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A Sunday Sweep

Royals fans have gone through a LOT over the past ten seasons, but 2005 is going to be something far worse than anything any of us have ever seen before. That may not come as a surprise to some outside the Kansas City inner circle, seeing as the Royals are probably the least-talented club in the American League, and as a result, never were on any sort of a track to pocket even 70 wins this season. However, while even the most passionate of Royals fans would tell you that the numbers in the win/loss columns would heavily favor the “loss” side, I don’t think any of us foresaw this train wreck coming.

I’ve grown fond of saying that as it relates to baseball (and young players and teams specifically), the process of achieving a result is equally as important as the result itself. A result – such as home runs, runs batted in, wins, and saves – certainly tells us how good a young player was in one of his first few seasons, but the steps he took towards reaching those figures are better indicators for the likelihood of future successes or failures. These processes can go beyond statistics and sabermetrically-encouraged metrics; walks for hitters and strikeouts for pitchers can only tell us so much. It’s also a question of how a position player responded in the game following his first 0-5 night at the plate or how a young pitcher responds to giving up a hit and a walk before being taken out of the yard by a veteran hitter. For fielders, it’s about hitting a cutoff man and things of that ilk. Basically, it’s all about making adjustments, both to the league and to their own games to improve. Those 20-somethings who adjust have lengthy major league careers, while those who don’t flame out faster than Michael Richards’ attempt at his own NBC sitcom.

Managers and coaches have plenty to do with whether or not their young players make the necessary adjustments. While one would think a “players’ manager” like Tony Pena (who played catcher for two decades) would be a guy bursting at the seams to help The Inexperienced Ones get through their major league growing pains, one would apparently be very wrong, judging by this excerpt from the April 24, 2005 postgame article on kcroyals.com:

KANSAS CITY -- Maybe a day off is just what the doctor ordered for the Royals and manager Tony Pena.

Pena had a simple plan for Monday's gap in the schedule.

"Sleep," he said wearily. "Sleep. Sleep. Sleep."
While I’m very sure that the Royals’ 5-14 start has weighed much more heavily on Pena’s shoulders than it has mine, it’s also true that his job is to manage this ballclub, maximizing the abilities each player on the roster. That he manages a club in one of the two or three very smallest markets in baseball only makes his job description that much more detailed and time-consuming, as accelerating the developmental processes of select young players at the major league level is much more of a necessity here than it is in New York or Los Angeles. That means there’s an added responsibility for Pena that other managers don’t have, and as we all know, you can’t take care of responsibilities by sleeping them off.

Way back in 1999 and 2000 when the Minnesota Twins were at the same stage of their rebuilding process the Royals are at now, the Doug Mientkiewiczes, Torii Hunters, Corey Koskies, and Jacque Joneses were just making names for themselves in the major leagues. They also made a ton of fundamental mistakes and lost games as a result, but the Twins’ manager at the time, Tom Kelly, frequently took the time to explain to each guy how he could get better by eliminating those mistakes. In fact, I vividly remember the image of Kelly, after his team blew a game they should’ve won, ordering all 25 guys back to the Metrodome pitchers’ mound for a crash-course in baseball fundamentals before they were allowed to leave the park. Tony should’ve been taking yesterday not to sleep, but to come to the park with the entire team for a day-long practice and reinforcement session.

Although not every player currently on the roster is a non-veteran, there are entirely too many correctable and stupid mistakes being made by both the kids and the veterans right now. Ruben Gotay struck out four times on Sunday, each a swinging third strike at the same offspeed pitch in the dirt. On Friday, Matt Diaz overthrew two cutoff men and tried to score the game-winning run on a ball that barely got away from A.J. Pierzynski. Neither Mike Sweeney nor Eli Marrero is being patient enough at the plate, while Angel Berroa horribly botched a simple rundown play on Sunday afternoon. There’s just no excuse for why Pena probably isn’t going to take the time to work with them, especially when these ridiculous errors are causing the Royals to look like something far worse than a Triple-A ballclub. That’s something Pena should care about, but if he doesn’t, it’s time for the Royals to look in another direction for the right man to manage this team.

Other thoughts from Sunday...

  • Denny Bautista started Sunday's game, and it looked like he was going to have another disastrous start after what we saw in the first inning. Chicago's first two hitters, Scott Podsednik (a real pest who fights his way on base) and Willie Harris, both drew walks on ten pitches. After falling behind in the count again, Paul Konerko hit a screaming line drive to left that was fortunately right at Diaz. Ross Gload's run-scoring hit and yet another walk to Aaron Rowand had me convinced that Denny might not make it out of the second inning, but he found a way to work around his self-imposed problems (he only threw ten strikes in his 25-pitch frame), "escaping" with a minimal two runs scoring.

    Whatever changes pitching coach Guy Hansen had him make before going out to the second is a testament to both Hansen's incredible understanding of pitchers and Bautista's ability and willingness to make and execute those changes. Check out his line after what was obviously a fluke first inning:


    The numbers don't lie in this case, especially in the number of pitches he threw. 50 of those 74 pitches were strikes, or 68 percent. However, what was most impressive was simply the way Bautista dealt with adversity. He couldn't buy a strike call in his first inning of work, but he made the necessary changes to his mindset/delivery/pace, and reaped the rewards. This guy's stuff is so unbelievably filthy that the American League is going to have more than just a handful when (not if) he discovers his control.

  • Speaking of young pitchers with filthy stuff, Andrew Sisco is looking more and more like the real deal. Adversity is sure to come his way as well, but he's been the Royals' best reliever to date, and his combination of being a big left-handed Rule 5 draftee with a hot fastball and fading offspeed pitch has visions of Johan Santana v2.0 dancing in my head. In his last three appearances spanning 3.2 innings of work, Sisco's struck out seven batters against only one walk. For the season, he's fanned 15 in 14 innings of work, allowing only seven hits for a 1.29 ERA.

  • The Royals gave Sisco a new bullpenmate before Saturday's game, sending down Nate Field to make room for flame-throwing righty and KRB favorite Ambiorix Burgos. In addition to inheriting at least a partial stake of closer duties, Ambiorix (pronounced Am-BEE-or-ee) also instantly gained the title of Coolest Name in Baseball. The Royals may suck, but with Burgos and Mike MacDougal possibly pitching back-to-back innings, at least the late innings of games will be VERY entertaining for the rest of the year. Heck, they might not even need fielders with all the strikeouts and walks that'll be doled out by the duo.

    The Royals might want to consider getting a few more of those " Be alert - Baseballs can and often do leave the field of play" warning signs for the fans, however.

  • Could Diaz be Tom Brady's long-lost brother?

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