The Royals have had just one winning season (props, Tony Peña) since 1994, so it’s easy to write them off as a bad team. They are a bad team, and they’re not getting better, but they’re not remarkably bad the way they used to be. Sandwiched around that 83-win season in 2003 were four 100-loss campaigns. In the four years since then, the Royals winning percentage hasn’t dipped below .400 and if the standings stay the way they are, 2010 will be the third straight season in which they finish above last place in their division. Those are pathetically low standards, yes, but they’re also a reminder that, while the Royals are bad, they’re not awful.
Better yet, K.C. has played nearly .500 ball since Ned Yost replaced Trey Hillman as manager on May 14. That’s a little more than two months of break-even baseball, which is a big deal for this ballclub. The Royals went 9-4 under Yost over the remainder of May, then outscored their opponents in June (though they were still just 13-14 on the month).
Things have cooled off a bit in July. The Royals are again just a game under .500 for the month (7-8), but they’ve been outscored by 37 runs, a bigger run deficit in 15 games than they had in 23 games while going 9-14 under Hillman in April. Chalk that one up to three lop-sided losses (11-0 to the Angels, 15-5 to the White Sox, and 13-1 to the Blue Jays) all three coming in games started by Anthony Lerew, who will face Phil Hughes on Sunday.
Playing the Royals is an advantage in and of itself, but the Yankees luck out by facing them for four games yet avoiding defending Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke. Instead the Yankees will face, in order, Bruce Chen, Brian Bannister, Kyle Davies, and Lerew. That Yost has been able to keep this team around .500 with those guys making up 80 percent of the rotation is both startling and a sign that the Royals likely won’t keep it up, at least not without getting an effective Gil Meche back from the disabled list (he started a rehab assignment on Wednesday).
Indeed, only the Pirates and Orioles have a lower rotation ERA than the Royals’ 5.12. The same is true with Baseball Prospectus’s win-expectancy based SNLVAR, only the Bucs and O’s have had worse rotations by that measure. The Kansas City bullpen is closer to average thanks to lock-down closer Joakim Soria, ex-Ranger Robinson Tejada, and, get this, ex-Yankee Kyle Farnsworth and Kanekoa Texeira, the reliever acquired by the Yankees in the Nick Swisher trade then lost to the Mariners as a Rule 5 pick in December. Farnsworth has allowed just two home runs in 41 innings this year and is walking just 2.2 men per nine innings. Texeira, who was plucked off waivers in June, has walked just 1.6 men per nine as a Royal and boasts a 2.38 ERA in 22 2/3 innings for Kansas City.
I’m not about to go yearning for Farnsworth’s return, but it’s a bit galling to see those two helping the Royals’ bullpen to a performance not far removed, and in fact slightly superior, to that of the Yankees’ pen. The Yankees have a slight edge in ERA, 4.22 to 4.26, but the Royals’ pen has contributed nearly 40 more innings, which increases their advantage over the Yankees in the cumulative win-expectancy-based WXRL.
As for the offense, it’s probably enough to point out that this lineup makes the 34-year-old Scott Podsednik look valuable, and that their worst hitter, 36-year-old catcher Jason Kendall, is not only replacing one All-Star catcher (John Buck) and another who was more deserving of that honor (Miguel Olivo), but is hitting second. First baseman Billy Butler, 24, is the featured hitter, but his power is still a bit lacking (.467 slugging). Center fielder David DeJesus, now 30, is having his finest season, but with only an option remaining on his contract, is a top candidate to be traded. DH Jose Guillen, a 34-year-old in his walk year, is also trade bait. Can’t miss prospect Alex Gordon is back in the minors, but raking at Triple-A. Then again, he’s 26 already, and after Butler, the youngest man in the major league lineup is 28. That’s not encouraging for a team that’s theoretically rebuilding.
Tonight CC Sabatha faces Bruce Chen, the well traveled Chinese-Panamanian lefty who was a top prospect last century and is now with his tenth major league club at the age of 33. Chen flirted with a perfect game on July 3, but otherwise has been decidedly average and prone to short, though not disastrous outings. Since joining the rotation on May 30, he has made nine starts, posted a 4.28 ERA and averaged about 5 1/3 innings per start. He last faced the Yankees in 2006 (two starts plus two relief appearances for the Orioles).
Sabathia looked a little rusty in his last start, though he was actually starting on normal rest having started the two games on either side of the Yankees’ four-day All-Star break. He still gave the Yanks seven solid innings in an eventual win. In his last nine starts, he has gone 8-0 with a 2.03 ERA and just two home runs allowed.
Marcus Thames starts at DH against the lefty Chen and bats seventh ahead of Curtis Granderson. Everyone else is in their usual place. Meanwhile, the suddenly very busy (and depressing) Yankee uniform has added another element, a black arm-band in memory of Ralph Houk, who passed away on Wednesday. I can’t remember the Yankees ever wearing three memorial objects on their uniform at once, though they’ve also never work a memorial patch before doing so for George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard this month (previously they had stuck to arm bands or retired numbers on the sleeve).
Kansas City Royals
2010 Record: 41-53 (.436)
2010 Pythagorean Record: 40-54 (.426)
2009 Record: 65-97 (.401)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 66-96 (.407)
Manager: Ned Yost
General Manager: Dayton Moore
Home Ballpark: Kauffman Stadium
Bill James Park Indexes (2007-2009):
LH Avg-108, LH HR-73
RH Avg-104, RH HR-87
Who’s Replacing Whom:
- Jason Kendall is replacing Miguel Olivo and John Buck
- Mike Aviles is taking over Mark Teahen’s playing time
- Scott Podsednik is replacing Mike Jacobs
- Chris Getz is replacing Alex Gordon (minors)
- Wilson Betemit is replacing Coco Crisp
- Bruce Chen and Anthony Lerew are filling in for Gil Meche and Luke Hochevar (both DL)
- Kyle Davies is taking over Sidney Ponson’s starts
- Brian Bannister is taking over Lenny DiNardo’s starts
- Dusty Hughes is taking over Ron Mahay and Jon Bale’s playing innings
- Blake Wood is replacing Jamey Wright
- Victor Marte is taking over Roman Colon’s innings
- Kanekoa Texeira is replacing Juan Cruz
1B – Billy Butler (R)
2B – Mike Aviles (R)
SS – Yuniesky Betancourt (R)
3B – Alberto Castillo (S)
C – Jason Kendall (R)
RF – Mitch Maier (L)
CF – David DeJesus (L)
LF – Scott Podsednik (L)
DH – Jose Guillen (R)
S – Wilson Betemit (IF)
R – Willie Bloomquist (UT)
L – Chris Getz (IF)
S – Brayan Peña (C)
R – Zack Greinke
L – Bruce Chen
R – Brian Bannister
R – Kyle Davies
R – Anthony Lerew
R – Joakim Soria
R – Kyle Farnsworth
R – Robinson Tejada
L – Dusty Hughes
R – Blake Wood
R – Victor Marte
R – Kanekoa Texeira
RHP – Luke Hochevar (right elbow strain)
3B/OF – Josh Fields (right hip labrum surgery)
RHP – Gil Meche (shoulder bursitis)
OF – Rick Ankiel (right quad strain)
L – Scott Podsednik (LF)
R – Jason Kendall (C)
L – David DeJesus (CF)
R – Billy Butler (1B)
R – Jose Guillen (R)
S – Alberto Callaspo (3B)
L – Mitch Maier (RF)
R – Mike Aviles (2B)
R – Yuniesky Betancourt (SS)