Friday, July 18, 2008

Contrary to Rumors, I'm Still Alive...

Wow, May 22 was my previous post on here, and I can't apologize enough for the lack of attention this blog has received over the past two months.

Have I given up hope in the Kansas City Royals? Nope. That's why I called this site Undying Royalty. Although some might have started to speculate about whether I was still a fan of the team, my loyalty remains in tact. I've just been keeping things to myself for awhile.

Have I still been keeping up with the team? Yes, I purchased MLB Extra Innings prior to the start of the season -- a fantastic purchase, I might add, although my one complaint is that I can't watch the pregame segments, or Royals Live after the game -- and I'd wager that I've watched at least as many, if not more, games than the average Royals fan.

Is the start of summer to blame? Partially. After I posted on May 22, I spent the next two weeks vacationing, the first at my in-laws in North Dakota, and the second fishing with my high school buddies at my parents' cabin. But that doesn't give me any reason to have failed to write a darn thing the past six weeks, and I'm sorry for that.

I will admit that I was pretty down on the team after that miserable stretch of the season in Boston and Toronto, which carried on into the 12-game losing streak. But Trey Hillman might have caught wind of my previous post, because Jimmy Gobble hasn't pitched in a game the Royals have won since he wrecked the team's chances to steal a win at Fenway Park on May 22*.

*My use of a Pozterisk here is to make everyone aware that Gobble hasn't let me down, going 0-2 with a 10.80 ERA in 14 appearances, beginning May 22. He has worked 13.1 innings, allowing 18 hits, 16 runs (all earned), while walking 11 and striking out just seven. Taking a closer look at his numbers, he has surrendered a horrendous line of .316/.435/.614, with four home runs allowed, two wild pitches, one hit batsman, and has been allowed to throw 283 pitches, only 157 of which have been for strikes. Now, could someone please remind me, why the hell is he still on the Royals' active roster?!

Whew, okay, I feel better.

So, no, I haven't fallen ill, died, or mysteriously vanished from the face of the Earth. My blood still runs Royal blue, and I have just as much disdain for the St. Louis Cardinals. Speaking of which, I have absolutely no idea why I didn't take full advantage of the Royals' dominance over that other team from the Show Me State. Who's your daddy, Redbirds? That's right, look to the other side of the state, and give Trey Hillman's boys the respect they earned.

Tonight, the second half of the season begins, and it will be interesting to see how well the Royals can work through a very tough stretch of games against teams with winning records at the All-Star break. At 10 games under the .500 mark, there are at least five games I can think of that should have fallen into the win column in the first half, and a record of 48-48 at the break would have made things much more intriguing. Not that things won't be worth following as is, though.

I'll be extremely interested to see what kind of moves Dayton Moore makes in the next two weeks, and I think those transactions will depend largely on how well the team fares to start the second half. If the Royals come out of the gates hot, and win several games against Chicago, Detroit, and Tampa Bay, then I could see Kansas City become buyers in this market. But I'd estimate the chances of winning six to eight of those 10 games is fairly minimal.

What's more likely to happen is that, because of this challenging stretch in the schedule, the Royals will be aggressively looking to make some moves to bolster the team's future. Mark Grudzielanek's days in a Kansas City uniform are likely coming to an end, and players like Ron Mahay and even guys like Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, David DeJesus, Mark Teahen, and Esteban German are likely to be involved in private trade discussions between Moore and other teams. I can only hope that Jimmy Gobble's name comes up, as well, but my prayers are rarely answered.

Yes, I'll be watching, and hopefully, I will once again be writing on a regular basis. Thanks for putting up with my extended leave of absence.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I Hope Trey Hillman Learned His Lesson...

The bases are loaded. The Royals trail the Red Sox, 7-3, because Jimmy Gobble had just walked a batter, and then allowed Dustin Pedroia to crush a double off the Green Monster. Gobble then intentionally walked Manny Ramirez to load the bases with two outs. Time for a right-hander -- like Ramon Ramirez, maybe -- to come in and face right-handed batter Mike Lowell, wouldn't you think?

I'm standing in my living room, in front of the TV, pacing back and forth and saying to myself, "Don't let Gobble face another right-handed batter...don't let Gobble face another right-handed batter..."

So, what does Royals manager Trey Hillman decide to do? You got it -- he leaves Jimmy Freakin' Gobble in there to face Lowell with the bases packed.

To better understand my frustration with this decision, here are some facts about Jimmy Gobble. Entering today's game, left-handers were just 2-for-22 (.091) against him this year, with eight strikeouts and a .312 OPS. But right-handed batters?, they were batting .389/.455/.556 with three doubles and a .500 BAbip. For his career, batters have a .343 average against Gobble with the bases loaded.

I swear on my life, I mumbled to myself, "The score will be at least 9-3 after this at bat." Then I corrected my thought by thinking that it might just be 8-3, because the chances of Gobble walking Lowell were just as bad.

The result? Lowell blasts one over the Green Monster for the second grand slam the Royals allowed in the game, and all of a sudden it was 11-3.

And the moral of this, I mean, rant? Never, EVER, EVERRRRRR allow Jimmy Gobble to face right-handed batters again! Ever!! He should be a lefty-lefty specialist, and that's it.

I don't like Jimmy Gobble! I'm not commenting on Jimmy Gobble the human being, because I would bet that he's one of the nicest guys on the team. He just seems like he'd be a good friend, and a great person. But Jimmy Gobble the baseball player? I'd pick countless other relievers to use -- against a right-handed batter -- before I'd choose to go with the "Gobbstopper" in that situation.

I hope Trey Hillman learned a lesson from this, and uses Gobble ONLY as a lefty specialist.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

This Day-Night Thing With Bannister Is Odd

If you're a Kansas City Royals fan, and you've been reading Royals-related blogs this week, then you might have already read about right-handed pitcher Brian Bannister and his bizarre stat splits between his performances during day games, and those at night.

I believe it was initially pointed out in the reader comments section on Joe Posnanski's blog, and then written about by Rany Jazayerli on his Rany on the Royals site.

For those who haven't seen this yet, Brian Bannister's stats during day games and night games are as follows:

Bannister in the Daytime (2008): 4-0, 0.62 ERA, 29 IP, 12 hits, 3 R (2 ER), 0 HR (no extra-base hits), 7 BB, 18 SO, 1 CG, .126 BAA, .320 OPS, -10 OPS+, .156 BABIP

Bannister at Night (2008): 0-5, 8.13 ERA, 27.2 IP, 40 hits, 25 R (25 ER), 6 HR (14 extra-base hits), 7 BB, 16 SO, 0 CG, .325 BAA, .914 OPS, 147 OPS+, .337 BABIP

Well, Mr. Bannister pitched again last night for the Royals, and wouldn't you know, he lost. Bannister worked 6.1 innings against the Florida Marlins, allowing seven hits, six earned runs, and one home run, while walking two and striking out five.

The odd thing was, when the game started, it was still light outside, and Bannister was faring pretty well until that daylight faded. Through six innings, he had limited Florida to a pair of runs on just four hits. That was, until the seventh inning -- yes, when it was dark -- and the Marlins struck for four runs on three hits, including the decisive three-run blast by pinch-hitter Wes Helms.

And, the good news out of this? Bannister's next scheduled outing comes Thursday at Fenway Park against the defending World Champion Boston Red Sox and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

And, you're probably wondering, how is there any good news in that? Well, first pitch is slated for 12:35 p.m. CT.

Brian Bannister Photo Credit: Wilfredo Lee/AP

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Am I Just Dreaming, Or Could This Happen?

If you haven't read Jim Caple's feature on Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish, you should. And, if you're like me, it might cause you to dream of something that probably will never happen -- Darvish finding his way to Kansas City -- but since his former manager, Trey Hillman, currently manages the Royals, it's fun to think about.

Darvish is a 21-year old megastar in his fourth season as a member of the Hoikkado Nippon Ham Fighters, the team Hillman led to the 2006 and 2007 Japan Series, winning the title in 2006. This season, the 6-foot-5 Darvish is 5-1 with a 1.46 ERA, and he is far and away the top pitcher in Japanese baseball.

Normally, a player such as Darvish would have to play nine seasons in Japan before he would be eligible to sign as a free agent with a team in Major League Baseball. But corporations that own teams in Japan -- in this case, Nippon Ham -- can ask for a posting fee, which would allow an MLB team to have discussions with a player like Darvish before his nine years is up.

It's how Daisuke Matsuzaka wound up a member of the Boston Red Sox. Boston paid a posting fee of $50 million, and then signed Dice-K to a $52 million contract prior to the start of the 2007 season. It's still speculation, but Caple guesses that the fee to speak with Darvish could reach $75 million.

So, here's where my dreaming gets crazy. I actually sat back and wondered whether David Glass, who has deep, deep pockets, would actually ever try to make a huge splash by paying what it takes to get a pitcher like Darvish. I wondered whether the owners of Nippon Ham, who had a wonderful relationship with Trey Hillman, would allow the Royals to be the team with the shot to get Darvish. And I also daydreamed about the possibility of the free-spirited Darvish refusing to talk with any team but one managed by Hillman.

Yes, I know, I'm a crazy Royals fan, and those thoughts are absurd. But it's fun to think about. Read the article, and you'll be dreaming about Darvish wearing Powder Blue, too.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

No Offense, But Royals' Offense Stinks

This is starting to get a little ridiculous. This Kansas City offense is bad, plain and simple, and if it wasn't for some great pitching to start the season, the Royals's 14-18 record would be noticeably worse.

Kansas City has scored three runs or less in 17 of 32 games this season, and its record in those games is 4-13. But the sad fact that is that Royals pitchers have held opponents to five runs or less in 13 of those 17 games. So the team has been benefitting from solid pitching, but the offense isn't holding up its end of the deal.

Heading into today's series finale against the Angels, the Royals rank last, or next-to-last, in the American League in the following categories: runs scored (110, 14th), doubles (49, 13th), home runs (16, 13th), walks (85, 13th), on-base percentage (.308, 13th), and slugging percentage (.350, 14th).

Here are some more ugly numbers to digest:

--Kansas City is batting just .237/.305/.321 in games at Kauffman Stadium
--In the Royals' 14 wins, the team has batted .279/.341/.414 with 63 runs scored (4.5 per game), 45 walks, 90 strikeouts, four sacrifice hits, 13 stolen bases in 20 attempts, and has grounded into just four double plays. But in the team's 18 losses, it is batting just .229/.279/.298 with 47 runs scored (2.6 per game), 40 walks, 110 strikeouts, only one sacrifice hit, just three stolen bases in nine attempts, and has grounded into 17 double plays.
--Royals substitutes are batting .182/.217/.182 with zero extra-base hits, and pinch hitters are hitting just .222/.222/.222
--Through 32 games, Kansas City has yet to have a batter lead off a game by drawing a walk
--Kansas City cleanup hitters have combined to produce a miserable line of .192/.261/.296 with four doubles, three home runs, and 24 strikeouts
--Without factoring in sacrifice hits or sacrifice flies, Royals players have accumulated 168 at bats against the first pitch in the count, which is 24 more at bats than in any other situation
--Kansas City hitters are batting .128/.146/.149 when facing an 0-2 count, and are a combined .177/.248/.246 in two-strike situations
--With the bases loaded, KC players are batting just .167/.154/.167 with no extra-base hits
--Oddly, Kansas City has an impressive line of .571/.607/.857 with a runner on third base, but those numbers fall to just .158/.200/.184 in the same situation with two outs
--With two outs and runners in scoring position, Royals batters are hitting just .229/.321/.288

Something needs to be done, and I'm thinking that Rany Jazayerli hit the nail on the head when he proposed that hitting coach Mike Barnett needs to be replaced. I don't like to see a guy lose his job, and I'm sure Barnett is a solid hitting instructor, but whatever he's been doing lately hasn't been sinking in, and it's time for a change.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Losing a Series to Texas is Embarrassing

I haven't written anything for awhile now, but can you really blame me? The Royals have lost 10 of their last 13 games, and today they wasted another solid pitching performance by Zack Greinke to drop a 2-1 decision to Sidney Ponson and the Texas Rangers. Yes, I repeat, Kansas City was held to one run by Sidney Ponson, and the loss allowed the team with the worst record in baseball to take two of three games in the series.

I'm embarrassed to call myself a Royals fan right now. If you take a look at the banner of this blog -- yes, the thing at the top of the main page -- this is one of those days where I need to commiserate.

This team's offense is horrid. Just plain awful. Kansas City ranks last in the American League for runs scored with 101. That's an average of 3.61 runs per game. Guys like Greinke just have to be frustrated. He should be 5-0 right now. And, when the Royals do break out and score a bunch of runs, like the nine they scored in Wednesday night's loss to the Rangers, the pitching falters.

Kansas City opened the season with the pitching staff looking like it was going to be pretty darn solid. But it was a small sample size, and we all should have known it wouldn't last. I feel foolish for having been excited about the team's two-point-something earned run average at one point. Now, pretty much all the team's ERA's except for those of Greinke (1.47), Ron Mahay (2.03), and the Three Amigos -- Joakim Soria (0.00), Ramon Ramirez (0.71), and Leo Nunez (2.38) -- have swelled to greater than 4.00.

The thing is, though, even at 12-16 the Royals aren't buried in the standings. Thanks to the 6-2 start to the season, Kansas City finished April at 12-15, and they're currently three games out of first place. But if they continue to stink things up by losing series to teams the realistically should beat, there will be much more grumbling coming from this Royals fan.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Royals Erupt for 6-Run 8th, Beat Jays 8-4

Finally, signs of life in the Royals' offense.

Kansas City averted what would have been a disappointing blown save by Leo Nunez, and scored six times in the bottom of the eighth inning to snap a seven-game losing streak with an 8-4 win against the Toronto Blue Jays Friday night at Kauffman Stadium.

The Royals led 2-1 when Nunez took the mound for the top of the eighth, with Zack Greinke in line for his fourth win of the year, but the Blue Jays scored three times -- the first runs of the year allowed by Nunez -- to take a 4-2 lead.

But Kansas City rallied with its biggest single-inning scoring output of the year by scoring six runs on five hits, two walks, and two Toronto errors in the fateful eighth frame. Catcher John Buck's second double of the night drove in the winning run.

Despite the blown save, Nunez (2-0) got credit for the victory due to Kansas City's offensive explosion in the eighth. Greinke took a no decision after limiting Toronto to five hits and one earned run in seven innings. He struck out four and walked one, and the lone run scored on a solo home run to right center by Blue Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay in the seventh.

Every Royals player with a plate appearance in the game had at least one hit, led by two hits apiece by Buck and center fielder David DeJesus. Buck and first baseman Ross Gload each scored a pair of runs, with Gload hustling for a crucial leadoff double, and then scoring the game's first run in the fifth inning.

Closer Joakim Soria came in and worked a scoreless ninth in a non-save situation to preserve the win and snap Kansas City's winless streak.

The Royals and Blue Jays play game two of the weekend series Saturday at 6:10, with Kansas City rookie right-hander Luke Hochevar (0-1, 11.57) facing Toronto right-hander Shaun Marcum (2-1, 3.42).

Ross Gload Photo Credit: Reuters Pictures

Back in the Cellar, Again

I'm really an optimist. But after 20-plus miserable years of watching their favorite baseball team, I'd have to guess that most Kansas City Royals fans are pessimists by this point, and someone told me once that "a pessimist is simply an optimist with experience." Well, I have to admit that there must be some measure of pessimism brewing inside me, because I knew that I'd be writing these words at some point this season...

The Kansas City Royals have fallen into fifth place in the American League Central Division.

After dropping both games of a doubleheader versus Cleveland Thursday night, by scores of 9-6 and 2-0, the Royals have now lost seven straight games to fall to 9-13 on the season. The Detroit Tigers, who started the season with a record of 2-10, are now a half game ahead of KC with a mark of 10-13. Even with the six runs scored in the first game of the twinbill tonight, the Royals have scored just 18 runs during the losing streak.

So, Kansas City's promising start to the 2008 season has turned into a pumpkin, and the team finds itself in a familiar spot in the A.L. Central -- looking up at the rest of the division from last place.

I don't like it at all. This offense was supposed to be improved, and all this losing brings out my inner pessimist. I guess that just speaks to my level of experience watching this organization. Ugh...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I had to force myself to stay away from the computer for awhile after tonight's game, because that was just a sorry effort on the part of the Kansas City Royals. Pathetic. Awful. Anemic. Horrendous. And definitely, embarrassing.

For the past week, the Royals have looked an awful lot like last year's team, with very little offensive punch, and spotty pitching. What happened to the new attitude? Where's the team that opened with three wins in Detroit, and was on such a roll until heading to the West Coast last week?

Here are some thoughts:

--Something has to be wrong -- physically -- with Gil Meche. I mean, he gave me a glimmer of hope when he avoided trouble to escape with a 3-2 win against the Angels last Wednesday, but he was back to looking very hittable tonight. His ball was up in the zone, which resulted in only one ground ball out, and seven fly ball outs. He allowed two home runs, including the grand slam to Casey Blake in the fateful fourth inning. Meche is certainly not C.C. Sabathia. But I guess it helps me deal with his 8.00 ERA by realizing that even the best pitchers can get off to dreadful starts. Then again, I guess the Royals (and a temperature of 69 degrees at first pitch) were just the tonic that Sabathia needed to get his season back on track, and Meche can't face the Royals.

--My patience with Jose Guillen is starting to wear thin. The guy went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in the game tonight, and I see absolutely no emotion from him. Does he care that he's sucking? He just strikes out, and then casually strolls back to the dugout like it's no big deal. I want to see some fire in this guy! I want to know that he's pissed off that he just earned the Golden Sombrero. WTF, Jose?

--I think it's time to move Mark Teahen back to sixth or seventh in the order again. Since Teahen was moved up to third in the lineup, he's batting .254 (15-for-59) with 15 strikeouts and just two runs batted in.

--Yasuhiko Yabuta is obviously struggling with the transition to using the larger baseball (the ball used in Japan is slightly smaller), and I'm not sure how his contract works, but if it's possible to let him go figure things out in Omaha for awhile, that might not be a bad thing to do. Yabuta has appeared in seven games, allowing 11 hits and eight earned runs in 7.1 innings pitched, striking out four, but walking seven and compiling a 9.82 ERA.

--Jimmy Gobble needs to solely remain a lefty specialist out of the bullpen. He is most effective in that role, and performances like tonight's -- allowing three hits, three earned runs, walking two, and striking out two in two-thirds of an inning -- are commonplace when he is asked to face more than just a left-handed batter or two. He had good numbers last year for one reason, and that's because he was primarily expected to come in and retire lefties.

I'm hoping this five-game losing streak can be halted soon, before the Royals once again find themselved buried in the standings at the end of April. Such a promising start to the season has quickly become another frustrating first month of the season.

I am fairly patient, and tend to maintain a positive outlook, for the most part. I've read people's comments on some of the Royals message boards, and there are already people wondering if this season is over. There's even a poll which asks whether the Royals will get back to .500 this season. Even with tonight's horrid performance, that seems a little absurd, given that Kansas City is just two games below .500 at this point.

The ball will be in Brett Tomko's hands Wednesday night. Maybe one of these days the offense will bust out and score more than six runs to give the pitchers a little breathing room. I don't know if my heart can stand too many more 15-1 embarrassments.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Blue Review: Week Three

Overall Record: 9-10 (Tie 2nd in A.L. Central)
Record in Week Two: 2-5 (1-1 at SEA, 1-1 at LAA, 0-3 at OAK)
Home: 0-0
Away: 2-5
Current Streak: Lost 4
Upcoming Games: vs. CLE (3), vs. TOR (3)

60-60-42: It was an ugly week of baseball for the Royals. A 2-5 West Coast road trip, that ended with a three-game sweep at Oakland, to drop Kansas City under .500 for the first time this season. Yuck. But my brother, Matt -- the Cardinals fan -- made me feel better by sharing a theory about Major League Baseball that he heard from a friend. This idea has probably been widely discussed, but it made me feel a little better about the bad week for the Royals. He said that, basically, every MLB team wins 60 games, and loses 60 games during the course of a season, and it's those other 42 games that determine how successful a season is. So, if you think about it that way, Kansas City's 9-10 mark at this early stage of the season doesn't seem bad at all. Sure, it would have been nice to have won two of three games in Oakland and headed into this week at 11-8, but it wasn't meant to be. I just hope the games last week weren't part of the "other 42."

Invisible Offense: During the seven-game road trip through Seattle, Los Angeles and Oakland last week, Kansas City's offense combined for just 25 runs (3.57 RPG) and struck out 45 times, while drawing just 19 walks. The team's OBP was just .319, and once they reached base, the Royals were just 3-for-8 in stolen base attempts.

Pitching Falters: Kansas City got off to a great start this season due, in large part, because of solid numbers from its pitchers. Through the first 12 games of the season, Kansas City owned a team ERA of 2.58, had held opponents to a .234 batting average, and allowed just 92 hits and 32 runs (31 earned runs) in 108 innings pitched, while striking out 78 and walking 31. But in the seven games last week, the Royals had a team ERA of 6.83, with opponents hitting .315, and they allowed 76 hits and 45 runs (44 earned runs) in 58 innings, striking out 46 and walking 27.

Guillen Showing Signs of Life: Jose Guillen, who was signed as a free agent during the offseason to help bolster the Royals' offense, headed into last week with a meager averages of .122/.157/.163 and just two doubles through the first 12 games. But the trip through three cities he used to call home seems to have sparked some life into hit bat, as he batted .269/.296/.577 with five doubles and his first home run in a Kansas City uniform last week.

Teahen Struggling: Left fielder Mark Teahen got off to a great start to the season, batting .343/.452/.571 with four runs scored, three doubles, one triple, one home run, three runs batted in, seven walks, and six strikeouts through the first 10 games. But over the past nine games, Teahen has batted just .200/.282/.229 with two runs scored, one double, four walks, and eight strikeouts.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

It's a Good Thing I Fell Asleep

I bought the MLB Extra Innings package this year, since we finally have digital cable and are able to get those channels. It's great to be able to once again sit down and watch all the Kansas City Royals games, although I'm not so sure my wife is going to think it's so great as the season progresses.

Last night, I was on the couch, bag of chips and a can of pop on hand, watching the Royals battle the A's. I saw Oakland score the four runs in the bottom of the sixth, breaking open what had been a pitchers duel between Brian Bannister and Chad Gaudin. I don't remember much after that; I fell asleep.

This morning, I woke up and checked the box score and saw that it's probably a good thing I didn't see the end of this game, as Kansas City's Japanese duo of Yasuhiko Yabuta and Hideo Nomo got lit up for eight runs in the eighth inning, and the Royals lost by a score of 13-2. There goes Kansas City's impressive bullpen ERA, I guess.

You really have to respect a veteran like Nomo, who's had incredible success in this game, both in Japan, and here in the United States. But I think it's time that the Royals end this experiment. Nomo has pitched in three games for KC this season, allowing 10 hits, nine runs, three home runs, and four walks, while striking out three in 4.1 innings pitched. His ERA is 18.69. His WHIP is 3.23. Teams are batting .455 against him.

It would have made for an amazing comeback story if Nomo had been able to put up decent numbers like he had in Spring Training. But these are no longer exhibition games where pitchers are facing lots of minor league prospects mixed in with the veterans, and I think we've witnessed the end of Nomo's distinguished career. And maybe it's a good thing I slept through it.

Hideo Nomo Photo Credit: Orlin Wagner/AP

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Meche Wins, as KC Squeaks By Angels

It sure wasn't easy, but Gil Meche earned his first win of the season Wednesday night in Anaheim, as the Kansas City Royals scored three runs early and then held on for a 3-2 victory against the Los Angeles Angels.

Meche, who entered the game with a record of 0-2 and a 7.13 earned run average, scattered six hits over six innings, and worked his way out of trouble several times. He struck out two, walked three, and lowered his ERA to 6.08.

Four Royals relievers combined to hold Los Angeles (9-7) to a pair of hits over the final three innings, and Joakim Soria struck out two batters in a 1-2-3 ninth inning to record his fifth save in five opportunities this season.

Kansas City (9-6) didn't waste any time in getting the offense on track, as the Royals jumped on Angels starter Jered Weaver (1-3) for two runs on five hits in the opening frame.

Center fielder Joey Gathright led off the game with a bunt single, but was then picked off first base. However, consecutive singles by second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, left fielder Mark Teahen, and designated hitter Billy Butler all followed, with Butler's hit to right-center scoring Grudzielanek. Third baseman Alex Gordon then drove in Teahen with a two-out single to right.

The Royals scored what turned out to be the winning run in the second inning when Gathright led off with a single to left, stole second base, and then scored when the Angels' Weaver dropped the throw from first baseman Casey Kotchman on a grounder by Grudzielanek.

In the fourth, Los Angeles (9-7) cut the lead to 3-2 with a two-out rally against Meche. Designated hitter Garrett Anderson singled, moved to third on a double to right-center by center fielder Torii Hunter, and then Kotchman's single to left-center scored both runners.

Meche dodged bullets in the fifth and sixth innings, working out of jams with two runners on base each time. In the fifth, the Angels had runners at second and third with only one out, but Meche snagged a grounder back to the mound and caught the runner at third in a rundown, before ending the inning by getting right fielder Vladimir Guerrero on a grounder to Grudzielanek.

Gathright and Teahen each had three hits for the Royals, with Teahen's double to center in the ninth inning coming just inches shy of a home run. Grudzielanek and Gordon both had two hits, while catcher Miguel Olivo and right fielder Jose Guillen both had doubles.

The teams will wrap up the short two-game series Thursday night at 9:05 p.m., with Kansas City right-hander Brett Tomko (1-1, 2.08) facing Angels' righty Jon Garland (1-2, 5.50).

Miguel Olivo/Joakim Soria Photo Credit: Chris Carlson/AP

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Royals Need Improvement from Meche

The Kansas City Royals have gotten off to a solid start to the 2008 season, winning eight of their first 14 games, and moving back and forth between first and second place in the American Legaue Central standings. But the team's ace, Gil Meche, has yet to contribute to that success.

Through his first three starts, Meche is 0-2 with an elevated 7.13 earned run average. His control has been off, as evidenced by 10 bases on balls issued in just 17.2 innings pitched, and he just seems to be struggling to throw breaking balls for strikes.

I was thinking I could simply look up the stats from Meche's first three starts of 2007, compare them to the numbers from his first three starts of 2008, and it would reveal an obvious reason for his stuggles, but his numbers are pretty consistent to what he had done to this point last year.

Through three games in 2007, Meche had thrown 296 pitches (187 for strikes), had allowed three home runs, and opponents were hitting .288/.329/.438 against him. Through three games this year, Meche has thrown 294 pitches (183 for strikes), has allowed three home runs, and opponents are batting .275/.367/.493 against him.

Those are fairly similar numbers for what is a drastic difference in ERA from one season to the next. I was particularly amazed at the similarities in his pitch totals, and the numbers that were thrown for strikes, because the biggest difference in 2007 and 2008 for Meche is in bases on balls. Last year at this point, Meche had surrendered four walks, but this year's total is 10, which also explains the difference in OBP.

Since Meche's control has been iffy, he might simply be throwing more balls over the middle of the plate so far this season. Those balls are getting hit hard, as nine of the 19 hits he's allowed this year have gone for extra bases, compared to just five of 21 at this point last year.

Meche also hasn't been helped by a continuing lack of run support when he's on the mound. In 2007, the Royals scored an average of just 3.84 runs per game when Meche pitched, which ranked last in the A.L. and was the fourth-worst average in all of baseball.

Kansas City added free agent slugger Jose Guillen to the middle of its lineup during the offseason, which many hoped would bolster the Royals' offensive woes. But Guillen enters tonight's game with a .158 batting average and has yet to hit a home run in a Royals uniform.

Guillen isn't the only player to blame for Meche's lack of run support, but his support this season has been even worse than last year's, at just 2.79 runs per game. I believe that much of that has to do with the fact that, as the Royals' ace, Meche is often matched up against opposing teams' aces. It's not simply a matter of bad luck, as some people seem to think.

Whatever the issue has been through three games, Kansas City fans are hoping that Meche can figure things out, tighten up his control, and find the form that helped him finish last season with nine wins and a 3.67 ERA.

Meche gets his fourth start of the season tonight in Anaheim against a tough Angels lineup. I'm hoping we see the return of last year's consistency on display once again. The Royals need their ace to be just that.

Gil Meche Photo Credit: Paul Battaglia/AP

Monday, April 14, 2008

Greinke's Complete-Game Gem Tops M's

Zack Greinke limited the Seattle Mariners to five hits and one run in a complete-game 5-1 victory Monday night, helping the Kansas City Royals move back into first place in the American League Central standings with a record of 8-5.

Greinke, who improved to 3-0 with a 0.75 earned run average, needed just 107 pitches to record his third career complete game. It marked back-to-back complete games for the Royals, after Brian Bannister threw a complete-game, three-hitter in a 5-1 win against Minnesota on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium.

The Royals grabbed an early 3-0 lead for Greinke in the second inning, when first baseman Billy Butler led off with his first home run of the season, a solo shot into the bullpen in left field. Right fielder Jose Guillen followed with a double to the gap in right-center, and scored on a one-out home run to center by designated hitter Miguel Olivo, who was 3-for-4 with two RBI and two runs scored.

Guillen and Tony Pena, who have both been mired in long hitting slumps, each went 2-for-4 in the game, hopefully showing signs of breaking out offensively.

Seattle (6-8) scored its lone run in the bottom of the third inning, after Greinke issued a leadoff walk to Brad Wilkerson. It was Greinke's only walk, but Wilkerson later scored on a fielder's choice grounder to first base by Ichiro Suzuki.

Kansas City scored a run in the seventh on a sacrifice fly to center by David DeJesus, who was playing in a game for the first time since Opening Day, and added its final run on an RBI single to center by catcher John Buck in the eighth inning.

The Mariners threatened in the bottom of the eighth, but left fielder Mark Teahen leaped at the wall to rob what would have been a two-run home run by Seattle's Yuniesky Betancourt, and end the inning.

For most of the night, though, Greinke was keeping the ball down in the zone and forcing the Mariners to ground out. Royals second baseman Mark Grudzielanek seemed to handle a majority of the ground balls, as he recorded 10 assists and two putouts in the game, finishing just two assists shy of a record-setting assist total for a second baseman.

The Royals and Mariners conclude their brief two-game series Tuesday afternoon at 5:40 p.m. The Royals will send left-hander John Bale (0-2, 5.84) to the hill, while Seattle will counter with righty Miguel Batista (0-2, 6.00).

Zack Greinke Photo Credit: Kevin P. Casey/AP

Things Could Be Worse for Guillen

Just when I thought things couldn't get much worse for Jose Guillen, I found this article about David Ortiz, written by ESPN's Jerry Crasnick.

Ortiz, the four-time All-Star selection of the Boston Red Sox, the guy with the nickname "Big Papi," is in a dreadful slump to start the 2008 season. Yes, pretty close to matching Guillen's troubles at the plate. Ortiz is just 3-for-43 for a line of .070/.231/.140 with one home run, six runs scored, and three runs batted in. So, the Big Papi has essentially become the Big Pop Up.

Guillen, as any true Kansas City Royals fan would know, is batting just .122/.157/.163 with six hits (two doubles) in 49 at bats, five runs batted in, and three runs scored. All you have to do is take a look at the results of the poll on this site to see the level of KC fans' frustration with Guillen so far this year. He batted cleanup for the first 10 games of the season, and then switched places with designated hitter Billy Butler and has been batting fifth the past two games.

Something has to break this slump for Guillen, and I'm hoping it's this week's West Coast road swing through three of his former stomping grounds. The Royals open with a pair of games at Seattle, where Guillen played in 2007, then travel to Los Angeles for two games against an Angels team he played for in 2004, and end the trip with three games in Oakland, where he spent part of his 2003 season.

You have to figure that Guillen might want to show the Mariners' brass that they made a mistake by not signing him to a contract extension when they had a chance this offseason. He's even more likely to be out for blood when he faces Mike Scioscia's Angels. Guillen's time in Anaheim ended in an ugly manner, when he was suspended by Scioscia for making some critical comments about the manager, and he's been very open about the importance he places on the games any time he faces the Angels, or Scioscia, the rest of his career.

And, if nothing else, hopefully some warmer temperatures on the West Coast will bring Guillen's bat out of the freezer. Something needs to click, though, because writing a comparison to the Big Pop Up is getting pretty desperate. I'm banking on a big week from the Royals' new free agent slugger.

Jose Guillen Photo Credit: Duane Burleson/AP

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Blue Review: Week Two

Overall Record: 7-5 (2nd in A.L. Central)
Record This Week: 3-3 (2-1 vs. NYY, 1-2 vs. MIN)
Home: 3-3
Away: 0-0
Current Streak: Win 1
Upcoming Games: at SEA (2), at LAA (2), at OAK (3)

Twins Trouble: I doubt there are many Royals fans who would have scoffed at a 7-5 record two weeks into the 2008 season. But there are probably very few, if any, who would have foreseen seven wins in 12 games, but only a mark of 2-4 against the Minnesota Twins. Most people would have looked at the schedule and predicted a tough time against the Tigers and the Yankees, but the Royals are a combined 5-1 against those teams.

Westward Bound: The Royals packed up after their 5-1 win against the Twins on Sunday, and flew to Seattle for the first of a tough seven-game road trip this week. Kansas City opens with two games against the Mariners, then heads to Los Angeles for a pair of games with the Angels, before wrapping up the trip with three games in Oakland. After Sunday's games, the surprising A's lead the A.L. West with a mark of 8-5, followed by the Angels at 7-6, and the Mariners at 6-7.

Home Sweet Home: Alex Gordon must like the new Crown Vision board at Kauffman Stadium, as the second-year third baseman had a productive week at the plate. In six games against the Yankees and Twins, Gordon batted .409/.458/.682 with six runs scored, three doubles, and a home run. For the season, Gordon's totals are .333/.360/.604 with 10 runs scored, seven runs batted in, four doubles, and three home runs.

The Bee Gees: Kansas City has several players whose last names begin with the letter B, and a bunch more whose surname starts with the letter G, who are making important contributions to the 2008 team. The B's include Billy Butler, Brian Bannister, John Buck, and John Bale, while the G's are Alex Gordon, Joey Gathright, Ross Gload, Mark Grudzielanek, Jose Guillen, Zack Greinke, and Jimmy Gobble. Throw in Gil Meche, and that's a lot of B's and G's.

Lights Out: Starting right-handed pitchers Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke have been lights out to begin the season. Bannister is 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA and just 10 hits allowed in 21.0 innings pitched. He has struck out a team-high 13 batters, while walking just five, and recorded the Royals' first complete game of the season in Sunday's 5-1 win against the Twins. Greinke, who will make his third start of the year Monday night in Seattle, is 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA, having allowed just 12 hits and one earned run in 15.0 innings.

Butler's Streak: Billy Butler enters this week with a 12-game hitting streak, which is tied for the longest streak in Major League Baseball. Butler is batting .368/.500/.421 with one double, one run scored, and one RBI in Kansas City's six home games, but is even better on the road, with a line of .400/.400/.520, three doubles, three RBI, and one run scored.

Time to Hit, Jose: I'm sure this was not the type of first impression Jose Guillen was hoping to make in his initial games as a member of the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, but Guillen collected just two hits in 25 at bats this week. Just as the Royals were patient with Alex Gordon during his slumping first half last year, the team is continuing to leave Guillen in the lineup despite his horrendous line of .122/.157/.163. Maybe a return to Seattle, Los Angeles, and Oakland this week will wake him from this offensive slumber. Royals fans can only hope.

Three Amigos Still Untouchable: The bullpen trio of Joakim Soria, Leo Nunez, and Ramon Ramirez -- which I have started to refer to as the Three Amigos -- still has a combined 0.00 ERA in 14.1 innings pitched. Soria has four saves, allowing two hits in 5.0 innings, while striking out seven, walking none, and holding opponents to a .125 batting average. Nunez has two holds, allowing just two hits in 5.2 innings for a .111 batting average against, has struck out seven, and walked just two. Ramirez has given up four hits in 3.2 innings, striking out five, and issuing no walks.

Powder Blues Look Good: I'm in agreement with most fans who really love the fact that the Royals brought back the powder blue jerseys, as I think they look great, and they are reminiscent of some of the best times in Kansas City baseball history. I just wish they would have been daring enough to go all the way, and wear powder blue pants, as well. There's something about the white pants with the powder blue top that just doesn't seem quite right. Maybe it's that it sort of looks like a softball jersey to me, but I'm sure I'll get used to it over time. One thing is for certain, though, and that's that I definitely prefer the powder blues to the black mantra that was given a try for a few years. And I love the return of the blue cleats, too. Nice.

Join the Fun, Gil: Royals ace Gil Meche has been struggling to start the 2008 season. Meche enters this week with a record of 0-2 in three starts, with a 7.13 ERA. He's allowed 19 hits and 14 earned runs in 17.2 innings, and leads the team with 16 strikeouts, but has given up 10 walks. Both of Meche's losses came against the Minnesota Twins, in matchups against Twins starter Livan Hernandez. Meche is scheduled to make his fourth start of the season on Wednesday against the Angels.

Tomko Looking Sharp: One of the biggest questions heading into the 2008 season was about who would fill the final two spots in the rotation, and how well they would fare. One of those spots was filled by right-hander Brett Tomko, who has pitched very well in his first appearances in a Royals uniform. Tomko has made two starts, pitching a combined 11 innings and allowing 12 hits and just two earned runs. He took the loss in Saturday's 2-0 setback versus the Twins, despite pitching well enough to win most nights. For the year, the 35-year old righty is 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA, six strikeouts, and three walks.

Hillman Among the Best: Trey Hillman's 7-5 record through 12 games ranks third among all-time Royals managers in their first full season on the job. In other words, that's not factoring in the first 12 games of managers who took over mid-season. Only Tony Pena's magical 11-1 start in 2003, and Jack McKeon's 9-3 record to start the 1973 season are better than Hillman's start. Following Hillman, there are a total of eight managers -- Bob Boone (1995), John Wathan (1988), Billy Gardner (1987), Dick Howser (1982), Jim Frey (1980), Bob Lemon (1971), Charlie Metro (1970), and Joe Gordon (1969) -- who were 6-6, while Tony Muser (1988) and Whitey Herzog (1976) were 5-12. Buddy Bell began his first full season (2006) with a record of 2-10, while Hal McRae was 1-11 to start the 1992 season.

Bannister's Complete Game Tops Twins

Facing a three-game losing streak, the Kansas City Royals turned to Brian Bannister, and for the third time this season, the right-handed starting pitcher was dazzling.

Bannister improved his record to 3-0, and lowered his earned run average to a microscopic 0.86, by pitching a complete-game, three-hitter in a 5-1 win against the Minnesota Twins. His effort was basically a shutout, as Minnesota's lone run was unearned after right fielder Jose Guillen dropped a routine fly ball in the first inning. He struck out three, walked one, and helped the Royals improve to 7-5.

Third baseman Alex Gordon led Kansas City's offense by going 2-for-3 with a double, his third home run of the season, three runs scored, and a stolen base. Center fielder Joey Gathright was the only other Royals player with two hits, while designated hitter Miguel Olivo had an RBI double in three at bats. First baseman Billy Butler raised his batting average to .386 with an RBI single and three walks in four plate appearances.

The Royals will now be tested by a seven-game West Coast road swing, which starts Monday at 9:10 p.m. with the first of two games in Seattle. Zack Greinke (2-0, 0.60) will start for the Royals, while Jarrod Washburn (1-1, 3.00) will take the hill for the Mariners (6-7).

Brian Bannister Photo Credit: Charlie Riedel/AP

Royals' Offense Needs a Jump Start

I went to a Storyhill concert last night with my wife -- I bought the tickets in January, and it was my Valentine's gift to her -- so I wasn't able to watch the Royals' 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins, but it doesn't seem like I really missed much.

Kansas City was shut out by the Twins for the second straight game, dropping its record to 6-5, and extending a streak of 26 consecutive innings in which the Royals have failed to score a run. Ouch.

For the first time in several years, the Royals have a solid pitching staff -- both rotation and bullpen -- that seems capable of having a successful season. Through 11 games, Kansas City's 12 pitchers have combined for a 2.82 earned run average to lead the American League. The Royals also lead the league with five saves, two shutouts, 89 hits allowed, and just 31 runs against.

Those figures are certainly the biggest reason behind Kansas City's 6-2 start to the season, but the offense has faltered in the last three games, resulting in the team's first three-game losing streak of the year.

Kansas City's offense ranks dead-last in the A.L. for home runs (4), bases on balls (24), and on-base percentage (.304), while ranking next-to-last in runs scored (33) and slugging percentage (.347).

New manager Trey Hillman has been tinkering with the lineup, trying to find the right combination, but nothing has seemed to work. Right fielder Jose Guillen, who signed a three-year, $36 million contract during the offseason in hopes of bolstering the middle of the Royals' lineup, is the target of many fans' ire.

Guillen, who hit 23 home runs and drove in 99 runs last year for Seattle, is batting just .133 with five RBI, three runs scored, and two doubles. His OPS is a miserable .348, and his OPS+ is -5.

It's difficult to have numbers much worse than Guillen's, but shortstop Tony Pena owns them. After opening the season with a game-winning RBI bloop-single to beat the Tigers in 11 innings, Pena has failed to record a hit. Entering today's game, he is batting .037/.071/.037 with eight strikeouts in 27 at bats.

This is not meant to be a rant about how bad Jose Guillen is. I understand that he has a history of slow starts in April, and that his numbers will eventually rise. You can't keep a player of his caliber out of the lineup, but I just hope that hitting coach Mike Barnett can help Guillen figure things out before he digs himself too big of a hole. Even if Guillen bats .300 over his next 20 at bats, his average would still be just .184, so it will take some consistent hitting to bolster his average.

On a positive note, several Royals players are off to solid starts. Designated hitter Billy Butler (.372), first baseman Ross Gload (.333), left fielder Mark Teahen (.316), and third baseman Alex Gordon (.311) all have plus-.300 averages and have played in all 11 games, while second baseman Mark Grudzielanek is batting .343 over nine games.

Teahen's numbers are most impressive in that group, as he's compiled a line of .316/.435/.526 with three doubles, a triple, and a home run for a 160 OPS+. But Gordon, who leads the team with six RBI, is tied for 28th-best in the A.L in that category.

The Royals will attempt to break out of their offensive funk when they play host to the Twins in the final game of their three-game series today at 1:10 p.m. Hopefully, the offense finds its way to the ballpark.

Mark Teahen Photo Credit: Duane Burleson/AP

Friday, April 11, 2008

Twins Shut Out Royals, 5-0

Livan Hernandez must have the Royals' number. For the second time in a week, Hernandez earned a victory against Kansas City, as he pitched seven shutout innings to help the Minnesota Twins post a 5-0 win Friday night at Kauffman Stadium.

Hernandez (3-0), who was signed as a free agent during the offseason, allowed seven hits and struck out three to become one of the first pitchers in Major League Baseball with three victories this season. In two wins against the Royals, Hernandez has given up 14 hits and just four earned runs in 14 innings, while striking out five and walking just one batter.

For the Royals (6-4), Gil Meche's early-season struggles continued. Kansas City's staff ace fell to 0-2 with an ugly 7.13 ERA after surrendering five earned runs on five hits in six innings. Meche struck out six Minnesota batters, but was hurt by the four walks he issued.

The Twins (5-5) scored four runs in the second inning, two of which came on a line-drive double to left by Carlos Gomez that got over the head of Royals left fielder Mark Teahen. Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau closed out the scoring in the top of the third inning, hitting his third home run of the year into the Royals' bullpen.

For Kansas City, third baseman Alex Gordon was the only Royals player with multiple hits, as he went 2-for-4 with a double. Every Kansas City starter had a hit, except for right fielder Jose Guillen, who was 0-for-4 and had his slumping average fall to .146 to start the year.

The Royals had a rally going in the bottom of the fifth, as shortstop Alberto Callaspo, center fielder Joey Gathright, and Teahen all singled to load the bases. But Guillen struck out swinging, and designated hitter Billy Butler grounded out to shortstop to end the threat.

The teams play the middle game of the series Saturday at 6:10 p.m. Right-hander Brett Tomko (1-0, 1.29) will throw for the Royals against the Twins' Boof Bonser (0-2, 4.15).

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Royals Drop 6-1 Decision to Yankees

Andy Pettitte limited the Kansas City Royals to five hits and one run over 6 2/3 innings to help the New York Yankees salvage the final game of a three-game series with a 6-1 win Thursday night at Kauffman Stadium.

Pettitte, who evened his 2008 record at 1-1, handed off a 4-1 lead to the strength of the Yankees' bullpen -- right-handers Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera -- who finished the job for New York (5-5).

The loss snapped Kansas City's second three-game winning streak of the season, as it fell to 6-3. The Royals remain in first place in the American League Central standings, one-half game ahead of the Chicago White Sox.

John Bale (0-2) took the loss for the Royals, going six innings and allowing four earned runs on eight hits, while striking out three and walking one. Hideo Nomo made his first Major League appearance since 2005, coming out of the bullpen for the Royals, and struggled through scoreless seventh and eighth innings until giving up back-to-back ninth-inning solo home runs to Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada.

Offensively for Kansas City, left fielder Mark Teahen was 3-for-4 and scored the Royals' lone run in the first inning on an RBI double by Jose Guillen.

Kansas City continues its homestand on Friday night when they play host to the Minnesota Twins at 7:10 p.m. Royals right-hander Gil Meche (0-1) takes the mound against Livan Hernandez (2-0) in a rematch of last Saturday's game at the Metrodome, which Minnesota won by a score of 6-4.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Greinke Rules in the Rain, Royals Are 6-2

Zack Greinke is picking up right where he left off in 2007. On Wednesday night at soggy Kauffman Stadium, the 24-year old right-hander held the New York Yankees to six hits in eight shutout innings to lead the Kansas City Royals to a 4-0 victory.

After spending much of last season working out of the bullpen, Greinke ended the year by making seven starts between August 24 and September 26. In those games, he was 2-2 with a 1.85 ERA, allowing 30 hits in 34 innings pitched, while striking out 31 and walking just 10.

This season, Greinke is off to a 2-0 start with a 0.60 ERA. He's held the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees -- the two highest-paid lineups in baseball, injuries or not -- to 12 hits in 15 innings, walking four and fanning five.

With the win, Kansas City improves to 6-2, its best start since opening the season 9-0 in 2003. The Yankees fell to 4-5 on the year, and lost a three-game series to the Royals for the first time since being swept in Kansas City from May 31 to June 2, 2005.

The game was scoreless until the bottom of the fifth inning, when catcher John Buck led off with a mammoth home run to center field, his first of the year. Buck was the only Royals player with two hits in the game, but seven KC batters collected hits in the game.

After Buck's homer made the score 1-0, second baseman Mark Grudzielanek drew a one-out walk, moved up to second on one of three walks issued to left fielder Mark Teahen, and scored on a single to right center by right fielder Jose Guillen.

Kansas City added two more runs in the sixth inning when third baseman Alex Gordon walked, and then scored on a double to left by first baseman Ross Gload. Shortstop Tony Pena then drove in the final run of the night on a fielder's choice ground ball to shortstop.

The Royals will attempt to win their fourth-straight game when they face the Yankees in the final game of the series on Thursday night at 7:10 p.m. Left-hander John Bale (0-1, 5.68) will start for Kansas City against New York's Andy Pettitte (0-1, 5.40).

Zack Greinke Photo Credit: Reuters Pictures

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Kansas City's 'Three Amigos'

I've been amazed by the work out of Kansas City's bullpen this season, but a trio of Latin players -- Ramon Ramirez, Leo Nunez, and Joakim Soria -- have made the greatest impression on me.

Combined, the three have worked 12.0 innings, allowing only five hits, and no runs, while striking out 17 and walking just two. Ramirez and Nunez are both hard-throwing right-handers with fastballs in the mid to upper-90s, while Soria serves as the Royals' closer, and is tied for the Major League lead with four saves in four opportunities so far this season.

Ramirez, who was acquired in a trade with the Colorado Rockies late in Spring Training, has made three appearances for the Royals, pitching 2.1 innings and allowing two hits with four strikeouts. He was Colorado's 2006 Rookie of the Year by going 4-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 61 appearances before injuries hampered his 2007 season. He struck out Alex Rodriguez during Tuesday's 5-2 win against the Yankees.

Nunez has been back and forth between Omaha the last few years, and has worked both as a starter and in the bullpen, but might have finally found his niche. Last year, Nunez started six games for Kansas City, finishing the season with a record of 2-4, a 3.92 ERA, and 37 strikeouts against just 10 walks. This season, he's appeared in four games, working 4.2 innings and yielding just one hit, while fanning six and walking two.

Soria was acquired as a Rule 5 draft pick from the San Diego organization prior to the 2007 season. He has the potential to pitch in the Royals' rotation, as he throws four pitches effectively, and has great control, but he started closing games for Kansas City when Octavio Dotel was injured last year, and he's very reliable in that role. This season, he has pitched 5.0 innings over the course of five games, posting the four saves, while striking out seven batters with no walks.

I realize it's only the second week of the season, but if Kansas City is going to have the type of season all Royals fans dream of, this trio needs a name. And, so, rather than trying to figure out a nickname for each of them, I figured I'd just come up with something for all three of them. I'm kind of taking a page out of the Minnesota Twins' book -- a few of their infielders were nicknamed The Pirhanas by Ozzie Guillen, and it really stuck. Minnesota even made a TV commercial in 2007, which centered around the Pirhanas theme.

And, so, from this point on, I will refer to Ramirez, Nunez, and Soria as The Three Amigos, and hope that none of them get traded anytime soon, which is what wound up being the downfall of the Twins' Pirhanas.

So, the next time the bullpen gates open at Kauffman Stadium, and a member of The Three Amigos strides out to the mound, I'm hoping to see some "Three Amigos" signs being held by Royals fans. Minnesota's Pirhanas are long gone. Kansas City's Three Amigos have only just begun.

Ramirez, Nunez, and Soria Photo Credit: Kansas City Royals/MLB

Royals Top Yanks, 5-2, in Home Opener

Six Royals players collected two hits each, and right-hander Brian Bannister (2-0) held the New York Yankees to five hits over five innings, as Kansas City won its home opener, 5-2, on Tuesday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium.

The win, in front of a crowd of 37,296 on a cold and damp day in Kansas City, improved the Royals' record to 5-2, while New York fell to 4-4.

Center fielder Joey Gathright had an outstanding day, going 2-for-4 at the plate, stealing three bases, and scoring twice for the Royals. The speedy Gathright, who is taking advantage of extra playing time while starting center fielder David DeJesus recovers from a sprained ankle, now has five stolen bases this season to tie for the lead in the American League.

Gathright led off the bottom of the first inning by reaching on a single to center field, stole second, moved over to third on a grounder to shortstop by Mark Grudzielanek, and scored on a double to center by left fielder Mark Teahen.

Bannister, who struggled with his control in the chilly weather, gave up two second-inning runs to the Yankees, but that was it. He walked four, but struck out six Yankees, including three whiffs of 2007 A.L. MVP Alex Rodriguez, who struck out four times in four at bats on Tuesday.

With the game tied 2-2 in the bottom of the fourth, Gathright used his speed to put the Royals ahead to stay. He singled to left field to lead off the inning, stole second base, then stole third base, and scored on a single to right by Grudzielanek.

Kansas City stretched its lead to 5-2 in the fifth, when designated hitter Billy Butler reached on a single, third baseman Alex Gordon doubled to center, and both runners scored on a single to center by first baseman Ross Gload.

Bannister handed the 5-2 lead to the bullpen, and it didn't let him down, as Ron Mahay (1.1 IP, 2 H, 2 K), Ramon Ramirez (0.2 IP, 1 K), Leo Nunez (1.0 IP, 2 K), and Joakim Soria combined to hold New York scoreless on just two hits over the final four innings. Kansas City pitchers combined to strike out 11 Yankees, and Soria earned his fourth save of the season by working a perfect ninth.

Gathright, Grudzielanek, Teahen, Butler, Gordon, and Gload were the six Royals players with two hits apiece, with both of Teahen's hits going for doubles.

The teams return to action Wednesday night at 7:10 p.m., with Kansas City's Zack Greinke (1-0) opposing the Yankees' Ian Kennedy (0-1).

Brian Bannister Photo Credit: G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images

Monday, April 7, 2008

Blue Review: Week One

This will be something I intend to do once a week on an ongoing basis, and will usually post either Sunday night, or Monday morning, depending on my schedule.

Overall Record: 4-2
Record This Week: 4-2 (3-0 at DET, 1-2 at MIN)
Home: 0-0
Away: 4-2
Current Streak: Win 1
Upcoming Games: vs. NYY (3), vs. MIN (3)

A Good Start: I'll take a 4-2 week anytime. I guess I just didn't imagine the Royals would be 4-2 by going 3-0 in Detroit and 1-2 in Minnesota. It was a little disappointing for Kansas City to stub its toe against the Twins, but I think Sunday's 3-1 win was very important for the psyche of the team, as 4-2 just seems so much better than having to return to face the Yankees at 3-3 with a three-game losing streak.

A.L. Central Upside Down: For most people outside of Kansas City and Chicago, the American League Central looks like it's standing on its head. Preseason predictions fairly consistently had Detroit winning, with Cleveland second, and then a three-way scramble between Kansas City, Chicago, and Minnesota. But, after the first week of play, the Royals (4-2) and White Sox (4-2) are tied for first, with Cleveland (3-3) third, Minnesota (3-4) fourth, and Detroit (0-6) in dead last, and wondering how the heck this horrid start to the 2008 season is happening after it raised its payroll to $138 million during the offseason. Think the Tigers are wishing they hadn't traded Jair Jurrjens and Andrew Miller yet.

Gordon Gets Aggressive: During the Detroit series, the Kansas City Star's Bob Dutton pointed out that Alex Gordon was taking a more aggressive approach at the plate. Gordon, who struck out five times in the first two games against the Tigers, hasn't struck out since. His aggressiveness at the plate hasn't helped his OBP (.269) or his OPS (.807), as his line for the week reads .269/.269/.538, but he's making more contact. It'd be great to see him take more walks, and I think he will, but a six-RBI week with a double and a pair of two-run home runs should be fine with any Royals fan.

More OBP, Please: For having stressed the importance of OBP prior to this season, as pointed out in another piece written by Bob Dutton, I'm sure Trey Hillman would like to see a drastic improvement in Kansas City's team OBP of .284 during the opening week. The Royals rank last in the American League in that category, as well as ranking last after drawing just eight bases on balls last week.

This Butler Can Rake: As they say, Billy Butler can flat-out rake. Butler went 10-for-25 at the plate during the first week with three doubles, three runs batted in, and a line of .400/.400/.520. Butler's OPS+ was 153, matching that of second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, who had a .400/.455/.450 week with a double and a team-best five runs scored in 20 at bats. But infielder Alberto Callaspo's OPS+ was 169 after he ripped a double and a triple in nine at bats over the weekend in Minnesota.

Defense, or Offense?: Tony Pena was the hero on Opening Day, after he blooped an RBI single into center field to help the Royals beat the Tigers, 5-4, in 11 innings. But Pena hasn't reached base since, and owns pathetically dismal averages of .056/.056/.056 with six strikouts. With Callaspo's offensive abilities, and the fact that he's much more selective at the plate than Pena, it makes you wonder how long the Royals' front office and coaches are going to put up with Pena's lack of offense in order to get a bit more defense. Callaspo looked more than able defensively against the Twins, by the way.

Mound Presence: Kansas City's pitching was outstanding, as the Royals lead the A.L. in team ERA (2.67), wins (4), saves (3), shutouts (1), and runs allowed (16).

Soria Slams the Door: Joakim Soria would be hard-pressed to have many weeks more successful than his first of 2008. The second-year closer made four appearances, and registered three saves. He struck out the side in the ninth in two games this week and totaled seven, while allowing just two hits in 4.0 innings pitched.

Stat Twins?: Despite the fact that right-hander Brett Tomko made a relief appearance in Detroit, in addition to his start on Sunday in Minnesota, he and fellow righty Zack Greinke have almost identical stat lines. Both pitchers are 1-0, with a 1.29 ERA, have made one start, worked 7.0 innings, surrendered a solo home run for their lone earned run, and have walked two batters. The only differences are that Tomko has allowed seven hits to Greinke's six, and that Tomko has struck out five versus Greinke's three, plus Greinke has one wild pitch.

We Know He's Studying: It's so fun to watch Brian Bannister pitch. He's so smart, and I sit and wonder what he's thinking as he faces each batter. He completely baffled Detroit in his first start of the season, yielding just two hits over seven innings and striking out four. His next assignment will be just as challenging, as he faces the New York Yankees' potent lineup during Tuesday afternoon's Home Opener. I'm sure Bannister has worn out the DVD of New York's hitters in preparing for tomorrow's game.
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