Look, any team can start 3-0. And any team can start 6-2; the odds are about the same. (Using simple binomial theory, the odds that a .500 team will win its first three games is 1 in 8, or 12.5%. The odds that a .500 team will win at least six of its first eight games is 37 in 256, or 14.4%.)
But in eight games, the Royals have surrendered 18 runs. They have surrendered more than four runs in a game once. They have allowed one run or fewer in four of their eight games. The starting pitchers have a 2.88 ERA, and they’re being pwned by the bullpen with their 0.82 ERA. Almost as impressively, the defense has committed just one error in eight games, and that was simply an errant pickoff throw by Ron Mahay.
Five years ago, the Royals started 9-0, but four of those victories came against the Indians – who lost 94 games that year – and two more came against the Tigers, who went on to lose the most games in American League history. This year, the Royals have started 6-2 while playing Detroit – and their 1-8 record notwithstanding, that’s still a damn good team – and the Yankees a total of five times, winning all five. Both
So I ask again: are you excited yet? When I asked this a week ago, it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Now? If you’re not excited, you’re not paying attention. If you don’t harbor at least a smidgeon of hope that the Royals could actually win the division this year, you’re a heartless cynic, a grinch, a doddering old curmudgeon who’s letting the eyesore of the last 13 seasons block the reality of the 2008 Royals that’s staring us all right in the face. This team can win. I don’t think it can win 95 games and run away with the division, but it can win 85 games and make things very, very interesting. Catch a few breaks here and there, and who knows?
The Tigers, the trendy pick to win the division, are already five games out. More importantly, the fact that they’ve started 1-7 is a strong (but not overwhelming) indication that they’re not going to be the juggernaut that many people thought they were. On paper, neither the White Sox nor the Twins looked significantly better than the Royals before the season began – and before the pitching staff turned back the clock 23 years.
That leaves the Indians, who were my pick to win the division before the season began, and who are 2.5 games out at the moment. In the Royals’ favor is the fact that the Tribe’s bullpen has looked very vulnerable so far and C.C. Sabathia has carried his postseason struggles from last October into 2008. In the Indians’ favor is that, you know, we’ve played exactly eight games. I’m not advocating that anyone kidnap Grady Sizemore, stuff him in a box and ship him to Azerbaijan by UPS ground. I’m merely stating that the Royals’ playoff chances may hinge on whether Sizemore spends the summer enjoying the beautiful vistas of the
On to the notes:
- I needed to come up with a name for these random postings and stick with it. I thought about “The Daily Royal”, except that would imply I was writing, you know, daily. So I’ll steal a column name from my friend
- Trey Hillman is living a charmed life. He sends Zack Greinke out there on a cold, miserable, wet day in April, with weather reports so bad that the Yankees didn’t even bother to go with scheduled starter Ian Kennedy to start the game, preferring instead to go with a reliever (Brian Bruney) and mix-and-match the rest of the game. The game not only doesn't get rained out, it goes a regulation nine. Despite battling both the Yankees and the elements, Greinke goes eight shutout innings. Remember when people said Greinke’s issues with depression meant that he didn’t have the mental toughness to succeed in the majors? Be happy Allard Baird and Buddy Bell didn’t listen to that claptrap. Greinke’s next two starts come against
- For the second straight start, Hillman left Greinke in one inning too long. Greinke gave up a single and a double in the eighth, but a well-timed DP saved some runs – and just as importantly, some pitches on his arm. I’m glad the game has evolved to the point where forcing his starter to throw 107 pitches on a cold, rainy day is about the worst a manager is allowed to do anymore.
- Someone please inform Hillman that Jorge Posada was removed from Tuesday’s game after six innings because of a dead arm. Be sure to let him know that Jose Molina, his replacement, has thrown out 41% of attempted basestealers in his career, and 43% (79 of 185) of aspiring thieves over the past five years.
Apparently, Hillman did not notice, because after running crazy on Posada (four steals in six innings, three by Gathright, two on pitchouts), Hillman gave Ross Gload – Ross Gload! – the perpetual green light. With one out in the seventh, Gload took off for second before Ross Ohlendorf committed to the plate, and was somehow safe at second when Jason Giambi had trouble handling the pickoff throw. On the very next pitch, Gload lights out for third base – Molina had him dead to rights. Gload came into the game with eight steals – in his career. He’s a first baseman. Suddenly he thinks he’s Rod Carew?
Today, Alex Gordon (who at least has shown the ability to steal effectively in the past) was thrown out trying to steal second, and an inning later, Gathright (after stealing second) was thrown out trying to steal third even as Grudzielanek worked a walk. That cost the Royals at least a run. Eventually this kamikaze basepath commando approach is going to cost the Royals a game.
The Royals are now 10-for-15 in stolen bases, which is below the break-even point, and this doesn’t count the many, many baserunners eliminated because of overaggressiveness once the ball was put in play. The stolen base has a place: it’s a great tactic when limited to your best baserunners, and when utilized against weak-armed catchers or pitchers who are slow to the plate. Gathright vs. Posada? Good. Gload vs. Molina? Bad. Very, very bad. Come on, Trey. You’re smarter than this.
- John Buck, meet fountain. Fountain, meet John Buck. From 439 feet away. Through the rain. It’s just one swing, but it’s been a long time since any of Buck’s swings showed off the light-tower power he’s capable of.
- Can we all agree that Jose Guillen should bat no higher than 6th until he gets his average over .200? A 3-4-5-6 of Teahen, Butler, Gordon, and Guillen breaks up the lefties and righties nicely, and gets Butler’s insanely hot bat directly behind Teahen’s new-found patience.
- Speaking of Teahen…he walked three times tonight, and the Royals as a whole drew six, after five yesterday. Maybe it was the Twins’ pitching all along. But Teahen now has more walks than any two teammates combined, and more than that, it looks like it’s deliberate. He simply isn’t swinging at pitches that aren’t strikes, and seems to understand how important it is for him to get on base batting ahead of Guillen/Butler/Gordon. Teahen may very well be the fulcrum around which this lineup sinks or swims, and so far he looks a lot closer to his 2006 form than 2007.
- Tony Pena’s ugly blooper that won the game on Opening Day is still his only hit of the season. Bale goes tomorrow, and Pena should be out there for his defense. Come Friday, it’s time to give Alberto Callaspo another shot.
- Okay, now this is getting weird. The Royals’ run totals this year: 5, 4, 4, 3, 4, 3, 5, 4. I’m trying to find out if the Royals have ever had a stretch like that; I’ll let you know if I do.
- Allowing just 18 runs in an eight-game stretch seems almost historic, and it might be. But last year, over an eight-game stretch from June 24th to July 2nd, the Royals allowed just 19 runs. (And three of those games went extra innings.)
Which is to say: eight games means something, but not everything. Any team can start 6-2. Let’s get excited, people. But not too excited. (Yet.)