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Royals Need a Bounce Back Tonight to Keep Good Vibes

Tonight’s game is potentially the most important game the Royals have had in almost two seasons. Yes, it’s important because they need a win to get back to within one game of the division lead. And yes, it’s important because it’s always important to win in your division. And yes, it’s important because you need to stop losing streaks before they start, and as we learned from Major League, two games is not yet a streak.* But the reason that I think it is so darn important is because of the fact that last night’s game looked like the Royals of old. The bullpen imploded and lost the game. I’m not so concerned about that fact other than the fact that it just snowballed in the tenth on Tim Collins. Games will be lost. That happens. The way the Royals lost this game – with shoddy defense, walks and the inability to get the big hit – made me cringe because it reminded me of previous seasons of Royals baseball.

*I think I’ve talked about this before, but for my money there isn’t a better baseball movie than Major League. I could probably watch that once a week for the rest of my life and never get sick of it. I have a ritual that I’ve adopted in the last five or six years that I always watch Major League within a couple weeks of baseball season starting. It just gets me pumped up for baseball. When I heard they were making another Major League centered around Rick Vaughn (played by Charlie Sheen) as a mentor to young players, I was ecstatic. Let’s hope it still gets made.

So the Royals desperately need a bounce back game tonight, and the weather looks like it will favor another solid Bruce Chen performance. If the wind last night is any indication of what the wind will be tonight, Chen’s flyball tendencies will benefit greatly from a gust in from right. He has a good chance to continue his strong start to the season. The Royals are facing a guy I remember them pummeling last season, but he’s had a strong start to the season in the minors, so we’ll see what happens there. In order to win tonight’s game, I think Kila Ka’aihue has to perform well. I don’t know why, but I get the feeling that Kila Ka’aihue has to do something, anything, in the next few days or else he’s going to be in trouble with his roster spot. I don’t agree with that notion, but I think it’s a distinct possibility.

Really, the lineup right now is one that is very interesting as it is filled with four or five guys who you have supreme confidence in, and four or five guys who I personally have absolutely no confidence in right now. If Gordon, Butler, Betemit, Aviles or, gasp, Francouer are at the plate, I feel pretty good about the chances. But if Getz, Cabrera, Escobar, Treanor, Pena or Ka’aihue come to the plate, I don’t feel so good about what might transpire. It’s an interesting dynamic. I can’t remember quite a discrepancy between so many hitters. Typically, Royals teams have one or two guys who you want up in a key situation, but not five. And if they have five, it seems rare to me that there are five or six others that you wish would get lost from the on deck circle to the batter’s box.

For now, though, the lineup is what it is. Reinforcements could arrive at any time, but we have to live with what we’ve got right now. Unfortunately, I have a feeling the Royals think Cabrera is doing a bang up job when in reality, he just hasn’t been especially good. He’s made a couple great catches in center, but overall has been about average, if not below average. He’s not getting on base at all, though, and in the second spot in the batting order, that’s sort of an important trait. It gets more important when the Royals have their first legitimate 3-4 punch in years with Gordon and Butler. Gordon’s got 12 RBI already this season. Think how well he’d be doing if his leadoff and number two hitters were getting on base more often. I know RBI isn’t a stat terribly indicative of future success, but it does mean runs, and those are sort of important.

Right now, Lorenzo Cain is working his way back from a hamstring injury, so he’s probably not an option to replace Cabrera. Also, I’m not sure the Royals would be willing to replace him this early even If they thought he was performing poorly. While his ridiculously hot spring training made the decision easy, if they were truly going to play him anyway based on the fact that they told him he’d be their center fielder, then they wouldn’t take that way 10% into the season. Remember, Dayton Moore has said many times that he likes to take the first 40 games to evaluate a team before making any drastic changes. I guess I should have thought about that when I mentioned Kila being on a short leash. With Cain just coming back and not having played so well in his first few games, you have to wonder if David Lough might actually get a shot on the big league roster before Cain. His future is probably as a fourth outfielder, though I think he could be a decent starter. Once Cain is deemed ready, you shift Lough to that role and do whatever you need to do with Mitch Maier.

After two straight losses, the glow of a 10-4 start has shifted to concern over a now 10-6 record. Some are concerned because they lost two in a row, but I’m concerned because of the way they played last night. Every team will have games like that, but as a Royals fan my entire life, it is engrained to me that last night is Royals baseball. I don’t know, I guess they need to prove to me that they weren’t on a 14 or 15 game hot streak before they reverted back to their old selves. Even if they can’t, I’ll repeat what I’ve said all season long and what I said all off-season long. The Royals may not be a good team this year, but they’ll be fun and exciting to watch. Even giving up four runs in the tenth, I loved watching Tim Collins pitch with his fast pace and intensity. He’s going to be a good one, but he’s a rookie and will hit some road blocks. It happens. The key is the bounce back for both him and the Royals as a whole.

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