The first-place blue birds return home to raise the curtain on the 19th season of baseball at the Dome, having survived a rollercoaster series in Tampa Bay minimally scathed. Hopefully they enjoyed it, because when the goosebumps-inducing pregame ceremonies are over and a raucous crowd welcomes redemption-bent A.J. Burnett to the hill, the Jays will find themselves battling a team whose personality resembles that of the very annoying Rays of about two years ago. Like those Rays, the Royals are still a
couple of years away from unleashing the full
brunt of their youth movement on the AL, but they do have a few highly-touted
youngsters getting their feet wet. They also have more than enough
scrappers and veterans to put up a
fight against anyone when their pitching cooperates. What are the odds
of that happening? Actually, in this series, better than you might think. There are no easy games in the AL.
On to the Advance Scout!
Odalis Perez: A 29-year-old veteran lefty who's surprisingly tough on righties. He has a deep bag of tricks, most notably a cutter and changeup, and he won't beat himself. Of course it usually takes a bit more than merely not beating oneself to solve the Jays when one throws lefthanded, but I could see the Jays popping up a lot and struggling to push runs across. Maybe not likely, but... conceivable?
Zack Greinke: The can't-miss prospect spent a significant portion of last season completely detached from baseball battling social anxiety disorder. He returned to AA Wichita to put himself back together, and he actually had very solid numbers in the second half. He's now the Royals' #3 starter. He has a pretty standard arsenal of pitches - a low-90s fastball, slider, curve and change, plus a Fossumesque Bugs Bunny curve he'll break out once in a while. Greinke was Daisuke's uncelebrated opponent on Thursday, but he acquitted himself very well in that game, going 7 innings with 7 strikeouts. He whiffed David Ortiz thrice in the process. Tuesday looks like a tricky matchup.
Jorge de la Rosa: Lefty who's either Effectively Wild or wildly bad. He came to the Royals from Milwaukee in exchange for Tony Graffanino last summer. His heater usually sits around 91 mph; he can have trouble locating it, but he's not afraid to challenge hitters with it. He does his damage with a breaking ball in the mid-70s and a change that hovers around 80. He's coming off the best start of his career: last Friday, he went 7 strong innings against the Tigers in a 3-1 win. In that start, he threw almost exclusively fastballs in the first couple of innings. That might be the Royals' brain trust trying to calibrate him early and improve his command. Since it worked so well, I could see them trying that again this week. Look for the Jays to come out swinging...
Tony Pena, Jr.: The new everyday shortstop while Angel Berroa undertakes a vision quest in AAA. Pena put up John McDonald numbers last year, which is pretty bad given that he was playing in AAA. But he's a late bloomer: he never played organized baseball (never faced a live pitcher!) before he signed with the Braves' organization in 1999. Bill Reiter at the KC Star has a great story on Junior's unconventional path to the majors and the pressure of always being compared to dad.
Alex Gordon: The Royals' brightest prospect is off to a rousing .053/.100/.053 start with 8 strikeouts and 0 walks. Manager Buddy Bell gave him a day off this weekend but rightly isn't declaring Gordon to have been found wanting just yet: "We would have no players left if we evaluated on [Curt] Schilling, [Josh] Beckett, [Daisuke] Matsuzaka and [Justin] Verlander."
Esteban German: An underrated hitter who will probably start twice this series as manager Buddy Bell does what he can to shield Mark Grudzielanek's fragile toes from the dreaded RC turf. German seems to have dedicated himself to patience and working pitchers, and predictably, he's received a sizable OBP boost over the last two years. I think this guy could easily be starting at second for a few major-league teams, especially in a universe where Mark De Rosa gets $13 million for three years to play second.
David DeJesus: Had two hits off Daisuke, including a homer. Wouldn't it be nice if Russ Adams wound up hitting like this guy?
Mike Sweeney: Take it away, Jason Whitlock: "He hasnít had a hit since opening day. Heís hitting .133 for the season. Captain Sweeney is swinging the bat like a fifth of Captain Morgan after a date with Grey Goose."
Joakim Soria: The Royals' Rule 5 pick, liberated from the Padres' organization and immediately thrust into high-leverage situations in the Royals' pen. He's only 22. The Mexican righty put his name on the map with a perfecto in Mexican winterball. Soria, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2003, leans on a low-90s fastball with loads of movement and solid command. He has a starter's arsenal of pitches and will probably fight his way into the Royals' rotation at some point. He has already been entrusted with a couple of eighth innings.
David Riske: He's the nominal closer until Octavio Dotel returns from his strained oblique. Yesterday, he was handed a 2-0 lead in the ninth. The first three hitters he faced were Magglio, Sean Casey and Ivan Rodriguez. Double, walk, homer, 3-2. Riske doesn't really do anything terribly well; he just throws in the high 80s with good command and has plenty of experience. Joel Peralta might swipe a couple of save opportunities before Dotel's return.
Jimmy Gobble: 25-year-old Billy James Gobble struck out about a third of the lefties he faced last year and has been deployed as a strict LOOGY thus far. This is his fifth season in the majors; since he throws with the correct arm, he should have a nice payday coming in a couple of years. Probably not from the Royals.
Marketing Department: Last year's Royals slogan was "Your Team. Your Town." Since the strategy of aping a New York team's tagline worked so well then, this year's slogan is: "True. Blue. Tradition," one notch below "Pride. Power. Pinstripes."
The Credit Section: Batted-ball and Leverage Index data are available at Fangraphs. K% and BB% are strikeouts and walks respectively as a percentage of plate appearances. I replaced the LHP% stat for hitters with raw homers for no real reason other than that chicks dig the long ball. Everything else, most notably the AL average statistics, is available at The Hardball Times. The "Rest" column for relievers is basically self explanatory: the number on the left of the forward slash is the number of days off the pitcher has had, while the number on the right is the number of pitches the pitcher threw in his last outing.
I'm sticking with last year's stats through the end of this week, to give the batted-ball data for 2007 a bit of time to sort themselves out. I think I'll switch to 2007 stats for the Boston series next Tuesday. Alrighty? ... Silence? I'll take that as a yes.