I felt as sure that the Yankees would win the last two games of the Seattle series, and they did just that, but with the memory of last weekend's weak-ass showing against the Devil Rays still fresh, I'm on the fence about whether I think the Yankees will win this series against the Royals. It's the start of a nine-game road trip, the Blue Jays and Red Sox looming. I'm actually feeling that they are going to lose two-of-three, and I'm not trying to be dramatic, either.
I don't know much about the Royals but I do know that they've been competitive. They are throwing three pretty good pitchers at the Yanks this weekend, I know that much. It's just that I'm not convinced the Yankees can bring their A-game to a so-so team on a regular basis.
Show us you are a playoff team. You know what I'm saying? C'mon already. I know we're impatient, I know we're demanding. Just win already and we'll leave you alone.
With Cliff still away on vacay, I was fortunate enough to get acclaimed sports writer Joe Posnanski--whose wonderful blog, The Soul of Baseball, quickly became a must-read this season--to share his thoughts on the Royals with us. Enjoy.
The KC Royals
By Joe Posnanski.
Since May 12, the Royals have played exactly .500 baseball -- they are 51-51. This probably doesn't seem the kind of record that would prompt a ticker-tape parade, but hey it has been bad around here. The Royals are one win away from clinching a non-100 loss season. When you've lost 100 games four out of five years, you take your small victories when you can get them.
The exciting part about the Royals recent solid play is that they are doing it with kids. The Royals one moment of promise in the last 15 or so years happened in 2003 when they got off to the amazing 16-3 start and were in first place most of the season. But they did that mostly with veterans -- Mike Sweeney, Raul Ibanez, Carlos Beltran, Brian Anderson, Jose Lima (!), Curt Leskanic, etc. -- and any clear-eyed observer would have known that it could not last. Of course, the Royals had been so bad for so long that many of us DID think it would last, then Ibanez signed elsewhere, Beltran was traded, Sweeney got hurt, the others got old, and the Royals lost 210 games the next two seasons.
This time around, at least, it's the kids sparking the resurgence. It begins with rookie starter Brian Bannister, who came over from the Mets in the Ambiorix Burgos deal. I am so rarely right about anything, but, man, I nailed that deal. I heard from all my New York friends when Burgos showed up at spring training throwing 100 mph, looking great. I said: "Just wait." Burgos, as predicted, couldn't throw strikes, couldn't get anybody out and blew out his arm. Have fun with that guy.
Meanwhile, Bannister has been terrific -- to me, he's the American League rookie of the year right now. You could argue for Dustin Pedroia, I suppose, but at this point I still like Bannister. For so long people were ready to hand the award to Dice-K. Look at their numbers now:
Bannister: 12-7, 3.16 ERA, 151 ERA+, league is hitting .242 against him.
Matsuzaka: 14-11, 4.11 ERA, 111 ERA+, league is hitting .246 against him.
So it starts with Bannister. He will throw this weekend. Then, you throw in rookie closer Joakim Soria, who has been electric all year -- the league is hitting .192 against him. Yankees fans will, I think, see similarities between him and Mariano. I'm not comparing the two at all, obviously. I'm saying that Soria obviously idolizes Rivera because he has patterned his setup and delivery after the guy. At times, if you look away from the screen and look back quickly, they look identical. Try it! It's fun!
Then there are the two rookie hitters -- Alex Gordon and Billy Butler. Gordon started off the season horribly -- on June 6 he was hitting .173. Since then he's hitting right at .300 with some power, and it's clear watching him play that he pattered HIS game after George Brett.
Billy Butler is just a stud. No other way to say it. He's 21 years old, his power isn't in place yet, he has no position, but the guy can flat hit. If you took his stats from this year over a full season, you would come up with a .300 average, 40 or so doubles, 12 homers, between 90 and 100 RBIs -- and this guy has no idea what he's doing yet. A scout called me and said he's the best young right handed hitter he's seen since Manny Ramirez.
That's four rookies, all contributing (five if you include shortstop Tony Pena, who really can't hit and never walks but probably makes more good defensive plays than any other shortstop in the league). There are some other good signs too. Zack Greinke, after a couple of lost years, is back in the rotation and he has not given up a run in this stretch as a starter. Gil Meche, who was everybody's favorite whipping boy when the Royals gave him $55 million over five years, has been solid (his 7-12 record doesn't show it; his 3.85 ERA does). Mark Teahen has had an up-and-down year, but he's a good player who can beat you a few different ways. Joey Gathright's average had dropped a bit, but he's beginning to figure out how to use his amazing speed. Longtime Royals icon Mike Sweeney is back with the team and has been hitting the ball hard again.
Point is there are signs of hope in Kansas City. It's worth noting, however, that these signs of hope did not prevent the Yankees from destroying the Royals in the Bronx.
Ian Kennedy is on the mound tonight, making his second-career start. Gil Meche, winless in his last eight starts, goes for the Royals. Yanks have their work cut out as Meche is due for a turn in luck, but they are still supposed to win these games, yes?
Would be great to see Rodriguez hit his 50th in KC.