Here’s a question: When was the last time a Major League Baseball team faced a must-win game this early in the season? Give up? Okay, the answer is last year at this same time. However, it may have been a trick question since the team needing the win today and last year are one and the same. That’s right, it’s mid April and once again my Kansas City Royals are fighting for their playoff lives. It they were an NBA team with two games to play, that would be exciting. Alas, they claim to play in the MLB, and that means they have 148 games left. And this afternoon, they must win.
It’s terrifyingly eerie, actually, the similarities between the start of this season and last season – especially since this team is supposed to be so much better. It’s the first full year of the Dayton Moore Experience. His free agent moves are now on the clock – Gill Meche, Ryan Shealy, Tony Pena, Jr. His improvement of the Royals’ minor league system is ready to produce – Alex Gordon and Zack Greinke now, Billy Butler and Luke Hoechaver soon. He’s got the veterans who can build on great things from last year – Mark Teahen and Mark Grudzielanek. This should be so much better right? Well, based on the first 14 games, we’ve seen a whopping one game improvement.
In 2006, the Royals started strong with a 2-3 home stand. All they had to do was have a mildly successful nine-game road trip and they’d start generating some confidence and keep the fans coming back. So, what did they do? They went 0-9 on the road. Nothing ever really improved after that point. Just that quick, they were 2-12 and out of contention. So, now we have all these high hopes for 2007. So what do they do? They open up 2-4 at home, but they played Payroll, Jr. (Boston Red Sox) and the defending American League Champion Detroit Tigers. Plus, they got some great pitching performances. The only concern were their quiet bats. All they needed to do was have a mildly successful 10-game road trip. 4-6 would do it. So, what happens? The only two positives are a win in the second game in Toronto and a rain out of the fourth game in Baltimore. That’s right. They are 1-7 on the trip. They did give up grand slams in three consecutive games, so that was pretty cool. And David DeJesus. That guy’s awesome. But, if they lose this afternoon, they come home at 3-12. If they win, it’s 4-11. That single win can make a world of difference. If they don’t get it, the wheels might just come off again.
So, as you probably know from reading this site, it’s time for me to make a couple of well-intended suggestions. Look, I love the Royals and always will. And I’m in no way saying that the front office hasn’t considered these options. Perhaps they have. What I am saying is that there are a couple of things I would do in order to keep that feeling of hope for winning Royals baseball, especially if they aren’t going to actually win on the field. So, here are my top three suggestions.
1) Trade Mike Sweeney. Now, I’m not saying trade him today, because I think he’s hitting .162 and you’re not going to get much considering his injury history. But, as soon as he warms up a bit and gets that average up to about .250, I say start shopping. Two reasons: First, he’s still a big enough name to draw some interest from those teams that like to spend in the A.L. – the Angels, Red Sox and Yankees all might take a look. Second, you’ve got a better hitter cooling his heals in Wichita. Let Billy Butler take over the D.H. duties. We want to see him in K.C.
2) Play Reggie Sanders every day. The man is hitting .391. He deserves to be on the field every single day until they decide to trade him. And they will decide to trade him. Reggie is playing his way into the perfect fourth outfielder/pinch hitter on any contender in either league. If he stays healthy, he’s going to command some decent value in return come late June, early July. Let him show off what he’s got so we can get something back for him.
3) Start looking for a new manager. This must be done quietly. I’m not in any way trying to disparage Buddy Bell’s character. He seems to be a truly nice guy. He is not, however, by any stretch of the imagination, a successful major league manager. At the end of this season, if not sooner, he needs to go. We need someone who knows how to prepare a team to play. This team has been woefully unprepared for several years. Buddy is not the answer. He been keeping the seat warm since Tony Pena quit, but he hasn’t shown the ability to motivate the players or manage the game. I’m not saying do it now, but at least by the end of the year, be ready to hire someone new.
So, that’s it. That’s where I would start. Well, that’s not quite true. The place to start is by getting a win this afternoon. Then come home and build on it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Kansas City is a baseball town. It always will be. We want a competitive team and the parts are tantalizingly close. We’re almost there. We just need a win to keep the hope alive.
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