Dateline: Minnesota. September 28th, 2011.
The weather is cold, too cool for baseball really. The Twins knew what they were getting into when they built Target Field, but the promise of beautiful, starry-skied summer evenings was too much to pass up. It’s the top of the ninth and the Royals are trailing by two runs. First baseman Eric Hosmer is on second after a walk and a stolen base. Johnny Giavotella, diminutive second baseman, is at the plate. He’s down 0-2 to Twins closer Joe Nathan. Nathan rears back and launches a knee-buckling curveball… that lands a foot in front of the plate. Giavotella takes a violent hack, but the wind is his only victim.
The ballgame, the season and even the summer, is officially over.
Ok, so this didn’t happen. Yet. But it could. In the grand scheme of things, it would be nothing short of an anticipated closing to a typically forgettable year. The Royals finish fourth—here’s to small victories—and we get the same organizational cock-and-bull speak about ‘a bright future’ and an empty plastic beer cup full of tomorrow’s familiar promises.
But this feels different somehow, doesn’t it? Even the most diehard of the blowhards—KCC’s Craig Glazer aside—agree that there’s something brewing out at the K. But whether it’s some delightful new concoction from Boulevard or Brush Creek hobo-waste water remains to be seen.
So class, what are the takeaways for the year?
Hosmer Rocks, Youth Shows Promise
Eric Hosmer is looking like the stud that we were promised, and for a fan base accustomed to over-hyped wastoids (Clint Hurdle, Colt Griffin) and players who still haven’t lived up to their savior status (Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Luke Hochevar—prove me wrong, gentlemen) it’s refreshing to finally have something come up roses. He’s tall, strong, athletic and slicker than owl snot around the bag. A possible Gold Glover with a good amount of pop who can take a walk and hit to all fields without compromising his swing. And it’s about time.
Throw in Mike Moustakas (not as developed, obviously, but still teeming with potential), Salvador Perez (gigantic catcher who is wise beyond his years defensively), Giavotella (…finest classic-ballplayer’s name on the squad) and Alcides Escobar (like butter, that kid), and you’ve got yourself a solid core to build around.
The average age of this team is something absurd—15 years old, or something—so there’s nowhere to go but up. Just wait until Escobar hits puberty guys. LOOK THE FUCK OUT.
Bullpen is a Mixed Bag
Though our bullpen this year was a mixed, bearded bag, we mostly ended up with a lot of delicious, salty cashews (and none of the gigantic fucking tasteless walnuts my grandpa would force upon me). Tim Collins, a politely bearded, dwarfish product from the Braves system (shocking) looked solid at times, but his erratic command complied a pretty awful strikeout to walk ratio (55K, 45BB) which greatly effected his bottom-line value. Aaron Crow, this year’s All-Star requirement, started out exceedingly strong but faltered down the stretch. Those in the know suggest this could be nothing more than a byproduct of an elongated season and hopefully, they’re right. Nate Adcock has looked good in spots, Louis Coleman has been pretty lights out in spots and Greg Holland—the strangest beard of the lot—has been an absolute revelation. 1.83 ERA? 0.93 WHIP? He’s got a closer’s numbers, which means that in all likelihood, Joakim Soria has better watch his beard.
Soria—who’s ERA sits at a John Goodman-esque 4.17—started out like the Mexicutioner of yore. At some point, he incorporated a cutter, sucked his ass off, lost his closer’s role to Crow, got his mind right and returned to his old-style badass self, reclaiming his title in the process, but has recently started to lose it again. He’s blowing saves like a Persian kid blowing cash on bottle service in the Power and Light District and nobody seems to know exactly what’s wrong. He ditched the cutter, changed his arm angle, tried out some variations with his beard and nothing seems to be effective.
Look for a few of these guys—Crow, Adcock, maybe Everett Teaford —to take a shot at the rotation next season. They can’t POSSIBLY be any worse than:
Bruce Chen and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Rotation
Fact: In a 12 year major league career, Chen has pitched for 10 teams. It’s not that he’s bad, necessarily, it’s just that… he’s Bruce Chen? He’s nobodies dream free agent. He’s a solid back of the rotation cat with very mediocre stuff but enough moxie to eat some innings year in and year out.
Fact: Chen, with his 10-7 record and 4.30 ERA, is our ace. And that’s a sad, sad fact. Bruce Chen is barely qualified to be the ace for the Scranton Catlickers of the Eastern Independent League. Again, it’s not a knock at Chen—I love the guy’s attitude and what he adds to the clubhouse—but seriously… SERIOUSLY. He is NOT opening day starter material. Unfortunately, our rotation has been an absolute abortion this year.
Hochevar—a three-time draftee (he wouldn’t sign with the Dodgers twice before signing first overall with KC in ’06)—was our opening day starter. Though he’s started to show more consistency as of late, he’s still FAR from being an overall number one pick. Huge whiff (especially in a draft that included—are you sitting down?—Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum). “Brilliant stuff” aside, Hochevar will never be a staff ace. Ever. Anywhere.
The rest of this year’s starters are a who’s who of retreads, Wee-Willie Washouts and “Who the Fuck is That?”
Jeff Francis, with his kitten-shoulder and 5-16 record. Sean O’ Sullivan with his… bulbous head and lack of talent. Felipe Paulino—a midseason pickup—his shown flashes of adequacy but is 2-10 with a 4.60 ERA. He’s giving up 1.43 runners per inning, as well. Kyle Davies? Gone. Finally given the boot after hundreds of chances and the worst ERA of any pitcher ever. EVER. Seriously. Since 1901, no pitcher with over 700 innings pitched has ever posted a worse earned run average. Let that marinate for a second, won’t you? Good. Let’s move on and pretend like this never happened.
So where are the bright spots in this atrocious rotation? Good question.
Danny Duffy is one of the ‘future boys,’ but he’s obviously got a lot of work left to do. He nibbles, instead of attacking hitters. He’s got plus stuff, and a good defense behind him, but that’s all for naught if he won’t allow the ball to be put in play. He’s young, though, and he’s got time to grow. My suggestion? Grow a beard. Perhaps a fierce look will enhance his aggression.
Jake Odorizzi came over in the Greinke trade. He’s posted decent numbers this year between two minor league stops, but he’s still raw.
Mike Montgomery, long considered our golden-armed prospect, has struggled mightily this year in Omaha.
John Lamb, who looked as impressive as Montgomery did bad, is out for the season with Tommy John surgery.
Chris Dwyer—ranked as our 6th best prospect overall—was 8-10 with a 5.60 ERA over 27 starts in AA’s Northwest Arkansas.
It’ s all about potential. The minor league system’s got it in spades, but as Sparky Anderson always said, ‘potential doesn’t put rings on fingers’. (okay, I made this last part up, but it SOUNDS like something that could be attributable to some famous baseball coach)
Alex Gordon’s Emergence:
So before the season, Alex Gordon told reporters that he was going to ‘dominate’ this year. Everyone laughed. And laughed. And with good reason. Long touted as the second coming of Jesus H. Brett, he’d done nothing to warrant making such a lofty proclamation. He’d been a ‘bust’ to that point, an absolute disappointment who began his career with a standing ovation and followed it up with four solid years of subpar suckdom. But baseball is a mysterious bitch (I think Fernando Valenzuela said this [but not really]).
See, this year, he’s a totally new player. He’s leading the league with outfield assists, hitting a tad under .300, with 80 RBI and 21 HRs. Throw in 16 stolen bases, and you’ve got a left-fielder having a fine season. How fine? Gordon’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is 5.4, or, best for 6th in the league amongst position players. That’s real fine, actually. For those who aren’t stat-geeks, that essentially means that Gordon is good for 5.4 wins more than a replacement player. A 5 WAR is generally considered All-Star caliber, and anything above an 8 is an MVP type performance. To wit, Toronto’s Jose Bautista is at an 8.1 WAR right now… let’s hear it for former Royals, folks!
But Gordon’s finally putting it together. God bless him and his beard.
So there you have it. We’ve got some plusses—Gordon, outfielders with cannons for arms, some solid bullpen pieces—and some minuses—rotation, rotation, rotation.
Next year’s free-agency crop for starters is pretty slim—Mark Buehrle? Doug Davis? Dontrelle Freaking Willis?—so if we want to start competing, some of the young guns in the minors are going to have to step up, or we’re going to have to start dealing some of our young talent—sorry Butler, we love ya’, baby, but we’ve got DH candidates—for some ready-made pitchers.
Here’s to hoping that general manager Dayton Moore gets more hits than D. Bowe at a bong-shop.