As we move from one phase of our life to another, we leave something behind. When you leave childhood for your teen years, you leave your toys and stop calling your parents mommy and daddy. The move from teens to adulthood often means leaving your carefree life of fun and adventure, often fueled by drugs and alcohol.
As I find myself entering what is called the youth of old age, I am learning what I am leaving behind, often not by choice or societal pressure. A lot of what is left behind becomes a source of frustration. Hearing and eyesight wane. The easy athleticism of younger years suddenly disappears. Hair on my head, once abundant, goes AWOL, only to pop up in unwanted places, like my ears and back. I’ve taken to wearing my shirt at the beach, so as to not frighten small children and young ladies. I often catch women staring at my ample stomach and have to remind them that, hey, my eyes are up here. It’s been a difficult adjustment to go to bed at 9:30 and wake up at 6:00 and be perfectly happy about it. It’s taken me some time to get used to these new frustrations.
The 2019 Royals season and the Sunday game against the Yankees perfectly mirrored the frustrations I feel about getting older. I’m generally an upbeat, optimistic guy, but this team is testing me. Just a few short years ago, this was a game Kansas City would have won. A late inning rally to take the lead, then hand it off to the bulletproof bullpen and chalk up the W. Not anymore.
By my tally, the Royals pen (and to some extent, Ned Yost) have blown ten perfectly winnable games. You throw those games into the win column, and suddenly this team, despite its flaws in the bottom third of the order, becomes very interesting.
I settled into my easy chair on this beautiful Easter Sunday to watch Jorge Lopez. Brad Keller is the Royals ace right now, but I think Lopez could be the guy in a couple years. He has great stuff, but he’s young and inexperienced. He’ll continue to get better as he throws more innings and gains confidence. He’ll be a fun one to watch. The Yanks nicked him for a couple of early runs, but nothing serious. Then came the Yankee fifth. With one on and one out, the Royals put the shift on Brett Gardner. Why? It’s Brett Gardner for crying out loud, not Mickey Mantle!
The one thing I dislike about modern analytics in game situations is that it makes some managers think they are smarter than they are. Gardner of course, beat the shift by punching a roller through the hole where Mondesi WOULD have been in a normal alignment, which would have resulted in an inning ending 6-4-3 double play. My old man mind said: Patek to Rojas (or White) to Mayberry. Easy as pie. It’s amazing what a double play will do for a defense and a pitcher. When the pitcher doesn’t get the DP, he knows he should be out of the inning, but he’s not.
Instead, thanks to modern analytics, the inning extended, forcing Lopez to throw more pitches. Naturally, one of those pitches ended up flying out of the park, courtesy of Clint Frazier, a three-run jack that looked like a dagger in the Royals hearts. But it wasn’t. The top half of the Royals order put on one of those patented rallies we grew to love in the 2013-2015 salad days. A three-run jack by a resurgent Alex Gordon and a solo shot by Hunter Dozier gave the Royals a short-lived lead.
If you watched the game, you know it didn’t last. It only took Wily Peralta two batters to even the score. The Royals still had a shot, but it evaporated when Terrance Gore, who was signed specifically to steal bases, got picked off first. Ned then trotted out Jake Diekman in the bottom of the tenth. I root for Diekman. He grew up in Nebraska and was a Royals fan. Unlike most free agents, he wanted to play for Kansas City. To say that he’s had a rough year is an understatement. Prior to his first pitch, Hudler jinxed him by saying “he’s got good stuff.” Thanks Rex. Maybe he does, but he better learn to throw strikes.
After walking the only two batters he faced, and truth be told, most of his 16 pitches were nowhere near the strike zone, Ned called on Ian Kennedy, who gave up a perfectly placed sacrifice bunt and a fly ball and bingo, that was it. A Yankee win in a game that KC would have won a few years back.
Speaking of frustrations, how long does Kansas City keep playing Lucas Duda, Chris Owings and Jorge Soler? That trio was a combined 0-for-18 on Sunday and if any of them are hitting their weight, I’ll eat my Monarchs hat. Duda is just taking valuable playing time away from O’Hearn and Schwindel. And what can you say about Owings? His deal is looking like a waste of precious resources. Just DFA the guy and call up Nicky Lopez.
And Jorge Soler. After his injury shortened 2018 campaign, I thought maybe, just maybe, he had turned it around. But no. He looks like the lost child he was in 2017. Swinging at everything out of the strike zone. Taking pitches in the strike zone. His confidence at the plate looks shot. He was absolutely clueless at the plate in 2017 and he is again. I can’t recall the last time a Royal wore the Golden Sombrero. Bo Jackson maybe? At least Bo made things happen, at the plate and in the field. Soler does neither. Royals batters struck out an astounding 20 times on Sunday, with Soler earning the platinum Sombrero, as Yankee pitchers unmercifully abused him.
Soler has whiffed 36 times in 22 games, which puts him on pace for a 267-strikeout season, which would easily smash the club record held by Bo (172 times in 1989). Is it finally safe to say the Davis for Soler trade was a colossal bust for DM? I know and understand that DM thought he had to trade Davis, but the truth is he got a pitiful return for one of the game’s premier relievers.
I did see highlights of a couple of other games this weekend. Jose Martinez continues to play well for the other Missouri team. Lorenzo Cain is still a stud. And Brian Goodwin continues to rake, now sitting at .350 for the Angels. I only say this in the rare event that DM reads this column. I just wanted to remind him that for the past few years, he has sucked at his job.
For a fan, watching your team play well over an entire season is a magical feeling. I loved every minute of the 2013-2014-2015 seasons. I knew at the time what we were seeing was rare, a perfect storm of draft choices, trades and free agent signings maturing at the same time. The last time I had felt that way was the magical summer of 1977. I just hope the Royals brass doesn’t make us wait 37 more years before they put it together again.