Tomorrow afternoon's get-away-day-game against the Mariners now stands as the most important game of the season, as the Royals square off against an incredibly old, hittable Jamie Moyer and a still-bad M's lineup. If the Royals hit 18, then its on to Oakland, which has traditionally been a house of horrors for the boys in blue.
Now, with each mounting loss, the gleeful coverage in the national media escalates, as well as, we can only guess, the built up pressure inside the lockerroom. The problem is that this is probably a legitimate 38-80 team anyway, so the streak is fueled by an inherent low-talent level that acts as a catalyst that no amount of pyschological or emotional peace can counteract. Sure, the pitching's bad, but the real problem is the lineup, which contines, unfortunately, to be forced to bat every inning. The "good" Royal hitters (Sweeney, DeJesus, and Stairs and Brown perhaps) still form one of the worst lineup cores in baseball, and the bottom of the order is a complete and utter blackhole. The Berroa-Teahen-Buck-McEwing Daisey Chain is something straight outta 2003 Detroit, the worst Devil Ray teams and the British Olympic baseball squad. The odds against that half of the Royal lineup producing more than the occasional single-run are so great that its actually amazing when it ever happens. The only thing keeping Angel Berroa in the Major Leagues right now is his paycheck, as his .265/.305/.372 line, with terrible defense and base-running is positively the second coming of Neifi Perez's worst years. Mark Teahen seems like a nice young man, and we were all vaguely excited by his acquisition last summer, but he simply isn't a major league hitter right now, ditto for Super Joe McEwing. Lastly, John Buck's strung together decent months in the past, and even looked above-average late last season, but he's also a positively unstoppable out-machine right now, sporting a .275 OBP and a .605 OPS this month.
I know its an easy line, but this is the same team that sent Calvin Pickering packing after just 27 at bats, many coming off the bench. When a daily lineup question centers around how to fit Joe McEwing/T-Long best into the 1B/DH slot, you know theres a serious power-outage taking place. Tonight's a nice example, the Royals got a fluke double from McEwing, 5 scattered singles and a couple sac-flys. As we've noted before, frankly, they were a little lucky to score 3 runs at all. The merits of The Water Torture Offense aren't many, but if you don't even complement your lack of power and patience with many singles, then the entire enterprise seems even more braindead.
Back at the time of the Bell hire, Royals Review echoed the negative response that was the consensus of the stathead intelligensia, evoking the spectre of the 2003 Tigers, which strangely featured directly in Buddisimo's resume:
Bell was fired by the Tigers during the 1998 season as the team sat with a 52-85 record. In theory, the Tigers were going places in 1997, when they had won 79 games in a bad division. Bell's claim that the Tigers were a young team that never got a chance is simply incorrect, the 1999 was very similar to the '98 version, and was also bad, going 69-92. The problem here is that the assumption, made not just be Bell, but by nearly everyone, is that the development path taken by the early 90's Braves or the mid 90's Indians is the inevitable growth arc of a team. Basically, to borrow from Field of Dreams, "if you imagine it, it will come". Except, in fact, the historical standings in the almanac are littered with young, sorta talented teams that never made it to actual success. (See the 1996 Twins, the 1997 Pirates or, gasp, the 2000 Royals.) Either the vaunted stars never became stars, or the young players that did develop just never quite had enough help. Buddy Bell seems to think that the late 1990s Tigers were going places, but in point of fact, it was this very belief that directly produced one of the worst teams EVER, the 2003 Tigers. Of course, that very Tigers team has been an increasingly present spectre haunting this current Royals team, drawing nearer with each 6-loss week.Of course, the point isn't that Buddy Bell is the problem, or that the Royals won't surpass the Tigers' 2003 win-total, as both claims would be extreme. However, according to Baseball Prospectus, the Royals are only truly on-pace for 59 wins, their average total, should the season be simulated a million times. Moreover, Bell's public line is that he doesn't have an answer, that the team is really bad, and that oftentimes the effort isn't there.
So what exactly is his job then?
Drifting towards infamy, the Royals desperately need a fluky, easy 10-3 game. One of those fun days when the Berroa through McEwing string gets 8 or 9 hits and everything shines. Although the informed outsider position must ultimately eschew the hard-core psychological analysis of the team, as well as its long-term importance, as with mythical 20-loss quests, these things have a way of fulfilling their own destiny. Endless questions about pressure begating pressure.
So tomorrow, or rather, today, lets hope for the best. D.J. Carrasco's flashed signs of decency before, and Jaime Moyer's gotta wear down eventually...
In honor of 2003, although the irony is unbearable: