooholes?)

Wisely, Perez intentionally walked Pujols in the first, the beginning of a series of crafty moves that enabled him to go six innings while giving up just three runs. Can we really call any of his quality starts "shocking" anymore? He now has six quality starts (40 percent of his outings) and easily could have four more, if only this little thing or that fell his way. The Royals, including last night's rather dominant 5-3 win, are 5-3 when Perez goes at least six while allowing no more than three.

"If you can go six innings," Perez is quoted in the above-linked story, "you know the bullpen will take care of the rest of the game."

This, by the way, is very true. Long were the times, it seems, when the Royals' bullpen blew leads. Way back then, when it was racked with injuries and fans were bewailing their perpetual fate to witness horrendous relief pitching -- it all seemed so 2000ish -- a few of us preached patience, said, "Octavio Dotel and David Riske" will provide stability, so on and so forth. Well look at this squad now: as Royals Authority reports -- yes, I'm going to crib off them, and also because I want to refer you to a nice article -- the bullpen has allowed just three runs and 18 hits in the last 26 innings, with a three-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. So O-Dog, just keep doing what you're doing -- the bullpen really will shut it down.

POSTSCRIPT: Here's something amazing I heard from Megan Stock over at Around the Horn and neglected to mention yesterday. Check out TPJ's quotes from Jeffrey Flanagan's Father's Day column...

Royals shortstop Tony Pena Jr. was asked what he was going to get his father, former Royals manager Tony Pena, for Father’s Day:

"Two hits and a phone call," Tony Jr. said.

What about another home run?

"I'd rather give him the two hits," he said.

...and his
box score for the day:
Pena: 4 AB, 1 R, 2 H

Neat, huh?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Meche a headliner, Bannister a winner

Eight innings, one run and a much-deserved win, all to be spoiled by this headline from "Gil a fine Meche in win over Marlins." I honestly thought we -- as in the universe of creative minds -- had exhausted that one, but such are my hopes: useless.

What would the American Copy Editors Society think? I can see the horror spreading on their faces now, perhaps a real pain-in-the-ass-type sitting behind a wooden desk with a coffee mug in hand, ready to tackle the day when, Hello! Gil a fine Meche in win over Marlins!, and the coffee gets spit one way, the paper gets flung another, and general hell breaks loose. Electronic revolution my ass!

Considerately, I recommend banning bad puns from headlines, especially when it really isn't a pun, since to be a pun you have to have two meanings. What's the second meaning of "fine Meche"? Was Meche a mess? I don't get it.

Anyway, something more to the point would have worked better, like, "Meche a conquering hero in win," or "Meche snaps winless streak with masterful performance." Something to that effect.

Brian Bannister, a man with no losing streak to snap, throws six innings of four-run ball and wins his fourth straight decision, 5-4. The winning run was driven in by an Esteban German double in the 6th. Tony Pena Jr., now batting .280 with a OBP just over .300, was the one who crossed the plate.

Bannister, acquired from the New York Mets for middle-reliever Ambiorix Burgos, saw his 18-inning scoreless streak snapped in the 2nd. Eighteen innings, from a pitcher who couldn't make the spring roster. Think about that for a second and just appreciate it.

The Royals are now four for four in interleague series, winning 2 games to 1 against -- in order -- Colorado, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Florida. Judging purely by where these teams are in their division standings, they correspond to Seattle (like the Rockies, second to last in the West), Toronto, Minnesota and Tampa Bay in the AL. Florida might be better than Tampa Bay -- I wouldn't bet on it though -- and Philadelphia may have an edge on Toronto -- though Toronto fans are infinitely nicer, despite the fact that Canadians hate baby seals -- but Seattle and Minnesota are vastly superior to Colorado and St. Louis.

Actually, this probably isn't the best way for me to make my point, but... is anyone all that surprised that the Royals are 8-4 against the NL and 20-38 against the AL? (Sample size, schample size.) But you know, I'm glad the team didn't make the leap to the NL when it had a chance. Kansas City won a World Series representing the American League, damnit. What does Milwaukee have? The memory of County Stadium as home to Rachel Phelps's Indians?

Friday, June 15, 2007

17 to 8 (runs for us, runs for them)

Recipe for a 9-6 score by the top of the 3rd:
  1. Start a pitcher who sucks.
  2. Start a second pitcher who sucks.
  3. Play ball.
Kip Wells, season: 12 HR allowed, 38 walks, 56 K's, 6.33 ERA, 1.58 WHIP
Scott Elarton, season: 10 HR allowed, 15 walks, 13 K's, 7.34 ERA, 1.70 WHIP

Here's how they fared last night:
  • 1.1 innings, 3 hits, 6 runs, 4 walks, 1 HR; new season ERA: 6.93
  • 2.0 innings, 5 hits, 6 runs, 3 walks, 1 HR; new season ERA: 8.54
And a partial line score:

STL 1 3 2 0 ...
KC 1 8 0 6 ...

The folks at Royals Review, as they always do, hosted a game thread, a thing that makes fans feel like they're at the game kibitzing... only when they do it online, their words are stored for posterity, and bloggers like me.

Last night, there were more than a few posters who quickly threw in the towel:

rcrider13 (7:33 CT): Elarton: There is nobody better? Really?

the whale
(7:34 CT): good grief: I'm about done.

loyal2theroyals (7:35 CT): royals are rolling over. I hate Elarton.

Oh, and a positive post. Kind of. From rockchalk, 7:39 CT:

I. Hate. Scott. Elarton

for all of the dumb crap allard did, why the heck did he have to sign elarton to a 2 YEAR DEAL?!?!?!?!?!?

scarier thought...

elaraton was considered our "#1 starter" last season...

yet another example of how improved this team is under GMDM, talent wise elarton is probably somewhere around #28 on the list of starting pitchers now somewhere between dewon brazelton (hes gone, right? cause otherwise he is WAY ahead of scotty) and buddy himself...

Anyway, you get the idea. Scott Elarton, the Royals' Opening Day ace last year -- and reason number 435 the team had to overpay to get Gil Meche -- was struggling.

But then the comeback begins.

In the bottom of the 2nd, Ryan Shealy calmly looks at five pitches and draws a lead-off walk. Jason LaRue strikes out after a very good at-bat, then screams an expletive that's clearly audible on RSTN. Then up steps Tony Pena Jr., a man who swings at everything. In 65 games, he's drawn six walks and struck out 42 times. That's awful. I remember when we used to joke about Angel Berroa's consecutive plate-appearances-without-a-walk streak, except it wasn't really a joke. About the most damning thing you can say about an otherwise mediocre (read: not Vlad) hitter is that he lacks plate discipline, and Berroa lacked plate discipline.

Pena lacks plate discipline.

Sure enough, Pena swings at the first pitch, but the ball finds right field. Just one of four hits for him on the night.

Joey Gathright's next. The sequence of events, in bullet form:
  • 3-2 walk on a pitch just low. Bases loaded, one out.
  • David DeJesus turns his leg into an 0-2 pitch. It's the sixth time this year he's been HBP, which cements him at second on the team, behind Alex Gordon, who's been hit 10 times. The team's suffered (drawn?) 40 HBPs this year, which leads the Majors. After 38 pitches, the Royals have two runs on two hits.
  • Esteban German, who has excellent plate discipline, looks at three pitches, fouls off the next two, then smokes a single to left. So Taguchi had no chance to get Joey Gathright going home from second. Tie game. Meanwhile, Elarton looks downtrodden for some reason as he picks at something on his hand.
  • Randy Flores comes in, and if you think that'll stop these Royals, you're wrong. Mark Teahen -- who had two triples and five RBIs -- settles for a single to center, driving in Pena. German goes to third, Teahen advances to second. The Royals, by the way, are tied for the league lead with 23 triples.
  • Emil Brown doubles down the third base line to drive in two. It's 7-4.
  • Alex Gordon hits a hard shot off Albert Pujols's glove. Infield single. His average goes above .200 for the first time all year: .202. Someone's heating up...
  • Ryan Shealy drives in a run through a fielder's choice to second.
  • LaRue, up again, hits a ball past Scott Rolen, who looked awful lunging for it. "That's almost no range at all," said Paul Splittorff.
  • Adam Kennedy swipes at a Pena grounder that goes through. The Royals' eighth run of the night comes across the plate, a season high. There've been no errors charged, but can we give the Cardinals' a collective error for their all-around crappiness? I don't just mean their defensive effort tonight, which has been horrendous -- I mean overall: they look like a terrible team. And where do they sit in the standings? One game behind the Cubs for second place (!) in the NL Central. Honestly -- and I'm not just saying this because the Royals have scored 17 off an NL opponent twice this week -- but honestly, I think the Royals can contend for the Cardinals' division.
  • A tapper back to the plate from Gathright for the third out.

The Royals Review commentators begin stirring, by which I mean royaldaddy, perhaps the only guy still watching the game, posts nine straight messages in a span of 10 minutes.

the whale comes back at 8:02 CT, after the Royals' eight-run 2nd, and says, "What did I miss? wow."

Wow indeed. Let there be no doubt, this still belongs to us:

Sorry about the amateur quality of the picture, but trust me, that's the original 1985 World Series trophy.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Esteban German breaks up Adam Wainwright's no-hit bid

An unfortunate error by Aaron Miles with two outs in the 6th resulted in the breakup of Adam Wainwright's no-hitter last night, as the next batter, Esteban German, singled cleanly through the left side. You can't give the Royals four outs in an inning. Miles, to his credit, tried to apologize for not making the play that would have ended the frame, but Wainwright, to his credit, would have none of it.

"I don't believe that changed anything," Wainwright said.

"I still felt locked in after the play. Then [Miles] made an amazing play to save a run. If he doesn't make that play, who knows? I'll take him in the field behind me any day. He shouldn't hang his head about that at all. It wasn't in the cards. God didn't want me to throw a no-hitter today. That's fine."

All this, of course, on the heels of Justin Verlander's no-hitter two nights ago, in which the announcers never announced he was pitching a no-hitter until the final out. (RSTN's Paul Splittorff, by the way, had no qualms telling it like it was yesterday.) In any case, I feel compelled to mention that our AL Central kin in the blogosphere pretty much have circled the wagon on the no-hitter, and a fine job they did.

In other news, the O-Dog finally turned in a bad start. Frankly, I'm a little relieved -- I was beginning to doubt the supposedly chaotic nature of the universe with every six-inning, four-run outing out of him. Of course, I'd rather see his ERA not be at 6.19 with a WHIP of 1.67 -- that seems perfectly normal -- but no one ever accused the universe of having a sense of humor.


-- A Baseball Prospectus article on the Royals, with an encouraging quote from Buddy Bell about Alex Gordon, who hit a three-run home run last night in the 9th:

"I'm really not interested in his numbers," Bell said. "I just want to see him get better. There was a stretch for about three weeks when he was hitting the ball hard and not getting much reward for it. On the whole, I've seen a lot of progress even if doesn't necessarily reflect in his statistics. The biggest thing with Alex is that he isn't getting beat down mentally by this. That would be my worry and what I've been looking for and I haven’t seen any signs of that."

-- Following up on yesterday's post about the AL-NL discrepancy, here's a tale of the tape of the Royals and Cardinals.

-- Mike Sweeney and Brandon Duckworth both got hurt yesterday.

-- For some reason, this is only now relevant to the Kansas City Star: Butler goes on the record about his demotion, saying he was just a little bit upset by it but understood the team had to do it because there was no room for him on the big leagues roster. And to think, we were all under the impression that he was sent down to learn how to play defense (now first base, apparently).

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Dominating the National League like it's 1985

Another National League team comes to town -- for the moment I'll ignore that it's the Cardinals, who the Royals trounced last night like it was Game 7 of the 1985 World Series -- and that means it's time for one thing: FEAST!

The Royals are now 5-2 against the NL this season and 81-101 (44.5 percent) since Interleague play began in 1997, a marked improvement from their 41.1 winning percentage in that stretch. They fit the trend of American League teams beating up on their Quadruple-A counterparts: while we can't expect a 154-98 discrepancy between the two leagues this year, so far the AL is 58-42, running their three-year record to an astounding 348-246. Our brethren to the east are beginning to hate us.

April of last year, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated penned an article subtitled, "Teams from the National League have been dominated by their American League counterparts in recent years, by almost every measure, and the trend will only continue this season. How did this happen?" Among the interesting explanations:

"There aren't as many great athletes playing baseball, especially as artificial turf came out of the game," the advance scout says. "You used to go to Kansas City, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Toronto and see so many really good athletes. That's not what the game is now. And I think the AL made that transition quicker than the NL."

In this regard, the designated hitter really has made a significant difference. The AL is a more offense-driven league, and as Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta discovered several years back, a baseball team trying to win in an unfair game -- this still applies in the age of the luxury tax -- can best improve by upgrading their offense. That means OBP and OPS guys: sluggers who draw walks. Other AL GMs such as Mark Shapiro of Cleveland, Brian Cashman of New York and Theo Epstein of Boston have embraced this notion, whereas the NL have been slow to embrace sabermetrics (DePodesta got axed by the Dodgers after a monkey trial and is currently a "special assistant" with the Padres).

Tony LaRussa, the model of the "traditional" way of playing that so titillates baseball's purists -- at least in Buzz Bissinger's eyes -- can be Exhibit A in why the NL has been behind the curve. (I should point out that SI recently did a long feature on LaRussa, complete with ridiculous quotes like this from Tino Martinez: "He thought his best way to win that day was to sacrifice the catcher so the pitcher comes up -- the kind of moves you think are crazy when you're playing for him. There's a reason behind it: The pitcher's usually going to lay a bunt down regardless... and you don't realize Tony's trying to stay out of a double play and turn the lineup over for the next inning." Uh, so sacrificing two outs: good strategy. Gotcha.) Whereas teams like St. Louis still believe the manager is important, franchises in the AL have long begun to see that it's the front office that matters. Notice that the name of this blog is In Dayton We Trust, not Buddy Bell, no matter how great a person he is.

Granted, NL games may be more fun to watch -- the pitcher's spot, for some reason, tempts managers to try all sorts of wacky things, like hit-and-run -- but it doesn't bode well for winning over 162 games. It starts with a mindset, and by and large AL teams have the right mindset while NL teams do not.

Adds Shapiro, "With their resources, you almost expect Boston and New York to win 95 to 100 games every year. That makes the competition that much harder for everybody else.

"Just look at what happened this winter. Every team in the American League added payroll. Some went up dramatically, like Chicago, Detroit and Toronto. Then you look at the National League and you had teams that pulled back, like Arizona, Atlanta, Houston, Cincinnati, Colorado and Florida. You didn't see anybody in the AL pulling back."

It really is that straightforward. Seven of the top 10 payrolls in baseball are owned by American League teams, while six of the bottom seven are from the NL. Now, we know money isn't everything, but when the bottom six include the likes of Colorado, Pittsburgh and Washington, the reasons for the AL-NL discrepancy become clearer. (The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, owner of baseball's lowest payroll, have as good a chance as any team in the AL East -- perhaps better -- to challenge New York and Boston in the coming years. With the addition of David Price, Tampa Bay's farm is officially stacked.)
A more comprehensive study of this issue was performed by Mitchel Lichtman of the Hardball Times. It's actually a three-part series, so I'll link the final part here and you can cycle back. It's text- and number-heavy, so if you're looking for the synopsis, I recommend this post from Phil Birnbaum of Sabermetric Research.

Now let's turn those redbirds into I-70 roadkill. (I know, I'm so clever...)

POSTSCRIPT: Brian Bannister has pitched 17 consecutive scoreless innings. Just 42 more to go to catch Orel Hershiser.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Royals take 2 of 3 from Phillies in KC... sound familiar?

The Phillies had just made it 6-5 in the 5th on a Ryan Howard home run, prompting one of the RSTN announcers to say, "How many is it going to take to win this ballgame today?" when I dozed off on the futon. In the next hour and a half, I drifted in and out from the land of Nod without the slightest clue whither my mind wandered, and sometime in this stretch I imagined that I woke, raised up and saw on my window that the Royals had won 11-8 on a John Buck walk-off. A few minutes later, I think I imagined that the Royals actually lost, by five, and around this time I must've figured I had been asleep through the entire game, because I began doubting that the score was ever 6-5 to begin with, having dreamt up a new score.

So you can understand why it took me five minutes, after waking for real, to believe my eyes: in my still semi-unconscious state, the 17-5 score looked chimerical, or the product of a clerical mistake. But then I checked the box score, and it was true: the Royals, in addition to 17 runs, rung up 14 hits, equal to the number of runs plus hits the Phillies managed.

In the 1980 Fall Classic, the Royals also took two of three from the Phillies in KC, though they went 0-3 in Philadelphia, the city of "brotherly" "love" and a river that's impossible to pronounce. It was Philadelphia's first (and only) World Series title, which proves that if your fans throw snowballs at Santa Claus, you deserve to suffer... especially if, instead of fessing up, you write a book. For shame. What is there to like about Philadelphia? "I don't know, there's so many things to love!" according to the deluded one of my roommates. She was thinking about the Tyra Banks show when she said this though, so that might explain it.

The excellent Philadelphia blog The 700 Level explains the weekend series thusly:

I liked's headline of "The Phillies were splashed by Royals in series finale." Splashed. That's certainly one way to put it.

And as the Phillies always do, they'll get our hopes up again, just to bring us crashing back down.

Just your typical Phillies baseball. I'm sure you're used to it by now.

Their reaction compared to ours -- here, here and here -- reminds me of a passage from Roger Angell's The Summer Game, in which Mr. Angell explains the carefree joy of rooting for an awful team -- the Mets, in his case:

Another revelation came to me by degrees, from various Giant fans who were sitting near me in the upper deck. Their team had just gone into first place in the standings; on this day, with Mays, McCovey, Felipe Alou, and Cepeda ripping off extra-base hits in all directions, it seemed capable of winning the pennant by the middle of August. Yet the Giant loyalists were burdened and irritable. “Look at that McCovey,” one of them said bitterly, as Stretch fielded a Met single in left. “He just won’t run. He’s no goddam outfielder. I tell you, Dark oughtta nail him onna goddam bench, save him for pinch-hitting.” He was not watching the game before us; his mind was weeks and months away, groping through the mists of September, and he saw his team losing. The Giants’ pennant of last year, the Giants’ power of today had made a miser of him, nad he was afraid. I had nothing to lose, though; I clapped my hands and shouted, “Lets go, Mets!

So let's enjoy these days while we have them, before the pressure of winning crushes our spirit and we turn into Philadelphia. God forbid.

POSTSCRIPT: David DeJesus got hit by a pitch twice yesterday, pushing the team total to 37. That nudges the Royals ahead of the Indians, at 36, for the Major League lead. Again, I don't know what to make of this.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

1980 World Series tied 1-1

Tomorrow the reprisal of the 1980 World Series ends in a rubber match between your Kansas City Royals and the Philadelphia Phillies. A win won't reclaim the trophy that's lost -- a beauty, ain't it? -- but it will help us recover from the game tonight.

Here's an updated list of the pitchers who have shut out the Royals this season:

Steve Trachsel
C.C. Sabathia
Jon Lieber

Lieber struck out six straight after giving up a lead-off single, and to compound that absurdity, it took Tony Pena Jr. to end the streak, with a bunt-out in the 3rd. Lieber finished with 11 K's. Tomorrow you'll find news stories in the Star and quotes from players and coaches and analyses from bloggers, and all varieties of words will be spent explaining how much the Royals' offense is struggling. But really, all you need to know is this: Jon Lieber, who had 35 strikeouts in 58 and two-thirds innings coming into today, threw an 11-K shutout. Right now the only way the Royals can score is if the opposing pitcher is injured.

Jamie Moyer -- another oldie who has an above-average chance of tossing a shutout -- faces Jorge De La Rosa tomorrow at 1:10 p.m. CT.

POSTSCRIPT: Before I leave Cleveland behind, I need to mention that the city is crazy right now with Cavs fever. Living outside Cleveland -- especially in a place without an NBA team, like KC -- you might not even know the NBA Finals are on. But the Forest City's appetite for professional basketball is so insatiable that local news reporters are scouring the San Antonio Riverwalk as we speak, asking people questions like, "What's a Spur?" and concluding -- on camera -- that "no one knows what a Spur is." A couple of WEWS NewsChannel 5 anchors set up shop outside the SBC Center after Game 1 and took up three-quarters of the news, mostly with live coverage of the Cavaliers' post-game press conference. One of the anchors -- genuinely psyched about his assignment, I noticed -- said, "The whole world knows about Cleveland now," and I thought, You know, that's kind of true. In an America of increasing entertainment options and shortened attention spans, it's nice to know that the world has shrunk enough that national sporting events can still hold meaning -- because if the NBA Finals weren't televised in international markets, could anyone justify Steven A. Smith still having a job? I can put up with bloviating and screaming if it's for a purpose -- the entertainment of China, whatever -- but not for nothing. And if China wasn't watching these Finals, this series sure would seem like very little.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Everything you need to know about the draft, from other people

And with the one thousand, four hundred thirty-fourth pick, the Kansas City Royals select...

The amateur draft is now in its 50th round, and if you're still following it, you must work for Royals Authority. Nice mid-draft update following the day one coverage, by the way. Meanwhile, most people -- even bloggers -- have put away their draft kits, content to let 800-plus-word, quote-included recaps or live blogs stand alone, or to become scavenging jackals like myself, linking others up the wazoo in place of original research.

As it should be, this half-hearted protest of over-analyzing. As the best sports columnist in America pointed out yesterday, we'll have no idea about our picks until a couple years down the line. Unless, of course, we just passed up on this year's Tim Lincecum or Andrew Miller -- who are in the bigs just a year after -- for Luke Hochevar. Who knows though, maybe Mike (not Matt) Moustakas is the next Michael Young.

Speaking of Moustakas, it's good to know our team "feels strongly" about him. Really, really good to know, considering he'll cost around $5 million and several gray hairs for this organization, as we'll be dealing with the agent who single-handedly made the greatest baseball player of our generation the most hated figure in his sport. Every baseball prima donna on the verge of superstardom needs to take heed of the parable of Alex Rodriguez and understand the corrupting influence of money: you'll be able to buy two homes with pools, but fans will hate you mercilessly. Then you'll switch positions in an effort to reclaim your soul -- through your stated desire to "win," as if you're fooling anyone now -- and end up in a place as heartless as your agent, then find yourself in impossible lose-lose situations that demand you to hit walk-off grand slams OR ELSE. In short: DO NOT HIRE THIS MAN.

More on Moustakas from Royals Review.

And if you're wondering how the White Sox, Twins, Tigers and Indians did with their first round picks, the Fanhouse is here to fill you in.

Now we'll put this subject aside and probably not talk about it for 12 months. Unless Moustakas does something wild, like, oh, throw a bat into the chest of an umpire.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Royals now 0-3 in games I've attended this year

And 22-36 in games I haven't.
Jacobs Field is a lovely ballpark. Really, I mean it. Here's proof:

But if it came down to, oh, a puppy's life, I would still choose Kauffman Stadium, and that's just the way it's going to be. Sorry Clevelanders.

Now that that's out of the way...
They love their Travis Hafner in Cleveland.
Poor Cleveland.
Hasn't Jim Thome taught you anything?
For the ninth time in 13 starts, Odalis Perez allowed either three or four runs in 5-6 innings (if you picked three in five and a third in your office pool... you win!). You gotta love that consistency, as opposed to someone like Fausto Carmona, Perez's counterpart today, who any day now will give up eight runs in two and a third. Trust me, this will happen sooner than later -- but hopefully soon enough to end this ridiculous talk of him being an All-Star over Gil Meche; you know how traditionalists love win-loss records, and Carmona has Meche beat 7-1 to 3-5 in that category. Unfortunately for Fausto, Meche still owns him in (He-)manliness and conquered nations.

The Royals lost 8-3, but the good news -- potentially great news, if this keeps up -- is that Alex Gordon and Joey Gathright both had sizzling days at the plate. Let's start with Gordon, since we've been waiting for this kind of offensive outburst from him since Day 1. He went four-for-four and came up to bat in the 9th with the chance for a cycle, prompting the guy next to me to say, kind of disgustedly, "He's up for the cycle... and he's batting .170."

.190, thank you very much.

In order, Gordon's hits:
2nd: Double to deep right center
4th: Single to deep right
7th: Triple to deep center
9th: Single to right
Here's a picture of his 4th inning single:

There's been little talk of Gordon lately, besides the standard murmuring about how he should be sent down, so who knows if he's finally on track. But if he is having confidence issues, he should do himself a favor and watch the video of today's game on loop, because he looked great standing up there, self-assured and purposeful. Maybe I haven't seen enough of him live to say for sure, but I'm really heartened by what I saw today.

Gathright, meanwhile, picked up three hits, including one on a bunt single. Maybe someone who's seen him live can answer me this -- doesn't he remind you of a young Willie Mays Hayes, the Indians' great? Maybe Hayes was a little taller, had more swagger, but I really see resemblances. Gathright's been hitting better than "like shit" lately, that's for sure. He's now batting .714 for the season, with two stolen bases in two tries.

And now -- I've put this off for too long -- here's a pic of the throw from Mark Teahen that John Buck fumbled in the 8th of a 3-1 game. There were two outs, and Jhonny Peralta would have been out by a mile. Instead, he scored to make it 4-1, and the Tribe went on to score four more in the inning.

So it goes.

Now go enjoy yourself some draft coverage. And Mike Moustakas -- please fire your agent and join us in Royal Nation. Doesn't quite have the ring as "Red Sox Nation," we know, but you'll come to like it.

POSTSCRIPT: A foul ball off the bat of Franklin Gutierrez -- who hit his second HR of the series today, which is the second of his season and third of his career -- ricocheted my way in the 8th, but this man pictured to the right picked it up, about six feet from where I stood. I couldn't complain, however, and not just because he was kind enough to let my aunt take a picture: it was the first foul ball he's ever gotten, and he's been going to games since 1957. Needless to say, there was some congratulating going around.

POSTSCRIPT 2: Thanks to reader Tom A, who reminded me that Gathright can jump over Mitsubishi Galants.

Bannister the stopper, Joey Gathright, draft preview and other notes

I'll be at the game today, but before I go...

Things to read:

DRAFT PREVIEWS from Lee Warren of Royal Reflections, Clark Fosler of Royals Authority, and Megan Stock of the Royals. Draft history with Royals Authority's Craig Brown. All leading up to the live world television premeire of the Major League Baseball amateur draft at 1 p.m. CT. About time, if you ask me.

THE WORLD'S GREATEST FAN, linked through Royals Review.


Gathright, 26, was hitting .328 (61-for-186) for Omaha with eight doubles, two triples, 20 RBI and 50 runs scored. He was carrying a .450 on-base pct. after drawing 37 walks against just 23 strikeouts and stole 21 bases in 26 attempts. He led the league in steals and ranked tied for second in both on-base pct. and walks. He was 13-for-13 in stolen base attempts since May 19 and hitting .374 (46-for-123) since April 26.

I am genuinely excited about this, and not just because Gathright was Dayton Moore's first acquisition. He's one of the fastest players in baseball, and anytime one of your players can be described using a superlative, that's a good thing. But one of the knocks against Gathright has been that despite his speed, he's never been a good base-stealer. Judging by his Triple-A numbers, hopefully he acquired that skill in his recent stint at the farm. If he can produce even a fraction of what he has in Omaha -- okay, a large fraction -- he can be a kick-start to an offense that's been sputtering lately. Okay, for much of the year. Bob of DOAM offers more commentary on Gathright's call-up.

Incidentally, this means we have to say goodbye to Angel Berroa for the second time this year. Tear.

BRIAN BANNISTER IS A STUD. Seven innings, no earned runs. Dick Kaegel of reports. His second consecutive great start drops his ERA to 3.33, which means Gil Meche (3.00 ERA) may have some company in his rarefied air...

(Again, Buddy Bell just about emptied his bullpen, using four guys to collect six outs -- including Dotel for the last three, despite much rockiness -- but hey, whatever works.)

UPDATE: Another draft preview, this one from Royals Retrospective.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Night at Jacobs Field

Just got back from the Jake, where the Royals were shut out by C.C. Sabathia and the Cleveland Indians 1-0. The only run came on a Franklin Gutierrez home run in the 3rd. Call it a hunch, or the ridiculous cold (about 50 degrees with a chilly breeze), or the fact that the Royals have struggled mightily at the plate and Sabathia is somewhat better than Steve Trachsel, but I just had a feeling that was going to be the only run we'd see. It was a shame, because Jorge De La Rosa looked good -- the Gutierrez home run was the first hit he allowed -- as he almost threw a complete game, lasting seven and a third before getting pulled for Jimmy Gobble and David Riske. All things considered, it was a brisk, error-free two-hour, 28-minute game in which each team collected five hits and made a couple of nice plays on the field. If you were a little kid out for your first ballgame, this would have been -- excepting the weather -- about as good as you could have asked for. Somehow this comforts me a little, certainly more than this: after the final out, a drunk Cleveland fan walking up the aisle, seeing my KC cap and connecting one and one, said, "Oh, go ahead. Please." And then, vociferously, "Hey don't worry, it's not your fault! They tried!" I nodded without a witty retort.

Alas, it's still a loss, No. 3 in a row. But maybe by recreating the game experience through color and memory we can assuage the despair, turn it into another thing altogether, a diversion or a snapshot of a moment sheared of its rueful implications (for instance, the loss coupled with the Rangers' win means the Royals now own the worst record in baseball). We'll see...
Jacobs Field really is a lovely stadium, built in 1994 in downtown Cleveland as one of the first new facilities in baseball's decade-long architectural renaissance, an era -- still ongoing, arguably -- that saw the erection of urban wonders such as Comerica Park in Detroit, PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pac Bell Park (now AT&T Park) in San Francisco and PETCO Park in San Diego. My one complaint is that it doesn't seem very intimate -- they say it is, but with all the concourses, the multiple tiers (five, I think) and random razzmatazz, it just has the feel of a postmodern tourist attraction more than a ballpark. That, really, can be the cookie-cutter complaint for all these new ballparks. They look great on TV, and maybe they're even great when you're in your seat with a cup holder, but to actually walk through them is to see that they've sacrificed charm for luster. Where it's slick and stolid with amenities it fails to bleed character.

I'm not one to fawn over Wrigley Field -- it's got problems, certainly, namely its wealth of visitors who don't care about the Cubs or baseball -- but Wrigley has everything Jacobs Field wishes it will have in 80 years: history, charm, character... you know, the intangibles. They're hard to explain -- I can't believe I've criticized Jacobs Field even this much, considering how nice it is -- but it really can be felt. It's the difference between watching a game at the Jake and a game at the K and -- despite the newer stadium's luxury boxes and state-of-the-art everything -- coming away from the K thinking, as a Royals fan, you had a much fuller and enjoyable experience. Maybe Indians fans would say the exact opposite. Maybe that's the point I'm getting at...

Anyway, our $10 seats... not so great. So my aunt and I moved down after the top of the 4th.

Is it wrong to buy cheap tickets and then move down? Personally, I think it's a completely acceptable practice as long as the lower bowl isn't three-quarters full. If that's hard to eyeball, then here's a simple test: in the upper deck, scream, "LET'S GO [OPPOSING TEAM]," and if no one -- not a soul -- makes a move to shout you down, or even offer a counter-chant, or so much as make a wisecrack that they think you can't hear, then you should move down.

At the end of the Indians' half of the 6th, Esteban German was running the ball in when he spotted a child above the dugout. A bunch of people were leaning in, clamoring for the ball, but German lingered at the top step, pointed to the child twice or three times, and underhanded it to the kid. If you ever find yourself wondering whether it's acceptable to root for the Royals, this episode could be your reason No. 1 for why it is.

(Speaking of rooting for the team: I found a Royals fan among the muck. It might be hard to see, but in that crowd there's a black-billed Royals cap. I was glad to see it, since no one else wore our colors, and you know they say one is the loneliest number.)

Reason No. 2 it's okay to root for this team:

Kiss Cam is pretty much my favorite between-innings entertainment, beating even the hot dog race. Tonight, the funny guys at Jacobs Field put these two on the big screen:

I can't quite tell who that is on the left -- I need a better camera, I know -- but the man on the right there is Mike Sweeney. The crowd -- 14,036, or so they say -- as they always do for Kiss Cam, started going nuts. And Sweeney -- because he's a nice guy -- ended up playing along by raising his right arm as if to wrap it around his teammate. No, the two didn't kiss, but Sweeney turned to the guys above his dugout and made a little "What do you want from me?" gesture with his palms extended, complete with a grin. How does anyone not like Mike Sweeney?

In the end, the man pictured below and the guys to the right prevailed. The Royals stayed with the Central-leading Indians all the way, prompting my aunt to tell me, "You know, they aren't bad," but, as it is in these zero-sum games, a loss is a loss.

There is good news, of course. As this blog lives in a baseball world, tomorrow there will be baseball again, good and glorious like the patron saint who sits over this game. There will be jubilee, or perhaps heartbreak, between dusted earth and fine chalk and grass trimmed to the single blade, so precise as to give the illusion of artificiality. Groundskeepers' Art, as it will be titled in the centuries to come where neither baseball nor any other sport will exist. For the moment though, there is peace here between these lines, perhaps a tumultuous, competitive, rough, wonderfully flawed form of peace, but peace all the same. The accord of the ball and bat and those who use them lived long before any of these current players and shall persist long after other expirations, inspiring new generations of fans to keep it lively despite the finite consequences of bat meeting ball, and new writers to guard this national treasure and infuse it with life. So it is with this game, which they call timeless: that it is measured with banners and pennants and box scores is a fact but not its essence; for that, one looks inside to his own imagination, which is constantly calculating the possibilities, impossibly imagining favorable outcomes when bat meets ball -- or doesn't -- and forever predicting, even against the face of reason, a win the next day. There is always that next day, next game.