Monday, April 11, 2005

Post-Weekend Bluster

I'm pleased, of course, that the Royals are 3-3 after opening the season with 6 games on the road, 3 of which were against a playoff team from a year ago. I had zero expectation that the Royals could take 2-of-3 from the Angels, but its amazing how easy this game becomes when teams receive pitching performances like they did Friday and Sunday. I'll always cheer a series victory, especially on the road.

Mainstream prognosticators like to argue that the first 15 to 20 games "set the tone" for the season, as if the team's performance in 8% of its games will have a meaningful long-term impact on their performance for the other 92% of the games. The Mets are toast! This is nonsense, of course; the long run is all about players rising or regressing to their mean performance level over the course of a season, so what happens in 6 games is hardly indicative of what we can expect by the end of the year. Indeed, I am so beaten down as a Royals fan that I can't get too excited about any individual event, no matter how promising. To recycle my favorite phrase - the Royals recent history is littered with the carcasses of One Month Wonders. Wet Blanket, indeed. If you keep your expectations low, you won't be disappointed.

Alas, it was a gratifying weekend of baseball. I took full advantage of the free Extra Innings preview and watched most of all 3 games this weekend. (Interlude: In all honesty, I was in the car coming home on Saturday afternoon and I thought to myself "The Royals will be down 7-3 in the 7th inning." I turned on the TV, and that was EXACTLY right. Uncanny, but unfortunately the first thing I had right all weekend. OK, second: I thought BA would pitch well, too.)

I revelled in watching Denny Bautista utterly dominate the Angels on Friday night and enjoyed Ruben Gotay's offensive display yesterday. Bautista was a revelation; it was truly remarkable to watch a Royal starter actually blend power pitching WITH control. Boy howdy, he has great stuff. And Gotay is going to be a good hitter; I think his approach will prevent him from going into protracted slumps.

More Observations

-- Will the offense surprise? The Royals lead the AL in batting average right now, are 2nd in slugging (but 7th in runs). Overall, the offense has been mildly surprising, given that the expectations were for an offense which would rank among the worst in the baseball. I think its a mirage. The team has not put good wood on the ball; yesterday was the first game they actually hit the ball hard as a team. Otherwise, they've dinked and dunked their way to runs, with lots of ground ball singles finding the hole. That's not going to cut it in the long run, of course, but this could be a league average offense IF:

-- Sweeney can play 140-150 games
-- Gotay stays in the lineup for the entire season
-- Berroa achieves 95% of what he achieved his rookie year
-- Pickering isn't just a AAAA masher
-- And the Corner Outfield Consortium (COC) improves on last year's historic suckiness.

DeJesus, Gotay and Sweeney make up a pretty potent 1-2-3 combination.

-- Angel Berroa made an amazing defensive play on Friday on a grounder hit hard up the middle. Just as he was getting in position to field the ball, it hit the bag, changing the trajectory a few degrees. Somehow he was able to keep his concentration, field it AND throw out the runner. I think he's looked much better in the field this year, despite his error yesterday (which was on a ball deep in the hole that Teahen SHOULD have grabbed).

-- To wit, Mark Teahen looks very tentative offensively and defensively. Yesterday I watched him let up twice on ground balls to his left to let Berroa take them; it was such a strange sight. His body language looks mopey and uninspired; I get the impression that he's down on himself. I hope he's having the same jitters DeJesus had last year at the start of the season, but that's wishful thinking. Again, hard to make any proclamations after six games, but he doesn't look mentally prepared to be in the big leagues right now.

-- Yes, Pickering looks fat, slow and uninterested. But he deserves a pass for having a wife in labor limbo. I'm sure its affecting his concentration. The Royals will need him to provide the power if they're going to have any chance of being a league average offense this season.

-- This bullpen brings gas. Control issues may limit their effectiveness, but I think this is best collection of arms we've had in the 'pen in a long time.

-- BA, do that 10 more times, and we'll have a grade B prospect in our system by August.


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