Moose sent down

I’m a day or two after the party on this (see the end of the last post re: being in the mountains of California), but I did see that the Royals finally sent Mike Moustakas to Triple-A Omaha.

It had to happen. Although he has shown glimpses of breaking out, the fact remains that it is the last week of May and he is yet to have a stretch of consistently performing even passably well. Even worse, between the few games where he has looked like remembering how to bat (eg, the 3 RBI game against Colorado) he has looked completely lost. I lost count of the number of times in the past few weeks I saw him strike out swinging at a pitch well outside the strike zone. He has clearly been straining mentally and it was not getting better. Sending him to Omaha was certainly the best thing for him and the club at this point.

How long he will be there is the interesting question. He batted superbly in Spring Training, so I would not rush to recall him even if he hits .500 for a couple or weeks. Danny Valencia has performed decently and can has played every day at the major league level plenty, so he can hold the third base spot for a while. I would let Moose play at Omaha for at least a month, even if he looks like he has got things back together right away. I suspect he needs time to really settle in, find his form again and just put the first seven weeks of this season out of his mind.


Major victories do not come often for the Royals. As far as relatively recent history goes, we mostly just have that time we swept the Cardinals in St Louis. The next best thing is for the Yankees to lose. If we are the ones to beat them then so much the better, but watching the Yankees lose when it really matters almost literally leaves a sweet taste in one’s mouth. There are many things to hate about the Yankees: their arrogance, their selfishness, the fact that they think they are entitled to victories and the fact that their glory hunters fill Kauffman Stadium every time they come to town. Robinson Cano recently added another one by snubbing Billy Butler for the Home Run Derby. Billy is not quite a bona fide home run hitter it is true, but he is having a very good year and has actually hit more home runs than Prince Fielder right now. More importantly, however, the Home Run Derby is there to put on a show for the fans and the show would have been a lot nicer with Billy Butler playing in front of his home town crowd. It does not matter which league wins, in fact more than a few Royals fans were cheering for Carlos Beltran of the National League!

But Cano, after hinting that he might choose Butler, chose Mark Trumbo instead. He decided that his league winning a meaningless contest was more important than entertaining the fans who were paying to watch. It was a very typically Yankee thing to do; he may as well have actually stuck two fingers up at the fans. But Royals fans are a mostly knowledgeable bunch. They recognised the snub and responded appropriately: they booed Cano in batting practice, they booed Cano when he was announced and they booed him when he came to the plate whilst mixing in some ‘Billy Butler’ chants. All that was to be expected, but where they really shone was that they never let up. It would have been easy to throw some boos at him and then return to ‘normal service’, but they did not. They booed every pitch to him and roared every time he failed to hit a home run. It clearly got ot Cano who stepped out twice to towel himself off and take another drink of Gatorade. No other player had stepped out at all as far as I had seen. His reception continued and Cano did not manage to hit a single home run, the only player to so fail. Cano snubbed Kansas City and was brought to his knees by our fans. It almost tastes as good as Alex Rodriguez striking out to end the Yankees season last October. I have never been prouder to be a Royals fan; we may be few but we are the best in baseball.

Problems with the All-Star Game

I have been following the build up to the All-Star Game this year as it is taking place in Kansas City. I’m really happy about it being in KC and I’m quite looking forward to Kauffman Stadium being shown off in a major event (hoping there are more than a few appearances in October over the next few years too) but that is the extent of my joy. The reasons why I have stopped following the All-Star Game over the past few years have been rather forcefully brought back home.

The first is one on which I have touched already: the fan vote. I could accept the fans voting for the reserves, but they are simply not well enough informed to make the choice of starters. Prince Fielder at first base? Derek Jeter at short? David Ortiz at designated hitter? The ignorance on show is breathtaking. ESPN have a lot for which to answer, but in the end the fans should not be voting if they cannot distinguish fame from talent.

But it seems that the managers are little better. I was already unhappy with the Rangers’ manager Ron Washington after picking Aaron Crow as the Royals’ one All-Star last year. Make no mistake, Crow was having a terrific year and was not undeserving. But he was not more deserving than Alex Gordon who has having a career year and would go on to win a gold glove. This year Washington chose Billy Butler, an excellent choice, and no one else. Not one other Royal in the year we are hosting the All-Star Game. I know we are a sub .500 team, but I am not asking for a large number of players. Just some recognition that we do have quite a few good ones and that now would be the time to give our players the benefit! But Washington decided to choose his own shortstop, Elvis Andrus, over Alcides Escobar despite Escobar having a higher batting average (the highest of all AL shortstops at the time of the decision), having hit more home runs and being one of the two best defensive shortstops in the league with Asdrubal Cabrera (who did get picked) being the other one. It is an obvious and appalling show of bias. Washington also picked three more of his own players despite already getting three voted in. As I said, I did not really like him anyway, but after this bit of selfishness I am furious. I very much hope that not only do his Rangers not only blow their lead in the AL West, but that they are hit by a major scandal and that Washington has to resign in disgrace.

My annoyance does not end there, though that is its apex. Major League Baseball has finally moved away from the ‘this time it counts’ slogan for the All-Star Game, presumably deciding that everyone has managed to work that out now almost ten years after it first ‘counted’. Unfortunately they only stopped using the slogan, not the ridiculous practice itself. For those unfamiliar, currently the league that wins the All-Star Game gets home advantage in the World Series. This means that managers are supposed to make a special effort to win the game despite the entire set up making it hard to do so! No sane manager would approach a game he wants to win by having the best starting pitcher in the league go only two innings; he would expect at least seven out of the pitcher and be hoping for nine. I also doubt he would pick the best player at each position (or even make a misguided attempt to do so) for the rest of the lineup. Rather, one would want to pick the group of players who best fit together as a team. The set up the whole game is that of an exhibition for the fans, not one where winning is the primary goal. To make it otherwise decreases the spectacle.

It is a few years since I last followed the All-Star Game. As much as I am enjoying having Kansas City and Kauffman Stadium in the spotlight, (and I am very much enjoying it) I am rather looking forward to ignoring the whole ridiculous affair again next year.

Royals’ draft pick

The Royals had the fifth pick overall in the draft this year and have selected a pitcher, right-handed Kyle Zimmer. I don’t know a lot about him, but he looks very talented and a good choice. His stats at the University of University of San Francisco are excellent, after transferring from being a third baseman. He was our expected pick, partly I think because from an organisational standpoint it looks like a good fit. Whilst it’s hard to say where we will be in five or so years, we have fairly set options at most other places. Good pitching is always important anyway and in our case I think it will still be one of our more pressing needs in the future.

I am confident about this pick. Apart from anything else, we have done a very good job with the draft picks in the past, most of our first round picks from a few years ago are well established in the major leagues. I have a lot of confidence in our scouting and development programmes and assuming he signs I look forward to seeing Zimmer come through the system.

Update: Here are some of those stats.

Injury woes

The Royals announced today that Danny Duffy will very likely undergo Tommy John surgery after coming out of Sunday’s game after just 2/3 of an inning. He will thus join Soria in being out for the rest of the season and in Duffy’s case he will miss at least the first month of the 2013 season as well.

This is a continuation of a bad trend for the Royals. As I type this, the 34th game of the year is being played in Texas. In Spring Training and those first 33 games of the season the Royals have sent six pitchers to the DL. Joakim Soria, Blake Wood, Felipe Paulino, Greg Holland and Jonathan Sanchez are the other five and their absences have all hurt the Royals. I have lost count of the number of roster moves we have made; there has been a revolving door between the bullpen and Omaha. Nate Adcock returned to the Royals today after spending less than 48 hours at Omaha. In addition to the pitchers there have also been two would-be starting position players, Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain, placed on the DL and a pair of reserves, Manny Pina and Yuniesky Betancourt, are also unavailable. (Though Betancourt’s injury is probably more of a benefit to the Royals than anything else.) It’s no excuse for our record, of course, (the Nationals and Orioles both have more injury concerns and are both in or near first place anyway) but it is a significant hurdle. For such a young side to lose a very promising catcher, an all-star closer and a large chunk of the pitching staff is to ask probably too much of those remaining.

This could be bad luck, but the more injuries we see the less likely that is to be the case. It could also be something more worrying. Either the training staff need to look hard at what the problem could be or the front office need to look hard at the training staff. There was not a lot expected of the Royals this season and thus not a lot to be lost by these injuries, but in the upcoming years that stops being the case. We can still (theoretically) play over .500 with these injuries, but if we have to use the DL ten times before England play a Test in 2013 or 2014 it will likely scupper any hopes we may have of competing for the Central Division title.

Losing streak

The Royals face the Blue Jays tonight having not yet won a home game. Luckily we’ve only played six, but a six game home losing streak (and seven games overall) is something that certainly appears to be worrying. I think, however, that this is a very different losing streak to the ones that have derailed us in seasons past.

My reason for that thought is that we have been in these matches, especially those against the Tigers. The Tigers have been almost universally tipped to win the division and we could have won at least two, if not all three, games. Most importantly, though, we fought hard in all three. They are certainly the better team and if we had simply been swept (ie, without it being part of an extended losing streak) I don’t think there would have been any complaints with the performance. We made a very good team work hard for nine innings in three games, it is hard to ask for more than that.

The three losses to Cleveland were rather worse affairs, but three games will not ruin a season. We did not play well in those, the pitching especially disintegrated for no clear reason. Whilst neither are reasons for undue concern (and I am not unduly concerned) it does mean that we need to win the series against Toronto, preferably starting tonight. If we play as well as we did against Detroit I think that will happen. The important thing will be for the players not to panic and start pushing too hard. There was some discussion in the last few games that they may already be doing that, so I think the biggest job for Yost and the coaching staff will be to keep the players calm. Do that, and I think it will be a comfortable game tonight.

2012 MLB preview

It’s almost Opening Day! Well technically it already happened, in Japan, but that is one of the stupidest things MLB have done recently and that’s saying a lot. The real, proper, season starts this week when the Cardinals visit the Florida Miami Marlins on the fourth (as part of a one game ‘series’, further evidence that the schedule setters were high as a kite this off-season) and by the time the Royals play the Angels on Friday evening the season will be under way for everyone. I’m not going to do a team-by-team preview for all thirty clubs the way I did for the LV=CC, but instead go over each division and give my predictions:
AL West
The division boils down to Rangers, Angels = good; Mariners, A’s = poor. At the bottom of the division will be the Mariners and A’s. They split the pretend opening series in Japan, but it looks on paper that the Mariners are the better team. Their offence doesn’t look much better than last year, though Ichiro could reasonably be expected to improve and their pitching should still be passable. The A’s have brought in Manny Ramirez, which reeks of desperation. At the top, the Rangers lost CJ Wilson, but gained Yu Darvish. The Angels very publicly gained Albert Pujols and… CJ Wilson. That might hurt Texas. The notion for them is that Darvish will be enough to both fill in for CJ Wilson and negate the fact that the Angels acquired him. We don’t know if the very large sum the Rangers paid out to Darvish will be worth it, but the Rangers have to worry that he will be to them what Fenando Torres is for Chelsea and there seems little chance that he will fully justify the nine digit figure that the Rangers had to pay out. Ultimately if the Rangers win some sort of title it will, rather frustratingly, be deemed enough. My prediction for the final standings:
Rangers (wc2)
AL Central
The Tigers are favourites to win by a distance; they have Justin Verlander and have acquired Prince Fielder in the off-season. There really is no team in the division that look like they can challenge them. The Indians have a good looking lineup, but the pitching looks dodgy and they never made their success last year look like anything but a fluke. The Twins were desperately unlucky to finish as low as they did last year, but they have lost a few players in the off-season. It’s hard to ever write them off, but they seem less likely than usual to make the division close. The White Sox have lost their manager and best pitcher in the off-season. Last year was not good for them, they finished below .500, and I expect this one will be worse. I will go into more detail on the Royals later, but I think we will play well without pushing for the division title. Standings (and note that the Tigers will have a large lead):
White Sox
AL East
A division that contains one sixth of the teams in the major leagues and yet gets at least half of the media attention. The Yankees and Red Sox will play each other 19 times again this year and every one of them will be treated as the most important game of the year. They will all be impossibly dull five hour affairs. As part of my effort to offset this, I will simply skip straight to my prediction:
Rays (wc1)
Red Sox
Blue Jays
NL West
Of the five teams in the NL West, the Padres are the only ones who have not made the playoffs at least once in the past five years and they were a hairsbreadth from doing so in 2007 and only a game away in 2010. A different team has won the division in each of the last three years and last year Arizona went from being terrible in 2010 to winning outright. This is all a roundabout way of saying that it’s hard to predict what will happen. Arizona look like they can carry last year’s form into this one though, and the Giants always look pretty good. The Rockies would need some luck, but they could compete too. The only teams that really look out are the Dodgers and Padres. Prediction:
Diamondbacks (wc2)
NL Central
Last year the Cardinals won the wild card on the last day of the season, partially by winning their last game against the 56-106 Astros. They, and the other teams in the NL Central, will have one more year in which to make the most of that advantage before the Astros leave for the AL West. The composition of the teams is rather different from last year, but a lot of the dynamics seem the same. The Brewers should be good with the Cardinals and Reds both competing. The Pirates will hope to continue toward a winning season whilst the Cubs would be last in any other division, but this time are saved by the Astros, who look like they’ll do well to avoid another hundred loss season. More specifically:
(In other words, exactly the same as last year.)
NL East
The Florida Marlins are no more. Now they’re the Miami Marlins with a new stadium a new (terrible) logo and new (terrible) uniforms. They’ve also spent some money to bring in some big name free agents and look like they will be competitive. The Phillies still have the best rotation in baseball, but now their best hitters are all injured and they look unlikely to recreate their 102 win season from last year. The Braves finished last year by choking hilariously and missing the playoffs by a game to St Louis. They seem to have written it off as a fluke and made very few changes in the offseason. I think that will backfire, however, and that they’ll be a lot more than a game off the mark. The Nats probably will not compete for the top spot, but they are well placed to reap the rewards of their young talent and should be above .500. The Mets look like a team in disarray and will be hoping everything goes disastrously wrong for one of their opponents. Prediction:
Phillies (wc1)

The playoffs now have the one game ‘play-in’ for the wild card. Even if I could be really confident of the teams even contesting the match, there is no way to accurately predict the results of those matches this far in advance. But it’s pretty unlikely that any of the other predictions will be accurate either so I’ll go ahead and have the Rangers beat the Rays and the Diamondbacks beat the Phillies. Division series: Tigers v Rangers, Yankees v Angels, Brewers v Diamondbacks, Giants v Marlins. Championship series: Tigers v Angels, Brewers v Giants. World Series Tigers v Giants, Tigers to win in five games.

My specific prediction for the Royals is an 85-77 finish. It won’t be near enough to compete and as mentioned above I think it will only be enough for third, though some fortune might see us in second. The offence still looks good. Even if Hosmer falls off a bit there is a lot of talent there as evidenced by the fact that the .250 hitting Alcides Escobar is amongst the worst hitters in the lineup. The question is still the starting pitching. Chen will take Opening Day, with Hochevar going on the seventh. That was a surprise when announced, but regardless of the order in which they pitch a rotation of Chen, Hochevar, Sanchez, Mendoza and Duffy does not look all that intimidating. The hope will be that Mendoza and Duffy have breakout seasons and Lancashire have shown that young talent can come through quickly. There’s a reason it was so surprising when Lancs won the title last year though. Off the field, Rex Hudler promises to reach Tony Greig levels of annoyance in the commentary box. I don’t think he’s quite at the level of Ravi Shastri, but he has 140 games in which to try. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on him later in the year.

This post also appears on The Armchair Selector.

Bad news, everyone

Salvador Perez under went his knee surgery today and it is expected that it will be ’12-14 weeks before he is fully recovered’. I don’t know if that includes the presumed minor league rehab assignment or not, but it looks certain that he will miss the first half or so of the season.

This is very bad news. Obviously it’s bad in that we have lost a very promising young catcher for three months, but also in that the Royals don’t really have a reliable replacement. Brayan Pena is the presumptive beneficiary, but for all his enthusiasm he is not, or at least not yet, a first choice major league catcher. He can bat fairly well (though one would not want to rely on him getting hits), but his gloveowrk is shoddy. That’s the most important aspect for me, I wouldn’t mind if he hit .200 if he was solid defensively, but he isn’t. And although he does bat okay, it isn’t near enough to compensate for the runs and bases he leaks behind the plate. Also, I have been less than impressed with his pitch-calling. He was an okay backup for someone like Jason Kendall or Matt Treanor, from whom he could learn, but I do not rate him as an everyday player. It is a huge blow.

Get the pitchforks…

I’ve been fairly cross ever since the start times of all the Royals games were finalised. Most of them are fine, but Opening Day is at 21.05 CDT. Nine in the evening. Nine. It’s absurd. Opening Day is a day game, it’s right there in the name. At home the usual start time is 15.10, but even on the road it’s always in the afternoon. Except this year. This year the game won’t even be over until after midnight.

This may sound like some pointless whingeing, and to an extent it is, but it’s not merely an aversion to change. Opening Day is a holiday and for me it is second only to Christmas (and that’s a close second). It’s a celebration of the start of spring, of the start of the proper summer sports. (Usually the County Championship starts after the baseball season, plus I live in America, so Opening Day is the more significant marker.) It is far more important and relevant than Easter. And like any holiday it is a day of traditions. I accept that sometimes it isn’t feasible to celebrate in the same way every year (eg, it is not possible to barbecue in the rain) but some things are more central than others. The fact that the game is in the afternoon is one of those. One doesn’t even get a day off work for a 21.05 start. Imagine being forced to wait until teatime on Christmas Day to celebrate and one will get a good sense of the disruption.

Of course, I’ve known for ages (and been rather cross) that the game will not start until late, but the reason I am especially cross today is that I found out why. ESPN, who I dislike anyway, decided to broadcast it nationally, necessitating that it start after all the other games. Effectively, ESPN have ruined one of the best days of the year. I need to find a pitchfork and a flaming torch.