Sorry for turning the lights out over here at RotR the last few days. That's going to happen every now and then in my line of work. Anyway, my friends over at Royals Review and Royals Authority have been busy keeping up with the plot lines over the past few days. To wit:
- The bullpen is ridiculous.
- The edict to take more walks has, um, been slow to sink in. The team went an entire series in Minnesota without drawing a walk, and while the Twins emphasize control with their pitchers more than any other team in baseball, that's still sort of sad.
- Six games in, and Gil Meche has been the worst pitcher so far, which is less a reflection of him than the rest of the staff. Meche and John Bale are the only two pitchers (out of 11) with an ERA above 2.70. I am impressed.
- The offense has somehow made up for a lack of punch with incredible consistency. Runs scored in the first six games: 5, 4, 4, 3, 4, 3. Three to five runs is a team's sweet spot for offense, but that's a little ridiculous. Amazingly enough, the Royals also had a stretch last season (May 1st to 6th) where they scored between 3 and 5 runs in six straight games, but nonetheless that's a pretty rare feat. More to the point, if they continue to score 3.83 runs per game, they're eventually going to score so few runs that not even their pitching staff can bail them out.
- Joakim Soria is filthier than Jake Peavy's pitching hand. He closed the game out on Sunday by striking out the side on 12 pitches. It's probably not the most dominant inning in Royals history (Jeff Montgomery once struck the side out on 9 pitches, an event that is literally rarer than a no-hitter) - but it's close. He struck out Justin Morneau, who I'm told is a well-respected hitter, on three pitches: a fastball on the corner low and outside, 91 mph; a changeup to the exact same spot that dropped six inches at the last moment as Morneau swung over it, 84 mph; a slow, looping curveball to the exact same spot that Morneau was about 3 feet in front of, 68 mph. That's three pitches, thrown to the perfect spot on the outside edge at the knees, at three different speeds and with three different trajectories.
It's strange to say this, but Soria resembles the rookie Zack Grienke more than Greinke himself does. The Mariano Rivera comparisons are suddenly sprouting everywhere - Buster Olney had a good article on this at ESPN.com - but while Soria throws a great cutter, he's the exact opposite of a one-pitch pitcher. And the more I see his repertoire, the more I think he could be equally successful in the rotation. It will take some cojones for the Royals to mess with success. Especially this much success.
- After raving about Hillman's use of Callaspo as a late-inning pinch-hitter for Tony Pena on Friday, Hillman went one better the next day and started Callaspo at shortstop against Livan Hernandez. The results were mixed; Callaspo tripled, scored and drove in a run, but also was unable to snare a line-drive off the bat of Matt Tolbert cleanly leading off the sixth, which keyed a 3-run Twins rally. Pena's advantage with the glove almost exactly balances Callaspo's advantage with the stick, which means the Royals will get the most out of the position by mixing and matching their talents. Using Callaspo to pinch-hit when the Royals are losing late (or using Pena as a d-rep when they're holding a lead) is obvious. Beyond that, Callaspo is a switch-hitter, and so should start against "hard" right-handed pitchers - RHP who have bigger than normal platoon splits.
But more than just platooning based on the opposing starter, Hillman should strongly consider "platooning" Pena and Callaspo depending on his own starting pitcher. When Bale starts, Pena should always be out there - Bale is the sole left-hander in the rotation, and a groundball pitcher to boot, which means a ton of balls to the left side. But the other four starters are all right-handers, and three of them (Greinke, Bannister, and Tomko) are flyball pitchers, meaning the Royals could start Callaspo and not suffer all that much defensively.
As I write this, the Royals have secretly replaced Brian Bannister with Daniel Cabrera. Through four innings, The Professor has walked four and struck out five, and he's already thrown 84 pitches. He seems to be fighting the cold, the Yankees hitters, and the umpire all at once - and he's battling them to a draw so far.
The Royals have returned the favor, with four walks of their own. You know it's a weird day when the Royals end a streak of 125 consecutive plate appearances without a walk - and the streak is broken by Pena.
- Finally: Rock chalk, Jayhawk. I believe this is the first championship of any significance for the locals since Wichita State won the College World Series in 1989. That was so long ago that the starting catcher for the Shockers was Eric Wedge. Yeah, that Eric Wedge.