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Remember, It’s One Game

Wow, yesterday was not fun. After five straight games that went down to the last at bat, the Royals had a three run lead yesterday through eight and then handed the ball to one of the game’s best closers. The game should have been over. And sure enough, Joakim Soria got two quick outs before the roof caved in. When it was all said and done, Soria had given up four runs, which is more than he had allowed in any single inning in his Major League career. It’s more than he’s allowed in a month since, I believe, August of 2009. What you hope for is that it was a fluke and that the idea that a closer’s shelf life is very short is not true for the Royals ace reliever. Personally, I’m not worried about Soria until he proves time and time again that he can’t handle the job. He has worried me a bit this year with his inability to miss bats, but it’s going to take more than five appearances for me to get too panicked considering his velocity is still fine.

So there’s a lot of negative to take away from yesterday’s game, but with the string of strong performances and exciting wins to start the season, I’m actually pretty upbeat in spite of yesterday’s results. First of all, to live and die with every single game is a football mentality that baseball fans just cannot live by. Yes, root for every game, but a loss does not spell doom. Every team will lose their fair share of games. Even the best 162 game team of all time, the 2001 Mariners, lost 46 games. To put that in football terms, that’s almost three straight winless season’s worth. You’re going to lose a lot in the game of baseball, and you have to be able to accept losses. My family might argue that this is interesting advice coming from me, but I would argue back that it isn’t the loss itself that bothers me. It’s how they get to the loss. If the team makes four errors, can’t get the runner home from third with less than two outs and strikes out 17 times, I’m going to be upset. If they play well and lose, well I’m not going to be happy but it’s a result that I can live with.

The positive I took from yesterday’s game is that the Royals were able to take a lead early and hold onto it until late in the game. With the way the Royals bullpen had performed in the first five games, that seemed like an open and shut case. Well, it didn’t work out that way. More times than not, though, it will work out the way we hope. I would go out on a limb and say that the Royals winning percentage when up by three after eight innings will end the season at over .900. It’s just a fluky way to lose a game. It hurts that the game preceded another off-day in the fact that they have to think about it now for two days, but they’re a young, resilient team. I have no worries that they won’t be able to bounce back from this.

Now that the first week of the season is in the books, we have a chance to look back and see what’s working what isn’t and make some evaluations. Obviously the sample is still much too small, but it’s getting bigger. For example, if you figure a 600 at bat season, Alex Gordon has completed 1/20 of that. You have to assume he won’t continue to get seven plate appearances per game as he has the last few because of all the extra innings. The first 29 at bats, though, have been quite impressive and lend credence to his promise of domination. Now, he’s had stretches like this before where it looks like he’s put it together, but without looking I’d be willing to wager that he’s never gotten this many hits in a week off a left-handed pitcher. It’s encouraging to watch him do this, and makes me very hopeful for the future.

One thing that comes from Gordon having success (if it continues) is that it provides just one more piece of protection for the young players. I think I’ve talked about this before. When Gordon came up he was thrust into the fifth spot in the batting order. I’m not a huge believer that he would have had a better start to his career if he could have batted seventh or eighth, but it still would have been nice to have been able to put the pressure on someone else. Well now the Royals have another pair of youngsters about ready to emerge at the same time and one more bat at the Major League level means just a little bit less pressure on these guys. Between Butler and Gordon and hopefully someone else emerging, Hosmer and Moustakas can start their careers hitting in the bottom half of the order and work their way up.

The positives don’t end with Gordon, though. I’ve been very happy with the way Billy Butler is driving the ball. He’s hitting right around .350 and that’s with three balls (that I can remember) being absolutely blistered but caught on great plays. If you’re hitting .350 with bad luck, just imagine what he’ll do when things turn around. There are some players in the game who could win a batting title or could hit 35 homers. I just have this feeling that Butler can do both. I don’t think he’ll end the year at .350, but I do think we’ll see another batting average around .320 or so. His patience at the plate has been improving each year, and I think this is the year we see him put up the .320/.400/.500 line and move into the upper echelon of hitters.

The final positive I want to touch on here is Jeff Francis. I didn’t get to watch him pitch yesterday, but from what it looked like he was just outstanding. He seems to know when to dial it up and when to pull back in order to conserve energy. I’m not especially confident that he can maintain a sub-2.00 ERA all season long, but I am confident that he can be the best pitcher on the staff for his tenure as a Royal. I hope he’s not because that would mean that one of the younger guys had stepped forward, but his presence in the rotation has been a huge plus so far, and I think will continue to be.

So this was one loss. Yes, it was heartbreaking. Yes, it was unexpected. Yes, it was the best game the Royals had played all year and they lost. I know that’s scary, but it’s one game out of 162. They’re going to lose a lot more than this one over the rest of the season. I’m fairly certain they won’t end up 160-2. Call me a pessimist, but that’s just my take on things. The fact is that this team is fun to watch. There are at bats you just don’t want to miss, pitchers you don’t want to miss throwing and you certainly can’t turn a game off. Royals baseball is fun again and it’s about to good again, too.

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