Sunday, May 30, 2010

Where's Tony Pena Jr?

Answer: In Richmond, with the San Francisco AA affiliate the Flying Squirrels of the Eastern League. He has appeared in 17 games, has a record of 3-0, with 4 saves and an ERA of 1.95. He has struck out 24 and walked 5 in 27.2 innings of work. Opponents are batting .194 against him.

I've never disliked Pena, who worked hard and kept his nose clean. I hope he makes it back to the bigs. He is 29, so it's going to be a tough road.

Reality Bites

The Royals since Ned Yost took over are 9-7. This is probably closer to the Royals' talent level then either the 6-2 mark right after Yost took over for Trey Hillman May 13 or the horrible road trip just before Hillman's firing. What we have here is a team that is neither playoff quality or truly truly epically bad. When this team plays up to its potential in all three phases of the game--scoring, pitching, defense--then it's a team that will win at least half of its games. When it fails in one of these phases, it is not a good enough team to overcome that failure and it becomes a very beatable baseball team.

They are, as I said in the previous post, generally much easier on the eyes since Hillman left.

Bruce Chen, welcome to Zach Grienke's world. Chen pitched 4 pretty good innings against the Boston Red Sox today. He did not reap any rewards for his labors as the Royals could not muster any runs in his support and Brad Thompson was ineffective in two painful innings of work, allowing six runs, including a Big Papi homer to dead center field (no small feat that at Fenway Park). Pitching after Thompson allowed just one more run. No offense from the Royals as they were unable to deal with any of the Boston pitchers after leaving several men on base when Lester was pitching.
And what of Grienke? He is 1-6 with a 3.39 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP, and an opponent's batting average of .292. There are three games I can remember that he should have won except for the bullpen imploding. He has to be frustrated. Last game he pitched, he lost 1-0, losing on a run allowed in the third inning. It's his second 1-0 loss of the season. Except for one game, Grienke has pitched well enough to win. Clearly, at this time, he is not as effective as last year. Opponents had all winter to study him and his tendencies on tape. In addition, Miguel Olivo, who caught so many of Grienke's games was let go. Grienke will have to step up his work to keep up with the hitters, who clearly have been studying him. In the meantime, the offense must come to his rescue, and the relievers must deliver. If Zack maintains his psychological health during this season, especially if it continues in this way, we can set aside notions that he is fragile mentally.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Royals Enjoying New Manager Bounce

Yes, the Royals have won 3 of their last 4 and should have won on Saturday night. Ned Yost is an entirely different manager. He seems more certain of himself and aggressive. Also third base coach Dave Owens, who screwed up several times, was shown the door and that's improved too. I'm not sure these are the Real Royals any more than that really crappy team we saw in Texas is, but this version is sure easier on the eyes.

Score now in Baltimore: 3-3 top of the 9th. All three runs for the O's off home runs, two off Zack Greinke and one off reliever Blake Wood to tie the game. Alas, no win for Greinke tonight.

Hopefully that new manager smell isn't quite worn off!

News Roundup: There's Baseball and There's Everything Else...

Tiger Woods has a neck injury, and is taking time off. After missing the cut in one tournament and throwing in the towel on a second, Woods says he has a bad disk in his neck. I suspect it was hard physically to restart after his months off and now he is finding out that we all are less elastic at 30+ then at 20+. His swing coach resigned. His swing coach says Tiger is a sex addict. He also said that Tiger played with pain in the past, so this must really hurt.

Tiger's not done with golf, but it is an uphill climb for him big time!

Cleveland Cavs upset by Boston. As a former New Yawker and Knicks fan, I can barely stomach the Celtics, and I was hoping that Cleveland could beat Boston. However, LeBron James has an arm injury, and may be struggling with the inexperience that comes from no college career (no experience in big games, winning big games and so forth), and the experienced and healthy Celtics beat them badly. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are peaking at the right time. Next: Orlando.

Lakers survive the Thunder...How often does this happen in the NBA? A top seeded team struggles in the first round with the lowest seed and then proceeds to beat the pants off of everyone else. So far, so scripted for LA, who were scared by the Oklahoma City team, and haven't turned a hair with any one else. Boston-LA finals anyone?

Washington Wizards win the NBA lottery...probably will take John Wall of Kentucky with pick. They are almost as badly managed and have as bad luck as the LA Clippers, so they'll probably still suck next year.

Big 12 Conference in peril...Missouri might go Big 10, along with Nebraska. Media money not good. It appears that the Big 12 will cease to exist, unless they aggressively court good midmajor teams to join up if Mizzou and NU leave, and get a better media deal. This could be bad for Kansas City, MO, and for Kansas and Kansas State. I hate also to see the history that the Big 12 represents fade into the sunset.

The NHL: Upset city in the Stanley Cup playoffs has the 8 and 9 seed left standing in the East, which means the Chicago Blackhawks will have no one to blame but themselves if they don't get to party all summer with Lord Stanley's Cup.

NFL's off season activities going along: The Kansas City Chiefs have everyone except unsigned Jarred Page in this weekend's workouts. Everyone singing in unison and optimism rules the land in all 32 NFL cities!

That's your sports round up, with a small dose of opinion for today!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Breaking--Royals Fire Trey Hillman Today

Despite the team picking up a win for Zack today, the Royals decided to fire Trey Hillman. Greg Hall has the breaking details, including some media low down. Seems the flagship station 610 Sports did not break the news, but 810 did. Wow.

Ned Yost will replace Hillman.

It's funny, people keep saying that they don't care about the Royals, blah, blah, blah. Then explain to me why there are already 51 comments on the Kansas City Star article, which has been posted for a whole 43 minutes.

Don't care, my foot!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Fire Hillman!

The Trey Hillman watch is on, at least in the media. Greg Hall of KC Confidential blogged on the radio convos over the past few days, during this epic fail of a road trip that included the sweep of the Royals by the Texas Rangers. I'm not one to run around firing people when stuff goes bad, but I agree, Hillman and most of his staff need to go. Not seeing Josh Hamilton fail to tag up and advance on a fly ball is really quite inexcusable. More stupid baseball. I remember writing about stupid baseball last fall for crying out loud. Why in the world are we still playing stupid baseball?!?

Count me in: Fire Trey Hillman.

One fan provided this commentary last July in the comments section of Royals Review. I think fan patience is starting to run a little thin...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Reflections on the Game of Soccer

I'm no soccer expert, but I must admit I was disappointed in the skill level in the soccer played by the Hickman Mills and Ruskin girls yesterday. I realize, first, that it is hard to judge the state of soccer in the United States by one game, and particularly a game on the distaff side, and a game not in Johnson County, Kansas where I am sure the demographic is more agreeable to soccer. However...

Semi-informed ideas about what makes good soccer: 1. Ball skills--the ability to collect the ball, dribble the ball, and kick the ball accurately. 2. Spacing and smarts. The ability to realize that you don't aways need to be within 10 feet of the ball, especially on offense. 3. Speed and endurance. Not just running fast, but running fast when needed, and all game. Winning loose balls, especially after unforced errors.

The gal with the best ball skills, the best ability to stop a ball and collect it, to pass it and to dribble around opposition was a girl for Ruskin playing fullback, or defender. Interestingly, she was a big girl, much bigger then most of her peers. (OK, she was overweight.) But her ability to intercept a pass, control that ball, and start Ruskin's offense was superior to anyone else on the field. If she was of a normal weight, her skills would have had her playing halfback, the most important position on a soccer team. It also is the position that does the most running, so those of us a little undertall for our weights usually find ourselves playing forward or fullback.

There was also a lack of "soccer smarts". Maybe it's just coaching, but it seemed to me too often the girls were all bunched up around the ball. I can remember from my high school days our coach begging us to keep our positions and not clump around the ball. On offense we were taught to stay around the goal, especially if the ball was on the wing. A good centering pass from the wing often resulted in a score.

It was disappointing to see that it seemed that most players' skill levels hadn't progressed much since my high school days a million years ago, when girl's soccer was just getting started on the high school level. Especially in light of the youth leagues that have developed over the years. Makes a person wonder why. Just a few ideas: 1. Soccer does not keep the top level athletes as they get older. I think this is true for both sexes, but even more for boys. Basketball, baseball/softball and for males, football, snag the fastest and most coordinated in the United States. 2. The games just don't generate enough excitement for the causal fan. Soccer is as much about process as it is result. Internationally, it's call "The Beautiful Game" and the set ups and watching that is just as important as the scoring itself. Sped up versions of soccer, such as indoor soccer, which is almost more like hockey, have been more popular at times then the outdoor version in the US. 3. Pro soccer as a whole just hasn't caught on. When you as a kid see a sport played on the pro level, imitation takes place. When I was a kid, I watched Earl Monroe's spin dribble move on the NBA court with the New York Knicks. "Earl the Pearl" invented that move, and I spent time on the court trying to imitate that move. Generally kids aren't out at the park trying to imitate the local pro soccer players' moves. And we all know, if you want to get good at something, you have to practice and play it. Kids are still playing basketball, pick up baseball and touch football, not soccer, in the United States.

Soccer might someday become a major sport in the US. Since the Major Soccer League season started this spring, they've had some increased attendance. It's not quite there yet, however.

Ruskin and Hickman Mills girls vie for the ball in yesterday's contest. Ruskin, in blue, is on offense in this photo.
Hickman Mills won the game 2-0.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Plea to the Royals' Braintrust

Please leave Alberto Callaspo at third base, and play Getz or Aviles at second. Third is a read and reaction position, with much less involvement with infield play and cutting off throws from the outfield. Also a third baseman has less responsibility for infield pop ups.

Alex Gordon? May be done, a first round bust. Or convert him to first base after Billy Butler becomes the full time DH after Gullen's contract is up. Any way you shake it, the less I see of Callaspo at second base, the happier I'll be.

The reason you find a place for Callaspo: He can hit for average, has some power and can drive in runs. (Kansas City Star)

Zack Greinke: No Wins Yet

Zack Greinke pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays yesterday. He gave up one run, four hits in 8 innings, throwing just 87 pitches, striking out 6 and walking none. He lost the game 1-0. (Kansas City Star)

Sub three ERA (2.27 to be precise) and no wins? How do you do that?

1. No offense.

2. No bullpen.

The question becomes how do the Royals keep Zack Grienke without becoming a better ball club. The answer is they don't. Zack is signed through 2011, but if we know he will not renew, his last year is really a wash, since he'll need to be traded before the July 2011 trading deadline. The Royals must show some sort of progress this year or we will bid Zack good bye just as we bid good bye to Damon, Dye, Beltran et al. There looks to be help coming in the minors, but can it come fast enough?

There is also an immediate question: How does Zack make it through this season? If Zack maintains excellence throughout this season as he did last season (he did sag a little in the middle of last year, but it's a very long season and rare is the player that doesn't have a brief period of less than stellar production during the year), we will know that he is, in addition to physically durable, psychologically durable as well.

As for this year: keep fiddling and diddling around, and try to improve. What else is there to do? Shoot for .500 ball and just keep trying to get better. Sucks, doesn't it?

Martin Manley offers a take on the same problem over at Upon Further Review.