Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Royals Today: Opening Day Edition.

So, what to write about Opening Day that hasn’t been written before – like, say, last year? What did we see from the Royals yesterday (with one big exception) that we didn’t see a hundred times last season? Yes, it’s just one game, and yes, maybe fans take Opening Day a little too seriously. But there’s a reason why so many Royals fans are putting so much meaning into one game. We’ve seen this movie before, way too many times. I think most of us have accepted that the Royals will suck again this season – but is it too much to ask that they suck creatively? Can’t they suck in a different way than they did last year? Evidently not.

- All those new veteran players brought in to impart a winning attitude to the team, all that time spent on fundamentals again this spring, and the Royals can’t get through the top of the first inning of the season without making a play that belongs on the team’s end-of-season blooper reel.

I don’t know who’s at fault for letting Carlos Guillen’s infield pop-up drop, and I don’t care. All I know is that six men looked up into the sky and swirling wind, and not one of them took charge to make the play. Greinke is exempt from criticism, both because he’s Zack Greinke and because pitchers never have responsibility on infield pop-ups. But the reality is that when he’s on the mound, he’s easily the best defensive player on the infield. At some point, he ought to just say f**k it, and make every play he can himself.

- It’s somehow appropriate that the first run Greinke gives up this season should be an unearned run. He gave up nine unearned runs each of the last two seasons, even though his pitching style should lead to very few unearned runs (as I documented here two years ago). Yesterday was a perfect example of this: with two men on, Greinke induces a pop-up, a ball in play which should almost never lead to an error – unless you’re asking the Royals to catch it.

- I’m not going to rag on Willie Bloomquist too much for taking the error, because that really was a team effort, and he did make a fine play later in the game that might have saved Greinke a run.

Besides, it’s not Bloomquist’s fault that he was the Opening Day third baseman. Yes, it took a perfect storm of injuries for that to happen, with Alex Gordon’s broken thumb and Alberto Callaspo’s tweaked oblique. (Tweaked Oblique sounds like a good name for a band, if anyone’s looking for ideas…) But it still doesn’t explain why Bloomquist started over Mike Aviles.

Actually, I do know why – because Trey Hillman doesn’t feel that Aviles is ready to play third base yet. This is perfectly reasonable – as quickly as he returned from his injury, and as well as he played this spring, we can’t forget that Aviles had Tommy John surgery less than 10 months ago, his arm strength still isn’t 100%, and it may still be a few weeks before Aviles can be safely trusted to play full-out.

I just have one question to ask, if I may: if Aviles isn’t yet ready to start at third base, WHY THE HELL IS HE ON THE ROSTER?

Aviles was a revelation in 2008, not just offensively but defensively, as he played an above-average shortstop while hitting .325 as a rookie. Last year was a lost season, obviously, and after not playing in a game in 10 months, Aviles has a lot to prove. But he certainly has the ability to upgrade the Royals considerably at shortstop, where the Royals have a starter who – as you may know – leaves a lot to be desired in both facets of his game.

So the obvious solution here is to send Aviles to Omaha on a rehab assignment, which allows him to get reps at the plate every day, and allows him to progress defensively from second base to third base to shortstop as his arm strength returns. A month or six weeks from now, Aviles ought to be ready to step in at any position the Royals might need him. In particular, should Yuniesky Betancourt struggle as he did after the trade last season, the Royals will have a viable option to replace him.

Instead, the Royals were so impressed with Aviles’ performance that they brought him north with the team…only to stash him on the bench, where he won’t get the chance to continue his hot hitting, where he won’t be able to work on his arm strength in game situations, and where he’s evidently so fragile that the Royals don’t feel confident that they can use him at all.

Yesterday, the Spork went 0-for-3 with 2 strikeouts in his first three times up. In the bottom of the eighth, Bloomquist was due up again with two outs, nobody on, and the 100 mph-throwing Ryan Perry on the mound. Seems like a good chance to get Aviles up in a low-pressure situation, then let him take the field for the last inning. Instead, Bloomquist batted, and struck out again.

If you’re not going to use Aviles off the bench in a tailor-made situation, then why have him on the bench to begin with? Two months from now, if not sooner, Aviles might be the best shortstop the Royals have. If the Royals were actively trying to prevent Aviles from regaining his previous form, they couldn’t have made a better decision than the one they have.

- Speaking of Betancourt, props to him for one of the most impressive plate appearances I’ve ever seen from him. Granted, that’s damning with faint praise. Still, I should point out that as stunning as it was to see him drive a Justin Verlander fastball 380-plus feet to left-center field, the most impressive part of the at-bat was that his home run came on a full-count. In particular, the pitch immediately before the homer was a 2-2 fastball about three inches off the outside corner, and Betancourt spit on it.

It was one at-bat. And if the 2-2 pitch had been a slider, Betancourt probably would have swung no matter where it was placed. But I have to give credit where credit’s due, and I plan to watch Yuni’s pitch selection a little more closely in the coming weeks.

- I should apologize for suggesting that the Royals lost this game the same way they lost last season.

On Opening Day last season, the Royals’ starter departed the game with a lead, and in their first inning of work, the bullpen gave up three runs and lost the game. On Opening Day this season, the Royals’ starter departed the game with a lead, and in their first inning of work, the bullpen gave up six runs and lost the game. Also, they lost the game in the 8th inning last season, the 7th inning this year. Big difference.

- There’s not much to say about the bullpen’s seventh-inning meltdown. Roman Colon, Robinson Tejeda, and Juan Cruz faced 10 batters in the inning. Three struck out, one walked, and the other six all got hits. There was some degree of bad luck – the Tigers were 6-for-6 on balls-in-play – but if luck is the residue of design, then bad luck is the residue of a lack of design.

Roman Colon is really the Yuniesky Betancourt of the pitching staff – the Royals promoted him last season, and continue to use him in tight spots, even though he’s never done anything remotely positive at the major league level. But he unveiled a new slider this spring that everyone has raved about, and a new pitch is sometimes all it takes for a pitcher to take a dramatic step forward.

The slider I saw yesterday was hardly new; it was a wide sweeping thing that any hitter could recognize about 30 feet from the plate. (Colon said so as much afterwards: “The slider didn’t work today.”) He lit the fire.

Tejeda, who was terrific last season, is nonetheless the kind of guy I’d feel much more comfortable with to start an inning – he needs some space to clean up his own messes, and coming in with two men on base eliminated that margin for error. He threw the worst pitch in the entire sequence, a 1-2 fastball to Miguel Cabrera that was right down the middle, and hit back up the middle for an RBI single.

Juan Cruz almost looked decent, at least after he iced the game by giving up a two-run double to Brandon Inge – he struck out three of the next four hitters. I still hold out hope that he’ll regain his pre-2009 form. I would just rather he prove that in non-clutch situations first.

Colon, Tejeda, Cruz…if I had just described a game from last July, would any of you know the difference? If you had told me that Greinke pitched a brilliant game despite defensive lapses behind him, but then Colon and Cruz came in and blew the game before Soria could get in, I’d say you were describing this game here that I attended last season. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

If insanity is trying the same thing over and over again, expecting the same result, what level of schizophrenia have the Royals descended to?

- I don’t care what anyone else says: no one can protect a four-run deficit in the ninth inning better than Kyle Farnsworth. No one.

- And finally, what would a Royals’ game be without a dose of insane baserunning?

In the fifth inning, recall, Chris Getz got the Royals rolling with a two-out single off Verlander. He stole second, David DeJesus hit a grounder up the middle that Adam Everett could only keep on the infield, and then Scott Podsednik worked a walk. This set up the perfect situation: Billy Butler at the plate, with the bases loaded in a tie game. Butler has owned Verlander in his career, and while I don’t put much stock in hitter-pitcher matchups (all the statistical evidence says that what a batter has done against a specific pitcher is almost meaningless), the fact is that Butler can catch up to a fastball like few others in the game, even one as fast as Verlander’s. Butler poked a single to right field, plating two baserunners.

Two innings later, after the Tigers had put up their six-spot to take an 8-4 lead, the Royals’ offense once again stirred. Jason Kendall beat out an infield single. Getz singled to left as Kendall pulled up at second. And with one out, Podsednik blooped a single into short center field, giving Billy Butler another chance to bat with the bases loaded, representing the tying run, likely against Ryan Perry, another cooks-with-gas right-hander who provides all the energy Butler needs to go deep if he runs into one…

…WHAT THE HELL?!

Yep, that’s the Royals’ catcher churning around third base, with one out, the Royals’ best hitter about to come to the plate, down four runs in the seventh inning. That’s the Royals’ catcher being thrown out at the plate, with the Royals’ best hitter about to come to the plate, down four runs in the seventh inning.

Yes, it was a terrific throw, and a bang-bang play. But so what? When you’re down four runs in the seventh inning, and you’re about to bring up the tying run at the plate in the form of your #3 hitter, the only excuse to have a runner thrown out trying to score is if he slips and falls down halfway to home, then gets back up only to step on a landmine. Otherwise, it’s a fireable offense.

Dave Owen, the Royals’ third-base coach, was not fired over the winter.

In his defense, though, Kendall’s not going to have the speed he once had before that severe ankle injury in 1999.

- Momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher. After the hissy fit we all threw on Opening Day last year, the Royals won their next two games against the White Sox, and suddenly they were 2-1 with three dominant starting pitcher performances under their belt, and they were well on their way to 18-11. So let’s not get too riled up this time around.

I do feel compelled to point out that last year, tomorrow’s starting pitcher was Zack Greinke. This year, tomorrow’s starting pitcher is…Luke Hochevar.

Hope still springs eternal. But spring better show up quick.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

There are so many things wrong with the Royals decision-making: half of the starting fielders are playing out of position. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th offensive players (who are at least average defensively) are sitting on the bench. Our 3 best relievers from 2008, other than Soria, pitch for other teams (with nothing to show for it). It really is just common-sense. Something that people who claim to be baseball geniuses seem to lack.

Terry said...

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over (pouring so much time into watching the Royals play baseball year after year, whether it be at the park, or on FSMW) and expecting a different result (like, say, the team actually plays like a major league team and not a bunch of 7th graders at 3&2 that would rather be playing X-Box). No doubt about it....I'm as loony as they come!

Ryan said...

"I just have one question to ask, if I may: if Aviles isn’t yet ready to start at third base, WHY THE HELL IS HE ON THE ROSTER?"

THANK YOU! I don't know why the heck you're the only one who asks the question in print or online. If Aviles can't play, why isn't he on the DL? It's. So. Stupid.

Roy in Omaha said...

The most perplexing and troubling thing about the Royals trials and tribulations are that they actually have some personnel that could make things better, or, at least give one some hope, at-hand. If I were Dayton Moore or Trey Hillman there's no way I'd have, at minimum, Kendall, Guillen, Farnsworth, Betancourt, or Ankiel on this team. The Royals have suitable replacements for each and every one of these guys available right now, and, unlike the aforementioned dead weight, those replacements actually have some upside and aren't a thousand years old, either. You make Bryan Pena the everyday catcher. You stick Kila Ka'aihue at first base and make Billy Butler the permanent full time DH. You make Jordan Parraz (who barely even got looked at this spring) the full time RF. You leave Alberto Callaspo at 2B and leave Mike Aviles at SS. DeJesus and Maier are your other two outfielders. That lineup would score more runs than any other we've had in the last 5 years and I submit to you that if Ka'aihue was on this team from day one this year, he'd lead the team in on base percentage, probably by a wide margin. The Royals hitting is so bad it magnifies the deficiencies of their pitching. Right now, the hitting is a little more fixable. Why Maier and Aviles were not in the lineup on Opening Day and why Ka'aihue is in Omaha (who should have been on the team LAST year), after the spring training those three guys just had is a complete mystery to me and is just criminal. It was a full third of what looked like it might be a reasonably decent offense, two getting splinters in their butts and the other sent down for reasons I still can't fathom. We won't even use the all the talent we do have, and, use it correctly when we do. The personnel decisions these guys make just drive me crazy. Are they not watching and seeing the same things that's obvious to everybody else? Why do we as fans, and the news media keep giving the Royals a pass in subjecting us to all this abject stupidity? Inquiring minds want to know.

Anonymous said...

Aviles is not in the lineup because he doesn't take part in pre-game prayers with Deacon Hillman and Priest Moore.

Anonymous said...

Hillman's quotes are just as mind boggling as his decisions are. He said something about not wanting to use Callaspo or Aviles because of the amped up atmosphere.

What?

Aren't these guys professionals? Are you trying to win the game, or put the most senior team on the field?

What kind of excuse do you need to not field the best possible team you can?

Heaven forbid we make the playoffs and have to play Bloomquist because the atmosphere is too amped.

Aviles, Callaspo and Maier deserve a lot of at bats. Why in the world is Moore/Hillman trying to prevent them from getting any?

I agree with the post above concerning Kila. I don't know if he can play in the bigs, BUT NO ONE ELSE DOES EITHER. Moore/Hillman it costs you nothing to give him a shot. At least we know he will work the count a little bit. Give him a chance.

I love the game. For better or worse this is my team. Part of baseball is analyzing the moves made by the Manager/GM and criticizing. These guys make that part of the game way too easy and we collectively spend way too much time being critics. I really don't want to be a critic. I want to watch my team and say those guys gave a maximum effort and I enjoyed watching the effort. Win or lose. I am not able to even get to the part of whether the effort was good enough or not because I spend all of my time thinking about how freaking stupid Moore/Hillman are and how simple some this stuff should be.

Play the guys that give you the best chance of winning.

I should stop, but I have all of this anger I need to pour out.

Can Aviles play second? What is the point of refusing to consider him at second?

Rany, you mentioned pinch hitting late. What was that all about? Give Maier an at-bat. Give anyone a chance at the end. Running your seven eight and nine hitters out there in that situation is borderline criminal. Especially when your six through nine hitters intimidate no one.

All I can do is hope. And keep the eternal spring thing in mine.

Here is what I am hoping for.

Callaspo 2b
Aviles SS
Butler DH
Kila 1b
Gordon 3b
Pena C
Maier Rf
Parraz Cf
Podsednik Lf

Will someone please give Moore the phone number for Brian Cashman?

The Yankees are starving for a LF and DeJesus would be perfect for that role. Get Gardner in return. Or Hughes or Joba or another pitcher. Or one of their catching prospects. Of for that matter a bag of balls. DeJesus is really doing nothing but taking up space on this team and his value is never going to be higher. Move him.

Sorry, Rany, for abusing the forum, but I got a lot off of my chest. Thanks for the therapy.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing what so many of us were thinking. It's hard to make so many wrong decisions, but the Royals management makes it look easy.

kcghost said...

I wonder at times if we aren't insulting a bag of hammers when we discuss the mental acuity of the Royals leadership??

Anonymous said...

Rany, you have to stop referring to the 3B coach as simply "Dave Owen".

After last season (and opening day 2010), he should forever be referred to by his proper nickname:

Dave "Windmill" Owen.

Anonymous said...

The lame pregame production was also typical Royals.

Wabbitkiller said...

I too have had it with the BLATANT stupidity that Hillman and Moore display CONSTANTLY. Baseball isn't rocket science. Making some of the moves that have already been listed in this thread should be PAINFULLY obvious to Hillman and Moore, but somehow they're lost on these two knuckleheads.

I'd love nothing more than to see both of them fired, but I'd settle for being able to tell both of them how incredibly inept, incompetent, STUPID both of them are right to their faces.

Since The Crypt Keeper obviously isn't going to fire either of them anytime soon, could we at least get some aliens to abduct them or something? ANYTHING to get them removed from their jobs.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 9:40---Lame pregame is right. Didn't you love the way they paraded the Royals "alumni" out there? Jaime Bluma, Shawn Sedlacek? Are you kidding me? Where was the 1985 bat boy?

Anonymous said...

it is now past time for the royals to start thinking outside the box. How about actually using your best players to help you win games. Why not bring in soria instead of tejada in the seventh, that is when the game was lost. Sure it means someone else would have to finish the game, but it is better then soria wasting away without even entering the game.

Anonymous said...

sure it's sad that bluma and sedlacek are run out there by the royals, but at least they have chosen to become part of the community after their careers. it's not like they flew them in from LA or something.

MikeT said...

I've laughed my ass off every time they show the replay of Yuni rounding third and scoring that run tonight. Why you ask?

DAVE "WINDMILL" OWEN waiving him home.

Great nickname.

KW said...

Yeah, moving on to game two, Kendall gets thrown out trying to go first to third on a single -- with two outs. Am I wrong, or is it not basic baseball that you never risk making the third out at third base? I am willing to be corrected, but I think I got that right. The man is a menace on the base paths and a threat to the sanity of Royals fans everywhere.

Charles said...

There were three more fire-able offenses in last night's game (2 for sure 1 still bad, but maybe not).

#1) Kendall thrown out at 3rd in the 7th inning. Why? Owen is windmilling Betancourt home and not signaling the runner from first clearly one way or the other so Kendall gets hung... that's twice in two days with Kendall...
#2) Bloomquist sees the windmill in the 11th and gets 15 feet past 3rd only to see the stop sign go up.... if the relay is handled cleanly at all he is toast both ways on that maneuver. As a 3rd base coach aren't you supposed to have your mind made up BEFORE the runner gets to 3rd????
#3) And I heard NO ONE ON THIS.... In the 11th with 2 on and no one out and Carlos Guillen coming up Hillman decides that Leyland is as crazy as Hillman and pulls his infield in for a bunt. WHY? Anyway, the liner that drove in the lead (at the time it seemed winning) run was hit right to where Betancourt would have been if he had not been playing for the bunt. It could very easily have been a double play. I don't know - does C Guillen have the mashers up behind him? Why on Earth would he be bunting? Oh, the guys behind him are Inge and Laird and Sizemore (not Grady)... so no, I cannot see that Leyland would have bunted with Guillen... Maybe, I suppose, but ok - if he does just take the out at first, right???? Don't give Guillen a .100 point boost to his average!

Anonymous said...

Well, that was one loss down and 120 to go, but then the Royals messed up last night. Who would have thought Farnsworthless would allow a run to lose the game, only to have some crappy Tiger pitcher then go allow TWO runs? Come on Royals! Don't let the Kittens get the quest for 121 losses off to a bad start!

succotash said...

I assume someone keeps statistics of how many times a team's baserunners are thrown out at home. Anybody know where to find them?

Also, Charles' comment touched on a similar point, but infield pulled in or not, Betancourt's effort on the grounder through the hole in the 11th was awful. The ball went through 8-10 feet to his right, and he moved maybe a half step toward it. Unbelievably slow.

24 years and counting said...

don't you remember that we got Kendall for his speed

gsmith601 said...

Kila wasn't that good in Omaha in2009 so I'm always surprised that people are so worked up that he should have been in KC against better competition.

On a bright note he looked good here last night. Unleashed a bomb to right field in his 2nd at bat.
Lough and Parraz both looked good in the outfield.

Anonymous said...

Even though he had an off-year at Omaha, his numbers there still projected in the majors as better than what Jacobs was doing in K.C. Rany did the numbers at the end of last season, check his posts from last fall.