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Offense Keeps Scoring, Royals Keep Winning

Good teams beat the teams they are supposed to beat. It’s pretty simple. If you’re a good team and you have a four game series at home against a team that is worse than you, a split is the very worst you should do and not be terribly upset. Realistically, you should win three out of four games from that series, and move on to the next one. Well, this homestand that the Royals are on is going to be a good barometer of what level the Royals are playing on at this point in the season. They have four against the Mariners and four against the Indians. The two teams are a little different in that the Indians are off to a good start while the Mariners are not. Still, the Royals came out strong and won the first game with relative ease.

The big difference between the Mariners and Indians is that they’re in different places in the early going. As I mentioned, Cleveland is off to a fast start. They’re 8-4, now tied with the Royals for first place in the American League Central and feeling pretty confident. I talked a few days ago about the fact that they may not be quite as bad as we thought they would be. They’re looking at their series against the Royals as an opportunity to potentially get fat against a team that was supposed to be bad while the Royals are doing the exact same thing. Still, the advantage goes to the Royals in this series as they’re playing it at home.

Last night’s game was fun to watch. There were a couple of errors, one of which was a sloppy play by Kila Ka’aihue (though it might have been a slick ball, still no excuse), but the defense had a strong showing otherwise with fantastic plays early on from Escobar and Cabrera. There was another play Escobar made last night that I remarked would never have even been close had Yuniesky Betancourt been playing shortstop. I’m loving that trade more and more every day. Yes, it would have been nice to have Zack Greinke at his peak fronting this young rotation, but I’m over him and excited about the return. Anyway, the defense was fantastic, there was some solid hitting and a great pitching performance by Bruce Chen.

Chen’s the person I wanted to talk about more than anybody today. He got credit for a complete game because the game ended in the middle of the eighth last night. He was at 101 pitches, so it’s debatable whether or not he would have had an opportunity to get a nine inning complete game, but he gets the CG next to his name and that’s all that matters. He wasn’t dominant, but for the second straight start he was very good. He kept hitters off balance and was just generally in control the entire game. The run he gave up was unearned which hurts because he could have and should have had a shutout, but the win is the most important thing. I think it’s pretty clear that Chen will struggle in parks a little bit smaller than Kauffman Stadium or on days when the wind is gusting out because he serves up a lot of fly balls, but on a night like last night in a stadium like Kauffman Stadium, he was nails.

I wrote after the season ended that he would have a hard time replicating his success from 2010, and I sort of regret that sentiment. He may implode over the course of the season, but from watching Chen pitch in his last two starts, he’s a starter with a purpose on the mound. I’ve always thought that one of the best ways for someone with decent stuff to get by in the Majors is to play the game at his pace. Mark Buehrle is the master of that, and look at the career he has carved out for himself. I think Buehrle has a little better stuff than Chen, but part of his success comes from the fact that he works at a fast pace, keeps his defense in the game and throws strikes. In Chen’s last two games, he’s walked two batters, pitched quickly and experienced very good success. If he can keep that up all year, he won’t quite be an ace or anything like that, but he’s a very good guy to have around. Also, him having success utilizing this technique is a great lesson to the young pitchers like Montgomery.

I’m not going to pretend that Chen’s last two starts weren’t aided by both ballpark and conditions, but he’s perfectly acceptable as a #4 starter, especially in this rotation. All things equal, I’d much rather Hochevar and Davies performing at this level because they could potentially be a part of the future, but good performances help no matter who is providing them.

One other thing I wanted to touch on today is the fact that the Royals offense is really clicking, and some of the credit has to go to Kevin Seitzer. The player he has probably impacted the most is serving as the third hitter in the lineup and has continued his hot hitting from the spring. Alex Gordon has been fantastic. He now has seven doubles and nine runs batted in through the first 12 games of the season. I’m not going to predict 95 doubles for him, but he’s looking more and more like his new approach is for real. I wouldn’t be shocked if he finished with a .300/.370/.500 line, though I also wouldn’t be entirely shocked if he fell off the face of the earth. I’m not completely a believer yet, though I’m getting very, very close. The encouraging thing about Gordon that I credit Seitzer for is the way he’s hitting against lefties. Gordon has 19 hits this year and ten of them are off lefties. He’s hitting over .500 against them!

A lot of people believed prior to the season and even before spring training that the offense would be at least average, but they’ve shown they’re willing to take a walk and they hit a lot of line drives. Line drives fall in. Yes, they’ve had their share of bloop hits, but a little luck isn’t the worst thing in the world for a team. As they gain more and more confidence, they’re going to become more potent. Also, you have to assume that Kila Ka’aihue’s spot will improve in one way or another. Either he picks it up or he gets replaced by Eric Hosmer at some point midseason to add to the offense. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the Royals won’t win 108 games this year as their pace dictates, but it sure is fun to watch them win. We all thought this would be a fun season to watch, but I don’t think anybody expected it to be this fun.

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