Friday, August 22, 2008

Mayday!

If it’s late August, then I’m probably stuck at work – every kid in the Midwest apparently has to have their acne cleared before they go back to school. So I’ve been too busy, thank God, to spend any time watching the Royals endure what has probably been their worst week of a season filled with bad ones. After getting swept in Chicago to start this road trip – by the combined score of 22 to 2 – the Royals won the opener at Yankee Stadium because Mariano Rivera allowed the go-ahead run to score on a wild pitch and Joakim Soria picked off Justin Christian, who had just come into the game as a pinch-runner. That’s right: the Royals have Rivera to thank for the fact that they’re not on a nine-game losing streak.

The Royals aren’t just losing – they’re getting abused, both literally and figuratively. The team’s last three victories have all been one-run squeakers; they haven’t won a game by more than a single run since August 3rd. Here’s the last five games in detail:

1) Saturday: lost a 13-inning affair to the Yankees on Saturday because of a total team meltdown – at the plate, in the field, on the bases, and in the manager’s chair.

After battering Sidney Ponson for all of seven hits and two runs in 6.1 innings, the Royals managed a total of one hit against six different relievers. Even so, they scored two early runs and should have scored at least one or two more, except with the bases loaded in the seventh and one out, David DeJesus was doubled off second when Jose Guillen’s liner was caught, then Mitch Maier was put in motion with DeJesus batting in the ninth, resulting in a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play, then Mark Teahen was thrown out trying to steal to end the top of the 13th.

Even so, those two runs could have held up had Alex Gordon not committed a double error on A-Rod’s grounder to start the 7th. Rodriguez would score on Robinson Cano’s triple; Cano would score on a two-out wild pitch from Greinke. Not that it would have mattered, since Tony Pena followed that with an error of his own.

Even with all that, the Royals still might have held on long enough to score had Trey Hillman not stubbornly refused to use Joakim Soria in a tie game. After a brilliant performance by Robinson Tejeda, Hillman elected to go with Joel Peralta to start the 11th inning instead of Soria. Peralta threw two scoreless innings. In the bottom of the 13th inning, in a tie game at Yankee Stadium, Hillman calls on…Jeff Fulchino.

I’ve written far too many words on the ridiculous conventional wisdom that permeates the game regarding the usage of closers, a CW that Hillman has shown no inclination to challenge. So I’m not going to belabor the point here. True, Soria had thrown 25 pitches the night before – but it was the first time he had pitched in five days. Monday was an off-day, so at that point Hillman knew he could use Soria on either Saturday or Sunday, but not both. He decided that it was safer to hold Soria back for an imaginary save situation that might never (and did not) materialize, rather than use him in the extra-inning tie game that was right in front of him. I can hear the argument: there’s no guarantee that the Royals would score anyway, and even if they did, Soria would have to pitch at least two innings to close out the game.

Addressing the first argument: that’s right, there’s no guarantee that the Royals would score, although given that the Yankees were already down to using somebody named David Robertson, the odds were pretty good that even the Royals could break through eventually. But so what? You can’t save your best pitcher to pitch only in games that you are guaranteed to have a lead. It’s possible that Cliff Lee might pitch a brilliant game but the Indians might still lose because they don’t score any runs – this has actually happened once or twice this year – but he still pitches every fifth day, doesn’t he? This notion that closers should only pitch when you have the lead is a crutch. The Yankees pitched Mariano Rivera for two innings in this game, even though the game was tied, and guess what? While Rivera wasn’t credited with either a win or a save, the Yankees would not have won the game without him.

(In Rivera’s case, he was used because since the Yankees were the home team, once the game went extra-innings it was impossible for a save situation to develop for them. Hillman did the same thing with Soria on August 10th, when he used Soria for the 9th in 10th of a tie game when the Royals were at home; the Royals won in 12 innings. Amazing how, once you take the absurd save statistic out of the equation, managers actually make decisions that maximize their team’s chance of winning, not their closer’s chance of picking up a save.)

Anyway, Jeff Fulchino pitched exactly as you’d expect a guy who just got called up from Omaha to pitch. Game over.

2) Sunday: scored three first-inning runs against a resurgent Mike Mussina, then watched Brian Bannister craft the second-worst start in franchise history.

Using Bill James’ Game Score formula, Bannister’s start (1 IP, 10 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 3 BB, 0 K) registers as a -10. The only worst start in Royals history was Zack Greinke’s disaster in Arizona back in 2005 (4.1 IP, 15 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 2 BB, 2 K) which scores a -11. But Greinke redeemed himself at least a little that day by hitting a homer. As an overall performance, Bannister had a worse day than any of the roughly 6400 starters that preceded him.

(Incidentally, the third-worst performance by a Royal was Luke Hudson’s 10-run first inning in 2006. Only eight times in Royals history has their starter managed a negative game score, all of them since 1994, and five of them since 2004.)

But hey, at least Joakim Soria was well-rested to watch this game from the bullpen.

3) Tuesday: lost to the Indians, 9-4. Luke Hochevar pitched five okay innings but then somehow managed to bruise his ribcage while throwing a pitch – an injury that seems to violate the laws of biomechanics. With help from the newly-signed Kip Wells, the bullpen gives up five runs in three innings to ice the game.

4) Wednesday: Gil Meche pitches brilliantly again, and the Royals take a 5-3 lead into the eighth after scoring four runs in the fifth – a rally keyed by a pitch that broke Mitch Maier’s face in three places. Maier’s sacrifice goes for naught; in the eighth, their two most reliable relievers, Ramon Ramirez and Soria, give up four runs before the second out of the inning is recorded. The first out came on a sacrifice bunt.

I’m sure it’s just a blip in the road, but Soria has allowed nine of the last 12 batters he’s faced to reach base. Maybe he’s out of practice: in the last 11 days, he’s pitched twice.

5) Thursday: the Indians win again, 10-3. Alex Gordon, who already missed a game with a bad back, has to leave this one with a pulled quad.

They score three runs on a two-out bases-clearing triple by Grady Sizemore in the second inning, with Sizemore batting only because Tony Pena had previously let a pop-up drop because the sunglasses he ordered never arrived. (Seriously, I can’t do justice to this one. Fortunately Joe Posnanski can.) The Indians get another unearned run in the third after Billy Butler airmails a throw to first base. (Hey, it’s a long throw for a first baseman.) Here’s all you need to know about how bad the Royals are playing: in his last two starts, Greinke has allowed six unearned runs. He had previously allowed all of 11 unearned runs in his entire career, and just four in the last two seasons.

Here’s what it’s come down to: the Royals just played a team that has already thrown in the towel on their season, trading away their best pitcher and their starting third baseman (for some really good prospects, by the way) – and they got swept. What’s more, they lost every game by at least 3 runs.

In their last 14 games, the Royals have been outscored by 62 runs. They’ve won two games (both by one run), lost by one run once, lost by three runs twice, by four runs twice, by five runs once, by six runs twice, by seven runs twice, and by nine runs twice. If the Royals had been spotted three runs at the start of each game in that stretch, they’d be 3-9-2. For the season, they’ve been outscored by 124 runs – meaning that half of their season deficit has come in the last 14 games – and they Pythagorean record is 51-76. The Royals are 55-72, in last place by 4.5 games, behind last season’s pace, and by all statistical rights they should be even worse.

But hey, help is on the way. Just not this weekend. Tonight, Bannister takes his 5.96 ERA to the mound. And that’s the highlight of the pitching matchups against Detroit, given that we have the same starting pitcher tomorrow and Sunday. I don’t who this TBA guy is, but I doubt he’s any good. (Especially if “TBA” is just a euphemism for “Brandon Duckworth.”)

ones:

too busy to spend any time watching the Royals endure what has probably been their worst week of a season filled w

Well, at least it’s just 16 days until the Chiefs take the field. In New England.

Mommy!

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

I feel this whole debacle started last friday(the day before Rany's post begins), after the royals saw, and swing, at 5 Andy Petitte pitches in the top of the 6th last friday. One double, 3 groundouts, 5 pitches. That calls for a drink (out of self pity, not celebration).

Anonymous said...

I've spent the past 22 years with 'turnarounds'. Buy a business, turn it around and then sell. I've done it five times and will start on number six on September 1st. It's amazing how each situation is similar. It takes three years to break even and year four goes nuts. Then sell. But there are always two or three major setbacks. Always. Times when you doubt that it can be done. But you stick to the plan. And work hard. Before Dayton Moore there was not a plan with the Royals. I take that back. The plan was to make money, which is a good thing in business but not in sports. The plan has to be to win. Sitting back with the league lowest (or close) payroll and cashing the ever growing revenue sharing checks is a great way to make money. It's a terrible way to win. That's what excites me about Moore. He wants to win. He's somehow (at least for now) convinced David Glass that making money while you finish last just pisses people off.
So we are two years and two months into this thing. It's easy to say there has been little or no progress. Turnarounds take time. The biggest step has already happened. We have a commitment to win from the top. The rest, in time, will take care of itself. Be patient.

Matt S said...

It's my fault guys seriously. I made two posts on message boards and sent an email after the first game of the Boston series - to the effect that I thought the Royals were starting to pull it all together.

In 2003 I bought the DirecTV baseball package in mid-season, right when McDougal lost it, our pitchers started getting injured, and we started giving up every kind of late game lead imaginable.

In 2004 I bought the baseball package when they were 4-2.

This year I went to see them in Anaheim for game 1 of their 7-game skid.

And now this. I've even made some money off this by betting even money that they'd lose 4 out of 5. I wonder if I should just keep that bet going to the end of the season?

Jay in Houston said...

hey guys, look at the bright side...at least we have a silver slugger award in line for TPJ.

Jay in Houston said...

hey guys, look at the bright side...at least we have a silver slugger award in line for TPJ.

Dan said...

A few things about the Pena debacle:
- he's not a very good defensive shortstop in general
- a big leaguer (especially one who's somehow considered to be an average to above-average fielder) should catch a pop-up every time. Did they not have the sun where he grew up? I was taught to use my glove to block the sun.
- I haven't seen anyone mention this, but IT'S DAMN-NEAR SEPTEMBER!!!!! Did he not have sunglasses any earlier in the season? Why isn't there a backup pair? Did he just not think he'd ever see the field again? The sunglass excuse might fly if it's game 3 of spring training, but we're over 3/4 of the way through the season.

Jared said...

this season just can't end fast enough for me right now...

tilly uhlich me so...often said...

Bright side...opportunity to become giddy over high draft pick for 20th straight year!!! Despite historical awful drafts!!!

Maybe these guys won't brag so much about fundamentals next year when they start 4-2 and feeling high and mighty. If you are bragging about fundamentals in spring training (as opposed to the teams that spend spring training working on trick plays) you better catch popups.

Once again, this is awful, this team should not be supported in any way.

drew said...

like... supported by, say... reading and posting on one of the best websites dedicated to the team? sounds like you are at least a LITTLE invested in the organization.

Anonymous said...

Before the season, I heard several people say, when discussing Billy Butler, "The guy can really rake." I was excited, thinking we'd have a really good hitter in our lineup. Unfortunately, I misinterpreted the statement. It appears we should have Butler on the grounds crew instead.

Isaac said...

It made me really happy to watch Emil Brown get doubled off second with the bases loaded in a game earlier this year. Thanks for letting me know DeJesus has now done it.

With Gordon now on the DL for potentially the rest of the year, I think we have a real shot for the number one pick in next year's draft. It sounds a bit out there but we are so bad right now that it isn't all that crazy.

With Hillman setting new levels of bad managing on an almost daily basis and the injuries taking away what little talent we have so that we can replace it with the Gathrights, Penas, and Germans of the world, we are about to witness one of the worst final month and a bit we have ever seen. Does anyone truly realize how bad that has to be in order to say that?

Regarding the Chiefs, they are going to stink even worse than the Royals. They actually have a worse head coach than the Royals have a manager if that is physically possible. King Carl is worse than Allard Baird for what he did to that team this decade.

I guess I'll just wait to suck in 2008.

GeorgeM said...

While we're talking about low points in Royals history, I'd like to nominate this gem from tonight's telecast. (Thanks to DVR's, I was able to get this one right.)

Joel Goldberg was interviewing our new draft pick, Hosmer, and he said, "What was it like stepping out there for batting practice, and there you are in a hitting group with Jose Guillen, Ross Gload, and Joey Gathright?"

What kind of question is that?

AC said...

I just want the Royals to play well enough before the end of the season so that I can go into 2009 with delusions of adequacy.

AC

tilly uhlich me so...hard said...

drew, reasonable point. I go to this web site because I love baseball, and appreciate the expert analysis. But I am not a cheerleader, every draft and trade is great. For that matter, people need to stop with this "Dayton has outtwon all his trades" stuff. He hasn't lost many, I will agree, but is TPJ + Lumsden (the main target)+ Bannister + Gloady + Gathright + Shealy truly greater than Burgos + Affeldt + MacDougal + Howell + Cisco + Cordier?

And going to a non team supported web site can hardly qualify as 'support' IMO.

But anyway, how about that game tonight? Somebody needs to tell DDJ what a secondary lead is. No matter how cool you are, when the pitcher releases the ball, you do not stand still. During that meeting on the process of winning and all those fundamentals lessons in Surprise, I find it hard to believe that the GM and the manager who seem to know and have an answer for everything (except what comes out of Jose Guillen's mouth) didn't talk about secondary leads.

I can hear Trey already...didn't get the slug hit.

tilly uhlich me so...softly said...

BTW, dead on with the Jose G v. Emil B. Perhaps his nickname could be Emil?

Anonymous said...

Frankly, if I were Hillman and Moore, I would quit.

Seriously, Royals fans are perhaps the most negative, pessemistic bunch on the face of the earth.

I find it funny how Rany vanishes when the Royals do well, but when they have a bad run, I can count on a negative post. Rany is like a perfect microism of Royals fans as a whole.

For all those crying about Hillman, what's your big, bright idea? Huh?

This crap gets old. Everyone knows exactly what to do after the fact.

Either suck it up, or get out Royals fans. I am getting tired of the "woe is us" garbage.

Anonymous said...

Wow, is that Spiro Agnew reincarnated in that last comment? Is it 'love it or leave it' again? I believe we have the right to challenge the 'establishment', especially when the establishment has been so consistently inept for so long. As a fan, and I have been for 30+ years, I can be critical of the Royals and still be a fan. Right now they suck---that's real, not just negativity.

Bill said...

1. Still think we are headed in the right direction--after Allard Baird destroyed the organization--2 years is not enough to turn it around.

2. David DeJesus has certainly become a far better offensive player this year--HOWEVER--he must be the WORST baserunner in the history of the Roaysl--the AL--major league baseball-minor laeague baseball 3&2 baseball!!!!

Check the replay on the play before he gets thrown out at home--as he comes into 3rd--he checks the play in left cnter over his LEFT shgoulder(think about that!) then he checks over his right shoulder--why are we paying a 3b coach?? If the play had been bobbled in left, DeJesus would have been out at home--or not scored. THEN--THE play--he is standing flat footed about a stride from 3rd base when the pitch is delievered--he is thrown out buy a lot on a ball that goes all the way to the screen and bounces back only a little--Inge beats him--Rodney beats him--by a LOT! Lets not forget--some guys can beat the pitch to home and the catcher not drop the ball!!

I guess David assumed the Royals would never have a pitcher throw a wild pitch with a man on 3rd--just ask Mariano Rivera.
Its "little" things like this that make us true Royals fans sick@! Of course, what do I expect, David is one of Allard's guys!

Mark F. said...

Did anybody else wonder why Hillman had Leo Nunez pitch to Grady Sizemore the other night with two outs and first base open? The game was still within reach at that point. Instant 3-run homer.

Isaac said...

Bill, you think that DeJesus has become a far better offensive player this year? I beg to differ. I see it as his 3rd best out of 5 years total. He is doing better than last year and his rookie year. That's not far better. That's not even better.

Regarding his baserunning. In his career he has 39SB and 30CS. Despite this, Hillman has either given him the freedom to or has personally asked him to steal more times already this year than any previous year other than his rookie year. He has had a success rate virtually identical to his career numbers.

Anonymous said...

Players like David DeJesus are a perfect example of the last decade with the Royals. Overall, pretty pedestrian, but with enough upside to piss you off when they don't deliver.