I'm a huge Royals fan. I've endured year after year of losing teams, but have always held an optimistic attitude toward the boys in blue. Going into this season, I knew they’d lose games. But I was anxious to see the young talent and was hopeful that the new spring training techniques would actually yield a fundamentally solid team.
But this is freakin’ ridiculous. The Royals are now 5-14, a pathetic .263 winning percentage.
Here are some things to ponder:
• The Royals have lost 11 of their last 13 games
• We’re still in April and the Royals have already been swept 3 times
• A Royals starter has not earned a victory in 13 games
• We’re still in April and the Royals are already on their third closer
• We’re still in April and the Royals are already 10 games out of first place
In 2002, the Royals got off to an 8-15 (.348) start and manager Tony Muser was fired. At the time, Buck Showalter was a commentator on ESPN, and had openly lobbied for the job. Showalter wanted to come to Kansas City to manage. Instead, the Royals chose Tony Pena, citing his ability to get his players to over-achieve and to lead young players.
Pena finished out the 2002 season 49-77, and Royals completed their first ever 100-loss season. Things looked good in 2003 when the Royals jumped out to an incredible 16-3 start. However, as is noted here, the team was actually playing way over their heads. An incredible amount of luck launched that start, and they eventually fell back to earth and were just 67-76 after those 19 games.
In 2004, the wheels really came off as the Royals completed their worst ever season losing 104 games.
In Pena’s defense, he’s not been given much to work with. After their worst ever season in 2004, the Royals actually cut payroll, choosing to “start over” with fresh young talent. Their hope was to get a core group of young guys playing well together that would develop into a contending team in a year or two.
To help this plan along, the Royals stressed the basics in spring training this year. They were the first team in baseball to use “eye in the sky” video cameras to tape practices and review film. They stressed fundamentals and the basics of the game, knowing that they would have very little margin for error if they hoped to win games this season.
What is the result of all this? One of the worst fundamental teams I’ve ever seen. 2004 was a ridiculous display of baseball fundamentals (including infielders being hit in the back by cutoff throws – twice! – and the first baseman and pitcher colliding while fielding a bunt), but 2005 isn’t any better. Missed bunts, missed cutoff throws, errors, walks, they are all piling up quickly.
Add to the poor play a slew of questionable strategy moves, and it becomes obvious that this manager is in over his head.
Here are some examples:
• In two straight starts, Pena allows Runelvys Hernandez to throw over 100 pitches, even though he is just returning from Tommy John surgery. Meanwhile, he removes Zach Grienke (who has never had an injury) after only 84 pitches in a close game where Greinke is pitching very well. In the former case, Hernandez tires and nobody is warming up. In the latter case, the bullpen implodes.
• In the 6th inning of an 8-8 game where Royals batters are hitting the ball hard, Pena elects to deploy the suicide squeeze with a runner at third and one out. The bunt is muffed and the runner is tagged out. The batter then grounds out ending the threat and the Royals later lose in extra innings.
• In the top of the ninth inning with two outs, Angel Berroa tries to steal third and is thrown out. When asked why Berroa tried to steal, Pena replied, “I don’t know.”
I can understand employing a manager who maybe isn’t the best strategically, if it’s obvious that he can groom young players and make them play hard and play solid fundamental baseball. But this manager isn’t able to do anything well. His young players are playing with reckless abandon with no sense of direction. His strategic moves make no sense, and his players are not held accountable (Apparently, Berroa was not reprimanded for his blunder).
In Texas, Showalter has managed to improve the Rangers year after year, even while enduring shrinking payrolls. His Rangers finished 2004 89-73 (.549) and are 10-10 so far in 2005.
It is time. This is a small market team (and by the way, we Royals fans are getting very tired of hearing that excuse. Look at two of the last three World Series winners – “small market” teams). This team cannot afford to buy talent (although, just using their luxury tax money, they could nearly double their payroll), so they need a manager who can teach the players to play hard, flawless baseball and who can make the correct, subtle strategic moves that turn one-run losses into one-run victories.
Tony Pena is clearly not that manager.
This Royals apologist is tired of apologizing. I have my 15 games season ticket package, but it is becoming very difficult to be a fan. I’ve always been a die-hard, hard-core Royals fans regardless of wins and losses. But after 20 years of losing with no end in site and nothing but worse finishes in site, I’m ready to give up. If this is their idea of fielding a Major League team, then maybe they should be contracted.