Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Buddy Bell named new manager

The Royals front office wanted major league experience. They got it in Buddy Bell. Baird didn't say the new manager's experience had to be with winning, and that's a good thing, because Buddy Bell isn't used to winning.

The Indian bench coach has a lifetime managerial record of 345-462, a winning percentage of .428. After being fired by the Tigers in 1998 and the Rockies in 2002 for abysmal starts, it appears that he'll fit right in here in Kansas City.

"We're in a rebuilding mode," Baird told ESPN.com, "and it's all about direction, development and winning ball games. Buddy has been involved in a rebuilding mode in Cleveland for a couple of years, and he has a presence about him.

"The other thing I like is that he was brought to the big leagues at 20 years old, and by age 21 he was on his first All-Star team. He knows the challenges for young kids, and we have a lot of 21, 22 and 23 year-old kids."

If it's all about direction, development and winning ball games, why hire a guy who has no experience in turning around young teams? Bell was an outstanding player and he certainly knows the challenges that young players face, but that doesn't always translate into wins. Tony Pena was a good player in his day too and he was a terrible manager.

The veterans on the team know that they need someone who is the anti-Pena. Listen to some of these comments from players in a recent KC Star article:

"Tony was the type of guy who wouldn't embarrass you," Matt Stairs said. "If he had one downfall, it was that he was too nice.

"I want the next manager who comes in, if he walks through the clubhouse and a phone rings in a locker, to blow the guy up. Same thing if you're five seconds late for stretch. Whatever. Establish some respect."

When some of the players nonchalanted their way through pre-game warm ups in Texas last week, Mike Sweeney was quoted as saying this in the article:

"I blew up on the team after that," Sweeney said. "That why we had that meeting Friday before the first game against the Angels. There are definitely guys in here who need a wake-up call."

And then we have these comments from Brian Anderson:

"The No. 1 thing a guy has to do when he steps in here," Anderson said, "is change the atmosphere and the attitude of the team. And by attitude, I don't mean the attitude on the field. I think Schaef has us focused on the field. You just continue that.

"But a new guy, or Schaef if he gets the job, needs to ensure that guys do things the right way. Rules that have been in place for three years on this team, how about one time we follow them?

"It's not just what happens between the white lines from 7 o'clock to 10 o'clock."

As you know, I was against hiring a manager this quickly. But since he's on board now, let's see what he actually does. I'd love to have a guy who actually demands fundamentals and who manages in a tough, traditional fashion. If Bell turns out to be that guy, I'll be ecstatic.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Sweeney Trade Rumors

Sweeney is disputing the reports that ran a few days ago in the Los Angeles Daily News that suggested that he wanted to be traded to the Angels.

"They came to me and asked me about the rumors," Sweeney said. "I said, 'Hey, look, they're a great team.' But if you see a quote from me that says I want to be traded, it's not true."

I can't imagine Mike Sweeney putting on another uniform. Can you? I know that he lives in California and it makes sense for him to play for the Angels if the Royals are insistent upon dumping Sweeney, but if it is possible for one player to represent a team, then Mike Sweeney represents Kansas City.

He's never hinted that he'll be content to stay with the Royals though if they aren't committed to improving and competing. Since becoming a fixture in the Royals line up, they've changed strategies multiple times and never seem to stick with one long enough to see if it'll work.

We're back in the youth movement mode, which is fine if you have the right youth and a manger who knows what he's doing and if you have a GM who fills in the holes with the right personnel when necessary. We definitely had the wrong manager. The jury is still out on the youth, although some players like Berroa and Gotay and even Teahen to a lesser degree, aren't exactly looking like they belong in the major leagues. And most of the buttons that Baird has pushed in recent years have been the wrong ones.

So we have a mess on our hands and Sweeney has expressed frustration at a ridiculously low (relatively speaking) payroll. Doesn't he have a point? And yet, he's denying the rumors that said he wants to be traded to the Angels. I'm pleased to hear him say that, but I can't help but wonder if he isn't about to enter his final month in a Royals uniform in spite of his wishes.

Royals Swept Again

After watching the Royals implode on Friday night, I'm convinced that Tony Pena is still managing this club. He has to be. How else could you explain leaving a reliever in long enough to see a five run lead evaporate in the ninth inning?

It wasn't all Mike Woods' fault. He did walk the leadoff hitter, which is mind blowing when you are up by five runs and you just need three outs. But Angel Berroa booted a ball off Molina's bat and that certainly didn't help. Following Berroa's error, McPherson singled. At that point, if you are the manager, don't you have at least one guy up in the pen who is getting ready as quickly as possible? Not Pena, I mean Schaef.

Cabrera blooped a ball in for a hit and all of a sudden, the score was 8-4 and the bases were juiced. This is where Schaefer blew the game. He left Wood in and didn't even visit the mound, nor did he send Hansen out. Wouldn't even a little league manager visit the mound in this scenario? You do whatever you need to do to get the next guy ready. Of course, if Schaefer would have had someone up a little earlier, it would have helped.

MacDougal started stretching out and getting ready. Wood pitched to Adam Kennedy and got him to ground to Berroa, who threw the ball into right field trying for the force at second, allowing three runs to score, and Kennedy ended up at third. Unbelievably, Schaefer left Wood in the game. Chone Figgins game-tying single changed that and finally Wood was gone. MacDougal got out of the inning, but McPherson ended the game in the 10th with a solo shot.

Just a horribly managed game…and so Tony Pena-like, that I can't believe anybody but Tony Pena would actually manage a game in such a fashion.

If ever this team was going to quit, it would have been after that game. And they did get drilled on Saturday 14-1. It didn't look like the team quit as much as it looked like the Angels couldn't do anything wrong. That's going to happen sometimes.

In the third game of the series, the Royals fought from behind, led by Tony Graffanino's five hits, and almost pulled this one out in the end—but lost by one run—again. This team has enough players like Mike Sweeney, Matt Stairs, and Tony Graffanino who don't quit that it seems to be sustaining the Royals. Hopefully it continues to do so.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Keep Schaefer

Art Howe got his interview yesterday. Baird and Glass have already interviewed Indians coach Buddy Bell. They've set up meetings with Jerry Manuel and Terry Collins. And according to Bob Dutton and Jeff Passan, "The Royals appear on track to hire a permanent replacement for Pena within the week."

I don't really understand why though. While I don't believe that Bob Schaefer is the guy for the job, what's it going to hurt to leave him in place for the rest of the season? Isn't this season a wash already anyway? Schaefer is a slightly different version of Pena, but the guys do seem to be responding better to Schaefer's "be aggressive at the place" approach. He has earned his spot in the sun and we certainly have nothing to lose by letting him get a nice tan for the remaining four months.

Joe Posnanski has a funny line in his column this morning about the rush to find a new manager:

"They are considering Bob Schaefer and Art Howe and Terry Collins and Buddy Bell, we know that, and they are probably considering others such as Gene Lamont, Don Baylor, Jim Riggleman, Ryan Lefebvre's dad, any of the Lachemann brothers, Frank Lucchesi, Mike Ditka, Lou Brown from 'Major League,' the late Walter Alston and any other manager with the grand experience of being fired."

What happens if we bring in a new guy in the next week and then a month later trade Sweeney? This team is doomed without Mike Sweeney. In fact, they look doomed with him, but if it is possible to make a distinction between doomed and destitute-hopeless-no-chance-in-the-world-to-be-competitive-doomed, then that's what this team is without Mike Sweeney. You could bring in Joe Torre to manage this team for the remainder of the season—with or without Mike Sweeney—and it wouldn't matter.

So why hire someone now? Why not wait until after the season when fans like me can always find a way to muster up hope for a new season? After this dismal season is over, I want to hear a newly hired manager talking about how thrilled he is to be in KC and that he can't wait for Spring Training to open. I want to hear him say that we have a shot at the Twins. I want to see him implementing his style of baseball during Spring Training. I want the fantasy. Hey, sometimes dreams come true and don't try to convince me otherwise. I'm quite happy with fantasies that border on insanity. But the fantasy will be tarnished if the new guy loses two-thirds of the games from here on out.

Instead, let's allow Schaefer to ride off into the sunset, or down the bench a spot, believing that he did what we needed him to do--he held down the fort when we were under attack and took the pressure off the young guys...and in the process allowed them the freedom they needed to become legitimate major leaguers. We have no expectations of this team turning things around this year. We know it's a developmental season. We know they are going to lose 100 games. And while that's not okay, it's okay enough for the rest of this season if Schaefer stays on board.

A Ranger Sweep

I'm glad that series is over, aren't you? Richard Hidalgo killed us. Four home runs in three games. And when you look at the rest of that line up, well…we just don't match up well. The result—a Ranger three game sweep for the first time since 1999.

Jose Lima looked awful again last night. Unfortunately Schaefer doesn't appear to have many options with Lima though.

"I don't know what we're going to do," Bob Schaefer is quoted as saying on the Royals website. "We can't keep getting behind. After the last outing, I thought he was going to get better. He showed some promise. Today I thought he had decent stuff, but the home runs balls kill him. Lima has got to keep the ball in the ballpark and he hasn't been able to do it so far."

With Runelvys Hernandez pitching poorly (2-6, 5.11 ERA) and two guys that we didn't even plan to have in the rotation, D. J. Carrasco (0-1, 5.40 ERA) and Ryan Jensen (1-0, 3.60), we're kind of stuck with Lima hoping that he can turn things around because we can't look to Omaha for the answers. Jimmy Gobble is 1-5 with a 7.61 ERA. Chris George is 3-3 with a 5.68 ERA. And the rest of the staff in Omaha is unproven.

It's hard to even find anything positive to say about Lima's performances at this point. He has started 11 games, won 0, and has had just one quality start. His ERA is 8.13 and he has only worked beyond the sixth inning twice. He does bring a positive attitude to the club, but that only goes so far. Ask Tony Pena.

Before the game, the Royals purchased the contract of RHP Steve Stemle from Omaha and optioned Jaime Cerda to Omaha. Cerda just wasn't getting the job done out of the pen. In 20 appearances, he had a 6.63 ERA. Stemle was 1-1 with 3 saves and a 0.45 ERA in 14 games with Omaha (20 IP, 13 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 12 K).

Stemle was called upon last night and pitched three perfect innings, striking out three guys in the process. Perhaps we can add Stemle to a growing list of good young arms in the organization. Now we need some of the guys who have been around a few years to step up and pitch well.

The Royals open a new series in Los Angeles tonight. D. J. Carrasco (0-1, 5.40) goes against former Royal Paul Byrd (4-4, 4.19).

Monday, May 23, 2005

Royals Fight Back

If any team could overcome a 6 run first inning deficit, it would be the St. Louis Cardinals. Thankfully it didn't happen yesterday. In an error-filled first inning, 6 Royals crossed the plate. Then Royals fans held their breathe when Ryan Jensen took the mound in his first appearance since coming up from Omaha.

Jensen held his own, going 5 innings and giving up 2 earned runs against a deadly line up. Jensen is a lot like Jeff Suppan—the former Royal, whom the Royals faced yesterday. He doesn't throw hard. He keeps the ball around the plate. And he tries to make guys get themselves out. The one difference is that Jensen has a knuckleball that he isn't afraid to throw. He struck Larry Walker out with it and he threw it to another hitter later in the game. His out pitch is his slider and he had reasonable success with it.

Leo Nunez pitched nearly flawlessly behind Jensen in relief—giving up just 1 hit and 0 runs in 3 innings. MacDougal pitched a scoreless ninth.

All in all, we've got to feel good about this series. We dropped 2 of 3 games, but both of our losses were by one run. We stood toe-to-toe with a team that could win the World Series this year and we traded shots. They were just a little better.

  • Sweeney continues to swing a hot bat—going 2-for-4…
  • Berroa went 3-for-4…
  • Buck hit his 3rd home run of the season…
  • Brown was 3-for-4 with 3 RBI and is looking comfortable at the plate…
  • Stairs went 2-for-4…
  • And unfortunately, Ken Harvey went on the 15-day DL with back problems...

Tuesday, Runelvys Hernandez (2-5, 5.17) goes against Ryan Drese (3-4, 6.37) in Texas.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Royals Come Up One Short

The Royals are 4-5 now under interim manager Bob Schaefer. For whatever reason, they have started hitting the ball and they are scoring runs. Maybe it's because they don't feel as much pressure to win right now—certainly they heard the calls for Pena's job in recent weeks and that might have added pressure to a line up that is already overmatched on most nights.

With all of that said, it looks to me like Tony Pena is still managing this club. Quick hooks for starting pitchers, bunts when bunts are not appropriate, and a never ending shuffle of lineups—that sometimes includes Tony Graffanino in the three hole—make me wonder if Bob isn't calling Tony on his cell phone and asking for advice. And Tony must have told Bob to put Marrero in center last night instead of Terrence Long who he put in left. What else would make sense?

But even with the team in disarray, I can't figure out why only 31,513 people show up for a game against the Cardinals on a beautiful night like last night. Especially when Mulder was matched up against Greinke. I'm not saying that we need to support bad decisions and a bad product at all costs. I'm just trying to figure out why a game like this doesn't attract more baseball fans.

Unfortunately, the fans who did decide to show up weren't treated to a well played game. Neither starter pitched well. Mulder was unMulder-like. He walked 5 in 5 2/3 innings. He never looked comfortable and never had command of his pitches. Greinke was rocked in the first inning by a John Mabry grand slam. He settled down after that and just when it appeared that he was in a rhythm, in Pena-like fashion Schaefer took him out after 75 pitches.

Abraham Nunez played third for the Cards and looked the part of a right fielder who was filling in for a gold glover. He dove when he shouldn't have and he isn't quick enough to handle balls smashed his way down the line.

In the end, the Royals came up one short. But they competed against one of the toughest teams in baseball. As hard as that is to take right now, that's the only thing we can take solace in. We've proven that we can compete. And we've proven that we don't quit. Now we need to prove that we can win. With a record of 12-30, we've got a long way to go.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Is it still Lima-time?

We are in mid-May and Jose Lima has an ERA of 7.77. He was spotted a six run lead yesterday after two innings and he couldn't make it out of the fourth inning. He's given up 12 home runs in 46 1/3 innings. His WHIP is 1.73. He's gone from the number one starter to a guy that nobody in my fantasy baseball league even wants. He was dropped several starts ago and he's sitting there on the free agent list for any manager to claim.

As he left the game last night, fans booed him. I'm not crazy about booing him. He did a lot for this club in 2003. He had an unbelievable year for the Dodgers last season. He's a cheerleader in the dugout. He wants to win and he wants it bad. But 9 starts into the season he doesn't look like he deserves a spot in the rotation—let alone the number one spot. I don't think we have a lot of options right now, we're already down one starter with Bautista going down. And Kyle Snyder, a likely candidate for a starting role, is also hurt. So for now, Lima has a spot. Let's hope he can turn things around soon.

Lima wasn't the only pitcher who didn't get it done last night though. Cerda and MacDougal both pitched poorly and the Royals blew a six run lead to lose 12-8.

The good news is—guys are starting to hit. Berroa was 2-for-5, Long was 2-for-5, Brown was 2-for-4, and Gotay was 2-for-3 at the bottom of the line up. Everybody in the starting line up except for John Buck had a hit last night. They also drew five bases on balls. Eight runs ought to be enough to win, but unfortunately, it wasn't last night.

Tonight D.J. Carraso (0-0, 3.00) gets his second start of the season. He goes against Bruce Chen (4-2, 3.38) who is off to a great start.

The Search for a Manager

The list of managerial candidates is long—as it should be during this stage of the process—and it seems to be getting longer. I'm all for it. It prompts discussion about the direction of the ball club and for the first time in several years, we can finally admit that the "let's-just-have-fun-and-everything-else-will-take-care-of-itself" approach will not work.

We need more than cheesy slogans. We need more than huge smiles. And we certainly need more than a manager who is so desperate for runs that he is bunting runners over in the second inning. But what specifically do we need in a new manager? What philosophy does he need to embrace for him to be a good fit for our current level of talent and our budget that the Glass family continues to say can be expanded if the right player comes along?

The obvious answer is fundamentals. He must be a manager who preaches fundamentals at all cost. We don't have enough talent to overcome mental mistakes. The next characteristic that I'd like to see is a no-nonsense sort of guy who cares more about playing the game the way it is supposed to be played than he does about hurting somebody's feelings. But I also don't want a total nutcase running the club who throws bats and water coolers. Somewhere in between would be nice.

Art Howe seems to be the leading candidate right now. Larry Dierker, Grady Little, Jimmy Williams all seem to be in serious contention. Jim Leyland, Bud Black, Larry Bowa and Bob Brenly probably fall to the next tier. And Frank White still figures into the mix even though he doesn't have prior major league experience.

Joe Posnanski in the KC Star chose sides and his choice isn't even among the names anybody is talking about. He wants Bobby Valentine, so he picked up the phone and called him to find out if he would be interested. Valentine showed moderate interest. Here's Posnanski's take:

"Here's what I think Bobby Valentine would do: He would come in, work 20 hours a day, sell the Royals at every Optimists Club and breakfast meeting in the Midwest, demand good baseball, fight with all he's got, irritate the heck out of opponents and make the Royals a factor again, in and out of Kansas City.

"He isn't just the right guy for this job. He's the only guy. And I think if the Royals go after him, he could be had."

Posnanski points to Valentine's turnaround of the Rangers, from a team that lost 99 games in 1985 to a team that won 87 games the next year and had winning seasons for 4 of the 6 seasons he was there. Posnanski also points to the resurgence of the Mets after Valentine took over. They went from 103 loses in 1993 to 88 wins in his first full season with them and they eventually made a playoff run.

I wouldn't argue with bringing in Valentine. He certainly has a track record of turning teams around. He also isn't very well liked for various reasons, but so what? Maybe it would create a little competitive fire. But I don't agree with Posnanski's take that he is the only guy for the job.

I still think Frank White could do a great job. The last thing we would need to worry about if he took over the helm would be a team that lacks fundamentals. The obvious problem is—what does Baird (or the next GM) do three seasons from now if the Royals are still losing 100+ games every season under White? You really can't fire him. You can try to force him out, but then he'll be seen as a quitter.

I think Frank White would be classy enough to recognize the situation for what it was and step down if it ever came to that. He wouldn't quit in the middle of a road trip. He wouldn't fail to address his team. He wouldn't fail to address the fans. He would call it like it is and say that he gave it his best shot, but he was unable to do what needed to be done to turn things around. I don't think people would view him in a negative light if he handled it in such a fashion. I certainly wouldn't. And let's not forget that Frank White wants this. By wanting it, he puts himself in the position to fail. But success always comes with a risk.

And what if Frank White risked his stellar reputation for the chance to turn around a club that has forgotten what it feels like to win and he actually succeeded? We are about to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of the Royals only World Series victory. Certainly we want to remember the players and coaches of that era and they deserve a celebration, but aren't we really hoping to revive that feeling of success we experienced all those years ago? Frank White was on that team. That doesn't necessarily make him a good manager, but he serves as a bridge between the rich winning heritage of the Royals and the uncertain future of a small market club that has drifted aimlessly since the early 1990's.

Right now, Bobby Valentine and Frank White are the only two names that excite me. I actually believe that if one of them were hired that we'd have a fighting chance to be competitive again. Baseball economics have changed the game and recreating 1985 is almost impossible. But until the economical climate does change, I'd be content if we really did just become competitive again.

Wouldn't you?

Monday, May 16, 2005

Baird on Blogs

In the midst of interviewing a couple of Royals players for newspaper assignments I was working on last week, I ran into Allard Baird before the May 13 game against the Devil Rays. So I turned on my recorder and did a two minute impromtu interview with him about Royals blogs.

Q. Are you familiar with any of the KC Royals blogs online?

A. No.

Q. So do you avoid them because of the scrutiny? Or some other reason?

A. Not because of the scrutiny. I think it's very unfair—just like talk shows to me, reading the local newspaper, I think as human beings, no matter how you feel about something—you hear something over and over and over and over. And when things are going good, you're not as good as they are saying. You can't let that factor in. And when things are going bad, you're not as bad as they are saying and you can't let it influence you. I think no matter who you are as a human being, I think the more you hear that stuff, I just don't believe in doing it.

I read the national papers. Obviously I go to a lot of sites to gather information about clubs and everything.

But I think [blogs] are great for the fans. I think they are good for the industry. I think they are outstanding and I see a lot of value to them. Because you [as the blogger] may look at something in a more valued way of a fan rather than a journalist, and you may be able to get them that piece of information.

But for me to go in there doesn't make sense.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Royals Win Series Against the Rays

Zack Greinke had another outstanding performance this afternoon, going 6 1/3 innings, giving up 1 ER and striking out 7, but he left the game tied at 1-1. Alberto Castillo drove in two runs with a triple in the seventh inning and then Castillo came home on a balk to put the Royals up 4-1. The Rays fought back, but fell short by one run.

Greinke is still winless, but more importantly, the Royals won the series 3-1. The line up this afternoon looked Triple-A-ish, but a couple of guys stepped up and made big plays. Tony Graffanino hit in the three hole, which seems a bit odd, but he came through big time, getting hits in his first three AB's. Graff also made some good plays at first base for the second game in a row.


  • Angel Berroa scored the Royals first run with an inside the park home run in the third inning...
  • Mark Teahen was 2-for-3...
  • Mike MacDougal looked strong again in relief, going 1 1/3 innings, giving up 0 R, 0 BB, 0 H—lowering his ERA to 4.08...
  • Ambiorix Burgos struggled again trying to close the game out and had to be lifted after 2/3 of an inning…he gave up 2 ER today to bring his ERA to 8.31...
  • Zack Greinke lowered his ERA to 3.09 and still doesn't have a win to show for it…in his 8 starts this season, the Royals have scored just 4 runs while he's been on the mound…
  • Denny Bautista was put on the 15-day DL and Matt Diaz was called up to replace Bautista on the roster…the Royals have so many position players hurt but not on the DL that they need to go with 10 pitchers and carry an extra position player for a week or so…

The Royals have an off day tomorrow. I'll post my brief interview with Allard Baird here tomorrow evening.

On Tuesday night, the Royals open a new series with the Orioles at home. Jose Lima (0-3, 6.85) goes against Sidney Ponson (5-1, 4.93).

Bob Schaefer's First Comments

I was in the dugout on Thursday when interim manager Bob Schaefer addressed the Kansas City media for the first time. Here's a little of what he said:

"Tony Pena did a lot for this organization that the average person doesn't know about…Tony was a father to some of these guys, a big brother to a lot of these guys. That's what the game is all about. It's about people and Tony did a great job. A lot of young rookies broke in that couldn't have broken in with too many managers. I'm going to miss Tony. He was a great friend. We had a lot of fun together. We won a lot of games together. Hopefully we can continue from here and see what happens."

In the press conference, Allard said that he would consider you as a possible successor. Do you want this job?

Well, that's nice. I mean, I don't know. I'm not going to apply for anything…I appreciate Allard saying that, but again I'm not trying out for the job. I'm doing what I think is best for the organization. What's best for the players. And if it's not me, whoever it is, hopefully we can make some progress…

How do you prepare for the balancing act when you reach a point where you're losing so many games that it harms development?

"Well, everybody wants to win. But you can't win at the expense of development...I think what we're doing here is the right way. We're going to scruff a little bit and play some bad games. But I see some improvement. Our job as the manager and coaches is to encourage these kids. The toughest thing for a young player is to lose his confidence real quickly. You lose your confidence quickly, you start pressing and doing things that don't feel natural…"

Friday, May 13, 2005

Royals Manage Only 4 Hits in Loss

Another gutsy outing by a starter. D.J. Carrasco, making his first start of the year, pitched 6 innings and only gave up 2 runs on 5 hits. Cerda and MacDougal both pitched well in relief—keeping the Royals in the game through the first eight innings. The Royals were down 2-1 as the entered the eighth when they got a rally going.

Teahen singled to lead off the inning. Gotay blooped a pitch in front of Hollins in center. Berroa got a sacrifice bunt down and moved the runners over to second and third. That was the end for starter Doug Waechter—who pitched well. DeJesus drew an intentional walk and Marrero hit a ball deep enough to center to score Gotay from third on the sacrifice. The game was tied 2-2 after eight.

Ambiorix Burgos entered for the ninth inning. After striking out Cantu and Hall, Alex Gonzalez crushed the first pitch he saw 425 feet into the left center field fountain. Rays win 3-2 after the Royals are unable to muster a come from behind victory in the bottom of the inning.

Not a lot to analyze tonight. The Royals only had 4 hits. It's hard to win games when nobody is hitting, and not having Sweeney in the line up makes all the difference.

Ken Harvey left the game after his first AB with tightness in his back.

That's it for me from the press box. I'm headed back to Omaha in the morning. I got the interviews I needed for the two newspapers I write for.

The Day After

When I made plans to come to Kansas City and interview a couple of players for two newspapers I write for, I had no idea that I'd walk in to such chaos. Allard Baird was in the middle of a press conference yesterday when I got to the ball park. I slipped in and caught the tail end of it.

One reporter asked him a question that I think we've all been asking: Why didn't Tony Pena address his team after he decided to quit in the middle of the road trip? Why did some of his players have to find out about his decision from reporters?

Baird said that Pena would need to answer that question. I agree to a point. But I would have liked Baird to say something along the lines of, "I don't know his personal reasons for deciding to not address the team. He's an emotional guy and maybe he thought he wouldn't be able to keep himself composed. But, I still think he should have been the one to tell the team. Unfortunately, he didn't."

Most of the players weren't in a talking mood before the game yesterday and that was certainly understandable. The media had limited access to the players because the Baird press conference ran a little long and because the Royals kept the clubhouse closed longer than normal. The mood was what you would expect from a team whose eternally optimistic manager quit on them when the going got tough. Guys were a little down.

But they came out and fought hard, and after several torrential downpours, and a rain-shortened game, the Royals were victorious 7-5. After giving up a five run lead, they won anyway. As much as this team has been through, much of which has been self-inflicted, some of which has not, they are still playing hard even though they are only 9-26. Hats off to them for doing so.

I had a chance to interview Allard Baird briefly this afternoon and I asked him about the blogosphere—specifically about blogs that are written about the Royals. I'll post his response here in the next couple of days.

Tonight, we've got D.J. Carrasco, just up from Omaha going against Doug Waechter (1-2, 6.58).

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Tony Pena Resigns

Tony Pena resigned last night after the loss in Toronto. As likable as the guy was, he was a bad manager whose time had come and gone.

"I've been thinking about it for the last three weeks," Pena said. "It made me sick. I wasn't eating well or sleeping well because I thought so much about the way we played. I don't think we've played to the top of our ability."

Pena couldn't do anything about the poor batting averages, that's for sure. But if I saw one more sacrifice bunt in the second inning, well…I just couldn't take it anymore. You'd think that he was just desperate for runs and that's why he played small ball so early in games, but he was always an unconventional manager who made decisions that just didn't make sense.

During his first season, I was at a game when he decided to put Lee Stephens on base and pitch to Ellis Burks with the game on the line. The only thing left in doubt was which water fountain the ball would land in. For the record, it landed in the left field fountain.

His optimism seemed odd after the team went in the tank last year. The pasted on smile, the shower dances, the crazy predictions, the "believe" slogan, and on and on. I'm all for positive reinforcement, but not when it is detached from reality.

Baird is reportedly considering hiring Frank White as the next manager. And Larry Bowa wants to be considered. Even George Brett's name is being mentioned already. Brett doesn't appear to be interested and Frank White has expressed interest repeatedly. Baird obviously has confidence in White since he sends all of his young talent to Wichita rather than Omaha and he even sends guys like Berroa to White when they are struggling.

Frank White knows baseball. He understands youth movements. And he can bring something to the club that other prospective managers (except Brett) couldn't—a sense of what it was like to play for the Royals when they were champions. History is a good thing to have on one's side, and Frank White definitely has history.

We'll see what happens. Mark me down for favoring Frank White. For now, bench coach Bob Schaefer will manage the club.

This should make for an interesting visit to the Royals clubhouse tomorrow and Friday. I leave early in the morning to interview several players and I'll be interested to see what the atmosphere is like. I probably won't be posting anything here until after the game tomorrow night.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Complete Game Nets Loss

Another well pitched game by Zack Greinke, another game when the Royals could only score one run with Zack on the mound. He retired the final 15 batters of the game, pitching his first complete game of his career and the Royals still lost. They are now averaging 1.3 runs per game when Greinke pitches. How is that even possible?

Sweeney hit another home run, his 9th of the season, and lest anybody doubted it before, he's officially on fire. I'm not entirely sure why teams keep pitching to him, but he seems to hit a lot of home runs early in the game. Maybe that has something to do with it.

Not much else to add. In a game that was so well pitched that it lasted just 1 hour and 44 minutes, Roy Halladay was just a little better than Zack Greinke. Of course, the line ups they faced weren't exactly equal.

Not Enough Offense

The loss last night looked much like every other loss this season—simply not enough offense. The Royals are 3-7 on their current road trip with a 4.66 team ERA. Not exactly lights out, but good enough to keep them in most ball games. But not with the .214 team average that they've sported and the 36 runs (3.6 rpg), 10 of which were scored in one game, over that same stretch of time.

The Royals are 8-24. Just so you have an idea about how bad things are, at this time last year, they were 11-21. This is the worst record the Royals have ever posted after their first 32 games. Not good.

Brian Anderson was placed on the 15-day DL with soreness in his left elbow. The Royals purchased the contract of Leo Nunez from Wichita to replace Anderson's spot on the roster. Nunez was 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in Wichita. He started the year in rookie ball where he had an ERA of 8.31 in 8 games.

Zack Greinke (0-3, 3.38 ERA) gets the ball tonight against Roy Halladay (4-2, 3.78).

Monday, May 09, 2005

Burgos to the Rescue

After losing another heartbreaker on Saturday night, it looked like the Royals were going to blow an 8-1 lead yesterday afternoon in Baltimore and send this season into depths that we didn't even know existed. But as they've done all season, the Royals kept battling, even after the Orioles tied the score at 8-8 in the 6th inning, and the Royals pulled this one out 10-8.

KC played a little long ball, with Sweeney (is there anybody hotter right now?) hitting his 8th of the season, Stairs hitting his 3rd, and Berroa hitting his 3rd. As you might imagine, the 10 runs that the Royals scored was their highest one game total of the season.

Brian Anderson had to leave the game after two innings with an elbow injury. Mike Wood didn't look nearly as sharp out of the pen as he has been in recent days. He gave up 3 ER. Cerda looked horrible, giving up another 3 ER in just 1/3 of an inning (raising his ERA to 9.39). And MacDougal blew the save opportunity before Burgos saved the day, pitching the final 2 2/3 innings, retiring all eight batters that he faced.

The guys flew to Toronto after the game and will open a three games series there before returning home to play the Devil Rays, the Orioles, and the Cardinals.

I'll be in the Royals locker room on Thursday and Friday on assignment for two newspapers. If I have some extra time, I'll try to bring you some exclusive interviews. If you have any questions you'd like me to ask, leave them in the comments and I'll give it a shot.

Runelvys Hernandez (1-4, 5.03) goes against Josh Towers (3-1, 3.57) in Toronto tonight.

Omaha vs. Nashville

I had a chance to catch the Omaha Royals on Saturday night. D.J. Carrasco got the start and he looked sharp. He changed speeds well and kept the ball down. He left the game after 4 2/3 innings with a 4-1 lead and I never did find out why. He didn't appear to be injured, but he must have been.

Aaron Guiel had two hits, one of which was a monster shot over the center field wall. I'm thinking he'd look pretty good in the KC line up right now. He's only hitting .263 in Omaha, but his swing looks as good as ever. He did show some indecision in right field on two plays and one of the instances cost the O. Royals a run.

Chris Truby looked good at third base, making all the routine plays. And he hit a towering home run down the left field line. But with Teahen playing the way he is in KC right now, I don't see Truby even getting a second look from the big league club.

One name you might want to remember is Byron Embry. He's the closer for the O. Royals and this guy can throw some serious heat. His ERA is a rather inflated 4.76, but he picked up his 7th save of the season on Saturday night and he looks tough.

The O. Royals won this one 6-4 and are hovering around the .500 mark.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Offense Falters Again

Here we go again. The Royals dropped their fourth straight game last night to bring their dismal season record to 7-22. The Royals managed only five hits in the ball game.

Sidney Ponson threw inside all night and Royals hitters couldn't get around on the ball. He struck out 8 and looked to be in total command.

Denny Bautista on the other hand did not. His stuff looked nasty, but I think Guy Hansen needs to pull Bautista and Greinke aside and say something like, "Okay guys. You have nasty stuff. You can throw your main pitches at 267 different arm angles and you can change speeds with the best of them. But let's chose your out pitch and work from there. You don't need all these arm angles and you can't throw major league hitters big looping 12-6 curve balls every plate appearance. And one other thing. Your fast balls and sliders are above average. You don't need to throw them harder. Just throw them. You'll get guys out."

Bautista kept throwing curve balls and too often he got them up. And when he did throw the hard stuff, he overthrew it and left it up over the plate. The Orioles didn't exactly smash balls in the gaps against him, but they took advantage of a guy who was trying to do too much.

"He was trying to make everything extra nasty," Buck said. "And his slider came up. His breaking ball came way up. That's usually what happens when he does that. He just kept throwing harder and harder. Most of the time, that's not better."

On a positive note, Angel Berroa and Mark Teahen made several outstanding defensive plays. Teahen made one bare handed throw on a trickler up the third base line that brought back fond memories of Joe Randa. And Berroa went way up the middle behind second base and made a strong throw to get a guy at first. It was nice to see a little defense on the left side of the infield.

Kyle Snyder looked outstanding again out of the pen, going 3 1/3 innings and giving up only 1 hit and 0 ER to lower his ERA to 1.46. He kept us in a ballgame that we probably shouldn't have been in.

Jose Lima (0-2, 6.40) goes against Bruce Chen (3-1, 3.78) this afternoon in Baltimore. Lima is showing signs of turning things around. This would be a good time for the designated stopper to end a four game skid.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

From Model to Debacle

For the first seven innings today the game against the White Sox was a model for the way baseball is supposed to be played. Pitchers threw strikes and defenders made plays.

Zack Greinke battled Jose Contreras in a marvelous pitchers duel for the first seven innings. Greinke had complete control over all three of his main pitches and while he threw his slower-than-molasses curve ball on a number of occasions, he also threw a faster variation of his curve and it kept the White Sox off balance.

Tony Graffanino broke the scoreless tie with a home run in the top of the seventh inning and it looked like that's all we would need to win this one.

Greinke, who had never pitched into the eight inning before, opened the eighth inning with a walk and he seemed to be out of steam. He then hit Jermaine Dye in the middle of the back and his day was done. At that point, the game became a debacle.

Andy Sisco took over for Greinke and walked two guys to tie the game at 1-1. Pena removed him and gave the ball to Burgos who walked in the go ahead run. And without one hit in the eighth, the White Sox scored all the runs they needed to win the game 2-1.

Pena's Smile Fades

Tony Pena stopped smiling long enough to shut the locker room door last night and give his team a little talking to after yet another loss. Reporters who waited outside said they heard what sounded like a fist pounding on a table and a thump against a wall that might have been a bat.

He apparently wasn't upset about the effort that the Royals are giving, but instead about the attitude that some players have that seems to be more concerned about individual statistics and performances than wins and losses.

"He's just asking for guys to play with heart and really care—care about winning and losing and not just be here to worry about getting a hit or pitching a good inning or two," Sweeney said.

"It doesn't matter if you're 0-for-4. If we win the game, it's time to celebrate. If you're 4-for-4 and we get our tails kicked, you should be ticked off."

I've been hoping for this day for the past several years. Now I wonder if people are going to start saying that the players can't relate to Pena since that seemed to be so important when Tony Muser was here.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Everett Steals Game in the End

I wish I could remember who the Royals were playing that hot summer day at Royals Stadium in the early 1990's, but it doesn't really matter. What mattered, and what I'll never forget, is how George Brett seemed to sense that the Royals needed a boost that day. He single-handedly picked the ball club up, slid them on his back, and carried them to victory.

The game was close—tied if I remember correctly. You could see the steam rising off the astroturf. Remember those days? Brett hit a looping shot in front of the center fielder and slightly to his right. A single. But Brett was running hard and turned the corner at first like he intended to take second. Wait a minute! He is going to try to take second. The outfielder was shocked by Brett's aggressiveness and then he was shocked a second time when the ball bounced on the astroturf and seemed to keep climbing towards the moon. Brett slid into second and ended up scoring the winning run.

We haven't had a guy on our club who could do something like that in a long time—until Mike Sweeney. On Sunday, the Royals needed someone to pick them up and carry them across the finish line. Especially after giving up a five run lead. Mike Sweeney socked his second home run of the game and the Royals had their first two game winning streak of the season.

Then last night the guys opened a new series against the White Sox. They were up against the ace of their staff, Mark Buerhle. Mike Sweeney smashed a ball over the left field wall in the first inning to give the Royals a two run lead and you could just feel the rest of the team relax. The White Sox countered with a two run shot of their own to tie the score. Sweeney blasted another home run to put the Royals up 3-2, becoming the first Royal to hit two home runs in two successive games since Darrell Porter in 1977. How’s that for perspective.

Later in the game, with the Royals up 4-3, Carl Everett doubled in two runs and gave the Sox a 5-4 lead and unfortunately, the fairy tail ended with a Royals loss. But you get the feeling that Mark Buerhle doesn’t want to see Mike Sweeney again any time soon unless he bumps into him at a restaurant. And you also get the feeling that the Royals are still not even close to giving up.

Brian Anderson pitched well, picking up a quality start, giving up 3 runs in 6 innings. He had all three of his pitches working. His change was sharp and he was able to keep it on the outside of the plate and down most of the game. His curve had bite and he placed his fast ball relatively well.

Unfortunately, Everett got to Sisco out of the pen late in the game. That’s going to happen sometimes.

Mark Teahen was activated and went 1-for-3. He made another poor throw on a dribbler up the third base line. He probably should have just held on to the ball because he had no chance to throw the runner out. Hopefully his discernment will improve with experience.

Tonight, Runelvys Hernandez (1-3, 5.06) goes against Freddy Garcia (2-1, 2.83).

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Sweeney Comes Up Big

What a bizarre game. Jose Lima took a five run lead and a no-hitter into the sixth inning and before the inning was over, the Indians tied the game at five. But just as the Royals have done all year, they kept battling—even when the momentum seemed to put on the opposing team's uniform.

Mike Sweeney hit two home runs. The second one was the game winner in the eighth inning. It's hard to imagine the Kansas City Royals without Mike Sweeney. When the game is on the line, you just know that he's going to do what it takes to win.

And for the first time this season, the Royals have a two-game winning streak. It's nice to win the series, but it would be even nicer to get over the no-series-sweep-in-the-last-70-series hump. Going that long without a series sweep almost doesn't seem possible, does it?

Ambiorix Burgos picked up his first major league save. He certainly seems to have the temperament for the closer's role.

"It's not difficult, like you guys say, to be a closer," Burgos said.

I guess we'll have to see how he feels after he's blown his first save, but he doesn't seem to be easily intimated and he appears quite willing to challenge hitters. Both major pluses.

Let's talk a little about the rotation. Here are the statistics for the starting pitchers in April:

The Starters

StartersStartsERARunsRuns/StartW-LQuality Starts

Lima: Not exactly putting up numbers you would expect from your ace. He's showing signs of turning things around, but continually seems susceptible to the big inning—usually the first. The Royals aren't giving him a lot of run support, but with only 1 quality start and an ERA over 6.00, he doesn't have anybody to blame but himself for his poor record.

Hernandez: Very similar start to Lima's. He's not getting a lot of run support, but his ERA is bad and he only has 1 quality start to date.

Greinke: Has looked like the ace, posting a respectable ERA. Hasn't won a game yet, but with 1.4 runs per game of support, it's easy to see why. Greinke eventually has a chance to be the first legitimate Royals Cy Young contender since David Cone and baseball people in Kansas City often mention his name in the same sentence with Bret Saberhagen—probably justifiably so. Time will tell.

Bautista: Had one bad outing and several good outings—including 3 quality starts. If Pena can get Bautista to go along with Buck's pitch selections, Bautista could turn in a fine season. He's getting a lot of run support though, so we'll have to see what happens when the Royals aren't scoring 5 runs per game when he starts.

Anderson: New delivery, same poor results. One wonders if we'll ever see the 2003 version of Brian Anderson again. With an ERA over 7.00, things aren't looking up for Brian.

Tomorrow is an off day. The Royals travel to Chicago to open a new series against the White Sox on Tuesday. Brian Anderson (1-2, 7.54) goes against Mark Buehrle (3-1, 3.89). Let's see if we can extend the winning streak to 3.
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