Saturday, May 31, 2008

Game 56: Cleveland @ Kansas City

Game Date: May 31, 2008
Royals 4, Indians 2 / Box Score
WP: Davies (1-0), LP: Sabathia (3-7) SV: Soria (12) 
Royal Home Runs: DeJesus (4)
Royals Record: 22-34

Kyle Davies didn't look like a stopper tonight, but he was good enough to finally put an end to the losing streak. He threw 100 pitches in just five innings, but he limited the Indians to just one earned run, and it's hard to ask for more than that from your number five guy--especially since his last start was in Omaha.

David DeJesus had a big night at the plate, hitting a solo home run in the third to tie the game 1-1, and an RBI double down the left field line in the fifth inning. Joey Gathright had a nice AB in the fifth inning with the game tied and runners on second and third with one out. The Indians were conceding a run if Gathright could hit a ground ball to second or short and he was able to hit one to short to drive in Teahen to give the Royals a 2-1 lead.

With Ramon Ramirez unavailable since he pitched two innings last night and with Leo Nunez on the DL, Trey Hillman decided to use Joakim Soria for the final two innings to try to preserve the Royals' 4-1 lead. Things got a little dicey when Gathright lost a ball in the lights and it dropped in. But in the end Soria, pitched out of trouble in the eight and slammed the door in the ninth.

It was nice to see nearly 24,000 people at the ballpark for John Mayberry Bobblehead night. Now let's hope the Royals can get another W tomorrow afternoon.

Brian Bannister (4-6, 4.97) will go up against Paul Byrd (2-4, 4.10). Bannister is 1-1 in his career against the Indians with a 1.37 ERA in 19.2 IP. Byrd is 1-4 against the Royals with a 5.20 ERA in 53.2 IP.

Game 55: Cleveland @ Kansas City

Game Date: May 30, 2008
Indians 5, Royals 4 / Box Score
WP: Lee (8-1), LP: Tomko (2-7), SV: Borowski (4) 
Royal Home Runs: None
Royals Record: 21-34

The losing streak has reached 12. And even the Kansas City Star is starting to pile on. After the meltdown a couple of games ago, the Star began running a pole on their website that asks, "How will the Royals lose tonight?" In my opinion, it's tacky and it goes beyond the bounds of good journalistic practices, but hey, they are free to do what they want to do.

Going up against Cliff Lee, Gil Meche knew he was going to have to pitch well for the Royals to even have a chance of winning. They pretty much pitched to a draw (Lee gave up four earned runs in six innings and Meche gave up three earned runs in five innings). But Brett Tomko, in his new bullpen role, came in and gave up a two-run home run to Casey Blake in the top of the sixth inning and it turned out to be the deciding factor.

But it wasn't the only factor. The Royals actually committed two base running blunders in one play. In the bottom half of the sixth, the Royals had Joey Gathright on second and David DeJesus on first with two outs. Esteban German hit a single to right field and Gathright looked like he was going to score. But DeJesus rounded second and Ben Francisco, the right fielder, threw behind him and tagged him out before Gathright reached home. Meanwhile, Gathright was watching Francisco, which slowed him down just enough to get himself thrown out at home. Here's what Gathright said afterward:

"It was just kind of a mental error on both of us. I was running hard, but when I saw [Francisco] wasn't coming home, I slowed down a little bit. So that gave them time to tag David, and I couldn't score. It's just a mental error."

If there is any good news to be found, it can be found in Mark Teahen who is finally starting to drive the ball again. He singled to center and tripled down the right field line. It'd be nice to see him get on a hot streak and plug a few gaps along the way.

Things won't get any easier for the Royals tonight. Kyle Davies, fresh up from Omaha, will get his first start of the season. He'll go up against C.C. Sabathia. Davies is 0-3 in his career against the Indians in his career with a 12.27 ERA in 11.0 IP. Sabathia is 14-9 against the Royals with a 3.35 ERA in 196.0 IP.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Game 54: Minnesota @ Kansas City

Game Date: May 29, 2008
Twins 5, Royals 1 / Box Score
WP: Slowey (2-4), LP: Hochevar (3-5)
Royal Home Runs: None
Royals Record: 21-33

The Royals offense was stymied once again tonight. This time they made Kevin Slowey look like Cy Young. I'm amazed by how many starting pitchers have went the distance against us during this losing streak--all the while throwing right around 100 pitches. Let's count them, shall we?

Pitcher Date Pitches
1 John Lester May 19 130
2 Roy Halladay May 23 104
3 Jesse Litsch May 24 103
4 Kevin Slowey May 29 101

Nick Blackburn almost did it last night.

The Royals managed just six hits and no walks tonight against Slowey. I just went back and looked and I can't find a single AB all night in which a Royals hitter even got to ball three. The Royals are the anti-Money Ball team if there ever was one.

And can somebody please tell me why Joey Gathright is in the two hole? Does he really handle the bat well enough to be there? Or are we so desperate for runs that Hillman is thinking that Gathright has a better chance than anybody to get a good bunt down in the first inning to move DeJesus into scoring position if he gets on? Surely that can't be it. Maybe with Grud sidelined for a couple of games, Hillman's hands are tied. But I'd much rather see DeJesus hitting second when Grud can't. He handles the bat better.

Luke Hochevar struggled with his command tonight and gave up five earned runs on nine hits and three walks in 5.1 IP. The bullpen did a good job. Ron Mahay, Yasuhiko Yabuta, and Neal Musser kept the Twins off the scoreboard over the final 3.2 innings. But the five runs that the Twins scored earlier was more than enough.

After being swept in three successive series, the Royals will open a new series tomorrow night at home against the Indians. Gil Meche (3-7, 5.35) will go up against Cliff Lee (7-1, 1.50) who completely shut the Royals down the last time we faced him. Meche is 3-7 in his career against the Indians with a 5.54 ERA. Lee is 8-4 against the Royals with a 4.81 ERA.

Davies to Replace Tomko

And here's the announcement that Kyle Davies will replace Brett Tomko in the starting rotation. Davies is set to start against the Indians on Saturday night. Tomko will move into the bullpen and either Joel Peralta or Yasuhiko Yabuta will be sent to Omaha.

Billy Butler Sent to Omaha

Billy Butler was sent down to Omaha today. If it was good for Mark Teahen in 2006, it might be just as good for Butler. One thing I know, you can't keep putting a guy in the middle of your lineup who isn't driving the ball. One home run and 18 RBI in 186 AB is as close to unacceptable as you can get. Let's hope he gets things figured out soon.

Mike Aviles got the call to Kansas City to replace Butler and Trey Hillman said before the game tonight that he's going to get a look at shortstop. He's really a second baseman though. He's played 32 games there in Omaha and 18 games at short. I'm guessing that we're going to pay the price defensively for this move, but at this point, we really need his bat in the lineup. He was hitting .336 with 10 HR and 42 RBI in 214 AB in Omaha.

Leo Nunez has officially been placed on the 15-Day DL. Neal Musser was recalled from Omaha to take Nunez's spot. And I expect Kyle Davies to get the call soon to take Tomko's spot in the rotation.

Jose Guillen: Too Many Babies Here

"Too many babies here. They don't know how to play the game and win the game right, the way it's supposed to be played. And that's the problem here. Now I know why this organization's been losing for a while. Now I know." --Jose Guillen, minus the profanity [Hat tip: Big League Stew]

My first thought after hearing Jose Guillen's profanity laced tirade against his teammates last night was that it was from a guy who plays for a team that has lost ten games in a row and he's sick and tired of it. I totally understand that. But the more I thought about it, the more I concluded that this is the Jose Guillen I've been hoping we'd never see.

I could be wrong. Maybe this will be the clarion call his teammates needed to hear. But I doubt it.

How many of them do you think called Guillen after his comments last night? How many of them will ask him this afternoon who the babies are? How many will write off his rant as typical Jose Guillen? And finally, how many will examine themselves and make the necessary changes?

Time will tell.

Many people are giving Guillen credit for his willingness to voice his frustration. Fair enough. But if you want to give a guy credit for such a thing, shouldn't he at least be willing to tell us who he is talking about? And what if the Royals had finished off the game the way they should have, would he have still made such comments? Would he have still believed that the Royals have too many babies in the locker room? Probably. But what specifically prompted him to make those comments last night?

Was it Ramon Ramirez's performance? Is he a baby because he gave up four earned runs in two-thirds of an inning? He had a 2.14 ERA coming into the game, so did he become a baby overnight? Surely, if he were afraid to go after guys, he'd have a higher ERA because more guys would be on base. Or maybe it was Joel Peralta's giving up the three-run home run to Craig Monroe? No doubt, Peralta has struggled this year, but he was solid out of the bullpen last season. Even if you just look at his numbers this season, he's given up just two walks and has a 1.11 WHIP in 15 appearances. He's giving up the long ball, but he's certainly not afraid to go after guys.

We don't know because Guillen wasn't specific. Rather than confronting specific players like a leader does when he sees a problem, he threw a tantrum instead.

Kind of like a baby, minus the profanity.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Game 53: Minnesota @ Kansas City

Game Date: May 28, 2008
Twins 9, Royals 8 / Box Score
WP: Crain (3-2), LP: Peralta (0-2), SV: Nathan (14)
Royal Home Runs: None
Royals Record: 21-32

Zack Greinke left the game tonight with an 8-3 lead. He'd thrown eight strong innings (3 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 8 K on 117 pitches) and surely nearly everybody in the stadium expected the Royals bullpen to finish things off and finally end this ridiculous losing streak.

Not so fast.

Ramon Ramirez took over to to start the ninth. He struck out Michael Cuddyer and then gave up a single. He struck out Delmon Young and the Royal faithful stood and cheered thinking the end was near.

Here's what happened next:

  • Jason Kubel took second on a wild pitch.
  • Mike Lamb singled to right to drive in Kubel to make it 8-4, Royals.
  • Brendan Harris singled.
  • Carlos Gomez singled to drive in Lamb and it was 8-5, Royals.
  • Joel Peralta came in and served up a three-run dinger to Craig Monroe and all of a sudden the game was tied 8-8.
  • And then in tenth, Morneau homered to right off Peralta and you just knew that the game was over. Sure enough, the Royals went in order in the bottom of the tenth and the losing streak reached ten.

So, why didn't Hillman bring in Joakim Soria? He threw 31 pitches in two innings last night, and he pitched the night before that as well. Jimmy Gobble threw 33 last night. Ron Mahay threw 17. Hillman had little choice but to bring in Ramirez and Peralta. He certainly wasn't going to bring in Yasuhiko Yabuta.

I don't know that you can fault Hillman for this loss. The bullpen simply didn't get the job done. So, we press on.

Tomorrow night, Luke Hochevar (3-4, 4.54) will go against Kevin Slowey (1-4, 4.21). Hochevar has never faced the Twins. Slowey is 0-0 against the Royals in his career with an 8.10 ERA in 3.1 IP.

Game 52: Minnesota @ Kansas City

Game Date: May 27, 2008
Twins 4, Royals 3 / Box Score
WP: Crain (2-2), LP: Nunez (3-1), SV: Guerrier (1)
Royal Home Runs: Teahen (3)
Royals Record: 21-31

The Royals were on the verge of being shut out again last night, when Mark Teahen came to the plate with one out and two runners on base. He sliced a ball down the left field line that was just out of reach of Delmon Young. Young made a sliding attempt at the ball and when it got past him, took a leisurely stroll after it. Teahen had no problem circling the bases for an inside-the-park home run to tie the score. Surely that would be the play that led to the end of the losing streak, right?


The Royals still needed to find another way to score in extra innings and they found that to be just as difficult as they did in the first eight innings. And what finally did in the Royals in the top of the twelfth inning? A one-out walk given up by Leo Nunez that came around to score two singles later.

Who among us isn't already starting to think about the 19-game losing streak in 2005? And who among us thought those days were over with the likes of Gil Meche, Brian Bannister, Billy Butler, Joakim Soria, and Alex Gordon added to roster?

If anybody can put a stop to this mess, Zack Greinke can. Unfortunately, Greinke (5-2, 2.82) will go up against Livan Hernandez (6-2, 4.22) who has already beat the Royals twice this season. Greinke is 2-3 in his career against the Twins with a 3.65 ERA in 49.1 IP. Hernandez is 2-0 against the Royals with a 2.57 ERA in 14.0 IP.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Game 51: Kansas City @ Toronto

Game Date: May 26, 2008
Blue Jays 7, Royals 2 / Box Score
WP: Marcum (5-3), LP: Tomko (2-6)
Royal Home Runs: None
Royals Record: 21-30

Well, the Royals scored twice yesterday. That's more runs than they've scored in a game since last Thursday in Boston. But getting swept in two successive four-game series on the road has to be the bottom, doesn't it? It's never happened in Royals history until now. During the eight game losing streak, the Royals hit just .205 as a team.

Brett Tomko continues to struggle in the rotation. He gave up six more earned runs yesterday in six innings of work and his ERA is now 6.11. At some point soon, I expect Kyle Davies (who is 6-2 with a 2.06 ERA in 10 starts in Omaha) or somebody else to get a shot at Tomko's spot in the rotation.

Speaking of replacements, Trey Hillman has no plans to replace Tony Pena at shortstop, even though he is hitting just .162 (the lowest batting average among all active regular players in the Major Leagues) and he has an anemic OBP of .204. According to Hillman, Pena isn't the problem.

"If the guys who are supposed to be hitting will just hit, then he's not the issue. The issue is the other guys in the lineup who are hitting one through six on any given day."

As true as that is, you still can't have a starting player hitting .162 in the lineup. You just can't. Because when the other guys aren't hitting, you at least want some semblance of a chance that one of the guys at the bottom of the order might pick them up. Pena is as close to a sure out as anybody in baseball. 

The Royals return home to begin a new series tonight against the Twins. Brian Bannister (4-6, 4.94) will attempt to play the role of stopper. He'll go up against Nick Blackburn (4-3, 3.55). Bannister is 3-0 in his career against the Twins with a 1.45 ERA in 31.0 IP. Blackburn is 0-0 against the Royals with a 0.00 ERA in 2.2 IP.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Game 50: Kansas City @ Toronto

Game Date: May 25, 2008
Blue Jays 3, Royals 1 / Box Score
WP: McGowan (3-4), LP: Meche (3-7), SV: Ryan (11)
Royal Home Runs: None
Royals Record: 21-29

An old baseball theory says that once you get to Memorial Day, you pretty much know what you've got as a team. However, I'm not all that sure that doing any sort of evaluation while riding the wings of a seven game losing streak is a good idea. But it's hard to resist.

Here is where the Royals rank offensively:

Totals 179 25 171 .256 .314
MLB Rank 30 30 30 19 26

You don't have to look hard to see that we are at or near the bottom in many of the primary offensive categories. Our power numbers are pathetic; we aren't hitting for average; and we aren't getting on base. Not good combinations. But you don't need me to tell you that.

Here is where the Royals rank in pitching:

Totals 21 4.51 .262 1.35 146
MLB Rank T25 22 T15 11 3

As good as our pitching staff was early in the season, their recent efforts have been disappointing. Ten teams in MLB have a team ERA under 4.00. In mid-April, if someone would have asked you if the Royals would be one of ten teams to have an ERA under 4.00, you probably would have said yes. I certainly would have. But here we sit with a 4.51 team ERA. For a little perspective, that places us one position behind Washington, and you probably know that Odalis Perez is the "ace" of their staff.

Pitching wasn't a problem yesterday though. Gil Meche pitched well, giving up two runs in six innings, but the Royals couldn't figure out a way to score more than one run. They had ten hits, which is a good sign, but nine of them were singles. With an exception or two, this lineup seems incapable of driving the ball.

The Royals are already down 4-0 in the third inning this afternoon. Not good.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Losing Streak

So, the losing streak is at six and this is about the time of year when some of the people who call themselves Royals fans starting talking about the Chiefs, although I have no idea why a 4-12 team would fire anybody up.

It'll be nice when this season-long road trip is finally over for the Royals. It started out with such promise in Florida, but it soured in Boston, and it carried over to Toronto. Let's hope the Royals can salvage a game or two before the trip ends. Hillman's answer is for the Royals to play harder:

"All you can do is grind it out. You play the game harder. You run harder, field harder and let the pitches go with more conviction. You just keep going.

"The schedule doesn't stop. There's no sense in feeling sorry for ourselves. We haven't played well."

I'd settle for them just playing hard. With a few exceptions, we are swinging at nearly everything. Our plate discipline seems to be at a low point right now and the concept of working a count into a hitter's favor seems like a foreign concept. Conversely, it would help if our pitching staff would stop falling behind so many hitters and allowing guys to sit dead red. Three grand slams in the last three games is ridiculous.

This afternoon, Gil Meche (3-6, 5.58) will go up against Dustin McGowan (2-4, 4.21). Meche is 4-5 in his career against Toronto with a 5.01 ERA in 59.1 IP. McGowan is 0-1 against the Royals with a 3.52 ERA in 7.2 IP.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Game 47: Kansas City @ Boston

Game Date: May 21, 2008
Red Sox 11, Royals 8 / Box Score
WP: Matsuzaka (8-0), LP: Bannister (4-6), SV: Papelbon (14) 
Royal Home Runs: Guillen (6), Olivo (6)
Royals Record: 21-26

This series was everything I was afraid it might be; a sweep with very little to show for it. We struggled to score runs for the first three games and then scored eight during the finale and it still wasn't enough. Before the series started, I had high hopes that our starters would figure out a way to keep us in games, but they gave up 18 earned runs in 22.2 IP (good for a 7.14 ERA). And the Royals are now in fourth place--5.5 games out of first in the AL Central in a year in which playing .500 ball would have them in second place.

The Royals gave up two grand slams yesterday. Banny gave up one to J.D. Drew in the second inning. And Jimmy Gobble gave up one to Mike Lowell in the sixth. But, if there is a positive in all of this, the Royals found a way to battle back even though they were down 11-3 after Lowell's blast. Jose Guillen hit a solo shot in the seventh. And Miguel Olivo doubled in Mark Teahen during the same inning to make it 11-5, Boston. Then, in the next inning Olivo hit a two-run home run to make it 11-8, Boston. And in the ninth the Royals actually had the tying run at the plate in Alex Gordon, but Papelbon got him to fly out to end the game.

I'm thinking that Hillman needs to find a way to keep Olivo's bat in the lineup. He's only played in 26 of the 47 games the Royals have played, but he is still tied for the team lead in home runs (6), and he's third on the team in RBI (19). I'm not crazy about putting Olivo in the DH spot when Buck is catching because we could lose our DH for a game if Buck got hurt, and Buck isn't having a terrible season, but at this point, maybe Olivo should be our starting catcher. He doesn't know the pitchers as well, and that's a minus, but it might be worth the trade off.

Well, thankfully that series is over and the Royals are off to Toronto. Zack Greinke (5-1, 2.18) will go up against Roy Halladay (4-5, 3.38). Greinke is 1-2 in his career against the Blue Jays with a 4.05 ERA in 26.2 IP. Halladay is 7-3 against the Royals with a 3.11 ERA in 84.0 IP.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Game 46: Kansas City @ Boston

Game Date: May 21, 2008
Red Sox 6, Royals 3 / Box Score
WP: Colon (1-0), LP: Tomko (2-5)
Royal Home Runs: None
Royals Record: 21-25

How bad is the Royals offense right now? They've been beat down on successive nights by two starting pitchers who had just been called up from the minor leagues. Joey Gathright offered this assessment after the game about one of those pitchers, Bartolo Colon, who has been pitching in Triple-A Pawtucket:

"He doesn't throw as hard, but he still has good stuff," Joey Gathright said. "He kept the ball down, kept us on our toes. He still has good stuff no matter where he's been and how long he's been gone. He's still Colon."

Unfortunately, Colon was good enough.

Brett Tomko struggled, giving up five earned runs on seven hits and one walk in 4.1 IP. With Kyle Davies pitching the way he is in Omaha (5-2, 2.17 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 32 K, 20 BB in 9 starts), you have to wonder how much longer Tomko will stay in the rotation.

But pitching really isn't the Royals problem right now. Guys like Mark Teahen (who is hitting .255 with just two home runs) and Billy Butler (who is hitting .262 with just one home run) just aren't getting the job done at the plate.

I never thought I'd say that about Billy Butler, but just look at his numbers: .262 AVG / .337 OBP / 1 HR / 18 RBI / 11 D. For a guy who is primarily a DH, those numbers aren't going to cut it. He looks lost at the plate right now. He isn't even hitting fastballs. He's going through his first adjustment at the Major League level and the Royals desperately need him to get things figured out soon.

And I'm beginning to wonder about Mark Teahen. He has just 12 RBI and ever since he's moved from third base, he hasn't been the same player. Maybe we expected too much after his hot stretch in 2006. Maybe we should stop expecting him to drive the ball. But the problem is, he's either a corner infielder or a corner outfielder, and you sort of need those guys to drive the ball.

With all of that said, I like moving Teahen to first--even though we are going to have to endure another adjustment period from him defensively. The move takes Ross Gload out of the line up and inserts Joey Gathright, who makes things happen. He doesn't get on base often enough (he's hitting just .250), but when he does, look out. He's stolen 11 bases in 33 games. If you look at Gload's numbers, he's played in five more games, but he has the same number of home runs (0), just two more RBI, and a batting average that is just five points higher. All things considered, it makes much more sense to put Gathright in the line up right now instead of Gload.

Alex Gordon is quietly putting together a decent season at the plate. He's hitting .296 with 5 HR and 21 RBI. He has an outstanding .374 OBP. Projected over an entire season he'd be just shy of 20 HR and 80 RBI. But let's be honest, all of us have higher hopes than those numbers. It's just that right now, when you look at our young guns--consisting of Butler, Teahen, and Gordon--Alex is the only one who is putting up acceptable numbers.

I'm a big proponent of patience and we have little choice but to be patient right now. So, let's see what happens next.

Brian Bannister (4-5, 4.29) will go up against Daisuke Matsuzaka (7-0, 2.15) this afternoon. Bannister is 0-1 in his career against the Red Sox with a 6.00 ERA in 6.0 IP. Matsuzaka is 1-0 against the Royals with a 1.29 ERA in 7.0 IP.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Game 45: Kansas City @ Boston

Game Date: May 20, 2008
Red Sox 2, Royals 1 / Box Score
WP: Masterson (1-0), LP: Meche (3-6), SV: Papelbon (13)
Royal Home Runs: None
Royals Record: 21-24

Fundamentals. That's what Trey Hillman was all about this spring. Unfortunately, the Royals, namely Jose Guillen, failed to get it done when the game was on the line last night.

With the Royals down 2-1 in the eighth inning, David DeJesus doubled down the right field line to lead off the inning. Mark Grudzielanek moved him to third. Alex Gordon drew a walk, which brought Jose Guillen to the plate with a chance to tie the game with a sacrifice fly. Hideki Okajima threw him three straight fast balls and struck him out swinging. Papelbon came in and struck out Billy Butler to end the threat.

It's too bad because Gil Meche pitched well. He struggled in the second inning and gave up two runs, but after that he settled in. In fact, by the sixth inning he retired 10 straight. He had his cutter working early, but it seemed to flatten out on him and he began to throw more change ups and curve balls and the Red Sox had a hard time figuring him out. He ended up throwing 119 pitches and he retired 16 of the last 18 guys he faced.

Paul Splittorff mentioned a couple of startling facts about Meche during the game. Meche is receiving less run support this season than he did last. And last season opponents hit just .233 against him with RISP. This season they are hitting around .400. Less run support plus a much higher opponents batting average with RISP equals a 3-6 record.

You might be tired of me talking about Mark Grudzielanek here, but he did a couple of things yesterday that kept the Royals in the game.

In the third inning, shortly after Meche had thrown 32 pitches in the bottom half of the second, the Royals were on the verge of going 1-2-3 on about five pitches and sending Meche right back to the mound. Tony Pena grounded out on the second pitch. David DeJesus lined out on the second pitch. And Grud came up and looked at a first pitch strike--probably hoping to extend the AB to give Meche a bit of a breather. He watched the next four pitches and ended up drawing a walk. Alex Gordon singled after that and was subsequently thrown out after getting caught between first and second. But by then, Meche had enough time to catch his breathe. From there on out he was nearly unhittable (he gave up just one hit after that).

Then, in the eighth inning, Grud moved DeJesus to third with a chopper up the middle, which gave Guillen and Butler a chance to tie the game.

Unfortunately, the Royals only ended up with five hits for the evening, so I guess we're right back where we were before the Florida series. Nothing against Justin Masterson, because he threw a good game, but he's not even staying in the Major Leagues. He was sent down to make room for Bartolo Colon. Masterson is the type of guy who you've got to get to in a series like this--especially when your supposed ace is mowing down the opponent.

Tonight, Brett Tomko (2-4, 5.32) will go up against Colon (0-0, 0.00). Tomko is 1-1 in his career against the Red Sox with a 7.02 ERA in 16.2 IP. Colon is 14-7 against the Royals with a 4.88 ERA in 151.1 IP.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Game 44: Kansas City @ Boston

Game Date: May 19, 2008
Red Sox 7, Royals 0 / Box Score
WP: Lester (3-2), LP: Hochevar (3-3)
Royal Home Runs: None
Royals Record: 21-23

The last time it happened, I was six years old. And frankly, I don't even remember it. That's probably a good thing. But being no-hit by Nolan Ryan was close to a norm. The guy did it seven times; so the time he did it against the Royals sort of blends in with all the others.

Enter Jon Lester--the feel good story of last season; the 24-year-old cancer survivor who found himself pitching in the World Series. He mowed down the Royals last night and became the second player to toss a no-no against the Royals. And it's hard to be upset about it because of all that the guy has been through. I didn't jump for joy, but I also wasn't upset.

I waited to write this post because I wanted to see what others around MLB might be saying about the Royals. I fully expected several, "Yeah, but it was the Royals" comments. I haven't turned on Sports Center or Baseball Tonight, so such comments may have been made there, I don't know. But this morning I started by checking out 18-20 Red Sox blogs and found nothing that demeaned the Royals. I even found this:

There are some who would make mention of the fact that his opponent was the Kansas City Royals. Sure, but this devalues both the Royals and the accomplishment, and in needless ways. --Over the Monster

Of course, forums are a different story. Here's what one Red Sox fan said:

Jon Lester was great, but it was the Royals.

But enough about that.

Do you get the feeling that this series could be the turning point in the Royals season? I do. Especially after last night. If the Royals get swept out of town they will be five games under .500, and while it won't be the first time this year, I can't help but wonder if it might be the breaking point. I have nothing to base this on other than a gut feeling. I just hope I'm wrong. While I'm talking about hope, I also hope that I don't get to find out.

Gil Meche (3-5, 5.98) gets to have a say. He'll go up against Justin Masterson (0-0, 1.50). Meche is 4-1 in his career against the Red Sox with a 3.86 ERA in 46.2 IP. Masterson has never faced the Royals.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Game 43: Kansas City @ Florida

Game Date: May 18, 2008
Royals 9, Marlins 3 / Box Score
WP: Greinke (5-1), LP: Badenhop (1-3) 
Royal Home Runs: Teahen (2), Guillen (5)
Royals Record: 21-22

So, what's going on with the Royals offense? They've scored 27 runs in the last four games. Of course, three of those games were against Florida, and the Marlins' defense is close to pitiful. But still.

Jose Guillen finally caught fire and he's driving the ball. In fact, he had four RBI in this game, two of which came off a monster shot he hit over the left field wall in the seventh inning. All of a sudden, he's seventh in the AL with 30 RBI. Of course, Emil Brown is fourth, so let's not make too much out of it yet.

Zack Greinke wasn't lights out like he's been most of the season, but even so, he ended up with a quality start, going six innings and giving up three earned runs on nine hits, one walk, and five strike outs. His ERA rose to 2.18, but I'm guessing that nobody in Kansas City is complaining.

Trey Hillman decided to use Jimmy Gobble to eat a couple of innings, which we haven't seen for a couple of seasons. And Yasuhiko Yabuta pitched the ninth in yet another mop up role. At least he's put together back to back outings without giving up a run.

Mark Grudzielanek picked up two more hits and he finds himself leading the AL in hitting with a .331 average. Ryan Lefebvre reported during the game that Grud was supposed to sit today to get a little rest, but he felt good enough to play, so he sent a text message to Trey Hillman and told him he wanted to play. Hillman relented and and it turned out well.

Mark Teahen finally hit his second home run of the season--an opposite field shot in the third inning. But we're already a fourth of the way into the season and he's on pace to hit just eight home runs. Gone are the traces of the 2006 Mark Teahen and in his place, we have a somewhat light hitting corner outfielder who isn't afraid to take a walk once in a while. He has a great attitude and is willing to play wherever management wants him to, and he has a great throwing arm, but is that enough?

There were all sorts of tidbits of info to pass along from this game:

Lefebvre reported that Tony Pena Jr was begging Mark Grudzielanek in the dugout yesterday to show him how he gets so many hits--mostly little flares in front of outfielders. One of the obvious answers would be for Pena to stop swinging out of his shoes. Another would be to attempt to work the count in his favor. Pena has four walks for the entire season, which is second from the bottom on the team, and if my memory serves me correctly, he's been intentionally walked twice.

Zack Greinke had two hits in the game today--a double and an infield single. The last Royals pitcher to get two hits in one game was Steve Busby back in 1972.

Did you see the throw that Jose Guillen made in the sixth inning to get Dan Uggla at home? Good stuff.

Matt Tupman got his first Major League at bat during the game and he singled to right field. Way to go Matt. He'll be headed for Omaha as John Buck rejoins the team in Boston.

Cookie Rojas, the former Royals second baseman before Frank White, is now a radio broadcaster for the Marlins. Did you get a chance to see him on television? FSN Kansas City showed him briefly during their broadcast. I'm so old that I can actually remember seeing Rojas play, and he retired way back in 1977.

Finally, Lefebvre told a great story on the air today about Miguel Olivo and his wife Gloria. They have six children. Two of their children aren't theirs naturally. They took in two neighborhood children who needed a loving home and the state of California (the Olivo's official state of residence) signed off on it. How cool is that?

Well, the Royals got this road trip off on the right foot, winning two of the first three games. Now they move on to Boston for four games. Luke Hochevar (3-2, 3.94) will go up against Jon Lester (2-2, 3.95). Hochevar has never faced the Red Sox. Lester is 1-1 against the Royals in his career with a 2.77 ERA in 13.0 IP.

Game 42: Kansas City @ Florida

Game Date: May 17, 2008
Marlins 7, Royals 3 / Box Score
WP: Kensing (3-0), LP: Bannister (4-5) 
Royal Home Runs: None
Royals Record: 20-22

Kansas City lost the game last night, but not all was lost. Joakim Soria signed a three-year contract with a three-year club option, which could keep him in Kansas City through 2014. The first three years is worth $8.75 million. And if the Royals pick up the options for 2012-2014, the contract will be worth about $32.75 million. Soria could make the fourth year a guarantee if he has a certain number of appearances. It also contains clauses that would pay him more money if he pitches a certain number of innings--which is probably built in because of the possibility of him becoming a starter at some point.

And now to the game...

Brian Bannister took a 3-2 lead into the seventh inning, but he wasn't able to keep it. "I went out there and kind of was pitching on fumes but thought I could get it done," he said after the game. "But my pitch quality was kind of deteriorating, and I wasn't hitting spots. It was a frustrating way to ruin a quality start and a win for this team."

His final line wasn't pretty: 6 ER, 7 H, 2 BB, 5 K, 6.1 IP. You might be able to fault Hillman for letting Banny go back out there for the seventh since he was so tired, but at the same time, I like Hillman's way of allowing starters to go as long as possible before giving way to the bullpen. Apparently, he just let Banny go one inning too long last night.

Mark Grudzielanek had three more hits last night to raise his average to .325. I know this guy is nearing the end of his career, or maybe the end of his career in Kansas City, but I'm going to be sorry to see him go. I love the way he plays the game. Jose Guillen had two more RBI. Billy Butler had the only other RBI for the Royals.

And so, just like that, the winning streak is over. Now let's hope they can start a new one. Zack Greinke (4-1, 1.93) will go up against Burke Badenhop (1-2, 5.97) this afternoon. Greinke is 0-0 in his career against the Marlins with a 0.00 ERA in 2.0 IP. Badenhop has never faced the Royals.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Game 41: Kansas City @ Florida

Game Date: May 16, 2008
Royals 7, Marlins 6 / Box Score
WP: Tomko (2-4), LP: Miller (3-3), SV: Soria (11) 
Royal Home Runs: Olivo (5)
Royals Record: 20-21

Thankfully the Marlins are a poor fielding team. They were only charged with one error, but they probably should have been credited with three or four. But the Royals took advantage of the Marlins misfortune and that's a key difference from seasons past. Over the past few years, a team would attempt to hand us a game and we'd give it right back.

Not this time.

Jose Guillen is looking better right now than he has all season. He singled in two runs in the first inning. He hit a deep blast to left field to lead off the fourth inning that bounced off the wall and ended up as a double. He ripped a single to center in the fifth inning. And he raised his average to .238. Still nothing to write home about, but it's nice to see him driving in runs.

Going into the fourth inning, the Royals were up 2-1, and that's when the comedy of errors began for the Marlins. After Guillen doubled, Billy Butler grounded out. Then Miguel Olivo reached first on what probably should have been an error, but it was ruled an infield single. Then he stole second. And after Mark Teahen struck out, the Marlins walked Tony Pena intentionally to get to the pitcher, Brett Tomko, and Tomko reached first on an error by Hanley Ramirez--Guillen scored on the play. Joey Gathright followed that with a bases loaded walk to drive in Olivo. That gave the Royals a 4-1 lead.

Brett Tomko was solid for six innings, giving up two earned runs on five hits and one walk. He struck out four. He left the game with the Royals leading 4-2. They went up 6-2 when Olivo hit a towering two-run home run to left field in the eighth inning. And that looked like it would be the ball game, but the Marlins had success against the bullpen tonight. They scored two runs against Ramon Ramirez to make it 6-4 in the eighth. And the finally got to Joakim Soria.

In the top of the ninth, Joey Gathright popped a bunt into the air, but Wes Helms whiffed on it and it dropped into fair territory. He picked it up in time to force out DeJesus at second, but after Mark Grudzielanek walked, Alex Gordon singled in Gathright and that turned out to be the game winner because Jeremy Hermida took Soria deep in the bottom of the ninth to bring the Marlins to within a run.

I've been wondering how Soria would respond after giving up a big blow like that. And he hardly let it phase him. He came right back and struck out the next two guys to end the game. That's what a closer does.

It was an ugly win, but who cares? A win is a win and the Royals have won five straight, which brings them to within a game of .500, and it puts them just 1.5 games out of first in the AL Central.

Tomorrow night Brian Bannister (4-4, 3.75) will go up against Scott Olsen (4-1, 2.63) who was originally scheduled to pitch tonight. Bannister has never faced the Marlins. Olsen is 0-1 in his career against the Royals with a 6.00 ERA in 6.0 IP.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Game 40: Detroit @ Kansas City

Game Date: May 15, 2008
Royals 8, Tigers 4 / Box Score
WP: Meche (3-5), LP: Rogers (3-4) 
Royal Home Runs: Guillen (4)
Royals Record: 19-21

When you look at the Tigers on paper, they look far too good to be swept by the Royals twice in one year. But the game isn't played on paper and thankfully the Tigers haven't found a way to play as a team yet. The Royals will see them again in Kansas City July 21-23. It'll be interesting to see if the Tigers still look as lost as they do right now.

With Gordon, DeJesus, and Grudzielanek on the bench this afternoon, you had to wonder how the Royals were going to score runs. The short answer was, walks, infield hits, and timely hitting. Here are the details as chronicled by an article on the Royals website:

The small-ball offense finished the game with four walks, two steals, a sacrifice bunt, a bunt single, two infield singles, two bloop singles and a strange popup from Gload that barely made it out of the infield, but somehow turned into a double.

The Royals got on the board in the first inning after Joey Gathright drew a walk and Esteban German reached on an infield single. Billy Butler drove them both in with a double to right field. And one hitter later, Miguel Olivo doubled in Butler.

The second inning was more of the same. Ross Gload had the aforementioned weird double that ESPN's play-by-play lists as a double to shortstop. Tony Pena followed him with a single. Gathright reached on an infield single, and that scored Gload. German put down a sacrifice bunt. Billy Butler walked. And Jose Guillen walked with the bases loaded to drive in Pena.

It was that kind of game for the Royals; one that surely made Trey Hillman proud.

Gil Meche kept the Tigers in check most of the game, going seven innings and giving up three earned runs on six hits and two walks. He struck out six and gave up one home run. He finally has his ERA under 6.00 and he seems to be gaining steam, which is nice to see given how well most of the other starters are pitching.

The Royals begin an eleven game road trip that'll take them to Florida, Boston, and Toronto. Tomorrow night, Brett Tomko (1-4, 5.67) will go up against Scott Olsen. Tomko is 7-2 in his career against the Marlins with a 3.18 ERA in 73.2 IP. Olsen is 0-1 in his career against the Royals with a 6.00 ERA in 6.0 IP.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Game 39: Detroit @ Kansas City

Game Date: May 14, 2008
Royals 2, Tigers 0 / Box Score
WP: Hochevar (3-2), LP: Verlander (1-7) SV: Soria (10) 
Royal Home Runs: None
Royals Record: 18-21

The Royals rotation continues to mature and improve. Tonight, Luke Hochevar went six innings in his fifth start of the year and he shut out the Tigers on just four hits. He struck out five and walked three and he lowered his ERA to 3.94. Not bad for a guy who started the season in Omaha.

Offense for both teams was a bit of a scarcity tonight. Not only did Hochevar pitch well, but Justin Verlander finally got his act together and had a good outing. But he did give up a two-run single to Joey Gathright in the second inning with one out and that's all the Royals needed.

What can you say about the bullpen? The combination of Ron Mahay, Leo Nunez, and Joakim Soria gave up just two hits and no runs over the final three innings.

Soria stretched his scoreless inning streak to 16.1 innings. You have to go back to September 22, 2007 to see when he last gave up a run. In case you are wondering, he gave it up to Detroit in Detroit. The last run he gave up at home was September 12, 2007 against Minnesota. His WHIP is 0.31. He's given up just four hits and one walk and we're in the middle of May. He's on one of the most ridiculous runs I've ever seen from a closer. Let's hope it lasts a while longer.

Tomorrow afternoon, the Royals will try to complete their second successive sweep of the Tigers this season. Gil Meche (2-5, 6.31) will go up against Kenny Rogers (3-3, 5.82). Meche is 6-4 in his career against the Tigers with a 3.83 ERA in 91.2 IP. Rogers is 20-17 against the Royals with a 3.90 ERA in 256.1 IP.

Game 38: Detroit @ Kansas City

Game Date: May 13, 2008
Royals 3, Tigers 2 / Box Score
WP: Nunez (3-0), LP: Cruceta (0-1), SV: Soria (9) 
Royal Home Runs: None
Royals Record: 17-21

It's games like this that give Royals fans hope. And why not? Look around the league right now. Tampa Bay leads the AL East. The evil Yankees are more games out of first place in their division than the Royals are in theirs. Oakland wasn't supposed to contend in the West, but they are six games over .500 and just a half a game back. Florida is two games up on the Mets in the NL East.

It's still early. And the Royals are still struggling to score runs--a trend that will probably continue all season, but their pitching staff is probably the best KC fans have seen in twenty years. And most of them are young or in their prime. They are also gaining confidence, having fun (with an exception or two, like John Bale), and putting the Royals in a position to win.

Zack Greinke's outing last night is a good example. He gave up two earned runs on nine hits and two walks in six innings. As he was running out of gas at the end of the sixth inning, the bases were loaded with two outs, and he knew that the game was on the line. In seasons past, Buddy Bell would have probably came and got Greinke, but that isn't Hillman's way. And I like that. Greinke stayed in to face Pudge Rodriguez and he went right after him--striking him out on three pitches.

"Pudge always hits me good, but I made three really good pitches," Greinke said after the game. "I felt like it was going to decide the game. I threw all three as hard as I could and luckily they went right where they needed to be."

So Greinke left the game with it tied 2-2. Two innings later, Trey Hillman pushed all the right buttons and the Royals scored the winning run on an infield hit up the middle by Mark Teahen that led to a throwing error by Edgar Renteria, who tried to flip the ball awkwardly to second. Esteban German, who was pinch running, was on second when the play started and he scored easily.

Royals fans had other reasons to cheer throughout the game. Mark Grudzielanek was 3-for-4. He fouled a ball off his ankle early in the game and went down in a heap. He got right back up and kept going. Later in the game, during the sixth inning, he knocked a ball down to keep the Tigers from scoring. And that set the stage for Greinke to strike out Pudge, who was the next batter. Grud plays the game right and it paid off last night.

Jose Guillen banged two doubles, the second one coming in the eighth inning, which led to German pinch running for Guillen and then scoring the winning run. Guillen's first double drove in the first two runs of the game. The funny thing is, as poorly as Guillen has hit this season, he is still tied for the club lead in RBI with 19. Granted, he's in a prime spot in the batting order to drive in runs, but still, just imagine how many runs he might have driven in if he was hitting .272 (his career average) instead .216.

Tonight, Luke Hochevar (2-2, 4.94) will go up against Justin Verlander (1-6, 6.43). Hochevar is 0-0 in his career against the Tigers with a 2.70 ERA in 3.1 IP. Verlander is 6-0 against the Royals with a 2.65 ERA in 57.2 IP.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

How I Became a Royals Fan: Jeff Parker

Name: Jeff Parker
Location: St. Joseph, Missouri
Age: 36
Website or Blog: Royally Speaking

Tell me a little about yourself. What do you do for a living? What do you like to do for fun? What are your hobbies?

I work for a plant that makes salad oil and butter based products for restaurants. I have been married for 13 years and have three kids so I really enjoy family quality time. I love to golf and while I'm not very good, it is very relaxing so I usually go about three or four times a month.

How old were you when you first started following the Royals?

My earliest Royals memory is when I was about four years-old. I was sitting on the floor playing catch with my dad while the Royals were on TV. From that time on baseball and the Royals became a passion.

How did you initially become interested in the Royals?

Just living an hour north and having a dad who followed them probably made me a prime candidate to be a Royals fan. (My dad is also a Cardinals fan but I love him anyway.) Plus back then (the 70s) there was no ESPN or Fox Sports Net so they were the only game on TV.

Who was your first favorite Royals' player and why?

This one is easy, Freddie Patek. I think its because I was always the smallest kid in my class and I could relate. He's also the reason I played shortstop in little league. I was very heartbroken when he left the Royals and I actually became a big Angels fan for a few years. He is still my all time favorite Royal.

Can you remember the first time you saw a game at Royals /Kauffman Stadium?

The first game that I remember was in 1979 against the Red Sox, I don't really remember who won but I do vividly recall a drunk guy sitting behind us who took off his shirt and declared to everyone in general admission that he was no longer a Royals fan and he just stated shouting "Go Red Sox!"

Are you old enough to remember the 1985 season? If so, where were you when Darryl Motley caught the final out of Game 7?

I was 14 when KC won the World Series so I remember everything about the season. I watched Game 7 with my dad and it was really incredible. KC absolutely dominated the Cards and there was no doubt who was going to win, which in my opinion made the game that much more enjoyable. That team just seemed to have a touch of destiny about it and it didn't matter that they were down 3-1 to the Blue Jays and 3-1 to the Cards. I just knew they were going to win it all.

Also, George Brett got robbed of the MVP that year.

Are you old enough to remember seeing George Brett play? If so, what is your favorite George Brett memory?

So many great Brett memories, but the one that stands out is the home run versus Goose Gossage in the 1980 ALCS.

Tell me your favorite memory from the 2003 season when the Royals spent most of the season in first place in the AL Central.

Mike MacDougal striking out Barry Bonds looking. The look on Bonds face was priceless. That team's hitting with RISP was just off the wall nuts. Too bad management opted to get older in the off season.

Who is your favorite Royals player right now? Why?

Mark Teahen, because he does whatever they ask him to do without complaining. Plus, he doesn't mind taking a walk.

What are your favorite memories of Mike Sweeney?

Whenever Mike would go on a hot streak, he could put the team on his back. When healthy he was one of the best right handed bats in the game.

Some not so good memories I have is the way he was treated by some KC fans. The booing was just ridiculous.

What are your thoughts about the current Royals roster?

I like it for the most part. I predicted 80 wins but I really will be happy with 72+. They actually may just be a power bat away from contending this season. I was not happy about the Huber trade because I felt he could have been very productive as an everyday DH and I think Billy Butler can play a capable first base. I love the pitching staff and the bench is probably among the best in the league. But this team needs a power hitter whether through a trade or through production from Guillen and Gordon.

This series will run periodically here at Royal Reflections. If you'd like to be interviewed for this series, send Lee an email and he'll be in touch. Also, please note: all photos belong to the interviewees and are not to be copied and/or posted elsewhere.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Game 37: Baltimore @ Kansas City

Game Date: May 11, 2008
Royals 4, Orioles 0 / Box Score
WP: Bannister (4-4), LP: Burres (3-4)
Royal Home Runs: None
Royals Record: 16-21

I was out of town this weekend, which explains the lack of posts, but I was able to follow both games the Royals played, and after losing 12 straight to the Orioles, the Royals finally ripped the monkey off their back yesterday--thanks largely to Brian Bannister.

Bannister had all of his pitches working and he shut out the O's for eight innings, giving up just two hits and two walks. He said he was motivated for a couple of reasons:

"Regardless if you were here all 12 of those losses, I think we needed to take it on ourselves to end this thing. As a starting pitcher, a shutout is the best medicine to end a losing streak. To beat this streak and to beat my own personal losing streak, there were a lot of factors going into it, so I was pretty motivated to pitch a great game."

The Royals scored their first run in the second inning. Jose Guillen singled to lead off the inning. Billy Butler followed him with a single. And Mark Teahen drove in Guillen with a single of his own. The Royals scored another run in the third when Guillen singled in Alex Gordon with out one. And the Royals picked up two more runs in the seventh--one from a fielder's choice with bases loaded and no outs and the other on a two-out single from Butler.

Joakim Soria came in to finish off the game and he sat the Orioles down in order in the ninth. Amazingly, he still hasn't given up a run yet this season. He's appeared in 15 games and he's thrown 14.1 innings. To put that into perspective, if he were to give up an earned run the next time he pitches an inning, his ERA would still be only 0.58. As deserving as he is, I wouldn't expect the national press to even notice him since he plays in Kansas City. I did find this blurb about him though on the USA Today fantasy baseball page that is just a little dated:

"Soria is a perfect 8-for-8 in save opportunities and has yet to allow a run in 13 innings this season. With a 15/1 K/BB ratio so far in 2008 and an excellent rookie season in 2007, he's looking like a good bet to establish himself as one of the American League's elite relievers."

The Royals are off today. They won't be off again until June 2. Tomorrow night they will begin a new series at home against the Tigers. Zack Greinke (4-1, 1.80) will go up against Justin Verlander (1-6, 6.43). Greinke is 7-3 against the Tigers in his career with a 3.15 ERA. Verlander is 6-0 against the Royals with a 2.65 ERA.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Game 35: Baltimore @ Kansas City

Game Date: May 9, 2008
Orioles 7, Royals 4 / Box Score
WP: Trachsel (2-4), LP: Meche (2-5), SV: Sherrill (12)
Royal Home Runs: Gordon (5)
Royals Record: 15-20

So the Royals dropped their eleventh game in a row to the Orioles last night. What is it about them? The answer is probably the same one we've been hearing all season: a lethargic offense by the Royals and good pitching by the Orioles.

Look at the seven game scores against the Orioles from last season--all of which Baltimore won, obviously:

Date Score Winning Pitcher Losing Pitcher
4/12/2007 2-1 (10 inn.) Ray Standridge
4/13/2007 8-1 Bedard Duckworth
4/14/2007 6-4 Williamson Peralta
5/28/2007 9-1 Trachsel Elarton
5/29/2007 6-2 Guthrie De La Rosa
5/30/2007 3-0 Bedard Meche
9/24/2007 3-2 Walker Meche

The Royals were outscored 37-11 by the Orioles in 2007. Scoring 1.5 runs per game isn't going to win many season series. In fact, in shouldn't win any season series.

Alex Gordon's first inning two-run home run last night looked like it might finally turn the tide in the Royals favor. But Melvin Mora came right back in the third inning with a two-run home run of his own. And then in the fifth, the game changed. Trey Hillman chose to intentionally walk Nick Markakis to pitch to Aubrey Huff, the clean up hitter, with two guys on base and two outs.

Of course, Markakis just hit a three-run bomb against the Royals in the previous game and that's what Hillman was thinking about when he had Meche walk him. Unfortunately, Huff made him pay with a three-run home run of his own. The Royals came back to score single runs in the seventh and eighth inning, but by then Meche had been chased from the game and Ron Mahay had given up two more runs.

Here's what Hillman said after the game about his decision to pitch to Huff:

"It was because I think Aubrey Huff is less dangerous at this point in time than Nick Markakis. Just last night, Nick took a changeup that was up and over the plate and deposited it over the center-field fence.

"Gil was going to his changeup some tonight, and Nick's more dangerous on all pitches, in my opinion, from studying his statistics. I went with what I thought was right, and it didn't work out."

The Royals will try again tonight to break the Orioles winning streak against them. Brett Tomko (1-3, 4.98) will go up against Garrett Olson (1-0, 2.08). Tomko is 0-0 in his career against the Orioles with a 7.11 ERA. Olson has never faced the Royals.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Angels' Series

I was in the Royals' and Angels' clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, working on assignment for a newspaper. I was in both clubhouses to interview players that my editor asked me to, so I don't have a lot of inside information to give you about the Royals, but I have a few little blurbs that I thought might interest you.

Mark Gubicza is an Angels radio broadcaster. During one of the games, he walked through the press box and he bumped into Frank White, who was obviously in there because he's doing work for FSN Kansas City. Gubicza asked White what he was up to and White filled him in on his new broadcast duties. And I'm sure that they caught up with each other after that. Where else would two former teammates meet up but in the press box? It seems that even after the game passes players by, so many of them love the game so much that they find ways to stay involved.

I was in the Royals clubhouse when John Bale made his statement to the media about breaking his hand. The media was told that Bale wouldn't be taking any questions and that he was quite upset and embarrassed by the whole ordeal. I'm sure he is. Reporters gathered around him for a few minutes while he made his statement. I wasn’t one of them because I was waiting to interview Luke Hochevar, which I did shortly thereafter.

The clubhouse really didn't seem all that different without Mike Sweeney there. It had a "life goes on" sort of feel, which of course, it does. Players attended meetings, worked out in the cage, cut promos for local media, did interviews, played cards around a big table before games, and joked around with each other. I was only in there for three games, which isn't nearly enough to tell you whether a new leader has emerged or not, so I'll leave that to those who are more qualified than I am.

I had a chance to meet Sam Mellinger of Ball Star fame and it was nice to put a face with an email address.

And that's about it. I did several interviews for the newspaper I work for and I'll link to the stories when they are available.

Game 34: Baltimore @ Kansas City

Game Date: May 8, 2008
Orioles 4, Royals 1 / Box Score
WP: Cabrera (3-1), LP: Hochevar (2-2)
Royal Home Runs: None
Royals Record: 15-19

Normally when you hear that the opposing pitcher was just too good, I'm a little skeptical. Oh, it happens. But when you have an offense that struggles like the Royals are right now, I usually think that the offense has something to do with their being mowed down as well. But not last night.

Daniel Cabrera threw a sinking fastball in the mid-90s and when the Royals made contact, it was usually a ground ball at somebody. Cabrera got 18 ground outs (to go along with seven strikeouts and two outfield fly outs).

Luke Hochevar gave up a run in the first on a wild pitch and then a three-run home run to Nick Markakis in the third inning. I like what Hochevar said after them game about the home run because it shows that he continues to grow as a pitcher:

"I fell into that category where I got beat with my least-best pitch instead of sticking with my strength and attacking the strike zone," Hochevar said. "It was just a changeup that stayed up in the zone."

Tonight, Gil Meche (2-4, 5.98) will look to even the series. He'll go up against Steve Trachsel (1-4, 7.43). Meche is 4-4 against the Orioles in his career with a 2.95 ERA. Trachsel is 1-3 against the Royals with a 4.81 ERA.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Game 33: Los Angeles @ Kansas City

Game Date: May 7, 2008
Royals 9, Angels 4 / Box Score
WP: Greinke (4-1), LP: Weaver (2-5) 
Royal Home Runs: DeJesus (3), Gordon (4)
Royals Record: 15-18

Well, it's May 7th and the Royals are finding a way to stay around .500. They salvaged the final game of this series the way they've won most of their games this year--great pitching. Yeah, they scored nine runs, but Zack Greinke, after struggling through the first inning (in which he threw 27 pitches and gave up a run), shifted into cruise control. He gave up three earned runs on five hits and he struck out eight, and his ERA rose only slightly to 1.80.

Now for the offense...they had a break out game. One of the most impressive at bats in my opinion came in the first inning when Mark Grudzielanek had a 10-pitch battle with Jered Weaver, ending with a single. Billy Butler later doubled him home. In the second inning, Jose Guillen led off with a double and three hitters later, Tony Pena singled on a 1-2 pitch to give the Royals a 2-1 lead and they didn't look back. DeJesus followed Pena's single with a blast over the right field wall that resulted in three more runs. The Royals had another big inning in the fourth when Alex Gordon hit a two-run home run and Ross Gload singled in a run. That put the Royals up 9-1 and Greinke fed off of that--sitting the Angels down in order in the fifth and sixth inning.

The bullpen took over from there. Joel Peralta threw a 6-pitch 1-2-3 eighth inning. Yasuhiko Yabuta struggled in the ninth--giving up three hits and a run, but he finally closed the door.

This wraps up my time in Kansas City, where I've been interviewing players from both the Royals and the Angels for a newspaper association that I work for. I'll post tomorrow about a few of my experiences.

The Royals begin a new series tomorrow night at the K against the Orioles. Luke Hochevar (2-1, 4.86) will go up against Daniel Cabrera (2-1, 4.06). Hochevar has never faced the Orioles. Cabrera is 3-0 against the Royals in his career with a 2.57 ERA.

How I Became a Royals Fan: Don Barry

Name: Don Barry
Location: Omaha, Nebraska
Age: 30

Tell me a little about yourself. What do you do for a living? What do you like to do for fun? What are your hobbies?

I have worked for a bank the last 8 years. I am a lead credit analyst.

For fun, I enjoy golfing, going to movies, and attending sporting events. My favorite hobby has to be bowling. I bowl in three leagues a week, and probably 20+ tournaments every year. I also golf in two leagues a week, and play probably 40-50 rounds of golf each summer.

How old were you when you first started following the Royals?

The earliest I can remember following the Royals was when I was about five years old. I used to listen to Denny Matthews and Fred White call games on the radio.

How did you initially become interested in the Royals?

I must have first started following them when I was younger because they were the "local" team in our area. I probably went to a game when I was five or six years old, and I have enjoyed watching/listening to the games ever since.

Who was your first favorite Royals’ player and why?

I had several favorite players growing up. George Brett and Frank White were my two favorites when I first starting watching games. Later on, I always liked watching Danny Tartabull and Bo Jackson. My favorite pitcher was Charlie Leibrandt. I think I enjoyed watching him because he is left-handed and so am I.

Can you remember the first time you saw a game at Royals/Kauffman Stadium?

I don't exactly remember my first experience at Royals Stadium. I know that when I was ten or younger, we went to a game, and I believe it went 17 innings (The score was 2-1). Both Royals runs came via Steve Balboni homers. I always loved watching Balboni hit home runs.

What is your favorite Kauffman Stadium memory?

My favorite memory attending a Royals game must have been back in 1986 or 1987. Bo Jackson hit a home run into the fountains (I think it was his first Major League home run), and the stadium just erupted.

Are you old enough to remember the 1985 season? If so, where were you when Darryl Motley caught the final out of Game 7?

I remember watching the game in the basement with my parents. I found it really funny when the Royals got so far ahead and a few St. Louis players/coaches were ejected from the game. When the game was over, I remember thinking that I couldn't believe they came back from being down 3-1 against both Toronto and the Cardinals to win both series.

Are you old enough to remember seeing George Brett play? If so, what is your favorite George Brett memory?

Of course most people are going to say the famous pine tar game, but that wasn't my favorite memory. Mine has to be from the 1985 season (I think). They let him manage the team on the last day of the season. I don't really remember the outcome of the game, but it was cool to see him manage the team.

Tell me your favorite memory from the 2003 season when the Royals spent most of the season in first place in the AL Central.

My favorite memory of that season was them starting out the season on a big winning streak when nobody gave them any chance to be competitive. Seeing Jose Lima pitch so well that season and the energy he brought to the team that year were fun to watch.

Who is your favorite Royals player right now? Why?

My favorite player now is probably Grud. I just like the way he always hustles, and is a great leader of the team. He always gives 100% every time he is in the lineup, and I wish more players would have his attitude.

What are your favorite memories of Mike Sweeney?

The best thing I remember about Mike Sweeney was his class. When he signed his last big contract several years ago, he had plenty of chances to go somewhere else, but he wanted to remain a Royal. Even though the team was bad, he wanted to stay there to help try and turn things around. That is what made the 2003 season so fun. He finally had a chance to get into the postseason.

What are your thoughts about the current Royals roster?

I like the youth on the roster right now. They have a lot of talented young players, and a few veterans who can step in and show the younger guys how to play. The pitching staff has a lot of potential with Bannister and Greinke. The only thing I would like to see in their lineup is a little more power. They don't have anybody that can consistently provide the threat that he will hit a 3-run homer at any point. I would like to see them with a guy who can give them 35-40 homers a year.

Have you ever met anybody who played for the Royals at an autograph session (or somewhere else)?

I met several Royals players when I was younger (they did several autograph sessions I think during the week). The one I remember most was Danny Tartabull. It was fun to see meet him when I was a kid because he was always one of my favorite players.

Do you have any memories about the Royals that you’d like to share that you haven’t already?

The one thing that really disappointed me was back in 1994 when the Royals went on that amazing winning streak, got themselves in position to maybe win the AL wild card that year, and then the strike hit. I think with their pitching and offense that year, they had a legitimate chance to get themselves into the postseason and make a run in the playoffs. I would have loved to see if they might have been able to carry it through October and make a run to the World Series.

This series will run periodically here at Royal Reflections. If you'd like to be interviewed for this series, send Lee an email and he'll be in touch. Also, please note: all photos belong to the interviewees and are not to be copied and/or posted elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Game 32: Los Angeles @ Kansas City

Game Date: May 6, 2008
Angels 5, Royals 3 / Box Score
WP: Oliver (2-1), LP: Bannister (3-4), SV: Rodriguez (14) 
Royal Home Runs: None
Royals Record: 14-18

The Royals had their chances tonight. Nick Adenhart couldn't make it through the fifth inning before getting the hook even though he had a 4-3 lead. But Brian Bannister got knocked around tonight by the Angels in a game that's not going to be easy to forget. He gave up five earned runs on 13 hits and two walks. Garret Anderson drove in all five runs against Bannister.

But like I said, the Royals had their chances. With one out in the fourth inning and Miguel Olivo on second base, a pitch got away from Jeff Mathis, the Angels catcher, and Olivo tried to advance to third. The problem was, the pitch didn't get far away enough from Mathis, and Olivo was a dead duck at third base. Alberto Callaspo drew a walk after that and then Joey Gathright singled through the hole on the left side of the infield. I doubt if Olivo would have scored on the play, or even tried, but he would have been at third with one out when Mark Grudzielanek launched a fly ball to right field that was plenty deep enough to score Olivo.

I'll get to another blown opportunity in a minute. But first I have to comment on Trey Hillman choosing to pitch to Garret Anderson in the seventh inning with two outs and a guy on third. Why not just intentionally walk Anderson and take your chances with Brandon Wood? Anderson had already hit a home run and a single off of Bannister. But Hillman chose to have Bannister pitch to Anderson and Anderson singled in another run to make it 5-3.

Okay, on to another blown opportunity in the Royals' half of the seventh. Mark Teahen was up with one out and the bases loaded, but he struck out. Wow. You've got to find a way to get a guy home in that situation. But the Royals would have fallen a run short anyway because they went in order in the eighth and ninth inning.

The Royals will try to salvage game three of the series tomorrow night. Zack Greinke (3-1, 1.47) will go up against Jered Weaver (2-4, 4.36). Greinke is 0-2 in his career against the Angels with a 8.49 ERA. Weaver is 2-3 against the Royals with a 1.93 ERA.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Game 31: Los Angeles @ Kansas City

Game Date: May 5, 2008
Angels 4, Royals 0 / Box Score
WP: Santana (6-0), LP: Ramirez (0-1)
Royal Home Runs: None
Royals Record: 14-17

We had ourselves an old-fashioned pitchers duel at Kauffman Stadium tonight--at least while both starting pitchers were still in the game. Brett Tomko was better than he's ever been in Royal blue. He went seven innings, giving up no runs on two hits, while striking out seven. Surely, Trey Hillman, thought that the bullpen could take it from there. The problem was, Ervin Santana was lights out. He pitched a complete game shutout, allowing only four hits, while striking out nine. He only needed 97 pitches to get the job done.

With the game scoreless going into the ninth inning, Erick Aybar tripled to lead off and Casey Kotchman singled him in two batters later against Jimmy Gobble. Then the wheels came off. Joel Peralta entered the game, and after getting one out, he gave up back to back home runs to Garret Anderson and Brandon Wood. The Royals simply weren't going to score four runs against Santana in the bottom of the ninth. Mark Grudzielanek got a one-out single, but that was all the Royals could muster.

So, the bullpen finally failed to get the job done, but you can't expect them to keep every team down. And you'd like to see the offense take a little pressure off of them, but at this point, it seems clear that we are going to struggle to score runs all season long. Jose Guillen struck out three times tonight and he heard loud boos from the fans. Part of the reason they are booing him is because he isn't showing any patience. He's swinging at nearly every pitch. In his first two strikeouts, he only drew one ball in each at bat. In his final strikeout, he struck out on three straight pitches (to end the game).

Tomorrow night, Brian Bannister (3-3, 4.04) goes up against Nick Adenhart (0-0, 22.50). Bannister has never faced the Angels. Adenhart has never faced the Royals.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

John Bale Breaks His Hand

So John Bale threw his bullpen session on Friday night in Cleveland, hoping to convince Trey Hillman that he was ready to come off the DL and that he was past his "dead arm" issue, but apparently even Bale wasn't convinced.

"When he went back to the hotel, he was frustrated," Hillman said Sunday. "His arm wasn't feeling as good as he thought it was. He got upset, and he punched a door."

And you can guess from the headline of this post that Bale broke his pitching hand. I was looking forward to Bale replacing Yasuhiko Yabuta in the bullpen, but that's not going to happen anytime soon. Maybe it's time to give Neal Musser another look. He has a 2.81 ERA with a 1.06 WHIP in 16 innings at Omaha.

Game 30: Kansas City @ Cleveland

Game Date: May 4, 2008
Royals 2, Indians 0 / Box Score
WP: Meche (2-4), LP: Laffey (0-2), SV: Soria (8)
Royal Home Runs: Olivo (4)
Royals Record: 14-16

Finally. Gil Meche had all of his pitches working and he kept an already listless Cleveland offense off balance all day long. He gave up just four hits and no runs in seven strong innings. He didn't walk anybody, he stuck out four, and for him, he kept his pitch count down (110 pitches in seven innings). He also dropped his ERA to 5.98--hardly anything to brag about, but how much better does it look than it was before the game (7.22)?

It looked like the Royals might win this one 1-0 on a throwing error in the fifth inning that allowed Miguel Olivo to score from third, but Olivo hit a solo home run in the top of the ninth to give Joakim Soria a little breathing room. He didn't need it. Soria threw another scoreless inning to nail down the save and the Royals moved into third place in the AL Central.

The Royals will open a new series against the Angels tomorrow night in Kansas City. Brett Tomko (1-3, 6.26) will go up against Ervin Santana (5-0, 2.48). Tomko is 0-1 against the Angels in his career with a 5.18 ERA. Santana is 1-2 against the Royals with a 6.04 ERA.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Mike Sweeney Night in Omaha

Check out what the Omaha Royals plan to give away at their upcoming home game on May 10:

Saturday, May 10, 7:05 p.m.: Gates open at 5:00 p.m. for the series opener vs. Tacoma and the 1st 1,500 fans will receive a Mike Sweeney statue, courtesy of Bellevue University, 1620 The Zone, WOWT and The Reader! Sweeney was voted as Royals fans' favorite Omaha player of the 1990's in an online poll at prior to the season. Fans will not only receive the individually hand-numbered statues of Sweeney as a collector's item, but the stadium will have a 1990's feel to it with 1990's music and other themes from the '90's during the night.

Royals Release Mike Maroth

In case you missed it, like I did somehow, the Omaha Royals released Mike Maroth. He's a lefty and young enough that some team will probably give him another shot, but he really struggled during his three starts in Omaha. He was 0-2 with a 12.91 ERA and a 2.22 WHIP.

Game 29: Kansas City @ Cleveland

Game Date: May 3, 2008
Royals 4, Indians 2 / Box Score
WP: Hochevar (2-1), LP: Sabathia (1-5), SV: Soria (7)
Royal Home Runs: None
Royals Record: 13-16

This game reminded me of the days when Jeff Suppan was on the mound for the Royals. He'd give up a home run or two, but then buckle down and keep the opponents from blowing the game open and once in a while, the Royals would find a way to come back in the middle to late innings.

Of course, this analogy breaks down when you consider that Luke Hochevar probably already has better stuff than Suppy ever did, but still--after Grady Sizemore hit a home run in the fifth inning to put the Tribe up 2-0, most Royals fans were probably thinking that this one was over. Hochevar hung in there, got through the sixth inning without giving up any more runs, and the Royals went nuts at the plate in the seventh inning as they scored four runs, and the bullpen took it from there.

But let's not gloss over what the bullpen did. Ron Mahay pitched another scoreless inning and dropped his ERA to 1.88. Ramon Ramirez pitched another scoreless inning and dropped his ERA to 0.66. And Joakim Soria threw an 11-pitch scoreless ninth inning to keep his ERA at 0.00. Yikes. Is that a 1-2-3 punch at the back end or what?

And it sounds like the Royals are finally about to replace Yasuhiko Yabuta in the pen with John Bale when Bale comes off the DL. Hillman flat out says that Joel Peralta is better than Yabuta "right now" so Peralta probably won't be going anywhere, even though he has options remaining.

The Royals will play one more in Cleveland tomorrow afternoon before returning home to open a new series against the Angels. Gil Meche (1-4, 7.22) will go up against Aaron Laffey (0-1, 6.35). Meche is 2-7 in his career against the Indians with a 6.10 ERA. Laffey is 2-1 against the Royals with a 3.63 ERA.

I'm headed to Kansas City tomorrow afternoon. I'll be interviewing several players from the Royals and Angels during the Monday- Wednesday series for a newspaper association that I work for. Should be interesting to see what the clubhouse atmosphere is like without Mike Sweeney. This will be the first time I've been in there since Sweeney signed with the A's during the offseason.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

De La Rosa Traded to Rockies

The Royals have traded Jorge De La Rosa to the Colorado Rockies for a player to be named later. Some sources are listing De La Rosa as the player to be named later in the Ramon Ramirez trade the Royals made with the Rockies shortly before the season started. Some sources are not linking the trades.

De La Rosa had a poor spring with the Royals and has never proven than he can pitch at the major league level (he's 15-23 with a 5.85 ERA in 97 appearances with both the Royals and the Milwaukee Brewers). If the trade does end up being De La Rosa for Ramirez, it certainly looks like the Royals will get the better end of that deal.

As more details are released, I'll post them here.

Game 28: Kansas City @ Texas

Game Date: May 1, 2008
Rangers 2, Royals 1 / Box Score
WP: Ponson (1-0), LP: Greinke (3-1), SV: Wilson (6)
Royal Home Runs: None
Royals Record: 12-16

This series became even more strange this afternoon. We finally got a pitcher's duel, but Sidney Ponson out-pitched Zack Greinke. Greinke gave up two earned runs (both solo home runs) on four hits and no walks in seven innings. He also struck out nine. But he lost. Ponson gave up just one earned run in eight innings.

Trey Hillman put David DeJesus in the three hole again, which seems a little odd given the type of hitter that he is, but it's hard to argue with his average (.354) and the fact that he seems to be responding in the third spot. Last night he hit a home run there and today he was 2-for-3. Alex Gordon doesn't appear to be ready to hit that high in the order yet and Mark Teahen is currently hitting .269 and he's only driven in seven runs so far. He went one stretch of 12 straight games without driving in a run. So DeJesus seems like an viable option, especially when Joey Gathright is in the lineup, but I'd rather see Billy Butler hitting there.

Tomorrow night in Cleveland, Luke Hochevar (1-1, 5.91) will go up against C.C. Sabathia (1-4, 7.88). Hochevar is 0-1 in his career against the Indians with a 6.00 ERA. Sabathia is 14-8 against the Royals with a 3.27 ERA.

Game 27: Kansas City @ Texas

Game Date: April 30, 2008
Rangers 11, Royals 9 / Box Score
WP: Millwood (2-2), LP: Bannister (3-3)
Royal Home Runs: DeJesus (2), Buck (2)
Royals Record: 12-15

I'm almost afraid to listen to the game this afternoon. This series has produced some rather frightening baseball in the first two games. The Royals have outscored the Rangers 18-16. The Rangers hold the edge in errors, 3-2. And neither team has come close to getting a quality start from their starters.

Even Brian Bannister showed that he was human yesterday. He gave up seven earned runs on seven hits and two walks in three innings of work. He threw 90 pitches to 18 batters. Three of those pitches left the park, including a grand slam home run by Josh Hamilton in the second inning that gave the Rangers a 7-0 lead.

But give the Royals credit. The didn't give up. Mark Grudzielanek singled in a run in the third to make it 7-1 Texas. Then, in the seventh, with the Royals down 9-1, Joey Gathright singled in a run, Esteban German got a run home on a fielder's choice, David DeJesus hit a two-run home run, and Alex Gordon singled in a run to make it 9-6 Texas.

Unfortunately Yasuhiko Yabuta gave up a two run home run in the seventh inning to give the Rangers a five run lead. But even then DeJesus singled in a run in the eighth and John Buck hit a two-run home run in the ninth, and the Royals came up just a little short.

So, the Royals finish April with a 12-15 record and I'm guessing that nobody is jumping for joy, but when you look at the teams they've played and how poor their offense has been so far, 12-15 doesn't look so bad.

The Royals will wrap up the series in Texas this afternoon and then head on to Cleveland. Zack Greinke (3-0, 1.25) will go up against Sidney Ponson (0-0, 1.69). Greinke is 2-2 in his career against the Rangers with a 4.50 ERA. Ponson is 9-7 against the Royals with a 4.60 ERA

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