Saturday, April 5, 2008

Royals Blow Another Lead in Minnesota

I went to the Metrodome today, hoping to see the Royals rebound from last night's 4-3 setback to the Twins. But for the second-straight game, a solid early start for the Royals was spoiled by a Minnesota comeback, and the Twins clinched the series with a 6-4 victory.

Justin Morneau's towering three-run home run to right center in the bottom of the fourth inning erased a 2-0 Kansas City lead, and turned what was looking like a solid effort from Gil Meche (0-1) into a Royal mess.

Meche didn't allow a ball to leave the infield through the first three innings, but Twins second baseman Matt Tolbert led off the bottom of the fourth with a single up the middle, and then catcher Joe Mauer coaxed a walk before Morneau absolutely crushed his first homer of the season for a 3-2 lead.

Minnesota added three more runs against Meche in the bottom of the sixth. Tolbert reached on an infield single, and Mauer laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Tolbert to second.

Instead of trying to set up a double play by intentionally walking Morneau, who had doubled last night and hit the three-run blast in his previous at bat, the Royals chose to pitch to him, and he ripped an RBI double into the gap in right. Jason Kubel followed with an RBI single to right, and DH Craig Monroe finished the Twins' scoring with an RBI double for a 6-2 lead.

Kansas City tried to rally in the top of the seventh, with right fielder Jose Guillen and third baseman Alex Gordon each singling and then scoring on a double to right-center by catcher Miguel Olivo to cut the lead to 6-4.

The Royals then had two men on base in the eighth, too, but designated hitter Billy Butler grounded to shortstop to end the threat. Gordon and first baseman Ross Gload each finished with two hits for Kansas City.

The teams will wrap up the three-game series Sunday at 1:10 p.m., with right-hander Brett Tomko making his first start for the Royals. The Twins will counter with righty Boof Bonser (0-1).

Winning Each Series is the Key

This might seem like one of those no-brainer statements that make you utter, "Well, duh" to yourself, but the focus of the Kansas City Royals heading into each series this season simply needs to be on winning that series.

The more times the Royals are able to take two-of-three, or three-of-four, the better. Obviously, winning at a .667 (or .750) clip will keep Kansas City at or near the top of the American League Central standings all season long.

By losing, 4-3, to the Minnesota Twins last night at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, though, they've made that a difficult task to accomplish in only their second series of the year. The Royals hope to get their foot out of the bucket today when right-hander Gil Meche takes the bump at 1:10 p.m.

Meche (0-0) pitched a decent game in Detroit during Monday's Opening Day. It certainly wasn't his "A" game, but it was good enough to give the Royals a chance to eventually rally against the Tigers and win the game, 5-4, on a bloop single to center by Tony Pena. Meche went six innings, allowing eight hits and three earned runs, while striking out five and walking four.

The Twins counter with their newly-acquired ace, Livan Hernandez (1-0), who helped Minnesota post a 3-2 victory against the Angels on Opening Day at the Dome. It sure makes for a good pitching matchup, which unfortunately won't be on TV (at least not in the Twin Cities). So I talked my wife into letting me head out to the game today, and I'll be there tomorrow, as well.

I'm hoping Meche and the Royals can put themselves back in position to win this series with a strong outing today, and I'm also hoping to see a few lineup changes. Catcher Miguel Olivo is back from his four-game suspension to start the season, and will make his first appearance in a Royals uniform this afternoon. I'd also like to see Alberto Callaspo get an opportunity to play shortstop, as Pena has struggled out the gates to an .067/.067/.067 line.

We'll see what happens, but today's game is crucial. To be 4-1 after today would seem so much better than to fall back to 3-2. After beginning the year with such promise by sweeping Detroit, it would be a real disappointment to lose this series against the Twins.

Let's go, Royals!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Twins Squeeze Out 4-3 Win Over Royals

All good things must come to an end, and what was good for the Kansas City Royals in a three-game sweep at Detroit to open the season came to an end on Friday in Minnesota, as the Twins eked out a 4-3 win.

Minnesota (2-3) trailed 3-1 after two innings, but tied the game with two runs in the bottom of the third inning, and then scored what proved to be the winning run by beating the Royals at their own game -- small ball -- when third baseman Mike Lamb scampered home on a suicide squeeze bunt by shortstop Adam Everett in the bottom of the fourth.

The Royals (3-1) jumped on top quickly by scoring twice in the first frame. Center fielder Joey Gathright led off the game with a drag bunt past Twins pitcher Scott Baker (1-0), stole second base, moved over to third on an infield hit by second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, and scored on a fielder's choice by right fielder Jose Guillen. Grudzielanek then scored on an RBI single by designated hitter Billy Butler.

Royals starter John Bale (0-1) surrendered three straight singles to open the Twins' half of the first inning, but limited Minnesota to one run by getting first baseman Justin Morneau to ground into a double play.

Left fielder Mark Teahen then opened the second inning with a double to the right field corner, and later scored on an RBI single to left field by catcher John Buck to give Kansas City a 3-1 lead.

But Bale made a costly mistake in the bottom of the third, which wound up being costly. With one out, Twins catcher Joe Mauer hit a bouncing ball toward second base, which Bale attempted to snag, but it hit off his glove and Mauer wound up with an infield single. Had Bale let the ball go, it likely would have been fielded by Royals shortstop Tony Pena for the second out of the inning.

But right fielder Michael Cuddyer followed with a single, and then Morneau doubled to score Mauer. Left fielder Delmon Young's RBI fielder's choice then tied the game.

Bale pitched well in spots, going 6.1 innings and allowing 10 hits and four earned runs, but took the loss in his first Major League start since 2003. Royals' relievers Jimmy Gobble and Ramon Ramirez held the Twins scoreless, with Gobble striking out Mauer, Jason Kubel, and Morneau in succession, to give the Royals a chance at the end.

But Minnesota closer Joe Nathan recorded his second save in as many chances this season by working around a two-out single by Butler, and striking out Teahen looking to end the game.

Offensively for the Royals, Grudzielanek and Butler each had two hits in four at bats. Through four games, Grudzielanek is batting .500/.556/.563 with eight hits in 16 at bats and a team-high five runs scored.

With the loss, there are no remaining undefeated teams in MLB, as the Royals entered the game as the lone remaining team to hold that distinction. Kansas City remains atop the American League Central standings, though, one-half game ahead of Cleveland (2-1).

The teams play Saturday at 1:10 p.m., with Royals ace Gil Meche (0-0) set to square off against Twins ace Livan Hernandez (1-0).

Mark Grudzielanek Photo Credit: Tom Olmscheid/AP

Thursday, April 3, 2008

One Hurdle Cleared, and On to the Next

Okay, the Royals have cleared the first hurdle of the 2008 season, opening eyes all over the country by going to Detroit and completely dousing what most probably figured would be the first of many fireworks displays by the Tigers' new star-studded $138 million lineup.

In three games in Detroit, Kansas City's pitching sizzled, while the Tigers' offense fizzled. And now, the Royals head off to Minnesota to face the Twins this weekend as the lone undefeated team in Major League Baseball. Am I dreaming? Please, someone pinch me.

Yes, I realize that it's just three games into a grueling 162-game regular season. And, yes, I realize that Detroit played its first three games without speedy center fielder Curtis Granderson. Even today, the Tigers' newest megastar, third baseman Miguel Cabrera, was a late scratch from the lineup due to a sore quadriceps.

But whatever. As my old high school buddies would say, "Excuses are like asses. Everyone has one, and they all stink."

The Royals were without starting center fielder and leadoff man David DeJesus for the vast majority of this series, too, as well as having to play all three games with just 24 players due to the four-game suspension of catcher Miguel Olivo to begin the season.

So, I'm finding that it's really difficult to curb my enthusiasm, when I feel like bragging about my Boys in Blue to every person I see. The only thing that's kept me from going overboard and calling my brothers to rub it in about KC's great start is that I'm awfully superstitious, and I don't want to jinx the team. So, I'm enjoying it, and keeping it in perspective, as again, it's only three games.

But it's not often that I get to hear more than a very brief comment about the Royals on ESPN's Baseball Tonight. Last night, though, Peter Gammons was raving about Brian Bannister and Billy Butler and KC for several minutes! It's amazing what a few wins against one of the favorites to reach the World Series will do. I can't wait to watch ESPN again tonight.

Nevertheless, all of this excitement about a great start to the season will be diminished if the Royals arrive at the Metrodome this weekend and leave with a series loss.

I'm anxious to see how the back end of Kansas City's rotation will fare -- Royals' ace Gil Meche is slated to pitch Saturday, but lefty John Bale will be on the mound for Friday's game, and right-hander Brett Tomko will work on Sunday. I'm also curious to see whether new manager Trey Hillman seems to have the ability to keep the team focused when it's on the road, and playing well after such an emotional high in the Motor City.

The Twins (1-3) are coming off a four-game home series versus ex-teammate Torii Hunter and the Los Angeles Angels. Minnesota played well in three of the games, winning the season-opener by a score of 3-2, before losing by scores of 9-1, 1-0, and 5-4.

Minnesota is a team the Royals should be able to be very competitive with, and I'm hoping to see Kansas City win this series, especially since I'll be at Sunday's game -- Section 228, Row 1, Seats 9-10 -- with my brother, Evan, a Twins fan.

It would be amazing for the Royals to return to Kansas City for the home-opener against the Yankees with a record of 6-0 or 5-1 on the season-opening road trip. But it would be equally disappointing to lose two of three to the Twins, and lose the momentum that was gained with the impressive wins in Detroit.

My brand-new Royals shirt and hat are ready to go. I'll be wearing them during all three games this weekend -- watching the first two on television, and then screaming my lungs out at the final game of the series at the Dome. I'm hoping this successful start continues, so please, Royals, don't let me down.

Trey Hillman Photo Credit: Robin Buckson/Detroit News

How Sweep It Is! KC Cleans Up in Detroit

When the Detroit Tigers signed Miguel Cabrera to come to the Motor City during the offseason, I'd imagine there were some Tigers fans who glanced at the 2008 schedule and made a mental note to remember to bring a broom to today's game against the Kansas City Royals.

Well, brooms were needed today, but they were in the hands of Royals fans, as Kansas City completed an improbable three-game sweep of the mighty Tigers with a 4-1 victory at Comerica Park.

It marks just the fourth time in franchise history (1972, 1977, 1979, 2003) that the Royals have been 3-0 to start a season, and it is the first season-opening road sweep since Kansas City swept the Tigers in Detroit to kick off the 1977 campaign.

Pitching was once again the key for the Royals. One day after Brian Bannister's dominating effort against Detroit, right-hander Zack Greinke (1-0) turned in another outstanding pitching performance by going seven innings and allowing just six hits and one earned run, while striking out three and walking two. The Tigers' lone run came on a solo home run by third baseman Brandon Inge in the seventh inning.

Offensively, Kansas City received a two-run home run to left center by third baseman Alex Gordon in the fourth inning, and a solo home run to right by left fielder Mark Teahen. Right fielder Jose Guillen drove in the Royals' other run with a single to left in the seventh to score center fielder Joey Gathright. Gordon, Teahen, Mark Grudzielanek, and Ross Gload all finished with two hits.

For the series, Gordon had three hits, but two of them were two-run home runs that played big roles in the Royals' first and third wins against the Tigers. Grudzielanek also had a great series, going 6-for-12 with four runs scored. Facing one of the top lineups in all of baseball, Royals pitchers combined for a 1.55 ERA with 24 strikeouts and just nine walks in 29 innings pitched.

Ramon Ramirez pitched the eighth for the Royals, allowing two hits, but striking out two batters -- 2007 American League batting champion Magglio Ordonez with one out, and Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez with a runner on third base to end the frame. Royals closer Joakim Soria recorded his second save of the season by working a hitless ninth inning.

Kansas City now travels to Minnesota for the three-game series against the Twins this weekend. Lefty John Bale will make his first start of the season for the Royals, and will face Twins right-hander Scott Baker (0-0). First pitch at the Metrodome is set for Friday at 7:10 p.m. CT.

Alex Gordon Photo Credit: Duane Burleson/AP

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Bannister Baffles Tigers, KC Improves to 2-0

If Wednesday's game against Detroit was a test for Brian Bannister, he wrecked the bell curve for the rest of the class.

Bannister (1-0) passed his first test of the season by completely mastering the Tigers' powerful lineup to help the Kansas City Royals improve to 2-0 on the young season with a 4-0 shutout victory at Comerica Park. The second-year right-hander pitched seven innings, yielding just two singles to Edgar Renteria, while striking out four and walking none.

Kansas City also was struggling offensively against Tigers' starter Kenny Rogers, but a series of doubles by Mark Grudzielanek, Jose Guillen, and Billy Butler plated two runs in the sixth to stake the Royals to a 2-0 lead. Butler's double would have been a home run in most ballparks, as he drove the ball more than 410 feet to center field.

In the eighth, the Royals stretched the lead to 4-0. Joey Gathright led off the inning by doubling down the left field line, followed by a walk issued to Grudzielanek. Gathright then scored on an infield single by Butler, and Grudzielanek scampered home to score on an RBI single to center by Mark Teahen.

Gathright and Butler each went 2-for-4 with a double, with Butler driving in a pair of runs, and Grudzielanek scoring twice for the Royals, who are off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 2003.

Leo Nunez took over for Bannister and surrendered a one-out walk, before getting out of the frame by getting Ivan Rodriguez to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.

Joakim Soria struck out the side in the ninth to close out the victory for KC, which will attempt to sweep Detroit on Thursday when right-hander Zack Greinke makes his first start of the season by facing Tigers' righty Jeremy Bonderman. First pitch is slated for 12:05 p.m. Central.

Brian Bannister Photo Credit: Tony Dejak/AP

Monday, March 31, 2008

And That, Folks, is Why You Play the Game

I don't have a clue what the Las Vegas odds were that Kansas City would go into a sold-out Comerica Park on Opening Day, and pull out a victory when facing Tigers' ace Justin Verlander and a lineup stacked with talent top to bottom, but I'm sure they were long odds.

Nevertheless, the feisty Royals cost quite a few gamblers some money on Monday after they fought their way back from a 3-0 deficit to post a 5-4 win in 11 innings against Detroit in Trey Hillman's Major League Baseball managerial debut.

With two outs in the top of the 11th, Tony Pena blooped a single into shallow center field, which scored catcher John Buck with the winning run. It was Pena's lone hit in five at bats, and helped to make up for his three strikeouts at the plate.

The Royals were held in check through five innings by Verlander, who struck out six and allowed just four hits. But in the sixth inning, Royals third baseman Alex Gordon crushed a one-out offering from Verlander for a 394-foot two-run blast to cut the lead to 3-2. One inning later, Kansas City scored twice again to knock Verlander out of the game and take a 4-3 lead.

The Tigers' Carlos Guillen tied the game by hammering a solo home run to right field off of Brett Tomko in the bottom of the eighth. But right-hander Leo Nunez (1-0) looked very impressive by working two hitless innings and fanning three to earn the victory. It was the Royals' second-straight Opening Day win after topping Boston 7-1 last year.

Joakim Soria allowed a leadoff double in the bottom of the 11th, and had to work around a runner on third base with one out. But he got a huge strikeout of Edgar Renteria, and then was helped by some great glovework by Gordon on Placido Polanco's hard-hit grounder to third to earn his first save.

I like the Royals' fighting spirit, which is something the Detroit announcers kept bringing up. This team showed no signs of surrendering, which would have been easy to do against one of the top teams in baseball and being down 3-0.

But that, folks, is why you play the game, and the Royals are off to a good start to their 2008 season. Many bettors, however, aren't feeling so giddy about this Royals' win.

Note: Craig Brown of Royals Authority does such a great job with his coverage of Kansas City baseball, and if you haven't seen it yet, he took the time to compile the results of feedback to several questions about the 2008 season, which was provided by fans and bloggers alike, including yours truly. To check out his post, entitled Your Shot Has Been Called, click here. Thanks for the work, Craig.

Tony Pena Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Sunday, March 30, 2008

This Type of Disrespect Has to Stop

I live in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, so obviously, things are very Minnesota-centric here in the middle of Twins Territory, as they claim.

But I was very excited to open my door Sunday morning, and pick up my copy of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, for I knew that it would contain a special American League Central preview section entitled "Grand Central."

So, I sat back on the couch, with ESPN anchors mumbling about something-or-other in the background, and dug through the paper, looking for the special section. When I finally found it, I opened it up and saw this picture (right) not exactly gracing the cover.

At first, I was angry because it looked like they had completely forgotten about the Kansas City Royals in this cute little piece of art by Tom Richmond. Then I took a second look, and saw the miniature Royals player cowering in the background, red-faced, boney-elbowed, biting his nails, and sweating as he peered up at the larger-than-life versions of Jim Thome, C.C. Sabathia, and (I'm assuming) Miguel Cabrera.

Are you effing kidding me?! The only thing that could have made this drawing worse would have been if Richmond had drawn the Twins player the same size as the three muscular-looking guys from Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit.

Well, now I'm already perturbed at the Star-Tribune, and that was before I opened the pages of the preview section, and saw ranking after ranking that listed the Royals fifth in the division! On every ranking that had anything to do with the players on the field, Kansas City was ranked last. Every single one.

So, I'm going to take the liberty to share these rankings with you, as well as to provide you with some commentary, which I think will be a little more fair, as Jim Souhan, La Velle E. Neal III, Patrick Reusse, and Joe Christensen mostly seem to be blind to the fact that the Royals are on the rise, and are no longer an automatic fifth-place filler for the rankings. You can see that I linked their names to their e-mail addresses, so that Kansas City fans can send them a message (in good taste) to let them know that we disagree with their assessments.

A.L. Central Lineups (by Souhan): 1. Tigers, 2. White Sox, 3. Indians, 4. Twins, 5. Royals. Souhan's Comments About KC: Stop me if you've heard this one before: still a work in progress. Billy Butler and Alex Gordon could be fun to watch at the plate, though.

Okay, it's impossible to argue against the Tigers in first. If this was a list of the best lineups in Major League Baseball, Detroit would more than likely be ranked first. But the White Sox in second? I guess I can see how the Royals are ranked fifth in this category to start the season, but as the year progresses, I think there will be more people who tend to think of the Royals' lineup as being more than simply Gordon and Butler.

The Hearts of the Orders (by Souhan): 1. Tigers, 2. White Sox, 3. Twins, 4. Indians, 5. Royals. Souhan's Comments About KC: Signing Jose Guillen helps, but Billy Butler, Alex Gordon and Mark Teahen need to be the big sticks.

Again, I can see how the Royals are fifth, following a season in which they hit a mere 102 home runs. But I think the heart of Kansas City's lineup -- with Gordon third, followed by Guillen, Butler, and Teahen -- will prove to be more formidable than people think. I like having Butler bat behind Guillen, which will force teams to pitch to the Royals' new slugger, and Guillen will allow Gordon to see some better pitches, too. This group? I'd say better than expected this season.

A.L. Central Rotations (by Neal): 1. Indians, 2. Tigers, 3. White Sox, 4. Twins, 5. Royals. Neal's Comments About KC: Kansas City paid right-hander Gil Meche $55 million for five seasons last year - admittedly overpaying to get an innings-eater - and got nine victories out of him in 2007. If the Royals are going to get out of the division basement this season, righthanders Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke need to develop behind Meche. The rest of the rotation is in flux, but Minnesota players and fans will be relieved to learn Twins killer Jorge De La Rosa was designated for assignment last week.

I have to question the Tigers at No. 2 here. Yes, they have Verlander, and Bonderman, but Kenny Rogers is ancient and his arm is going to just drop out of its socket one of these days, and I have serious doubts whether Dontrelle Willis can return to his old form, or whether he's in for an eye-opening season facing much stronger teams in the American League than he ever did in Florida. I also have to question how in the heck Mr. Neal can seriously rank the Twins' young and inexperienced staff (other than Livan Hernandez) ahead of KC's trio of Meche, Bannister, and Greinke. I seriously don't think Scott Baker and Boof Bonser are everything they're cracked up to be, even with Baker's "almost" no-hitter against the Royals last season -- that is, until Mike Sweeney came off the bench to break it up.

A.L. Central Bullpens (by Neal): 1. Indians, 2. Twins, 3. Tigers, 4. White Sox, 5. Royals. Neal's Comments About KC: Joakim Soria is a talented closer. Jimmy Gobble is a good lefty, and righthander Joel Peralta was effective last season. Not a pushover here, but the group lacks name recognition and a track record.

Let's see, Zumaya is out until midseason, Fernando Rodney battled shoulder soreness in spring training, and Todd Jones will turn 40 years old in April, yet the Tigers are ranked third? I honestly think that pitching could cause the Tigers to finish not first, but second, in the division. Neal does get one thing correct, though, and that's that Soria is a talented closer. I'm hoping he can get to 30 saves this season, and I think this "no-name" bullpen (minus Peralta, who starts the year in Omaha) of Kansas City's is, once again, stronger than the folks at the Star-Tribune give it credit for.

A.L. Central Managers (by Reusse): 1. Jim Leyland, Tigers, 2. Ron Gardenhire, Twins, 3. Eric Wedge, Indians, 4. Ozzie Guillen, White Sox, 5. Trey Hillman, Royals. Reusse's Comments About KC: First season. Might be another Wedge - not much humor and obsessive about the job. He was successful in Japan. Then again, so was Bobby Valentine.

It's hard to make a case for a first-year manager with no previous MLB managing experience to be anywhere but fifth on this list. But I would lay a fair wager on Hillman not being listed last in this category again in 2009. Reusse is correct about Hillman being obsessive about his job, as most good managers are. Teams will come to discover just how obsessive he is when the Royals are showing vast improvement in their fundamentals -- running the bases and manufacturing runs -- but I've also sensed that Hillman has a lighter side that his players enjoy, and I think he'll do well in his first year at the helm.

A.L. Central General Managers (by Christensen): 1. Mark Shapiro, Indians, 2. Dave Dombrowski, Tigers, 3. Kenny Williams, White Sox, 4. Bill Smith, Twins, 5. Dayton Moore, Royals. Christensen's Comments About KC: Insiders generally believe Moore has put Kansas City on the right track since taking over in 2006. He gave Gil Meche a controversial five-year, $55 million contract last season. That deal looks OK now, but the three-year, $36 million investment in Jose Guillen is a head-scratcher.

Are you kidding me? Maybe I'm wearing Dayton Moore glasses that don't allow me to see his flaws, but I would list him at least third on this list. He's in the midst of taking what had been among the worst franchises in baseball for the first part of this decade, and is in the process of getting things turned around. Very few general managers would have been up to that challenge. He's also rebuilding the team's farm system, and has once again made Kansas City a presence in Latin America. It's still early in Moore's tenure, but how anyone could use Gil Meche as an example of a bad free agent signing is beyond me. And Bill Smith is a first-year GM. Delmon Young, Mike Lamb, Livan Hernandez, and other free agents Minnesota acquired in the offseason haven't done squat yet.

A.L. Central Owners (by Christensen): 1. Mike Ilitch, Tigers, 2. Larry Dolan, Indians, 3. Jerry Reinsdorf, White Sox, 4. Carl Pohlad, Twins, 5. David Glass, Royals. Christensen's Comments About KC: A former CEO of Wal-Mart, Glass bought the Royals for $96 million in 2000, and last April, Forbes magazine estimated the team's value at $282 million. Yet, Glass has very little on-field success to show for it. The Royals did bump the payroll from $47 million to $67 million from 2006 to '07, so Glass is starting to reinvest some of his profits in the team.

I don't really know what to write here, other than it really says something when an owner as villified as Pohlad is in Minnesota can be ranked ahead of Glass. It must just be Christensen's way of kissing up to the organization he covers on a daily basis. Glass would certainly have ranked near the bottom of this list for all of MLB a few years ago, but I really think that Dayton Moore has helped to change his views on how to effectively operate a Major League Baseball team.

Preseason Rankings (by Christensen): 1. Indians, 2. Tigers, 3. Twins, 4. White Sox, 5. Royals. Christensen's Comments About KC: This is definitely a team to watch with designated hitter Billy Butler and third baseman Alex Gordon poised to blossom as second-year big-leaguers. New manager Trey Hillman spent the past five years in Japan, guiding the Nippon Ham Fighters, and his focus on fundamentals drew comparisons to Tom Kelly this spring. If the pitching staff comes together behind Gil Meche, Brian Bannister, Zack Greinke and prospect Luke Hochevar, the Royals could bypass the White Sox and Twins. And if that happens, it might not be a one-year fad.

Wow, this Joe Christensen guy just might know what he's talking about, despite the fact that he still ranked the Royals fifth after writing that. I completely agree that the Royals could pass up the White Sox and the Twins, but I'll take that one step further, and predict that the Royals will win the three-way battle with Chicago and Minnesota for third place in the standings. In the end, Kansas City will continue to make strides, finishing the season with a record of 78-84 in a black-and-blue division thanks to having to play Detroit and Cleveland for almost 40 combined games.

A.L. Central Farm Systems (by Neal): 1. Twins, 2. Indians, 3. Royals, 4. Tigers, 5. White Sox. Neal's Comments About KC: You are already seeing the promise that third baseman Alex Gordon and DH-first baseman Billy Butler have. They are no longer considered prospects, but shortstop Mike Moustakas and righthanders Luke Hochevar and Daniel Cortes have scouts raving. The problem is that there's a dropoff after this trio of top-end talent. Not good for a team that's the caboose of the A.L. Central.

Well, he sure is off about that final comment, but at least there was finally a ranking that didn't list the Royals dead last. Considering the sorry state of the Royals' farm system near the end of the Allard Baird era, it's an amazing achievement to have changed the perception enough in two years to already rank third in this category. The system will get even stronger this June, when the next group of draft picks selected by Dayton Moore and his staff enter the fold.

A.L. Central Baseball Towns (by Reusse): 1. Detroit, 2. Kansas City, 3. Cleveland, 4. Minnesota, 5. Chicago. Reusse's Comments About KC: This is a town with both the heritage of the Kansas City Monarchs of Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Royals of George Brett. Give K.C. just a hint of success and Kauffman Stadium (undergoing a $200 million face lift) will be full again.

Reusse has this one right. Detroit might be considered his top baseball town this season, but when the Royals start winning again on a regular basis, there are no better fans in this division than those wearing Blue on hot summer nights in Kansas City. Royals fans are starving for a winner, and it's on its way, folks. I can feel the electricity in the air, smell the concessions at the K, and hear the roar of the crowd as great KC baseball is returning in the very near future. It will be fun watching all of the young talent on this team grow stronger together.

Come Back in Two Years (by Reusse): Patrick Reusse takes a sneak peak at the A.L. Central ballparks in 2010, when the $200 million remodeling of Kansas City's stadium will be complete, and the Twins' new facility will be open in downtown Minneapolis. 1. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, 2. (Unnamed Stadium), Minnesota, 3. Comerica Park, Detroit, 4. Progressive Field, Cleveland, 5. U.S. Cellular Park, Chicago. Reusses's Comments About KC: Still a great ballpark, and it's only going to get better with the face lift scheduled for completion in 2009.

It's amazing to me that the Minneapolis paper could do a category like this, which seems perfectly set up to be able to claim the Twins' future ballpark as No. 1, but Reusse takes a jab at his own readers by stating that Kauffman will still be the best ballpark in the A.L. Central despite the brand-new digs being built here in the Twin Cities. This just proves to all the naysayers and critics of the renovations at the K that people around the division, and the league, really respect the beautiful stadium Royals fans get to appreciate 81 times per summer -- and for a future All-Star Game, too.

That was it for the rankings, and I guess it's not too surprising to expect anything else from an opposing team's home newspaper. But the fact is that the Royals are getting better, and it upsets me to see a full-page picture of the Royals being portrayed as timid, scared, frightened, awestruck, or however you might describe the cover of the Star-Tribune's A.L. Central preview section.

It's just that I'm tired of crap like that, and it has to stop. This isn't 2002-06 anymore.

This gets written about fairly frequently on message boards and blogs like mine, but it's time for members of the media to take notice of the baseball resurgence that's taking place in Kansas City. The Royals could at least have been standing next to the dude from the Twins in that drawing, and I would have had the White Sox similar to the Royals and Twins. After all, most pundits seem to think that it will be a two-team race in the A.L. Central.

The season begins today. I think it will be better than many people believe -- at least those who work in the sports department at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. It's time for these young Royals players to stand up for themselves, take pride in their fundamentals, and play the game the way Trey Hillman expects them to.

The challenge of facing what might be the toughest division in baseball this season will be daunting, but there is plenty of talent on this team, and I've always been one to believe that the first step to winning is believing that you will. Royals players have talked about the change in attitude that has been present in camp this spring -- that the team now walks onto the field expecting to win. It needs to start today in Detroit, against what is probably the toughest lineup in baseball.

Yes, another season of Kansas City baseball is here again, and this year, Royals fans have a team they can really be excited about. Enjoy Opening Day, Royals fans!
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