That Awkward Stage


I’m working on blocking Wednesday night’s loss out of my mind.  I’ve come to grips with what happened, I’ve accepted it.  I’ve moved on.

If you missed it, the Royals got a three-run homer in the top of the ninth from Melky Cabrera to extend their lead to 7-3.  Ned Yost felt confident in the lead and sat Joakim Soria, who had been warming up in the bullpen.

After two batters reached on Aaron Crow (who had gotten warm in a hurry after the homer), Soria came into the game.

I’m going to do my best to not rant about how the Royals had a chance to win two of the four games in the series in Tampa, losing the first on a walkoff homer on the first pitch by Blake Wood (not Soria) and then sitting Soria just because it wasn’t a save situation last night.  Maybe Soria gives up the homer and the lead on his own in those two games.  Fine.  I’ll move on from that, too.

I want to look at the big picture.

The Royals have seven weeks of baseball left in them and they will lose more games than they win.  Accepting that fact today will make it easier to focus on what’s important.

These guys are gonna be exciting to follow (once we get out of 2011).

I really hate qualifying so much, but it’s the only way I can maintain perspective without pulling my hair out.

In the last two games, Jeff Francoeur, born January 8, 1984, was the oldest Royal on the field.  The average age of the batting order was 24.4 years old. The dean of the Royals infield is Alcides Escobar at the salty age of 24.  Salvador Perez, making his major league debut on Thursday, is the first player in Royals history born in the 1990s.

Point is, they’re young.

They’ll make mistakes.  It’s part of learning to win.

I won’t go so far as to say that the record doesn’t matter.  That would be irresponsible as a fan.  The only reason to be a fan is to believe that things will turn around.

The exciting part of the rest of this year will be watching the development of the vaunted prospects.  Will Eric Hosmer continue to produce? Will Johnny Giavotella improve his defense at major league speeds? Will Sal Perez gun down two guys every night?

Even more important than those questions is watching how this team gels as a unit.  They’ve been handed the keys and given responsibility for the direction of the organization.

Many of these players have been on the same team together at various levels and won together.  Their job is to figure out how to do so in the brightest lights and on the biggest stage in their industry.  There aren’t mentors easing them in, it’s sink or swim time.

And you know, that may be the best approach.  Winners rise to the top, no matter the age.  Bret Saberhagen* debuted a week before his 20th birthday in 1984 and won the Cy Young Award the next season.  Andruw Jones debuted as a 19-year-old almost fifteen years ago and was an MVP candidate at 23.

*A few years later, Saberhagen threw a no-hitter for the Royals. Call to the Pen has a breakdown of his 1991 achievement.

Special players tell you when they’re ready by their performance.  Eric Hosmer forced the Royals hand by dominating Triple A for five weeks after a solid spring training and bust out 2010 season.  Johnny Giavotella had more hits as a pro than everybody not named Adrian Gonzalez.  Salvador Perez looked like he’d been behind the plate at this level for ten years last night, showing a dangerous combination of a cannon arm, quick reactions and the guile to use them both to pick off two, nearly three, baserunners.  He also took a two-strike pitch and put it in play, driving in a run on a sacrifice fly.  All the while, he looked comfortable on the field and directing traffic.

The bullpen, despite some rough spots recently, has been an asset.  The combination of Aaron Crow, Louis Coleman and Greg Holland gives the Royals a solid relief core behind Soria (if Crow ends up staying in the bullpen, that is).

Even Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino, at a combined age of 49, look like good options next season out of the rotation and Luke Hochevar, an old man of 28, is having an encouraging second half of 2011.

This team entered today one run behind division-leading Detroit.  In one-run games, they’re 20-23.  To me, that suggests that the Royals are getting closer to doing those “little things” to win and with experience and maybe two upgrades in the starting rotation, many of of those one-run losses will go the other way.  Those one-run games represent 36% of the season’s results so far.  Who wouldn’t want to tip those scales in Kansas City’s favor?

I wish they’d win right away, but it does take time. I know as Royals fans, we’ve been told that before and had hopes dashed like the girl who waits for the phone to ring on prom night.  We’ve been stood up and the impatience is only natural.

There may be a few more wild nights like Wednesday where things go crazy, but sooner rather than later, they’ll start to figure things out together, clean up the mistakes, and get that two-out hit to score somebody.

It’s just going to be a little awkward for a while longer.

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