First off, thanks to the efforts of WHB’s Blake Uhlenhake, the series premiere of Rany on the Radio is now available in podcast form: go here, and scroll down to the bottom to where you find a link to “Rany on Royals 4-9-09”. Hopefully future podcasts will be available within 24 hours of the show’s end. I thought the first show went very well; I particularly liked the part where I called Rob an ignorant slut*. Many thanks to caller Oscar for his insightful question, and I hope that more of you will call in during future episodes. Next week’s episode also airs on Thursday at 7 pm, and we should be in that time slot through May 7th. (We’ll air on Monday May 11th instead of Thursday May 14th because the Royals will be playing a night game that Thursday.)
*: May or may not have actually happened.
So we’re one trip through the rotation, which is the perfect time to form wildly premature opinions on the Royals so far. Here’s a special Small Sample Size Edition of Short Attention Span Theatre:
- By far the best development of the season’s first five games is Kyle Davies’ performance on Thursday. Seven shutout innings, eight strikeouts, a Game Score of 77 which was not only the third-best of his career, but one of the ten best Game Scores by a Royal since 2005. You don’t want to read too much off of just one start – Brett Tomko had a Game Score of 78 in one of his starts last year – but coming off of his September last year, you factor in his performance, his stuff, his age, his pedigree…this looks for all the world like a talented thrower putting it all together and becoming a pitcher. Remember, the Royals got Davies (who won’t be a free agent until after 2011) in exchange for eight innings of Octavio Dotel. Dayton Moore has done a lot of maddening things as a GM – we’ll get to some of that – but a move like Dotel-for-Davies has the potential to make up for all of those things by itself. Keep in mind, a lot of us wanted Moore to trade Dotel for the Mariners’ Wladimir Balentien (assuming that offer was in fact on the table). Balentien still has a lot of potential, but at this moment I suspect almost all of us are glad we have Davies instead.
- Davies’ performance merely capped off an insanely good performance from the three starters that we’re actually counting on for good performances this season. Meche, Greinke, and Davies combined to allow one run and strike out 21 in 20 innings in their first start. As Bradford Doolittle pointed out, the combined Game Score of the first three starts (212) was better than the best three-game span (211, May 3-5) last season. In fact, the last time the Royals had three consecutive starts that combined for a higher Game Score (218) was August 4-6, 2004, when Brian Anderson threw a two-hit shutout to start things off, Greinke went seven innings allowing three hits and a single run the next night, and Darrell May threw seven strong innings, allowing six hits and three runs in the finale. So the Royals started 2009 with the best three-game stretch by their starters in nearly five years.
- I’m not going to tell you what the worst development of the young season is, but here’s a hint: it has scored eight runs in five games. There’s not much to analyze, really. The Royals aren’t hitting for average (.198). They’re not hitting for power (two homers in five games). They’re not commanding the strike zone at all (10 walks, 48 strikeouts). Of the nine guys in the Opening Day lineup, the only one hitting over .240 is Mark Teahen; the only one slugging over .360 is Coco Crisp. Yes, it’s early. The air is a lot colder and heavier than it was in Arizona, and I’m sure they’re still getting used to it. They’ve faced some of the best starters in the American League every time out; the worst starter they’ve seen is arguably the guy they saw on Opening Day, Mark Buehrle. But all these excuses are going to wear awfully thin awfully fast if they don’t put up a three-spot somewhere.
- Put it this way: the Royals haven’t scored three runs in a game yet. Through Saturday, every other team in baseball (except for Houston) had scored at least three runs in an inning.
- If you’re looking for me to say something snarky about Sidney Ponson, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you. The end result (four runs in six innings) wasn’t good, but in light of the opponent in front of him and the defense behind him, it wasn’t half-bad either. I was able to watch him from the second through the fourth innings, and his ability to move his fastball to both sides of the plate was impressive. If he continues to throw like that, the results will come. But I never had an issue with Ponson in the rotation – my issue was with Hochevar not being in the rotation. We can win with Ponson as our #5 starter. We can’t win if he’s our #4 starter, especially if our #5 starter is…
- Horacio Ramirez, and if you’re looking for me to say something snarky about him, I might disappoint you, but only because it’s shooting fish in a barrel. This is the side of Dayton Moore that just baffles me. How do you give this guy nearly $2 million to be in your rotation when 1) he hasn’t pitched remotely well in anyone’s rotation since 2006, and 2) no one else wanted him in their rotation at all, let alone was willing to fork over seven figures for the privilege? There are many, many aspects to being a GM that I would positively suck at, but if the Royals ever advertise for the position of Assistant GM: Common Sense, I’m definitely throwing my hat in the ring. Even Hillman’s brain fart with Kyle Farnsworth only cost us one game – Moore’s signing of Ramirez has the potential to be a hemorrhoid on the Royals all season. The good news is that in Hochevar’s first start (which came in the thin air of Albuquerque), he gave up two runs - one earned - in five innings. Ramirez won’t be needed as a starter again until the 25th; let’s hope that by then Hochevar has answered whatever questions the Royals had about him, and Ramirez goes back to the lefty reliever role that Bob McClure had him thriving in last summer.
- Speaking of Kyle Farnsworth, I was a bit surprised that he got booed as loudly as he was when he was introduced before the home opener. I guess our patience has been tried a few too many times over the years. He went on to strike out the side in his one inning of work, and afterwards credited the difference to a mechanical change. McClure way well be able to work a miracle with him; Farnsworth did have a 2.19 ERA in 70 innings in 2005. But I think I speak for all Royals fans when I say we’d like to see him prove he’s a changed man – let’s say he doesn’t give up another homer between now and mid-May – before we’d entrust him with another eighth-inning lead.
- Jose Guillen’s hip injury came at an awfully opportune time, don’t you think? For all the talk about how the Royals wanted to give him two weeks off to make sure he doesn’t aggravate his injury in the cold weather, one aspect of the decision to DL him that I haven’t seen talked about is this: by putting Guillen on the DL before 3 o’clock on Friday, the Royals were able to give Brayan Pena a reprieve for at least the next 15 days. Pena was almost certainly the guy to get demoted when Ponson was activated, and even if he had cleared waivers, Pena had the option to decline the assignment to Omaha and declare free agency. It’s hard to think that he wouldn’t, given that the Royals already have two catchers they can’t find enough playing time for. Pena is an interesting player, and it’s easy to understand why the Royals would want to keep him around.
- Of course, keeping Pena around is pointless if you’re not going to, you know, take advantage of his presence. And on that note, Hillman’s lineups the last two days leave something to be desired. The Royals have faced southpaws in their last two games, and while they certainly missed Guillen’s bat, they could have gone a long way towards replacing it by finding lineup spots for both Miguel Olivo and John Buck – something Hillman had no qualms about doing last year even with no third catcher on the roster. Instead, Hillman insisted on starting Jacobs against two of the better lefties in baseball. Jacobs went 2-for-6 against Pettitte and Sabathia, but one of the two hits was a gift double that Nick Swisher lost in the sun.
- Hillman’s decision to keep Jacobs in the lineup pales to his weird second base/right field shenanigans. On Friday he moved Teahen out to right field and played Callaspo at second base. The temptation to move Teahen back to his natural position in Guillen’s absence is understandable: it definitely helps the defense in the short term. The question is whether it hurts Teahen’s chances to get used to his new position in the long term; so long as they continue to work with him – and so long as they plan to move him back once Guillen returns – I think this is a trade-off worth making. But today, Teahen had the day off (at least until Gordon’s hip problem forced Teahen to move to yet another position), and Hillman decided to play Callaspo at second base and the Spork in right field. Setting aside the calamity that is having Bloomquist in the starting lineup, I don’t understand why Hillman wouldn’t reverse the two. Callaspo may not be the world’s greatest outfielder, but then neither is Bloomquist, so why not at least make sure that your best second baseman is playing second base, especially with a groundball pitcher on the mound?
- Let’s take a deep breath. The Royals may have only eight runs in five games, but they’re still 2-3, and the division is shaping up to be every bit as mediocre as we thought it would be. The Indians, who were the popular favorite to win the division, are 0-5; reigning Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee has been hit hard twice, and third starter (!) Carl Pavano gave up nine runs in an inning-plus. The Royals are half a game out of first. There is no reason to panic.
- Alex Gordon and Billy Butler have combined to go 3-for-32, with two walks and 11 strikeouts. It goes without saying, but bears repeating: if they – and the rest of the lineup – don’t get it together soon, then we might have reason to panic.