Thanks to two home runs by John Buck, the second an game-clinching grand slam in the bottom of the eighth, the Royals moved into first place in the AL Central with a record of 5-3. For Cleveland, the misery continues, as they fall to 1-7.
For the second straight night a Royals starter held down the Tribe in a fashion that was somewhere between a slog and a breeze. Scratch that, Davies was nowhere near what Greinke was doing last night, but it was a similar night on a different scale. Its also another indication of the importance of innings and their value: back to back short starts left the Royals vulernable tonight, in spite of the fact that they've held leads virtually the entire series. With both teams somewhat shorthanded in the bullpen, the Indians blinked/broke down horribly first, as Raffy Perez -- yet another Indian who was once something more than he is now -- couldn't get out of his own way in the eighth. A clutch Jacobs single made it 5-3, and Buck erased all doubt a few moments later.
For no real reason this off-season the Royals named Miguel Olivo the starter. Olivo has a number of playing time escalators in his contract, and beginning last season he began to voice his displeasure regarding playing time. The Buck-Olivo tandem has always been somewhat mystifying because, basically, they're the same guy. As such, the heated Buck-Olivo (and throw in Brayan Pena now as well) debates that often break out without warning online have always had laced with a touch of the absurd. We're arguing about two limited guys who are almost identical.
As "AxDxMx" pointed out yesterday, on the whole, the small differences they do have more or less cancel one another out:
So roughly, Olivo slugs a little better, Buck gets on base better, Olivo steals a few bases. It pretty much cancels out. Baseball Reference has their 162 game averages as producing an 81 OPS+ season for Buck and 78 for Olivo.
From where I sit, Olivo is a wildly more talented player, yet is no more effective. Olivo's cartoonish approach at the plate, which is legitimately one of the worst in the sport, tells us two things: 1) he isn't thinking up there and 2) he's like 15% Vlad Guerrero or he wouldn't be at this level at all. Buck is just a guy who swings and misses a lot, but who can hit the ball far when he connects with it.
The standard sports cliche, and maybe one we'll hear or read tomorrow, is that Buck needed someone to push him. Maybe. No one really knows how these things truly work, including the people themselves, who just like us are human, and end up searching for explanations after the fact. Sometimes, so the argument goes, having a guy lose his job is a good thing for him, yet other times, we hear the exact opposite, i.e., that someone has responded well to knowing their role was secure. Think about all the complete garbage we hear about relievers: they can only perform if they a) know exactly when they will pitch and b) are only used in that situation. We're talking about guys that have been the coolest guy in the room their entire life, yet somehow if they're short-men on a Major League roster they're suddenly timid flowers who must be told exactly what to do.
Actually, that isn't even accurate, the job is always the same: get people out.
But returning to Buck. He's at an interesting point in his career in a variety of ways. He's been a Royal long enough to have his defenders and his detractors. He did essentially get handed the catching job from his first day with the Royals, but he is also not necessarily (as evidenced by the Olivo signing) a Dayton guy. There's a perception that he's streaky, and his splits page on Baseball -Reference certainly reveals a guy who can post a .300 OPS month as easily as he can a .800. He's also at something of a hinge moment, he's getting closer to full fledged free agency and it isn't clear if he's best thought of as a starter or as someone who needs to be a backup. (Of course, with catchers, these definitions get fuzzy.)
Whatever may happen down the road, and whatever Buck may have actually felt or not felt watching Olivo start the season as the putative starter, he had to have enjoyed tonight.
The Royals go for the sweep tomorrow.