Royals rest-of-2011 wish list

With 31 games left in the Royals’ 2011 season, here is my semi-optimistic-but-not-crazy wish list for what I’d like to see:

  1. Climb out of the cellar.  We’re currently in last place, but we’re only 1.5 games behind the Twins.  That’s not too bad considering how badly we’ve done over the last couple weeks (facing the AL East didn’t do us any favors).  We’ve got 12 games left against the Indians and Tigers, but the other 19 games (including 5 against the Twins) don’t look too bad.
  2. Moose cutting loose.  Over the last week or so, Moustakas has started showing signs of turning things around.  Moose has always struggled each time he moved up a level, and then followed that with solid performances.  If he can get the struggles out of the way this year, that could mean an exciting 2012 for him.
  3. Go Johnny go!  There’s been some talk of a 3-way competition for our 2012 second base spot (Gio/Getz/Navarro), but it’d be great if Gio plays so well that we go into the offseason viewing second base as his to lose.
  4. Minor pitching improvements.  Our star pitching prospects in the minors have struggled this year (excepting Duffy).  Aside from generally wanting our prospects to do better (duh), it’d be great to see at least 1 minor league pitcher use September to stake a claim to a 2012 rotation spot.  My preference would be for one of the higher-upside guys (like Montgomery or Dwyer), but I’d be encouraged even if it were SOS, Mazzaro, or Luis Mendoza.

So what’re you looking for from the rest of this season?

Chiefs’ schedule + Magic Eight Ball = 7-9 season?

Don’t worry – I’m not abandoning the Royals 2011 season, but with the Chiefs’ first pre-season game in just two days, I figured it’s time to start giving them some blog love, too.  Let’s kick things off by taking a quick look at our schedule and my prediction for how many games we’ll win.  I’ve also included each opponent’s ranking in ESPN’s just-released first Power Rankings for the season (they’ve got the Chiefs ranked #14, by the way).

  1. Win vs. Buf (31)
  2. Win* @Det (18)
  3. Loss @SD (10)
  4. Win vs. Min (25)
  5. Loss @Ind (8)
  6. Bye
  7. Loss* @Oak (23)
  8. Loss* vs. SD (10)
  9. Win vs. Mia (24)
  10. Win vs. Den (27)
  11. Loss @NE (2)
  12. Loss vs. Pitt (5)
  13. Loss* @Chi (13)
  14. Loss @NYJ (7)
  15. Loss vs. GB (1)
  16. Win vs. Oak (23)
  17. Win* @Den (27)

That works out to a 7-9 record, courtesy of that absolutely brutal week 11-15 stretch.  Just for kicks, though, I also went through and put *’s next to 5 games that were borderline for me, games that wouldn’t surprise me if they went the other way.  To me, these will be the key to our season.  I’ve got us going 2-3 in these games, but if we can pull most of these out, we could finish 9-7, which might be good enough to win the AFC West.  Here’s a closer look at those games:

  • Week 2: Win @Det – I’m predicting a win here, but the Lions scare me a bit this year.  They’ve drafted well the last couple years, and their number 1 question is whether Stafford can stay healthy.  Unfortunately for us, we play them in week 2, so there’s a small chance Stafford is still healthy.  Still, I figure a few well-timed “Tampering!” taunts will cause Gunther to lose it and start calling 11-man blitzes on every play.
  • Week 7: Loss @Oak – I know the Raiders are ranked 23 by ESPN, so it seems odd to predict a loss, but Al Davis’s lads swept the AFC West last year.  Plus, playing in Oakland always makes me nervous, regardless of our success there prior to last year.  Maybe a better way to put this is that I figure odds are we’ll lose either this game or the Detroit one.
  • Week 8: Loss vs. SD – Give me this game early in the year, and I’ll pick the Chiefs.  But this is a week 8 game, and generally speaking, this is when the Chargers get tired of having a sub-.500 record and start playing well.  Any chance we have at the AFC West title will likely hinge on us getting at least a season split with the Bolts – which is why I would rather have swapped our week 3 game in San Diego with this one.
  • Week 13: Loss @Chi – I’ve got us losing here, but I think this is really a question of how we handle adversity.  At this point, we’ve likely come off back-to-back losses to the Patriots and Steelers, and we’re looking at the Jets and Packers after this game.  If we don’t win this one, this has the makings of a season-crushing 5-game losing streak.
  • Week 17: Win @Den – Denver’s looking to be really awful this year, but at this point, both of us are likely out of the playoff race, and a “just for bragging rights” division game at the end of a season seems like it should favor the home team.  Still, it’s the Donkeys, so I’ve gotta pick the Chiefs.

All that said, I do think we’re improving as a team, but a big reason for last year’s 10-6 record was the cake schedule we had, and this year’s schedule  is looking decidedly un-cake.  So… what do you think?

Royals calling up Salvador Perez, deny child labor law violations

Just when you thought the Royals couldn’t get any younger, the KC Star reports that they’re calling up Salvador Perez today.  In case you haven’t been following Perez, he’s a 21-year-old who’s considered our catcher of the future.  His defensive skills get rave reviews, and his bat has recently started catching up.  He has spent most of this year at AA, but he was promoted to AAA a couple weeks ago.  He has played well at AAA, but we’re talking about a mere 10 games at AAA.   So why now, you ask?  It’s because Brayan Pena is going to be gone for a few days for the birth of his child, and Treanor is still having post-concussion symptoms.

Royals Review has a good analysis of this move’s implications.  My guess is we demote Teaford to make room for Perez, but I have no idea who comes off the 40-man roster so we can add Perez.  And when Pena comes back in a few days?  And when Treanor comes back maybe a few days after that?  Your guess is as good as mine, but given we’re in full player development mode, I wouldn’t be surprised if Perez stays on in at least a platoon role with someone.

UPDATE: It appears we’ve released Kyle Davies to make room on the 40-man roster for Perez.  We still need to make a 25-man roster move, though, since Davies was on the DL.

UPDATE 2: Apparently, the MLB has a “paternity leave” list that lets players not count against the 25-man roster for up to 3 days.  We’ve put Pena on that list, which lets us call up Perez without sending anyone else down.  Who knew?

Royals notes: Johnny Be Good edition

So how good was Johnny Giavotella’s debut this weekend?  Let’s just put it this way – Hosmer’s reportedly upset that he’s no longer the only Royal being compared to Jesus and Chuck Norris.  All kidding aside, though, Gio had about as good of a debut series as anyone could have imagined.  He went 5 for 11 at the plate with 3 extra-base hits (including his first major league home run), had key hits in close games, and perhaps most importantly to his doubters, he played good defense.  If you didn’t see it, check out his leaping grab of this flare in Saturday’s game and this nice scoop on a low throw from Escobar in Sunday’s game.  It’s only 3 games, but it was definitely encouraging.

Making a move on 4th place, but…
Don’t look now, but the Royals are 12-11 since the All-Star break and only 2 games behind the 4th-place Twins.  (Sidenote, but if I’m still blogging about only being 2 games back of 4th place next August, we can officially consider Mission 2012 an epic fail.)  However, we’ve got a brutal schedule for the rest of August.  We’ve got: 4 @Rays, 3 @ChiSox, 3 vs. Yankees, 4 vs. BoSox, 3 @Toronto, 3 @Indians, 3 @Tigers.  Yowza.  Not only is the competition rough, but only 7 of those 23 games are at home.  Realistically, if we go 10-13 the rest of the month, I think we should be pretty pleased.

The Butler did it – but why does he admit it?
Billy Butler’s home run streak last week (and his overall hot streak the last month) has generated a ton of attention from Royals fans.  Butler credited some changes Seitzer helped him out with: “Getting my hands higher, working down to the ball and it creates more backspin.”  This is all well and good, but it made me wonder, why tell anyone?  Folks in baseball always talk about how baseball’s a game of constant adjustments as pitchers and batters keep adapting to each other – so if that’s the case, why make it easy on the opponent by letting them know what adjustment you just made?  Maybe it’s because things like this are easy to spot on tape?  But even then, you’d still give the opponent a chance to miss it if you keep your mouth shut.  Anyway, it just seems odd to me, especially when you compare it to football where Bill Belichick won’t even tell you what size shoe his o-line coach is wearing.

Baconator is dead. Long live Country Breakfast!
As I mentioned last time, it appears Butler has a new nickname: Country Breakfast.  Much as I loved his old nickname (the Baconator), I think it’s time to embrace Country Breakfast.  After all, not only does Butler dig the new nickname, but now there’s a t-shirt for it – and doesn’t everything become official once it’s on a t-shirt?

Rany rules
Rany’s posts are always great reads, but his two most recent ones are especially interesting.  One is about why we didn’t trade any of the most likely trade candidates, and the other poses the question of how does Paulino compare to Ubaldo Jimenez.  I highly recommend you read them both.  Heck, if you’re short on time, I recommend you read them instead of my ramblings.  =)

Because I’m required to make fun of Cardinals fans…
I recently learned that Kansas City and St. Louis have a rivalry.  I’m not being sarcastic, but somehow, despite growing up in Kansas City, following KC sports since I was a little kid, and now living in KC again – I’ve never been aware that there was this KC-StL rivalry over, well, everything.  So in an attempt to make up for my non-participation in this for most of my life, I’d like to share with you an entertaining interview that SB Nation did with one Josh “Randy” Sullivan, Cardinals fan extraordinaire.  And in case you have no idea who he is, you might know him from this picture from several years ago.

Royals 2011: Back to the Minors

With the non-waiver trade deadline past, many Royals fans have turned their focus to our minor leagues and who might merit a call-up.  In particular, Lorenzo Cain and Johnny Giavotella are garnering a lot of attention… and angst.  What’s the hubbub, bub?  Check it out.

Cain is a 25-year-old center fielder who has been raking at Omaha and playing outstanding defense by all accounts.  He’s hitting .318/.389/.522, and that’s after batting .306/.348/.415 in 147 major league at-bats last year with the Brewers.  That explains the attention, but why the angst, you ask?  Well, the first is that Omaha plays in the Pacific Coast League, which is a ridiculously batter-friendly league.  The PCL’s average batting numbers are .286/.360/.452 – so Cain’s numbers are good, but aside from his .522 slug, they’re not ludicrous.  Secondly, he strikes out a lot, though to be fair, he has been improving in that area lately.  The biggest problem, though, is that since we didn’t trade away Melky or Frenchy, there’s no room for Cain in KC.  So barring injury or us sneaking Melky/Frenchy through waivers, it’s not clear how we’d get Cain any substantial major league playing time this year.

As for Giavotella (or Gio, as you’ll often see him called), the dude is a 24-year-old hitting machine who plays second base for Omaha.  There are some question marks about his defense (what I’ve read calls has his defense ranging from adequate to awful), but the guy can hit.  He’s currently batting .339/.391/.482 at Omaha (remember the above comment on the PCL averages, though), which follows a .322/.395/.460 campaign at AA Northwest Arkansas last year.  He has been especially hot this summer with a .391 average and 7 HR’s in June/July.  The Replace-Getz-with-Gio bandwagon has been picking up steam this summer, and when Davies hurt his shoulder this past weekend, Gio fans got their hopes up only to see them dashed when Teaford got the call-up instead.  BUT… if you check out the KC Star today, you’ll find a quote from Dayton Moore saying he wants to get Gio 100-150 major league at-bats this year.  To do that, he’ll need to be an everyday starter for the KC club within the next couple weeks – which means it’s likely Getz will be moved to a back-up role or possibly traded (offhand, he seems like someone we could sneak through waivers, enabling a trade).

So staying on the topic of the minor leagues, here are a few more points of interest…

Good day to be a Royals minor league pitcher
July 31st was encouraging for some of our key pitching prospects.  At AAA, Mike Montgomery rebounded from a couple rough outings with a solid 7-inning, 3-run performance.  Most importantly, he only walked one.  Meanwhile, at AA, Chris Dwyer threw a 7-inning, 1-run outing, and like Monty, he only gave up one walk.  This was especially encouraging, given that this now gives him two good starts in a row, which I think are also his only two good starts this year (okay, slight exaggeration – but only slight).  Lastly, at High-A, Noel Arguelles continued his solid season with a 6-inning, 2-run performance.  Arguelles has shown great control this year, but unfortunately, his strikeout rate has been unimpressive.  If he can regain some of the velocity he lost after shoulder surgery last year, I could see him joining the “top Royals pitching prospects” discussion in a year or two.

More major league transactions forthcoming?
The aforementioned KC Star article also has an interesting point about our 40-man roster.  Right now, we have an opening on the 40-man roster due to the Betemit trade.  Cain is already on the 40-man, but Gio is not – so calling up Gio in a couple weeks will use up that open slot.  However, also keep in mind that any September call-up has to be on the 40-man roster.  Newly promoted AAA players Salvador Perez and Kelvin Herrera figure to be potential 2012 roster candidates for us, so it seems likely we’d call them up in September (plus, we have to add them over the offseason anyway, or we expose them to the Rule 5 draft).  If that’s the case, we’ll need to clear two more spots from the 40-man roster.

My guess, for what it’s worth, is that we’ll end up trading Francis or Chen to get at least one opening.  Yes, the non-wavier trade deadline is past, but neither Francis nor Chen strikes me as valuable enough that a team would claim him purely to block a rival from getting him.  So if someone does claim them, it seems we might be able to work out a trade.  And if no one claims them, then we’ll be free to trade them to anyone, same as before the non-waiver trade deadline.

Odds and Ends

  • Royals Review has a couple excellent pieces on our minor leaguers: Connor Moylan’s monthly report card on our top 65 prospects, and BHWick’s take on our top minor league pitchers.
  • Believe it or not, the Royals have been pretty decent since the All-Star break.  Against the Twins, ChiSox, Rays, BoSox, and Indians, we put together a not-awful 9-8 record.  Aside from the Twins, those are all teams in playoff contention (and the Twins front office would argue they are, too).  I know we’re not contending this year, but I would like to see us be respectable the rest of the way to give us some momentum (and hope) for next year.
  • This is old, but I just saw it today for the first time.  It’s Ichiro giving his take on Kansas City summers.  (The video’s fine, but the audio’s NSFW, so you may want to use headphones.)  No wonder he prefers Seattle.  =)

You don’t mess with the Baconator

All season long, Billy Butler has been taking crap from everyone.  Ned Yost calls him slow, fans diss him for his lack of power, and he gets nicknamed the Baconator by someone who should be paid to name fantasy sports teams.  Well, apparently, Billy’s mad as heck, and he’s not going to take it anymore.  With two homers in tonight’s 12-0 blowout of the Indians (hold that wondrous thought), he has now homered in 4 straight games.  Or, to look at it another way, through the first 98 games of the season, he hit 6 homers.  In the 8 games since, he hit another 6.  If this is how he reacts when he gets mad, my bet is that a few more Billy’s-so-slow-(how-slow-is-he) jokes by Ned will propel Billy to 30 stolen bases in 2012.  (And yes, I purposely avoided a Hulk reference since I used up my comic book reference allotment in my last post.)  Meanwhile, in other Royals’ goings-on…

The many ways that 12-0 win rocked
Besides the satisfaction of a blowout win over a division rival, the beauty of Billy’s power surge, and the treat of a textbook baseball “brawl” (benches empty, angry words are exchanged, nobody throws a punch, plans are made to grab a latte with the other team after the game) – last night’s win was also good for the Royals’ potential trade prospects.  Part of that was Melky having a good game, though one game for a position player probably doesn’t change much (and I also think the Royals should hang onto Melky), but more important to me was Francis having a good start.  Since starting pitchers only play in one-fifth (or, in the Royals’ case, one-sixth) of the games, each start can make a difference.  Between our 6-man rotation (and Yost’s comment that he would re-evaluate it on our next off-day, which just happens to be the day after the trade deadline) and the lack of team control for half our rotation (Francis, Chen, and Davies), my guess is that if we move anyone by the deadline, it’s one of those three guys.

A simple formula to avoid getting clobbered at Fenway
Getting out of Fenway with a 4-game split was a nice trick, especially after getting beat in games 2 and 3 by a combined 25-14.  Conventional wisdom is that Fenway is a tough place for left-handed pitchers, but the Royals took that to an extreme.  In games 2 and 3, our left-handed starters combined for 7.2 IP, 16 hits, 6 walks, and 16 runs for an unsightly 18.78 ERA.  By contrast, in games 1 and 2, our right-handed starters combined for 13 IP, 11 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs for a sterling 2.08 ERA.  It may not quite equal classic blunders like getting involved in a land war in Asia or going in against a Sicilian when death is on the line, but I think “starting a lefty at Fenway” is pretty close.

More pieces of Mission 2012 puzzle?
This week, the Royals promoted RP Kelvin Herrera and C Salvador Perez from AA to AAA.  Herrera could be a key part of our 2012 bullpen (especially with Crow converting to a starter), and Perez has a shot to be our 2012 starting catcher.  As I’ve mentioned before, I think 2012 will be about getting our rookies experience and taking a shot at a near-.500 record, but it’ll be 2013 before I think we’re talking playoff contention.  Still, I’m excited to see these guys progressing well.  On a fun note, Perez hit two grand slams this week at AA before getting his promotion to AAA – so of course, in his 3rd game at AAA last night, what’s he do?  He hits a grand slam.  Not bad for a guy whose bat is the biggest question mark.

Update on Butler’s nickname
By the way, I mentioned Butler’s awesome nickname of the Baconator, but last night, I started seeing a new nickname floating around on Twitter.  And it is… (drum roll)… Country Breakfast.  Not bad, but I think I’m still partial to the Baconator.

Has Kyle Davies been Clark Kenting his way through the world?

If you read enough comic books (or if you’ve watched the recent flood of superhero movies and TV shows), you know a common theme is superheroes fighting the temptation to use their powers out of costume, thus compromising their secret identity.  You have young Clark Kent wanting to go out for his high school football team, Peter Parker not beating up the bully, Dash Parr purposely not winning first place in track, and Forrest Gates not using his secret demon hunting job to impress dates.  And now, maybe we should add Kyle Davies to the list.

How else do you explain Davies shutting down the Red Sox, who are averaging 5.4 runs per game, tops in the majors?  My theory is that Davies is actually a solar-powered alien, imbued with the power of a magic ruby he found in a pyramid, and accidentally exposed to gamma radiation while biting a spider – all of which enables him to throw a baseball 3 gazillion miles per hour with pinpoint control and knuckleball movement.  Normally, he hides his abilities by pretending to be an awful major league pitcher, but every now and then, he gets tired of all the crap we give him, and he decides to pitch well.  Well, c’mon – do you have a better explanation?

Okay, okay.  So hyperbole and geeking out self-indulgence aside, Davies did have a pretty good outing last night.  He went 6 innings and stuck out 6, while allowing only 5 hits, 1 walk, and 1 run.  And that follows his last start, where he struck out 9 in 5.1 innings, while allowing only 2 earned runs.  Those aren’t great outings by any stretch, but if he can pitch like this consistently, that’s solid back-of-the-rotation value.  The flip side, though, is that he has a $3.2M salary, which is a bit pricey for a back-of-the-rotation starter…

Anyway, if I haven’t driven you off yet with this extremely geeky (and probably poorly written) post, here are a few more amazing observations and incredible notes:

Two wrongs don’t make a right, but maybe three wrongs do?
If you haven’t seen Aviles‘s game-winning squeeze bunt, you should check it out.  For the first few seconds, it looks like the comedy of errors we’ve grown used to seeing from the Royals.  Every Royal involved screws up.  With the squeeze play on, Frenchy takes off from first because he missed the sign (i.e. he was trying to steal second), Aviles pops up the bunt instead of getting it down on the ground, and Hosmer (who correctly took off for home with the pitch) stops halfway to home before realizing the bunt is going to drop.  Somehow, though, the ball drops untouched, and the fielder’s momentum prevented him from trying to get Hosmer at the plate.  The best part?  Frenchy taking off for second is what pulled the first baseman in, which is what let Aviles pop-up go over him and drop.  If Frenchy doesn’t miss the sign, he stays put, the first baseman stays back, the pop-up is caught, and Hosmer is probably doubled off third, ending the inning.

Our Bend-But-Don’t-Break Bullpen
Of course, Aviles never would have been in position to pull off his superhuman bunt if our bullpen hadn’t been displaying some magic of their own.  Granted, they made their own problems, but check out these escape acts:

  • Bottom of the 9th.  1st and 3rd, 1 out.  Crow strikes out Crawford and gets Reddick on a fly to right.
  • Bottom of the 11th.  1st and 2nd, 2 outs.  Holland strikes out Crawford.
  • Bottom of the 12th.  Runner on 3rd, 1 out.  Coleman strikes out Crawford The Red Sox batter misses the squeeze sign (omen of things to come?), and the Royals tag out the runner, who broke for home with the pitch.
  • Bottom of the 13th.  1st and 3rd, 1 out.  Coleman gets Navarro on a foul pop and gets Ortiz to ground out.

Great.  Googly.  Moogly.

Royals breaking in a new leadoff hitter?
Down at AAA, Johnny Giovatella has moved to leadoff for the last few games.  From what I heard on the radio, Gio projects as more of a 2-hole hitter, but given our lack of a prototypical leadoff hitter, the radio guys are thinking the idea is to let him try it out at AAA.  Putting aside where Gio might slot in our batting order, the bigger takeaway to me is that he’s probably not going to be called up in the near future.  It doesn’t seem to make sense to try something like this unless you want to give him some time, both for him to get used to it and for us to evaluate him at it.  So for those of you on the Replace-Getz-With-Gio-Now bandwagon, this is probably not encouraging.  Then again, my track record with predicting Royals moves is pretty lousy, so…

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