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.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Loss for Me, But a Win for KC

For the second straight day, I was fortunate enough to get to go wtach the Royals and the Twins play baseball at the Metrodome. However, I almost didn't get to see Kansas City's 3-1 win this afternoon.

On my way to the game, I was driving on Portland Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, within eyesight of the Dome, when I was struck broadside by a car in the middle of an intersection. This wasn't just a little fender-bender, folks, this was the driver's side of my wife's 1999 Honda Civic getting hit squarely between the axels. The collision spun my car in a cirlce on the rainy streets, with the accelerator going full-bore, and I wound up coming to a stop across the sidewalk on the right side of Portland Ave.

Luckily, neither myself nor the driver of the other car was severely injured, although my whole left side feels like tenderized beef, and I'm sure I'll be feeling the effects of the impact for the next few days.

I had been headed to meet my youngest brother, Evan, at Hubert's -- a bar and restaurant across the street from the Metrodome. Instead, he came to the scene, and provided a dry car for me to sit in as I arranged to have mine towed to a body shop close to our house.

I'm still unsure who's fault the accident was, but Minnesota is a no-fault state for insurance purposes, so I'm not sure it really matters in a case where there weren't any severe injuries. It just seems to me that, if I had been the one running a red light, with all the traffic in that area at that time of day, I would have been struck by several vehicles.

The accident happened about 11:45 a.m., and Evan and I were finally able to enter the Metrodome -- yes, of course, we still went to the game -- in the middle of the second inning, right after the Royals had jumped out to a 2-0 lead.

It was the third straight game against the Twins in which the Royals jumped out to a 2-0 advantage. However, unlike the previous two days where Kansas City's early lead vanished as part of Twins' wins, this time Kansas City was able to thwart a Minnesota rally.

Right-hander Brett Tomko (1-0) had to work hard for the victory, throwing 92 pitches in five innings, but he allowed just five singles and a double, while striking out three and walking just one to earn his first victory as a member of the Royals.

Offensively, designated hitter Billy Butler went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles, while third baseman Alex Gordon was 2-for-4 with a double and two runs batted in, and second baseman Alberto Callaspo also went 2-for-4 with a double.

Joakim Soria entered the game in the bottom of the ninth and struck out Justin Morneau, Delmon Young, and Jason Kubel to earn his third save in three opportunities. His strikeout of Morneau, who had crushed an upper-deck home run earlier in the game, was impressive. Soria threw three straight pitches right by the slugger, the last of which was a 68-mile per hour curveball.

Kansas City's victory allowed the Royals to salvage a 4-2 road trip to start the season, and to remain in first place atop the American League Central standings. The Royals now return to Kansas City for their home opener against the New York Yankees on Tuesday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium. Brian Bannister (1-0) will pitch for KC, while Phil Hughes (0-0) will toe the mound for New York. First pitch is slated for 3:10 p.m.

Joakim Soria Photo Credit: Paul Battaglia/AP
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