It’s been written, rewritten, and rewritten again how this 10-5 start is something to relish as Royals fans because we don’t often get starts to the season like this. It’s been written, rewritten, and rewritten again how this team looks different than the ones in years past because they’ve started out winning games they wouldn’t ordinarily win.
But amidst all this positivity we would all be very foolish to think there aren’t some very dark clouds forming in the distance.
The Process has been the topic of discussion, and the butt of all jokes, around these parts for a number of years, and with good reason. The Royals as an organization cling to the positives (18-11!) and the vision towards the future, while at the same time, glossing over the major weaknesses and red-flags of the current state of the team. As Royals fans, we’ve been guilty of this as well.
I’m guilty of it. My loyalty to the organization as a fan showed its ugly head because of 14 games of “good baseball” and the need to have something to cheer for, but game 15 was an awakening of sorts as the normal negative realistic parts of my fandom just can’t be kept down any longer.
The Process is still a scary thing.
On Saturday night the Royals got a lucky, err, quality performance out of Sean O’Sullivan. His normal hard-contact-no-swings-and-misses-ness took a temporary back seat as he faced an awful lineup and didn’t allow any runs. Those are the kinds of games baseball managers live for; the games when the normally unreliable parts put in a quality performance that allows the rest of the reliable ones. Aaron Crow entered in relief in the ninth inning anyway.
Crow has been one of the (major) surprises to the 10-5 start to this season. A largely disappointing starter in the minor leagues, Dayton and Co. took a chance and inserted him into the bullpen to start this year despite any real reason to do so. Quite the notch in their scouting belt.
It’s paid off. His strikeout stuff has been a welcome addition to the backend of a bullpen that has been missing that kind of talent. The Royals strategy, or at least the strategy their seeming to take, is to let Crow learn how to get big league hitters out while also being a major, and cheap, asset for the team at the end of games. He’s been used, and used regularly, in high leverage situations already to start this season. Then Crow entered Saturday’s game with a seven run lead. Seven. Runs.
You can never predict the future. You can never predict what the next game might bring. For that reason pitching Crow in a situation to “just get his work in” doesn’t sound like that bad of an idea because he hadn’t pitched in the three games before, and possibly giving him an outing to stay sharp while also having a bit of a mental break, might not have been a bad thing.
However, the Royals had just added the hardest throwing, non-strikeout reliever in the history of whatever in Blake Wood, and they also have a perfectly capable Up 5-Down 5 reliever in Kanekoa Texeira, either of which could have perfectly handled the responsibility of a seven-run lead against a Seattle Mariners lineup.
That gaffe in bullpen usage possibly cost the Royals a win yesterday.
With two runners on in the seventh inning instead of inserting what could have been a well-rested, high strikeout reliever in a situation that desperately called for such a thing, Ned Yost instead reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out Blake Wood, who can’t strike people out. He promptly gave up a hit to Brendan Ryan (!) and the game was essentially over.
Obviously, it’s easy to second guess. Hindsight is always perfect. But hindsight is how everyone in every business is judged, and Yost made the wrong choice.
The bullpen isn’t the only worrying development to the 2011 season. Chris Getz continues to get regular playing time despite being half of what any reasonable person could consider a competent major league hitter.
Getz brings some things to the table that his second base counterpart, Mike Aviles, doesn’t like more speed and a better glove. Only, he isn’t that much faster and isn’t really that much better defensively. His positives are in no way equal to Aviles’ positives.
Does a team sacrifice some defense at second base with Aviles? Sure. But the overall value of what Aviles brings to the table offensively compared to the infield singles Getz brings far outweighs the difference in defense.
It didn’t take that long but Cabrera has come back to what he truly is, a below average player. He does seem to be in better shape than he has been in years past, and his defense hasn’t been nearly as bad as I originally thought it would be playing in such a big center field at Kauffman Stadium, but his Kendall-esque abilities at the plate (albeit with much more power potential) will soon ruin this team at the top of the order.
Even though I hate the speed game – never risk giving away outs when you only have a set number of them – Dyson’s one super-talent plays up his overall game, making him a much better fit for this Royals team, at this time. Such has been the case of The Process so far in its evolution: acquiring players through free agency when you already have players on the roster that can perform just as well.
Dyson’s hit tool may well be 40 (on the 20-80 scale) or even lower, but his 75 or above speed makes him a weapon that Cabrera is not, both offensively and defensively. Plus, through nine plate appearances, Dyson already has three walks. Cabrera has one in 70 plate appearances.
This season was not supposed to be the year the Royals competed. 2011 was supposed to be another year on the rebuilding path bidding the time until Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakes and all the others are ready to contribute. This season is more for the progression of Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Alcides Escobar, and all the other guys that will be around in a couple of years When the Winning Starts ™.
Well, we’re here now. The Royals are 10-5 and open up a series tonight with Cleveland for sole possession of first place in the AL Central. Does it really mean a whole lot still not 20-games in to the season? Not really. But the Central looks to be an incredibly weak division, and as long as the Royals can stay in the thick of things, there’s no reason to still be looking entirely at the future.
You can never predict the future. You can never predict what the next season might bring. Winning helps the progress of an organization just as much as time does and we’re supposed to wait on the winning because it hasn’t been enough time yet.
Well, given the current status of the AL Central there’s no reason why we shouldn’t expect both, now. The Royals can’t afford to keep giving away at-bats to underperforming players, and can’t afford to give away wins.