Great Lakes Royals

May 1, 2010 7:17 PM

May Day Royals News

Lots of items to get to today, as the Royals get a little bit healthier without getting all that much better.  More on that in a moment.

Headlining: The Tampa Bay Rays are Scary Good (and the Royals have had a tough April schedule)

There's two ways to spin the Royals' 9-14 start (pending the outcome of tonight's game) for the better.  The first way is to point to the last seven Aprils, and then point out that 9-14 is about as well as the team has done in the month.  The only year they started better: 2009.  The other way is to suggest that the Royals have probably played their toughest competition of the whole year in this month.

Out of their first 25 games, the Royals have played 6 games against the Minnesota Twins, 6 games against the Detroit Tigers, 3 games against the Boston Red Sox, and now will play 4 games against the Tampa Bay Rays.

I don't know how good the Tigers actually will look in a month from now when the Royals haven't made up 25% of their games, but that's a brutal slate with only the Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners as average or below average AL opponents.  While the Royals haven't performed all that well against those opponents, it's the fact that they will have to play two of the three "best teams in baseball" as well as the Twins, who many think are a top five team, that makes 9-14 an acceptable start.

I'll have plenty of time to write about the Twins later, but the Rays are the one team that's really impressed me beyond any other.  Like any small market team, they don't have unlimited depth with their hitters -- that depth was tested immediately when starting C Kelly Shoppach hit the DL and backup C Dionar Navarro had to serve a multi-game suspension for making contact with an umpire -- but they still manage to stack their lineup with talented hitters in their nos. 2 through 7 spots.

What's most impressive: the Rays aren't where they are because anything that lineup is doing.  They just so happened to hang a nine spot on Luke Hochevar, who entered the game with a sub-4.00 ERA.  The Rays are where they are mostly because of the work of their pitching staff, and their defense. Credit Matt Garza and James Shields, who have combined for an unbelievable 67 Ks in 67 innings as the leaders of the pitching staff, and with some great starts by David Price (26 Ks in 28 1/3 IP prior to his 1 K, 6 IP start vs. KC) and Wade Davis (17 K in 22 IP).  The Rays bullpen is just seven guys who (pause for effect) are all capable of getting outs when called on.

With the way the Rays can rain down extra base hits on their opponents, and then go out there and shut down some of the better offenses in the MLB that allows the Rays to beat their opponents by an average of 3.0 runs per game in the month of April, comfortably best in the majors.  The Royals (again, pending the outcome of tonight's game) could still end up winning this four game series.

Alex Gordon is healthy...and headed for the Bench

Gordon hasn't exactly been the model no. 2 overall pick in the 2005 draft. Despite reaching the majors on pace in 2007, Gordon is now in his 4th MLB season, with a career line of 249/331/413, 38 career homers, and 142 RBIs.  That's, um, not what the Royals were expecting when they brought him up straight from double-A just over three years ago.  What the Royals were looking for was the guy they could call up and leave at the position for the next 10 years while he worked his way to be the team's annual all-star and face of the franchise.

Problem is, and hat tip to all Royals bloggers who have already made this point, the Royals have let the slower-than-expected progression of Gordon as a player deter them from ever letting him realize that potential.

The Royals seem stricken with the idea that Gordon is where he is because he is an underachiever.  More than anything, the team wants to be respected by other teams as a professional organization.  One way to do that is to incrementally increase your win totals from year to year.  If nothing else, Gordon helps the Royals do that.

However: with the activation of 2B Chris Getz from the disabled list, the Royals have options in the infield, strong offensive options, that is, with Alberto Callaspo free'd up to start full-time at third base.  For the Royals organization, the alternative of being able to replace Gordon's short term offensive production with players who are perceived to be getting the most out of their talent is a better option than for allowing Alex Gordon to risk embarrassing the organization any further.

This is an organization that hasn't been deemed appropriate for national television in over 15 years, by the way.  Whatever shame Gordon might bring to the Royals by being a merely average player instead of a star will be obscured from the national media by the fact that no one outside of the AL Central media-sphere is aware that the Royals still play professional baseball.  I don't know how much of that the Royals really should be putting on Gordon.  I certainly understand the Royals longing for professionalism after all this time, but professionalism is not something that winning can't fix, and in the long term, I'm really not sure what taking the team's organization wide problems out on Gordon is actually going to fix -- mentality wise.

The Bullpen is Garbage

There's not a whole lot to add to this one.  Salary structure of the relievers would suggest that Joakim Soria is the best pitcher in the bullpen, and Kyle Farnsworth is the second best.  This is actually the only part of the bullpen that isn't screwed up.

It's not that Farnsworth has made great strides over the offseason, though he's been a bit more composed in late game situations.  Farnsworth is merely the most acceptable pre-Soria option of a bunch of players who don't belong in the big leagues.

The Royals outright released Juan Cruz from the organization after only 5 IP in 2010, which amounts to him making $700,000 for every inning pitched this year.  I personally had lost faith in Cruz, who I originally supported the signing of, but instead of doing something positive like releasing him to create roster space for a potential solution, the Royals have appeared to release Cruz with no actual plan to get better in the bullpen.

As we speak the Royals are getting an otherworldly performance of 3+ 4+ IP scoreless from Brad Thompson and Robinson Tejada (Bruce Chen also pitched, did not record an out).

Article Edit:  The Royals managed to hold off the Rays offense long enough to generate a 2-out rally in the 11th, and eventually win 4-2!  Guess this means Soria won't be available tomorrow, so I'll predict a Zack Greinke complete game shutout ahead of time.

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