Series preview: Diamondbacks vs. Royals

On the road and into the American League go the Arizona Diamondbacks, as they head off for their first second taste of the DH this season, going to Kansas City. Being foreign, it took me quite some time to work out that Kansas City was not in Kansas, but in Missouri. After all, Arizona City is in Arizona, and New York City is in...well, you get the point. So all my carefully-crafted references to The Wizard of Oz and 70's prog-rock go out the window.

Kansas has struggled almost as much as Arizona, having one more win to this point. However, they don't have anyone streaking away at the top of their division, so are only 5.5 games out of first. It's been the pitching that's been getting it done. Their offense has an OPS+ of 91, 11th in the American League, mostly because of a team batting average of .251, ahead only of Oakland. They are also 13th in home-runs, but don't lack for speed and lead the AL in triples - and it's not even close, with the Royals having 23, nine more than the next-placed Angels.

However, on the mound they've had more success, with an ERA+ of 106, fifth in the league. That's mostly thanks to one man, Zack Greinke. In his first ten starts, he had five complete games and an ERA of 0.84. In the three games since, he has returned to mortality somewhat, but his 1.72 ERA is still the best in the AL. We'll get to see him on Saturday, when he faced Max Scherzer. For more on the Royals, I traded Q+As with Ray Wachter of RoyalsOnRadioEtc.com - his questions and my answers are on his site here, while my questions and his answers on all things KCR-related, are after the jump.

 

1. The Royals are fourth in the division, 28-34 and 5.5 back. Do fans feel they are still in contention?

Well, before the three game sweep of the Reds we just finished off. The Royals were 7-23 in their last 30 games - a stretch that moved us from first in the AL Central to the third worst team in baseball. And it was a punchless offense that put us in that situation. Now that the offense has started to come to, there is a little more optimism. Of course, the Royals have always done great in inter-league play, and the skid was really the lowest point in this season to date, but the Reds sweep put a little bit of hope back. Fans start thinking again "Hey, we are only 5.5 games back". But with the current team it won't happen. If the Royals are to compete they'll need some more guys to fill the cracks in this team, and we have a few to be sure.

2. Zack Greinke: great pitcher or the *greatest* pitcher? What's the difference this year that has propelled him from solid starter to arguably the best in the AL?

I couldn't tell you for sure but, as Joe Posanski pointed out, this year he just let his fastball go - instead of the low 90's, it has been up in the high 90's, and the results have been really good. But I'll be real with you: I didn't see this coming. He's just been so good this year, that even his bad starts have been pretty average by MLB standards. As for great or greatest, he still has to finish the season, and only if he keeps it up could he be considered the greatest - because Halladay has been doing it for years. I'll give Doc the nod as AL's best but Zack is gaining ground for sure. And of course I gotta point out Zack has one Major League HR, I wonder which team he hit it off of...

3. Hey, it was off Russ Ortiz. It doesn't count. How's Alberto Callaspo been for y'all? We always knew he was capable of hitting... [Sorry, couldn't resist a cheap shot]

... Oh, did you say something? Just got back from feeding the chickens. But, seriously, Alberto (or Bert) has been solid all year for us, after missing about two months of last year after being arrested for DUI (June 27), and undergoing treatment. In Spring Training he seemed like the odd man out of the infield, and would be the backup second baseman, but when Gordon went down 7 games into the year, the Royals then moved Mark Teahen from second to third, Bert got his shot and he took it. His line so far into the season, .318 BA, 4 HR (including a grand slam), 24 RBI, 18 2B's. So, yeah, the bat's solid. The D on the other hand, has improved but then again in Saturday's game he had a pop up drop in front of him. At least he's had the most dependable bat for us so far.

4. If the team turns out to be sellers at the trade-deadline, who's likely to go, and what areas of the team do you think need help?

I'd  think it would be one of the bullpen guys Mahay, Cruz, Bale, Farnsworth, even though Farnsy would be a tough sell due to his contract. Teahen, DeJesus, Buck, Olivo, would be the most likely of the position players to be dealt. But if the right deal comes along I think Dayton would willing to trade just about everyone 'cept for Greinke and Soria.

Three spots: SS, C, and OF in that order. When Willie Bloomquist is your everday guy at SS it's nothing to be proud of; Mike Aviles had an awesome year last season but couldn't put things together before he went on the DL. Behind the dish, the combo of Olivo/Buck just isn't that great - it'll work for now but it's not going to win the World Series and the Royals could really use a guy who'll be back there almost every game for a couple of seasons. In the OF the Royals have DeJesus/Crisp/Guillen and Jose has no business out there - he has a great arm still, but the defense isn't there. Crisp is DL'd so Mitch Maier will patrol CF, and David doesn't have the power to be a corner outfielder. If nothing else the Royals just need some minor league depth, as we've got some great low level prospects but there is nothing at the higher levels.

5. Any thoughts on the 2009 draft for Kansas City?

I'm not the guy to ask here, so I went ahead and asked my buddy Keith from the Royal Tower - the spot for Royals prospect news.

In terms of making a significant impact, the 2009 Royals draft basically comes down to their first three selections. Missouri P Aaron Crow, high school C Wil Myers, and Clemson P Chris Dwyer were their first, third, and fourth round selections respectively, and each will require an above-slot bonus to sign. Each of the three were among Baseball America's top 55 prospects available in the 2009 draft class. Because of the bonus dollars that the top three selections will cost, the rest of the draft class consisted of some college players that will be a little bit cheaper to sign. All-American LSU P Louis Coleman (5th), New Mexico P Cole White (6th), and Missouri State P Buddy Baumann (7th) all have a shot to help the Major League bullpen at some point, possibly quite quickly. If you're looking for a couple sleepers from later in the draft, try out Oklahoma high school OF Lane Adams (13th), a freakishly athletic player who has an offer to play basketball at Missouri State. Also take a look at Thomas U. 3B Ryan Stovall (19th), who put up an insane batting average of .487 along with 20 home runs in his senior season.

6.  Any prospects you're looking forward to seeing this year?

First baseman Kila Ka'aihue down in AAA Omaha he's just been raking the last two years and had a cup of coffee last September, and a lot of people really want to see him come up soon. But it's pretty crowed with Butler at First and Jacobs DH'ing.

Another guy who's well liked throughout Royal-land, is reliever Chris "Disco" Hayes. A really great guy who throws submarine style and was signed after attending an open tryout for the Royals in February of 2006. They signed him the next day: he spent most of the year in AA and now he just got the callup to AAA a little while ago. He has his own blog to you can follow him here.

7. Your first-baseman, Billy Butler, wasn't even born the last time the Royals made the post-season. How does that long playoff drought affect fans attitude towards the team?

Well, actually, I just blogged about that, LOL. It's a culture, and after a while it just becomes mundane and you don't feel each loss, if you know what I mean. A loss is just another game. It's just another game of "Royals baseball" and some fans have come to just accept that. Then there is the other side of the coin - you are sick and tired of losing and want to win now. And who can blame them, every single year hoping for just a good team and every single year getting trounced. It really gets old fast.

8. DH or no DH, and why?

DH simply because I've grown up following the AL and the DH. And also because I love to score baseball games. Score  an AL game and your scorecards are always so crisp and clean, but then it's time to score a NL game. Next thing you know between the double switches, pinch runners and the whole lot, your scorecard looks like a racetrack after the race. It's a horrible eyesore. So, yeah, just because of how I grew up I like the DH, but it definitely takes a lot of the strategy out of the game.

PS.  If baseball wants to try something new with inter-league play they should make the AL team bat the pitcher at home and NL teams DH at home - give the local fans a glimpse of how the other half lives. (How could it be worse than the WBC or worse yet starting the MLB season IN JAPAN !!!!)

9. If your Tony Peña faces our Tony Peña, who'll come out on top?

The guy with the 2.86 ERA vs the the guy with the .111 BA and the .172 OBP. I think your TP wins hands down and you should have to take our TP as the prize. Yep, you guys are the Tony Pena champions.

Thanks for everything: hope "ya'll" enjoy the newly renovated Kauffman stadium. But not on the field!

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