Springtime Storylines: Is suicide the only hope for Royals fans?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: Kansas City, Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!

big question: Is suicide the only hope for Royals fans?

Baseball is supposed to be something that takes our minds off of real life. A pursuit and a pastime in which we can forget our troubles and, for a while anyway, lose ourselves. Say you’re a mid-level functionary at Sprint Nextel. Your boss is a jerk, your ex-wife is dating a personal trainer named Brad and your mechanic just called to tell you that your 1993 Hyundai Excel has a fried cylinder head and needs a full valve job.  You need an escape. You need baseball.

Only problem is that the general manager of your team has brought in guys like  Jason Kendall, Scott Podsednik, Yuniesky Betancourt, Willie Bloomquist, and Jose Guillen. Paid ’em good money too, while actually trying to pass them off as good moves. And this is, like, the fifth or sixth go-around with this kind of thing in the past 15 years.  You can’t spend six months watching that product, can you? It’s enough to make a guy pull a Thich Quang Duc or something. OK, maybe that’s too dramatic. Perhaps a simple Emily Wilding Davison would be more appropriate.

But wait! Don’t do it!  There’s hope! No, not now; now is hopeless! But soon!  There are many, many solid looking pitching prospects — including a major international signing — in A and AA ball this year (one less than there was last week, but still). Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas had down years, but they are still promising. And of course, Zack Greinke is under contract for three more seasons, so you need only endure four days of unbearable sadness between respites.

It’s a nice ballpark. There’s great food in that town. Close your eyes, dream of your youth, when giants roamed the green turf of Royals Stadium, and trust me when I say that it will get better. Just not yet. You’ve waited so long, you can wait just a bit longer, can’t you?

So what else is going on?

  • Alex Gordon is going to start the season on the DL. This means that Alberto Callaspo — who was only the team’s second best hitter last year — won’t start out on the bench as had been anticipated.  Callaspo starts at third, Chris Getz at second and whichever of the two of them hits worse in the meantime will find themselves benched when Gordon comes back.
  • Gil Meche is hurt. He left a start on Monday complaining of a sore shoulder. There have been concerns about his workload these past two years. If he can’t answer the bell to start the season the Royals are going to have to look at guys like Brian Bullington, Edgar Osuna, Brad Thompson, Bruce Chen,
    Robinson Tejeda and (shudder) Kyle Farnsworth, who yes, the Royals seem to be serious about converting into a starter.  The other starters are set: Greinke, Luke Hochevar, Brian Bannister and probably Kyle Davies. Roughly speaking, those names can be translated into “stud,” “enigma,” “eccentric,” and whatever German word encapsulates the concept of “that which amounts to drastically less than the sum of its parts.”
  • The Royals should really consider trading Joakim Soria this year. A stud closer is a luxury a team like this can’t afford to keep around. There are only two reasons not to trade Soria: (1) the fans
    will get depressed; and (2) Dayton Moore is the guy doing the trading.  The first of those can be discounted because, as noted above, the fans are already
    depressed. The second one is far more problematic because, for as good as Moore has been at identifying and acquiring amateur talent recently, he’s gotta be the worst wheeler-dealer in the game, and can in no way be trusted to realize a decent return for Soria.
  • Josh Fields is the other guy that came over with Chris Getz from Chicago in the Mark Teahen trade.  He’s allegedly a third baseman, but he can’t really handle the position defensively. He’s allegedly a hitter, but he’s he’s hit only .229/.302/.416 in 664 major league at-bats. Still, if you’re Kansas City, you should probably give him as many of Jose Guillen’s and Scott Posednik’s at bats and see how he does.

So how
are they gonna do?

Let’s see, they lost 97 games last year despite a lucky hot start, their second best starter has shoulder trouble and they brought in a handful of some of the worst veteran free agents imaginable. You tell me.

Prediction: Fourth
place, AL Central.  Yes, that means that Cleveland is going to be even worse.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.