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Bleeding Royal Blue

Inside the mind of a Kansas City Royals fan

Month

May 2013

BREAKING NEWS: George Brett New Royals Interim Hitting Coach, Maloof and David Reassigned

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Well, my ‘no writing about the Royals’ lasted a whole two days. If you read my last article(in which I vented my spleen) you know a big part of my discontent with the Royals was them not making any changes while the team was sucking like a 40 year old hooker. Well, they’ve made a change but hopefully it’s not the last. It was announced earlier today that Royals hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David were being reassigned to the minor leagues and George Brett and Pedro Grifol as the new interim hitting coaches. To say there are a number of interesting tidbits from this move might be an understatement. Let’s start with the one that most Royals fans are excited about: #5 is will be back in the dugout.

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There is no bigger name in Kansas City Royals baseball history than George Brett. There is Brett, then a long ways till you get to runner up Frank White, who is probably the second most popular Royal ever. Brett is one of the few players who stayed with one team his entire career and even stayed with that team after his retirement. George is Kansas City Royals baseball. It’s interesting to see him leave the front office and take a position on the field though. Brett has helped out in Spring Training for the Royals for years, but it always seemed like he enjoyed not having to adhere to the daily rigors of being a major league coach. Being Vice President gave Brett the chance to remain in the organization while not having to deal with the day-to-day pains. George could go the park, talk to some fans, be Mr. Royal and then be done. He could golf all day and then just sit back and enjoy the game that night. He literally had the best of both worlds. So it’s more than curious to see Brett now go out on the road with Kansas City and be with the team every day. One would have to think this isn’t a long term thing, which is probably why the ‘interim’ label was thrown on there. My first thought was ‘he is going to do this until he misses being out on the golf course’. I very well could be right on that, but for now he is going to try and help the Royals fix their hitting woes. Maybe start having Jeff Francoeur hit off a tee. Sorry, couldn’t resist. One thing he can understand is struggling at the major league level early in his career.

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Brett won the Royals third base job in 1974, but struggled early and often. The team sent him to the minors for awhile(much like the team has done in recent years with Alex Gordon and Billy Butler) but when he was brought back George started to work with Royals hitting coach Charley Lau. Lau reconstructed Brett’s swing and turned him from a struggling prospect to one of the best hitters in the game. I have to believe some of that wisdom that Lau pounded into his brain has kept all these years later and can be passed down to the guys like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. If anything, Brett knows how to hit in Kauffman Stadium. After the gibberish Jack Maloof sputtered out yesterday, I can just imagine what those hitting coaches were telling the Royals hitters. George won’t sugar coat anything and will tell a hitter if he is doing something fundamentally wrong. I can already imagine the conversation he might have with Francoeur. I honestly believe the best thing about having Brett as the hitting coach is that he will preach hitting the gaps, which is what the Royals hitters should be doing. Three-fourths of the Royals hitters are more gap hitters than power hitters, so asking them to hit more home runs is ridiculous. But asking them to hit for extra bases or hit with authority is not. One can only hope that having a legend in the dugout can reach some of these guys and turn things around. But this isn’t the sole reason Brett is coming in.

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I have no way of actually confirming this, but my gut tells me the Royals put Brett in there as a PR move. If so, it makes sense. Kansas City fans love George. After all this time, he is still our favorite. Probably always will be. I can’t ever see a way where we turn on Brett. So putting him in this slot assures we never complain about it. It also takes the heat off of Neddy Yost and Dayton Moore, as Royals fan have been asking for their heads for weeks now. The Royals fanbase has been utterly pissed the last three weeks and have wanted a change to happen with this team instead of continuing to let the season spiral down the drain. Putting Brett in there shifts the focus and appeases the fans–for now. Most of us are smart enough to see this for what it is, but are still happy to see George. But he won’t be handling this job alone.

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I’ll be honest, I don’t know a whole lot about Pedro Grifol. I can tell you he was in the Seattle Mariners organization for 13 years and worked both as a manager and within the Seattle farm system in a number of roles. It does seem like the hitting coaches job will eventually go to Grifol, and from the little I have read it seems like a good call. In fact, you can read some of Grifol’s thinking here.  It sounds like Grifol has a good idea of what he wants from his hitters and what he would want to work on. Working with younger players has been his forte, so working in Kansas City will be perfect. There is a good chance at first he will be the one to preach whatever philosophy Brett wants to incorporate. All in all, I expect Grifol to work closely with George before eventually gaining the reigns of the position.

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Maybe one of the more puzzling moves in all of this is the re-assigning of Maloof and David. Both seemed like competent guys. Hell, Tony Gwynn had given Maloof his seal of approval. But it was obvious whatever they were teaching wasn’t working. I’m even surprised he was hired in the first place, as Maloof was NEVER  a power hitter throughout his playing career. In fact, he was more of a singles hitter who walked a lot–just like Kevin Seitzer. To top it off, that interview Maloof did was maybe one of the most confusing things I’ve ever read. If that was actually what Maloof believes, that the Royals shouldn’t even try to hit homeruns at the K, then he deserves to be fired. Just mind boggingly stupid comments. If it was Maloof going out there and trying to deflect the heat off of Yost, then mission accomplished. If it was Maloof wanting to jump off of a sinking ship, then he is a genius. No matter what, I’m not for sure I still want this guy in the Royals organization. Let’s hope he doesn’t preach his beliefs to the Royals minor leaguers, if those are in fact his beliefs. Sure seems like a firing here would have been a lot less messy.

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So will this move help the Royals? At this point, any change is good. I mean seriously: can it get any worse than it has been the last three weeks? The main thing is for the Royals hitters to listen and work on Brett and Grifol’s teachings. There is no guarantee this move will work, and in a lot of ways this is just a tiny band aid over a giant gash in the chest of this franchise. The real move that should be made is firing Moore and Yost and revamping the whole system. But for now, there is at least an effort being made. For us old time fans, seeing George once again in Royal Blue with the #5 across his back will be a great sight. Trust me, a loud ovation will be had at the first game back at the K next week. But there is a larger problem here that no legend can fix. More needs to be coming. Firing everyone and starting over seems to be the best idea for the future of this franchise. This is just step one.

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The Breaking Point: A Lack of Accountability

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This very well might be my last post for awhile. To say the last three weeks have been frustrating would be an understatement. It’s not even that the Kansas City Royals have fallen into a giant rut that they can’t seem to climb their way out of. Let’s be honest: as Royals fans we are used to the losing. In fact, in some way we have grown accustomed to it. Losing and the Royals have gone hand and hand ever since the end of the 1994 baseball strike. There was one glimmer of hope(2003), one season of winning in Kansas City, but that has been it. It was gone as soon as it arrived. But this year was supposed to be different and during the first month of the season it appeared to be different. Anyone remember being 17-10 and being in first place? Seems like months ago, but it did happen.

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No, the losing isn’t why most Royals fans are up in arms. In fact, some of us expected them to be under .500 this year. No, it’s the way the team is losing, and how management is choosing(or not choosing) to deal with it. It has been very apparent since that fateful Monday afternoon in Kansas City about three weeks ago that the wheels have fallen off the bus. This whole slide can be pointed at the James Shields game against Chicago as being the starting point. Shields was dominating the Pale Hose and it seemed Chicago had no answer for ‘Big Game’ James. Shields was rolling but manager Neddy Yost felt that with a one run lead it was time to pull Shields in the ninth. Greg Holland came in to do his closer duties, but unfortunately for the Royals that meant coughing up the lead. The White Sox would come back to score again in the 10th inning, winning the game and making many Royals fans question Neddaniel’s decision. The problem wasn’t bringing in Holland, who had been pretty untouchable over his previous 6-9 appearances. The issue was that just two days before, Yost had kept Jeremy Guthrie in for the ninth inning, in a game where he was less dominating than Shields had been. His answer was that Guthrie had a two run lead, while Shields had a one run lead. I don’t really see that big of a difference, but it did seem to show a lack of consistency on Yost’s part. Anyway, since that game the Royals have been awful, and have not played like a team who once was in control of first place in the American League Central. There is a big part of the team that has fallen off the board, and it is something that was a problem in 2012 but ignored in the offseason; the offense.

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To say the Royals offense has been a disappointment over the last few weeks would be an understatement. There are so many fingers to point, but only so many fingers. Here’s an easy way to cover this; Gordon has been superb. Salvador Perez has gotten hot before taking a bereavement leave. Billy Butler is at least taking some walks. That’s pretty much it. Mike Moustakas is (still)hitting under .200. Wonderboy Chris Getz is right around there. Same goes for Jeff Francoeur. Lorenzo Cain has hit his first slump of the season, even though he is still hitting .295. Alcides Escobar has struggled mightily, falling to around .250 while Eric Hosmer is hitting a bit better but showing no power. This punchless offense can’t seem to muster very many extra base hits, but can single the crap out of you. It might be a good time to add in this team doesn’t draw walks either, last in the American League in that stat as well. Only thing is you need four singles just to knock in a run in that scenario. Sure seems like the team’s struggles last year wasn’t former hitting coach Kevin Seitzer’s fault, now does it? Nedly wanted his team to hit for more power this year, but the team is languishing in last in the American League in that category, and the last two Royals home runs have been hit by 39 year old utility infielder Miguel Tejada. Yes, THAT Miguel Tejada! The Royals pitching has slipped a bit, but they can’t carry all of the load. Having no run support on their part sure makes their job even harder. So you would think with these type of struggles that Kansas City would make some changes, right? You obviously don’t understand the Royals front office brass…

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This would be where it is no longer about just losing. After the Royals lost 2 of 3 games to the Houston Astros(the ASTROS????!!!!), it seemed that something had to happen. Something, anything. It didn’t matter what it was. As much as I would have preferred Yost or Moore being fired, I knew that was probably a long shot. So I would have taken anything to show that they recognize there are problems and that they are being addressed. Could have been sending Mike Moustakas to AAA to fix his swing. Could have been cutting Getz or Francoeur. Could have even been calling up Johnny Giavotella from Omaha. Just anything would have made me happy, made me know that they actually gave a damn. Nope. Nothing. Oh, they realize there is a problem. Yost has mentioned it. Moore has talked about it. Their answer? Do nothing. Wait for the ship to right itself. Moore said it wasn’t time to panic. Wait…what???!! Not time to panic? No Dayton, this IS the time to panic. We were told in the offseason that they were going to contend this year, that the main priority is to win. Instead, we are being preached to again to be patient. Let these younger guys figure it out. It takes time. Well, time is out boys and you need to start giving a damn about this team.

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What it comes down to is accountability. Kansas City and Royals fans have been patient for a long time. Infinitely patient. We still go to the ballpark. We still support this team. We still want to believe that Kansas City can be the toast of baseball again. But Moore is going on seven years now in Kansas City’s front office. Yost is on four. At some point they have to produce results. If your young third baseman is struggling for two months, maybe he needs to go to the minors for a bit. It isn’t a death sentence. Gordon did it. Butler did it. Hell, Brett did it! We sat through Hosmer’s struggles last year and from what we’ve seen this year, we still have the same Eric Hosmer, just one that is going out of his way not to pull ANYTHING. At some point these players need to either play better or be benched. The definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. If that is the case, what has Moore and Yost seen from these guys to think they will just pop out of this hole? The real truth is that they staked their jobs on this season and on the team contending. Unfortunately, both have showed their true colors and shown that they can’t do their jobs properly. So the team continues to slide. They continue to look lost at the plate, and they continue to get outplayed by even a lowly team like Houston. The fact that Yost and Moore are doing absolutely nothing about this has pushed me to the point of not caring.

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Almost 30 years of being a Kansas City Royals fan means I have seen the team at their highest(1985) and their lowest(there are a lot of choices here, so pick whichever year you want from the last 18). I can tolerate the losing if there is a concerted effort being made to improve. I know the players are trying and aren’t happy with the way this season has turned on them. But they also have to be held accountability for the stink on this franchise right now. Moore and Yost obviously should be held accountable, and in all honesty this team will probably never get better with the two of them in the positions they currently are in. I can’t support a team who is falling off the tracks and has no plan to get back on it. It’s just too much. So I’m not watching any games. I’m not making a trek to the K. I probably won’t write another Royals related article for awhile here. I can’t do any of that unless there is a change. Like I said, doesn’t have to be Yost or Moore, even though I would love for them to join the unemployment line. But something needs to happen. We can’t be losers forever. If the Royals don’t want to care, then I won’t care. Simple as that. See you guys when the team gets their heads out of their asses.

The Kansas City Royals: Instant Gratification Can’t be Found Here

“Losing is a disease……as contagious as bubonic plague…attacking one…but affecting all.”

Alex Gordon

That famous quote is from the classic baseball movie “The Natural” as a psychologist talks to the New York Knights while they are going through  a losing streak. I think of it anytime the Royals play awful baseball, which has been a lot over the last eighteen seasons. We were told by Royals management this off-season that this year was going to be different. No more losing teams, no more little league plays, no more disappointments. This was the year that the Royals were going to be a winner. Even if by that they just meant “a .500 team” that was good enough for most of us. I personally saw some holes with this team, but also knew if a few things went their way we could be looking at 81 to 83 victories this season. With the way this team got off to a hot start, it looked like maybe even more could happen. Hell, I went to the K for one great game and by the end of the weekend I started to believe a little bit more. But by that Monday, things started to change. The wheels have come off that infamous bus that Rex Hudler always talks about and at this point the Royals are looking for any moral victory they can get.

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As if the losing wasn’t bad enough(and trust me, it’s plenty bad), we then get told by Neddaniel Yost, Royals manager esquire, that we Royals fans are “impatient”.  Trust me, Yost said more. He also said we fans wanted “instant gratification”. So the guy who told us all off-season that the Royals were “trying to win” this year and that players wouldn’t have the same leash they had in the past if they slump is telling us NOW to be more patient? The manager who has never managed a winning ballclub in Kansas City? The guy who hasn’t been around for the last eighteen seasons, where the Royals have had only ONE year of above .500 play, told US we are impatient??? Let’s just say that didn’t sit well with most Royals fans.

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  I was all prepared to go on a long rant about Yost and the stupidity of his comments. It is well known my hatred for him and how for the last 13 months I have felt like the Royals should find someone else to be their manager. I was going to give a 2000 word summary of why this Royals team is worse off with him in their dugout. But then Craig Brown did a much better job than I ever would have. Brown explained in the best way possible what a foolish comment Yost made. In some ways, our anger has nothing to do with the team losing. It has way more to do with how Royals management views their die hard fan-base.  

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You see, it’s not just Yost that acts like Royals fans are selfish children that want everything instantly(#instantgratification). Royals GM Dayton Moore has more or less said the same thing. Funny thing is he seems way more impatient than we are. Moore is the one who traded the Royals top prospect, Wil Myers, so he could acquire the top of the rotation arm he coveted, James Shields, from Tampa Bay. He gave away six years of Myers for two years of Shields and the hope that the Royals could snag a playoff spot. At the least, it was a desperation move to save his job. If that isn’t impatience, I don’t know what is. We are in year seven of the Moore era, and not one winning season has been seen in Kansas City. We have been told to be patient, let the process play out. Problem is, his process is failing. Pitchers have scuffled in the minors, never moving past AAA(Montgomery, Dwyer). His hitters have reached the bigs, but have struggled(Hosmer,Moustakas). Trades have failed, managers have fallen to the wayside, and to be honest, the only thing the organization can hold onto like a plush toy in the hands of an infant child is last year’s All-Star game. At some point you have to admit your shortcomings. Instead, the finger gets pointed to us, the paying customer.

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I’ve  been a Kansas City Royals fan since 1984. Many of us die-hard’s have been around for a long, long time. We actually do remember when the team won on a regular basis and remember the tradition of the franchise. The fact that in 2013 we are still around and still cheering this team is somewhat of a miracle. It’s definitely dedication. We are the loyal of the loyal, the ones who might talk trash about the team, but would also be the first to stand up for them if an outsider talked bad about them. To say you have such passionate fans after the last eighteen seasons is not only shocking, but unheard of. We could have jumped ship. We could have found another team and started rooting for them. We could be real jerks and start cheering for the Cardinals. But we don’t. We still go to the ballpark, we still buy the merchandise. We root for Mike Moustakas even though he is in a massive slump. We still think Eric Hosmer can really be something, even if the possibility fades away a little bit every day. The Royals, after all that losing, still have a rabid fan-base. Do you think the Yankees would have that if they started losing? I don’t think so. So our reward for our loyalty is to have Royals management come out in public and tell us we are impatient and want “instant gratification”? Sorry, Dayton and Ned. You couldn’t be farther from the truth.

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You see, if we wanted “instant gratification” we would be gone. We wouldn’t care anymore. We would no longer be Kansas City Royals fans. We wouldn’t make our venture to the K to take in another game. We wouldn’t sift through the gift shop, looking for a new Moustakas or Perez shirt that we could wear proudly. If we were as impatient as Dayton and Ned say we are, and have told us we are more than once over the last seven years, then this conversation would be moot. Because we wouldn’t exist. Ned can talk about about trees and Dayton could sputter something about a “process” but it would be the equivalent of when Rex is talking and you’ve muted your TV: no one can hear you. If we want to be brutally honest, we fans are going to still be here long after this two man carny show is gone. Sooner or later, Neddy and Dayton will get their walking papers, but us die-hards will still be here. Hell, we might have to sit through another rebuilding phase, but our allegiance will still be to this team. It goes beyond just cheering and crying for us; this is our team, for life. We bleed Royal blue. We are the ones you should be thankful for, despite seven years of being told to be patient while witnessing more losing. So instead of getting pissy about us clamoring for Moose to start hitting, realize you two are the ones who told us to expect more. The two of you are the ones who told us it was time to believe. You can’t just tell us to FINALLY raise expectations and then get mad when we bitch about those expectations not being met. It doesn’t work that way. You want to prove us wrong? Win. Period. Winning will not only make us happy, but make you look like you are actually competent at your job, which is very questionable with Ned and Dayton. Winning is the cure for losing; and we all know losing is a disease…              

West Coast Jaunt

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I always hate when the Kansas City Royals play on the west coast. I just don’t get much of the games actually watched. So this week has been one big blur for me. I know Billy tore up the Angels pitching. I know the Angels looked pretty bad all series and I know Jarrod Dyson is the first Royal to go on the DL this season. Since it’s been such a haphazard week for me, I thought I would just go over a few topics just to touch base as the Royals continue their ‘West Coast Jaunt’

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  • Sad news for most Royals fans this week, as longtime Royals radio announcer and one of the most all around nicest guys you will ever meet, Fred White, passed away. White was part of Royals broadcasts from 1973 to 1998, when he was then replaced by Ryan Lefebvre, who is still with the team doing both radio and TV. Fred was fabulous on air, as him and Denny Matthews gave fans such a great description of the baseball game, making you feel as though you were there in person. While Denny came off as a seasoned journalist, Fred was a friend you would watch a game with, cheering when the Royals did something good while being upset when something didn’t go the team’s way. Most fans hated when Fred was replaced in the radio booth, to the point that most didn’t give Ryan a fair shake for at least a couple of seasons, myself included. White stayed with the team after he left the on air part of the job, working with the Royals radio network and with the Royals alumni. He would also occasionally fill in on Royals broadcasts when Matthews scaled back his schedule and quit taking a lot of the Royals road trips. Of course, when Fred showed up on the air it was always a treat. Over the years, I have talked to a few people who met Fred, and I’ve never heard one person say a cross word about him. Even till the end, he felt like he was just like the rest of us, just a fan. My memories of Fred are that of listening to the radio with my grandma, hearing Denny and Fred banter back and forth while the Royals do battle out on the field. I could probably go on and on about Fred and about how good of a person and broadcaster he was, but this article could stretch on for quite awhile if I did. What I will say is that Fred always felt like he was the lucky one, getting to go to the ballpark and interact with everyone. The truth is, we were lucky to have HIM. Some teams go years before they find a voice for their ball club. We had two. I’ll miss you, Fred.

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  • We all know the mess that is right field for the Royals. Jeff Francoeur has manned the position the past few years, and last year put up an epically bad season. It was often referred to as one of the worst, if not the worst, of 2012. Our Obi Wan Kenobi, Wil Myers, was traded in the offseason, and the Royals were intent on Francoeur bouncing back this year. Only that hasn’t happened. I don’t even want to write down the numbers in here. If you are so inclined, read Frenchy’s stats here. Unless you have a queasy stomach. Then I recommend you avoid that link. Anyway, the team had said in the off-season that if Francoeur was still playing bad 5-6 weeks in, there would be a change. Over the past couple weeks, Jarrod Dyson has started seeing more playing time in center, moving Lorenzo Cain to right and Frenchy to getting splinters in his butt. In fact, Dyson has been playing against righties, while Frenchy has started against lefties. I believe we call that a platoon. Well, we do. Ned Yost doesn’t. Unfortunately, Dyson has come down with an ankle injury from climbing the wall in Anaheim the other night, which has placed him on the disabled list. Our worst fears were that it would mean more playing time for Frenchy, which would mean more dreadful play. David Lough was recalled to take Dyson’s place, and it seemed inevitable that he would lose out playing time to Francoeur. But miracles occasionally occur. For tonight’s lineup against Oakland, Lough is in the lineup which continues the “platoon”, at least in our crazy heads. Once again, if Nedder is to be believed, it is NOT a platoon. So it appears Nedly might actually do the sane thing and give Lough Dyson’s playing time and not regulate him to the bench. We will see if this holds up, but at this point Lough’s play can’t be any worse than Captain Nut-Tap’s has been so far this year.

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  • The other black hole in the Royals offense has been at second base, where Chris Getz has played…well, played like most of us always figure he will play. It’s hard sometimes to understand why Royals management likes this guy so much. “He does all the little things.” “He’s great defensively.” “God, that boy can bunt!” You get the point. Royals management has some odd, almost creepy infatuation with a player who would be a backup on 3/4 of the teams in the majors today. Yes, I’m looking at you Dayton, Neddy….and you, Rex. The last couple of seasons, many Royals fans have clamored for the position to be taken over by Johnny Giavotella. Unfortunately, between the Royals never committing to playing Gio on a full-time basis and Gio not seizing the opportunity when it is given to him, we are back at square one with Getz still patrolling at second. That is until about a week or two ago, when Elliot Johnson started seeing increased playing time since Getz has been downright dreadful. Here are more ugly stats. After four seasons in Kansas City, I am pretty sure we know what we are going to get from Chris Getz, and it isn’t acceptable. Johnson isn’t the answer either. I personally feel like it is time to give Giavotella one last chance. A REAL chance. Call him up, put him in the lineup everyday, and tell him the position is his for the foreseeable future. To be honest, he can’t be any worse than Getz. If he still hits below, let’s say .250, then you know he shouldn’t be with the team and you cut bait with him. But if he hits above that…We all know that his offensive numbers in the minors have been fabulous and they just haven’t transitioned over to the majors. I would rather see him than Getz, or Johnson, or grandfather Tejada. I’m not totally sure Gio is really the answer to the Royals second base hole, but right now they have no other REAL options and Christian Colon’s bat is nowhere near major league ready. Give Gio a chance…I have to believe he can hit at least .193 like wonder boy Getz is.

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The west coast jaunt continues tonight in Oakland, and I’m hoping to at least get to watch the weekend games. The Royals then travel to Houston, which most of us hope helps revive some of the Royals slumbering bats. Then Kansas City returns home to face the Angels again, which hopefully by that point we can discuss a long winning streak. May is going to be the true test to see whether this Royals team is a contender or a pretender. Some changes are needed, but none that can’t be moderately fixed and fixed now. Standing pat isn’t an option with this Royals team. Not when you are trying to win.

 

Missed Calls & The Battle for Instant Replay

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So you thought you had a rough week? Try being a Major League Baseball umpire. This week shone a giant light on the element of human error in the umpires and put more emphasis on instant replay. Let’s start with what went on in Cleveland Wednesday night.

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Adam Rosales of Oakland stepped to the plate against Cleveland’s Chris Perez with Cleveland leading 4-3. Rosales hit a blast to left center field and it looked like it hit off the railing in the seats and bounced back onto the field. The umpires called it a double, claiming it hit the wall. Oakland A’s manager Bob Melvin came out to dispute the call, and the umpires reconvened to look at instant replay. After viewing the video(which was blatantly a home run)the umpires came back and the double held up. Melvin was infuriated and rightfully so, as the umpires have more than one angle they can look at the play from and have more than one feed for it as well, with both the Oakland and Cleveland broadcasts available. Somehow, the umpires still felt the ball hit below the top of the wall. Melvin was eventually ejected from the game and Oakland would lose by that 4-3 score.

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Major League Baseball declared the next day that it was an improper call made by Crew Chief Angel Hernandez, but the call would stand. But the story doesn’t end there. How can you screw up instant replay, especially when it seemed so obvious what the call should have been? Peter Gammons seems to think this was done on purpose as an objection to instant replay. Make sure you click and read that column. WOW! Now, Gammons doesn’t ever just throw out accusations like that, as it just isn’t his style. So for him to go out in a public forum and say that must mean there is a lot of validity behind that statement. So some of the umpires don’t want instant replay? I’m not shocked, but in the end we will get more instant replay. But Hernandez’s gaffe wouldn’t be the only one by an umpire this week.

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During Thursday’s Angels/Astros match up, Houston manager Bo Porter decided to make a pitching change in the 7th inning. He brought in reliever Wesley Wright, while Angels manager Mike Scioscia decided to use a pinch hitter to combat Wright coming in. Porter then called for another reliever to counteract Scioscia’s move, bringing in Hector Ambriz. The problem is by major league baseball rules that is a no-no.   Rule 3.05b says: “If the pitcher is replaced, the substitute pitcher shall pitch to the batter then at bat, or any substitute batter, until such batter is put out or reaches first base, or until the offensive team is put out, unless the substitute pitcher sustains injury or illness which, in the umpire-in-chief’s judgment, incapacitates him for further play as a pitcher.” To make a tad bit simpler, if you bring a pitcher into the game, he has to pitch to at least one batter before you can take him out and put in a new pitcher. This was, of course, Scioscia’s argument and led to a long heated debate between himself and the umpires. There is normally a four man umpiring crew, yet all four men in blue believed Porter could bring in another pitcher without Wright pitching to a batter. Think about that for a bit. The four guys who are in the game to uphold the rules didn’t know what the actual longstanding rule was! Scioscia would then protest the game, as it continued and eventually the Angels would win in spite of this entire mess.

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Major League Baseball reacted fast again, suspending Crew Chief Fieldin Culbreth for two games and fining Adrian Johnson, Brian O’Nora and Bill Welke. This is almost uncharted territory, as very rarely do umpires get suspended, especially for just a missed call. Granted, this was no normal missed call. But it does show that Major League Baseball is paying attention and realizes that umpires should be punished for their mistakes, just like players and coaches are. But the hot button topic that these two miscues seemed to have elicited is instant replay.

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Instant replay has been maybe the most discussed topic in baseball circles for years now, yet we still see very little actually used during games. The most widely discussed argument is that the human element has been used for years and the percentage of mistakes an umpire actually make are few and far between. There is truth in that statement, but it ignores the main issue that keeps the topic from continually popping up: the actual mistakes. It seems odd that in 2013, with the technology that is available nowadays, that baseball still hasn’t adopted instant replay. When people at home can EASILY tell when a call is blown, it makes no sense to not use the technology out there and make sure the umpires get the call right. It’s as simple as putting a 5th umpire up in the press box and giving him a very short amount of time to look at the play and render a decision. Why it isn’t as easy as that is a completely different conversation.

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So why are we still waiting on Major League Baseball to adopt full blown instant replay? There are two factors. One, Allan H. Selig and the rest of the good ole boys that are the major league owners are very old-school and don’t want to change with the times. Look, I’m an open minded traditionalist when it comes to baseball, but just since Selig has been in office, baseball has added the wild card, started interleague play and added a bit of instant replay. So that reason shouldn’t fly. No, the real reason is money. It cost extra money for the equipment. It cost extra  money for a 5th umpire. The NFL spends about $4 million a year on instant replay, while baseball has ten times the amount of games football does, it would knock that cost well into eight figures. But the sad part is baseball can afford it. Look at the recent TV deals. Baseball is swimming in money, so they have no excuse not to pony up the cash and equipment and make instant replay happen. It makes the sport look bad when everyone else can see what they choose to ignore. Unless somehow they get some sick pleasure from their umpires screwing up calls on a nightly basis. If that is the case, we might be waiting awhile.

What Is Working For the Royals…and What Isn’t

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32 games. ONLY 32 games. It’s hard for some Kansas City Royals fans to remember that we are only 32 games into the 2013 season, so there is no reason to freak out over a tough week. There is still a lot(and I mean A LOT) of baseball left to play, and the team is still over .500 at 18-14. With a rocky last week, let’s look at what has worked for the Royals early on this season…and what isn’t working.

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The Starting Pitching is Working

  • This past off-season, Royals GM Dayton Moore’s main objective was to beef up the starting rotation. Last year was a rough one for the Royals starters, to the point that the offense was working behind to an alarming degree due to the starters giving up a batch of runs early in the game. Dayton needed pitching and knew if he didn’t this off-season, he would be on the unemployment line. Ervin Santana, James Shields and Wade Davis were acquired in trades and Moore re-signed Jeremy Guthrie to a three year deal. There were questions about Santana, Guthrie and Davis, with Shields being the one guy most Royals fans could agree was a solid acquisition. It’s been obvious that Shields has pitched like the ace the Royals wanted him to be. If that wasn’t enough, most of the question marks have looked solid. Guthrie has continued his great pitching since Kansas City picked him up  stole him from the Rockies, and Santana has been phenomenal. Both have done the two things that the Royals want from them: throw a lot of innings and keep the team in the ballgame. Santana has looked like the guy who threw a no-hitter at one point and was one of the better up and coming pitchers in the game. Davis has been the one question mark, as he has had trouble shifting back to the rotation after being in the bullpen in 2012 for Tampa Bay. Wade has had some great starts(Atlanta), but some awful ones as well(last night against New York, for one). It’s too soon to give up on Davis, but so far the move back to starting isn’t working. The Royals have him signed for a couple more years, so he will be given every chance in the world to work his way out of this. That worry aside, the pitching is doing their job and it is safe to say is actually the reason the team is above .500. Dayton Moore had set a goal of 1000 innings for this ball club in 2013, and at this rate they have a very good shot of reaching that goal. It is only 32 games in, but so far Dayton’s acquisitions have done their job–and then some.

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The Defense Flashing Some Leather

  • Last season was puzzling for the Royals defense. We all knew the team had some great defenders. Alex Gordon had won a Gold Glove. Salvador Perez was touted as a plus defender. Mike Moustakas had improved his defense to the point that none of us thought we would ever see. Add in Alcides Escobar(there is a reason he is known as shortstop Jesus), Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, and you have 3/4 of your lineup flashing some serious leather. Only the numbers didn’t show that. Whether it be an off year, or infield shifts, the numbers just didn’t shine a positive light on Kansas City. You can check it in all it’s glory here. But so far in 2013, the defense has been more than solid. Sure, there have been a few bumpy games. But let’s be honest; those games will happen from time to time. They also have Jeff Francoeur in right field, and he has a good arm and….well, he has a good arm. Chris Getz is average at second base, which I know a few will argue, but the stats show he is nothing more than that. Despite this, the team needs to continue to have the solid defense they have had so far. There is no reason to think it won’t, as most of these players have been good defensive players since they were taking bus trips in the minor leagues. The defense DOES have to hold up if the Royals want to contend this year. If I had to put my money on something staying consistent for this team, it would be the defense.

Now, a look into what is NOT working…

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This Year’s Offense Looks like Last Year’s Offense  

  • To be honest, I’m not surprised. In fact, I expected it to happen. The Royals struggled in 2012, and came back with the exact same lineup, expecting the younger players to take a step forward. That has not happened so far. Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar, two disciples of former Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer(or the guy who fell on the sword in the off-season), have been the two most consistent hitters on this team. Lorenzo Cain, finally healthy, has been superb so far and Billy Butler, despite his average, has made it his plan to get on base as much as possible, by any means necessary. Then you see a drastic drop off. Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer have not looked their best. Salvador Perez is a free swinger, which seems to have finally caught up with him. Then there is Francoeur and Getz. The two weak links of the team haven’t been good. Francoeur did okay for awhile, but is now back to 2012 depths. Getz has been even worse, despite hell freezing over and him hitting his first home run since he has been in Kansas City. The biggest problem I see with the offense is the amount of hackers on the team. Once you get past the top of the order, you run into some major free swingers. Patience is a virtue the Royals need to learn and learn quick. It does seem as if Moustakas is starting to come out of his funk. Hosmer has been getting hits, but has somehow lost the power he showed in 2011(and the last two Spring’s). No amount of lineup shuffles can fix this problem. What the team needs is a solid hitting philosophy and follow it. Kevin Seitzer couldn’t get through to them, and so far it doesn’t seem as if the tag team of Maloof and David are either. The pitching can only hold this team up so long; the offense needs to back up the starters and produce. Period.

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Manager Follies

  • For anyone who has talked Royals with me for even just a bit, they know of my dislike of one Neddaniel (Frank) Yost. I have been calling for his firing for over a year now. He is the anchor around the Royals neck. In fact, I felt dirty writing something positive about him just last week. Unfortunately, Neddy has shown his true colors this week. Taking Shields out of Monday’s game. Usage of Luke Hochevar. Constant shuffling of the lineup. Keeping Wade Davis in longer than he should. That’s just this week. Yost imploded when he was managing Milwaukee in 2008. When he was asked why his team was struggling during a pennant chase, Yost told management he “didn’t know”. Does that make you confident if Kansas City is in the hunt come September? It doesn’t me. Yost’s biggest challenge is to be consistent on a daily basis. He let Jeremy Guthrie stay in to close out Saturday’s win, but then pulled James Shields after 8 innings on Monday. What is the difference between the two situations? In all honesty, nothing. Yet he commented that Shields did his part and Greg Holland’s role is the 9th inning. Not consistent. After 30 games, Yost felt the need to shuffle a struggling lineup. It’s only 30 games–shuffling it just seemed like a panic move. This is the THIRD regular incarnation of a Royals lineup since the season started. The THIRD!! There is no consistency in his decisions and in his actions. Early in the season, Yost was doing a good job by not doing anything. He was just letting his players go out and play ball. Now there is a slight bump in the road and he feels the need to flip everything upside down. This is a young team that needs consistency. Instead, they have a leader who is in constant change. This isn’t going away, folks. Dayton likes Yost. A lot. But if this team is serious, Neddy needs to go. It isn’t working.

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It would seem to be 32 games in that the Kansas City Royals have played more good baseball than bad. Being 18-14 speaks to that truth. Now they just need to continue that and improve the areas that aren’t working. It is a long season in a weak division, which gives us all hope. But there is no room if you want to contend. This team deserves to get the most bang for their buck. Otherwise there will be more disappointing talk than positive come September.

Warming the Heart of a Jaded Royals Fan

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Younger fans don’t remember, but when baseball went on strike back in 1994, the Kansas City Royals were making a run for the playoffs. The Royals were 64-51 when baseball shut down, 4 games out of first and closing on the division leading Chicago White Sox. The season had started slow for Kansas City, but Hal McRae’s squad was one of the hottest teams in baseball at the time and there was a good chance that team could have made it to the postseason. But instead, the strike happened, McRae was fired, and the Royals team that took the field in 1995 when baseball came back was not the same team. Since that year, the Royals have only one season of above .500 play. One winning season, that is it. ONE. Sure, the Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t had a winning season since 1992. Poor Pirates fans. I’m sure they understand us Royals fans. They understand our pain, the misery we’ve seen. Every year, we keep asking: is it OUR time. Wait, bad choice of words. Royals fans keep asking: is this the year we finally have a reason to cheer? Is this the year we don’t have to look for silver linings? Finally, in 2013, we might have. Yes, I am showing up late to the party. But after this past weekend, I might finally be a believer. This Royals team could possibly contend this year.

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So let’s start at why I didn’t think this team would be where they are this year. To be honest, I saw a team that looked a lot like the 2012 team, just with some new pitchers. Now, granted those pitchers didn’t seem all that horrible. I knew James Shields would hold his own, and I was happy with Jeremy Guthrie coming back. But I was unsure about Ervin Santana and I think we can all say there was skepticism with Wade Davis. But outside of that, it was the same cast of characters. The offense couldn’t score runs last year, and they brought back the exact same lineup. The bullpen was still good, but manager Ned Yost was coming back too. It just didn’t feel like anything had changed. Now, to be fair here, some hasn’t. Davis hasn’t shown that he can completely revert back to the rotation yet, and Yost is still, well, Yost. Frank Yost, that is. The lineup had trouble early on, but they seemed to have improved over the first couple weeks of the season. None of these factors though are why my mind has shifted since Opening Day.

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No, the change is with the mentality. This team believes. They believe they can win. They believe that no matter the deficit, they can get back in the ball game. I know Shields has been a big part of this transformation,  as he wanted to bring over the winning environment he was around in Tampa. The rumors of him being a big time leader seem to be true, as he has this young group of players believing they are Superman and no one has their Kryptonite.  I mentioned the offense earlier and their struggles. They still aren’t kicking on all cylinders, but they’ve received something that winning teams have; clutch hitting. Get your hits when it counts, and it won’t matter where you rank in the league. Just ask the 2012 San Francisco Giants. The starters have stepped up too, making sure the team is always in the game. Can’t remember the last time a Royals team did that? Me either. All this team seemed to need was some big wins under their belt, and the newfound confidence would do the rest.  But there is some credit I probably should hand out.

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First, credit needs to go to Dayton Moore. I know, I rag on him quite a bit, and most of it is deserved. Seriously, he acquired Yuniesky Betancourt twice. You get flogged in other countries for worse crimes. But he knew his butt was on the line this offseason and went out and picked up pitching. Shields, Guthrie and Santana have been better than advertised and have helped change the atmosphere at the K. Santana more than anyone seemed a long shot. Here is a guy who was awful for the Angels last year, gave up the most long balls in the league, and had a 12 million dollar contract(albatross) around his neck, yet Moore was still willing to take a flyer on him. So far, it’s working. Moore also put trust in his offense, expecting the youngsters to step up and improve this year. Now, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer aren’t quite where we wish they would be, but you still see glimmer’s of hope. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are still the pillars of the offense, and Alcides Escobar has even turned into a really good offensive player. Lorenzo Cain is in the top ten in average, and Salvador Perez is starting to turn around his season. Hell, Jeff Francoeur is even contributing. Maybe his faith in these players was crazy, but it seems to be working. It could be better, but so far Moore’s gambles have paid off.

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This is even more painful for me; a little bit of credit has to go out to Ned Yost. Now, you all know my dislike of Neddy. I still feel like he isn’t the guy for this job. But…so far, he has pushed a lot of the right buttons this season. He stuck with Greg Holland during a rough few outings. He also wasn’t afraid to pull him if the situation dictated it. He has juggled with the lineup a bit, but he has kept Gordon and Escobar at the top this entire time, and they are your two most consistent hitters. He has even done a good job with the bench, lately using George Kottaras in situations that help the team. You see, Kottaras is one of those guys who is really patient at the plate and doesn’t go up there hacking. The Royals lineup doesn’t have a lot of those guys, so late in a game, Kottaras is just as big a weapon as Jarrod Dyson. He has made a few guffaws(he still occasionally doesn’t know when to pull a starting pitcher, and still hasn’t realized to not put Luke Hochevar into a game when runners are on base) but for the most part he has let these guys go out there and do their thing. I still want him fired, but right now he seems to have learned how to properly manage.

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So has my prediction of 78-80 wins changed? I won’t say changed as much as I can see them being above .500 now. I am still a realist, and I know there is still a lot of baseball yet to play this season. The Royals really haven’t had to face much adversity yet, so one does wonder how they will handle it. What I will say is this is a different team. This team has confidence, and just like how you need confidence when approaching a woman, you also need confidence if you are going to be a winning baseball team. This gang of Royals have that. For right now, things are good in Kansas City. But we are all aware that the wheels could come off the bus tomorrow. Santana could come back down to earth. The offense could start struggling again. Neddy could have flashbacks to his Milwaukee days. But for now, the Royals are winning…and winning feels good. Change is definitely a good thing.         

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