Royals Rewind: 5/24-5/30

When last we saw our Royal blue heroes, they were coming back down to earth after an initial hot streak under new manager Ned Yost.  After a hot start to the week, the Royals dropped the last two games at home to the Rockies, finishing their week at 4-3.

So what happened next? Is the honeymoon over?  Would the Royals remember that they are, in fact, still the Royals?  Well read on, as we recap the week’s happenings and trends:

5/25: Rich Harden vs. Gil Meche – Vlad Impales KC again
The Royals probably weren’t pleased to see the Rangers again, considering they ran into a four game sweep in Arlington. Vladimir Guerrero again tore Royals pitching apart, going 3-5 with two homers and 5 RBI.

The Royals tried to counter his offensive firepower with … Willie Bloomquist. The Spork was making his third straight start with David DeJesus taking a brief leave to be with his wife for the birth of their first child. Bloomquist came up with a fine game, making a highlight catch in right field and later getting an assist, throwing out Justin Smoak at home in the 8th inning. He also singled and scored in the third, and in a key moment in the bottom of the 6th, battled Rich Harden before slamming a triple into left center, driving in two, then scoring on the next play as Jason Kendall bunted him home with a suicide squeeze.

It wasn’t enough, as Brad Thompson gave up two quick hits and came out, but both runners scored, and they were the difference in the game.

5/26: Scott Feldman vs. Luke Hochevar
Hochevar was sharp through 8 innings, following up on a complete game in his previous start. Luke threw 67 strikes on 99 pitches and walked none on his way to victory. After a couple of rough innings early, he cruised, giving way to Joakim Soria for the save.

Billy Butler hit his fifth homer and Bloomquist drove in two more runs.

A factor I looked at in this series was the running game by the Rangers. In the four game series, Texas stole nine bases in eleven attempts. Perhaps the pitching staff was holding runners better, but they also had a lot fewer opportunities. At any rate, they only attempted one steal (which was successful) but it was a Matt Treanor running lead, not quite fielder’s indifference but they weren’t worried about his speed by any means.

5/27: Brian Bannister vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka
Dice-K walked eight Royals batters, which was fortunate, as otherwise, the Royals only got four hits. If your name wasn’t Mike Aviles, Billy Butler or David DeJesus, you didn’t have a hit, as the top of the order carried the offensive weight.

Brian Bannister was solid but not spectacular, going 6 innings and walking none. He gave up three runs, but the bullpen came in and went three scoreless behind Robinson Tejeda, Blake Wood and Joakim Soria. If those three make that kind of performance the norm, we’ll be able to forget the bullpen nightmares of April.

It was a gritty win for the Royals, as they really should have put up about four more runs, but they only hit 1-11 with runners in scoring position. But a win at Fenway Park is nothing to sneeze at.

5/28 Kyle Davies vs. Tim Wakefield – Line up for the hit parade
The Royals sent Wakefield packing after only 3.2 innings, pounding out 12 hits and 9 runs against the veteran. Most of the damage came in a 7-run fourth inning, starting off with five straight singles that scored two runs. A third scored on a wild pitch. Then, after a Mitch Maier walk loaded the bases, Yuniesky Betancourt drove a knuckleball over the Green Monster for a grand slam. Maier later added two more runs on his first homer of the season in the top of the 8th.

Davies wasn’t good, but he was good enough. He gave up five runs in only five innings, putting the Royals behind 2-0, then 5-2, but the Royals offense was on fire and it didn’t matter who was pitching. The Royals pounded out 20 hits total, 15 of which were singles. They also walked five times.

The bullpen put a stop to any Boston scoring, getting two scoreless innings from both Kyle Farnsworth and Dusty Hughes. Needless to say, that’s a good sign, as well.

5/29 Zack Greinke vs. Clay Bucholz
The curse of Zack returned, as the Royals couldn’t touch Bucholz, following up their 12-run, 20-hit explosion from the night before with no runs on only five hits.

Greinke looked tentative all night, pitching on the outer half of the plate and never really challenging batters. His start reminded me of his second start of the year at Minnesota when he walked five batters and only made it through five innings. Greinke got through six on Saturday, but he was more lucky than good. He gave up five hits and walked three, but the Red Sox went hitless in nine at bats with runners in scoring position. The Royals defense even committed two errors while Greinke was in, adding a third once Robinson Tejeda had come on in relief. And still, the Red Sox only scored one run.

And it was enough.

I just don’t know…

5/30 Bruce Chen vs. Jon Lester
Jon Lester seems to have it out for the Royals.

Lester, who no-hit the Royals in 2008, was strong, going seven innings and giving up only one run – the only run the Royals have scored against him at Fenway.

Bruce Chen got the start for the Royals, taking the place of Gil Meche who went on the disabled list with shoulder bursitis the day before. Chen held his own, going four innings and only giving up one run while striking out five. But he threw 75 pitches in those four innings and hasn’t been stretched out to go further yet.

Brad Thompson came in to piggyback him and gave up six runs in 1.2 innings. So…maybe one more inning wouldn’t have hurt that much.

Oddly, Willie Bloomquist started in left field and led off. Heck, even Brayan Pena got a start behind the plate. It was a bizarre lineup indeed, and it almost felt like a concession, given the awkward change in the starting rotation.

The Royals only mustered five hits against Lester and the Boston bullpen. Victor Marte, taking Meche’s place on the roster, pitched a scoreless 1.1 innings, but the Royals had to settle for a split in the four game series.

The Numbers
4 steals on 8 attempts

Team ERA: 4.33
Starters ERA: 4.37
Bullpen ERA: 5.06
Bullpen ERA (for those not named Brad Thompson): 0.56
Brad Thompson ERA: 43.20 – Ouch.

David DeJesus: 7-16, 4 RBI
Billy Butler: 9-22
Mitch Maier: 8-23

Jose Guillen: 1-20, 9 K
Alberto Callaspo: 3-26

The Verdict
It seems to be hit or miss most of the time. Either the Royals put together 14 hits and bunch them together in a couple of innings and end up scoring, or they don’t score at all. When you don’t walk very much and your single to extra base hit ratio is so steep (almost 75% singles), you’re just stuck. Mix in some walks in between the singles, and you can get somewhere. A walk and a double, that’ll score a run. But when it takes three singles to get a run home, you have to hit a lot of singles and you have to do it often.

It’s not going to get any better. Guillen’s power surge was nice, but he’s regressing – the brief hot streak last week lasted about three days while he has looked lost the rest of the time. Alberto Callaspo is racking up doubles and his 7 homers have been nice. Beyond that, who’s the power hitter? I’d like it to be Butler, and physically, he fits the mold, but his approach and style is more based on line-drives. He gets compared to Edgar Martinez all the time and for good reason. Martinez had good power, but he only surpassed the 30 homerun mark once in his career. He did hit 20 or more homers eight times, and had double digit homers in 14 seasons, but his power was more gap-to-gap and he’s notorious for hitting doubles.

The starting pitching was inconsistent, though Hochevar’s 8 inning start was nice to see as a follow up to his complete game. Greinke looked effective on paper, but to see the game, he wasn’t very solid. There have been comments about how he’s not sure if his slider is of the same caliber as his 2009 Cy Young slider. It’s not surprising to see some regression to the mean after such a dominant year, and sitting on a 3.39 ERA isn’t bad at all.

The big winners this week were the pitchers out of the bullpen. Unlike in earlier parts of the season, the bullpen had great control, walking only four batters in 17 innings. And other than Brad Thompson (who might have one or two more outings left in him), a Jason Varitek homerun was the only earned run surrendered by relievers all week. It doesn’t bring back the blown saves from April, but it’s a start.

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Tags: AL Central Alberto Callaspo Baseball Billy Butler Blake Wood Brad Thompson Brian Bannister Bruce Chen David DeJesus Dusty Hughes Edgar Martinez Gil Meche Jason Kendall Joakim Soria Jon Lester Jose Guillen Kansas City Royals KC Kyle Davies Kyle Farnsworth Luke Hochevar Mike Aviles Mitch Maier MLB Ned Yost Robinson Tejeda Royals Scott Podsednik Tim Wakefield Victor Marte Vladimir Guerrero Willie Bloomquist Yuniesky Betancourt Zack Greinke

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