Say what you want about being a Royals fan, but it's rarely boring. Painful, humiliating, soul-sucking...but never boring.
Here's what I learned in the last 18 hours:
- I do not ever want to piss off Jose Guillen. Ever. If I do, I'm hiding up in the press box with Jay Mariotti.
- If Guillen has a big game tonight and the Royals win, he will immediately become the most popular player on the team.
- If Guillen goes 0-for-4 and the Royals lose, he may need a police escort from the stadium.
There's no in-between here. I don't blame Guillen for saying what he said one bit - I was saying far worse things last night, and I didn't have nearly as good a view of Monroe's game-tying homer. And the mere fact that today people are talking about Guillen's outburst as much as they are about the collapse last night and the 10-game losing streak is proof that he's done some good.
On September 19th, 1999, the New York Mets were 92-58, a game behind the Braves and four games ahead of the Reds in the wild-card race with 12 games to go. They would lose their next seven games in a row, and were 2.5 games behind Cincinnati with 5 games left. It was at that point that their manager, Bobby Valentine, went on a much-publicized tirade in which he fell on his sword, declared that the collapse was all his fault and that the media should lay off the players.
This being Bobby Valentine, many members of the media viewed this outburst as another manifestation of Valentine's ego, a sign that in Valentine's world, everything was about him, him, him. Needless to say, a controversy ensued over the next 24-48 hours about what Valentine's intentions were, whether he was trying to fire up his team, whether he was trying to deflect attention away from the team, whether he'd be fired if they didn't make the playoffs...and for a day or two at least, the issue at hand - that the Mets had just lost seven in a row to potentially cough up a playoff spot - was lost in the shuffle. Which was almost certainly Valentine's real motivation. It was a brilliant move, and the Mets won four of their next five games, tied the Reds for the wild card, then won Game 163 to advance.
Contrast this with the Mets' collapse last year, when Willie Randolph basically sat around and waited for the wind to change direction. Valentine would take the Mets to the World Series the following year; Randolph may not last the summer.
So if nothing else, Guillen's outburst has taken the focus off the 24 other players, even as he was calling out those same players. I don't know if it was intentional or not, but it was an inspired move. Now all he has to do is back it up.
(Incidentally, I completely agree with Sam Mellinger's take that the fact that Guillen went out of his way to defend his manager is a good sign that Hillman still has respect in the clubhouse. It may seem silly to you or me, but the fact that Hillman never played in the majors can present a significant credibility problem to his players. He's just the third Royals manager to have never played in the majors. The other two were Jim Frey, who lost control of the clubhouse so fast that he was fired half a season after he took the Royals to the World Series, and Jack McKeon, who also lost respect in the clubhouse and had to be fired. I have some developing beefs with Hillman, but none of them involve his interpersonal skills.)
- Apparently, Billy Butler is a baby. And I don't just mean he is the youngest player on the team. Or was.
Maybe Guillen wasn't calling out Butler, though it's telling that he was the first guy I thought of when I heard Guillen's comments. And anyway, if the Royals had to make a move, who else could they send to Omaha? Butler might be the only hitter on the roster who had an option remaining - well, other than Gordon, who's not going anywhere.
I think it's a risky move, scapegoating one of your most important players. There was no reason to worry about Butler in the long-term even though he wasn't hitting well; he's barely 22, and the only number in his batting line that's worrying is the home run column. I think he would have made the necessary adjustments in due time had he been left alone. Those changes might come faster in Triple-A, as they did with Teahen. But the Royals have to understand that there's a small but real risk that they lose Butler over this.
- So Mike Aviles starts at shortstop tonight. That's pretty cool. What's not cool is that we're excited about the fact that a 27-year-old hitter is making his major league debut tonight. I've made the case before that Aviles' best-case scenario translates into something like Rich Aurilia, a below-average defensive shortstop who nonetheless hit well enough to make up for it. Aurilia had some sweet seasons in his late 20's, but then again, he was in the majors when he was 24. If Aviles hits well enough to convince the Royals to live with his defensive inadequacies at shortstop, it will be a minor miracle. That doesn't mean we can't pray.
- It's a fool's errand to try to predict the outcome of a single game, but I'll say this. Last night notwithstanding, I still believe this team is fundamentally on better footing than it was in 2005. The pitching, day in and day out, is better and deeper. Case in point: our #4 starter goes today, only our #4 starter is Luke Hochevar, who is erratic but certainly has the ability to dominate on any given night. And if the game is close in the late innings, Soria is available, and he's the one player on this team that seems immune to the loser virus.
Kevin Slowey is exactly the sort of pitcher the Royals inerrantly turn into Cy Young - a right-hander with tremendous control of an average, but diverse, repertoire. If the Royals are jumpy and overeager to put last night's debacle behind them, Slowey will carve them up. If they stay within themselves and wait for their pitches to hit, they could eke this one out. How the Royals approach their at-bats tonight should teach us a little something extra about Hillman.