This is never more apparent than at the beginning of the season when expectations are abound and disappointment has yet to infest public sentiment.
For the Royals, no other day is more exciting and indicative of fan excitement than the team’s home opener. Everyone knows that for just one day, the stars can align just perfectly and make us all believe that this could be the first year in a long time that this team could be a contender.
This year’s home opener against the visiting Detroit Tigers was no different.
Plumes of aromatic bliss rose from smokers all around Kaufmann Stadium on Monday, as devoted Royals fans cooked some of the best barbecue the country has to offer.
Tailgate parties began more than six hours ahead of the 3:10 PM first pitch, and hopes couldn’t be higher in Kansas City for this to finally to be the season that the Royals would contend in the AL Central.
The team’s were introduced, the jets flew over the stadium, and 40,000 of the country’s best baseball fans looked forward to a stellar performance by their beloved 2009 Cy Young winner, Zack Greinke.
Greinke went out and, aside from a ridiculous dropped popup by third baseman Willie Bloomquist, pitched a nearly flawless game for six innings.
He scattered six Tigers hits and allowed just one earned run while striking out four. Just like 2009, Greinke put his team in a fantastic position to win, leading the Tigers and ace Justin Verlander 4-2 when he departed.
Then, it happened.
The same thing that has caused Royals fans to give up on this team in the past, happened yet again…the Royals bullpen.
The Royals bullpen, with the exception of closer Joakim Soria, has been the Achilles' heel of this organization for the past decade.
Pitchers Roman Colon, Robinson Tejeda, and Juan Cruz combined to do what they did all last year, spoil the efforts of the American League’s best young starting pitcher, and send Royals fans to the exits early.
Six hits and six runs later, the Royals turned a 4-2 lead into an 8-4 loss, and the hopes of enjoying first place for at least one day went up in smoke. And once again, Greinke was again left pondering his decision of last season when he signed a long-term contract with this team.
While the Royals have committed themselves to developing their young starting pitchers, but they have shown no commitment whatsoever to bring in relievers who can be the bridge from those starters to one of the game’s best closers in Soria.
A year ago, the Royals signed Cruz and fellow disappointment Kyle Farnsworth, and the Royals have continued to lose.
After this offseason where the Royals brought in players to shore up a poor defensive unit from a year ago, this team failed to address a crew of middle relievers who’d be best suited throwing batting practice before little league games.
Instead of watching the promise of yet another season get flushed down the toilet, the Royals need to take one of two approaches to repair the bridge from the team’s young starters to Soria:
Sign a Veteran Former Closer
Veteran pitchers like Jason Isringhausen, Eddie Guardado, Julian Tavarez, John Smoltz, or even Pedro Martinez are all currently free agents the Royals could bring in to fill their middle-relief void.
And unlike Cruz and Farnsworth, none of them will command more than about $1.5 million for a chance to pitch this season. Isringhausen was arguably the best of the bunch in limited play with the Rays last season, and he made just $750,000.
Let the Kids Play
The Royals have plenty of young pitching prospects who they could allow to learn at the Major League level what it takes to succeed in their future roles as starters on this team.
Tejeda, who was part of the debacle in the home opener, fits into this mold, but the other relievers on the roster do not.
Perhaps the perfect candidate for this role would be last year’s first-round pick Aaron Crow. Other small-market teams like the Minnesota Twins have historically allowed their best pitching prospects to cut their teeth in the majors as middle relievers, including current starters Nick Blackburn and Francisco Liriano.
Whatever Royals general manager Dayton Moore decides to do with his bullpen, the one option he doesn’t have is to go through all of 2010 with the current hodge-podge crew he has there now.
Making a move and ridding this team of overpaid guys like Cruz and Farnsworth would go a long way in showing Royals fans that this team truly wants to win.
Consequently, those fans will continue to load up their smokers and their families and come out to Kaufmann Stadium to support this team.
If something isn’t done about the bullpen, however, Monday will likely be the last time you see six-hour tailgate parties and fans flocking to a sporting event in Kansas City, at least until football season begins in September.