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Royal Bullpen Blows Big Lead, Bitterly Betrays Brian Bannister

Remember when we thought Dayton Moore was gifted at constructing good bullpens? This sentiment peaked in 2008, with the emergence of Ramon Ramirez, who complimented Soria and the handful of lesser lights who had given the Royals competent to good bullpens in '07 and '08. It makes sense, right? Bullpen guys are almost always reclamation projects, and here we had this great scouting team in place. They would know who just needed another chance, who just needed to iron out his delivery. All that.

For me, this was the last Moore illusion to go, at least regarding the Big League club. I wasn't a fan of the Crisp/Jacobs trades, but what I did like about them was that Moore was seemingly building on a strength, announcing, "I'm not afraid to lose Nunez and Ramirez because I can find good bullpen arms anywhere." Well, it turns out, he can't.

Trey Hillman isn't a good manager. He doesn't appear to really do anything well, and that includes the wishy-washy inspirational mumbo-jumbo aspect of managing. However, he's only partially to blame here. The Royals left Spring Training with a bad mix of relievers, thanks to a weak selection and some weird decisions regarding who goes to Omaha and who goes to KC. Hillman played a role in that, but beyond that, this latest meltdown really isn't on him.

But getting back to the specifics of this game. It is really really hard to lose a game when you lead 5-0 in the 7th inning, but the Royals found a way.

When Brian Bannister struck out Carlos Guillen to start the 7th, the Royals had something like a 90% chance of winning the game. And when you consider that the Tigers then rallied for six runs before the Royals could record just two more outs, you understand just how awful the inning was. It is incredibly difficult to score six runs in an inning without hitting a home run somewhere in the middle. But we now know that it can happen.

So the 7th was thus an odd mix of an incredibly predictable series of events that, nevertheless, rationally, were extremely unlikely.

  • Bannister gave up a walk to Brandon Inge and a double to Laird to make it 5-1. Despite that run and a man on second, we're only marginally into "it's a game now" territory. However, when Hillman elected to pull Bannister and insert Colon, you could see the Tigers growling.
  • Colon immediately surrenders a double to Scott Sizemore making it 5-2. However, the amazing thing is this, right after that, Santiago fouled out. With that out, the Royals were still about 90% likely to hold onto the game. It was 5-2 with one on and one out. But they found a way.
  • Even Jackson's double, which made it 5-3, only improved Detroit's chances of coming back to around ~20.
  • So Colon gives way to Hughes, who unluckily allows an infield single, and then walks Ordonez to load the bases. This sets up the Cruz-Cabrera battle, which produces a Cabrera walk, followed by a Carlos Guillen double, making it 6-5. Colon-Hughes-Cruz combined to allow four runs without recording an out to end the inning.
  • It honestly could and should have been worse, as Cruz continued to struggle in the 8th, and ultimately Cruz+ Mendoza would load the bases with one out. Somehow, Mendoza escaped but it did not matter.

The Royal offense, despite scoring 5 runs, is partially to blame. Scoring 5 runs off of the combination of Dontrelle Willis and four innings of the Tiger bullpen is no great accomplishment, especially considering that Willis does not appear to be a AA pitcher anymore. Squandering a bases loaded+one out situation in the 1st was especially costly.

The Royals are 3-5, in spite of a number of Dayton's Heroes playing way over their heads. Scotty Pods is hitting .452. Captain Kendall is hitting .310. Jose Guillen is hitting .312 with power.

No solutions, no hope.