Archive for Thursday, April 17, 2008

The eephus pitch

April 17, 2008

Despite recent cold weather, there are numerous reasons in the early going of the MLB season to make the hour trip over to Kauffman Stadium to watch the 2008 Royals.

I realize that is a very easy thing to say with the Royals having been in or around first place for the first two weeks of a 162-game season. But there are reasons aside from the team's early success that should foster higher attendance rates than a year ago.

After having stated earlier in the year that KU's basketball team would not make a deep run in the NCAAs, and having argued that football coach Mark Mangino should not receive the coach of the year award, I've learned how foolish making brash predictions can make a person look.

So I'm staying away from saying what the Royals will be this year and hope they continue to play at the same level throughout the season that they've played at in the first month. Champions aren't made in April, I know, but a fast start never hurts.

But talking of reasons to go to "The K," first there is the ballpark itself.

The renovations are nowhere near complete, but the yard looks beautiful. The new jumbotron in centerfield is the biggest of its kind (high def) in existence until next year. But the jumbotron is an extra accessory. It's helpful but not essential. Once all of the renovations are complete - a walkway around the outfield, a restaurant/bar, new hall of fame area, etc. - the place will definitely be enhanced. But let's face it, the beauty and familiarity of Kauffman Stadium is the main thing that's lured fans like myself back year after year to watch losing season after losing season. I guess Buck Night and $9 tickets go on that list as well.

More importantly and more specific to this year are the top-three arms in the rotation. Gil Meche, Brian Bannister and Zach Greinke form a formidable trio of hurlers. Teams will face at least one of these guys - barring injury - once every series.

In recent years the plague for the Royals has been the extended losing streak, the mark of any bad team. This year, with these three arms on the bump consecutively in the rotation, there is no way I can see the Royals having a losing streak of over ten games.

It's a long season, I realize, but twice through the rotation, these three guys have six chances to put a stop to the bleeding.

Meche hasn't pitched well thus far, but he showed the league last year he's a legitimate No. 1 guy and it's only a matter of time before his talent and pitching ability win out. Banny and Zach have been incredible so far, with ERAs of 0.86 and 0.75, respectively.

I went to the game Sunday, when Brian Bannister was electric and KC snapped a 3-game skid. Heading into a seven-game road trip, it was a key game for Banny and the New. Blue. Tradition. He pitched magnificently, giving up three hits and one run, while walking one batter. He only K'd three hitters, meaning he's a guy who can't rely on absolute gas. His stuff alone can't carry him. He's got to pitch tactfully.

Nine innings, complete game shutout, losing streak over. Just like that.

Then Greinke went out on the road the following night and threw a complete game of his own.

I haven't even mentioned this lineup yet. It had produced 2.69 runs per game through Tuesday, which isn't good but consider David DeJesus has played in three games and Jose Guillen has hit .158 out of the gate.

With those in the lineup, and assuming they produce like they have in past years, that run average is sure to jump.

Prior to first pitch Sunday the wind chill was a reported 29 degrees. There also was a parade held in Lawrence in honor of the KU men's basketball team. Those are the two main reasons attendance was a paltry 13,886, which is about 34 percent of capacity at Kauffman. The night before it was 36,300 for the reintroduction of the powder blue jerseys and the accompanying jersey giveaway promotion.

Through the first six home games of the year, the Royals averaged 23,220 fans per game, good for 24th out of 30 teams in the league. Like I said, there's too much on the line for me to risk making a prediction given my past hunches, but I'll be one of those 23,220 fans at "The K" any day.

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